Sky Burial is simply the disposition of a corpse to be devoured by vultures. This method of dealing with the dead is the most widespread way for commoners in Tibet. This may sound gruesome and horrible to many of us, but sky burial is adopted by almost all Tibetan residents after their deaths. Having been misunderstood for some time, sky burial made Tibetan culture even more mysterious.
After the death of a Tibetan, the corpse is wrapped in white cloth and is placed in a corner of the house for three or five days. During these several days monks are asked to chant so that the souls can be released from purgatory. Family members stop other activities in order to create a peaceful environment to allow convenient passage for ascension of souls into heaven. At the day before the burial, the family members take off the clothes of the dead and fix the corpse in a fetal position.
At dawn on a selected day, the corpse is sent to the burial site among mountains which is always far from the residential area. The smoldering scent of juniper invites clusters of vultures to hover above the site. Then a 'daodeng', the man who is in charge of the burial process, begins to slice the body. The corpse is laid facing the ground. The first cut falls on the back, then muscles are peeled off and limbs are disjointed from the body. The bones crushed and mixed with tasmpa flour. After a signal is sent off, the ravenous vultures swoop down and peck at the flesh and the bones scattered around. Any remains left by these huge birds would tie the spirits to this life, so they must be collected up while monks are invited to patter the dead at the same time. After they are cremated, the ashes are scattered into air. At this time the deceased completes the move on to nirvana.
Besides, there are a lot of taboos in the process of the burial. For instance, the family members are not allowed to be present at the burial site. 'Daodeng' and mourners avoid going to the deceased's house for two days after the burial, lest that the souls will be brought back home. It is noted that visitors are not allowed to watch the ritual, for Tibetans believe it will bring negative efforts to the ascending of the souls.
As to the origination of sky burial, we can see a trace of a clue in the 3rd and 4th century B.C. when the deity of Heaven possessed supreme power. However the forming of the unique ritual involved the development of religions and many other historical facts. It is very complicated and could be a long story to tell. Besides, Buddhism contributes a lot to the development of sky burial. Buddhism advocates that the soul is immortal and the body is only a carrier. It would be better to benefit other creatures rather than let the body rot.
Vultures are sacred birds in the eyes of Tibetans, which are avatars of Dakini. It is said that a vulture can sense its death in advance, so it chooses a place on the top of a mountain to end its life where human beings can not reach. So Tibetans believe that only the majestic birds are competent for bringing the souls up to heaven.