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'Act of sacrifice' reflects Tibetans' struggle for freedom

By Leslie King | Emory Report | March 29, 2012

"Tibet is Burning: Reflections on the Rise of Self-Immolations in Tibet," a Tibet Week talk on March 27, became ultra-timely as well as highly relevant when the previous day, international news outlets reported the latest death of a Tibetan exile who set himself on fire.

Lobsang Nyandak, His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama's Representative to the Americas, said, "Those Tibetans who set themselves on fire in the recent months with full consciousness, I believe, do so as an act of sacrifice for the greater well-being of the Tibetan people.

"When we first heard the news of the self-immolations in Tibet, we had mixed emotions, a feeling of sadness as well as a feeling of admiration. Sadness because of the loss of precious lives of Tibetan people. Admiration for the courage and determination to sacrifice their lives in such a horrific manner for the well-being of the Tibetan people," Nyandak said.

Tibet, which was founded on compassion, wisdom and nonviolence "needs to have stability and peace to practice its beautiful culture," he said.

Starting with the first self-immolation in February 2009, there have been 30 known incidents so far. They began in the province where monastic institutions were targeted and politically repressed, he said.

"What motivated these young Tibetans to set themselves on fire? Is it purely out of desperation because of political oppression and lack  of fundamental freedoms? Or have they been inspired by the revolutions in the Middle Eastern countries?" Nyandak asked. "Almost all of the self-immolators called for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet and restoration of freedom."

Because Tibetans cannot raise their voice against the Chinese government or discuss its abuses, "the only option, they felt, was to inflict pain upon themselves and sacrifice their lives with the hope that the Chinese leadership would hear their pain," he explained.

Strong international support keeps Tibet in the limelight, he said, noting "without the international support, Tibet would have been a lost cause a long time ago."

Nyandak said, "I am very much aware that Emory University has always been supportive to the cause of Tibet and has always been a friend and supporter of His Holiness the Dalai Lama."

He concluded, "Will these self-immolations bring about any positive change in Tibet? I believe there is no doubt that such courageous and selfless acts will make the Chinese leaders pay serious attention to the plight of the Tibetan people."