Sky burial is to feed the vuture with the body. After the vulture finishes eating the body and fly into the sky, the Tibetan people think that the dead man will go to the heaven.
The sky burial is held at the sky burial spot. There is a fixed place in different places. After one man dies, his body will be held for several days when thelamas are invited to chant scripture and select someday to hold the funeral.
On the day of funeral, it is quite early when someone is hired to carry the body to the sky burial spot. the man in charge of the sky burial burns incense first. Junst then, the vultures gather there as they see the smoke.Then the man undressed the dead man and cut the body into pieces. The bones are pounded into pieces,too. Tsampas is used to mix the pieces.At last, the man whistles to call the vulture to eat the pieces, without anything left.
Sky burial or ritual dissection was once a common practice in Tibet. A human corpse is cut into small pieces and placed on a mountaintop, exposing it to the elements or the mahabhuta and animals – especially to birds of prey. In Tibetan the practice is known as jhator , which literally means, "giving alms to the birds."
The majority of Tibetans adhere to Buddhism, which teaches reincarnation. There is no need to preserve the body, as it is now an empty vessel. Birds may eat it, or nature may let it decompose. So the function of the sky burial is simply the disposal of the remains. In much of Tibet the ground is too hard and rocky to dig a grave, and with fuel and timber scarce, a sky burial is often more practical than cremation.
Additionally, since no fuel, land, or topsoil is consumed, this way of burial is arguably more ecologically friendly than cremation or interment.
The Tibetan sky-burial practices appear to have evolved out of practical considerations:a) most of the Tibet is above the tree line, and the scarcity of timber makes cremation economically unfeasible; b) subsurface interment is equally difficult since the active layer is not more than a few centimeters deep, with solid rock or permafrost beneath it. The customs are first recorded in an indigenous 12th century Buddhist treatise known colloquially as the Book of the Dead. Tibetan tantricism appears to have influenced the procedure
As the name implies, jhator is considered an act of generosity: the deceased and his/her surviving relatives are providing food to sustain living beings. Generosity and compassion for all beings are important virtues or paramita in Buddhism. Although some observers have suggested that jhator is also meant to unite the deceased person with the sky or sacred realm, this does not seem consistent with most of the knowledgeable commentary and eyewitness reports, which indicate that Tibetans believe that at this point life has completely left the body and the body is simply meat.
The government of the People's Republic of China, which has controlled Tibet since 1950, prohibited the practice (which it considered barbaric) in the 1960s, but started to allow it again in the 1980s. Non-Tibetans are not permitted to observe it, and photography is considered unethical, extremely offensive and is strictly forbidden.
The tradition and custom of the jhator forded Traditional Tibetan medicine and thangka iconography with a particular insight into the interior workings of the human body. Aspects of the skeletal structure were reverently employed in ritual tools such as skullcup, thigh-bone trumpet, etc. Alex Grey, a Vajrayana practitioner and celebrated artist, employs the symbolism of these rich confluent traditions
A traditional jhator is performed in specified locations in Tibet (and surrounding areas traditionally occupied by Tibetans). Drigung Monastery is one of the three most important jhator sites.
The procedure takes place on a large flat rock long used for the purpose. The charnel ground (durtro) is always higher than its surroundings. It may be very simple, consisting only of the flat rock, or it may be more elaborate, incorporating temples and stupa (chorten in Tibetan).
Relatives may remain nearby during the jhator, possibly in a place where they cannot see it directly. The jhator usually takes place at dawn.
The full jhator procedure (as described below) is elaborate and expensive. Those who cannot afford it simply place their deceased on a high rock where the body decomposes or is eaten by birds and animals.
Accounts from observers vary. The following description is assembled from multiple accounts by observers from the U.S. and Europe. References appear at the end.
Prior to the procedure, monks may chant mantra around the body and burn juniper incense – although ceremonial activities often take place on the preceding day.
The work of disassembling of the body may be done by a monk, or, more commonly, by rogyapas ("body-breakers").
All the eyewitness accounts remarked on the fact that the rogyapas did not perform their task with gravity or ceremony, but rather talked and laughed as during any other type of physical labor. This is consistent with reports that Tibetans see the body simply as a leftover to be dealt with appropriately.
