What is Sky Burial? 2

sky burial

Although not a practice that’s traditionally found in the UK or Europe, sky burial is the accepted method for disposing of a community’s dead in a number of places around the world. The Tibetan practice, sometimes referred to as celestial burial, is one of the most well-known examples of this type of burial, but precise details are difficult to come by due to the secrecy that shrouds much of the ceremony.

This ritual is not particularly prevalent outside of Tibetan Buddhist communities, but it does also take place in Zoroastrian and some Mongolian communities. However, here we will focus primarily on the Tibetan practice, only touching briefly on comparable practices found elsewhere in the world.

tibetan burial

The Ceremony

While the ritualistic specifics of Tibetan sky burial can differ from area to area, there are a number of common practices that seem to underpin the tradition. Upon death, the deceased’s body is wrapped in white Tibetan cloth and left to rest for three to five days in the corner of the family home. Buddhist monks chant mantras and read scripture during this period, the family cease all activity to create a peaceful environment, and no one is permitted to touch the body.

After the body has been rested for the appropriate period of time, the family choose their day to transport the body to the burial platform, typically far away from any population areas. There, it is prepared for the birds by a rogyapa, which translates somewhat crudely as a ‘body breaker’. This involves disassembling the body to make it easier for vultures, hawks and eagles to consume. The practice culminates in the body breaker crushing the remaining bones with a mallet, grinding them into a mixture of barley flour, tea and yak milk, before feeding this to the smaller birds still loitering after the vultures have departed.

Compared to a ‘ground burial,’ such as that which is commonplace in the UK and Europe, in a sky burial the deceased’s remains are carried away into the atmosphere by many birds, and the final resting place is not really one place, but many. While this practice might appear barbaric to some of us in the Western world, it’s worth remembering that even when we are buried in ground our bodies are consumed by insects, grubs and bacteria, even if this is not visible above the ground.

Significance of Sky Burials

This ceremony holds a great deal of significance in those communities that employ it and is inextricably bound up with Buddhist practices, beliefs and certain ideas concerning reincarnation. It is believed that the primary spiritual purpose of sky burials is not to unite the deceased with some sacred sky realm, but to demonstrate the impermanence of life and all living things. It is an act of generous giving that sustains other life in the event of an individual’s death and frees them from their current physical incarnation, allowing them to continue their journey onward and ensuring a smooth transmigration between forms.

While the ancient history of sky burial seems to suggest that it may have been introduced as a practical way of safely disposing of bodies, it has been transformed and refined by thousands of years of religious practice and change. With the vast majority of Tibet lying high up above the tree line, wood for cremation is difficult to come by, making this an impractical burial practice and encouraging local populations to develop alternatives. Furthermore, with ground covered by a layer of permafrost, digging a grave is not as easy as it is in other parts of the world, which quite feasibly also led to the development of sky burial. However, there are also a number of factors that endanger the practice. Diminishing vulture numbers, increased regulation around urban environments and certain ritualistic elements that make the ceremony much more expensive than other burial practices, have all resulted in fewer people opting for a sky burial.

Similar Practices

Sky burials, or rituals approaching something similar, can be found throughout Mongolia and in many Zoroastrian communities. In Zoroastrianism, burials are performed in Towers of Silence, the most famous of which can be found in Mumbai. Though the ritual differs in many ways, bodies are still left out to be picked at and consumed by local populations of vultures in a ceremony that is meant to cleanse the body and everything it comes into contact with. In Mongolia, some communities adopted sky burial practices when they converted to Tibetan Buddhism, many of which continue today. While the practice is limited to a very small percentage of the worldwide population, its existence highlights the diversity of belief within that population and how much our funeral ceremonies and rituals change from place to place and over time.

Read more about Buddhist funeral practices here.

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Missouri Storm Chaser’s Ashes to be Released into a Tornado 0

Tornado

What would you say if you could write your own obituary? For a creative option, you can’t beat Jim “Mad Dog” Sellars’ self-penned goodbye, in which the adventurous former ice cream dipper, butcher, weatherman, telephone lineman, reserve policeman and veteran storm chaser from Missouri announced that his ashes would be released into a twister.

“My friends the ‘Outlaw Chasers’ will launch my cremains into a tornado at a later date”, Sellars wrote. “That’ll be fun!!!!”

The scattering will be a fitting tribute to a man who chased well over 100 tornadoes in his lifetime. Speaking to the Kansas City Star, Sellars’ older brother John described Jim as a dedicated and generous person who approached all his hobbies whole-heartedly. “If he knew (a tornado) was going to set up somewhere, in Oklahoma, or Alabama, he would load up with a couple of people and go chase.”

