Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Nine Cemetery Contemplations

"There is a passage in the Buddhist Sutra on Mindfulness called the Nine Cemetery Contemplations. Apprentice monks are instructed to meditate on a series of decomposing bodies in the charnel ground, starting with a body 'swollen and blue and festering,' progressing to one 'being eaten by . . . different kinds of worms,' and moving on to a skeleton, 'without flesh and blood, held together by the tendons.' The monks were told to keep meditating until they were calm and a smile appeared on their faces."

The different stages of decomposition:
1) Autolysis (self-digestion) - Enzymes operate unchecked and begin eating through the cell structure, allowing liquid inside to leak out.
leading to....
a) "skin sloughage" or "gloving", where the liquid from the cells gets between the layers of skin and loosens it.
b) somewhere around this time maggots start doing their work.
2) Putrefaction and bloating - bacteria starts breaking down and liquifying tissue, producing gas
which gets trapped in the popular feeding ground areas of the mouth, the abdomen and the genitalia. Eventually something bursts, like the intestinal lining.
3) Dissolution- the body collapses into itself and seeps into the ground (or the coffin-lining). The digestive organs, lungs, and brain goes first. Sometimes the skin mummifies before it can be eaten by corpse-friendly beetles. It all depends on the weather. And packaging.

-info from "Stiff" by Mary Roach

1 comment:

John Pierson said...

In my first year of college we had to take our artistic field of interest and create a project based on the issues at hand in our human Biology class. I decided to write a short story about a man who experimenting with the soul and how he could explain it scientifically, well through a series of experiments he comes upon this idea of putting someone close to death and through not very feasible ways releasing the soul into the air for a temporary out of body experience before bringing the body back to life. Of course the experiment goes bad and he can't rescue his friend before he dies (for real) He buries his friend, and this is where your post reminds me of this short story. He begins to feel himself decaying, and over the next few weeks I describe him experiencing all the steps you mentioned. In the story you wonder weather he is going insane with guilt or if somehow his friends soul had been lodged in his own body. whooo. Actually I still think it is a great premise. And at the time I wrote the whole 20 page story in one night. I don't have it anymore. This is one manifestation of my fascination with death since I was little. My mom has had to deal with buying me books about death for birthdays and christmas since about middle school. She's a trouper.