The Ancient Tibetan Tradition of Sky Burials

Samuel Reason | October 3rd, 2018

Tibetan culture has one tradition that to outsiders can seem very strange, it is their practice of sky burials. Known also as a celestial burial, it is mostly associated with the Tibetan culture, however, there have been instances where it occurred in other civilizations.

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To people of today, it will sound like a very horrific ordeal and may alarm many. Once you learn the reasons behind it, it all becomes a little more clear. Tibetans feel the tradition is a way to honor their past and also honoring nature, by feeding their local vultures. Tibetans believe it is very noble to allow your body to go back to nature completely and that your spirit will leave it behind. It is also important to know that in Tibetan folklore and beliefs, those vultures are in fact their equivalent of angels.

A sky burial in its essence is the act of leaving out your corpse for the vultures to come and feed. A burial master will first prepare the corpse, cutting it up and smashing or grinding the bones. Then the burial master will then be in charge of then placing the deceased body in a chosen site.

The process is rooted in the belief that death is about reincarnation, that the soul exits the body at the time of death. They feel that the reincarnation process can only happen if the physical body no longer exists. If the vultures do not devour the corpse given then it is a sign of really bad luck to come. Because the vultures are believed to take the soul to heave, a wild windy place in the skies.

Here the souls are able to wait until their next reincarnation. One thing that is not known is when Tibetan culture started to practice sky burials, most historians believe it is a practice that has existed for over 11,000 years. Unfortunately, there is very little written evidence to prove the exact date.

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