Abstract Since 2009, over one hundred and fifty Tibetans have self-immolated. While most scholarly discussions of these tragedies have revolved around non-violent, bodhisattva ethics, we challenge and supplement those interpretations through an analysis of the long lineage of defensive violence in Tibetan Buddhism. Comparing the discourses of the V Dalai Lama during the sectarian battles of the seventeenth century to those of the XIV Dalai Lama regarding Tibet’s situation with China, we highlight their similar means of legitimating deaths aimed at preserving the Dharma from extinction. We conclude by surveying the last words of self-immolators to show how they have appropriated this discourse. AS THE VIDEO LOADS, grainy images show smoke from rising flames before the mobile phone camera points directly to the ground; the lens is slightly obscured by a jacket, likely meant as a precaution against being caught filming. When the picture steadies, a Buddhist nun is revealed standing straight and still. Her upper body defies the flames at her waist as they extend rapidly upward until nearly doubling her height. She finally collapses. Soldiers run towards her, and sharp cries break in and out, muffled by voices as grainy as the images. Another woman enters the screen waving a khata—a ceremonial scarf used to show respect—before throwing it towards the self-immolating nun. The video stops as suddenly as it began, but the images linger. Self-immolation is not entirely unknown in global Buddhism; Chinese Buddhists in the first millennia of the Common Era constructed a tradition of self-sacrifice (Benn 2007), scriptures, for example, the Lotus Sutra, recall tales like that of the Medicine King who saw burning one’s body as an act of great devotion, and in the 1960s, Malcolm Browne’s photograph of Thich Quang Duc burning himself in protest against anti-Buddhist policies brought global attention to the act. These acts have become a sadly commonplace occurrence in the traditional lands of Tibet, where over one hundred and fifty individuals have died by self-immolation since 2009. Tibetans and non-Tibetans alike have sought to place these acts in the context of the thirteen-hundred-year history of Tibetan Buddhism, a tradition where self-immolation seems all but absent (Buffetrille 2012; Biggs 2012; Litzinger 2012). In search of religious precedents, a number of commentators have bypassed Tibetan history and instead turned to Indian texts about the Buddha’s past lives to explain the spiritual motivations of the immolators and to justify self-killings that seemingly contradict the Buddhist vow to not take life. References to Indian bodhisattvas of the past, however, do not appear sufficient to explain the motivations informing the self-immolations. Moreover, they neither provide the most historically immediate instances of religious precedents nor do they account for the centuries-old history of Buddhist killings sanctioned by Tibet’s most influential religious leaders, including the greatly revered V Dalai Lama (Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso, 1617–1682). Attending to these issues, this article analyzes the Tibetan self-immolations in light of the country’s traditions of religious and political killing and self-sacrifice while contextualizing this history within (1) the military activities of the V Dalai Lama and (2) the expressly nonviolent program of the XIV Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso, b. 1935). By considering this history, we look to add nuance to current interpretations of the self-immolations that have grafted the XIV Dalai Lama’s exemplary focus on nonviolence backwards onto all of Tibetan history, coloring the past so that his Gandhian ethics appear to have always been a part of Tibetan Buddhism. Rather than maintain this idealized image of Tibet and its people, which blurs or even entirely obfuscates the lineage of sacrifice informing the current Tibetan self-immolations, this article contextualizes these self-killings within Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan nationalism as a response to foreign invasion. We argue that the past moments of Tibetan violence, when compared with the rhetoric employed in the last testaments of self-immolators, provide indigenous religio-political precedents. They also demonstrate that many modern-day Tibetans maintain the belief that protecting the Dharma is a sanctified duty, because their past and present leaders have repeatedly framed the defense of their Buddhist culture in these terms. Therefore, the tragic self-immolations are responses to decades of murder, oppression, and religious intolerance that, in terms of motivations, reflect a complex and difficult negotiation between a desire to protect and defend Tibetan Buddhist culture and an attempt to do so according to the XIV Dalai Lama’s prohibition of violence. Due to the Chinese government’s prohibitions severely restricting contact with Tibetans in disputed territories, along with the punishments leveled against Tibetans suspected of providing scholars with information regarding life in the autonomous region, which might include torture and even death, an extensive ethnographic study cannot currently be conducted. However, by constructing a broad theoretical framework built around Pierre Bourdieu’s extensive work on the sociological concept known as habitus—the set of habitual tendencies that, through the process of socialization, create embodied dispositions, or learned habits, tastes, and a shared knowledge base—we can better understand several of the previously unexamined socio-religious factors undergirding the Tibetan response to their harsh living conditions. By identifying and examining the most recent and relevant historical precedents regarding perceived threats to Buddhism and Tibetan culture, along with the commentaries that explain those responses in religious terms, we can better understand how a distinctly Tibetan habitus organizes, shapes, and influences contemporary responses to the very real Chinese threat to Tibetan Buddhism and culture. In fact, we argue that this history is made evident in the acts of the recent self-immolations. Or, in the words of Bourdieu, we argue that one can see “the active presence of past experiences” and a “present past that tends to perpetuate itself into the future by reactivation in similarly structured practices” (Bourdieu 1990, 54). When this history of past experiences is brought to the forefront and employed as a hermeneutic lens, we can better appreciate the XIV Dalai Lama’s unprecedented program of nonviolence and better examine how the self-immolations are a compromise between the sanctified violence of the past and the nonviolent resistance of the present. Finally, we can better understand how self-immolators regard the act of self-immolation to be an action that does not violate the Dalai Lama’s prohibitions against violence. LOCATING A TIBETAN RELIGIOUS PRECEDENT Scholars attempting to locate the religious precedent for the self-immolations have most frequently cited the well-known Mahāyāna parable of the hungry tigress. This Jātaka1 tale details the final event in a previous life of the Buddha, when he was a prince who came across a tigress so hungry that she was on the verge of eating her own cubs. Moved by compassion, he offers his body for the tigress and the cubs to feast upon, performing an exceptional act of charity and self-sacrifice that ensured his own death, but more importantly, saved the cubs and prevented the tigress's accrual of negative karma. This particular parable demonstrates an extreme example of fully manifest bodhicitta2 or the altruistic dedication to work toward relieving the suffering of all sentient beings. For Buddhists, this is compassion in its purest sense, and therefore despite coming to a decision he understood would end his own life, the hero performed an act of merit. Because it was the tigress that consumed his flesh and caused his death, it has been understood as neither a suicide (if by that terms we denote a transgressive self-killing) nor a violation of the precept “do not kill.” Among the numerous pieces written on the connection between this story and the Tibetan self-immolations, Robbie Barnett turned to the Buddha and the tigress to contextualize the self-immolators’ self-sacrifice in his article “Political Self-Immolation in Tibet: Causes and Influences” (Barnett 2012) as does Margaret Gouin in her “Self-Immolation and Martyrdom in Tibet” (Gouin 2014). Stephen Jenkins likewise refers to the parable in a discussion of compassionate forms of violence in Buddhism (Jenkins 2010), and Noyontsang Lhamokyab, president of the PEN Tibetan Writers Abroad, has highlighted Tibetans seeking to pay homage by invoking the story of the hungry tigress: I pay heartfelt homage to these bodhisattvas