Buddhist Self-Immolators

Subject: Religion
Type: Cause and Effect Essay
Pages: 7
Word count: 2097
Topics: Buddhism, China, Government

The religion of Buddhism has been considered all over the world to be one of the most peaceful and sacred religion. According to most people around the world, Buddhism is a sign for peace and at no point should they be found associated with violence-like behaviour. This popular belief has however been challenged by various Buddhist motifs. Cases have been reported and observed all over the globe of Buddhist motifs engaging in violent protest. This essay indulges into an understanding of how Buddhist motifs have informed the shape of political protest and violence in Asia.

The worldwide political protests have often been believed to be an issue of the political class and their supporters only. This narrative has, however, been changed by several Buddhist motifs for various valid reasons. One of the reasons that triggered Buddhist motifs to engage into protest involved situations when they were forced to stand for themselves. For quite some time the Buddhist had been abused and trampled by the political dirt with anyone to defend them or speak on their behalf.  Anyone would have asked, ‘how best could the Buddhist stand in times of these tempting political moments (Romm, Combs, and Klein, 2008, pp. 990). A case in history is a situation where the Americans had bombed a village in Vietnam. The bombing claimed lives of so many innocent villagers and children. Out of outrage and bitterness, one Morrison decides to set herself a blaze. Well, this could have been considered unreligious but looking at it critically one gets a different picture. It was understood that she was sacrificing herself so that others may live. Indeed what manner of love could this be? That someone would just sacrifice themselves for the sake of others? Superficially, this would seem like a rushed decision without any clear objective. However, a deeper look at the situation would reveal the adoption of the love for others and deeper understanding of the religion and the inner driving forces (Burma, V. J., 2008). 

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Foremost, one of the Orders of coexistence among Buddhist states that one should never kill. Moreover, further understanding of it is that one should never let others be killed. This somehow explains the basis of the belief in peace among the Buddhist. This religion basically is rooted in building peace at all cost. Most people have always believed that the best way to attain peace is to run away from violent situations and protest. The Buddhist immolation gave the world a different meaning to the idea of attaining peace (Kelly, 2011, pp. 300). Therefore, in this situation, the Buddhist engagement in protest was an act of giving new meaning to the attainment of peace. The world gets to understand that one needs to overlook act of injustice. Instead, they have to fight for justice, until then they will not really understand what it means to get justice. In my own opinion, I would argue that this was a justified protest as it was aimed at the achievement of the principles of Buddhism; building and attainment of peace. From this immolation, people get to understand that they are justified to engage in political protest as long as it is done for the benefit of humanity. This was the first ever-recorded case of self-burning from a monk and it for sure sent a strong message to the entire world (Biggs, M., 2005, pp. 200). 

On the other hand, immolations among Buddhist also occurs due to enlightenment and pursuit of the matters of the heart. This is clearly seen in the case of Mai, a young woman who burns herself in front of Buddhist nunnery. The desire of showing the love of her religion to the entire world could have been the sole driving force. Unlike Christianity which is characterized by cases of martyrdom, Buddhism has only had cases of immolation as a sign of the love of the religion, this has been observed a crossed all Buddhist with frequent cases major cases among the Chinese Buddhist. While this could not be political sometimes, it still seems as a protest since it is usually a public display. Perhaps this is what a Buddhist monk would do in a situation where the political class tries to undermine their religion and beliefs. Mai was most over joyed in days that preceded her death and she was happy and ever calm. The act though religious also sent a strong political message to the entire world. She decided to stand against bombing and killing of innocent lives that were happening at that point in time majorly in Vietnam. Well, while the entire world kept quiet in the name of keeping the peace, here was a woman who decided to give a different meaning of peace by standing against the evil of violence and loss of innocent lives (Laloe, 2004, pp.210). 

Killing one self-was and is still a painful process not only to the one killing themselves but also to their family. However, these characters are willing to overlook the pain their family members would under-do so as to ensure justice and peace prevail in the world. The truth is that family would have acted as an obstruction to this act. In fact, who would be willing to see their son or daughter kill themselves as an act of protest, especially in a political circumstance? Well, the view pointed out by the Buddhist monk’s protest against political killing is that to change a political action there is always need for a great sacrifice (Rezaeian, M., 2013, pp. 185). 

The reality is that Buddhists should never get themselves involved in political activities. For that matter, Buddhist who engage in self-immolation would be accused of engaging in political activities, something that is contrary to their belief (Crosby et…al, 1965. Pp. 64). On the contrary, their acts of courage gave great lessons not only to the Buddhist community but also to the entire world. The action of self-burning gave a picture of not only people who are faithful and rooted in the religion but also that of a people who understand a deeper meaning of their teaching. One act that they succeeded to show to the entire world is the act of love. It is a fact that is what almost all religious teaching advocate for including Christianity. In Christian belief, such an act is portrayed in the character of Jesus Christ who is known to have died so that human race may live according to the biblical teachings. The engagement of Buddhist in these protests, therefore, attracted greater admiration for their teaching and beliefs (Ahmadi et…al, 2008, pp.450). 

