How a Cheerful Monk Became a Doctor of Death
Meet a Buddhist holy man who’s on a mission to revise your demise.
The old man sat motionless, his head slumped low and his face masked with a peaceful expression. The man, a master teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, had spent his last days in continuous meditation and prayer in preparation for death. He’d also given one of his students, Kunchok Gyaltsen, the responsibility of performing his funeral rites. At just 22, Kunchok had already been living at the Kumbum Monastery in Amdo, Tibet, for six years when he found his longtime teacher dead in his room, still seated in a meditative pose.
Kunchok began the funeral rites by plugging his teacher’s nostrils with butter. Blocking the body’s holes after death prevents any discharge. According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, this is important so survivors can offer the entire body to the fire gods during cremation. Next, Kunchok lit butter lamps, traditionally made from clarified yak butter with a wick stuck in the middle, to alight his teacher’s path through the transitional stag…