I was going to conclude Dashi Darzho Itigilov story with mind blowing revelations how it can help in our practice. That’s how it felt when I first dived into it a few days ago. Now the time has passed and I have lost the focus, I don’t remember what was it exactly that I found so mind blowing about it. I will still try to reconstruct my initial pro-arguments but they probably won’t be inspirational. Maybe it’s a good thing, all considered.
First of all, out of all explanations of his phenomenon I chose the Buddhist one – Dashi Dorzho is in deep samādhi and have achieved nirvāṇa of some sort, I think it’s the only version that has any spiritual use for us. He could have died sometime ago, before or after his body was lifted from the burial, that doesn’t matter, he spent decades in that pine box while still alive and meditating, that’s a real miracle.
The practice is not unusual in Buddhism, monks of various sects have been doing similar things for thousands of years, only recently the states got involved into this and outlawed such “assisted suicides”.
In Japan the monks would ask to be placed in a box and buried with an open air-duct and a string to ring a bell. They would meditate for a while without any drink or food, and once the bell stops ringing the air duct would be closed. Whether they were dead, in samādhi, or ready to die of asphyxiation no one knew for sure and so the government banned the practice altogether.
In China there are special diets to prepare monks for such burials. They would eat only pine needles, for example, or nuts and tree bark, or something similar. This would eventually kill all the bacteria in their guts and so their bodies wouldn’t decompose after death. Presumably it would be death in a sense they leave their bodies at will rather then starvation but who knows.
Dashi Dorzho’s body had elevated levels of bromine, which scientists think came from eating beans. They surmise that bromine slows blood circulation and other such processes but doesn’t affect brain, thus helping the practitioner to slow down his bodily activities while maintaining full consciousness. That’s the important point regardless of what help Dashi Dorzho used to achieve it – full consciousness.
The best part is that if he could do it, then so should we. He wasn’t special, he didn’t do anything special, he was quite an active and energetic man with lots of ambitions. Then he put them all aside and went into this samādhi. Of course he wasn’t your general man off the street glued to his smartphone and he was quite an extraordinary personality even by local Buryat standards but still.
Buddhists monks go through a lot of rigorous training. They have a very strict sādhana, they study a lot of literature and they chant a lot. Practically, they don’t do anything else. Their minds are fairly insulated from the rest of the world and they are very disciplined, which means their intelligence has more control over their minds than general population. This is when they start doing “magic”.
In our classification they become accomplished jñānīs, which shouldn’t be impossible in Kali Yuga, but here is Dashi Dorzho to prove otherwise. Our first reaction would probably “So what? Jñāna yoga is still not recommended, not to mention it has nothing to do with bhakti.” It’s a reasonable response but bhakti isn’t a cheap magic trick, it’s supposed to bring all the results of karma and jñāna and supplant them in every aspect, too.
A successful bhakti yogi should be able to go into deep meditation and appear externally lifeless just as Dashi Dorzho did, for as long as necessary. We can say “Wait, it’s Kali Yuga, so…” – but success in bhakti is beyond the influence of Kali! He has no power over devotees. He might have limited power over us but we aren’t there yet, we aren’t truly liberated from the influence of material nature. Real bhakti starts only after liberation, so we SHOULD reach the level of Dashi Dorzho and surpass him.
It seems implausible in our current condition but if he could do it by meditating on emptiness it should be so much easier for us – by chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. He had no place for his consciousness but to stop it from indulging in sensory activities, we have the Holy Name to meditate on. We SHOULD be able to do better than him, there’s no real reason why we can’t.
We have plenty of ācāryas in our tradition who achieved such powers, from Haridāsa Ṭhākura to Six Gosvamis to Jagannātha Dāsa Bābājī. We could say that Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī weren’t like that, they were preachers and engaged in active service until last days of their lives, but we also have Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura who withdrew himself from the world towards the end and pretended to have a stroke so that his meditation would be uninterrupted by outsiders.
And what about “work now, samādhi later” dictum? When we first hear it we are all living through “now” period but for many of us the time of “later” is also not very far, and some have fully deserved it. Perhaps “deserve” is not the best word here, there’s nothing particularly glorious in having a body that can’t be engaged in active service and can only sit and chant, but if this time comes we should be ready.
Things that appear impossible in our twenties need to be taken seriously in our sixties and seventies. We need to prepare ourselves for the time when we must withdraw our minds from all activities and concentrate solely on the Holy Name. That’s when Dashi Dorzho’s example might become inspirational.
If that is the level of control over our minds that is needed for successful chanting then it will be provided, Kṛṣṇa promised as much in Bhagavad Gītā (BG 10.10):
dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṁ
yena mām upayānti te
We, as human beings, are not disqualified from receiving it. Dashi Dorzho got it, after all, and he did it on his own, without Kṛṣṇa’s help.
It should also be noted that Dashi Dorzho’s status, even in the best case scenario, isn’t at the topmost level. Yes, he might be in deep meditation, but there were lots of Buddhist teachers who reached nirvāṇa before him and they all died, Buddha died himself, too. Keeping connection with the body while in samādhi is not necessary and a kind of imperfection, especially from bhakti point of view. Our bodies should be either fully engaged in service or we should leave them behind and join Kṛṣṇa in the spiritual world. There’s no point in sitting in an underground box, or a cave, or being a vegetable in a hospice. It doesn’t please Kṛsṇa, doesn’t serve anyone, and only brings troubles to our caretakers.
We should be able to disconnect our consciousness from our external senses but then we’d better reconnect them with Kṛṣṇa, if we become so powerful. At this point, however, it’s the ability to forget our bodily needs and our bodily consciousness that is more important. Maybe not for all of us and not right now but we should see it as a necessary next step.
So, our equivalent of Dashi Dorzho could be chanting three lakhs of rounds every day, and probably not counting anymore. We should learn to sustain our lives purely by chanting, and by “our lives” I mean our spiritual existence, not what happens to our bodies. Bodies can look like Dashi Dorzho’s, we shouldn’t care at all.
One could say that now it’s probably not the time to worry about it but achieving this kind of absorption in the Holy Name will take years and decades so starting on this path is never too early.