Self-immolation truth

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Buddha Sakyamuni has inspired his followers to hang on whatever adversity they might encounter, the series of clergy self-immolations at the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, however, are misleading devout Tibetan Buddhists to think that it's permissible to give up hope and their lives so long as they follow suit.

In one of most recent cases, Rechok, 35, a mother of three who lived in the Chatuo village of Rangtang of Aba, committed suicide by setting herself ablaze in the afternoon of May 30 and died on her way to a local hospital.

Police investigations showed Rechok had been caught up in a family feud with her alcoholic husband Namsetong. The couple been viciously arguing overnight, which aggravated the mother's pains from losing his eldest son Dropurang who ran away days before to become a monk despite the mother's objection.

Rechok's suicide was not politically motivated, according to police.

Still, her death was branded as a "protest at the growing influence of Han China in the Tibetan plateau" by the Free Tibet, an overseas group advocating Tibet independence, and used as an excuse by the Tibetan government-in-exile to attract international attention to the so-called "Tibet issue."

In mid-March, Sangpo Dondrup, a third-year student in a middle school of Sertar county of neighboring Ganzi prefecture, was found foaming at the mouth and groaning on the downtown Jingyuan Road, smelling of gasoline.

Police investigations later showed he had attempted self-immolation. The oldest of seven, Sangpo Dondrup felt stressed as his illiterate father had been harshly pressing him to get good grades since he entered middle school in 2009.

Feeling stuck in his study, the teenager stole fuel from his father's motorcycle. He swallowed some of it and splashed rest of the gasoline on his clothes and then went to the street. However, he failed to set himself alight.

"I didn' t know that it was so awful to swallow the gasoline," he said, scratching his hair in embarrassment.

At noon every Saturday, Sangpo Dondrup said he would walk around the nearby pagoda of Padmasambhava who established Buddhism in Tibet in the eighth century to pray.

Unwilling to make do with a vocational school, he said he would consider restudying the third year if he failed the entrance exam for senior high schools. "My goal is college," said he.

Xu Kaiwen, who holds a PhD in clinical psychology from Beijing University, has been involved in suicide intervention for more than 10 years. He said that individual suicides can be contagious. When someone with public influence, such as the Tibetan clergy who are supposed to enlighten the average public to be free from all sufferings, were involved, the demonstration effect will be undoubtedly stronger.

"Teenagers aged 18-22 and the stressed are the most prone to copycat suicides as they are impulsive and lack self-control. Whether they spread mainly hinges upon the public explanation of suicidal behaviors. If suicides are hailed as martyrs or heroes, it can easily cause others, especially teenagers, to follow suit," said Xu.

To ward off the potential harms of clergy self-immolation to young Tibetans whose formidable ages are spent in a religious climate unparalleled anywhere else in China, the Education Bureau of Sertar County added a course on Life in all schools the following month.

"The objective of this course is to teach students to cherish their lives. Everyone here knows that Buddha Sakyamuni spent his whole life exhorting people to refrain from killing others and committing suicides, we can' t afford to have this young generation misled," said Chen Hu, chief of the Sertar Education Bureau.

The worry of parents and teaching faculty spreads, however, on the heels of Tibetan clergy who set themselves on fire. On March 30, in front of a downtown telecommunication outlet in Tuanjie Road of Barkam, the capital of Aba prefecture, Chimed Palden and Nganlam, both from the Caodeng Monastery of Gelug sect, burned themselves while hundreds of students of the nearby primary and junior high schools were on their way home during lunch break.

Li Yong, a teacher of the Barkam No. 2 Primary School, said some students dared not to return to school that afternoon as the sight was too shocking.

"Students are panicky. I keep telling them neither to imitate those monks nor to join the crowd to watch if anything similar happens on their way home or to school," said Li.

As self-immolation cases often attracted crowds which sometimes could turn chaotic, Tseten Serjig, whose child is among those who witnessed the burnings, said that she was very concerned about the safety of children and hoped the school authorities would strengthen student protection and escort students home.

"I feel very indignant. Thanks to the many good government policies, Tibetan-populated regions have never developed so fast and our livelihoods has been improving. Why would those monks give up their life so radically to jeopardize social harmony?" said the Tibetan mother.

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