Dalai Lama should ‘reconsider position’

A reader condemns Tibetan spiritual leader's position on self-immolation

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Earlier this month we published an interview with the Dalai Lama, in which he was asked about the wave of self-immolations – people setting themselves on fire – among Tibetans protesting against Chinese rule over their country. Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama responded:

“The self-immolations that have happened in Tibet are of course very, very sad. In one way it shows that Tibetans very much believe in non-violence. They do not want to harm others, so they harm themselves by burning themselves. This is certainly an indication of desperation…

“For the last 52 years I consider myself as the free spokesman of the Tibetan people. So from that level, I have no right to judge the boss’s activities.”

His comments prompted the following letter from one of our readers, Dr Michael Loughlin of Ormsirk:

“Re the Dalai Lama’s response to your interviewer’s question about “self-immolations” (issue 934) – that is, young Buddhists burning themselves to death as a protest against Chinese atrocities in Tibet. This is not just “very sad” – it is absolutely horrific. I wonder what our reaction would be if a group of young Muslims were using a similar campaigning strategy, and an Islamic cleric who could potentially have influence over them responded in a similarly equivocal manner? “This shows how peaceful these young Muslims are, refraining from using violence against others… We cannot generalise…”) Would not that cleric immediately be condemned by many, accused of cynically abusing an impressionable group of people to terrible effect, just to further the cause?

The Dalai Lama commands enormous respect, not just in the West but most of all among young Tibetan Buddhists, the very people committing these shocking, desperate acts of self-harm. If he made a strong, clear statement urging people not to self-immolate, stating unequivocally that this was not an acceptable method of campaigning, then this could well influence some of them, and if he deterred even one person from dying in this awful way then that would be well worth it.

He says: “We have to look case to case from a Buddhist viewpoint.” So in what case is the death by incineration of a human being part of an acceptable campaigning strategy? No credible campaign, however justified the cause, can use methods like this without raising serious and deeply troubling questions about the motivations of its political and spiritual leaders, especially if they refuse to clearly distance themselves from these tactics.

I urge the Dalai Lama to reconsider his position: no amount of saying that the people are your “boss” can absolve you from the obligation to use the undoubted and enormous influence you have to stop adding yet more horror to an already tragic situation.”

Dalai Lama photo: Simon Murphy

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