of the Land of Snows, The lamps who dispel the darkness of Tibet, Like the Buddha who gave his body to a hungry tigress [in a past life], Out of the altruistic intention to dispel the suffering of others. (Lhamokyab 2012, 133) Exiled intellectual and activist Jamyang Norbu turned to the story of the tigress, along with other Jātakas of the Buddha’s self-sacrifice, to explain these actions (Norbu 2012), while Tenzin Mingyur Paldron (2012) referenced the commentaries on the parable composed by Buddhists from other cultures, including the famous Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh in his letter to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Chung Tsering (2012) and Dhondup Tashi Rekjong (2012) have highlighted its use by members of the Tibetan exile community who have paid homage to the self-immolators in online forums, and popular press articles such as The Economist’s “The Buddha and the Tigress” have likewise drawn the same connection (Zeigler 2012). Several other commentators do not specifically mention the hungry tigress, but a substantial number of articles compare the self-immolators’ sacrifice to religious acts of giving or offering (see Benn 2007 and 2012; Ohnuma 2007; Barnett 2012; Tsering 2012). Close attention to self-immolators’ final words, left behind in written and spoken statements, reveals that they infrequently refer to their actions in terms of providing sustenance or mitigating another’s negative karma. Perhaps most salient is the reference to this Jātaka by Lama Soeba, one of only two tulkus to have self-immolated to date. In his final message, left behind as a recorded dharma talk, he said “I am sacrificing my body with the firm conviction and a pure heart just as the Buddha bravely gave his body to a hungry tigress [to stop her from eating her cubs]” (quoted in International Campaign for Tibet, 2012, 111). While scholars have made much of this reference, coming as it does from a respected religious professional, it is important to note that his reference serves as a marker for his pure motivation, and not as a precedent for the act itself. There is no more commentary on the tale in the rest of his statement, which largely serves as assurance for the dispositions of other self-immolators who may have lacked the same motivation he, as an educated and revered Buddhist teacher, could claim. The hungry tigress parable may be a contributing condition informing the religious precedent particularly for educated elites, and it is certainly a tale that has become part of Tibet’s social structure, but very few self-immolators directly reference the tale as setting a precedent for their acts. It may have inspired some Tibetans regarding the valor of such acts, but that alone is unsatisfactory as an explanatory frame for self-immolation in this context. The self-immolators’ refusal to harm Chinese soldiers or civilians is certainly in line with the bodhisattva ethics exemplified by the parable, but these self-killings still exceed the interpretative limits of the hungry tigress exegetical commentaries. Although these comparisons honor the deceased and enable a grieving community to come to terms with these tragedies, they do not address many of the religious motivations expressed by the self-immolators themselves, which frequently concern countering the Chinese government’s attempt to exterminate the religion at the heart of the Tibetan culture, returning the XIV Dalai Lama to his homeland, or protecting his livelihood. The last testament of Ngawang Norphel (b. 1990) and Tenzin Khedup (b. 1988), who self-immolated together on June 20, 2012, is paradigmatic of many others: We could not contribute significantly towards the Tibetan religion and culture and we could not [help bring about] economic benefits to Tibetans. Therefore we have decided to self-immolate with the hope that His Holiness the Dalai Lama may live long and return to Tibet as soon as possible. (quoted in Dolma 2012) The stated intent of these self-immolators, to preserve Tibetan religion, to bring the return of its religious leader, and to protect Tibetan culture, has less in common with the hungry tigress parable than it does with the acts of the XIV Dalai Lama’s tutor and the army of monks involved in what Tibetan historian Tsering Shakya refers to as “the first military skirmish” between Tibetan troops and the People’s Liberation Army of China (Shakya 1999, 36–37). In 1950, a Tibetan general armed five hundred Tibetan monks, and, when consulted, the XIV Dalai Lama’s junior tutor sanctioned the monks fighting in an effort to reclaim the area of Dengo. Although the religious justification for this decision has been lost to history, we do find precedents for elaborate religious defenses of killing as a means to protect Tibetan Buddhist culture. One such noteworthy case is that of the ruler Langdarma who governed Tibet during the middle of the ninth century CE. Widely regarded by Tibetan histories as an enemy of Buddhism due to his alleged preference for the indigenous Bön religion (though Tibetan scholarship has challenged this portrayal), Langdarma was allegedly charged with persecuting Buddhists and slain by a quasi-mythical Buddhist monk-assassin, Lhalung Pelgyo Dorje.3 Although few scholars have pointed to a connection between this regicide and the self-immolations, it provides a well-known example of a Buddhist killing that is almost universally celebrated. Though this story may not be historically accurate, neither is the hungry tigress parable, and nearly every adult Tibetan is familiar with the story of Langdarma. One of the XIV Dalai Lama’s most illustrious predecessors provided Tibetans with another well-known and more temporally immediate example of killings glorified and deemed religiously permissible, which will be examined below. Moreover, the killings are deemed heroic acts committed by saintly figures who have superseded a Buddhist ethical injunction against killing for the higher purpose of protecting the Dharma so that it may continue to benefit all sentient beings. In these examples, and dozens of others within Tibetan history, the message is clear: killing is wrong, but it is sometimes necessary (and heroic) when the act is committed to ensure the continuance of Buddhist traditions that are believed to be capable of removing the suffering of innumerable persons. By analyzing the self-immolators’ own words, left behind in statements before their deaths, we argue that these statements are the product of a specific Tibetan religio-political history that has formed uniquely Tibetan dispositions.4 To put the tragic spate of self-immolations into their Tibetan context and determine the contours of a tradition of self-sacrifice that extends beyond the twenty-first century, it may again be useful to think in terms of the history shaping a Tibetan habitus, rather than anachronistically reading the nonviolence of such acts as part of an idealized Buddhist lineage. For this reason, we examine how the giving of life in defense of the Dharma is a current that runs through Tibetan history that has also appeared as violence in the past. THE VIOLENCE OF THE V DALAI LAMA Tibet’s most prominent leaders have often been monastics, and at times they have killed, sanctioned killing, and deemed armed conflict necessary. Since the collapse of the imperial dynasty in the middle of the ninth century, Tibet has lacked a strong centralized government and a competent state army; as a result, the monasteries, the community’s religious, political, and economic centers, were at times responsible for law enforcement and providing a last line of military defense. Consequently, the “monastic duties” of monks might include flexing physical alongside spiritual muscle. While the Tibetan state army consisted of between one thousand to fifteen hundred poorly trained troops in 1950, Melvyn Goldstein estimates that, at that time, around ten thousand monks were quartered in Drepung Monastery alone, with thousands more in Sera and Ganden Monasteries (Goldstein 1989, 25). The country’s largest three monasteries housed ten times the number of men in the state army, and there were hundreds of additional monasteries throughout Tibet besides. Furthermore, if Goldstein’s estimates are accurate, and ten to fifteen percent of the total number of monks in these major monasteries were part of a trained coalition of dobdos, or what he refers to as “fighting monks,” they constituted a fearsome force. This “first military skirmish” between Tibetans and the Chinese and the decision to mobilize monk armies and sanction their acts are certainly not unprecedented. In fact, the bloodiest confrontations involving monk armies were often those Buddhists fought against each other. In 1479, Geluk monks from both Sera and Drepung monasteries destroyed a newly built Karmapa Kagyu monastery