Yesterday I read, on Wikipedia, about sky burials.
I’m not exactly sure how it happened. It’s not pretty, to be sure. And I wouldn’t recommend looking it up on Wikipedia since the graphic they include is pretty shocking for such a commonly used site. But I found myself engrossed.
Sky burials are an ancient Tibetan ritual whereby the body of the deceased is cut into pieces and brought to the top of the mountain. There it is laid out for birds of prey or scavenging. Partially practical and partially spiritual, the practice seems barbaric. But the permafrost soil of Tibet makes traditional burials––traditional, at least, by our standards––impractical. A shortage of fuel makes the somehow more humane practice of cremation (lighting the body of our former brethren on fire?) seem profligate.
In the Buddhist religion, the human being is but one thread of the fabric of life. We are alive in our present form for this present moment, after which we die. The life in us moves from our bodies to other bodies; we become cows or kings. We become the earth and all who live in it. Our bodies become dust or food. It is an act of generosity, then, to lay out the remainder of what once was us as a gift, a giving back, to the system that has given to us.
It’s a thought I’ve been ruminating on since. How do I give back. What does my life become when I die?
This passage from T.S. Eliot’s “The Dry Salvages” comes to mind:For most of us this is the aim Never here to be realized; Who are only undefeated Because we have gone on trying; We, content at the last If our temporal reversion nourish (Not too far from the yew-tree) The life of significant soil.