While the spring migrating turkey vultures have passed through some time ago, and the fall migrators have yet to arrive, a resident population remains. In this area there are plenty of woods for them to roost in. So, now, in the interregnum, I mainly see them patrolling suburbia far in the sky.
A few years ago, our friends Peter and Valerie bought several undeveloped lots up the street from us. The house they built left plenty of space leftover, now forming a cryptoforest (“the only nature that does not need protecting”) that interrupts the chemically mediated grass gardens surrounding it.
And in this cryptoforest be vultures. Continue reading “Another Sky Burial”
Two years ago I wrote briefly about the Tibetan funerary custom of sky burial. Now, the vultures again circle my neighborhood, swooping within a few feet of my bedroom window before taking their perches in the Norway pines next door.
So I wonder, what hybrid being can take their place for the Buddhist cyborg? What chimera has the appetite not only for blood and tissue and organs, but plastic, wire, silicon and rare earth metals?
How can we collect the cyborg’s data, dispersed in sky obscuring clouds, and place it in the cyborg charnel ground with our animal bodies?
Machik Labdron developed the Buddhist practices of Chod in the 11th Century. Chod is a set of Vajrayana practices that use the visualization of one’s own death, dismemberment, and the feeding of the parts to demons. Chod is then, the spiritual equivalent to watching one’s own sky burial. The point of the exercise was explained by Jamon Kautrul in the 19th Century:
It [Chod] is a radical method for cutting through the inflation of ego-fixation through the willingness to accept what is undesirable, the disregard of difficult circumstances, the realization that gods and demons are one’s own mind, and the understanding that oneself and others are utterly equal.
Jamon Kontrol quoted in the Introduction to Machic’s Complete Understanding translated and edited by Sarah Harding
Machik combined shamanic practices prevalent at the time with Buddhism. What cyborg practices do we combine with Buddhism now to give us the opportunity to develop the radical compassion Machik sought to teach us?
For about a month in the spring and fall, large numbers of turkey vultures migrate through this area. They are the biggest bird one is likely to see around here. Adult wingspans vary between 5 and 6 feet.
While they are here, I frequently see groups of 20 – 25 circling, trying to catch an updraft, sometimes barely above the treetops, sometimes swooping within a few feet of our second story bedroom window. This morning a group of about 15 were perched near the tops our neighbor’s Norway Spruces, about 100 feet up, sunning their wings in the classic vulture pose.
In Tibet, the traditional funerary method is sky burial. Preparation of the body can vary from none to elaborate. In any case, at some point, it is left for the animals, mainly vultures to eat.
To be done properly, a sky burial requires an information and social infrastructure that just doesn’t exist here. But for a month or so every six months the vultures are here, ready, just in case.