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Robert Thurman On Self Immolations In Tibet

Via Students for a Free Tibet and Joshua Eaton.

As the number of self-immolations in Tibet nears 100, Robert Thurman has released an individual statement as a leader of Tibet House US.  Also this month, Students for a Free Tibet held a North America Conference For Tibet.

What do you think, BPFers?  Do you agree with Thurman’s take here?  Do you have any helpful information to share with the rest of us on the situation in Tibet?



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Comments (3)

  • Patrick S. O'Donnell

    I found the statement informative and helpful. However, I would have liked to have seen more discussion of the Buddhist proscription against suicide and how self-immolation relates to same. It was also interesting to see a distinction made between “Vietnamese and Chinese Buddhism” and Tibetan Buddhism with regard to this practice, a distinction that no longer seems tenable given the high number of Tibetans who’ve self-immolated (fire-suicides?). These appear to be understandable yet regrettable acts of desparation in the face of cultural genocide. On a related note, Larry May has argued (in Genocide: A Normative Account, 2010) that normative and conceptual clarification of the definition of genocide in international criminal law should contribute to expansion of its scope to include cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing. It’s sadly and tragically ironic that China was one of the countries (along with Lebanon, Poland, the Soviet Union, and Venezuela) that proposed inclusion of acts of cultural genocide in the Genocide Convention, a proposal that was eventually rejected.

  • Mushim Ikeda


    Nhat Chi Mai was a lay disciple of Thich Nhat Hanh and member of the Order of Interbeing, an Engaged Buddhist order founded by Nhat Hanh. On May 16, 1967, Vesak, the celebration of the birth of the Buddha, she burned herself to death outside the Tu Nghiem Temple, a nunnery. An idealistic young student with much to live for, she sacrificed herself in an effort to bring the war to an end. In a letter to the U.S. government she wrote,

    I offer my body as a torch
    to dissipate the dark
    to waken love among men
    to give peace to Vietnam
    the one who burns herself for peace.

    In her farewell letter to Thich Nhat Hanh she wrote, “Thay, don’t worry too much. We will have peace soon.”

  • Patrick S. O'Donnell

    I’ve been doing a bit of research for a forthcoming post on self-immolation in Tibet and I thought I’d share some basic source material (I may add to this list if I come across anything else worthy of inclusion).

    • Benn, James A. Burning for the Buddha: Self-Immolation in Chinese Buddhism. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007.
    • Benn, James A. “The Lotus Sūtra and Self-Immolation,” in Jacqueline I. Stone and Stephen F. Teiser, eds. Readings of the Lotus Sūtra. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009: 107-131.
    • Benn, James A. “Multiple Meanings of Buddhist Self-Immolation in China—A Historical Perspective,” Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, no. 25 (Décembre 2012): 203-212.
    • Biggs, Michael. “Dying Without Killing: Self-Immolations, 1963-2002,” in Diego Gambetta, ed. Making Sense of Suicide Missions. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005: 173-208.
    • Biggs, Michael. “How Suicide Protest Entered the Repertoire of Contention,” Sociology Working Papers, No. 2012-03, Department of Sociology. Available:
    • Biggs, Michael. “Self-Immolation in Context, 1963-2012,” Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, no. 25 (Décembre 2012): 143-150.
    • Biggs, Michael. “Ultimate Sacrifice: What’s the Difference between Self-Immolation and Suicide Bombers?,” Foreign Policy (December 3, 2012). Available:
    • Cholbi, Michael, “Suicide,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
    • Hope, Marjorie. “The Reluctant Way: Self-Immolation in Vietnam,” The Antioch Review, 27 (1967): 149-163.
    • International Campaign for Tibet Report. “Storm in the Grasslands: Self-Immolations in Tibet and Chinese Policy.” Washington, DC, 2012. Available: self-immolations-tibet-and-chinese-policy
    • King, Sallie B. “They Who Burned Themselves for Peace: Quaker and Buddhist Self-Immolators during the Vietnam War,” Buddhist-Christian Studies, 20 (2000): 127-150.
    • Verini, James. “A Terrible Act of Reason: When Did Self-Immolation Become the Paramount Form of Protest?,” The New Yorker (May 16, 2012). Available: immolation.html
    • Yun-hua, Jan. “Buddhist Self-Immolation in Medieval China,” History of Religions, 4 (1964-1965): 243-265.

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