Thich Quang Duc - Monk Fire Protest - Self-Immolation Photographs - Not Acts Of Integral Thinking - Vietnam War Atrocities - Pentagon Papers - Daniel Ellsberg - US Propaganda - Spiritual Transfiguration

The original title of the report that would later become famous as the Pentagon Papers was "United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense," a 47-volume, 7,000-page, top-secret United States Department of Defense history of the United States' political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1971. In 1971 former State Department official Daniel Ellsberg leaked this study, proving to the world that the U.S. government had lied repeatedly in order to manufacture continued support for its unprovoked and genocidal war on the Vietnamese people. Ellsberg went into hiding for several months as the U.S. mounted one the largest manhunts ever to apprehend him. Numerous newspapers including the New York Times, Washington Post and St. Louis Post-Dispatch came to Ellsberg's defense, printing the "Pentagon Papers" material in defiance of the government's declaration that it would be treasonous to do so. President Nixon was incensed at the time, fuming to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger that "people have gotta be put to the torch for this sort of thing" and "let's get the son-of-a-bitch in jail." One doubts whether in 2007 a similar patriotism challenging the Bush-FOX-corporate-media-war-profiteering propaganda machine would gain such traction.

Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers demonstrates that the U.S. -- entrusted with carrying the torch for international human rights after WWII -- opted to take the moral low road, undermining democracy throughout the world as a means to exploit energy resources and labor markets for U.S.-based multinational corporations.

Increasingly the media is little more than an obsequious and enabling mouthpiece for U.S. State Department propaganda. This is due to a convergence of interests in which multinational corporations own both the media and the machinery of war itself, profiting from hate-mongering and disinformation that deceive the public into supporting wars that are increasingly privatized and converted into the personal gains of major financial players -- while the poor and shrinking middle class are responsible for paying the resulting enormous national debt (currently over $9 trillion) that will take five or more generations to pay off (through increased payroll taxes to the first $90K of people's incomes -- while increases on capital gains taxes paid by billionaires are of course off-the-table to consideration). But this is what the war-profiting Central Bankers of the world want, ever since the Federal Reserve system was forced on the U.S. in 1913. Debt = Corporate Rule = Slavery = One World Government. (For more information, see Zeitgeist Movie 2007, Aaron Russo's America: Freedom To Fascism, and Alex Jones' Endgame: Blueprint For Global Enslavement.) As of August 2007 Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve chair, no longer invests in U.S. currency because of looming recession and chronic devaluation of the dollar versus other currencies (for example, the U.S. dollar has lost over a third of its value against the Canadian dollar in the past six months alone). Meanwhile, the family of President George W. Bush and the religious extremist owner of the neoconservative Washington Times have just made enormous personal land purchases near a secret U.S. military base in Chaco, Paraguay (Bush bought 100,000 acres, Reverend Moon bought 1.5 million). The sale was made following Bush's sister Jenna's diplomatic visit with Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte and U.S. Ambassador James Cason (which of course went unreported in the U.S.). The fruit of Jenna's effort was the Paraguayan Senate's vote this past summer to grant U.S. citizens immunity from International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction (read: no threat of extradition for war crimes). Paraguay, if you'll recall, was a favored destination for ex-Nazi officials after WWII. What this all points to is that the current U.S. leadership cares not for the future of the U.S. -- demonstrated by their robbery of the treasury and making war on the world for personal gain -- and have created a nice fascist getaway for themselves beyond the reach of international law. For more information click here (need to make link - y2007dec20.html).

Remedies for the ailing United States democracy include (but are by no means limited to): enforcing civilian control of the military; removing conflicts of interest between public servants and the corporations they are charged with monitoring; enacting mandatory public financing of election campaigns; and revoking the charters of media and other corporations that fail to serve the public interest -- e.g., pollute and disinform with impunity.

This page contains several photographs of Thich Quang Duc, a South Vietnamese buddhist monk who set himself ablaze in Saigon on June 16, 1963 in protest of U.S.-sponsored atrocities during the so-called "Vietnam War" (the Vietnamese call it the "American War"). Included are two pictures of an unidentified monk who torched himself (also in protest of the CIA puppet dictator Diem's government terrorist policies). Included also is a photo of Thich Quang Duc's heart that miraculously did not burn, and is now kept at the Reserve Bank of Vietnam.

