Thich Quang Duc (释广德) [1897-1963]

Thich Quang Duc - Buddhist Abbot
Thich Quang Duc – Buddhist Abbot

‘During the burning process, he did not move a muscle, nor did he utter a sound, but remained surprisingly calm throughout. His composed behaviour was in stark contrast to the people around him who were wailing.’

(New York Times Reporter: David Halberstam 11.6.63)

Moment of Ignition
Moment of Ignition

Thich Quang Duc is a Buddhist ordination name that is written in Chinese script as ‘释广德’ (Shi Guang De), and which translates as ‘Venerable Broad Virtue’. He burnt himself to death in a Saigon street on the 11th of June, 1963 in protest to the US led aggression that was destroying Vietnam, which was assisted in this task by the Western Catholic and Protestant churches, who actively sought to undermine traditional Confucian, Buddhist, and Daoist beliefs, through the acts of proselytising and conversion. The US government was funding and arming a Vietnamese Westernised clique that was both middle class and Catholic. They unleashed a reign of rightwing terror on the people of Vietnam that would eventually lead to the death of millions of Vietnamese men, women, and children – a crime that is ignored by the Western media which chooses to focus upon the 58,000 US Servicemen that lost their lives during America’s failed invasion and attempted subjugation of that country. Of particular focus for this clique was a Buddhist establishment that was highly respected amongst the Vietnamese people, and which was philosophically indifferent to the theistic presence of Christianity. For Christianity to spread, the Buddhist establishment in Vietnam had to be checked and destroyed.

The elderly abbot Thich Quang Duc (who was 66 years old at the time) volunteered to set an example whereby the demonstrated power and strength of Buddhist mind and body discipline, would send shock waves around the world, and eventually lead to the downfall of the US military involvement in his country. Thich Quang Duc sat upright during the burning process and did not move. Afterwards, his body was cremated and his heart was found to be intact – thus proving to many the purity of his being. It is said that Thich Quang Duc was a Vietnamese Ch’an monk and one time teacher of the famous Thich Nhat Hanh – but that this association is now played down by Thich Nhat Hanh due to his abandonment of his home country during its time of struggle and his relocation to the USA (and France) – two historical enemies of Vietnam that inflicted much suffering on her people – the very suffering that Thich Quang Duc was protesting against.

Thich Quang Duc was an extraordinary person. He sat quietly and at peace whilst a young monk poured petrol over his head and body – he was wearing only a thin robe. When the petrol was ignited – the flames spread instantaneously over the surface of his body and across the ground upon which he was sitting crossed legs in a perfect meditation position. His hands did not move as the outer layer of his body burned away and the inner layers caught fire. The body-wide pain was excruciating and yet Thich Quang Duc sat with a quiet dignity that seems – particularly in the famous photographs – to be stronger in its concentrative strength than the obvious physical pain being experienced. It is not a denial of the physicality of the presence of pain – far from it – the demonstration could not have been more public, but rather that the most intense pain imaginable in the world could be accommodated and transcended by a well trained mind. This is an example of self-control that all Buddhists should sit up and take note of. It’s an interesting question to ask as to how many Buddhists could apply the teachings of the Buddha in such a humble and yet dynamic manner as that example set by Thich Quang Duc? The obvious answer is not many. This is how his body looked just before the life function left it for good:

Posture is Held
Posture is Held

Despite the fact that hundreds – if not thousands of Vietnamese were present to witness this dramatic event – it is curious that within Western media and historical narratives it is only the word of one or two Americans who were present that are taken as objective ‘proof’ that such a Buddhist event ever occurred at all. This obvious Eurocentric bias underlies the far greater problem of American racist attitudes which are often inseparably coupled with rightwing Christian assumptions about the world.   Thich Quang Duc’s action produced a mind altering paradigm shift throughout the world that is still being discussed today. He demonstrated the power of Buddhist mind control during a very painful death – whereas no Christian believers (beyond the realms of imagination, superstition, or the paranormal) have managed to rise from the dead.

©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2015.

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