Self Immolation by Bowatte Indraratana Thera – Will it be successful?
Posted on June 4th, 2013

Michelle Alexander

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

Journalist David Halberstam describes the death of ThƒÆ’†’ƒ”š‚­ch QuƒÆ’†’ƒ”š‚ ng ƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚ƒÆ’†’ƒ”š‚ºc, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in Saigon in 1963.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ThƒÆ’†’ƒ”š‚­ch QuƒÆ’†’ƒ”š‚ ng ƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚ƒÆ’†’ƒ”š‚ºcƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s self-immolation triggered a massive response, which resulted in the toppling of the NgƒÆ’†’ƒ”š‚´ ƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚ƒÆ’†’ƒ”š‚¬nh Diem regime in South Vietnam.

Self-Immolation as a means of protest leaves a profound and compelling impact, yet it is wrong to assume that every act of self-immolation guarantees change.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Michael Biggs, one of the few sociologists who have studied this phenomenon estimates that from 1963, 800-3000 self-immolations may have taken place.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  However, not all have been successful. For example, since 2009 fifty-one Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns have committed self-immolation, yet they have not caused any significant political changes, nor have they brought Tibet any closer to being free of China. Self-immolation may become ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-successfulƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ in a sense where it is not about the one who performs it, but about the community in which it occurs. In such a situation, this community recognizes itself in the predicament of the one committing self-immolation and is, for a lack of a better description, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-shamedƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ by the event and is then compelled to act.

On May 24th, Bowatte Indraratana Thera committed self-immolation to protest the slaughter of cattle, to succumb to his injuries a few days later. The question arises is this, will it be successful? If the past is any indicator, there will be protests, lawmakers will contemplate implementing laws to abolish cattle slaughter (ex. The Animal Welfare Bill), etc. But, at the end of the day, this too runs the risk of being swept under the carpet and forgotten, much like every other unresolved issue facing our country. It will only work if the people continue to agitate the government to make the necessary changes.

6 Responses to “Self Immolation by Bowatte Indraratana Thera – Will it be successful?”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    ” It will only work if the people continue to agitate the government to make the necessary changes.”

    People should agitate against cattle slaughter.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    Growing more and more organic Soy and putting out really delicious Soy products (burghers, milk, cheeses), that have a long shelf life is the answer to rearing more livestock for milk and meat. It’s a demand & supply matter.

    As a tribute to the Bowatte Thera, Buddhist temples might use their Temple land to grow organic Soy. Dayakayas from the area can tend the Soy plots, gain employment and earn some money. The Temples must make sure that this land is used, but not lost to the Temples. It will be a source of income to upgrade all Temples, all over Sri Lanka. GoSL must help protect ownership of Temple land with the Temples.

  3. Christie Says:

    This is another aspect of Indian hedgemony. Cattle are nit sacred for Buddhists but for Hidus. Let Hindus go back to india and practice their Sacred Cow Wirship.
    We got worst problems like the 13th amendment to deal that was imposed on us by the Indian imperialists.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:


    Some people need to eat meat as their body types and eating habits demand it. Meat should be provided for them.


    Let’s consider meat eating only from the health view and not from any religious view :

    Lots of people are being increasingly told to stop eating meat for health reasons. Cardiovascular diseases and cancers (especially colon cancer) form with meat eating.

    Growing organic Soy in Sri Lanka will provide an alternative source of food for those who prefer vegetarian food. it must be borne in mind that cattle reared for milk and milk products (considered vegetarian), will have to be slaughtered when aged.

    Also, some are allergic to cow milk. Soy milk ( and nut milk) will provide a good alternative.

  5. NAK Says:

    I think there is a another much more important fact that has been overlooked in this saga.
    “Samma Sathi” whatever the actions of Inderathana thero he was fully concious of what he was doing and I wish someone can elaborate on that.

  6. Fran Diaz Says:


    I personally see the monk’s act as an act stemming from utter despair, striving to save Sri Lanka from going under machinations of others. I see it as an act to draw attention to the plight of Sinhala/Buddhists, via protest about slaughter of the cow, a ‘mother-like’ creature that gives milk to humans.


    Re ‘Samma Sathi” :

    Indeed, if at least most Buddhists of Lanka truly practiced ‘Samma Sathi’ we may not be in the present day political mess.

    ‘Samma Sathi’ or Mindfulness is summarized here:

    “Mindfulness facilitates the achievement of both serenity and insight. It can lead to either deep concentration or wisdom, depending on the mode in which it is applied. Merely a slight shift in the mode of application can spell the difference between the course the contemplative process takes, whether it descends to deeper levels of inner calm culminating in the stages of absorption, the jhanas, or whether instead it strips away the veils of delusion to arrive at penetrating insight. To lead to the stages of serenity the primary chore of mindfulness is to keep the mind on the object, free from straying. Mindfulness serves as the guard charged with the responsibility of making sure that the mind does not slip away from the object to lose itself in random undirected thoughts. It also keeps watch over the factors stirring in the mind, catching the hindrances beneath their camouflages and expelling them before they can cause harm. To lead to insight and the realizations of wisdom, mindfulness is exercised in a more differentiated manner. Its task, in this phase of practice, is to observe, to note, to discern phenomena with utmost precision until their fundamental characteristics are brought to light”.

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