If you don’t know the name Thich Quang Duc, you know the image of the Buddhist monk’s death. I learned it as a kid when I got the self-titled Rage Against the Machine album. The above video shows the monk protesting the policies of the Catholic Diem that controlled South Vietnam in 1963. He did so by setting himself on fire.
That is the iconic image of self-immolation as protest. But Buddhist monks in China have brought it back. Nine young Buddhist have killed themselves this way as a protest against Chinese oppression of Tibet.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
The self-immolations have set off a cycle of martyrdom and protest, inspiring demonstrations from New Delhi to Taipei. Tibetan blogs have filled with poems to the dead. The Dalai Lama, who lives in Dharamsala, India, led a day of prayer and fasting Wednesday.
Tibet analysts say China’s heavy hand is unlikely to stop the wave of immolations.
“There is a copycat dimension to this,” said Dibyesh Anand, a Tibet expert at the University of Westminster in London. “‘If I immolate myself, my friends are under pressure to do the same to show they are just as patriotic.’”
The ritual suicides, he added, are a sign that young Tibetans are moving away from the Dalai Lama’s teachings about nonviolence.
This is a major religion and geopolitical story. The Dalai Lama is not only the head of Tibetan Buddhism but also is the exiled leader of Tibet. That monks dedicated to his teachings would defy it in protesting Chinese oppression demonstrates a disconnect in belief that could have political consequences. Hopefully those “consequences” will be good for Tibet and bad for China.