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Davis, California

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Column: Meet your martyr

I tend to learn the rules so I know how to break them properly.

If the Dalai Lama, a pretty religious guy, subscribes to this belief, I don’t see why I, a mere mortal, can’t do so as well. For the next three weeks, I’ll be writing on the three topics your parents forbade you to discuss at the dinner table, the Bermuda triangle of taboos: religion, sex and politics.

Just this past weekend, three Tibetan monks practiced self-immolation by setting themselves on fire in opposition to Beijing’s rule in Tibet. The deaths, which bring the total number of suicides to 15 in the last year, suggest China continues to grapple with quelling Tibetans’ demands for religious license.

That Buddhist monks were so devoted to their cause — up to the point of paying the ultimate price — is as mystifying for us as eating cheese-flavored corn probably is to them.

Physically dying for one’s convictions is less a Western world ritual than it is an Eastern one. I personally don’t yet care enough about a topic, a movement or an event to purge myself of all feeling. Sure, I get upset and have strong opinions, but if it came down to it I wouldn’t die for that belief.

Others at UC Davis, however, may already be set enough in their convictions. When watching the now-infamous video footage of those who refused to budge during the protests, even while being pepper sprayed, I couldn’t help but ask, “How come they aren’t getting up yet?”

While these protests were less extreme versions of what is now occurring in Asia, occupiers believed in a cause enough to withstand abuse, similar to the Buddhist clergy members willing to down themselves in gasoline and spark a flame against religious regulation.

Religion hadn’t actually crossed my mind for a while until I was reminded of it in the wee hours of the morning at the airport over break. Besides being surprised to learn that Johnny Rockets Burgers now serves breakfast, I was perhaps equally startled to see a lonesome boy about my age (18, for all the bachelors interested) say grace before attempting to digest powdered eggs and imitation bacon.

I think I forgot for a moment that young adults don’t only bow their heads towards newfangled gadgets. From that moment on, the idea of faith seemed to dwell in my brain just as persistently as a split end on a fly hair.

God kept knocking on my door, practically disrupting the furniture of my inner house, when someone told me a quasi-Bible story about a boy who was whipped for stealing an apple. She ended, almost dramatically, with the question: “If the boy ought to be whipped for one apple, what do we deserve for our sins?”

I don’t think the answer is self-immolation, but it does lie in a sort of metaphysical sacrifice. We need to hold fast to our beliefs, knowing there may be difficult consequences or unfortunate endings.

The major problems the world faces today often appear too intimidating to be addressed. An overarching feeling of resignation abounds, and most are consumed by the personal desire to simply do well in their pursuits. However, we are becoming an ever more disengaged and detached generation.

My column, unofficially titled “Peripheral Vision,” will begin to reconstruct the dialogues that appeal to our incubating passions. Global matters seem to have little significance in how we college students presently conduct our lives, but it is the habit of taking a critical look at how decisions are made that is the antidote to the disaffected attitude our generation is tending towards.

If we cannot take interest in news as accessible as The Aggie, the task to look beyond ourselves will only get harder.

Lose yourself in CHELSEA MEHRA’s Bermuda triangle by contacting her at cmehra@ucdavis.edu.


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