Self-immolations and the fight for true freedom

Over 80 people have self-immolated protesting for Free Tibet – was it worth it?

With the recent spate of self-immolations across Tibet, attention has inevitably turned again towards the Tibetans’ precarious position as they champion their continued cause for autonomy. And what of freedom?

The Chinese claim that the self-immolations and ensuing unrest are masterminded by the Dalai Lama; the Tibetans living outside the mother country attribute the self-immolations to the desperate frustrations that arise from living under an oppressive Chinese regime. So, what of freedom?

The politics surrounding the issue of Tibet’s freedom and/or autonomy has become more than complex for they naturally implicate China, a new global and economic power who no one wants to upset. Why fight for Tibet when it would be seen to spite China and risk all of one’s future international and economic relationships with a rising super-power?

With so many odds stacked up against them, it looks like the Tibetans have a long way to go with this fight for freedom. It’s going to take a much bigger strategy.

Having said that, why is it then that the governing body of the Tibetans in exile – known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) – spend so much of their time and energy on much smaller issues? For example, a great deal of the CTA’s efforts, time and even funds are being put towards the suppression of a particular spiritual practice of the Buddhist Protector Deity Dorje Shugden. Since the Dalai Lama instituted a ban against this Protector, so many of the exiled Tibetan community’s efforts have been channeled towards upholding this religious decree and snuffing out people who choose to continue their practice.

There are active witch-hunts for Dorje Shugden practitioners. The CTA even support the printing and distribution of literature to disparage this practice and denigrate or physically attack the practitioners. Anyone who chooses to continue the practice is labeled a traitor to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause. So, lay and ordained members of the Tibetan exiled community in India and Nepal are actively encouraged to ostracize and cast out Dorje Shugden practitioners.

Not only are the CTA spending much-needed funds on upholding an outdated and unjust religious ban but they are also creating rifts within their already unstable community. Monasteries have been split, monks have been separated from their teachers, families are torn apart, local businesses are attacked and children of Shugden practitioners are even denied access to the Tibetan schools in India.

Therefore, on the one hand, the CTA and Tibetans are championing a return and reunification with their homeland Tibet. But on the other, their very own tiny community of 100,000 in India are desperately and horribly split among themselves. What does this say of harmony and unification when the governing body of the CTA cannot even hold their own people together? And why would any one else support their cause when they see how unkindly and illogically they are managing their small exiled community? Why support the Tibetans’ return to Tibet when they’re actively creating separation among themselves now? How can anyone take the CTA’s fight for independence seriously when it has become increasingly apparent that they just can’t govern their people fairly or logically?

In this day and age, most modern, progressive and democratic countries make a clear distinction between secular affairs of the state and the spiritual beliefs and practices of the individual. In the case of the exiled Tibetan community. the ban on a spiritual practice has become intricately woven into the secular governance of the people, so much so that the most basic human rights of religious freedom are denied to a significant sector of their population. Again, how can they compete and hope to succeed in a global arena when they continue to impose spiritual decrees within their secular government? This does not happen in any progressive, modern country in the world.

Then, while all this is happening, the CTA have remained unusually quiet about the self-immolations. Apart from the token occasional comments, they have said or done little else to try to stop the immolations. This inaction is leading to more loss of lives. Their silence becomes suspicious, making it seem that they may well be manipulating the situation to their advantage or even be behind the incidents. Are the CTA intentionally remaining silent, refusing to strongly discourage the self-immolations because it generates more sympathy for their cause? Are they allowing their people to die for a free Tibet?

Why is it that the CTA can invest so much time, effort and resources into stamping down on Dorje Shugden practitioners, but become so spineless in speaking against the self-immolations? Instead, the Dalai Lama and the CTA should stand up firmly against this, issuing clear directives that such action is not condoned nor encouraged, and that continuing in this way is tantamount to going against the Dalai Lama and his people. After all, this is exactly how they have been speaking to, putting down and repressing Dorje Shugden practitioners. Why is that the same tone and urgency is not expressed to prevent more cases of self-immolations and deaths?

