Celestial Burial in Tibet
2003-12-8 10:58:44     CRIENGLISH.com
Throughout history, people have tried to avoid death or at least delay it. Some try to find a fountain of youth. Some hope good works can prolong lifespan. Most view death as something to be dreaded. The Tibetan view of death is, on the contrary, optimistic . One of their burial customs is called sky burial, or celestial burial, which shows their respect for nature and an understanding of life.
Death does not discriminate. It stalks everyone from emperors, buddhas to men in the street, with no exception.

Throughout history, people have tried to avoid death or at least delay it. Some try to find a fountain of youth. Some hope good works can prolong lifespan. Most view death as something to be dreaded. The Tibetan view of death is, on the contrary, optimistic . One of their burial customs is called sky burial, or celestial burial, which shows their respect for nature and an understanding of life.

Before the ceremony begins, the Lamas chant a prayer to help the soul of the deceased person ascend. This is in fact a requiem for the dead. The corpse is then chopped and cypress branches are burnt to attract hawks or vultures. It is considered auspicious if the birds eat up the minced flesh. This is a kind of sacrifice proposed by Tibetan Buddhism which believes in human elevation with the help of animals. It also shows the Buddhist's love for all creatures of the world.

To the Tibetans, the sky, or the universe, holds a supreme position. It is where the sacred world lies. To merge with the sky is a holy event, one which replaces the sufferings of this world with peace.

The celestial burial platform at the hillside near Zhigongdi Temple is a striking place for such burials. The snow on the mountains never thaws. Lush green brush covers the land. Buddhist banners are forever blowing in the wind brightening up the dismal sky. The surroundings give the platform a holy and awesome air.

Legend has it that the huge black stone used for chopping corpses flew from India, the holy land of Buddhism. The smaller stones around the huge ones are believed to be remnants of the holy hawks that brought the black stone. The platform is said to be linked with a burial platform in India via a beam of light. While the huge stone is for adults who died of normal causes, the small stones are for kids under 8 and those who died of infectious disease, poison or murder. The corpses of the latter are chopped, the flesh is burnt up so that vultures and hawks cannot eat it. In Tibetan custom, only people who died of normal causes are entitled to celestial burial.  

The writer, Ma Lihua, described the celestial burial in the essay "Wind of Soul". "In the morning, the cloth used to wrap the corpse is unfastened. The whole process of burial is presented in front of me. At that time the sky is sapphire. The clouds are pure white. The rising sun shines brilliantly over the land. It's windless. I am standing there, calmly watching the person in charge of the burial and his assistants slicing up the flesh and smashing the bones. The vultures are circling right above our heads--they are waiting impatiently to be entertained. Some thoughts keep coming to me. It is never so easy that the life we treasure is erased in such a way."  (Gao Qian)
 
  Recommend