Human Detachment from Circle of Life
In his new book, Life Everlasting, Bernd Heinrich observes that humans have mostly removed themselves from the cycle of life by the use of sealed caskets, embalming, and cremation. Mr. Heinrich has spent a lifetime investigating the ways that dead creatures are taken apart and and returned to nature in the form of nourishment for other creatures still living. His wish is to be laid to rest unembalmed, beneath a tree, in a single pine box that the worms are free to enter. The ravens can have his heart, if no one else claims it first.
Mr. Heinrich, who is an ecologist as well as an author, says, “We kill animals by the billions and permanently remove the life resources for many more…not one animal is allowed to consume us, even after we are dead. Not even the worms.” He prefers that humans are recycled and asks if we are morally obliged to commit ourselves more generously to the death-into-life cycle.
In India, in an unusual end of life practice, the Zoroastrians expose their dead on raised platforms for vultures to perform “sky burials”. About.com reports that decomposition is traditionally viewed as the work of a demon known as Druj-I-Nasush, and the corrupting influence of this process is viewed as contagious and spiritually dangerous. As such, Zoroastrian funeral customs are primarily focused on keeping contagion away from the community.
The body is traditionally moved within one day to the dakhma or Tower of Silence. The dakhma is a wide tower with a platform open to the sky. At the dakhma, the shroud and clothes are removed through the use of tools rather than bare hands and are then destroyed. Corpses are left on the platform to be picked clean by vultures, a process which only takes a few hours. This allows a body to be consumed before dangerous corruption sets in. The bodies are not placed on the ground because their presence would corrupt the earth.
The Zoroastrians view the vultures as a means of clean disposal. Their funeral customs are primarily focused on keeping contagion away from the community.
The Lion King Embraces ‘Circle of Life’
I finally saw the stage version of The Lion King a few years ago. It was totally enchanting from the first moment when the animals make their way through the audience to the stage. The moment in the show that sticks with me most is the scene in which the Lion King explains to his son Simba that it is OK for creatures to die, get eaten by vultures and other animals, return to the earth, and grow into plants that provide the nourishment for other creatures to live and grow.
Yahoo! Answers provides the following explanation:
“The circle of life in the Lion King means the entire ecosystem of the Pride Lands. — ie all grass, trees, bush’s, fish, insects, antelope, elephants, giraffe, baboon, hyena, lion, ecta are interdependent on each other, for food, air, control of plant and meat eaters numbers, to maximise the greatest species diversity and total longterm survival of all. Also the life energy in a predator will feed the grass when they die, which will provide oxygen for all and food for grass eaters which then are eaten by meateaters. ie circle which includes millions of species from algi, bacteria, mice and elephants.”
It’s the circle of life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle
The circle of life
EDITORS NOTE: This third version gets my vote. I am OK if the vultures eat me as part of this “Circle of Life”.
Many thanks to Sir Elton John, Julie Taymor (fellow Oberlin College graduate), and the Broadway Cast for one of the great moments in theater.