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Buddhadharma : Summer 2016
72 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 2016 causing it, the Dalai Lama is not caus- ing it, no clique or group is organizing it, neurotic delusions are not causing it—the CCP-directed ecocide and ethni- cide, now even escalated into a classic colonialist genocide, is the sole cause of these immolations. In her conclusion, Woeser questions the very term “self-immolation,” saying it makes people think of it as suicide, an act against the self. She brilliantly articu- lates the point from which our under- standing of self-immolation must begin: Self-immolators employ an extreme form of suffering, unbearable for the average person, so as to embody the most powerful form of protest and recapture their human dignity....It is a pain that most cannot even bear to imagine, much less experience. And while I certainly do not encourage anyone to self-immolate, I do ask that we be brave enough to face the reality of this act directly when it occurs. In doing so, we can see the simultaneous heroism and tragedy of these acts, as protestors employ their own bodies in their struggle against a colossal, tyrannical machine. Within the Buddhist world, there are mixed reactions to the acts of these Tibetan heroes. Many, in shock, think such thoughts as It is just plain awful, insane, un-Buddhist, a form of suicide, and even It is irreparably harmful to the Tibetan cause. Woeser indirectly responds to this way of mentally look- ing away from the “reality of the act” by citing the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, who defended the self-immolation of the Vietnamese monks in the sixties: What the monks said in the letters they left before burning themselves [was that they] aimed only at alarm- ing, at moving the hearts of the oppressors, and at calling the atten- tion of the world to the suffering endured then by the Vietnamese. To burn oneself by fire is to prove that what one is saying is of the utmost importance... To express will by burning oneself, therefore, is not to commit an act of destruction but to perform an act of construction, i.e., to suffer and to die for the sake of one’s people. This is not suicide. Woeser doesn’t take this Buddhist appre- ciation of the heroic act of self-immola- tion further, as her focus is on the ele- ment of protest involved in the unprec- edented Tibetan cases. In a way, she is constrained from doing so, the same way His Holiness the Dalai Lama is. In Buddhist history, there have been immolations resulting from both sad- ness and joy. When Shakyamuni Bud- dha left his body in the act of “total nirvana” (parinirvana), a number of the fully attained arhat–saints sponta- neously combusted themselves in their grief at the loss of the presence of the Buddha. Mahakashyapa had to exercise his authority as successor head of the sangha to forbid others from doing the same, as they were needed to collect the revieWs