“If he found something that interested him, he jumped into it all the way up to his neck.”

Even when Sellars was confined to his bed due to illness, he continued to track tornadoes for the National Weather Service’s SKYWARN program, also sending out radio reports to help his fellow storm chasers.

“It was a tough time for him, but he spent every waking hour helping people all over the radio”, said John. Condolences on Sellars’ memorial page describe him as both “fun loving”, “generous” and a “big hearted guy who was very devoted to helping others”.

Jim’s self-written obituary tells the story of a busy life well lived, with memories of family, friends, and a range of careers:

“I remember the 1960 Winter Olympics we had in our snowy backyard, sitting with Dad watching the satellite Echo 1 flash through the night sky.

“I was honored as a Policeman to have met and protected … Presidents Reagan and Ford, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, George Carlin, Dolly Parton, Mac Davis, Kenny Rogers, Tom Jones, Elvis and many more.”

It also paints a portrait of a self-deprecating man with a strong sense of humour. “I had a few tryouts with the Reds, Phillies and Cardinals. … I was either too drunk or too hung over to do much good … But I had fun.”

Yet, as you might expect from a long time storm chaser, the weather seems to have been Sellar’s enduring passion. “I saw my first tornado in Sept 1975 and my last 30 years later … I liked all kinds of weather, rain, snow, sleet, hot, cold … I really didn’t care as long as I was here to see it.”

Despite the unusual nature of his brother’s last request, John has promised to launch the ashes into a tornado as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Jim Sellars is survived by his two children, a son and a daughter, and four grandchildren.

“I loved all my family, friends, caregivers, and the people that made my world turn.” Sellars said. “So, as we move forward on our path around the sun at 66,660 mph, let’s all pray, hope, or wish for peace and love for our world.

“Bye for now. … See ya on the other side.”


Do you have any unusual wishes for your own ashes? Make sure your family know what to do when the time comes by sharing your funeral wishes in your will with Beyond. It’s free, easy and takes just ten minutes. Start writing your free will here today.

Baptist Funeral Customs 0

Baptist Funeral Customs

The Baptist churches have their origins in the reformation movement in Europe. Baptism spread from Amsterdam to England and then across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States, where the largest Baptist congregations are now based.

The fundamental principle on which Baptism differentiates itself from other Christian churches is ‘believer’s baptism’. Whereas other parts of the Christian faith baptise infants at a very young age, Baptists believe that you need to be able to personally affirm your faith if the process is to hold any spiritual significance. Here, we take a look at the beliefs, customs and traditions surrounding Baptist funerals.

 

Baptist beliefs

There is great variety in tradition, custom and belief among Baptists and this fact is reflected in Baptist funerals. While all Baptists are joined in the belief that only those who profess their faith in Jesus Christ should be baptised, other theological differences aren’t as divisive as in other sects of the Christian faith. This means funeral services can be personalised to a greater extent to reflect the life and opinions of the deceased. It also means there are diverse opinions on what death means. However, most Baptists believe that those people with faith in Jesus Christ will find salvation in him and go on to live forever by his side in heaven.

 

Baptist funeral customs

Diversity of belief between Baptist congregations means that some funerals will be joyous celebrations, while others will be more sombre affairs. The first step in organising a Baptist funeral is contacting the local deacon or pastor. They will assist in organising the funeral and ensure everything is as it should be.

Baptist Funeral CustomsA viewing service is common amongst Baptist congregations. This gives friends and family the opportunity to pay their respects and usually takes place a day or two before the funeral. The funeral itself is led by the local deacon or pastor. Often the casket is closed at the beginning of the service. In many cases, the service and readings will focus on the power of God and His role within everyone’s lives. It’s not unusual for there to be little said about the deceased’s life. Music and the reading of scripture both play an important part in Baptist funerals and both religious and popular music may be heard.

Once the service is complete, it is traditional for prayers to be said and scripture read by the grave site. Once the coffin has been lowered into the ground, the mourners often disperse and reconvene at a reception at the family home, the church or a public space. Food is sometimes provided and it’s usual for mourners to contribute to the meal.

 

Baptist Funeral etiquette and other customs

Traditionally, mourners are expected to dress respectfully in black and clothes that reveal too much skin are not considered appropriate. However, some families may ask mourners to dress in brightly coloured clothes in honour of the deceased. Sending flowers to the family of the deceased is also common, although individuals may be asked to donate to charity instead.