An astonishing series of photographs of a Tibetan “sky burial,” where a corpse is cut up and fed to vultures, with the remains being pounded into dust, has been viewed almost three quarters of a million times in 24 hours.
The images (view here) are very graphic, but as Justin Whitaker says, “As a poignant reminder of the impermanence of this body, they’re worth viewing.”
According to Wikipedia, in Tibet the practice is known as jhator, which means “giving alms to the birds.”
Sky burial is traditional in Tibet, where the ground is too rocky for interment to be practical, and where a lack of wood makes cremation unfeasible.
This kind of burial is a kind of meditation in itself. There’s long been a tradition in Buddhism of using corpses in order to reflect on impermanence and to reduce attachment to the human form. For example, in order to develop mindfulness the monk is encouraged to see his own body in the following way…
..as if he were to see a corpse cast away in a charnel ground, picked at by crows, vultures, & hawks, by dogs, hyenas, & various other creatures… a skeleton smeared with flesh & blood, connected with tendons… a fleshless skeleton smeared with blood, connected with tendons… a skeleton without flesh or blood, connected with tendons… bones detached from their tendons, scattered in all directions — here a hand bone, there a foot bone, here a shin bone, there a thigh bone, here a hip bone, there a back bone, here a rib, there a breast bone, here a shoulder bone, there a neck bone, here a jaw bone, there a tooth, here a skull… the bones whitened, somewhat like the color of shells… piled up, more than a year old… decomposed into a powder: He applies it to this very body, ‘This body, too: Such is its nature, such is its future, such its unavoidable fate.’
By contrast, Western funeral practices tend to be very sanitized, to the point where many people have never seen a corpse. It’s almost as if we don’t want to think about our own morality, even at funerals.
By contrast, the Buddha suggested that we reflect often on the facts that we are prone to old age, sickness, and death. The point of this was not to induce depression, but to help us remember that our time here is brief, so that we make good use of it. Reflecting, for example, that we do not have much time with our loved ones can help us appreciate them more, and argue with them less. Remembering that our lives are short encourages us to make our lives meaningful.