Tibetan nun dies after setting self ablaze

October 18, 2011

A Tibetan nun has died after setting herself on fire, becoming the first woman known to have self-immolated in the region, BBC reports. She had called for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama before she died.


Buddhist monks outside one of the entrances to the Kirti monastery in the town of Aba in China’s Sichuan province. (AFP/Getty Images)

The incidents show unrest in the country is growing. But Tibetan activists say it’s striking that this many monks and a nun have chosen self-immolation as their form of protest.

The term self-immolation first became known to the English-speaking world after Buddhist monks set themselves ablaze in protest of the South Vietnamese regime in 1963.

Below, watch the news reports that shocked the nation: (WARNING: Shows images of self-immolation.)

While Buddhism teaches against violence, self-immolation is approved of in some forms of Mahayana Buddhism. Buddhist monks often look to the story of the Bodhisattva Medicine King as example, who in the “Lotus Sutra” set his body aflame and demonstrated that the body was unnecessary. Buddhism Today explains:

Self-immolation, much like an extreme renunciant might abstain from food until dying, could be an example of disdain for the body in favor of the life of the mind and wisdom.

The Western media’s coverage of self-immolation has also turned it into a dramatic, newsy form of protest, presenting the incidents as suicides for the greater good.

While self-immolation looks very painful — and burning vital tissue certainly can be — a person who goes into shock or asphyxiates may not feel anything after the first few moments.

International Campaign for Tibet researcher Zorgyi explained earlier this month that whether the self-immolation was painful or not, the increasing trend at Kirti monastery is an indicator of how badly Tibetans are suffering.

Watch al-Jazeera’s report on self-immolation at Kirti:

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