self-immolation??

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self-immolation??

Postby dumb bonbu » Wed Apr 22, 2009 7:29 am

hi folks. okay so i read this excerpt i'll share and my initial reaction (heck, it's still my reaction if i'm being honest) was :jawdrop: perhaps there's something i'm missing here and admittedly i don't know a great deal about the subject (the Lotus Sutra is sat on my shelf to be read shortly) so perhaps those with better understanding could help me -

The final feature of the Lotus Sutra we must note, a feature which has been of some influence in East Asian Buddhist practice, is that of body-burning. Chapter 23 of the Lotus Sutra recounts how Bodhisattva Baisajyaraja in a previous life wished to make the most precious offering to the Buddha. He accordingly offered his body by setting fire to it. The body burned for a very long time and he was eventually reborn in a Pure Land: 'Good man, this is called the prime gift'. Supposing someone wishes to become enlightened:

"If he can burn a finger or even a toe as an offering to a Buddha-stupa, he shall exceed one who uses realm or walled city, wife or children, or even all the lands, mountains, forests, rivers, ponds, and sundry precious objects in the whole thousand million-fold world as offerings"

In general in India people were used to the hyperbole of religious enthusiasm and may have taken such exhortations as a rhetorical exaggeration of the imperative to ' be unattached'. Alternatively [...] they may well have seen such exceptionally brave, almost super-human Bodhisattva conduct as something they might be able to do in a future life if they begin now with more accessible practices. Nevertheless Chinese pilgrims to India do apparently describe cases where Buddhists engaged in mortifying the flesh and religious suicide, although further research may be necessary on these problematic texts before their evidence can be relied upon fully. But we know it happened in East Asian Buddhism, where from the early fifth century CE burning joints or the whole body as an act of devotion was taken very seriously indeed. James A. Benn's detailed study (2007a) shows that partial or complete self-immolation has been from quite early days in Chinese Buddhism to the present day by no means a minority or fringe activity
- Williams P, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, p.160


all this sounds pretty extreme and not so much the middle way. but i don't want to immediately disparage what i know little of and don't understand. thoughts, views, comments?
Although I too am within Amida's grasp,
Passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see him;
Nevertheless, great compassion is untiring and
illumines me always.
- Shinran


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Re: self-immolation??

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Apr 22, 2009 7:36 am

Greetings DB,

Someone asked a similar question after a public showing of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (or whatever combination of seasons it's named after).

The convenor gave an interesting response.

In the movie, the solitary monk was getting quite old, and needed to be self-sufficient in order to survive. Continuing life was getting difficult, and he had already purified his mind through intense training. The convenor's theory (and he did posit it as just one theory, amongst many possible) was that the monk realised there was nothing further to be done or achieved in this life, so self-immolation was a practical response to the situation that would allow him to continue his work in a new existence, without delay or stagnation.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: self-immolation??

Postby dumb bonbu » Wed Apr 22, 2009 7:46 am

thankyou retro. i have been meaning to see that film as i hear it is a very beautiful story. the theory certainly sheds some light in the context of one's life drawing to an end and of course, the monk beingly highly mentally trained. perhaps it is also skillful means of a Bodhisattva at a high level and as such is beyond the ken of a dumb bonbu like me? i just wonder though - could it not inspire such an act in impressionable laity (and i guess monastics) not so highly-trained, whose lives aren't approaching their end? isn't there a danger of that possibility? but maybe such a skilled Bodhisattva would know who to give such a lesson? then again, the Lotus Sutra is available to all. scratching me head in befuddlement here lol :shrug:
Although I too am within Amida's grasp,
Passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see him;
Nevertheless, great compassion is untiring and
illumines me always.
- Shinran


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Re: self-immolation??

Postby thornbush » Wed Apr 22, 2009 9:19 am

Well, we will never understand what goes on in the minds of those who are totally absorbed in Dharma practice and can only marvel at how they can even renounce this physical raft for the Dharma. Perhaps, the Sutra is challenging us to go beyond our self cherishing behaviour and attachment, comfort zones and this may involve even drastic measures as part of a Bodhisattva's offering and sacrifice.
Found some interesting materials:
Where text meets flesh
and this case is still ever fresh to me whenever self immolation is mentioned:
Ceremony Honours Vietnam Monks' Self-Immolation
Self-Immolation of a Buddhist Monk
Self-immolation & Thích Quảng Đức

If my memory serves me right, though for the life of me, I can't find the source at the moment, it was also the Venerable Ananda, who had attained Arhatship by then, where towards the end of his life, was besieged by 2 warring family factions, and he knew that by even meeting either sides, it would have resulted in bloodshed, so he decided to relinquish his mortal frame through entering a fire samadhi which engulfed himself in self-immolation, thus sparing further unwholesome karma for both sides.

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Re: self-immolation??

Postby dumb bonbu » Wed Apr 22, 2009 9:29 am

hi thornbush, yeah i guess we will never know and can only marvel. and if i'm being honest with myself then i think my border-aversion, my reaction when initially reading, reflects my own attachment to form, in this case my body. i'm just glad i don't have to set myself on fire to get to the Pure Land!!
the author does mention the case of Thich Quang Duc but draws a distinction between his action and other cases as he sees it as grounded more in political statement and protest than purely devotional offering. i'm not 100% convinced but i err towards agreement with him. does this take away from its power and impact? clearly not! the act speaks for itself.

now, what you mention about Ananda is interesting! i was wondering if there were example to be had from pre- and Theravada traditions. if any of our Dhamma friends know a reference to this incident i would be most grateful :smile:

edit: thanks for the links too old cat! time to swot up from other sources methinks! :thanks:
Although I too am within Amida's grasp,
Passions obstruct my eyes and I cannot see him;
Nevertheless, great compassion is untiring and
illumines me always.
- Shinran


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Re: self-immolation??

Postby Mr. G » Wed Jan 19, 2011 7:50 pm

Night had fallen when the men heard the sounds on the mountain. First it was a chime, then a recitation of verses, followed by the crackle of wood burning. They scrambled to the summit to see what was happening.

There, seated with his palms together and facing west, was their friend. Flames leapt around the peaceful man, engulfing him. It was just as he'd intended.

The year was 527.

This story of Daodu, a Buddhist monk, is told in James Benn's "Burning for the Buddha: Self-Immolation in Chinese Buddhism." Benn, an associate professor of religion at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, writes that the act of setting one's self on fire dates back in Chinese Buddhist tradition to the late fourth century.

Read More Here...
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    grasping the letter of the text and ignoring its intention!
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