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Buddhist views on suicide examined after local weather activist self-immolated on Earth Day

(RNS) — Again in 1965, the famend Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a letter to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., during which the anti-war activist sought to clarify to the civil rights icon why monks have been self-immolating in protest of the Vietnam Warfare and discrimination in opposition to Buddhists by the Roman Catholic-led Saigon authorities. 

His intention was to persuade King to publicly oppose U.S. army efforts in Vietnam, which King finally did. Thich Nhat Hanh, who died in January at 95, sought in his letter to clarify to King why the acts of self-immolation differed from bizarre suicide.

“The self-burning of Vietnamese Buddhist monks … is by some means tough for (the) Western Christian conscience to grasp,” he wrote to King.

“The press spoke then of suicide, however within the essence, it isn’t. It isn’t even a protest,” Nhat Hanh wrote, pointing to the letters the monks left behind, which known as consideration to the plight of the Vietnamese and have been, he insisted, “aimed solely at alarming, at shifting the hearts of the oppressors.”

Vietnamese Zen grasp Thich Nhat Hanh, middle, arrives for an awesome chanting ceremony at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh Metropolis, Vietnam, on March 16, 2007. (AP Photograph, File)

“To burn oneself by hearth is to show that what one is saying is of the utmost significance. There may be nothing extra painful than burning oneself. To say one thing whereas experiencing this sort of ache is to say it with utmost braveness, frankness, willpower, and sincerity.”

Distinction that with a press release issued by the Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Middle after Wynn Alan Bruce, a 50-year-old Buddhist from Boulder who regularly attended meditation retreats and volunteered on the Colorado facility, died from setting himself on hearth outdoors the U.S. Supreme Court docket in Washington, D.C., final Friday (April 22) — Earth Day. 

Bruce apparently left no rationalization. But it surely’s been extensively concluded that he meant his act as a protest in opposition to international governments not doing extra to counter local weather change. Kritee Kanko, who mentioned she was his pal and can also be on the Rocky Mountain management committee, mentioned Bruce had deliberate his self-immolation for a minimum of a yr. 

An undated portrait of Wynn Alan Bruce on his Facebook page. Photo via Facebook

An undated portrait of Wynn Alan Bruce on his Fb web page. Photograph through Fb

“This act will not be suicide,” Kanko wrote on Twitter early Sunday morning. “This can be a deeply fearless act of compassion to convey consideration to local weather disaster … persons are being pushed to excessive quantities of local weather grief and despair.”

Kanko advised The New York Instances she feared that copycats would possibly observe go well with. “What I don’t need to occur is that younger individuals begin enthusiastic about self-immolation,” she mentioned.

The Washington Publish reported that, in line with his father, Bruce had tried to self-immolate in entrance of the World Commerce Middle in New York in 2017 however was stopped.

In its assertion, the Rocky Mountain middle mentioned: “We need to emphasize that not one of the Buddhist lecturers within the Boulder space knew about his plans to self-immolate on this Earth Day. If we had recognized about his plans, we’d have stopped him in any manner potential. That will be our non secular, ethical and obligation. Identical to everybody else, we’ve got been attempting to determine what occurred.” 

The assertion pointed to Buddhists’ vow to guard all life and scale back all struggling and highlighted the work of the middle in “inventive and strategic motion constructing” round racial therapeutic, justice and local weather motion. The middle doesn’t advocate self-immolation, in line with the assertion, and has by no means talked about it as a local weather motion. 

“However, given the dire state of the planet and worsening local weather disaster, we perceive why somebody would possibly try this,” mentioned the assertion, noting the Buddhist historical past of self-immolation to focus on atrocities. “However that’s not one thing that we’d ever encourage. We hope we will hear Wynn’s message with out condoning his methodology,” the assertion added.

The assertion was adopted on the middle’s webpage by a listing of cellphone numbers for these considering suicide and searching for assist.

The passing of a half-century and a change of location from Buddhism-saturated Vietnam to culturally Christian America seems to have made a distinction.

A firefighter pulls a hose to use on a bush fire. Photo by Fabian Jones/Unsplash/Creative Commons

A firefighter pulls a hose to battle a wildfire. Photograph by Fabian Jones/Unsplash/Inventive Commons

Buddhism doesn’t categorically reject suicide, although its approval may be very restricted. 

“Buddhism in its numerous kinds affirms that, whereas suicide as self-sacrifice could also be acceptable for the one that is an arhat, one who has attained enlightenment, it’s nonetheless very a lot the exception to the rule,” famous the Encyclopedia of World Religions.

Elsewhere, Andrew Holecek, a Buddhist creator and seminar chief, additionally from the Boulder space, wrote: 

“Most Buddhist traditions additionally remind us that struggling is the character of (life), and till we learn to relate to it correctly, thereby remodeling it, we’ll by no means get out of samsara — even when we take our personal lives. Buddhism maintains that ache is an unavoidable companion in life, however struggling doesn’t must be. Struggling is an inappropriate relationship to ache, and the trail is essentially about studying tips on how to relate to ache correctly — and due to this fact finish our struggling.”

Samsara is the Buddhist time period for what the custom teaches is humanity’s countless cycle of demise and rebirth. Buddhism teaches that nirvana, or liberation from samsara, is the tip objective of non secular apply.

Matthieu Ricard, a French-born Tibetan Buddhist monk and shut aide of the Dalai Lama, added:

“By saying to your self, ‘What’s the purpose in residing?’ you deprive your self of the interior transformation that will have been potential. To beat an impediment is to rework it into an support to your progress … Suicide solves nothing in any respect, it solely shifts the issue to a different state of consciousness.”

An undated portrait of Wynn Alan Bruce on his Facebook page. Photo via Facebook

An undated portrait of Wynn Alan Bruce on his Fb web page. Photograph through Fb

Bruce will not be the primary particular person to decide on this type of protest in response to the local weather disaster. Homosexual-rights lawyer and environmental activist David Buckel died after setting himself on hearth in New York in April 2018. 

“Most people on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and lots of die early deaths consequently — my early demise by fossil gasoline displays what we’re doing to ourselves,” Buckel mentioned in a notice he left behind. 

If Bruce’s intention was to by some means spark a mass response in opposition to local weather change, he might have been inspired by the Saigon monks Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about in his letter to King. The monks, in spite of everything, did achieve focusing international consideration on their authorities’s corruption and ineffectiveness. 

Or maybe he was motivated by the 2010 self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit and vegetable vendor in protest of the federal government confiscating his weight scales? His motion sparked the Arab Spring protests.

EcoWatch, a number one environmental information web site, famous that Bruce’s Fb posts have been replete with warnings concerning the risks of local weather change.

Bruce’s Fb writings supplied proof of his concern over local weather change. He might have even have revealed that he deliberate to self-immolate. In October 2021, he posted a fireplace emoji. 

On April 2 of this yr he edited that publish, including the date “4/22/22” — Earth Day. EcoWatch labeled this an “obvious announcement of his plans.”

EcoWatch additionally tagged its story on Bruce’s demise with data on contacting suicide prevention hotlines.

In case you are having suicidal ideas, or you recognize somebody who’s, assist is obtainable. Within the U.S., name the Nationwide Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You may also textual content with an emotional help counselor with the Disaster Textual content Line by texting HOME to 741741.

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