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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.

The Burning Monk

On June 11th, 1963 a Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc entered a busy square in Saigon accompanied 350 of his fellow monks and nuns. The monks and nuns formed a circle around Duc as he was saturated with gasoline, and to the shock of foreign corresponds and journalists, was lit on fire.  As the flames consumed Duc, he sat serenely in lotus position, completely oblivious to pain as he was consumed by fire.  When the flames died down, what remained was a blackened, charred corpse.

The self immolation of Thich Quang Duc resulted in one of the most iconic photographs of Vietnam in the 1960′s. As news of the self immolation traveled around the world, the question arose, why did he do it?

At the time South Vietnam was primarily governed by a Vietnamese politician named Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem had been made President of South Vietnam in 1955 after winning a heavily rigged election.  Although he was officially the president of a representative government, in reality he had the powers of a dictator. Diem was a Catholic, and throughout his rule he enacted pro Catholic policies that heavily discriminated against non-Catholics. Around 70-90% of South Vietnamese citizens were Buddhist, but despite being the overwhelming majority Buddhists found themselves second class citizens in their own country. Catholics were favored for high ranking military and civil positions, while Buddhists were likewise barred from such positions while Buddhists serving in the military were turned down for promotions. Catholics also were granted several privileges such as special tax breaks and exemption from corvee labor (labor performed in lieu of taxes).  The government distributed firearms to local defense militias, but only to those in Catholic villages. The Catholic Church was the largest land owner in the country, and was granted special exemptions in land acquisitions. Catholic priests and bishops often had private armies, which would loot or demolish Buddhist temples, or conduct forced conversion of villages. The Vatican Flag was flown at official government and public events, yet the Buddhist flag was often banned during Buddhist holidays. In order to publicly celebrate Buddhists holidays, special government permission was needed.  In 1959, Diem officially dedicated South Vietnam to the Virgin Mary. Yeah Diem was a man of incredible chutzpah as well as excessive stupidity. 

 Diem’s Pro-Catholic policies led to severe distrust between the South Vietnamese people and the Diem regime. In May, the Diem government decreed that the Buddhist flag could not be flown in Hue during the Buddhist holiday called Vesak, which celebrates the Buddha’s birthday. In response, people protested by taking to the streets and marching with Buddhist flags. Government forces responded by firing on the crowd, killing nine. Protests erupted across the country.  In one incident, when monks occupied a square in protest, soldiers and police poured liquid tear gas chemicals on the monk’s heads, severely wounding 69.  Martial law was also declared, and the military undertook a campaign or raiding Buddhist temples, shrines, and pagodas. As the protests grew, the Diem regime responded with increasingly heavy handed tactics. When students in Saigon protested, Diem order 1,000 of them arrested and sent to re-education camps, some of them being as young as 5.

After Duc’s self immolation many other monks would repeat the act in protest. It is often erroneously stated that Duc burned himself to protest the Vietnam War, however this is not true.  It should be noted though that throughout the Vietnam War, 5 American anti-war protesters repeated the act between 1965 and 1970. Many people in Eastern Europe would do the same in the late 1960′s and 1970′s in protest against Communism and the Soviet Union. 

Under pressure from the American Government, South Vietnam’s prime backer, Diem agreed to a list of demands by the Buddhists.  However, Diem never followed through with the agreement. In October of 1963, a US backed coup erupted and toppled Diem’s regime.  Diem was captured while trying to escape on November 1st, and was executed by bayonet.

The Burning Monk

by Samsaran

Thích Quảng Đức was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk burned himself to death in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) on June 11 June 1963 to protest the treatment of Buddhists by Viet Nam’s Catholic President.

The monk remained in full lotus meditative position fully composed the entire time he was consumed by flames. Hundreds of people in that crowded market prostrated themselves before him. Even the policemen sent to stop the protest bowed before him.

He is revered as a Bodhisattva and greatly venerated by his people for his action. With all due respect to Thích Quảng Đức, I believe that taking his life in that manner was not a Buddhist act. We revere life. The courageous monk’s action changed nothing in Viet Nam but it was captured in an award-winning photograph by Malcolm Browne.

Today nobody much remembers why he did it but we all remember how he did it. How even in the face of incredible pain and the knowledge of his imminent death the 66-year-old monk never cried out and displayed no fear just perfect serenity.

The lesson can we draw from this is: “it can be done”. It is just as possible for us to conquer fear as it was for this man. It can be done and we can do it. Regular people. Us. Sam.

Good Morning, Witches!

Our self care theme continues on today!  

I wanted to try something a little bit different today.  Today and tomorrow’s spells are based off a meditation by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.  This is a guided meditation using  pebbles as anchoring tools.  You start by choosing four pebbles/stones.  The first represents a flower.  The second, a mountain.  The third stone represents calm waters.  The final stone is space.  Each of these pebbles represents a different aspect of ourselves that can be accessed to self-regulate.

So, today we are exploring ourselves as flowers and mountains.  Tomorrow’s spells will follow a calm waters and space theme. 

-mod Jen


Brazilian artist makes history feel like the present with beautiful colorized photos

Marina Amaral is a professional colorist. Her job isn’t simply to add color, but to communicate an image’s history. The artist puts hours of research into her colorizations, contacting historians to get their expert opinions on the original colors of the subject material. Her projects often reflect significant historical moments like the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, or the self-immolation of Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk Thích Quang Duc in 1963, bringing a sense of modernity and immediacy to familiar images.

“Just like our organs, our anger is part of us. When we are angry, we have to go back to ourselves and take good care of our anger. We cannot say, ‘Go away, anger, I don’t want you.’ When you have a stomachache, you don’t say, ‘I don’t want you stomach, go away.’ No, you take care of it. In the same way, we have to embrace and take good care of our anger.”

— Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Thích Nhất Hạnh

Listen to the Silence (LTS) is an annual conference organized by the Stanford Asian American Students’ Association. It attempts to raise awareness on Asian-American issues and act as a foundation for discussion. We cannot solve decades-long racial and ethnic injustices in one day, and this is not the purpose of LTS. Every year, the goal changes as with the new directors of the project. Nevertheless, it will always be a safe space for dialogue — whether or not you are Asian-American, whatever your sexual orientation, and no matter the labels you or society places on you.

As an Asian-American who is angry, I would highly recommend any of you to attend this conference in the future — especially those of you who would like to think about what it means to be Asian-American. There is more to the concept than just a racial classification. There is more to it than the culture. There is much more to it than a connection to Asia. Our existence as Asian-Americans is strange one. Please spend some time considering it.

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.

Somewhere near Mỹ Xuyên, Vietnam.

“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.“
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

His name is Thạch Ken Buddhist Monk, 81 Years old. When my friend Hy went back to his home town for a wedding, and to deliver a print of this image to Mr. Ken, he didn’t want to talk too much about his personal life. All he wanted to say is that in the next life he hopes to live in one of the following countries, Thailand, Cambodia, America, England, or France. He also relayed the message for me to take care of my health. 


Thích Quảng Đức (1897 – 11 June 1963, born Lâm Văn Túc), 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.