buddhism in china

4

The Burning Monk

Thích Quảng Đức, was a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection on 11 June 1963.Quang Duc was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government led by Ngô Đình Diệm. Photographs of his self-immolation were circulated widely across the world and brought attention to the policies of the Diệm government. John F. Kennedy said in reference to a photograph of Duc on fire, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of the monk’s death.

Quảng Đức’s act increased international pressure on Diệm and led him to announce reforms with the intention of mollifying the Buddhists. However, the promised reforms were not implemented, leading to a deterioration in the dispute. With protests continuing, the ARVN Special Forces loyal to Diệm’s brother, Ngô Đình Nhu, launched nationwide raids on Buddhist pagodas, seizing Quảng Đức’s heart and causing deaths and widespread damage. Several Buddhist monks followed Quảng Đức’s example, also immolating themselves. Eventually, an Army coup toppled Diệm, who was assassinated on 2 November 1963.

Interesting facts:

  • Quang Duc’s body was re-cremated during the funeral, but Duc heart remained intact and did not burn. It was considered to be holy and placed in a glass chalice at Xa Loi Pagoda. The intact heart relic is regarded as a symbol of compassion.
  • Despite the shock of the Western public, the practice of Vietnamese monks self-immolating was not unprecedented. Instances of self-immolations in Vietnam had been recorded for centuries, usually carried out to honor Gautama Buddha.
  • Photographs taken by Malcolm Browne of the self-immolation quickly spread across the wire services and were featured on the front pages of newspapers worldwide. The self-immolation was later regarded as a turning point in the Buddhist crisis and a critical point in the collapse of the Diem regime.
  • Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of the monk’s death.

Wu wei ( 无为) is a Chinese word which is usually translated as “non doing”. This is a Taoist concept which has found its way into mainstream Buddhism via Zen (Chan). It is a fundamental principle in Eastern cultures and one which mystifies and at times frustrates Westerners.

The idea is that there are times when the best action is no action. We can best deal with a situation by not reacting to it. This is alien to most Westerners who feel that a reaction is always necessary. With wu wei we are as the water when it meets the stone in the river. It flows around without directly opposing the stone. Wu wei. The water way.

Wu wei wu(无为无), alternatively is essentially ‘doing non doing” or “action without action” Bruce Lee talks on this during an interview when we instructs those to “be like water”. 

“The Sage is occupied with the unspoken and acts without effort.’

– Laozi, The Tao Te Ching, chapter 2

4

Holy mantra carved into boulders around the sacred lake Yilhun Lhatso in Eastern Tibet. 

The whole circumference of the lake is covered in these carved boulders, some large and some small, some half underwater. There must be thousands of them altogether! 

4

Buddhist cave temples in Dunhuang, China. This outpost on the silk road in western China was, in medieval times, the site of complex cultural interaction as the civilizations of Eurasia collided along central Asian trade routes. These caves show the development of Chinese art and the ways in which Buddhism transformed itself as it spread throughout Asia.

THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE LOTUS FLOWER

Buddhism:  With its roots in the mud, the lotus rises through the murky water to blossom clean and bright, symbolizing to the Buddhist purity, resurrection and the enlightened being who emerges undefiled from the chaos and illusion of the world.  The eight-petalled lotus that is used in Buddhist mandalas symbolizes cosmic harmony, and the thousand-petalled lotus represents spiritual illumination.

 Hinduism:  The Hindus of India noted that the ungerminated seeds of the lotus contain perfectly formed leaves, a blueprint for the future plant. Thus to the Hindu, the lotus represents divine ideation passing from abstract into concrete form.   In addition in Hindu mythology, the lotus flower is associated with Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wisdom and generosity. She is often portrayed as sitting on a completely blossomed lotus that gives a sense of purity to her form.  

Ancient Egyptian:  The lotus is featured prominently in Egyptian art and architecture, especially in connection with Egypt’s temples. In Egyptian mythology, the lotus was associated with the sun, because it blooms by day and closes by night. The lotus also symbolized rebirth, since one Egyptian creation myth tells of the newborn sun god rising out of a floating lotus. The blue lotus was sacred to the ancient Egyptians, who valued it not only for its rich perfume but also for its narcotic ability to produce heightened awareness and tranquillity.

Native American:  Certain tribes found all parts of the American lotus edible, the flower symbolized the sun’s power to transform energy into food. The seeds were once an especially important part of the Native American diet; in fact, the genus name Nelumbo means “sacred bean.”

Taoism:  The lotus is also highly esteemed by Taoists. Among the Eight Immortals of Taoism is Ho Hsien Ku, her symbol the open lotus blossom, signifying openness and wisdom. The lotus flower is a favorite of Taoist artists, who paint it to remind us of the miracle of beauty, light and life, and to communicate an understanding of the Tao and of our place in the world.

China:  A feature of the lotus plant that has found its way into Chinese poetry is its stalk, which is easy to bend but difficult to break because of its many strong fibres. Poets liken this quality to the bonds between lovers or family members.

India:  According to the Indian culture the lotus flower denotes prosperity knowledge and learning, fruitfulness and illumination.