The self-immolations make a big statement in the fight for Tibet’s freedom and people throughout the land are literally giving up their lives for the sake of trying to free an entire country and people. But how much of this fight is really worth it when the CTA cannot even achieve unity among their exiled people? Or govern with a truly fair and firm hand? Isn’t there a great irony that Tibetans in the motherland are fighting for freedom when their exiled brothers and sisters are denying each other the most basic freedoms to choose their religious beliefs?

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  1. “Then, while all this is happening, the CTA have remained unusually quiet about the self-immolations. Apart from the token occasional comments, they have said or done little else to try to stop the immolations. This inaction is leading to more loss of lives. Their silence becomes suspicious, making it seem that they may well be manipulating the situation to their advantage or even be behind the incidents. Are the CTA intentionally remaining silent, refusing to strongly discourage the self-immolations because it generates more sympathy for their cause? Are they allowing their people to die for a free Tibet”?

    Not only has the CTA not done much to stop their own (and already small population of Tibetans in exile) people from such drastic actions, Dr Lobsang Sangay’s recent statement made during his interview with The Huffington Post can be taken as an encouragement for even more people to self immolate.

    I read in horror as Dr Sangay said that it was “sacred duty” of all Tibetans in exile to support such acts! To me, such words and their ongoing policy of persecuting their own people based on religion shows very clearly that the CTA does not care very much for its own people and is ill deserved to have Tibet returned to them until they demonstrate that they value the life of each and everyone of their citizens.

    All Tibetan in exile themselves must realize that we live in a modern era where information can be easily accessed and the rest of the world cannot help but see the CTA as chronically hypocritical and inept in providing fair treatment and justice to all in their process of governance. That which the CTA is failing in, is precisely what they accuse China of not exercising. How can you expect the world to support such inconsistencies? I speak for myself but I am quite certain I am not alone in saying that the CTA must change its ongoing policy of discrimination against Shugden practitioners.

    Some have wrongly alleged that the Shugden practice harms the Tibetan Cause and yet, even with the practice banned, Tibetans in exile are no where close to returning home. In fact recent cold reactions from heads of states around the world towards the Dalai Lama indicates that the cause is fast losing traction. People just don’t believe in just words anymore.

    Clearly, the reason for that has nothing to do with the practice of worshipping an enlightened deity but everything to do with the mentality that is so pervasive within the CTA. What a backward bunch of mentality trying to compete in a world where even stalwart countries of communism have had to change to be accepted.The Tibetan community in exile need to seriously look into that and leverage on the power of the people to take actions towards true democracy.

  2. his holiness himself said that selfimolation should not be pactise thw word of his holiness is the word of cta…..

  3. @Kunga yeah but he didnt BAN self-immolations did he? If the Dalai Lama can ban Dorje Shugden, why doesnt he ban self-immolations? Why doesnt the CTA say that they ban self-immolations? Surely such strongly-worded language would be more clear for the Tibetans, and more would be inclined to follow them

  4. It is too easy to dismiss SI / as a political tool means to an end…when in reality it is something much worse…against humanity? against the dharma? possibly…or not it could be argued on this forum(as being a buddhist practice).
    Personally more and more I think about it? I find my position being against humanity why because we devalue the cost of a life. A rare and precious human life to practice the dharma…when will this opportunity come around for us practitioners without attainments.

  5. HH Dalai Lama and HH Karmapa has said that the self-immolations is not the way. : “I request the people of Tibet to preserve their lives and find other, constructive ways to work for the cause of Tibet. The situation is unbearably difficult, but in difficult situations we need greater courage and determination.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/10/karmapa-lama-tibetan-monks-stop)

    Please, do not manipulate the information. Don’t do what dont want to be do with you. The self-immolations hurt our hearts, do not split the opinion, join to find a solution. Please remember: Refrain from Lying, Slandering, Gossiping and Spreading Rumours.

    I’m not a saint but if you dont have proves, you are just Slandering, Gossiping and Spreading Rumours.

    Don’t lose more credibility from them whom still gives you the benefit of the doubt

    It seems to be just resentment, aversion, anger toward HH alai Lama, is the whole thing, a “mere” personal thing

    I’m sorry for my wrong english

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.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

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