Tibetan Sky Burial or Celestial Burials is a common practice when people die in most Tibetan areas. It has more than a millennium of history. Before Padamsambhava introduces the Buddhism in Tibet, the corpse of essential people was just put in tombs or buried. The reason why Tibetans later chose vulture-disposal is that a story inspired them. It was about one of Buddha’s previous life when he gave away his flesh to a hungry tiger. This story teaches people about the importance of generosity.
For Tibetans, the Tibetan Sky Burial or Celestial Burials serves both practical and spiritual functions. Some of the central values in Tibetan culture revolve around being humble, generous, and honoring of nature.
Tibetan Sky Burial or Celestial Burials allow the physical bodies of Tibetans to turn to the earth in a way that generously provides a meal for the vultures and very minimally disturbs the environment. Because of their belief in reincarnation, death is more of a transition as opposed to an ending. They believe the soul moves on from the body at the very instant of death, leaving very little room for attachment to the physical body after death.
In fact, for the soul of the person to have a smooth transition into their next life, the Tibetans believe there should be no trace left of the physical body after death, providing another advantage of this practice.
According to Tibetan Buddhist history says that at the beginning of the 12th century, an Indian master called Padhamba Sangye started the Shichey or the pacification school in Tibet. And his spiritual wife and student, Machik Labdron practiced and taught the teaching of “Changing corpse into food.” This practice is known as “Chod,” and its primary purpose is to cut attachment to our physical body.
This also strongly influenced Tibetan people’s mind to give away their dead body to hungry vultures. They are special people namely burial master “Tobden” in the Tibetan Sky Burial or Celestial Burials system. “Tobden” takes the corpse to the vulture disposal ground and cut them into pieces so that the vultures can eat them conveniently.
Drigung Til monastery in Tibet is a most sacred place for Tibetan Sky-burial site.
Above summary are just a nutshell overview of the Tibetan Sky Burial or Celestial Burials and the reasons for why they do so. However, many Non-Tibetans might be extremely curious about the following associated topics.
1. How efficiently is the Burial Master able to cut up another person?
Though it sounds like a gruesome job, Buddhism teaches us impermanence of life and the transmigration of spirits. There is no need to preserve the body as it is now an empty vessel. Therefore, the burial master perceives that his service is purely an act of generosity and compassion for all beings. It is an essential part of virtues in Buddhism practice.
2. Does everyone get to see the body pieces?
There are some restrictions to see the scene, only the helpers of funeral service can see the body that is arranged by the deceased family. The local government law prohibits Tourist to go and look around the sky burial.
3. If Tibetans believe that no part of the body should remain. what do they do with the bones?
No trace of the physical body remains at the sky burial. The Burial Master process the bodies neatly without leaving remains. The tiny pieces of fragmented or smashed bones mixed with bones Tsampa (Roasted Barley Flour) and feast to the vultures.
4. Does the family or loved ones allow to watch the whole Tibetan sky burial process?
Family members and relatives will not participate and watch the funeral process at the sky burial.
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