Sky Burials: An Inside Look At A Tibetan Tradition

Posted by in History On 3rd June 2021
ADVERTISEMENT

According to Tibetan tradition, the body must be returned to nature in order for the soul to return to heaven in a smooth tradition. A sky burial where vultures feed on the corpses of the deceased is a way of honouring that tradition.

ADVERTISEMENT

A Sky Burial, also known as Celestial Burial is a Tibetan religious and cultural tradition. While also experienced in other cultures, the tradition is most notably associated with Tibet.

The concept behind a sky burial is to give back to nature. The burial happens in the open air where vultures are allowed to feed on the bodies of the deceased.

source
ADVERTISEMENT

It is a Tibetan belief that the Sky burial is an honourable way to give the body back to nature.

source
ADVERTISEMENT

The corpse may be cut into pieces before being presented to the elements. The preparation of the body is done by a Master who may even smash or grind the bones before leaving it at the burial site.

The burial takes place at locations of high elevation that the vultures usually reside.

source
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

The local environment may also have contributed to this sort of burial since Tibet is a cold and snowy country where often frozen grounds make digging for graves a challenge.  

This belief comes from the Buddhist belief of reincarnation which says that the soul leaves the body after death. The body thus serves a higher purpose and in a final act of compassion feeds nature.

source
ADVERTISEMENT

Dakinis, who appear as vultures take the soul to heaven by feeding on the bodies. The ‘Dakinis’ or Sky Dancers also have angelic associations.

source
ADVERTISEMENT

The local environment may also have contributed to this sort of burial since Tibet is a cold and snowy country where often frozen grounds make digging for graves a challenge.  

This belief comes from the Buddhist belief of reincarnation which says that the soul leaves the body after death. The body thus serves a higher purpose and in a final act of compassion feeds nature.

source
ADVERTISEMENT

They believe that the departure of the soul should also mean a lack of existence of an earthly body to allow the soul to fully depart in a peaceful and smooth way, without ties to the real world.

source
ADVERTISEMENT

It is also considered to be a sign of bad luck if vultures refuse to feed on a particular body. This might mean that the body wasn’t pure enough to be eaten or that the family of the deceased didn’t prepare it well for departure.

In such a case, other animals such as dogs are offered the corpse.

source
ADVERTISEMENT

The preparation of the body is done by wrapping it in white cloth and leaving it in the corner of the house for 3 to 5 days. Monks read scriptures to help the soul be released from purgatory during that time. All family members are to cease daily activities in that time and keep the environment at home peaceful. A day is then selected for the burial.

source
ADVERTISEMENT

Pamela Logan, an expert says,

“Tibetans believe that, more important than the body, is the spirit of the deceased. Following death, the body should not be touched for three days, except possibly at the crown of the head, through which the consciousness, or namshe, exits. Lamas guide the spirit in a series of prayers that last for seven weeks, as the person makes their way through the bardo--intermediate states that precede rebirth”.

source
ADVERTISEMENT

Sky burials are known to have been around for 11,000 years but may have existed far longer before that time.

According to archaeologist Dan Martin, “Because of the nature of the practice, archaeological finds are probably incapable of providing evidence. Early Tibetan works from the Imperial Period and the period from 1000 to 1500 CE have, so far as we have been able to discover, nothing to say on the practice, since they only describe the interments of saints and kings, not of common people. It is entirely possible that more research, especially in Tibetan language sources, will reveal a much earlier verifiable date for the custom”

source
ADVERTISEMENT