Spiritual Leader Implores Tibetans Not to Self-Immolate in Protest of Chinese Rule

By Roseanne Gerin
tibet-monk-kalsang-wangdu-undated-photo.jpg Tibetan protester Kalsang Wangdu is shown in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

A Tibetan spiritual leader urged Tibetans on Friday not to self-immolate in protest against Chinese rule, following the recent deaths of two Tibetans who set themselves ablaze and died.

“This week, two young Tibetan children, one in Tibet and one in India, have burned themselves to death,” Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, one of two claimants to the title of 17th Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, wrote in a post on his Facebook page.

“These events pain me deeply,” he said. “I could not bear to think of it when I heard the news, and for that reason I want to make a request of my fellow Tibetans at home and abroad.”

"I ask all of you to continue living good and healthy lives," he said.

The first death by self-immolation occurred Monday when Kalsang Wangdu, an 18-year-old Tibetan monk from Maretsokha Aryaling monastery, burned himself to death to protest Chinese rule near his monastery in Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture’s Nyagrong (Xinlong) county, according to a source in the region.

The same day, Dorje Tsering, a 16-year-old Tibetan student living in India, set himself on fire to protest China’s policies and rule in Tibetan areas after telling his parents he hoped to do something “for the cause of Tibet,” a Tibetan source in exile told RFA. He was hospitalized but died of cardiac arrest late Thursday, Agence France-Presse reported.

He was the eighth Tibetan to self-immolate outside China since 1998, according to the London-based rights group Free Tibet.

The Karmapa noted that despite the nearly 150 Tibetans inside Tibet and abroad who have self-immolated to make a strong statement against Chinese rule and call for Tibet’s independence, no one in the international community has responded to those acts in ways that help the Tibetan cause.

“Within Tibetan society, people will applaud them for a few days, saying, ‘He’s a hero,’ ‘She’s a heroine’ or ‘That is incredible,’ he wrote. “But that does not help."

“It is important to deeply consider the physical pain of those who set themselves on fire and the mental suffering of the relatives they leave behind, as well as whether this will help or harm Tibet, immediately, within a short while, or in the long term,” he said.

‘Sense of community’

The Karmapa implored his fellow Tibetans to increase their “sense of community” and abandon their “attachment to old ways,” a reference to self-immolations.

“The Tibetan land is vast, but the Tibetan people are few in number,” he said. “Therefore, it is critical that every individual Tibetan remain alive in order to preserve the land and people of Tibet.

“In particular, most of those who have immolated themselves have been young," he said. "They are our hope and lifeblood for the future. This non-stop expenditure of life is a severe drain on Tibet as a whole.”

There have been 144 self-immolations by Tibetans living in China since a wave of fiery protests began in 2009.

Most protests feature demands for Tibetan freedom and the return of spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since an abortive uprising in 1959. A handful of self-immolation protests have been over local land or property disputes.

Reported by Rigdhen Dolma for RFA's Tibetan Service.

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