10 minutes with … Lobsang Sangay

DHARMSALA, India — At least three Tibetan Buddhist monks drank gasoline and set themselves ablaze in January, bringing the count … Continued

DHARMSALA, India — At least three Tibetan Buddhist monks drank gasoline and set themselves ablaze in January, bringing the count of self-immolations to 15 since March 2011.

Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, attributes the deaths to restrictions being imposed by the Chinese government on traditional Tibetan practices.

The U.S. State Department has raised concerns over the self-immolations. However, Beijing, which regards Tibet as part of China, alleges that Tibetan exiles are encouraging the monastic community to take this extreme step, disregarding the Buddhist principle of non-violence.

Sangay, a former scholar from Harvard Law School and the political successor of the Dalai Lama, spoke about religious restrictions and self-immolation in Tibet. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why are monks and nuns self-immolating in Tibet?

A: Repressive policies of China have pushed them to the brink of desperation. Members of the Communist Party of China dictate what monks and nuns should do, how they should pray, and who should be allowed into the monasteries.

Those who give up worldly life to join a monastery see their follow monks as their world, their family. When they see their associates being expelled because they refused to denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama or to stamp on his photograph, hopelessness sinks in. When they think their sufferings are not being noted, they take such a desperate step.

Q: Does Buddhism allow self-immolation?

A: It’s a complex issue. One could refer to Jataka tales, which concern the previous births of the Buddha. In one story, the Buddha, in a previous incarnation, gives up his body to feed a starving tigress and her four cubs. Some other stories also talk about self-sacrifice by the Buddha.

Although suicide is violent and prohibited in Buddhism, some Buddhists believe it depends on the motivation. If you do it out of hatred and anger, then it is negative. But if you do it for a pure cause … it’s such a complex theological issue. You can’t go either way or have a definitive answer. But the action is tragic, so painful.

Q: Do you discourage monks setting themselves ablaze?

A: My stand on self immolation is the same as that of the Dalai Lama, who has always discouraged drastic actions by Tibetans. He does not even endorse hunger strikes.

Q: Can you stop the wave of self-immolations?

A: I am expected to do something about it, but it has been challenging, difficult and painful. As a human being, it is so difficult to hear someone dying for a cause. And as a Buddhist, it is even more painful.

I went to the United Stated and Europe to get statements of support so that I could send a message of hope to Tibet. I tried my best to get everything I did covered by the Tibetan media. And during my visit — almost until the last leg of my trip — self-immolations stopped. I thought I was able to pass on the message of hope. But when I was in London, I heard there was one more self-immolation. That dampened my mood. I cancelled all my appointments for that morning.

Q: Do you see a solution to the Tibet-China conflict in sight?

A: I do believe so. That’s why I have left Harvard to be in India to lead the movement. The Tibetan struggle has to go on. Had I not moved to India, where I am living on about $300 a month, my life would have been normal and boring.

One Buddhist lesson I have learned is that one who is born has to die. That means what you do is what you leave behind. If you live for yourself, you won’t make much difference. I, as a Buddhist, as a Tibetan, want to live for a cause greater than myself and my life.

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  • citizen2000

    “There are some foreigners who have nothing better to do, than to criticize China’s affairs. Now, China firstly does not export revolution, secondly does not export poverty and hunger, or make trouble with you, so why do you still want to complain?” said Xi. I know we must meet with China’s future leader but we need to understand who we are dealing with. Essentially Xi is saying, as long as we are only oppressing our own people, America should butt out.

    This shows that China will continue to be ruled by an authoritarian regime for the next generation of leaders. Why then do American universities who treasure academic freedom make deal after deal with China? The University of Michigan has a joint campus in Shanghai that was the source of the cyber attacks on Google last year. There are many other American universities that have similar deals with China. Read more at http://www.china-threat.com

  • hookknife

    This is an active political campaign to continue the Chinese bashing and hope no one notices that these Tibetan lamas, for 6 weeks, encouraged, and are still encouraging these self-immolations by calling them ‘bodhisattva activity” doing something for a greater cause, they hope that more and more clashes and burnings take place, so that the ignorant west will have no idea that they are in bed with China, building their monasteries with Chinese monies all over the west and Asia, They are just one more diety-worshipping religion trying to keep people asleep and passive. They themselves are the biggest hypocrites ON EARTH who cause more suffering to their OWN people in 900 years. No educated Tibetan in China would ever ever want to be under the sway of these aristocractic hillbillies kleptocrats that are trying to keep their priestly brahmin, 8th century, devil worshipping atavistic, feudal theocracy alive. This is why rich billionaires love them. They are the best at manipulating whole groups of people to fall asleep. They have kept their own Tibetan’s in Exile asleep for 60 years, still living in a feudal mindset, while their Chinese Tibetan brethren are getting an education. There is nothing more disgusting than these hypocrites, that left their own people to the CHinese revolution , while they escaped with their tons and tons of gold and wealth and their wealthy lama relatives and turned their backs on their own people. Now that Chinese is the new world power , they hope to have influence there so they can go back to their golden thrones, and the Potala Palace and lord it over with a cut on all those donations in the new Tibetan Buddhist Tourist Industry.As long as the coporatocracies what to keep us asleep and ignorant in the west of who these people really are, they hope that the Dalai lamas non-political tour, that has kept this dangerous Chinese hatred going from the U.S. and the controlled media, and the hollywood crowd that we have replaced to do our ‘thinking for us” on what is right and wrong. Anyone knows it is NOT alright to encourage the self-immolation of your people to keep your dead cause in the limelight, and to keep westerners angry and confused by the Tibetan lama propaganda to not see how really dangerous this Tibetan Governement in Exile really is to the stability of the world. They are very clever, if anyone wants to notice, they are now pushing in this same paper the Chinese Karmapa as the new environemtalist, the new age religion of the liberals, they can scoop up these neoliberals and pseudo liberals with their clap trap. This people dont care about the Environment, look at how trash Dharmasala, why don’t they clean up Dharmasala first? No these people are like cameleons, they can be whoever we want them to be, while in donations to recreate their medieval serf-feudalism peace and harmony PR, keeping whole groups asleep not complaining about 1% owning all the wealth, just like they did in Ol Tibet

  • hookknife

    Because these lamas and their billionaires in China AND the U.S. are going to create the New Age Theocracy and between them and the the help of these feudal lama kleptocrats, to continue owning more of the wealth.This is why the so-called ‘liberal ‘ group are now the most dumbed down and why a Fascist regime is almost enivitable unless people begin to seriously wake up and stop believing corporate media controlled news, the neo-liberal academic establishments and hollywood to form our opinions. That is the biggest threat. Not China. These lamas are IN BED WITH CHINA Dont you get it? This is theatre to keep the majority of us reacting with emotion instead of doing our own thinking.