outside of Lhasa in response to a perceived territorial infringement. As a result, the revered Kagyu leader, the VII Karmapa (Chödrak Gyatso, 1454–1506),5 was forced to retreat, an affront that prompted several of his students to form a retaliatory army. The VII Karmapa insisted that the monks refrain from armed engagement, and the situation was peacefully resolved, but the tensions between the two schools never quite dissipated (Shakabpa 2010). In the early seventeenth century, the Kagyu built a monastery above the one destroyed by the Geluk monks of Trashi Lhünpo and named it Trashi Zilnön, short for the “Destroyer of Trashi Lhünpo.” The title was intentionally prophetic, and they renewed their running battle with the Geluk monks. Tensions continued to mount in 1617, the year the V Dalai Lama was born. By the time the religious leader was in his mid-twenties, he saw the Khalkha Mongolians ally with the Prince of Tsang, a benefactor of the Kagyu sect. Because the Geluk had been weakened by decades of skirmishes, the immediate implications of this new alliance likely meant their school was “at the edge of extinction, like a butter lamp in the wind” (Shakabpa 2010, 323). Fortunately for the V Dalai Lama, the political positions of Tibetans in power were as prone to swift and dramatic change as the local climates, and shortly thereafter the V Dalai Lama experienced a dramatic shift in fortune. In response to the Tsang-Khalkha alliance, the V Dalai Lama managed to persuade another Mongolian army leader, Gushri Khan (1582–1655), to support the Geluk sect. When the impending battle between the two Mongol-supported factions took place sooner than anticipated, the Mongolian army backing the Geluk tradition proved the stronger, quickly vanquishing their enemies and removing every immediate threat to Geluk hegemony in the vicinity. When the dust settled, the V Dalai Lama began a religious and political legacy so influential that historians would refer to him as the “Great Fifth.” It was these religious and political actions that laid the foundations for a lineage of Dalai Lamas who remained the secular and religious leaders of the greater Tibetan region, until the XIV Dalai Lama voluntarily relinquished his political authority in 2011.6 The V Dalai Lama’s inordinate political and spiritual power necessitated the navigation of his dual duties of upholding his vows as an ordained monk, while also protecting Buddhism and his people. In his autobiography, Fine Silk Cloth ( 1991),7 he highlights several of the difficulties that these responsibilities presented, which apparently included strong-willed subordinates ignoring pleas to avoid war. As the following passage demonstrates, the V Dalai Lama expressly communicated his aversion to escalating a conflict, but his advice was overridden by a subordinate who “modified” his instructions: That night in the camp, Zhal ngo [the Dalai Lama’s regent] gave instructions to the [Mongol] messenger, dKa’ bcu dge bsnyen don grub, in my presence. He said that [the Bon chieftain] Be ri should be cut at the root by all necessary means. Thereafter, Gushri Khan himself should return to the Blue Lake. His two queens and a group of pilgrims were invited to come to Lhasa. I gave extensive advice against fomenting any sort of civil conflict. The next day, when dKa’bcu dge bsnyen don grub was departing, Zhal ngo rode out to [the area of] dGa’ldan Khang gsar to give him provisions. Just the two of them rode along speaking for the time it takes to prepare tea twice. However, it hadn’t occurred to me that the trill of the flute had changed into the whistle of an arrow. (quoted in Maher 2008, 186) This turn of events seemingly relieves the V Dalai Lama of direct responsibility for sanctioning the subsequent battle that left hundreds dead. But a second “secret” autobiography that he withheld from his closest retinue challenges his professed reticence. Although this secret autobiography does not contradict the biography he made public, it does highlight the V Dalai Lama’s active role as a “lethal sorcerer” during the seventeenth-century war in Tsang. Samten Karmay has summarized V Dalai Lama’s handwritten notes in the secret autobiography, including those he took during the war that resulted in his rise to power: During the conflict in Tsang towards the end of the 6th month, the Dalai Lama presides over the assembly of the monks of the Nyamgyal college who perform the rite of the divinity ‘jam dpal tshe bdag in the main hall of the Ganden Palace. The Dalai Lama sees in his vision that a large human head with a macabre face rises in front of the offerings on the altar; it opens its mouth wide, and numerous heads fall into it like grains into a bag. The Dalai Lama remarks that this vision is a sign of success concerning the objective of the rite which is the victory of Gushri Khan and his forces over the King of Tsang in 1642. (Karmay 1988, 29, emphasis added) In contrast to the publicly released Fine Silk Cloth, these passages exemplify both the thoughts and actions of an individual who deliberately and purposefully performed Buddhist tantric rites (mngon spyod) to “directly” impact the probability of the war’s success. That the Dalai Lama performed this “violent rite” is confirmed in subsequent passages from the secret biography, which reports that he suffered physical ailments he believed to be his karmic punishment. His awareness of the ritual’s potential demonstrates his active participation in the war, and his actions subsequent to the successful conquest further reveal his support. Following victory, the Great Fifth initiated Gushri Khan into the Geluk sect, recognized him as a benefactor of the Dharma, bestowed the title of Dharmarāja, or “Dharma King,” upon him, and gifted the Mongol a prized statue of the Geluk tradition’s founder, Jé Tsong Khapa (1357–1419). Such illustrious honors were not distributed freely, and they speak to his appreciation of the services rendered, as well as his recognition, even if retrospective, that the Mongol’s goals were in alignment with his own. Furthermore, they effectively announced to the public that the actions of Gushri Khan, his army, and the Dalai Lama himself had been taken on behalf of the Dharma’s defense, marking it a “just war” lead by a religious figure. Shortly after the ceremony, the Great Fifth composed Song of the Queen of Spring, a symbolically evocative and complex work in support of Gushri Khan’s conquest, where he presents the deaths of hundreds in battle as required to protect the faithful from the forces of evil. The killing was sanctioned by a dual mechanism that aligned Gushri Khan’s conquest with prior Buddhist precedents and framed his military venture as an act performed by a Dharmarāja. The V Dalai Lama presented Gushri Khan’s victory as a poetic reenactment of mythical combat, likening him to King Rāma of the Indian epic, the Rāmayana, and he claimed that the Mongol leader was a highly realized Buddhist adept willing to subject himself to the risk of low reincarnations to protect Buddhism. The “altruistic motivation” that “proved” Gushri Khan was a “Holder of the Faith” rather than a war criminal was in large part constructed by establishing an Indic precedent dating to the advent of Buddhism. Of greatest significance for this study was the V Dalai Lama’s claim that Gushri Khan was the seventh-century ruler Songtsen Gampo—Tibet’s first “Dharmarāja,” who is believed to have inaugurated the golden age of Buddhism—come again. Moreover, Songtsen Gampo was widely regarded as an emanation of Tibet’s most revered deity, Avalokiteśvara, and according to the V Dalai Lama’s argument, both Avalokiteśvara and Songtsen Gampo had returned as a single being, Gushri Khan. At other moments, he compared the Khan to others of the most “emblematic figures in the Indo-Tibetan symbolic universe,” including the Buddha Śākyamuni and the Tibetan hero of bardic lore, King Gesar (Maher 2008, 189). These symbolic alignments served to justify the acts of war the Great Fifth indirectly participated in when he aligned himself with Gushri Khan and directly participated in when he engaged in tantric rites.8 These activities provide clear evidence that one of the most prominent and recognizable Tibetan religious leaders responded to a perceived threat to Buddhism by engaging in actions that produced fatalities, which were then sanctioned by appeals to both Indic and indigenous Buddhist precedents. Finally, when the Geluk sect’s authority and autonomy were threatened by his opponents during the conflict in Tsang, we have an instance in which the vow “do not kill” was superseded by a seemingly greater, or at the least more urgent mandate that “permitted” an ordained monastic to ritually execute violence. In this singular act, the ambivalent Tibetan Buddhist views toward killing are uniquely