Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tibetan Sky Burials

A Tibetan funeral ritual that despite my extensive education in anthropology I've only just now learned about:

After death ceremonies vary from each faith from Judaism, Islam, Christianity, etc. In Tibetan Buddhism, there's a method of burial known as sky burial. Being Buddhist myself, I didn't know what a sky burial was. My humanities professor in college explained the sky burial before we watched a movie called "Kundun." The story behind Kundun is a biographical drama detailing the life of the current Dalai Lama who is the religious leader of the Buddhist faith.

The sky burial is pretty gruesome sight especially watching it for the first time. First time I saw the sky burial that was portrayed in Kundun, I wanted to cringe. It gave me the creeps. But you can't overlook the symbolism behind a sky burial. Each burial ceremony is sacred and carries a lot of symbolism. Sky burial is no different from such burial ceremony.

During the ceremony, the deceased is carried out to the open mountainous areas where vultures are present. What the monks due is sever each body part of the dead body and toss them out to the vultures. It seems disrespectful and sacrilegious to most faiths because it looks as if the body is desecrated. But that's not the intention of the sky burial.

Sky burial's intention is that when the vultures tear apart the flesh from the bones, your essence is part of the birds' essence. To them, you're still living but part of your body lives on in the birds. Also, the sky burial represents that you're giving back to life and to nature. Vultures are considered birds of prey and the sky burial is to honor those birds of prey...

...A lot of people would consider a sky burial to be disrespectful. But a sky burial possesses strong symbolism and a few benefits. A sky burial represents generosity which is one of the virtues taught in Buddhism. You're giving your body up to the birds in a generous acts in hopes to reincarnate in better circumstances. However the reason it's called a sky barrier because it was dubbed that name by the Westerners. While in Tibet it's called a jhator which is defined as giving to the birds. A sky burial is also friendly on the environment because no nutrients and resources are wasted. Meaning no trees are chopped up, no rocks containing minerals are crushed, and no fuel is burned meaning no pollution.

In a nutshell, a sky burial was the cycle of life and death at its simplest as nature intended.
For a much more comprehensive photologue of a Tibetan Sky Burial click here (rare warning: explicit content). Of course, I don't consider a sky burial disrespectful because I have no problem with the fact that our bodies simply decay upon our deaths; Is there any real difference between being eaten by worms or being eaten by vultures? Still the same naturalistic circle of life, as far as I'm concerned.

Now I'm sure that I've mentioned this on this blog before but just in case I haven't: I expect a massive party to be held upon my death, replete with the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol (amongst other chemicals) to be performed by everyone I care about upon my passing with absolutely no funeral proceedings of any kind. Now, I'd prefer that my body be donated to science after my death (yes, I realize that my Hunter S. Thompson-esque dream of being bodily fired from a cannon is a long shot, no pun intended) but regardless of the final destination for my obviously good-looking corpse I fully expect a grand soiree to be in full swing at the time. And I can honestly say that after many years of preparation I have full confidence that many of my true friends will make this happen according to my premortem wishes. Many thanks in advance, amigos.



shansmith said...

Party like a rock star we will. Sterling and I have read your wishes, and know that you are probably going down first. You should probably tell someone's kids since they will be way more hip at partying than we will by the time you are gone.

JBW said...

Don't worry sis, I have the hippest of the hip on the case; you guys are strictly back up. Of course it would be a cruel irony if I outlived you all... I should probably increase my wine intake just in case.

Intrepid Californio said...

Dude if you don't die in time, and you still want to be shot out of a cannon while still breathing, let me know. I am sure we can work something out. And let me know when you crack that bottle of red wine.