On June 23, 2014, Charles Robert Moore pulled up to a Dollar General lot in Grand Saline, Texas. He got out of his car, pulled out a drum of gasoline, doused himself in the fluid and proceeded to light himself on fire. He left behind only a typed letter asking for the community to repent for its racism.
To the naked eye, Mr. Moore, a reverend at a local Methodist church, committed suicide, but for Tibetan Monks, Daoists, and even Russian Orthodox Christians (Old Believers), lighting oneself aflame is a form self immolation–sacrifice of oneself for a cause greater than themselves.
The act of self immolation, particularly by fire, has been done for centuries, especially in India and has been documented as early as 1568, in the siege of Chittogarh. The Jakata Tales, an ancient Buddhist text that claims to detail the lives of the early incarnations of Buddha, share tales of self immolation (though not by fire); one story, “The Hungry Tigress,” describes how Prince Sattva sacrifices his body to a hungry mother tiger to stop her from eating her cubs.
Though often public, dramatic, and politically fueled, the heart of self immolation, also known as ‘bonzo’ in correlation with Tibetan monks, is far from altruistic suicide. The action is not meant to cause physical harm or property damage; in fact, with proper training, the sacrificial act causes little to no pain for the martyr. Though you’re probably not itching to set yourself on fire, here’s how you can achieve the same bodily detachment as somebody who has.
Wangshen, Chinese for “forget the body,” is a general Buddhist principle behind the separation of body and mind. In order to forget one’s body, the two must be viewed as separate and distinctly different.
While suicide goes against fundamental Buddhism, in cases where a martyr exercises self immolation without fear or desire of death, they are able to do so in a righteous manner.
The easiest way to begin to achieve mental detachment is through meditation. While it might take a lifetime to perfect, here are six steps that are easy to follow and a great way to de-stress:
1. Get a pillow or soft cushion for kneeling.
It’s going to be difficult to create that bodily detachment if you’re worried about how much your knees are hurting. Eventually you can upgrade to a meditation specific cushion like a zafus, but for now anything comfortable will do.
2. Find a quiet place.
It doesn’t have to be noiseless, but a relatively quiet space is best for starting out. With enough practice, eventually you’ll be able to achieve the same state at a rock concert.
3. Sit comfortably.
You don’t have to sit in lotus position just yet, just sit cross legged or on your knees for now.
4. Count your breaths.
Take deep controlled breaths and exhales. Relax your body as you count the seconds you take to inhale, hold and exhale. A good count to go off of is eight seconds inhale, six second pause, eight second exhale.
5. Let go of all thoughts.
Forgot to water your plants? Is the dog across the street barking again? Wondering what time it is? Forget about it. Forget all of the thoughts that are coming to your head. Clear your mind.
6. Start slow.
If it’s your first time meditating, consider setting a timer before you get started and go for ten minutes or so.