1. Religion & Spirituality
Barbara O'Brien

Should the Dalai Lama Say More About Tibetan Suicides?

By May 17, 2012

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The government of China has released a documentary through its CCTV global media outlet that claims His Holiness the Dalai Lama is behind the wave of self-immolations in China. About 34 ethnic Tibetans, most of them Buddhist monks and nuns, have set fire to themselves over the past few months to protest Chinese oppression of Tibetan Buddhism.

The documentary was released globally, according to the Associatd Press.  This is significant, IMO, because it shows us that Beijing is serious about influencing world opinion of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism.

I haven't found the documentary itself online, although maybe some of you will have better luck. It's supposed to be on YouTube.

However, I believe this editorial in China Daily presents the perspective given in the documentary. The editorial writer, Shan Chu, makes a circumstantial case for collusion between the protests and Tibetans in exile, who are assumed to be controlled by the Dalai Lama

Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan poet and activist, saw the documentary and called it a disappointing elaboration of Beijing's hardline position, according to the Associated Press.

This week Beijing criticized His Holiness for being apathetic toward the horrific protests. Zhou Yan of Xinhua called him out for brushing off a question about the suicides with "no answer." This was also reported on CNN, which added that he also said, "I think that this is quite a sensitive political issue."

What else has he said? Last November His Holiness said he does not encourage the self-immolations and worried that they would only cause a backlash from Beijing. He told the BBC, "The question is how much effect the self-immolations have. That's the question. There is courage -- very strong courage. But how much effect?"

About three weeks ago he also addressed the issue briefly in an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN,

MORGAN: Since the start of 2011, activists say that over 30 Tibetans have self-immolated, obviously a very serious escalation in a number of people taking their lives in this way. As their holy leader, what do you feel about this? What do you say to people who are thinking of doing the same thing and why are more people doing this now?

DALAI LAMA: It's -- of course, it's extremely sad, very sad. But this is not sort of the something new in China itself. I think in the cultural revolution, one important Chinese monastery's abbot (ph) himself burned. And then Vietnam also you see it happen. And there are sort of cases there.

These are one way they believe non-violence. And then if things are desperate, then in sort of having other they simply to sacrifice their own life. So very sad. So now important thing is not solution that's expressed, we are very sad. But we must think what's cause of this so desperate situation.

I don't believe he has said unequivocally that the immolations must stop, and perhaps he needs to say that. What do you think?

May 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm
(1) won says:

I think I remember reading somewhere that the chief reason he hasn’t done that is that it would reinforce Beijing’s position that he’s the leader of some mob of religious zealots, marching to the Dalai Lama’s whim.

My urge is to defend his position, assume that there must be some hugely compelling reason he hasn’t outright called for the end to the practice. I’d like to think he will do whatever it takes to achieve the best possible outcome, but maybe every choice bears a dire consequence, and this is maybe the lesser evil.

That tends to presuppose that he is somehow clairvoyant.

I hesitate to speculate on what’s really going on in this relationship as I hesitate to claim that I understand what it’s like to be so desperate that slowly burning to death seems like a serious option.

May 17, 2012 at 4:28 pm
(2) Dawn says:

Why should he claim responsibility for someone else’s decision? To “forbid” the actions would be to claim he controls them.

May 17, 2012 at 4:40 pm
(3) Cuong says:

The same things in happened i South Vietnam in the late 60s and early 70s I understand that religious zealots want to become martyrs. Although Buddhists don’t strap a bomb to themselves to blow up the enemy, this is not the right thing to do. First, the Chinese will not be deterred by this. Second, it’s a form of violence..In my opinion violence is not the Buddhist way. I don’t mean that Buddhists should lie down like dogs and let people trample on them. But if we should commit violence, sometimes we have to in this samsara, I’d rather kill the enemy than myself. Self-immolation is a form of violence, it’s not compassion, it doesn’t make you a bodhisattva as many Buddhists might think.

May 17, 2012 at 5:06 pm
(4) Tom Ward says:

Although those who have sacrificed themselves are obviously sincere in their intent, the results are that they have silenced themselves. They no longer have a voice for us to listen to. This, as any intentional death of a healthy life, seems wasteful and ineffective.

May 17, 2012 at 6:40 pm
(5) Margot-deepa says:

Compassion is expressed in many forms, as is what we describe as violence. Is this form of expression or expression less suicide, any less valid than someone sitting in the UN talking all day? Which often is much a do about nothing?

It depends of how you view it. These acts may well have saved countless lives? Some may describe it as a violent act and not an act of Bodhisattva but in a selfless way it is also an act of immense courage and completely selfless.

If there is no self then all that is destroyed is frequency frozen matter in time, Buddha nature and mind cannot be destroyed.

May 17, 2012 at 10:57 pm
(6) william says:

Does it not seem wise to encourage people to cause no pain to ones self or to another.

May 18, 2012 at 2:00 pm
(7) Marc says:

Am pretty sure that Buddhism views every life as sacred and that to extinguish a life is to violate the very first precept. Just because it is “your” life doesn’t obviate the karmic conclusion that you have taken a human life. Life is not ours to take without consequence…..

May 18, 2012 at 11:27 pm
(8) M.Lambros says:

I remember clearly the Vietnamese suicide monks& the profound impression it made and contributed to ending the war. Whose life is it
anyway? Suicide is an honorable death in most Asian cultures, as well
as in ancient western cultures.( Masada 73 A.D. in Israel, ) Not even the Dalai Lama can make that choice for anyone and I speak as a devout Buddhist.

May 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm
(9) Nalinaksha says:

He should have categorically comdemned it.

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