exemplified, and the implication is that killing can become permissible, ethical, and even heroic if performed to protect the Buddhadharma. While most Tibetans may be unaware that the V Dalai Lama permitted a violent rite, this is an example of a Tibetan history that allows for killing and should be considered when attempting to explain the religious precedents for self-killing or self-immolating. Actions like those of the V Dalai Lama represent, sustain, and create a habitus that in turn informs what Bourdieu called a “practical sense, an acquired system of preferences… and of schemes of action which orient the perception of the situation and the appropriate response” (Bourdieu 1997, 25, emphasis in original). This practical sense persists (with necessary adaptation) to efficaciously address the conditions facing modern Tibetans. Three hundred years later, the XIV Dalai Lama argued that the self-immolators’ actions should be judged on the basis of their motivation. While the XIV Dalai Lama stops short of stating that an intentional act that causes death is permissible if the motivation is pure (the XIV Dalai Lama’s quote is addressed in detail below), hundreds of Buddhist histories have not exercised the same caution. In fact, some of the oldest Tibetan histories claim that Songtsen Gampo’s conquests of Tibet’s neighbors, and his army’s decimation of the thousands of persons who stood in its way, were in actuality displays of enlightened activity. This trope, killing to protect the Dharma, was redeployed dozens of times over the next hundreds of years, from the assassination of the “evil” usurper Langdharma in 842 CE, to the ruthless reign of Lama Zhang, the controversial twelfth-century founder of the Tshalpa Kagyu sect central to the second Buddhist transmission, to the followers of Dorje Shugden, who ritually killed the XIV Dalai Lama’s friend for supporting the latter’s ban on ritual practices. That Tibetan Buddhism is characterized by an extensive historical narrative whereby killing, or attempting to kill, occurs in the name of protecting the Dharma is indisputable; the question that remains concerns the extent to which this history is related to the self-immolations. THE NONVIOLENCE OF THE XIV DALAI LAMA Perhaps the Great Fifth was fortunate to have the option of aligning with Gushri Khan; the XIV Dalai Lama had no such allies when he was forced to flee Chinese authorities in the twentieth century. Relations between China and Tibet go back centuries, from the eighth-century marriage between Tibet’s first ruler and his Chinese bride, and for much of that history the state of China has sought to bring Tibet under its administration. Centuries saw China exchanging protection for Tibet’s spiritual guidance, but their relationship became increasingly contentious during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Tibet expelled all Chinese officials from their lands following World War II, but in 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong declared his intention to “liberate” Tibet. The liberation began in 1950, the same year that Tenzin Gyatso was officially named the XIV Dalai Lama at only sixteen years of age. Before he turned eighteen, he would be in negotiations with the arrayed powers of Mao’s Chinese Communist Party. Seeking peace, the Dalai Lama and Chairman Mao reached an agreement that established the suzerainty of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over Tibet in exchange for the continued preservation of Tibet’s religious and cultural heritage. Soon after, the PRC began a number of actions seen by Tibetans as violations of the agreement, nullifying the treaty and therefore making Tibet once again an independent country. The PRC’s position held that they only took steps to break up a separatist movement headed by a rebel authority, which was their right as a sovereign state.9 The XIV Dalai Lama was neither able to create an alliance with a foreign power nor effectively negotiate with the Chinese, and after nearly a decade of opposing Chinese occupation while trying to placate more radical groups of Tibetan nationalists, he escaped from his homeland to India, where he remains today. Soon after arriving in India, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964) introduced him to the Gandhian policy of ahiṃsā (nonviolent action), the root principle behind the most successful nonviolent program in history. The XIV Dalai Lama found a hero in Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948), whose life and politics would define the Tibetan leader’s political strategies.10 In the fifty years since, the XIV Dalai Lama has continued to insist upon adherence to this policy in the Tibetan struggle. The call for resistance has consisted mainly of the XIV Dalai Lama’s repeated claims that the Chinese state’s actions have harmed and are aimed at harming Buddhism, the essence of Tibet’s culture and most valuable contribution to the international community. He persistently frames the Chinese invasion as an attempt to reduce Buddhism to an “empty faith” through programs that disallow and severely punish Buddhist practices.11 He has referred to the Chinese Communist Party’s founder and revered figurehead Mao Zedong as the “destroyer of the Dharma” (Dalai Lama and Carriere 1996, 161) and has argued that China’s goal is to “make the monasteries function more like museums” to “deliberately annihilate Buddhism” (Dalai Lama 2010, para. 6). As early as two years after departing into exile, he claimed that China’s actions stemmed from the “intent of destroying the Tibetan religion” (Dalai Lama 1961, para. 2). The XIV Dalai Lama repeatedly has stated that his “primary concern is the survival and preservation of Tibet’s unique spiritual heritage” (Dalai Lama 1999, para. 6) and has argued that the Tibetan population’s “utmost concern is to safeguard Tibetan Buddhist culture” (Dalai Lama 2008a, para. 8). These statements and others make it evident that the XIV Dalai Lama believes the current plight of the Tibetan people extends beyond mere physical suffering and death; the Buddhist path, which enables all sentient beings to escape from the cycle of suffering, is itself in danger. The explicitly religious nature of injunctions imposed by China—including requirements that monasteries and nunneries replace pictures of Buddhist lamas with communist leaders, the disallowing of religious ceremonies and prayer beads, persistent surveillance and relentless raids on monasteries, along with attempts to prevent the posthumous performance of Buddhist rituals for self-immolators—demonstrates that the Chinese state also views Tibetan Buddhism as a significant target in the conflict. The communist policies of the PRC rely on a view of religion that ostensibly denounces it as illusion, and while their public statements may suggest an intent to leave the Tibetan cultural institution alone under the state policy of “freedom of religious belief,”12 their actions have explicitly targeted religious practices. This oppression likely stems as much from China’s negative view on religion as it does their concerns of the Dalai Lama leading a separatist state. Controls on Buddhist practice are directly referenced by several of the self-immolators, such as Tamding Tso (self-immolated November 7, 2012), who lamented to her father concerning the “sad destiny of the Tibetan people. We can’t even keep and pray before the picture of our spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama” (Phayul.com 2012). Tso was not alone; a report issued by the Tibetan Dhomay Alliance for Freedom and Justice found the Chinese suppression of Buddhism to be the main catalyst for self-immolations (International Campaign for Tibet 2012). Although Western discourse too often defines religion as separate from and against the political sphere, these and other testaments are similar to the numerous statements made by the XIV Dalai Lama in demonstrating that Tibetan religion, culture, language, politics, and community are all deeply interrelated. Therefore, both sides of the conflict seemingly believe that the destiny of Tibet is directly tied to the perpetuation of the country’s Buddhist faith. In response to the perceived threat against Tibet’s national religion, for over forty years the XIV Dalai Lama has promoted nonviolent but active resistance, affirming he has “no doubt that the justice of Tibet’s cause will prevail” if Tibetans continue nonviolent resistance based on truth, compassion, and tolerance (Dalai Lama 2009, para. 19). Despite protests from his own people, and an increasingly disenchanted but popular Tibetan Youth Congress, he has insisted “the path of nonviolence must remain a matter of principle in our long and difficult quest for freedom” (Dalai Lama 1998, para. 2). Tibetans in exile and within Tibet have almost invariably followed