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.
- 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.