Self-immolation of a Buddhist monk in Vietnam
Thich Quang Duc became a part of the Vietnamese and world history as a monk who committed an act of self-immolation in a square in Saigon as a protest against the persecution of Buddhists and a call for equality of all religions.
Biography of Thich Quang Duc
According to data provided by Buddhist organizations, Thich Quang Duc was born in the village of Hoi Khanh, located in the Vietnamese province of Khanh Hoa (the center of this province is the famous resort of Nha Trang). He started studying Buddhist philosophy at the age of 7. His mentor was his maternal uncle, who raised the boy as his own son. At the age of 15, Duc took the initial vows of Buddhism, and at the age of 20 was ordained a monk. Soon after his studies, the young man went to the mountains and spent three years as a hermit. Many years later, he came back and founded a Buddhist pagoda in his retreat.
After three years spent alone, Duc began to travel around the country preaching. It lasted for two years, and then he settled in a pagoda near Nha Trang, watching the life of monks in his native province and participating in the building of more than a dozen temples.
For two years, the monk lived in neighboring Cambodia, where he studied local Buddhist traditions. After returning to Vietnam, Duc organized the construction of new temples, and then became the abbot of the Phuoc Hoa pagoda, which was the center of the Association for Buddhist Studies.
Persecution of Buddhism in Vietnam in the late 1950s and early 1960s
Sociological surveys dating back to the first half of the 20th century show that between 70 and 90% of the Vietnamese population were Buddhists. However, Catholicism was actively imposed first by the French colonial government and then by the Catholic president Ngo Dinh Diem. Under the guise of fighting communism, he organized terror against the Buddhists and suppressed any opposition.
It was easier for Catholics to advance through the military and civil service, and there were privileges for them in the distribution of land, as well as tax breaks. The state had a discriminatory policy against Buddhists.
Some Catholic priests ran armed groups that allowed them to forcibly convert Buddhists and destroy pagodas. The government turned a blind eye to their abuse.
The military became Catholics for promotion and peasants for financial aid. The Catholic Church soon became the largest landowner in Vietnam.
In may 1963, the day of celebration of Buddha’s birth, authorities banned the carrying of the flag of the Buddhist denomination in Hue. However, the Buddhists ignored the ban and headed for the government radio station with a flag. In response, the authorities opened fire and killed nine people.
Preparing the act of self-immolation
On June 10, 1963, foreign journalists working in Saigon received a message that something important was going to happen in front of the Cambodian Embassy on June 11. Details were not specified. Most correspondents ignored this message, but some reporters still arrived at the scene.
350 monks gathered in the square. Duc came by car. The monks held placards demanding an end to the persecution of Buddhists and calling for equality of all faiths.
The self-immolation of Thich Quang Duc in Saigon
The self-immolation event took place a few blocks from the Presidential Palace. In his dying speech, Thich Quang Duc asked the president Ngo Dinh Diem to recognize religious equality. He sat down on a pillow, surrounded by the monks, and recited the last words, turning over the rosary. One of the participants poured gasoline on the monk, and Thich Quang Duc lit a match and held it to his body.
Some people around were sobbing, others were praying, and Duc did not make a sound and did not move a single muscle, showing absolute self-control. One of the policemen who managed to break into the ring fell in front of the monk’s body, paying his respects. On the evening of this day, thousands of citizens claimed to have seen the face of a weeping Buddha in the sky at sunset.
On June 19, the monk was cremated and buried in a cemetery near Saigon in the presence of 400 monks. The monk’s heart, untouched by fire, was recognized as a sacrament and placed in the Xa Loi pagoda. Duc himself was called a bodhisattva, that is, a person whose consciousness was awakened.
The reaction of the media and political assessments
Photos of the self-immolation act quickly made it to the world’s leading news agencies and were published on the front pages of major magazines. The self-immolation of the monk acquired a large-scale political effect and became a turning point in the history of Ngo Dinh Diem’s rule and the persecution of Buddhists.
The president Ngo Dinh Diem was forced to announce the rehabilitation of Buddhists, but in reality no changes were implemented. On the contrary, the military attacked Buddhist pagodas and even captured the sacred heart of Duc. At the end of 1963, as a result of a coup, Diem was killed.
Thich Quang Duc’s act was repeated several times by followers in Vietnam. In the United States people used acts of self-immolation as a protest against the Vietnam war.
In Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) was built a monument to Thich Quang Duc, to which the Vietnamese constantly bring offerings (Thich Quang Duc Monument). Residents of the country honor the act of a monk who gave his life fighting for religious freedom.