Tibetan Buddhist afterlife beliefs and funerary practices

Authored by: Matthew T. Kapstein

The Routledge Companion to Death and Dying

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138852075
eBook ISBN: 9781315723747
Adobe ISBN:


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The prominence of death rites in Tibet reflects the confluence of both indigenous and Buddhist beliefs and practices, as these have intermingled and developed throughout over a thousand years. However, pre-Buddhist (and hence pre-historical) developments remain in most respects obscure. The existence of neolithic necropoli in several parts of Tibet demonstrates the importance of an archaic funerary culture, but its interpretation remains unsure. And although some myths and rituals preserved in available written sources, including those of Tibet’s indigenous Bon religion, certainly hark back to the period before Buddhism’s penetration of Tibet, beginning during the seventh century c.e., a fully coherent picture has yet to emerge (Bellezza 2013). The emphasis here, therefore, will be on the documented mortuary culture of Tibetan Buddhism, with some references, as pertinent, to indigenous non-Buddhist traditions.

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