The 200-year-old Buddhist monk found still seated in the lotus position is not dead, but is rather in a rare spiritual state known as tukdam, Buddhism experts suggest. Dr. Barry Kerzin, a famous fellow monk who is also a physician to the Dalai Lama, tells the Siberian Times that monks in this state go into "very deep meditation" and, if they can stay in such a state for more than three weeks, their bodies shrink until all that remains are "hair, nails, and clothes," he says. "Usually in this case, people who live next to the monk see a rainbow that glows in the sky for several days. This means that he has found a 'rainbow body.' This is the highest state close to the state of Buddha," and someone who remains in the state can even become a Buddha, he says. He adds that over the past five decades, there have been 40 such cases in India.
Ganhugiyn Purevbata, founder and professor at the Mongolian Institute of Buddhist Art at Ulaanbaatar Buddhist University, agrees: The monk "is sitting in the lotus position vajra, the left hand is opened, and the right hand symbolizes of the preaching Sutra," he says. "This is a sign that the Lama is not dead, but is in a very deep meditation according to the ancient tradition of Buddhist lamas." But scientists have a different take, theorizing that the cold weather in Mongolia, where the monk was found, helped preserve him, the BBC reports. And the Washington Post notes that such "accidental mummies" have been discovered in freezing climates before, like a 9,000-year-old mummified bison in Siberia. Meanwhile, there is drama of a less spiritual type unfolding: Police say a man stole the monk from a cave in another part of the country and was planning to sell him on the black market, but police learned of the plot, recovered the monk, and arrested the man for smuggling. (Click for more on the spiritual practice of self-mummification.)