A Death in our Community
Following the great celebrations of Losar, our village has some across some very saddening news. Crazy Uncle, as we have always called him, lived as a hermit in the caves nearby to our village. He has not been seen in decades, and only the Elders have any recollections of him from their youth, although Crazy Uncle was always significantly older. No one in Pemako has any contact with him, and he has no friends or family that we know of. Some people think that Crazy Uncle was actually crazy, because he was such a recluse, but I think he was just a very focused tantric practitioner.
Crazy Uncle was found in the fetal position, in a meditative state, and it is unsure how long he has been dead for, though it is assumed to not be long.
Stories about Crazy Uncle allow me to connect with him, although I never met him. He is rumoured to have been one of the best tantric practitioners in the area, which could possibly explain his age. No one actually knows how old Crazy Uncle was when he died, which leads some to believe he had Buddhist methods for cheating death. Others just assumed he was crazy, and even some thought he practiced magic. I personally believe that Crazy Uncle was a very capable tantric practice, as his abilities inspired me when I lived as a hermit myself.
There has been much debate within our community as to how Crazy Uncle ought to be buried, as his burial will be reflective of what he has done in this lifetime. As most of the village has argued, I also agree that a sky burial would be most appropriate for Crazy Uncle. The process of a sky burial is rather gruesome to the eye, but to Tibetan Buddhist practice, it is one of the more honourable forms of burial. The burial will have Crazy Uncle placed on a flat rock surface, raised above ground, where his body shall be left to the elements. He will erode, and will be feasted upon by the scavenging animals nearby, such as birds or other forest creatures. The benefit of a sky burial will allow Crazy Uncle’s remains to be recycled into nature to be spread over the earth, while his soul is in bardo, a transitional state of his soul until he is reborn and the cycle begins again.
It is unsure as to how Crazy Uncle died, however there is a basic process of degradation that occurs in death. According to Tibetan understanding, the body is made up of the five elements of the world, and wind is important in flowing energy and life throughout the body. The process of death begins when this wind stops circulating this energy through the body. Following this stopping of wind, all of the other elements break down and are destroyed, resulting in a final death of the vessel in which our soul lives for this lifetime. Although this death of the body seems sad, it is not a permanent death, if even a death at all, for the soul. If the soul is in bardo, it remains in a transitional state, awaiting its rebirth in another incarnated being.
Throughout our village, there has been gossip about how Cray Uncle managed to live as long as he did. This is a question I cannot surely answer, however, I believed he took part in many Tantric practices to cheat death as long as he could. As a tantric practitioner, Crazy Uncle would have sat in meditative states for days on end, and would have practiced tantric yoga and breathing excessively. Moreover, in order to increase his life span, Crazy Uncle probably made elixirs in his cave, with mercury or sulfur, and other organic ingredients. This becomes apparent with this discovery of many of these ingredients found in his cave.
Although I am sad about the passing of Crazy Uncle, I know that his death is not permanent, but rather, a transition into his next life. This place is called bardo. Surely most, if not all of us, fear death in some capacity, though we ought not be scared. Death is a part of samsara, and unless we achieve nirvana, death will always result in a rebirth and reincarnation in another life.
During the sky burial, there will be monks reading from the Tibetan Book of the Dead to help guide the soul through bardo, which is an overwhelmingly stressful place for the dead. But they must wait there until they are reborn. The funeral arrangements typically last a week, and are financially supported by the family of the deceased. The problem with Crazy Uncle is that he has no family or friends in our community, if at all, given his hermetic lifestyle and his wildly old age. Because of the close community that we are, we have all agreed to send off Crazy Uncle in a community fashion, as we will each financially participate in the celebration of his life.