NEW YORK, US, 4 June 2017
In Tibetan Buddhism, we believe that reincarnation takes any form, but to achieve a higher realm within its own tiers, that of a human, one must have acquired the highest of merits and virtuous karma. Therefore, given the reality of how hard it is attain this precious human life, a suicidal act or any act thereof, to exhibit self-infliction is considered sinful, cruel, and malevolent towards oneself.
Legend has it that Lord Buddha in his previous life, upon seeing a emaciated tigress in the wilderness, who was about to eat her newborn cubs, offered his body, hoping that his selfless act would recuperate the tigress. A compassionate move only an awakened mind can manifest. An act that would later adorn the pages of our holy scriptures and have people delve deeper into its unselfish, altruistic and compassionate motive, that would become the backbone and pillar of Buddhism philosophy.
This parable resonates to this day and has seeped deeply into the fabric of the Tibetan mindset and “dharmic polity” so to speak, as was demonstrated in over 156 self-immolations till date that have lighted the skies over Tibet. A defiant non-violent act hoping to shed light into the plight of the Tibetan people by offering their precious bodies to the most painful of deaths, all for good motive and reason, so to speak!
But then, just as in any dogma — considering Buddhism as a religion hypothetically, and bypassing its agnosticism for a moment — there are interstices within, paved through theological craftiness, where such an act as self-immolation, if executed with good motive as per the cause of Tibetan suffering, perhaps is considered not sinful, and promises of good rewards in accumulation of meritorious karma abound. Isn’t that almost short of saying, in another perspective, how beleaguered Islamic martyrs fighting a Jihadi war, are promised seven virgins in heaven! But this comparisons is insanely ludicrous I know, but to justify wrong for the right reason in their own way is not a far cry and conundrum not to hard to crack.
It is paradoxical, that the same religion, or for that matter science, since Buddhism is paralleled to and widely popular due to its agnosticism and rational outlook, is given a back door for self-infliction, exhibiting cruelty and pain to oneself as demonstrated in the countless self-immolations.
I fail to understand then, what compassion and altruism in Buddhism means. And what kind of Buddhist we claim to be? It’s paradoxically confusing, or should we assume all those who self-immolated were the awakened ones or transcendental Bodhi! Sometimes, even as a Tibetan voicing for our freedom, it is agonizingly painful to digest the fact of seeing someone lighting themselves alive, even if that act was propagated to elevate and enlighten the world about our plight and relevance of Tibet.
Just to put this across the board, I truly empathize with Tibetans inside Tibet and their wish for nothing short of complete independence, a total disconnect with the path laid out by CTA, that is being mirrored time and again, after cries of protest are crushed with bulldozers of hatred and conscience stoned and buried — and yet, the will and assertion of the oppressed Tibetan people inside Tibet, to rise for freedom, manifest in unprecedented forms of endless self-immolations.
Without invoking any debate between U-mey and Rangzen, I strongly feel, with utmost respect for the sacrifices already made, that these self-immolations need to stop. There are other forms of progressive modern-day protest. But then, when they have resorted to this horrific form, I guess they have probably experimented and exhausted all avenues, to come to this outlet of frustration, where 150 self-immolations inside Tibet till date, have fallen clearly to the deaf ears of the United Nations, who clearly play dumb and deaf especially to the cries of the Tibetan people.
And there is a legitimate reason for this illegitimate silence, that has its roots on China’s dynamic economic prowess and its big role in this symbiotic world, not to mention their welding veto power in the security council, that they abuse to push the pendulum any side they want. We know all about it, but our passionate patriotic fervor has numbed our neurons of our brain to decipher and make reasonable judgements.
I strongly feel that there has to be a divine intervention that can bring about a halt to this non-stop self-immolation. Like a voice from the heavens, that gets engraved on people’s hearts. I vividly remember a decade ago when His Holiness asked the Tibetan people, especially in Tibet, who decked themselves with exotic leopard skin chupas, to stop wearing such animal skins, and how people heeded to his advice and piled those expensive clothing into a bonfire no sooner.
Could a similar admonition or advice, draped in persuasion, bring about an end to this painful protest. I have heard his Holiness in multiple interviews answer to this painful topic, and His Holiness has always maintained respect for the freedom of one’s chosen form of expression, to belt out their frustration and discontentment. He has always also said that the communist leaders should investigate the real cause of such ruthless, wrong, and illogical policies that have brought immense suffering to the Tibetan people, and ultimately to such suicidal thoughts and actions. And, without a doubt he is right!
It’s understandably a difficult predicament for His Holiness to be in, to directly persuade for the self-immolation to stop, since that in itself otherwise could be politicized by ravenous wolfish China and make it appear like he glorified it at the first place. They have been on the heels of brazenly blaming His Holiness for inciting the self-immolations.
So, what must be done to stop another imminent self-immolation brewing in the minds of oppressed Tibetans, is a discourse we must get into and the answer to this conundrum will be hard to find.
“In a gentle way you can shake the world,” uttered by Gandhi, at a time and place when peaceful revolution was relevant, seems to be falling on invalid grounds, where pastures are razed by blades of profits and mountains bombarded by symbiotic greed.
About the author
Ugyen Gyalpo lives in Woodside, New York, and works as an insurance agent for United Health Group, New York.
More articles by Ugyen Gyalpo on Tibet Sun.