buddhist protest

“Anger toward social injustice will remain until the goal is achieved. It has to remain… That anger is directed toward the social injustice itself, along with the struggle to correct it, so the anger should be maintained until the goal is achieved. It is necessary in order to stop social injustice and wrong destructive actions.”

~Dalai Lama~

“And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”
(Matthew 21:22 KJV)


The 1960s were an awfully turbulent time.


1. First man on the moon.

2. Vietnamese children running from the site of a napalm attack.

3. MLK in the march from Selma to Montgomery.

4. The self immolation of a Buddhist monk in protest of governmental anti-buddhist policies in South Vietnam.

5. Flowers are placed on the bayonets at an anti-war protest, otherwise known as “flower power”.

6. Woodstock music festival, attended by an estimated half million people.

7. The Beatles

8. Marilyn Monroe, who died August 5th, 1962.

9. President John F. Kennedy.

10. Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in to office after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Practice: Seeing from the Universal Perspective

’Buddhist psychology is filled with practices that shift us to the universal perspective. These include contemplations on the vastness of time, the cycles of impermanence, the mysterious inevitability of your own death, the boundlessness of love. Here is one way to awaken this perspective:

Sit quietly, focusing on your breath. When you feel settled, picture a person close to you, a loved one, partner, child, or a close friend.  Remember how you ordinarily relate to them.  Now step back in your mind to consider the roles and identities they inhabit.  Man or woman, boy or girl, son or daughter, partner, friend, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Buddhist, student, teacher, athlete, artist, employee, boss, American, Canadian, their work, their successes and failures.

Step back further and contemplate the unfolding of their karma, born into a certain family, picture them as an infant, a child, a school age teenager, adult, an old person. Picture them as they are about to fall asleep, as they are old and about to die. Who are they really, underneath all the clay of their roles and life stages? What is their essence, their true spirit? What would it be like to relate to them outside of their tentative roles, outside of time?

Now choose a problem or difficulty, a place you are stuck in your life. Hold the problem as if in front of you. Look at it with the perspective of a hundred years from now. Then picture yourself facing death at the end of your life. How does this difficulty appear? Finally, ask yourself, “What is your heart’s highest intention, and how does this intention inform your response to the difficulty you face?’

- Jack Kornfield, The Wise Heart: Buddhist Psychology for the West.

This is Thích Quảng Đức. As you can see, he is on fire. He lit himself on fire after leading a march of Buddhist monks to protest against Ngô Đình Diệm, the Catholic president of Vietnam from 1955 to 1963. Ngô Đình Diệm was part of a long and ongoing tradition of brutal asshole dictators who oppressed entire chunks of his population (in this case, Buddhists, who made up around 80% of the population) but still managed to attract massive American “investment” due to his pathological anti-communist stance.

In 1954 Vietnamese freedom fighters, the Viet Minh, had finally defeated the French colonial government in North Vietnam, which by then had been supported by U.S. funds amounting to more than $2 billion. Although the victorious assured religious freedom to all (most non-Buddhist Vietnamese were Catholics), due to huge anti-communist propaganda campaigns, many Catholics fled to the South. With the help of Catholic lobbies in Washington and Cardinal Spellman (the Vatican’s spokesman in U.S. politics, who later on would call the U.S. forces in Vietnam “Soldiers of Christ”), a scheme was concocted to prevent democratic elections which could have brought the communist Viet Minh to power in the South as well, and the fanatic Catholic Ngô Đình Diệm was made president of South Vietnam.

Diệm saw to it that U.S. aid, food, technical and general assistance was given to Catholics alone, Buddhist individuals and villages were ignored or had to pay for the food aids which were given to Catholics for free. The only religious denomination to be supported was Roman Catholicism.

The Vietnamese McCarthyism turned even more vicious than its American counterpart. By 1956 Diệm promulgated a presidential order which read:

“Individuals considered dangerous to the national defense and common security may be confined by executive order, to a concentration camp.”

Supposedly to fight communism, thousands of Buddhist protesters and monks were imprisoned in “detention camps.” Out of protest, dozens of Buddhist teachers (male and female) and monks poured gasoline over themselves and burned themselves. Meanwhile some of the prison camps, which in the meantime were filled with Protestant and even Catholic protesters as well, had turned into straight-up death camps. During this period of terror (1955-1960) at least 80,000 people were executed, 275,000 had been detained or tortured, and about 500,000 were sent to the detention camps.

We hear a lot about the Vietnam War and how awful it was and how American soldiers suffered when they came home and so on. We don’t hear a lot about how if affected the Vietnamese people (at least two million of whom were killed in the war, as opposed to fifty-eight thousand Americans), and we certainly don’t hear much about the religious bullshit which caused a good chunk of the war. Even some Vietnamese friends of mine have never heard of Ngô Đình Diệm. 

The given history of Vietnam is: the end of the French occupation, some “stuff” happened, and then the US was at war. That “stuff” was the US support for Diệm, and everything that happened in Vietnam afterwards was a reaction to that.

Both the Vietnamese government and the US failed to recognise that it takes a lot for a guy to burn himself in the village square, and that this was not the action of an isolated lunatic; he had the support of more or less the entire Buddhist community in Saigon.

Now you know.

On June 11th, 1963 a Buddhist protest march was making it’s way down one of Saigon’s busiest arteries, Phan-Dinh-Phung St. The procession of around 400 Buddhist monks and Nuns moved through the city until they hit Le-Van-Duyet St where a light blue Austin that was part of the procession, the car seen in the background of the picture, stopped. The hood was raised as if the car had engine trouble while the nuns and monks in the parade quickly surrounded the car forming a circle of some seven monks deep. Thich Quang Duc a 66 year old monk calmly got out of the car and walked to the center of the circle sitting on a cushion provided for him. His religious brothers removed a jerry can of fuel from the car and proceeded to pour it over Quang-Duc who was now meditating in the lotus position. Quang-Duc with his Buddhist prayer beads in his right hand, then opened a box of matches, lit one and was instantly engulfed in flames. He did not move while his body was incinerated.

Quang duc, a Vietnamese monk sacrificed himself for his religion. He was burned in gasoline, showing no sign of pain. He simply sat there in a lotus position. During the time government favored catholics and persecuted Buddhists. He had to burn himself to get attention!
no one should ever have to show this much bravery.