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The aim of Tibetan Buddhism is spiritually grown. The key achievement is to reach enlightenment and then to help others to get to that state.
After death, the being enters the bardo (the interval) and stays there for 49 days.

Death is perceived as liberation and allows the return to an attitude of peace, called Nirvana. The soul continues to exist, and the body becomes a kind of empty envelope and must return to nature. For the soul, this represents the beginning of a new existence. Buddhists believe in reincarnation.

According to the person concerned, his spiritual advancement and the time of his death, the astrologer determines the ritual to be practiced.

The sky or heavenly funerals

They practice several types of funerals:

The sky burial, the manducation by birds of prey, is the most practiced because, in Tibet, the ground is frozen and the wood is rare.

They offer the deceased’s body to the vultures, for the occasion, considered angels.

This ritual allows the souls to reach heaven serenely. The vultures are those who carry the soul of the deceased to heaven. Heaven is depicted as a windswept space, where the souls await the moment of their next reincarnation, of their next life.

The body is washed and wrapped in a white garment. Then the hair is cut off, and a rogyapa cuts the corpse into several pieces and leaves the flesh as food for vultures. They transform the bones into a powder, which is mixed with the tsampa and given to the vultures. The family members are not allowed to see the scene on the burial site.

The religious representative recites a few mantras, then dances around the body. He holds a yack tail with his left hand and plays the flute (carved into a human femur).

Meanwhile, the right hand shakes a bell, to alert and reconcile the relations with the «guardians» of the place. They keep the body for three days. The ritual of the heavenly funerals usually begins before dawn. The lamas lead a procession until the mass grave where the body must be exposed and sing to guide the deceased’s soul.

The Tibetans are encouraged to attend this ritual, with the view to face death and feel the impermanence of life. These funerals are inappropriate for young people under 18 years, pregnant women, and people who have died from a contagious disease or an accident.

The immersion or water burial is a lower-class funeral rite. The fish are considered divine creatures. The immersion in the water is used for those having a difficult economic situation, like widows or widowers without children, beggars, and orphans.

They expose the body inside the house for three or four days. During these days, a sorcerer practices divination and chooses the most appropriate day for the funeral.

The body is dismembered on the banks of a river and thrown into the water. Sometimes, the corpse is just dropped in the water.

In the valleys of southern Tibet live a few vultures, and water immersion represents the main funeral rite.
The water immersion is equivalent to the heavenly burial in that region. 

Immersion ceremony

The body is devoured by fish, considered divine creatures. It explains why the locals still maintain their habit of not eating fish.

The tibetans avoid eating fish because the fish may eat dead bodies and also because fishing interferes with water, which is considered sacred. They think the fish have no tongue and they can’t gossip. The chatter is a huge imperfection. To reward the fish, the Tibetans do not eat them.

There are masters of the water funerary rites and places prohibited from immersion. The procedures and rituals are similar to the heavenly burial: the monks chant the Buddhist texts and purify the deceased’s soul.

Heavenly funerals: body cut by the rogyapa

The fire burial or cremation is considered less noble than the stupa burial. That is practiced for the lamas and the people with a high social status who can afford the costs (the wood and the fuel are expensive). They wrap up the body into the sitting position and tie it to the firewood pile.

The religious leader sits facing the deceased and chant sutras.
They remember the defunct’s life and morality, then wish the soul to be accepted by the gods in heaven.

When the fire is extinct, people leave in groups. The ashes are collected and stored after three days. The ashes are taken to high mountains to sprinkle in the wind or to be drop into rivers.

Earth burial is practiced occasionally for the bodies which are not pure enough to be given to the vultures, like those dead from infectious diseases or killed by robbers or murderers.

The stupa burial is practiced only for the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama, or the Living Buddha. The body is covered with salt water and then dried. Later the body is smeared with ointments and perfumes, embalmed with rare medicinal herbs and spices, and placed in a stupa (religious monument).

Tree burial is also practiced occasionally only for children and aborted fetuses. The body is cleaned with salt water, placed in a fetal position in a wooden coffin or basket, and hung far away from the village, in a dense forest. They can also place the body inside a clay pot, seal and cast it into a river, or keep it inside a storehouse.

Stupa and prayer flags
Tree burial

The cliff burial is used occasionally in southern Tibet. The embalmed corpse is placed in a wooden box in the cave off a cliff.

During the mourning period, they remove certain ornaments, especially the women. The bereavement lasts longer or shorter period, depending on the degree of relatedness with the deceased.

The family organize several ceremonies. They invite relatives, friends, and neighbors to share tea, wine, meat, butter, and money.

Manducation by the birds of prey

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