Sky Burials – Text and the Exercise of Grade – 9 Compulsory English Book

Sky Burials 

Sky Burials is a traditional custom in Tibetan Buddhism to farewell their dead. These days, outsiders are mostly forbidden from witnessing them. I had heard of Tibetan Sky Burials with a mixture of horror and fascination. To put it bluntly, a dead body is chopped up into pieces and fed to waiting vultures. So, we arrived at a very isolated and traditional Tibetan Buddhist monastery near Tagong in North Eastern Sichuan. I thought, “let’s just look at the site where it happens”. We’d been told that foreigners were not allowed to experience the secret ritual anyway. 

Our driver directed us up to the top of the mountain where the burials take place. It was surrounded by a sea of Tibetan prayer flags and you could just make out a kind of stone slab. So we hiked up there. Upon arriving, we could hear Tibetan nuns chanting. “How lovely?” I thought. Then I turned and saw about 100 vultures sitting on the hill, waiting and then, what looked like a body bag on the stone slab. I actually couldn’t believe it. “Have we stumbled into the start of a sky burial?” Through a translation app I asked one of the Tibetans next to me what was happening. “Flesh eating birds,” he replied. “Oh, can we stay?” I asked. “Yes, but on the side and no photos,” he replied. “This is amazing,” I thought, but then I saw my kids. My wife and I had to make quick decisions. 

We gave our six-year-old son the iPad to play computer games. He was thrilled, and we had never before been so happy to give it to him. He was too young to see this. As for my 11-year-old son and my 13-year-old daughter, my wife Catherine quickly sat them down and told them what was about to happen and said it was their choice to stay or go. We gave it to them straight but told them the cultural and religious context. To their credit, they stayed. I was nervous.

The first time I’d seen a dead body I was 12 and it had a profound effect on me. Before we knew it, the bag was taken off and the corpse was revealed. It looked like a middle-aged woman. The Rogyapa, body breaker, stormed up the side of mountain. He was dressed in a thick, dark scarlet coloured coat with a black hood. With a butcher knife in hand, he wasted no time in carving up the body. 

My stomach sunk. It was gruesome, and I just stopped myself from throwing up. My kids though seemed to take it in their stride. The vultures were growing impatient and started to jump at site of the flesh. The body breaker gave the signal and the Tibetans holding the birds back let them through. They swarmed, in a frenzy jumping on top of each other tearing at the flesh. It was unbelievable. It only took at most 15 minutes and the entire corpse was gone. Every last piece of flesh had been eaten, leaving only the bones behind. Then the body breaker gathered up the human bones and began to pulverise them with a mallet. He mixed that with yak butter and barley flour. In one last gesture, he walked into the middle of the vultures and threw it high in the air. And with that he was gone. 

There was absolutely nothing left of the body. It is considered a bad omen if vultures don’t eat the body or even if small bits are left. Tibetans see the vultures as Dakinis, like angels who take soul into the heavens to await reincarnation and the next life. They consider the body as a mere vessel for the soul. 

And at the end of it all, a peace and calmness seemed to descend over the scene. Everyone seemed happy that the ritual had been fulfilled. My kids too, surprisingly, were fine. They seemed to be able to understand it; an ancient culture giving a meaning to lives. I was a proud dad on that day, proud of their maturity and intelligence. But as for my six-year-old son, he was none the wiser. He’d been deeply engrossed by his iPad, playing Minecraft the whole time. 

– Matthew Carney 

A. Choose the words from the box that match with the given meanings from a – h

forbidden fascination profound gruesome frenzy pulverise omen engrossed 

a. ………… very great 

b. ………… a state of great activity and strong emotion 

c. ………… very unpleasant and filling with horror 

d. ………… not allowed 

e. ………… a sign of what is going to happen in the future 

f. ………… very strong attraction 

g. ………… involved in something with whole attention.

h. ………… to make something into a fine powder 

B. Write ‘True’ for true statements and ‘False’ for false ones.

 a. Foreign visitors are welcomed to see Sky Burials rituals. 

b. The visitors are not allowed to take photos of the rituals. 

c. The vultures finished eating the entire corpse within ten minutes. 

d. The Tibetans perceive the body as a vessel for the soul. 

e. The youngest son of the writer was busy with his toys. 

f. The author visited the burial sites with his wife and three children.

C. Answer the following questions. 

a. Why did the author visit a traditional Tibetan Buddhist monastery? 

b. What did the author see on the hill? 

c. Why did the author give the iPad to his youngest son? 

d. Describe the appearance of a Rogyapa, the body breaker. 

e. What did the body breaker do after collecting the bones? 

f. What is considered to be a bad sign? 

g. Why did the author feel proud?