I make a comparison between the red flames of self-immolation and the white light of spiritual transfiguration, arguing that there are two types of "combustion" available to the human being, each representing an opposite pole of social and spiritual evolution/devolution.

I present an overview of some website correspondence I've had on the subject of Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation. I argue that the life- or world-negating quality of Quang Duc's sacrifice is reflective of a dualistic/schismatic line of thinking shared by all of the world's religions. I argue that "heaven," "hell," "nirvana," "paradise," et cetera are not "other" physical places or states of consciousness: rather, that such states can be experienced as being -- and in fact are -- right here, right now, this world, this place. In other words, enlightenment/salvation/nirvana is not an abstract state of consciousness: It is your heart and body -- the very world that you occupy in the present moment. You cannot embody this fact -- nor become conscious of this fact, nor attain your spiritual path's goal -- through setting yourself ablaze in a self-destructive act of political protest.

I present the Buddha's Discourse On Fire, a repost from the Hindu website, in order to show Buddhist doctrinal support that one's senses and indeed, the entirety of this world, are something to be withdrawn from.

I present a summary of The Pentagon Papers from that details how on May 11, 1973 a federal court judge dismissed all espionage, theft, and conspiracy charges against Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony J. Russo of the New York Times because of improper government conduct. (On orders of President Nixon the same group of CIA assets that had carried out the Watergate break-in also broke into the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist and stole his confidential pyschological file in the hopes of unearthing information by which to smear him.)

I present additional commentary on the historical and religious context of Thich Quang Duc's immolation from Mystic Unlimited,, and Wikipedia. The Mystic piece in particular seeks to contextualize self-immolation in a broader understanding of Buddhist doctrine. Thich Quang Duc's was a brave and determined act that called the world's attention to the suffering of his people. Some call it a constructive act. While I agree that the self-immolation certainly generated much good attention to the plight of South Vietnamese Buddhists, Duc's was still a horrible, unnatural, and untimely death. My argument against such self-destruction lies in the belief that one should never "do harm," and that the "means" must always be consistent with the "ends." Do you think Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi would light themselves on fire? I don't think so. Rather than killing themselves, they mounted massive movements of religious and political protest against the ongoing injustices to their people. Though all Gandhi and King wanted was peace (and more threateningly, economic equality), both leaders were assassinated by the financial establishment. (Read here for more on President John F. Kennedy, The Federal Reserve And Executive Order 11110. The order was signed on June 4, 1963 just five months before Kennedy's assassination, and sought to strip the Federal Reserve of its right to loan money at interest to the U.S. government, placing the authority to issue currency back into the hands of the U.S. people. In the five months before his death Kennedy brought over $4 billion of silver and gold-backed currency into circulation, threatening the monopoly of the privately owned Federal Reserve Bank of New York, whose currency is backed by NOTHING. Though Executive Order 11,110 is still in force nearly 50 years later, no President has moved an inch to implement it, with all precious metal backed "United States Notes" issued by Kennedy recalled soon after his death. Kennedy's assassination is widely viewed as a warning to all future US Presidents: DON'T FOLLOW THE MONEY. The United States' financial freedom, among other more important freedoms, died with JFK. Google search for "JFK assassination, Federal Reserve.")

This page ends with a 59 minute recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous April 4, 1967 speech, "Beyond Vietnam," where Dr. King describes the U.S. as being "on the verge of spiritual death" due to its being "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world."

August 19, 2001 -- Political Letters


I've been reading The Pentagon Papers, a book detailing the massive deceptions perpetrated by the U.S. government regarding the events leading up to and including the Vietnam War. The lies and crimes committed by the U.S. in the name of its foreign policies are astounding. To think that hundreds of thousands of people -- or millions when you add in Cambodia and Laos -- died in that illegal, inhumane war fills me with shame and anger. Daniel Ellsberg and the others who revealed what the U.S. State Department called "national secrets" ("national lies" would be more apt) were branded as traitors; but they should have been treated as heroes and given Nobel Peace Prizes.

There are many lessons to be learned from reading The Pentagon Papers:

1. Don't believe half of what the government tells you, especially if it involves the military or issues of "national security." The government would rather you heard lies than the complex and often dirty truth.

2. Don't believe the media either -- because they have hidden interests as well that keep them in bed with both the government and the corporations that own them outright or at the very least underwrite their programming.

