Tibetan funeral vultures have been instrumental in the death traditions of many Tibetan people. Vultures are often viewed as highly spiritual beings that take on the form of animals to help their deceased loved ones through their final hours. Their existence is considered sacred by many Tibetans and other people of the Buddhist world. When a Tibetan funeral has a service, a vulture will often accompany the coffin at its departure from the funeral home. The role of the vulture in these ceremonies is to fly over and assist the coffin to be carried to the grave. This act is thought to symbolize the spirit of the deceased still linking with his or her spirit prior to being placed in the ground.
Tibetan vultures have been traditionally used as a method of paying tribute to a deceased. The funeral processions that usually precede the cremation of a person include the offering of flowers and other tokens to the deceased. Many Tibetan families choose to cremate their loved one using the body of the deceased as the cremation ash. These birds have often been used as flying mounts to place on top of the cremation urns in memory of the deceased.
There are two main types of Tibetan funeral vultures. The greater white stork funeral vulture is often associated with Tibetan culture. It is depicted as a great white bird that flies through the cremation chamber carrying its head of the deceased. Another type of this type of funeral bird is called the black-necked stork.
Some Buddhist priests believe that the act of cremation itself causes the soul to leave one’s body. The black-necked stork, however, is not generally associated with such beliefs. Instead, these birds are often seen as the spirits of the deceased being pushed away from their bodies during the actual cremation process. Tibetan vultures are held in high esteem by practitioners of the Buddhist faith, and they are often given the same respect as other animals considered sacred.
The funeral vultures’ lifespan is short. They will usually perish after only one season of breeding. However, there are some traditions that hold that these beautiful birds can live up to five more years in good health.
There are many theories about why the Tibetan cremation bird is raised up into the air and not burned. Traditionally, it is said that the deceased cannot be cremated until his spirit has completely left his earthly body. According to some religious believers, if the cremation is not done correctly, the soul of the deceased will not be able to pass through the body of his loved one and will not be able to return to his “real” world. This is how the Tibetans believe they can bring him back through the powerful tears of water. Because the cremation is done so quickly, there are no ashes to be gathered and no way for the cremation to be identified as having been done correctly.
Because the Tibetan funeral vultures are so closely tied to the Tibetan culture, their appearance at a funeral should be dignified and respectful. The funeral service should be conducted in a very respectful manner, and the cremation bird should be given its due respect and honor. Cremation is a time where all who are alive are united in grief. It is also the time for everyone to say goodbye to the deceased and take some time to remember the beautiful life the deceased led.
There are many reasons why Tibetan vultures are so popular with some practitioners in the Buddhist faith. Because they are so close to nature, they have an inherent love and compassion for all living things. They are intelligent birds that are attracted to human dwellings. No matter what faith a person adheres to, taking the time to observe and pay homage to a majestic bird such as a Tibetan vulture will be greatly appreciated.