WARNING - DISTRESSING CONTENT: A climate activist who died after setting himself on fire outside the US Supreme Court had left an eerie comment on social media indicating his self-immolation was planned for some time.
Wynn Bruce, a 50-year-old photographer and known Buddhist, died about 6.30pm on Earth Day in a lone act which friends say was not suicide.
Kritee Kanko, a Zen Buddhist priest who described herself as Bruce’s friend, took to Twitter on Saturday, a day after Bruce's death, to call his death “a deeply fearless act of compassion to bring attention to climate crisis".
Ms Kanko said Bruce had been planning his death for at least a year.
In a comment to one of his own Facebook posts about climate change, Bruce shared a fire emoji and the date "4/22/2022" – the day of his self-immolation.
The comment came exactly one year and one day before his extreme act.
The Buddhist retreat Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center paid tribute to Bruce, however distanced themselves from any knowledge of his plans for self-immolation, or any influence on the act.
“We have never talked about self-immolation, and we do not think self-immolation is a climate action,” it said in a statement.
This guy was my friend. He meditated with our sangha. This act is not suicide. This is a deeply fearless act of compassion to bring attention to climate crisis. We are piecing together info but he had been planning it for atleast one year. #wynnbruce I am so moved. https://t.co/bHoRaLK6Fr
— Dr. K. Kritee (@KriteeKanko) April 24, 2022
“Nevertheless, given the dire state of the planet and worsening climate crisis, we understand why someone might do that.”
On Facebook, Bruce wrote about following the spiritual tradition of Shambhala, which combines Tibetan Buddhism with the principles of living “an uplifted life, fully engaged with the world,” according to the Boulder Shambhala Center.
In Tibet, anti-Chinese activists have employed self-immolation as a form of protest. The International Campaign for Tibet says 131 men and 28 women – monks, nuns and laypeople among them – have self-immolated since 2009 to protest against Beijing’s strict controls over the region and their religion.
Buddhism as a religion does not unilaterally condone the act of self-immolation or taking one’s life, said Robert Barnett, a London-based researcher of modern Tibetan history and politics.
“Killing yourself is considered damaging in Buddhism because life is precious,” he told the Associated Press.
“But if a person self-immolates because of a higher motivation and it’s not out of a negative emotion such as depression or sadness, then the Buddhist position becomes far more complex.”
Bruce hailed a 'hero', media coverage criticised
Climate activists paid tribute to Bruce online, with some labelling him a "hero".
"He died so you might survive," one person wrote.
Many however lambasted mainstream media's lack of coverage of the incident, while The Daily Telegraph in Australia were accused of taking a callous approach when reporting Bruce's death on Tuesday.
"Global Warming Activist Dies from Local Heating," its headline read.
"A Colorado climate activist travelled nearly 2500 kilometres just so he could burn himself to death outside the US Supreme Court," the story's abstract followed.
Rupert Murdoch's News Corp has for years cast scepticism over climate change, however last year appeared to ease its hostile position towards climate science with a an editorial campaign exploring a carbon-neutral path moving forward.
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