In one account, the leading rogyapa cut off the limbs and hacked the body to pieces, handing each part to his assistants, who used rocks to pound the flesh and bones together to a pulp, which they mixed with tsampa (barley flour with tea and yak butter or milk) before the vultures were summoned to eat.
In several accounts, the flesh was stripped from the bones and given to vultures without further preparation; the bones then were broken up with sledgehammers, and usually mixed with tsampa before being given to the vultures.
In another account, vultures were given the whole body. When only the bones remained, they were broken up with mallets, ground with tsampa, and given to crows and hawks that had waited until the vultures had departed.
Sometimes the internal organs were removed and processed separately, but they too were consumed by birds. The hair is removed from the head and may be simply thrown away; at Drigung it seems at least some hair is kept in a room of the monastery.
None of the eyewitness accounts specifies what kind of knife is used in the jhator. One source states that it is a "ritual flaying knife" or trigu (Sanskrit kartika), but another source expresses skepticism, noting that the trigu is considered a woman's tool (rogyapas seem to be exclusively male).
The species of vulture involved is apparently the "Eurasian Griffon" or "Old World vulture," Order Falconiformes, Family Accipitridae, scientific name Gyps fulvus.
In places where there are several jhator offerings each day, the birds sometimes had to be coaxed to eat, which in one case was accomplished by a ritual dance. It is considered a bad omen if the vultures will not eat, or if even a small portion of the body is left after the birds fly away.
In places where fewer bodies are processed, the vultures were more eager and sometimes had to be fended off with sticks during the initial preparations.
Stupa burial and cremation are reserved for high lamas who are being honored in death. Sky burial is the usual means for disposing of the corpses of commoners. Sky burial is not considered suitable for children who are less than 18, pregnant women, or those who have died of infectious disease or accident. The origin of sky burial remains largely hidden in Tibetan mystery.
Sky burial is a ritual that has great religious meaning. Tibetans are encouraged to witness this ritual, to confront death openly and to feel the impermanence of life. Tibetans believe that the corpse is nothing more than an empty vessel. The spirit, or the soul, of the deceased has exited the body to be reincarnated into another circle of life. It is believed that the Drigung Kagyu order of Tibetan Buddhism established the tradition in this land of snow, although there are other versions of its origin.
The corpse is offered to the vultures. It is believed that the vultures are Dakinis. Dakinis are the Tibetan equivalent of angels. In Tibetan, Dakini means "sky dancer". Dakinis will take the soul into the heavens, which is understood to be a windy place where souls await reincarnation into their next lives. This donation of human flesh to the vultures is considered virtuous because it saves the lives of small animals that the vultures might otherwise capture for food. Sakyamuni, one of the Buddhas, demonstrated this virtue. To save a pigeon, he once fed a hawk with his own flesh.
After death, the deceased will be left untouched for three days. Monks will chant around the corpse. Before the day of sky burial, the corpse will be cleaned and wrapped in white cloth. The corpse will be positioned in a fetal position, the same position in which the person had been born. The ritual of sky burial usually begins before dawn. Lamas lead a ritual procession to the charnel ground, chanting to guide the soul. There are few charnel grounds in Tibet. They are usually located near monasteries. Few people would visit charnel grounds except to witness sky burials. Few would want to visit these places.
After the chanting, the body breakers prepare the body for consumption by the vultures. The body is unwrapped and the first cut is made on the back. Hatchets and cleavers are used to quickly cut the body up, in a definite and precise way. Flesh is cut into chunks of meat. The internal organs are cut into pieces. Bones are smashed into splinters and then mixed with tsampa, roasted barley flour.
As the body breakers begin, juniper incense is burned to summon the vultures for their tasks, to eat breakfast and to be Dakinis. During the process of breaking up the body, those ugly and enormous birds circle overhead, awaiting their feast. They are waved away by the funeral party, usually consisting of the friends of the deceased, until the body breakers have completed their task. After the body has been totally separated, the pulverized bone mixture is scattered on the ground. The birds land and hop about, grabbing for food. To assure ascent of the soul, the entire body of the deceased should be eaten. After the bone mixture, the organs are served next, and then the flesh.
This mystical tradition arouses curiosity among those who are not Tibetan. However, Tibetans strongly object to visits by the merely curious. Only the funeral party will be present at the ritual. Photography is strictly forbidden. Tibetans believe that photographing the ritual might negatively affect the ascent of the soul.