Self-Immolations Controversial in Buddhist Community

Posted October 15th, 2012 at 4:30 pm (UTC-5)
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The practice of self-immolation is controversial in the Buddhist community, but it is a topic that has come to the forefront after more than 50 Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese policies in their homeland.

Any kind of suicide is rare in Buddhist communities, where people believe in rebirth after death. A human life is considered a fortunate rebirth because of its opportunity to attain enlightenment.

The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has walked a fine line in his comments on self-immolation. He has questioned the usefulness of the act as a protest tool. He has said that the protesters have courage, but that they also should use their wisdom.

Representatives of the Dalai Lama and the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile say the self-immolations are a sign that Tibetans can no longer tolerate China's push against their culture and religion.

Some Buddhists argue that the protesters are taking a strong compassionate action by giving their lives to bring about a better future for others. But some are concerned that the protesters are acting out of despair and frustration.

China has repeatedly denounced the self-immolations as terrorist acts. Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama of encouraging the self-immolations, noting that he has failed to fully condemn the actions.

On Saturday, a 52-year old Tibetan became the latest person to set himself on fire. Fifty-five Tibetans have burned themselves since February 2009 in a wave of anti-China protests that has gripped southwestern China and Tibet.

The Tibetan government-in-exile says 45 of those cases have resulted in deaths. Many of those who have set themselves on fire are monks or nuns.