his wishes, though they have voiced displeasure, and at times violence has erupted. In recent years, he has stressed that the self-immolators have abided by this peaceable imperative, “inasmuch as they have avoided doing anyone else harm by their action” (Dalai Lama 2014, para. 4). While the question of self-harm as violence is contested (and discussed further below), the Tibetan leader here gives his own interpretation, one that appears to recognize the ability of individuals to harm their bodies without transgressing the prohibition against violence. The XIV Dalai Lama has explained the nonviolent character of the movement results from “Tibetan culture [being] based on Buddhist values of compassion and nonviolence” (Dalai Lama 2010, para. 7). Accordingly, Tibetan histories explain that the Buddha’s message of nonviolence and compassion permeates nearly every aspect of Tibetan culture, and these principles provide the impetus for the XIV Dalai Lama’s “abandoning [of] war as an instrument of national policy” (Dalai Lama 1997, para. 6). The example of the V Dalai Lama was passed over in preference of a strategy championed by a Hindu, Gandhi, more aligned with the current Dalai Lama’s interpretation of Buddhist doctrine. Regarding the self-immolations, the Dalai Lama has averred that they are a demonstration of the deeply held values of nonviolence, saying in a speech given in Tokyo: Although it may seem inappropriate to say so, those people in Tibet who have the courage to commit self-immolation are clearly capable of harming others, but have determined not to do so. Despite the difficulties they face they still follow the Buddha’s teaching about non-violence. This may not be clearly understood. (Dalai Lama, 2014b) Clearly recognizing the trouble that some have regarding this form of protest activity, the religious leader confirms that they operate along Buddhist principles. However, if we pay close attention to the speeches and texts of the XIV Dalai Lama regarding Tibet, his nonviolent approach does more than simply appeal to Buddhist ethical principles; he consistently notes the political intelligence and effectiveness of the pacifistic strategy in gaining international support. He asserts, “The only sensible and intelligent way of resolving differences, whether between individuals, peoples or nations, is through a political culture of nonviolence and dialogue. Since our struggle is based on truth, justice and nonviolence and is not directed against China, we have been fortunate to receive increasing worldwide sympathy and support, including from amongst the Chinese” (Dalai Lama 2003, para. 2). When he invokes the names of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.—and even references the “Arab Spring” uprisings of 2011—as exemplars of the approach’s efficacy, he is also keenly aware of the connection between the overwhelming (if perhaps ineffective) support for the Tibetan cause and their commitment to nonviolence: “We must be wise to understand where the unprecedented affection and support for our cause stems from” (Dalai Lama 2008b, §11). The XIV Dalai Lama’s principles of nonviolence are based on a sound analysis of the configuration of a world greatly different from that of his predecessor, the V Dalai Lama. THE WORDS OF TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY TIBETAN SELF-IMMOLATORS Since the self-immolation program in Tibet began, the XIV Dalai Lama has said little to either encourage or discourage the acts, earning him praise and condemnation alike. He consistently justifies his silence on the political nature of the issue and the CCP’s tactic of misrepresenting his words and encourages people to judge the self-cremations on the basis of their motivation alone. Over time, his focus has shifted to affirming and validating their nonviolent nature, though his reticence to speak at all on the subject has remained. Those who have self-immolated for Tibet have heard the Dalai Lama’s insistence on nonviolence.13 Gudrub, who self-immolated on March 14, 2012, left behind a composition, The Sound of a Victorious Drum Beaten by Lives, which describes his action as a “sharpening [of] our non-violent movement” (International Campaign for Tibet 2012, 82). When his act of self-killing is contextualized within his stated purpose, it is clear that Gudrub is operating within a complex negative space wherein the vow “do not kill” is first suspended, and then this suspension is incorporated into a program of nonviolence. Gudrub sees his actions as being consistent with his spiritual leader’s program, while simultaneously being something “sharper” than simple nonviolence. Only days after Gudrub, Lobsang Tsultrim self-immolated (March 16, 2012) and explained that “nonviolence is a way to show that one has truth on their side” (International Campaign for Tibet 2012, 157). Both statements show that the perpetrators did not interpret their act as one of violence, but nonviolence. It is clear that each believed their acts to be in accordance with the principles laid out by their revered leader, and thus these last testaments mark a new development in the Tibetan resistance: self-immolation as nonviolent self-harm in protection of Buddhism and Tibetan culture. Although the XIV Dalai Lama’s pleas for nonviolence have not fallen on deaf ears, the Tibetan people have seen years pass without positive changes in their situation. At times, it seems that their patience, or better yet their ability to endure the countless acts of atrocity directed at them, has worn thin. As a consequence, they have turned to other methods of resistance, with several threatening violence if the Chinese government fails to address their grievances. Such methods include the hunger strike staged by the Tibetan Youth Congress in 1997, where numerous Tibetan expatriates attempted to use their suffering to coerce a change in Chinese policy. On the morning of April 27, 1998, the Indian police raided the protest, but one hunger striker by the name of Thubten Ngodup evaded arrest and self-immolated in the middle of a Delhi street. Before he succumbed to his injuries, Ngodup was favored by a visit from the XIV Dalai Lama who encouraged him to release any anger towards the Chinese in preparation for his next life (Norbu 2008). Ngodup’s was the first self-immolation in support of Tibetan goals, and eleven years later others would follow his example. The Tibetan frustration with a lack of international intervention, along with a bleak vision of their future, has prompted them to increasingly and more publicly defy Chinese policies. That defiance has often resulted in their torture, disappearance, or even execution.14 Those who have perished while fighting for Tibet have been unfailingly honored by the XIV Dalai Lama in his March 10 speeches, his annual addresses to Tibetans on the status of their plight.15 The spiritual leader’s remembrance of fallen Tibetans has increasingly become more prominent in speeches over the last decade; between 1993 and 2005 he ended each of his speeches by offering his “homage to and prayers for the brave men and women who have died for the cause of Tibetan freedom” (Dalai Lama 1997, para. 21). Beginning in 2006, however, these memorials open, rather than close, his addresses. Although the language remains much the same, the new primacy of placement suggests a keener focus on those who have died in service of Tibet and its culture. This increased emphasis is further reflected in a speech he made the following year, when he labeled the struggle for Tibet a “sacred duty of all Tibetans” (Dalai Lama 2007, para. 9).16 These adjustments might be viewed as inaugurating, or at the least certainly coinciding with, the next stage in the Tibetan struggle to maintain their country, culture, and religion. In 2008, Tibetans sought to channel the global attention China received as host to the Olympics toward the plight of their fellow countrymen, and mass protests broke out across Tibet. March 14 saw a riot outside Ramoche monastery that some reports say resulted in the death of over one hundred Tibetans and Han Chinese alike. When the Chinese military locked down Lhasa before dawn the following day, the demonstrations were particularly well attended in Ngaba town in the region of Amdo, the town that would soon be the center of the self-immolations.17 After the heaviest protests to date, the harshest responses from Chinese military agents followed, yet again the XIV Dalai Lama urged that the protests remain nonviolent: Since March 10th this year, we have witnessed protests and demonstration in almost all parts of Tibet, even in a few cities in Mainland China by students, which are the outburst of long pent-up physical and mental anguish of the Tibetans and the feeling of deep resentment against the suppression of the rights of Tibetan people, lack