Written By: Stephanie Pislis
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Eco-Friendly Corpse Disposal
Every culture and religion has their own perception of the afterlife. Whether it be eternal salvation, eternal damnation, reincarnation or nothing at all, it is always fascinating to delve into the ritualistic practices of how one attains such an end. To reach the afterlife, most religions follow the systematic beliefs and religious dogma that is written in their respective scriptures. However, for Tibetans who follow the branch of Vajrayana Buddhism, a Tantric form of Buddhism, they achieve this transcendence through the ancient practice of the sky burial aka Eco-friendly corpse disposal.
The Tibetan sky burial is a ritualistic form of corpse disposal that involves exposing the remains of the deceased to be devoured by famished vultures on top of a high cliff or mountain. The word burial has connotations of interment. However, this is not the case with the sky burial. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It exposes the corpse rather than conceals it within the earth. Once the person dies, the corpse is wrapped in white cloths and kept in the home. Monks are invited to recite prayers from anywhere between one to three days.
This practice is done to release the soul from a purgatory-type state. Once the body is transported to the respective location, the rogyapa, or its literal translation, “body-breaker,” is designated the gruesome task of dissecting the body and cutting it up into smaller pieces. The flesh and muscles are stripped off the bone in order to facilitate consumption. The remaining bones are then crushed with a mallet and mixed with tsampa. Tsampa a type of flour and barley mixture that can also be consumed by the birds.
Now why in the world would this seemingly horrific method of “burial” be used as a peaceful segue into the afterlife? For one, Vajrayana Buddhism strongly focuses on the transmigration of spirits. The vultures are known as Dakinis, or “sky-dancers,” are considered sacred birds that carry the spirits to the afterlife. Once the body is no longer animated, it is simply a vessel that retains no further spiritual significance in this realm.
Vajrayana Buddhism, like other forms of Buddhism, focuses on altruism and generosity towards other life forms. Therefore, rather than considering the practice as a defilement of the deceased, the carrion is used as nourishment for other living beings. The flesh is sustaining the vultures as well as preserving the lives of other small animals that end up being eaten in substitute for the flesh.
Another reason as to why the Tibetans hold this ritual is simply because of geographical practicality. Tibet is located among high peaks of the Himalayan Mountains and is notorious for having extremely rocky and frozen terrain. Digging into this harsh environment is nearly impossible. But, the sky burials are a much more efficient method of disposal.
The vast majority of people are leaning towards more eco-friendly funeral practices. The Tibetan sky burial doesn’t seem that bad of an option!
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