“Tibetans believe that the vultures have the power to bring the spirit of the body to the heavens,” says missionary and Climbing For Christ advisory team member Tim Scott in episode six (“Sky Burial: Predators of the Air”) during the second season of his TV show Travel the Road.
“In the event that the vultures do not eat the body, or devour only a portion of it, it is believed that the person committed serious sins and is doomed to a tenure in one of the hells.”
Observers feel Tibetan tantrism plays a role in the sky burial. Tantrism is a blending of Mahayana Buddhism and the ancient occult practices of Tibet. (Mahayana Buddhism in the West is Zen, a discipline with the primary goal of enlightenment through meditation — or finding your inner Buddha.)
“Tantric Buddhism uses incantations and occult signs,” Fritz Ridenour writes in So What’s the Difference, a look at world religions. “It contains strong elements of animism (attributing conscious life to inanimate objects or objects of nature) and is one of the many false religions that can leave followers open to demonic activity. Tantrism is considered the official religion of Tibet and is practiced extensively in Nepal.”
In Tibetan, the sky burial is known as jhator, which means “giving alms to the birds.”
“It is believed that the vultures are Dakinis,” missionary Scott says on TV’s Travel the Road. “Dakinis are the Tibetan equivalent of angels. In Tibetan, Dakini means, ‘sky dancer.’ Dakinis will take the soul into the heavens, which is understood to be a windy place where souls await reincarnation into their next lives.
“This sacrifice of human flesh to the vultures is considered virtuous because it saves the lives of small animals that the vultures might otherwise capture for food. So the sky burial can be considered a posthumous sacrifice of human flesh to birds of prey.”
To feed the birds, the corpse is desecrated. Parts of the body — skullcaps and thighbone trumpets – are cut off and saved by the monks. “Monks are known to take skullcaps as trophies and use femur bones as pipes,” Scott says. Other bones may be smashed to feed smaller birds when the vultures have finished feeding.
While the dismemberment is occurring monks constantly chant and incense is burned. In the minds of those participating, they are helping the deceased move from this life into the next reincarnated life.
A Buddhist monk with his beads, chanting for the dead.
We witnessed the sky burials of nine people, including a child and a baby. It was, to say the least, disturbing. One of my companions complained of recurring nightmares for several days after seeing this. But the experience also opened our eyes to the reality of the darkness we were confronting. We approached our mission with a heightened zeal, the result of seeing this death dance firsthand. God was building us up and equipping us for the work He had for us: to reveal the Truth and shine His unending light.
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Posted Aug. 19, 2009