In contemporary Tibet, many individuals adhere to profound Buddhist afterlife beliefs. According to these teachings, there’s no requirement to preserve the physical body after death, as it is considered an empty vessel. While these may not be your personal beliefs, there are still shared themes uniting the diverse interpretations of existence beyond death and each offers valuable insights.
Revisiting Buddhist Afterlife Beliefs in Reincarnation
Consider what reincarnation signifies to you:
- Is it an opportunity for a fresh start?
- A chance to improve upon past mistakes?
- An opportunity to explore everything you never had the chance to before?
For many, reincarnation carries a certain allure, dispelling the inherent fear of death. However, traditional Buddhism diverges from this popular notion.
In Buddhist philosophy, the ultimate goal of reincarnation is not merely to seek greener pastures but to attain “nirvana,” a state of enlightenment characterized by the cessation of desire and the end of suffering. The more virtuous and benevolent one’s actions, the swifter the progression towards the ultimate truth.
Most of us aspire to become better individuals and leave a more harmonious world for our descendants. Whether we label it karma or being compassionate, the meaning remains the same: be kind and virtuous, and you shall reap the rewards.
Embracing the Inevitability of Death
Death isn’t something we actively seek, but it remains an undeniable facet of human existence. Who among us would opt for immortality with the possibility of observing our life slowly deteriorate? How could we appreciate life’s beautiful moments if we knew they’d endlessly continue? We may not yearn for death, but we acknowledge it as an essential component of life. And we derive lessons from it and teach through it.
As you reflect on the life of a departed loved one or contemplate your own existence, you may find solace in the shared human experiences and the wisdom we glean from one another.
The Unique Practice of Sky Burials
While cremation is widely practiced among Buddhists, common people in Tibet have a distinctive method of laying their loved ones to rest – the sky burial. This ceremony involves offering the deceased’s body to the elements and the animal kingdom, particularly to birds of prey.
In preparation for a sky burial, the deceased remains untouched for three days while monks conduct rituals and chants around the body. The body is then carefully cleaned, placed in a fetal position, and wrapped in a pristine white cloth.
At the designated burial site, monks initiate the sky burial with chants and the burning of juniper incense to beckon the birds. The body is then unveiled, and either a monk or designated individuals, known as rogyapas or “body-breakers,” meticulously separated into pieces in preparation for burial. With vultures circling above, the body is divided at specific points.
There is a precise and reverential process to be followed. During this procedure, the rogyapas engage in conversation and laughter, as this is believed to ease the transition of the deceased’s soul into the next life according to Buddhist teachings.
Upon completion, the rogyapas step back, allowing the birds to descend. Subsequently, the bones are reduced to fragments by the rogyapas and combined with barley flour. Other birds of prey complete this sacred process.
It is essential to note that the ceremonial practice of sky burials in Tibet is sacred and not open to visitors or outsiders out of respect for its deeply spiritual nature. Tibetans have strong objections to the viewing of sky burials by outsiders, emphasizing the need to preserve the sanctity of this ritual, which is the most common way to transition to the next life in Tibetan culture.