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Self Immolation a Cop Out?

October 2, 2008

I was checking out some new blogs today and saw a post about self immolation. For those that don’t know, self immolation is a form of protest where one sets themselves on fire to make a political point. One of the most infamous cases involving self immolation was that of Thich Quan Duc, a Buddhist monk who set himself aflame to bring awareness to the persecution of Buddhists in South Vietnam.

I think self immolation is rather selfless, giving up one’s life for the better good of those who are being oppressed. I wanted to get your take on it though. Do you think of it as a cop out or a legitimate form of protest?

Below is the post I saw which sparked this post (no pun intended).

From Digital Nicotine

Whoever came up with the idea of self-immolation as a form of political protest deserves to have their grave spit on. And I don’t care if it was some really noble peace-loving, orange-clad Buddhist monk all the hipsters can get into.

It isn’t noble. It isn’t an expression of desperation by the oppressed. It’s just stupid. A stupid waste.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2008 2:44 am

    Whoa, didn’t know you all found that. Thanks for swinging by, and glad I could get you all started on this conversation.

  2. October 5, 2008 1:09 pm

    The issue of suicide, in Theravada Buddhism at least, is a very tricky issue, and one of the reasons why it is a sticky issue has already been mentioned by Kelly above. There are a handful of accounts in the Nikayas and in the Vinaya of monks who have taken their own lives because of illness or because of disgust with the body (though usually by “using the knife,” which seems to be an idiomatic phrase in Pali, and never by self-immolation).

    The trouble arises in the cases where monks claiming to be arahants kill themselves. They usually attain Nibbana after committing suicide, but how can a arahant commit 1) and act of murder 2) an act seemingly tied up in a strong desire to escape either the pain of illness or the wretchedness of materiality? The commentarial literature usually solves this by saying that, at the time of committing suicide, the monks in question weren’t arahants, but in the last moments of life they realized their mistake and achieved liberating insight. An explanation which is not without it’s own problems, but it is food for thought.

    The long and short of the matter, to my mind, is that suicide is definitely not openly condoned in Buddhism, not even in the case of a sick arahant, where you might say, “He’s enlightened already, so what’s the harm?” How much more problematic, then, must an act of suicide by someone who isn’t an arahant be.

  3. Illogic permalink
    October 3, 2008 7:37 am

    It depends on how you view human life I suppose. If you consider the individual to be greater than the mass, or the other way around.
    If, for instance, a similar sacrifice would help a lot of people, you might consider it, but unless you have a reason to believe there is something waiting beyond death, I’d say it’s doubtful that you’d do it.
    Then again, as stated, religious believes, personal philosophical views, and probably quite a few others would also matter.
    I’d have to say it’s up to each and everyone what they think about it, just as it’s up to each and everyone to do it if they so wish.

  4. October 3, 2008 12:43 am

    This is a very difficult issue–while I would never go so far as to say that self-immolation is a cop out because I believe that people who have taken this action had very powerful reasons why they made that choice and I have the utmost respect for that. I think in the end for my own personal choices–the most basic of all Buddhist teachings and the first precept is not to kill any living being. I don’t eat meat, choosing not to kill another living being so that I can eat what I don’t need to survive, and certainly the not killing of a living being extends to human life as well. I guess it seems like a simple thing–no killing any living being extends to oneself. It would seem to me it also breaks the spirit of other precepts in causing suffering to others–family and friends are caused suffering when someone takes their own life. Still, before studying Buddhism and identifying with being a Buddhist I was very firmly in the camp of people having the freedom to choose when they ended their lives in terms of terminal illnesses. I guess I would have to say I am still for people having the right to make such a supremely personal choice, but for myself, I would consider it going against the basic precepts that define Buddhism.

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