For no mere mortal can resist…

Steve Silberman shares an anecdote about a Tibetan death ceremony.

Steve Silberman
27 June 2009

This is an anecdote I’ve carried in my mind for years:

I have a Buddhist friend who was visiting monasteries in Nepal a few years ago. One day, he got a rare invitation to witness a “sky burial”—the funeral of a monk, held on a mountaintop, culminating in the dismemberment of his body and scattering of his flesh and bones to feed birds of prey and other animals. (This ritual, also known as “giving alms to the birds,” has practical roots as well as spiritual resonance. Much of Tibet is above treeline, so cremation is difficult, and it’s generally too rocky for burial.)

My friend hiked for hours to get to the site, and when he arrived, the ceremony was already in progress, punctuated by the overtone singing and thigh-bone trumpets of the monks. In the center, a man was ritually slicing into pieces the body of the old monk who had died.

My friend looked closer and saw that the man doing the cutting was wearing a t-shirt: Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

Steve Silberman

Steve Silberman

Steve Silberman worked as Allen Ginsberg’s teaching assistant at Naropa University in 1987 and as Philip Whalen’s personal assistant in 1993. He is the author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity.