While most people in the Western world prefer to cremate or bury their loved ones, the monks of the Dodoka monastery in Tibet prefer a more unique spiritual approach. Their “burials” happen to also involve vultures and a wall of skulls. It is actually a very poetic ceremony, but can be understandably frightening when taken out of context.
The skull wall process begins with a sky burial. When a villager dies, the monks place their body in a sitting position and juniper is burned to attract vultures.
The vultures arrive and consume the body of all its flesh. The Dodoka is unique to other monasteries in that, instead of disposing of all the bones, the skull is kept to fortify its walls.
Between the western and southern walls of the monastery, there are an estimated 1,000 skulls stored.
The origins of this tradition are unclear. Some believe the family of one sky burial master was murdered right in front of him…and their skulls were left at the wall to ward off other murderers.
Three other monasteries once practiced the same form of burial, but during China’s Cultural Revolution in the late 60s, most of the skulls were destroyed.
Others believe that the living Buddha wanted the skulls there to remind those at the temple of the fragility of life, that one must spend their short time on Earth doing good.
The wall is now protected by a government policy that preserves religious artifacts, and the monks have resumed the strange but beautiful practice.
They may not celebrate traditional Halloween in Tibet, but the Dodoka monastery would definitely be ready for it.
This tradition may seem strange or primitive, but the walls of skulls are beautiful in their own way. After all, these monks are still honoring the dead.