On February 27, 2009, the 24 year-old monk Tapey from Kirti Monastery in Amdo, Ngaba, died from self-immolation; it was perhaps the first time that someone from within the Tibetan region used self-immolation to express his will. I wrote in an article titled “Tapey, A Martyr Who Sacrificed His Body”: “He lifted up the Snowlion flag and a photo of His Holiness, he lit a petrol-soaked robe and took the burning bundle to the streets with the purpose of protesting against the darkness that had enveloped Tibet.”
Two years later, on March 16, 2011, the 20-year-old monk Phuntsog from Kirti Monastery in Amdo, Ngaba, died from self-immolation. On the basis of accounts given by local Tibetans, I documented the scene in an article: “On a sunny afternoon, he left the monastery that was under close surveillance by military police and walked on his own to the end of the sun-drenched road; here he suddenly went up in flames. From within the fireball he shouted: “Let His Holiness Return!” “Tibet must be free!” “Long live the Dalai Lama!” People gathered around watching in a state of shock, the entire street filled up with heavily armed special, ordinary, armed and plain-clothed police forces using clubs ferociously striking at Phuntsog; was this to extinguish the fire or to beat him?”
A few months later, up to yesterday, October 17, 2011, 8 cases of self-immolation occurred in a row. These included the 29 year-old monk Tsewang Norbu from Nyitso Monastery in Tawo County, Kham, the 18 year-old Lobsang Kelsang, the 18 year-old Lobsang Kunchok, the 17 year-old Kelsang Wangchuk, all monks from Kirti Monastery, the 19 year-old Choephel, the 18 year-old Khaying, the 19 year-old Norbu Dramdul who used to also be monks at Kirti Monastery but because they couldn’t bear the repressive atmosphere in the monastery, they left the monastic order. What made people feel particularly sorrowful is yesterday’s self-immolation of 20 year-old Tenzin Wangmo, she was a nun from Mamae Nunnery in Ngaba County.
What does self-immolation mean? Is it the same as suicide? There have been so many Tibetan monks dying from self-immolation; is it as the so-called “Living Buddha”, the one who has sold his soul, the vice-president of the Sichuan Buddhist Association Gyalton claimed: “suicide is a very severe violation of the Buddhist doctrine, any act of self-inflicted harm is going entirely against human nature, the continuous cases of self-immolation among Tibetans are countered with incomprehension and disgust by people from all levels of society feel”.
Up to the present day, the whole world still remembers how in 1948, a Vietnamese monk burnt himself in the city centre of Saigon. People revered him as a great martyr and erected a bronze statue on a public square, recreating the tragic scene of self-immolation. Also, this 67-year-old senior monk, Thich Quang Duc, left behind some last words: “before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to (the) President (...) to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality (...) I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organise in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism.” These are exactly the aspirations and feelings of the 10 Tibetan monks, nuns and lay people who set themselves on fire.
After Thich Quang Duc died from self-immolation, within a period of a few months, 6 other monks and nuns burnt themselves on the streets of Vietnam. A Vietnamese senior monk quite accurately explained and commented on the behaviour of these martyrs: “The media calls it suicide, but essentially this is not suicide at all (...) in the last words that the monks who died left behind, they all explain that their aim of self-immolation is only to wake people up, to appeal to the oppressors’ sympathy, and to make the world aware of the persecuted people in Vietnam. Self-immolation is a way to prove that what they have to say is extremely important (...) This Vietnamese monk used all his strength and determination to show that he is ready to bear the greatest pain in order to protect his people (...) using self-immolation to show one’s aspirations and desire should not be regarded as destructive, on the contrary, it is somewhat constructive, an act of suffering and even dying for the people. This is by no means suicide. ”
In actual fact, dictatorship and evil governance is what lacks any human nature; they are the ones who set Buddhist monks and lay people’s bodies on fire! It is just like the Tibetologist Katia Buffetrille who recently went to Tibet says: “The monks at Kirti Monastery are already in a state of deep hopelessness. This is because the situation there is continuously worsening. The local authorities’ only method of response is repression... yet, these strategies of repression only intensify the tense relations. I actually got to know that there is a leaflet circulating in the area that says, unless the situation starts to improve, there will be many more monks who are prepared to sacrifice their lives.”
Beijing, October 18, 2011Woesers is a Beijing based award winning Tibetan writer. This piece has been translated by High Peaks Pure Earth.The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.