of religious freedom and for trying to distort the truth at every occasion, such as saying that Tibetans look towards the Chinese Communist Party as the ‘Living Buddha’, is an ultra-leftist statement and smacks of Han chauvinism. (Dalai Lama 2008b, para. 1) Despite his insistence on nonviolence, the XIV Dalai Lama’s descriptions of violence committed by Tibetans as a result of their continued persecution at the hands of the Chinese are noticeably different than those of the past, strongly correlating the increase in Tibetan violence with the ferocity of Chinese policies towards Tibetans. For the XIV Dalai Lama, the “outburst of long pent-up physical and mental anguish” of March 14 is presented as the natural result of decades of oppression, thus his position shifted from warning about the potentially tragic consequences of the Chinese program to lamenting that his prior prediction has come true. Kirti monastery housed the monks most actively involved in the March 14 protests, and it was these monks and the Tibetans of the surrounding Ngaba area who saw increased military presence, interrogation, surveillance, restrictions on religious activity, and an increase in police brutality during the years prior. Despite anticipating a rise in violence, the XIV Dalai Lama could not have foreseen what happened on February 27, 2009, merely an hour after hundreds of monks from Kirti monastery gathered in defiance of a Chinese prohibition against the important Monlam festival. The monk Tabey, visibly angered by the Chinese authorities’ attempt to prevent his religious practice, walked into the market of Ngaba town and set himself on fire. Reports say that he shouted slogans for Tibet’s freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet while he burned, and waved a Tibetan flag (banned by the Chinese) prior to being shot by the police who then extinguished the flames. Angered by the increase in Chinese strictures and punishments, Tabey committed an act that would soon be emulated across Tibet, claiming upwards of one hundred and fifty lives. A few weeks later, the Dalai Lama’s speech in recognition of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1959 uprising did not specifically address Tabey’s self-immolation, but once again he noted the Tibetans who lost their lives. He bemoaned that “the lineage of the Buddha Dharma was severed” as a result of Chinese policies, offering one of the most definitive statements to date in regards to the effect of Chinese occupation on Tibetan Buddhism (Dalai Lama 2009, para. 6). In a similar statement within the same speech, he said, “Today the religion, culture, language and identity, which successive generations of Tibetans have considered more precious than their lives, are nearing extinction” (Dalai Lama 2009). Two years after the XIV Dalai Lama urged Tibetans to maintain a program of nonviolence and called for the international community, the Chinese, and the Tibetans to take action before Tibet’s religion is lost, Lama Soeba self-immolated (January 8, 2012). Although this self-immolation might appear to be an action that the XIV Dalai Lama had persistently discouraged, the final words the Buddhist master left were couched in rhetoric that is remarkably similar to that of his religious superior. After also expressing gratitude to those who had sacrificed their lives, Soeba claimed that his act was a nonviolent and Buddhist one, intended to demonstrate that “it is extremely important to genuinely practice Buddhist principles in order to benefit the Tibetan cause” (quoted in International Campaign for Tibet 2012, 111). In the same last testament, he expressed hope that his act would protect the Dharma in Tibet. On April 19, 2012, Choephag Kyab and his nephew Sonam self-immolated together and connected their act to the survival of their spiritual tradition: “Both of us in sound mind and thought, self-immolated for the restoration of freedom in Tibet, growth of Buddhism, happiness of humanity and world peace” (quoted in International Campaign for Tibet 2012, 142). In Gudrub’s moving statement, he offered his assessment of the general population’s interpretation of nonviolence, as well as the Tibetan people’s desire to resist: “The people of the Land of Snow share a common goal of bringing His Holiness the Dalai Lama back to an independent Tibet. But when His Holiness opted for autonomy for Tibet through nonviolent struggle, the six million Tibetans accepted his wishes” (Gurdrub 2012). In this explanation, it seems there is an even greater disconnect between the intent of the XIV Dalai Lama’s program for resistance and their own interpretation. Tibetans were ending their lives “nonviolently” in hopes that their protest ensured the Dalai Lama’s well-being, future happiness, and continued longevity. Wang Lixiong, Chinese scholar and husband of Tibet’s most vocal blogger Tsering Woeser, performed a provocative analysis of the final statements of self-immolators. He concluded that a majority saw their deaths to be some kind of “action” meant to help resolve the Tibetan problem, though leaving the precise mechanism they envisioned unspecified (Lixiong 2012). By Lixiong’s 2012 count, thirteen of those who self-immolated left behind written statements expressing hope that the XIV Dalai Lama would be brought back to Tibet, and though not as precisely quantifiable, a significant number purportedly shouted slogans to this effect as they burned, including prayers for his long life and pleas that he return to Tibet.18 Lama Soeba framed his self-immolation as “a token of long-life offering to our root guru His Holiness the Dalai Lama” (quoted in International Campaign for Tibet 2012, 111) and Rikyo, who self-immolated on May 30, 2012, declared her actions were taken “to ensure His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet” (quoted in International Campaign for Tibet 2012, 146). The XIV Dalai Lama’s importance to his people and the influence of his prescriptions for resisting occupation are undeniable. Of the recorded final statements of Tibetan self-immolators compiled by the authors, 73% explicitly mention the Dalai Lama himself, usually in terms of their desire for him to return to Tibet or prayers for his long life (a common prayer in Tibetan Buddhist tradition), as part of the reason for their self-immolation; 67% indicate the need for Buddhist practices as a way to improve Tibet’s situation in regards to China; and 87% reference protecting or preserving Tibetan religion and culture. As the last testaments indicate, the XIV Dalai Lama’s insistence on a program of nonviolence has influenced this distinctly different approach to defending Tibetan Buddhist culture, and it is difficult to hold the position that these two historical anomalies, a Tibetan program of defense that features nonviolent resistance and one that includes self-immolating, are unrelated. CONCLUSION: VIOLENT NONVIOLENCE In a comparison of these two Dalai Lamas, arguably the two most revered religious leaders in Tibet’s history, it becomes clear that each protected his religion and people by utilizing an approach that was largely unavailable to the other. Bourdieu argued that the collective action of a group “is constituted on the one hand, a habitus, understood as a system of lasting, transposable dispositions which, integrating past experiences, functions at every moment as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations and actions… and on the other hand, an objective event which exerts its action of conditional stimulation calling for or demanding a determinate response” (Bourdieu  2007, 82–83, emphasis in original). The XIV Dalai Lama was unable to enlist foreign military support when he attempted to do so, and the V Dalai Lama could not garner global support through a campaign of nonviolence.19 The primary difference between the killings sanctioned by the V Dalai Lama and the self-killings of the self-immolators is twofold: (1) the self-immolators have neither killed nor attempted to kill an enemy; (2) they have instead intentionally killed themselves. In addition to both being acts of killing taken to protect the Dharma, both were subsequently compared to selfless deeds performed by bodhisattvas. The exegetical work of those citing Indian Buddhist examples like the hungry tigress parable may be intended to highlight the selfless sacrifice of the Tibetans who have lost their lives. Or, like the V Dalai Lama’s Song of the Queen of Spring, it may be intended to control the conversations that immediately followed these losses. Either way, the attempts to shift the discussion toward a commitment to do no harm need not invoke the hungry tigress parable to resolve an apparent Tibetan Buddhist contradiction between killing oneself and committing an act of nonviolent protection of the Dharma. Self-immolators do not see their