Although death is a natural process of all living creatures, we’ve seemed to fail to understand the essence of life behind its cycle. Especially in western cultures, we feel an attachment to our beloved ones to such an extreme that some find it hard to move on with their own lives after someone passes. Of course it’s hard to say goodbye to someone we love, and sometimes the circumstances are not as natural as they were supposed to be; however, being trapped in that mental negative loop prevents us from moving on and continuing with the course of life. However, for other cultures, the body is just a container of our spirit, and once it's gone it's no longer important and has to be disposed of. This is one of the pillars of belief of Tibetans, who have one of the most, shall we say, unique, burials around the world.
In Tibet, following their Buddhist spiritual principles, people prepare corpses through a method that many would consider unconventional, but at the end of the day is a natural process of life and death. For them, the body is only a natural container where our souls or spirits live for a determined amount of time and once the body dies, it no longer holds the essence of the person, and so it must be dispatched. The funerary ritual, also known as sky burial, consists of returning the body to its primal essence, to the earth, where it was created; the soul, on the other hand, wanders until it finds another body through a rebirth process. But what's exactly the ritual that's become so talked about around the world?
When a person dies, the body is transported to the temple where a religious ceremony is held; then, it's taken to a sacred remote area to proceed with the ritual. Accompanied by the family of the deceased, a monk uncovers the naked body. While he starts the prayers, he sharpens the tools he's going to need (a knife, ax, and other sharp utensils). Then he starts to cut the body into pieces and separates the flesh from the bones. With an ax and hammer, he then crushes the bones, which are deposited on the ground. The moment the ritual begins hundreds of vultures and other predatory birds start flying around the mountain where the ritual is taking place. Once he's finished dismembering the body, he makes a sign with his wrist, allowing the vultures to come down to eat. In about an hour, every scrap of meat is gone and only their essence remains.
Traditionally the family is forced to experience this ritual to reinforce the spiritual notions of death. Buddhism believes in the impermanence of our corporeal life, that we only inhabit our bodies for such a short time but consciousness is eternal. The body becomes a waste that has to return to the earth and this ritual appeals to the core of nature. Being eaten by vultures is the purest way for the body to fulfill its life's cycle.
Naturally, some of us wouldn't be able to endure watching our loved ones being dismembered and devoured by these gigantic birds of prey, but if you think about it, it's the most ecologic way of bidding farewell to our bodies. Although they have two other types of burial techniques, none of these involve actual burials. One of the explanations for this is that Tibet consists of stone surfaces, which make it difficult to dig; moreover, for them, the best way to dispose of a body is through immediacy. Cremation is also a possibility, but the wood is scarce and only very important people go through this process.
Although it's supposed to be a private ceremony involving only the monks and the family, government officials have been promoting it as a tourist activity that's gaining a lot of popularity. These visitors, driven my morbid curiosity diminish the importance of this ceremony, since people talk and take pictures with a complete lack of respect for the families and the religious implications of the ritual. I guess that's what happens when economic greed and absolute disregard are in a powerful position. No matter what, sky burials are still happening, and Tibetans have proven to be a group that will preserve no matter what their millenary traditions.
The world has a spectrum of possibilities, experiences, and traditions. If you want to explore other realities of the world, take a look at these: