Monday, May 12, 2008

do Tibetans deal with death better?

Tibetans believe that the soul stays in the neighborhood for twenty-four hours so all the monks and nuns spent several hours that day praying for a positive rebirth for the young monk. The next morning, everyone gathered around his body wrapped in muslin with a Tibetan flag over him underneath the green heavy canvas tent where a team of monks stayed up all night praying over his body. A monk kept incense burning near the body for its purification. After praying in the baritone tones that issue from deep in their chests, some leaders gave short speeches, all with tears in their eyes. The president of Gu-Chu-Sum, the ex-poltical prisoners association, a tough looking warrior monk, choked up when he tried to address the mourners. Everyone walked through the tent to lay a khata on Pema Tashi’s body, the traditional white scarf of esteem.

I crossed the river holding hands with Tenpa. At 74, the nimble old man helped me across more than I helped him. Friends and leaders carried his body across the river, laying it on a stack of wood before covering it with more logs. They sprinkled kerosene and sugar on the body. The sugar makes the fire burn hotter. Gruesome fakt time: The genitals and brains take the longest to burn. His best friend walked around the fire three times with a large torch before lighting the pyre.

They burn his clothes off to the side including the new jacket he bought for the mountains of Tibet. After the fire burns for an hour, the marchers file back across the river. A monk hangs five prayer flags from the large rock overlooking the scene of the accident. Everyone walks around a small pile of burning evergreens and washes their mouth with a thin white liquid to purify the presence of death. Life returns to normal with people laughing and splashing in the river. Ledup Tsering explains “it’s karma. Maybe he died young in a previous life and now lived out the rest of the time. It’s fate. It makes it easier to deal with.”


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