Thought I’d end the year on a note of high speculation and talk about resurrection, one of the two intriguing aspects of the Christ story often held up as evidence of divinity, along with the virgin birth. However seasonal the latter strikes me as a little tougher, especially since no-one could have seen proof. But hey, who knows. There are plenty of examples in myth. You’ll know one of them if you’ve seen Clash of the Titans. It happened to a hammerhead shark a few years back — primitive species often find miracles easier than we do, see Becker. (The scientific term, parthenogenesis, is simply the Greek for ‘virgin birth’. A literal human example would have the double-X chromosome structure and thus be female, but without nudging from test tubes it’s conventionally believed impossible in mammals.)
Resurrection meanwhile means dying only to return to life again, and then disappearing up to heaven leaving no mortal remains. It is thus a special brand of immortality. I choose to start at the more believable end of the scale. There are consistent anecdotal reports of OBEs reducing body mass. Richardson’s Dancers to the Gods contains info on a teacher of Dion Fortune, for example, I forget the name, whose physical body weight shrank to that of a small child when his spirit was projected. The astral body meanwhile was said to be visible to the untrained naked eye and to leave a dent in cushions it sat on.
The question I’d ask is what happened when the man died. Quite possibly the mortal remains, although still present, weighed far less than expected.
Some will know that an astral body with that much solidity has plenty of etheric matter in it. The etheric connects with the deep energy known as jing in China and ojas in India. This is considered present in blood, sexual fluids and bone marrow and is used as a fuel for spiritual transmutations. Taoists talk of transmuting jing into qi and then qi into shen (spirit) into order to attain immortality.
Mantak Chia used to make early students laugh by pointing out that Westerners obsess over a single immortal, Jesus, whereas the Taoists have hundreds to their name. (See Winn in Kohn & Wang 2009, p. 179.) Shijie, meaning something like ‘post-corpse deliverance’, is one Taoist term for resurrection. “Accounts of shijie are notable for denying that the person has left behind a real corpse,” says Kirkland in the magisterial Routledge Encyclopedia of Taoism (2011). This product of union with the Tao is described in numerous texts and scriptures and became one standardised outcome of neidan or inner alchemy.
Although this isn’t the place for a big survey there are numerous clues telling us we are onto something. Some of those “delivered” left behind bits of their bodies which they had not managed to transform: a particularly cool one is Cai Jing who managed to completely dissolve the all-important bones but left the skin behind, “intact from head to foot, like a cicada shell,” says the tale, see Campany (2002), p. 60. So we have a spectrum, from a normal death at one pole to a complete transformation at the other, with Fortune’s teacher and Cai Jing at points between. Tsultrim Allione reports examples of Tibetan yoginis who leave behind only their hair and nails as another point on the same line.
Resurrection requires death and could therefore be considered unclassy. In Taoism as in many other traditions probably the most prized result of transformation is ‘ascending to heaven in broad daylight’, with witnesses. Many Taoists are last seen flying off on the backs of cranes, toads, or dragons, accompanied by fellow-immortals — just as a chariot and horses of fire lifted Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind. The common factor is always a life that has physically ended with no mortal remains to show for it. The person concerned may later make physical appearances, but has already passed through what would have been death.
Often reported is the death of a person whose body is nowhere to be found when burial time comes. Having had only older examples thus far we can take the more recent one of Ramalinga Swamigal, aka Villalar, the great Tamil poet and saint whose transformation occurred on January 30, 1874. The room into which he locked himself, alone, was found to be empty when finally forced open.
A Spanish woman named Sobhana claims to have been in contact with Ramalinga for many years with enjoyable results and has interesting info on his bodily transformation. It began with things like smoothing of the skin or softening and flexibility of tendons and bones, going forward via miraculous recovery of a childhood body to an ultimate invisible but nonetheless bodily omnipresence in all things. The parallels with Taoist practice are quite apparent. Jing/ojas again plays an important role with Ramalinga himself writing of “the semen and sexual fluids having ascended to the chest and condensed into a supra-energy form”.
Recent Tibetan manifestations of related phenomena have been reported by inclusivist Western Christian observers such as David Steindl-Rast, who see the New Testament parallels. In the Summer of 1998 the body of the Nyingma/Gelug practitioner Lama Khenpo-A-chos was covered with a yellow cloth, after his death which followed illuminations of the complexion, wondrous fragrances, and rainbows over the small hut in which he lived. There was no aging or illness. Eight days later when the cloth was removed the body had vanished. Witnesses seem quite numerous.
Even IONS is interested and although such western investigation threatens to profane processes no-one would wish to disturb, the interviews with three eyewitnesses of these events that have been recorded by Father Francis Tiso are probably of some little interest. Tiso’s been visited by Tibetan visions, knows of other recent examples, and takes this stuff as a type of Christ’s resurrection. I think that would interest such doubtful ‘experts’ as Plantinga who continue to need an exclusivist Christianity!
Tiso however sees this as mostly Buddhist-Christian interfaith stuff with primary implications for his own religion. He thus leaves the Tamil and Taoist examples uninvestigated, hasn’t heard of qigong, and doesn’t mention jing transformation, although he does note Old Testament references to ‘dew’ (Hebrew tal) that have a jing-like context. (By the time he starts sermonising about saving humanity and claiming that Tibetan Buddhist practices are derived from Christianity [!!], many will be twiddling their thumbs. Still he’s done the work of collecting the modern data and his presentation is worth a listen.)
There we have it anyhow: taking a cross-cultural and evidential view, once again, has interesting implications for those who think it’s all ‘myth’, with ‘myth’ equivalent either to ‘symbolism’ or else to ‘rubbish’. Anyone can experiment with using energy to alter the bodily composition, and if you’re into anything like what I’m into, you’re already doing it.
On this exalted note I’ll allow my hardworking blog a brief break. Let me take this opportunity to wish all my readers an enjoyable holiday season and new year. Thanks to everyone who has been interested to join me so far. My next post will be on January 7th, 2012.
Best wishes to you all in your various intriguing endeavours, and have fun!
I’m indebted to Amazon reviewer Ashtar Command for supplying information I used in this post.