Lobsang Kalsang, one of the young monks who self-immolated on Monday, in a photo taken several years ago. From Phayul.com
At the Kirti Monastery in Northern Sichuan, two teenaged Tibetan monks set themselves on fire on Monday, in what looks to be the second case of self-immolation by Tibetan monks in six weeks, and the third separate incident this year.
According to the New York Times, Lobsang Kalsang and Lobsang Konchok were both around 18 years old, and their act of protest follows the recent fatal August 15th self-immolation of Tsewang Norbu, a monk from the Nyitso Monastery in west-central Sichuan.
Lobsang Kalsang is the younger brother of Phunstog, another monk at Kirti Monastery who self-immolated earlier this year, on the third anniversary of the March 14th riots in 2008.
The two young monks shouted “Long live the Dalai Lama!” before setting themselves alight, and there are no reports yet about potential enablers being rounded up to take some of the blame for the latest incident.
Three fellow monks at Kirti, including Drongdru, the uncle of Phunstog and Lobsang Kalsang, were recently sentenced to between 10 to 13 years in prison, due to their perceived enabling of Phunstog’s self-immolation in March. Obviously, the imprisonment of his uncle in the aftermath of his brother’s protest wasn’t enough to deter Lobsang Kalsang from his act of potentially fatal dissent. The status of Lobsang Kalsang and Lobsang Konchok is currently unknown, though they were rushed to hospital after their suicide attempt.
The latest self-immolation comes while tensions are rising between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama, after the Foreign Ministry declared that the 15th Dalai Lama will be chosen by the government, since that’s the way it’s always been done (just like how Tibet’s always been a part of China).
According to CNN, self-immolation has been a tradition within Chinese Buddhism since at least the late fourth century, and has been justified within the religion by one of the most important passages in Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra:
“The Sutra tells us that as an offering to the Buddha and to display his insight that the body is not a permanent, unchanging self, he poured fragrant oil on himself and allowed himself to be burned by fire,” wrote Buddhist monk, author, teacher and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh is his book, “Peaceful Action, Open Heart.”
“This is a quite radical demonstration of his freedom and insight, one that was made out of a very deep love.”
Self-immolation is now just as politically charged as it was in 1963, when the Western world saw Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc douse himself with gasoline and then light a match in Saigon to protest the Vietnam War. The Chinese authorities are likely on edge every time a new self-immolation case happens, since the fiery suicide-protest of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia was the catalyst for the Arab Spring.
Within China, burning oneself when left with no other options can no longer be considered only a Buddhist phenomenon, as the past two years have seen a number of self-immolation incidents occur within the Han majority. The dissenting act has been done by rural homeowners, and even entrepreneurs, in protest against the forced demolition of their homes and property. And in perhaps the most dramatic setting possible, a mysterious case in 2008 involved a man setting himself alight on The Bund.