acts as violent in large part because Tibetan Buddhism understands nonviolence differently than most Western religious and secular traditions. For Tibetans, the words for nonviolence, rnam par mi ‘tshe ba and mi ‘tshe ba, are defined as “not harming others.”20 Although the definition might imply not harming one’s self, it is more commonly defined in relation to another person. Because self-immolators do not harm others, they believe they are committing acts that are consistent with Tibetan Buddhist definitions of “nonviolence.” The XIV Dalai Lama’s responses regarding whether the self-immolators’ acts are consistent with nonviolence highlight this point: “Basically, violence and nonviolence ultimately depend on a kind of motivation and purpose. So it’s difficult to sort of judge these individuals, their motivation. If the motivation is anger, hatred, like that, then negative. If the motivation [is] some different thing, and more positive, then [it’s] more difficult to judge” (Dalai Lama 2012b).21 As is evident from his response, the XIV Dalai Lama distinguishes an act that is violent from one that is nonviolent in relation to another individual. It is clear that he is not implying self-immolators are motivated by anger and hatred directed toward themselves, but rather that the motivation determining the level of violence, or lack thereof, is dependent on feelings toward the Chinese. If their motivation is positive, he argues (without explicitly stating), their acts might not appropriately be labeled violent. The second reason some have cited the hungry tigress parable is that, through a comparison between the Buddha’s acts in a previous birth and self-immolations, they intend to demonstrate that self-immolations are not selfishly motivated suicides that deservedly accrue negative karma, but instead are consistent with a set of Buddhist ethics. Although we agree that the acts of the self-immolators do not necessarily violate Buddhist ethics, this exegesis linking the story to these self-immolations remains problematic. The Buddha’s death was not motivated by a desire to protect the Dharma or other Buddhists, and translations vary as to whether the prince of the Jātaka tale died by his own hands or if he merely enticed the tigress to do the killing. On the other hand, the V Dalai Lama’s example of a bodhisattva who “compassionately” takes lives to protect the Dharma provides a more recent, and Tibetan, Buddhist precedent. Moreover, this same example has been utilized to sanction the acts of dozens of other Tibetan Buddhists who have killed. These killings are viewed as compassionate in the sense that they prevent their victims from accruing greater negative karma, and as explained by Jacob Dalton in The Taming of the Demons, some even believe they bring the enemy to a state of enlightenment. If a person found guilty of threatening the Dharma’s existence is “liberated” (a tantric euphemism for “killed”), the consciousness of the victim is “dissolve[d] into the Buddha’s ‘jeweled stomach,’ and thus too to enlightenment” (Dalton 2011, 88). By turning to Tibet’s more recent history rather than toward ancient Indian texts, we can offer a precedent for the self-immolations that recognizes them as an act of (self) killing committed to protect Buddhism, and as an act intended to benefit others, both of which are consistent with the most commonly stated intentions of the self-immolators. Historically, there is no precise precedent in Tibetan culture for the particular act of burning oneself to death,22 but the same Tibetan Buddhist history that we have presented, a history of the stories of those who have gone to the most extreme measures to protect Buddhism from alien forces intent upon its destruction, is reflected in the acts and final statements of many self-immolators. Their acts are consistent with the “systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures . . . objectively adapted to their goals without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary to attain them and, being all this, collectively orchestrated without being the product of the orchestrating action of a conductor” (Bourdieu  2007, 72, emphasis in original). Tibetan habitus contains multiple models of resistance, both violent and nonviolent, which can inspire a variety of practices seen best to respond to the contemporary situation. This further elucidates the remarkable nature of the XIV Dalai Lama’s path for protecting the religion and peoples of Tibet. While much of his rhetoric is rooted in Tibetan history, his means for enacting this defense, like the self-immolations, is unprecedented. Some might argue that such a statement implies that the XIV Dalai Lama is to blame for these acts, that he is responsible for these tragic losses of lives. Our argument neither blames His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, nor does it imply that he ought to be blamed. The XIV Dalai Lama neither had any way of anticipating that Tibetans would turn to self-immolation, nor should he be held responsible for these heartbreaking deaths. But if we are trying to understand the motivations and the religious precedent informing the decisions that lead to these tragic self-immolations, it seems that the Indic religious precedent found in the hungry tigress parable ought to be supplemented by the Tibetan religio-political precedent we have here provided and that comprises a significant aspect of Tibetan habitus. The Tibetan self-immolations are certainly influenced by a host of other factors that we have not discussed,23 but by analyzing the precedent directly referenced by the self-immolators, it is clear that many of these individuals believed that it was their duty to protect their religion, identity, and culture, even at the expense of their life. Rather than killing, they followed the mandates given by an individual whom they believe to be a living bodhisattva. Thus, our argument neither challenges nor endorses the view of Tibetan Buddhists as intrinsically nonviolent, compassionate people, nor is it an argument that compares self-immolators to bodhisattvas. Instead, we have sought to demonstrate how these remarkably resilient persons continue to maintain hope and courage in horrific situations, while maintaining an extremely complex ethical program of nonviolence. The self-immolators have acted in a way that, like Gandhi’s ahiṃsā, is intended to actively evoke the sympathy of the international community, while forcing their oppressor to evaluate (or create novel ways to ignore) unjust and unethical programs of repression and cultural genocide. They are intended to be an undeniable representation of their reality, demonstrating that the lives lost to self-immolation are not the only ones being taken. As Gudrub proclaimed in his last words, “Tibetans who refuse to denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama or accept China’s rule on Tibet are secretly killed or made to disappear” (Gudrub 2012). The flaming bodies captured by the cell phones of witnesses illuminate the suffering of those lives lost in invisible warfare where the backbone of the Tibetan religion, culture, and identity is at stake. REFERENCES Arendt , Hannah . 1970 . On Violence . New York : Harcourt, Inc . 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Footnotes 1 The Jātaka (skye rabs) are accounts of the Buddha’s former lives and one of the twelve branches of Buddhist teachings (gsung rab yan lag bcu gnyis). 2 Bodhicitta (byang chub kyi sems) is the compassionate desire to attain enlightenment to benefit all sentient beings, freeing them from the suffering of worldly existence and leading them to a state of contentment and happiness that arises following a high degree of realization on the path to enlightenment. One of most commonly cited definitions for bodhicitta among both Tibetan and Indian commentaries is Maitreya’s definition from the Abhisamayālaṃkāra (Mngon rtogs rgyan): “Generating bodhicitta for the benefit of others, one longs to attain complete enlightenment.” 3 For an extensive discussion of Langdarma and the religious justifications for his murder, see Schlieter 2006. 4 Though the argument we present is based in these self-writings, it is important to note that current political injunctions prevent anthropological research into the lands where self-immolation is most common, which prohibits in-depth conversations with people in those areas. Given that most Tibetan self-immolators perish following their act, no discussions with those who survive were possible, preventing the authors from asking direct questions regarding intentions. In using these statements, we sought to understand the reasoning behind these acts as best we could, while keeping in mind the inherent difficulties in such understanding when direct conversation is impossible. 