Which teachings of Buddhism support self-immolation

Self-immolation: contradicting the teachings of the Buddha?

The visit of the Dalai Lama brings the region, of which he is the highest spiritual authority, back into focus: Tibet.

More than 60 years after China's invasion of the world's largest highlands, an extreme form of protest has repeatedly occurred over the past few years: the self-immolation of mostly young Buddhist monks and nuns. This practice not only appears extremely cruel, but also contradicting itself, because Buddhism actually rejects suicide.

On "using the right resources"

In an interview with religion.ORF.at, the religious scholar Franz Winter basically remarks: “All major religions prohibit or make suicide a problem. Buddha himself preached the 'middle way' in principle, which actually excludes any extremes. ”On the other hand, in Buddhism, especially in its Mahayana form, there is the idea of“ using the right means ”(upaya-kaushalya), the basic idea of ​​which is dissemination the doctrine by all means.

EPA / Nindito Mukherjee

Peaceful protest by exile Tibetan monks and nuns in New Delhi

One possible rationale for suicide devoted to a higher purpose could be the central ideal of the bodhisattva. A bodhisattva can be a human or a supernatural being who seeks to assist others with salvation. The Bodhisattva puts his own needs aside and even renounces his own salvation.

"Highest form of devotion"

Suicides, like the ones often ignited in the past few years, could in essence have been understood as such a supreme form of devotion. As prehistory in the 20th century, Winter mentions a self-immolation of a Vietnamese monk in 1963, known from a famous photo. This spectacular suicide was directed against the then Catholic President of Vietnam, who restricted Buddhism.

There were also examples of self-immolation in the earlier history of Buddhism, especially from China in the first millennium, where they were practiced as a special form of asceticism. However, this was always heavily debated in its own tradition, and in the 10th century there was even an edict by the then Chinese emperor that prohibited self-immolation.

Years of oppression

According to Winter, the real drive for the current events in Tibet is probably the "desperation over the grievances", which the Tibetan population interprets as injustice. According to the religious scholar, these self-immolations must have been preceded by years of oppression.

Control with a hard hand

China has occupied Tibet since 1951 and controls the autonomous region and the adjacent provinces, in which many Tibetans also live, with a hard hand. The Tibet Autonomous Region, the administrative unit of the People's Republic of China installed in 1965, is only about half the size of the original Tibetan cultural area.

Activists lament the increasing settlement of Chinese in Tibetan areas and fear an "ethnic cleansing" carried out in this way. The current and 14th Dalai Lama lives in exile in India, the Tibetan government in exile is based in Dharamsala, India.

14th Dalai Lama "one of the most important"

The history of Lamaism in Tibet also has its dark sides. “It's a traditional society with feudal structures. A clerical and at the same time secular hierarchy has existed in Tibet since the 17th century, ”explains the Buddhism expert. History is certainly idealized by the current foreign rule, which is felt as oppression.

The threat from outside brings greater cohesion between the people and the clergy. “Monasticism is an integral part of Tibetan culture.” However, the 14th Dalai Lama must already be regarded as one of the “most important of the Dalai Lama”, partly because he initiated democracy and de facto resigned his function as secular head of Tibet .

Johanna Grillmayer, religion.ORF.at