Life and Death on the Plateau
In 2011 if you were to tell me I would be carrying film equipment halfway up a mountain to record corpses being cut to pieces and fed to wild vultures, I would say you are in need of immediate medical attention.
Life and destiny always find solace in dealing out unknowable surprises. As Brene Brown once said, “If you can comprehend your life and own your life, then you get to write the next chapters of your life.”
Filming the documentary “The Wheel of Life – A Glimpse into Tibet” has been the most trying chapter in my career as a filmmaker. The land and climate is foreboding, but the scenery is breathtaking. The condition and the isolation is challenging, but the people are endearing.
I was standing below the Sky Burial platform setting up my shot when Toby beckoned me to go up to the breaking floor. “Why?” I asked. “You want to see this.” She answered. I did not move. Moments later she asked me again. Again I refused, saying I am good here. Finally, losing patience she said: “You made your way across the world to be here. I think you need to take a few more steps and be in the center of the action.” I had nothing to say to that so I relented.
What followed can only be described as the most horrific yet touching; the most disgusting yet educational; the most soul quenching yet indescribable moment of my life.
There in the open, for all to see and witness, three families said goodbye to their deceased. Their belongings were burned so they can accompany their owners. Relatives brought baked dough men in their own likeness to accompany their beloved. Finally they help position the body so the body breaker can get to work and disassemble the body for the birds.
According to Tibetan Buddhists, this ceremony is important for one to witness because of the following reasons:
- It demonstrates the fragility of the human body. People spend extraordinary amount of energy, money and time on their bodies and their physical appearances. In the end, the body is no different than a slab of meat on the chopping board. Buddha say … it is what you do with your body that matters.
- It reinforces the finality of death. If our lives went on forever then nothing we do is consequential. We can betray and we can amend. We can fail and we can succeed. We can destroy and we can rebuild. It would be like we are playing in an eternal sandbox where nothing we do in it matters very much. Death is the period at the end of our sentences. The punctuation that separates and defines our lives. Buddha say … if you are not living toward a life that you can be proud of at your moment of death then you must stop immediately and rethink.
- It releases the attachments of emotions. Of the hundred or so people at the Sky Burial no one cried. The dead are going back into the Wheel to begin another cycle in their own struggle toward enlightenment. They bring with them the deeds of this lifetime. Death is not to be feared but to be embraced and understood. Buddha say … reappraise your humanly emotions in a rational manner and rise above them, only then can you begin enlightenment.
In the end Toby and I recorded the Sky Burial Ceremony with trembling hands and retching stomachs and pinched noses. They became part of our documentary “The Wheel of Life – A Glimpse into Tibet”. The Age of Aquarius calls us to share, so we proudly share our journey with all of you. On February 10th see you at the top!
Time: Feb 10th, 4:00PM
Place: The Royal Cinema, 608 College St, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Show Name: The Wheel of Life – A Glimpse into Tibet
Ticketing: $15 at the door, $12.99 Online, All proceeds go toward Changgen Boys Funds for building of dormitory for orphaned Tibetan boys.