Tibetan Sky Burial

Another interesting experience I had during my stay in Xining was to witness a “Tibetan Sky Burial”.

When someone dies in the Highlands of Tibet, dealing with a corpse is challenging at this high altitude.

It is almost impossible to bury the dead in the land here where trees rarely grow and the soil is rock hard with no possibility to dig graves.

In the Tibetan-Buddhism culture, after prayers have been concluded by the Monks, they bring the dead body on top of a mountain and cut it into pieces so that the smell will attract vultures which then will surround the dead body and consume the flesh before flying again to the sky.

As part of the ritual, once vultures and other birds of prey finished their job, the skeleton of the recently deceased person is picked up and shredded into pieces with an axe.

Those are then ground into flour to add extra taste in baking or otherwise used in the kitchen, and at other times turned into tools or decorative jewelry to make full use of the dead body.

Tibetan Buddhists believe in acts of generosity and in paying honor to those who have moved on and are now at a place without pain and suffering. The last service those who are still alive can do for those who have passed on is to offer their remains to other living creatures. It is the last act of giving for the person who has eaten flesh themselves their whole lives. This, in their teachings, helps sustain the life on Earth.

The way they deal with the dead might sound uncivilized to Western people. But to them, they have a good reason for their way. According to the Tibetan-Buddhism belief, the body is just borrowed from the Earth.

When someone dies, the soul will leave the body and the body is no longer of use. Letting the vultures eat the body is a final act of generosity to the Earth. The vultures will consume the body clean, and nothing is wasted. It will also avoid the spreading of any possible disease.

It reminds us that our bodies are borrowed and temporary. It is not a good idea to attach too much attention to our bodies, but more to our soul. Our soul will leave the bodies regardless whether we bury, cremate or feed it to animals. Some people might find it disrespectful to feed the bodies to the animals, but our bodies will decompose or be eaten by insects/maggots anyways when buried.

What we do with the dead doesn’t so much affect the dead. It is more for the living. But then the living soon also become the dead and then everything is forgotten.

From my Western point of view there is hardly any more eco friendly way to dispose of dead bodies than the “Tibetan Sky Burial.” You give nature back, what nature gave, closing up the circle of life. And it’s reasonably inexpensive too.

You don’t need no fancy casket in a hearse. That just feeds the pocket of funeral home owners and funeral business which happens to be one of the most lucrative businesses in existence, counting up billions of dollars in revenue each year.

Maybe we should start considering alternate low cost practices at home as well!

Symbol for Sky Burial

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