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a monk's protest
Burning Monk - The
On June 11, 1963, Thich
Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk from the Linh-Mu
Pagoda in Hue, Vietnam, burned himself to
death at a busy intersection in downtown Saigon,
Vietnam.. Eye witness accounts state that
Thich Quang Duc and at least two fellow monks
arrived at the intersection by car, Thich
Quang Duc got out of the car, assumed the
traditional lotus position and the accompanying
monks helped him pour gasoline over himself.
He ignited the gasoline by lighting a match
and burned to death in a matter of minutes.
David Halberstam, a reporter for the New York
Times covering the war in Vietnam, gave the
following account: I was to see that sight
again, but once was enough. Flames were coming
from a human being; his body was slowly withering
and shriveling up, his head blackening and
charring. In the air was the smell of burning
human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly
quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing
of the Vietnamese who were now gathering.
I was too shocked to cry, too confused to
take notes or ask questions, too bewildered
to even think…. As he burned he never moved
a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward
composure in sharp contrast to the wailing
people around him.
Thich Quang Duc had
prepared himself for his self-immolation through
several weeks of meditation and had explained
his motivation in letters to members of his
Buddhist community as well as to the government
of South Vietnam in the weeks prior to his
self-immolation. In these letters he described
his desire to bring attention to the repressive
policies of the Catholic Diem regime that
controlled the South Vietnamese government
at the time. Prior to the self-immolation,
the South Vietnamese Buddhists had made the
following requests to the Diem regime, asking
it to: Lift its ban on flying the traditional
Buddhist flag; Grant Buddhism the same rights
as Catholicism; Stop detaining Buddhists;
Give Buddhist monks and nuns the right to
practice and spread their religion; and Pay
fair compensations to the victim's families
and punish those responsible for their deaths.
When these requests
were not addressed by the Deim regime, Thich
Quang Duc carried out his self-immolation.
Following his death, Thich Quang Duc was cremated
and legend has it that his heart would not
burn. As a result, his heart is considered
Holy and is in the custody of the Reserve
Bank of Vietnam.
While Thich Quang Duc's
self-immolation has received little attention
from religious scholars, it has been interpreted
from both a religious and political perspective.
From the prevailing point of view he has been
"exclusively conceptualized as a transhistorical,
purely religious agent, virtually homologous
with his specifically religious forebears
and ancestors." Therefore, his self-immolation
is seen as a "religious suicide"
and is religiously justified based on Chinese
Buddhist texts written between the fifth and
tenth centuries C.E.
On the otherhand it
has been pointed out by both Thich Nhat Hnah
and Russell McCutcheon that by contextualizing
the event in 1963 Vietnam, the self-immolation
can be seen as a "political act"
aimed at calling attention to the injustices
being perpetrated against the South Vietnamese
people by a puppet government of Euro-American
imperialism. In this context, Thich Nhat Hnah
describes the act of self-immolation as follows:
The press spoke then of suicide, but in the
essence, it is not. It is not even a protest.
What the monks said in the letters they left
before burning themselves aimed only at alarming,
at moving the hearts of the oppressors, and
at calling the attention of the world to the
suffering endured then by the Vietnamese.
To burn oneself by fire is to prove that what
one is saying is of the utmost importance….
The Vietnamese monk, by burning himself, says
with all his strength and determination that
he can endure the greatest of sufferings to
protect his people…. To express will by burning
oneself, therefore, is not to commit an act
of destruction but to perform an act of construction,
that is, to suffer and to die for the sake
of one's people. This is not suicide.
Thich Nhat Hanh goes
on to explaing why Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation
was not a suicide, which is contrary to Buddhist
teachings: Suicide is an act of self-destruction,
having as causes the following: (1) lack of
courage to live and to cope with difficulties;
(2) defeat by life and loss of all hope; (3)
desire for nonexistence….. The monk who burns
himself has lost neither courage nor hope;
nor does he desire nonexistence. On the contrary,
he is very courageous and hopeful and aspires
for something good in the future. He does
not think that he is destroying himself; he
believes in the good fruition of his act of
self-sacrifice for the sake of others…. I
believe with all my heart that the monks who
burned themselves did not aim at the death
of their oppressors but only at a change in
their policy. Their enemies are not man. They
are intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship,
cupidity, hatred, and discrimination which
lie within the heart of man.
The Impact of the Self-Immolation
This famous picture
was on President Kennedy's desk that day.
As a result, Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation:
Accelerated the spread of "engaged Buddhism"
that had begun in Vietnam in the 1930's.
Led to the overthrow of the Diem regime in
South Vietnam in November of 1963. Helped
change public opinion against the American
backed South Vietnamese government and its
war against the communist supported Viet Cong.
The social and political
impact of Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation
was far reaching. It was reported in the New
York Times the next day and a copy of the
fach Quang Duc in 1963 has been followed by
the self-immolation of several monks and by
the continued activism of the "rebellious
monks of Hue" against the communist government
in Vietnam over the past three decades.
Who Was Thich Quang
Thich Quang Duc was
born in 1897 and was 67 at the time of his
self-immolation in 1963. He had lived in a
Buddhist monastic community since he was seven
years old and was ordained as a full Buddhist
monk or Bhikku when he was twenty. Thich Quang
Duc practiced an extreme ascetic purification
way for several years, became a teacher, and
spent many years rebuilding Buddhist temples
in Vietnam prior to 1943. At the time of his
death, he was a member of the Quan the Am
temple and Director of rituals for the United
Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation. Thich Quang
Duc is considered to be a bodhisattva, "an
enlightened being - one on the path to awakening
who vows to forego complete enlightenment
until he or she helps all other beings attain
This article was not
written by me, Travis Artz, but rather something
that I found a few years ago and felt it was
important to share. No doubt, many young people
have been made increasingly aware of this
monk's protest because of the album cover
of Rage Against the Machine. We encourage
all visitors to this page to do further reading