As of February 2019, there have been a total of 155 reported self-immolations in Tibet since February 2009, of which 129 are men and 26 women. Given the poor human rights situation and deplorable political condition in Tibet, these heroic acts of self-immolations may be viewed as a protest to free Tibet from China. In fact, the issue of independence from China has been the dominant theme in the international media coverage of Tibet. In relative parlance, scholars who are familiar with Buddhism assumed that because Tibet is a Buddhist nation, the instances of self-immolations were directly influenced by the Lotus Sutra, particularly its 23rd chapter which venerates self-immolation and viewed it as the highest form of devotion to the Buddha. However, following Robert Barnett, this paper argues that these self-immolations are neither a form of protest to free Tibet from China nor are they directly influenced by the Lotus Sutra. This paper then looks at the relation between the concept of ‘self-immolation’ in the Lotus Sutra and Tibetan struggle for independence from China. It takes the position that, on the one hand, the protests in Tibet expressed most visibly through self-immolation were intended primarily to preserve Tibetan religion, culture, and language; and, on the other hand, they were shaped by the country’s long history of colonial domination. Thus, as will be shown later, the Lotus Sutra has nothing to do with the instances of self-immolations in Tibet and that any attempt to read it as the principle of self-immolation is to utterly misinterpret its powerful teachings on truth and life from the perspective of the Buddha.
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