Tibetan burial customs


Ella's picture
Wed, 02/20/2013 - 11:11 -- Ella

Tibetan burial customs are based on Buddhist belief in reincarnation. Tibetans are not afraid of death. They believe that death does not terminate a life, but indicates rebirth. They face death with calm. Their family members and relatives do not grieve. Generally, funeral rituals practiced in Tibet are stupa burial, sky burial , cremation, water burial, and internment. Cliff burial and tree burial are also practiced occasionally.

Stupa Burial 
Stupa is a Tibetan Buddhist religious monument and a sacred burial site. Stupa burial is the noblest funeral ritual in Tibet. It is reserved for Dalai Lama , Panchen Lama   and Living Buddha. After the nirvana of a high Lama, the embalmed corpse is dehydrated and wrapped with rare medicinal herbs and spices. Gold flakes and saffron are scattered on the body in some cases. Finally, the corpse is moved to the stupa and preserved for worshiping. Stupas can be elaborate or simple. It can be constructed of gold, silver, bronze, wood, or earth. The type of stupa selected is based on the ranking of the Lama.

Cremation is considered less noble than stupa burial and is reserved for high monks and aristocrats. The corpse is seated on a stack of wood and straw and burned. The ashes of the sainted monks are added to tsatsas and thus preserved. Tsatsas are clay impressions of holy objects, images of deities or sacred symbols. Cremation is not confined to nobles but is also used for commoners in the southeast of Tibet where trees are abundant. The ashes of commoners are scattered on the top of a mountain or into the river.

Water Burial 
In water burial, the corpse is wrapped with white cloth and disposed into a river. There are two different views towards water burial. In areas where sky burial is the dominant practice, water burial is considered an inferior way to dispose of beggars and those with low social status. In places where vultures are not available for sky burial, water burial is widely adopted by commoners and the ritual follows a strict set of rules, sacredly and solemnly.

Inhumation was prevalent in ancient times and was widely practiced by many ethnical clans. However, with the introduction of Tibetan Buddhism, sky burial became the dominant burial rite. inhumation is now rarely practiced. It is reserved for those who died of infectious diseases or unnatural causes such as murder or accidents. According to Tibetans, these bodies are not clean enough to be presented to the vultures.

Cliff Burial
Cliff burial is practiced in southern Tibet. The embalmed corpse is placed in a wooden box. The box is then placed in the cave off a cliff. The caves are usually 50-300 meters (164-984 feet) above ground.

Tree burial 
This is a burial for children. It is commonly practiced in Nyingchi, southeast of Tibet. To avoid being seen by other children, the corpse of the child is placed in a wooden case and hung on a tree in a remote forest.

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