Tibetan sky burial ritual is one of the most unique culture we have develop over centuries. Different people has a different view about this practice. Yet once when you understand the background propose of this burial practice, you will surely have a better understanding about our way of life and our belief systems. So let me write you about this practice in detail as possible.
Propose and meaning of Tibetan sky burial
Almost over 99 percentage of Tibetan living in the Tibetan plateau are Buddhist. Everything traditional practice in our culture is base on the teaching of lord Buddha, and impermanence as the main factor. Jahtor (བྱ་གཏོར) is an act of generosity from the deceased as his most body is offered as living sustinent for other living being. Such act generosity and compassion are place highest virtue in Buddhism.
Stages of Tibetan Death Rituals
The first stages would be the preparation of death.
It may sound strange but as a Buddhist, The impermanence of life and everything surrounding us. We have been told by elderly member, not to do bad things as it will bring karma and we would be born in hell if we do bad deeds. In the night when we go to bad, We make a prostration to the alter in front of buddha images and statues as if like it would be our last. If we are lucky enough to wake in the morning we thank buddhas for the blessing and we would live that days as if like it is our last, and we would try to devoted maximum times in the practice of buddha teaching. this is another reason why you will always every one in Tibet would have rosary in their hand and recite mantra as much as possible.
When some one reach last stages of life into the elderly. They would give up all the household activities to the younger members of the family and devotee their rest time to the practice of buddhism. Some even give up everything to ordain as monk or nun. Many would start accumulating thing which is required for their own death rituals like a white cloth wrap their body after the life.
Every house has a small pot containing holy pills and holy herbs to give it to some one before their last breath.
2) Astrology consultation
Immediately after the deceased pass away, some one from a family would go to the nearest monastery or Astrologers to get an astrological prediction and procedure to follow. We would need a clear information about the person Date of birth, or the Astrology animal and element of the time when the deceased was born. He will then tell a clear information about what time the body has to leave home for burial, What practice should family member perform and which Buddha’s Thangka or statue should the family member make for the deceased.
3) Religious practice
Family would soon invite monks from the nearest monastery to recite prayer and read a Tibetan book of death (བར་དོ་ཐོས་གྲོལ) to guide the decease into the path to next life. This prayer would last until the burial time.
After this we would hold a weekly prayers on the day of death. all the family members and relatives would gather to give a helping hand and make offering to ease the family member expenditure for all the rituals. During the weekly prayers we do an offering prayers, for this prayers we will have to prepare lots of eatables including the Tsampa cake. And we will distribute to all the neighbors, friends and family.
During the entire 45 days after the deceased trans-migrational journey to the next life, the family member also has to offer butter lamp. It is commonly believe to help him on his journey as the lamp to see in the darkness. Average family members would make hundreds of butter lamp at a time and rich would make thousand of it.
After the consultation with the astrologer, the family member would also need to make statue or Thangka of Buddha. This image of buddha would become the only remembrance of deceased in the long term. In our house we have lots of Thangka for our grandfather, other family members. It is believe which every the buddha image we are ask for, this buddha will guide deceased to the next life smoothly.
If the family home is located near the Lhasa city. One family member would bring a butter lamp to the Jokhang temple in Barkhor street.
Every relatives would gather in the house of deceased for the preparation of the burial. About the five in the morning the body of the deceased would be taken out for the sky burial. Normally the death body would remain in the house for two to four days depending favorable time predicted by the astrologer.
The family members offer the Kathak (white scarf) to the deceased. The death body will then bring to the Barkhor street for one last circumambulation of the Jokhang temple. And it would be taken to the sky burial site. After the circumambulation of the barkhor street only few male relative would continue to the burial site to help the cutter and make sure every thing goest smoothly.
At the burial site when the cutter is offering the death body to the bird, there would be monks to recite the prayers.
4) annual prayer after one year
After passing a year, the family member would hold an annual prayer either in the house hold or at the monastery of their choice. this prayer is to wish a good fortune and well being for the next life the deceased would already acquired.
Some Other information relating to the Tibet funeral practices
Sky burial is done for a common people. but when it comes to highly attained monks and Lamas, their remaining would be cremated in the fire. when it comes to small children, they remain would buried in the Land or preformed a water burial.
Travel information about Tibetan Sky Burial and after death rituals
If you are visiting Tibet Autonomous region, you will not likely to able the ritual site during the performance of the ritual. People in Tibet Autonomous region are very sensitive about it. if you want to i would recommend visiting Tibetan areas in Sichuan or Qinghai.