5 Just as the Dalai Lama is a title given to a reincarnation lineage of spiritual and temporal leaders among the Geluk sect, the Karmapa is a comparable esteemed title bestowed upon the leaders of the Kagyu who are recognized in a successive reincarnation lineage. 6 The XIV Dalai Lama makes it clear in several speeches that the surrendering of political authority and the separation of religion from politics is something he had desired for years before it was done, though his role in Tibetan life is still prominent. On March 10, 2011 he stated: “One of the aspirations I have cherished since childhood is the reform of Tibet’s political and social structure, and in the few years when I held effective power in Tibet, I managed to make some fundamental changes. . . .Today, within the framework of the Charter for Tibetans in exile, the Kalon Tripa, the political leadership, and the people’s representatives are directly elected by the people. We have been able to implement democracy in exile that is in keeping with the standards of an open society” (Dalai Lama, 2011, para. 14). Reflecting on the history of the Dalai Lamas, in 2013 the XIV Dalai Lama said: “Two years ago, I took retirement from my political responsibility. In addition to my personal retirement, it also ended the nearly 400-year old system, established from the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama and followed by the successive Dalai Lamas, of being both the spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet. This system proved useful during its time, now the time has changed” (Dalai Lama, 2013, para. 1). 7 The full title of the V Dalai Lama’s autobiography, which we have translated as the Fine Silk Cloth, is: Za hor gyi ban de ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho’i ‘di snang ‘khrul ba’i rol rtsed rtogs brjod kyi tshul du bkod pa du ku la’i gos bzang. 8 To protect against the vows he knowingly broke, the V Dalai Lama had amulets ritually consecrated to protect him from an illness that he believed was the result of the violent rite he performed against the King of Tsang. For more, see Karmay 1988, 29–30. 9 This paper does not seek to take any stance on the controversial topic of the agreements or alignment with China that has been at the heart of some discussions of the Tibetan position vis-à-vis China. We would rather refer the reader to John Powers (2004), whose discussion is as convincing as it is of central importance to understanding this conflict. 10 Numerous articles, books, and news pieces have been written by the XIV Dalai Lama detailing the influence that his trip to India and his exposure to Gandhi’s life story and political views had in determining his approach to dealing with China (see Dalai Lama 1990, 116–18). The XIV Dalai Lama has expressly stated his reverence for Gandhi (Dalai Lama and Carriere 1996, 9). 11 The XIV Dalai Lama’s use of images and even the terms “blind faith” can be found as far back as his March 10 speech in 1987, where he said, “Firstly, the so-called religious freedom in Tibet today amounts to permitting our people to worship and practice religion in a merely ritualistic and devotional way. . . . Buddhism is thus being reduced to a blind faith which is exactly how the Communist Chinese view and define religion” (Dalai Lama 1987). 12 Article 36 of China’s constitution declares, “No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion, nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities.” However, the statements of Chinese officials consistently frame the conflict with the Tibetans as a confrontation with a separatist faction, moving the discussion from religion to politics and not attending to the complex relationship between religion and politics, which we here argue is necessary. 13 There is a question as to the extent to which an act of self-killing is nonviolent. Suicide is often seen as a violent act where the perpetrator and victim are one in the same. The issue itself is ideologically laden, since those who aver suicide as violent thereby stand against it, while approved self-killings that do not harm any other beings (save perhaps the organisms living inside the person) provide no such foundation. The word violence comes from the Latin violare, a word that suggested a violation or transgression. Moreover, Hannah Arendt has convincingly argued that the adjective “violent” is applied to means towards particular ends (Arendt 1970). Where the ends are seen as a justification for the harm inflicted, “violent” may be an inappropriate descriptor of the action, while those who contend the means are not justified by the ends would see the term appropriately applied. Likewise, the term suicide marks not so much a killing of oneself as a murder of oneself, similarly carrying ideological weight. A murder is a transgressive death, at odds with approved forms of inflicted harm (such as in punishment or self-defense). One author has dealt extensively with the difficulty of such labels in terms of self-immolation (see Soboslai 2015). For the present paper, the term nonviolent is used to describe acts that do not intentionally inflict harm upon any who did not choose to suffer. 14 In his analysis of the last words of self-immolators, Wang Lixiong argues that the majority of statements point to the “desire to act” as the reasoning behind the immolations. Although the authors largely agree with his conclusions, they are quite vague and rather obvious (see Lixiong 2012). 15 These annual speeches ceased in 2011 when the Dalai Lama relinquished political power to the Tibetan Parliament in exile. An archive of each March 10 speech is available at https://www.dalailama.com/messages. 16 The idea of a karmic imbalance is also alive in the Tibetan understanding of their situation. There is a tradition that holds a prior failing of the Tibetan community to live karmically just lives resulted in the situation vis-à-vis the People’s Republic of China. 17 For a chronology of the activities in Tibet in 2008, see Smith 2010, chap. 1. 18 Through 2012, at least sixteen shouted for the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet, not accounting for many others who were thought to have yelled slogans that were inaudible (data gathered from International Campaign for Tibet, 2012). 19 The XIV Dalai Lama and his predecessor both attempted to enlist the help of international troops (an attempt that resulted in the CIA training of Tibetan resistance fighters in the 1950s), but both ultimately failed in their attempt. 20 The definitions for the Tibetan terms for violence and aggression, rnam par’tshe ba and ‘tshe ba, are quite uniform in that they denote acts of harm committed against another and acts of harm committed without compassion. 21 On May 9, 2014, the Dalai Lama reiterated this opinion during his visits to the Nobel Peace office in Oslo. He explained that the religious issues surrounding the self-immolations “are very, very complicated,” but the situation “entirely depends on motivation. . . . If such a drastic action takes place with full anger, then negative. But more compassionate, more calm mind, then sometimes maybe less negative” (Quote from Dalai Lama 2012b). 22 The most precise Buddhist precedent for the act of burning oneself to death can be found in the Sutra of the Wise and the Foolish, wherein a Dharmarāja “pierces his body with a thousand wicks and burns it with torches.” He claims he has done so “to achieve enlightenment and lead all beings to Nirvana” (Frye 1981, 113). Readers interested in the history of self-immolation in Chinese Buddhism are encouraged to read James Benn’s (2007)Burning for the Buddha: Self-Immolation in Chinese Buddhism. 23 For instance, we did not include the international self-immolations connected to the Tibetan situation, by which we mean neither to discount them nor ignore their sacrifice, but merely to keep the discussion based in the traditional lands of Tibet and their populace. With precursors like Thich Quang Duc, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk whose self-immolation against anti-Buddhist policies in his country was made famous by Malcolm Browne’s photograph, as well as more recent examples of self-immolation in protest like Jan Palach in Prague or even Mohamed Bouazizi’s act credited for catalyzing the Arab Spring, it is certainly a worthwhile pursuit. Michael Biggs, (2012) provides an interesting discussion in his “Self-Immolation in Context, 1963–2012”, and Michelle Murray (2011) Yang approaches the issue from another angle in her “Still Burning: Self-Immolation as Photographic Protest”. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Academy of Religion. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)
Journal of the American Academy of Religion – Oxford University Press
Published: Sep 1, 2018
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