Donagh Coleman is a Finnish-Irish-American documentary filmmaker and medical anthropology doctoral student at the University of California Berkeley, whose present film project and dissertation research focuses on Tukdam, the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of dying in meditation. Donagh Coleman holds degrees in Philosophy and Psychology and Music and Media Technologies from Trinity College Dublin, and a MA in Asian Studies from UC Berkeley.
In what Tibetan Buddhists call tukdam, advanced meditators die in a consciously controlled manner in meditation. Though declared clinically dead, they often stay sitting upright in meditation posture; remarkably, their bodies remain fresh and lifelike, without signs of decay for days, sometimes weeks after clinical death. Indeed, from a Tibetan Buddhist point of view, the meditators are not dead yet; it is believed that consciousness is still present, which is keeping the body from decaying. Yet according to modern medical and legal definitions they are dead – and many cases have now been scientifically documented.
The phenomenon of tukdam raises fundamental questions about life and death, and where we draw the line between them. Tukdam also shows how differently death can be understood in different cultural settings, and how different understandings can have profound practical consequences on how we die.