The Tibet Sky Burial Custom
- by Liffity
- Last Updated: 2020-05-11
Sky burial is a Tibetan custom whereby people dispose of the corpses of their loved ones. This death ritual entails taking the body to a burial site in the mountains where it is left to the hungry vultures. The Buddhists in Tibet believe that the sky burial liberates the soul from the body enabling it to gain entry into heaven. The method is widely used by common Tibetans.
The Tibetan Sky Burial process
As this is a very important Buddhist custom, every step has to be undertaken according to the Buddhist burial laws. The following are the steps followed during the Sky Funeral Service:
The Tibetans treat the body of the dead with respect as they try to facilitate a clear transfer of the soul from the body. After death, the body is wrapped carefully with a white traditional cloth. The body is then laid in a cleaned corner in the house where the dead person used to live. According to the traditions, the body is not to be disturbed as this might interrupt the souls’ transition into heaven.
The body remains in the house for at most five days after which it should be disposed off. During this period, the family invites the monks or the Lamas who read the Holy Scriptures to the dead. It is believed that the reading expels the soul from the body and cleanses it from the worldly sins.
b. Body disposal
The final step of laying the soul to rest is feeding the body to the vultures. The vultures are believed to be holy birds in Tibet as they only devour dead creatures. The family of the dead, therefore, selects a day for the sky burial, calling it a ‘ lucky day.’
Several things happen on the Lucky day. The body is unwrapped and bent into a fetal position to symbolize rebirth into another world. The body carrier is then called upon to take the body to the burial site.
The burial site is usually located on the mountains away from the residential areas. The carrier deposits the body of the dead, usually, there are several in number, at the burial site and uses smoke to attract the starving condors and vultures. The Lamas offer prayers as the vultures devour the corpses.
The Relationship between the Sky Burial and Tibetan Buddhism
Most Tibetan people believe in Buddhism. Thousands of pilgrims stream to Lhasa annually to pay homage to the greatest Buddhist temple in the city. The sky burial, therefore, is a custom intertwined with the Buddhist beliefs in Tibet.
In the Tibetans culture, it is believed that the Vultures are holy birds. This is because, unlike other birds of prey such as eagles and hawks, vultures do not kill their prey. They wait until the animal dies before descending on it. The condors at burial site have perfected the art of feeding only on deposited human bodies an act which makes Tibetans believe that the birds have been sent directly from heaven for that specific reason.
After the condors and the vultures have had their fill, the body carriers burn the remains in presence of Lamas and monks who bless the spirits of the dead through prayers and chants. The chants are meant to free the spirit of the dead from the body and cleanse it of all its sins.
Taboos of the Tibetan Sky Burial
There are several taboos and regulations which have to be adhered to during the burial, failure to which will compromise the transition process of the dead’s soul. Firstly, strangers are not allowed anywhere near the burial site. This is because the presence of strangers will disturb the soul from ascending to heaven.
Family members are also barred from attending the funeral as it is believed that their presence will convince the soul of their dead relative to hang around instead of ascending to heaven. Visitors are greatly advised to keep away from these occasions.
Sky Burial Video
Normally, it’s very sad to hear about the death of one’s relatives. Beyond all people’s expectation, the celestial burial master finishes the whole process with smile and laughter. Tibetans believe that keeping a good mood can get rid of the darkness of the dead and guide him to heaven.
Here is a short sky burial video which may help you know more about it.
Sky Burial Platform in Tibet
At present, there are two famous sky burial platforms in Tibet. The one sky burial place is Drigung Til Monastery which is situated in Maizhokunggar County. The other sky burial place in Tibet is the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy which is located in the Sertar County.
Other Funeral Rituals in Tibet
Apart from the mentioned sky burial, there are some other funeral rituals in Tibet, such as stupa burial, fire burial, water burial, earth burial, tree burial, and cliff burial, which are deeply influenced by the Bon Religion and Tibetan Buddhism. What kind of funeral ritual should be taken depends on the class and divination of the Lamas.
As the holiest funeral ritual, stupa burial can only be taken by the Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama or the Living Buddha. The body of the respectable Lama will be dealt with in a special way that cannot be broken down easily. Sometimes, the body will be covered with gold and saffron. At last, the body will be put into the stupa. The material of the stands for the class of the Lama.
Water burial is another way to deal with the body. Different places have different views about water burials. Some people regard it is a way to deal with the low class. While some people regard it is a holy funeral ritual like sky burial.
Fire burial is always used for monks and aristocrats. The body will be burnt on the wood, and the ashes of the body will be put in a jar. The family member can take it home and bury it. Sometimes, it will be scattered in the river. However, the ashes of the holy Living Buddha will be collected in a small tower with lots of precious deposits.
If a child is dead, Tibetans will take this way to deal with the body. This way is mainly used in Nyingchi Prefecture, Tibet. The family will place the child’s body in a wooden box. In case of being seen by others, the box will be transferred to a far area with dense trees.
Earth burial is lower than the burials mentioned before. In the past, earth burial was very popular among Tibetans before the introduction of Buddhism. But after that, the earth burial replaced by the sky burial. The earth burial is regarded as a lower way to deal with the dead person who is died of illness, or killed by robbers or murders. Therefore, the dead body is not clean enough to feed to the vultures. Only in this way, the dead body can get rid of the illness, and go through difficulties in the hell.
The last burial way is to place the body in a cave of a cliff. This burial way is mainly used in the south of Tibet. The height of the cave is about hundreds of meters.
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