Two young Tibetan men have set themselves on fire in the Tibet Autonomous Region capital of Lhasa in western China. One man died and the other survived and was able to talk. The Tibetan monks were believed to be between the ages of 19 and 22, according to Radio Free Asia. Within 15 minutes the area near a popular Buddhist temple in Lhasa was cleared of tourists who may have witnessed the event.
What is the definition of self-immolation?
Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines self-immolation as "a deliberate and willing sacrifice of oneself often by fire." The practice goes back to ancient Sanskrit traditions by which the wife of a dead husband would throw herself on the husband's funeral pyre. The Indian tradition is called "suttee" or "sati."
How does self-immolation work?
The most common way modern self-immolations work is that someone pours gasoline on another and that person is set on fire. Often the person that is burned lights his or her own fire with a match or lighter. In traditional suttee, the funeral pyre was made with wood.
Why do Tibetan monks self-immolate?
Self-immolation is an extreme form of protest. Perhaps the most famous self-immolation was that of Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc. On June 11, 1963, the 73-year-old burned to death while meditating in a busy Saigon intersection while other monks looked on. Buddhism Today recounts the story. The documentary film "Mondo Cane 2" has footage of the self-immolation. Since this self-sacrifice, Tibetan monks have been using this form of protest to bring attention to various social injustices.
How can monks stand the pain of burning?
In theory, highly meditative Tibetan monks don't feel the pain because they are so in tune with whatever they are focused upon. In the case of Thich Quang Duc, he didn't utter a sound or even twitch when he was set aflame. His body sat upright for a few moments before slumping over while still in the Lotus position of meditation.
Why is self-immolation a big deal now?
More than 30 people have set themselves afire since March 2011 in Tibetan areas. Only two have happened within the actual Tibet Autonomous Region as Tibetan citizens are protesting the Chinese crackdown in the minority area. AFP reports the self-immolations were the first major protests in the city since 2008 when Chinese police violently suppressed a massive demonstration.
What other self-immolations have happened recently?
Mohammed Bouazizi was a Tunisian working as a vegetable merchant in Sidi Bouzid, around 190 miles south of Tunis. Bouazizi was harassed by police, his vegetable cart confiscated and his protests at injustice went unheard, according to Time magazine. Bouazizi set himself on fire Dec. 17, 2010. He died of his injuries in a hospital Jan. 4, 2011. His self-immolation sparked the revolution in Tunisia, which in turn helped bring about protests in Libya, Egypt, Syria and other countries throughout the Middle East.
William Browning is a research librarian.