Heroes of a Different Kind

By Sande Rose Waybill

Tibet has produced two very different kinds of hero during the past 60 years. Formerly, the main hero figure for many Tibetans was H.H.D.L. – the Dalai Lama who won the Nobel peace prize and who is currently in exile. Many Tibetans and followers of Buddhism from around the world look upon the Dalai Lama as a role model and knowledgeable advisor — two attributes of a successful hero.  However, in 2011 predominantly, a new type of hero has emerged from Tibet; one of lesser official standing, yet equal in courage.

Throughout 2011, roughly 22 Tibetans set fire to themselves with the purpose of drawing attention to their nations’ predicament.  The majority of these self-immolators were young monks, nuns, and former monks.  They were desperate to get the world’s attention turned upon the continuing suffering within their country, with little thought to their own well-being. They have faced pain, death, and the possibility of Chinese mistreatment — yet they stood up bravely and heroically for their cause.

Since the Chinese invaded Tibet in the 1950′s, disruptions have continued within the nation. Lay Tibetans are no longer free to practice their religion or culture in peace and safety. Monks and nuns are not free to pray, practice, and study, but are forced to renounce their leader HHDL and endure re-education programs and other forms of ‘patriotic’ instruction. One can be punished, jailed, tortured, or even killed just for adhering to what one believes, if the Chinese do not approve.

After more than half a century of suffering, some courageous Tibetans have stepped forward and self immolated — shouting out their hopes and needs as they do so. Hoping that this will bring action from the outside world, they face the threat of death, willingly. If they are saved from the flames, the Chinese are known to treat them as if they were criminals; they beat them as punishment and prevent onlookers from offering assistance. Many self-immolators are now deceased, while some are hospitalized or imprisoned.

Yet still these brave heroes are stepping forward at a rate of more than one a month.  These Tibetans have fought their own selves to shout out for their country, family and friends, culture, religion, and their freedom.  Their actions are a form of altruistic suicide, intended to better the common good.  These individuals put aside their own comfort and safety to stand up for what they believe in — hoping that the world outside will hear and act.

Here are the names and current condition of those self-immolators now belonging in the ranks of Tibetan heroes.

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Born in the mid-sixties, Sande Rose Waybill returned to England after experiencing more than 20 years of Australian life. Formerly a gardener, nurse, saleswoman, creche care worker, nude model, home schooling mom, and freelance writer/photographer, she now cares FT for an elderly parent whilst still blogging. Her interests include ornithology, Buddhist philosophy & practice, Yoga, Indian cuisine, and the music scene in San Francisco. She likes to indulge in incense, red wine, meditation and reading.

7 Responses to “Heroes of a Different Kind”


  • This is a very moving story, and one that we do not find often in the Western culture. I find it unsettling, but at the same time valiant, that people would willingly set themselves on fire and face imminent suffering in order to bring attention to a noble cause. The selfless aspect of the deed is what makes it so heroic, as so few people would do the same in their situation.

  • It is nearly criminal that this doesn’t get more attention on the nightly news.

  • This is just heartbreaking. Many of these people are practically children. Or were practically children. Now they’re dead.

    It’s almost impossible to comprehend the level of heroism and self-sacrifice it must require to destroy one’s self for the cause of patriotism. In other parts of the world, in other cultures, people commit mass murder for the sake of enslaving or eliminating others; in Tibet, they kill themselves in the hopes that their peers will be freed.

    I don’t have high hopes that this will be effective. China is a massive, monolith tyranny with vast economic and military resources– they have little incentive to join the civilized world. No nation or group of nations could easily coerce them into leaving Tibet. And it seems no one is very interested in trying.

  • The cultural aspect interests me also. I have friends living all over our planet, so I have a wider view than most on cultural attitude and find it amazing the differences – mostly between Eastern and Western cultures. In the West, we seem to put emphasis on taking things to court, signing petitions, etc – whereas in the Eastern cultures, people seem more prepared to stick their own lives on the line for their beleif. Perhaps, as the computer age brings openess and understanding between the two ‘sides’, we will combine the two main trends…

    Exactly why i do not use TV or radio for my news coverage – you only get what the government & media want you to hear. IMHO it is far better to get the facts from people you know that are living all over the world than a ‘nation-focused’ general news source. That way you are more likely to get a broader picture and the entire truth.

    It may not be effective directly in stopping China act the way it currently does – but hopefully it will bring world attention to the problems, and in turn this will bring about justice – finally.

    There was another self immolation this past week – and several countries are begining to take notice and stand up: Germany raised Tibetan flags on March 10, a US representative has called for action, etc….

  • Germany raised Tibetan flags– that’s fantastic.

    I really hope this does bring about change. All of these deaths are heartbreaking.

  • This is an incredible story of heroism. I find it remarkable how different cultures bring about such different types of heroes, as it is not frequently that we see these types of heroes in our culture. It seems terrifying to me that people would set themselves on fire solely to raise awareness, despite how important the cause. While this story is heartbreaking, I find it truly inspiring.

  • These people are at the top of the order for heroes. They show incredible stories of heroism as they have had to deal with such atrocities and adversity. These people are truly inspiring as they come from all ages raising awareness for something that is extremely important.

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