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Immured Anchorites

Immured Anchorites

In 1904, a The Times special correspondent named Perceval Landon accompanied a British expedition to Lhasa. He visited the Nyen-de-kyi-buk monastery, which was famous for its immured monks, and the abbot allowed him to see one. Each of these monks had taken a vow to live in darkness, walled up in the tomb of a cell just large enough for a single man to sit inside in a position of meditation; some for six months, some for three years and ninety-three days, and many of the rest of their lives. In a small courtyard, Landon watched the abbot administer three sharp taps to a stone slab covering the entrance of one of these cells.

He wrote, "It was the most uncanny thing I saw in all Tibet. What on earth was going to appear when that stone slab, which even then was beginning to quiver, was pushed aside, the wildest conjecture could not suggest." At first the stone seemed stuck, "then very slowly and uncertainly it was pushed back and a black chasm revealed. There was a pause of thirty seconds; during which imagination ran riot, but I do not think that any other thing could have been as intensely pathetic as that which we actually saw. A hand, muffled in a tightly-wound piece of dirty cloth, for all the world like the stump of an arm, was painfully thrust up, and very weakly it felt along the slab. After a fruitless fumbling the hand slowly quivered back again into the darkness. A few moments later there was again one ineffectual effort, and then the stone slab moved noiselessly again across the opening." Normally the monks signaled the anchorite once a day, when they left his meal of unleavened bread and water. Landon was bitterly regretful that his whim had disturbed the recluse's routine and forced him to the dreadful effort of heaving aside his slab for nothing. Even back in England he was forced to reflect upon the abbot, with whom he had taken tea: ". . . a picture of the same hand that one shook so warmly as one left the monastery, now weakly fumbling with swathed fingers for food along the slab of the prison in which the abbot now is sealed up for life: for he was going into the darkness very soon."

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