Moreover, engagement in these political protests gave a glimpse for everyone to understand the true act of courage. It is a belief that so many people who wish to engage in protests sometimes draw their encouragement from these stories. It is well understood that political protests are often associated with violence and sometimes death. The Buddhist protests are unique in the sense that they did not wait for the reaction of the government. All the United States government got in these cases were smoke going up in the air as the entire world watches a protest against what the United States was doing. In my own understanding, these were stronger political messages that send quiver deep down the spine of the killers. It was a wakeup call also to the world to take action in fear that the other world nations would revolt against them, the US had just to end the bombing of the innocent (Yun-Hua, 1965, pp.252).  

Putting the above discussion into perspective, the Buddhist motifs brought a lot of restoration to the world systems of governance. This is in the sense that the entire globe was reminded about the value of human life. Most importantly, they taught so many what it really means to love. The motifs showed the real love of the neighbour which is described as anyone in need in the Christians aspects. Not so many had understood the true meaning of this word ‘love’ until they heard or witnessed the self-burning (Benn, 2007). 

The most important transformation the motifs brought to the political protest was that of giving many people the courage to stand for themselves. Someone else would have described this as leading to more and more political protest. I, however, choose to view as people understanding what is right and wrong then standing against the evil. Everyone had feared to defend the bombing because that would put their ‘precious’ lives at stake. Reminded of how to love really and puffed with the courage to do what is right, many people reached whereby they would not cow from engaging in political protest in case their rights and other people’s rights are infringed; whether it is right to live or other rights in the books of law. 

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According to Harvey, the attention of the Buddhist was shifting from the individual benefits derived from meditation to the offering service to the community through their belief in peace. The act of self-immolation was according to Harvey one of the means through which Buddhist would do something for the good of the community. Love-kindness and compassion was the direction their belief in love was to take. People would give different views as to how Buddhist could have done his but according to the situation of the children who were being bombed, someone had to send a strong message to the United States government. Self-immolation was the message in this situation, the beauty of it is that it sent message to the entire world thus stopping of the bombing for the good of the children. 

In conclusion, Buddhist motifs have had great influence to the today’s political protest experienced in any place in the world. Basically, people learned about three most important things from these self-killings. These were: love for one another, courage to stand for what is right, and the need to have a deeper understanding of the religious teachings. It is justifiable to argue that most people in the United States or any other part of the world would easily take to the streets to protest, basically because of these immolations that took place, for the sake of Vietnamese children. People gained courage, the courage to stand for what is right. Ideally, this is one of the best fruits of the immolations. On the other hand, the route towards real peace was found to be a confrontation with the political evils that are in the society. Every person who cares to look back in history and review these cases is reminded of the real act of love for the human race. For these reasons, therefore, most people protest against governments in today’s world not because they get any benefits but due to the mere fact that someone else would enjoy the fruits of their fights. The more protests have helped to shape the government systems, restore sanity and peace in the entire globe. Briefly, an act of death has simply helped people to put their governments in check in order to make the world a better place that everyone else desires to live in (Kelly, 2011). Buddhist religion does not approve violence and protest. Self-immolation is considered normal by the Buddhist. In fact, these suicides were considered to be the deepest involvement into the Buddhism religion. Those who committed suicide were believed to be among the most religious people of all time. 

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  1. Benn, J. A., 2007. Burning for the Buddha: A self-immolation in Chinese Buddhism (Vol. 19). University of Hawaii Press. 
  2. Yun-Hua, J., (1965). Buddhist self-immolation in medieval China. History of Religions, 4(2), pp.243-268.
  3. Ahmadi, A., Mohammadi, R., Stavrinos, D., Almasi, A., and Schwebel, D. C., 2008. Self-immolation in Iran. Journal of burn care research, 29(3), pp. 451-460.
  4. Crosby, K., Rhee, J.O. and Holland, J., 1977. Suicide by fire: a contemporary method of political protest. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 23(1), pp.60-69
  5. Rezaeian, M., 2013. Epidemiology of Self-Immolation, Burns, 39(1), pp. 184-186
  6. Laloe, V., 2004.Patterns of deliberate self-burning in various parts of the world: A review. Burns, 30(3), pp.207-215. 
  7. Biggs, M., 2005. Dying without killing: Self-immolations, 1963-2002. Making sense of suicide missions, pp. 173-208. 
  8. Burma, V. J., 2008. It’s about Saffron Revolution of Burma in 2007. 
  9. Romm, S. Combs, H. and Klein. M. B., 2008. Self-Immolation: cause and culture . Journal of burn care & research, 29(6), pp. 988-993.
  10. Kelly, B.D., 2011. Self-Immolation, suicide and self-harm in Buddhist and Western traditions. Transcultural psychiatry, 48(3), pp. 299-317
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