3. Push for open, democratic, civilian- (as opposed to military-) controlled government.

4. Do away with the manipulation of government by corporations and the wealthy.

5. Enact mandatory public funding of elections.

Did you get all that? If we even get close to such a democratic utopia, the long-awaited thousand-year reign of peace will be at hand.

But that is not why I wanted to comment on the book. I don't care for such lengthy historical accounts: The mountains of details bore me. What I did with "The Pentagon Papers" was just read a few pages to confirm my opinion that greed, deceit, and paranoia are the operative words for U.S. foreign policy. Who needs to read more? Our military involvements throughout the world have been, on the whole, but for a few exceptions, fucked. We've toppled democracies, trained paramilitary groups to violate human rights, and so forth -- all in the name of protecting U.S. corporate interests. I'm sick of this litany of abuses. Our current president, George W. Bush, is 100% for the escalation of U.S. mercenary-like activity. I don't need to learn more about it. I'd rather continue what I've always done, which is to write letters in support of bills in Congress that aim to do something about the lack of ethics, accountability, and openness in our government. There is always nobly drafted legislation to improve the situation -- though such bills usually get killed in committee, or are otherwise watered down to the point of meaninglessness. But we need to hope for the best and keep on trying to make good bills into law.

I saw a disturbing picture in "The Pentagon Papers," a picture that meant more to me than a thousand pages of written documentation of U.S. treachery. It was of a monk who set himself on fire in protest of a U.S.-backed and U.S.-trained South Vietnamese military that imprisoned, beat, and/or killed -- thousands of Buddhist monks. There were nightly militia raids of hundreds of Buddhist pagodas in which the monks were rounded up and beaten, or worse. Many of the monks were openly critical of the brutal policies of their country's president, who was merely a puppet of the U.S. government. The monks were conscientious objectors to Diem's military dictatorship and were helping to spread knowledge -- from which sprang discontent -- among the South Vietnamese people. But the people did not need any help to see the truth: it was there in front of them, in the form of the military's everyday rape, theft, and torture of the common civilian. Indeed, with military "protection" like that, who needs enemies?

But the picture, it tells a million words. The monk's name is Thich Quang Duc, and the year is 1963. He is sitting in lotus position, deep in meditation. An empty can of gasoline lies next to him. His entire body is engulfed in flames, with dark smoke from seared flesh and burning robe rising above him. You can see the outline of his body clearly; his ear is singed off; wisps of fire encircle his head; his legs and torso are charred. He is dead, or very nearly so; yet he has not moved one inch in response to the incredible pain of his self-immolation. His fellow monks stand in a group nearby, watching the fire devour his last remaining sinews of living flesh.

Think about it. What greater act of dedication to principle, what more potent an act of protest of conscience can there be than setting oneself on fire? I would like to say none, if only to be dramatic, but that wouldn't be true. Each person has her gift: that skill by which her truth is propagated through the world. One person gives speeches, another writes books, another takes photographs, and yet another provides emotional or financial assistance to others battling for a worthy cause. If everyone set herself on fire to protest wrongdoing, then we would have no one alive with the conscience by which to make this world a better place. Nevertheless, I cried when I thought of Thich Quang Duc's courage and, most poignantly, desperation. To choose to be burned alive, and to do it with such one-pointed resolve -- and to remain absolutely still, despite the life-engulfing pain: That, indeed, is awesome. The dramatic quality of his determination makes me speechless. If only one percent of us had such self-less determination, human civilization might be a thing to be loved.

Herewith, the photo of Thich Quang Duc on fire:

From David Halberstam, a reporter for the New York Times: "I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think. As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him."

I wish to make the point that what Thich Quang Duc did was wrong. It was immoral for the monks to allow him this act of protest. It doesn't help that the Buddhist tradition is full of references to "this world" being a "house on fire" and that to attain enlightenment you must "leave the house" -- or that God and enlightenment are "not the body;" and that "you are what you think." Within this mental framework punishing the body is acceptable, provided it is done with the right thoughts or intentions. This misguided Buddhist dogma is, unfortunately, shared by other religions.

But the body possesses a wisdom more true than the mind. The mind is but a servant to the body. There is no mental or objective rationale that could ever justify harming one's body.

The truth is that the body is sacred. The truth is that Life is sacred. No one has the right to take another life: You are to kill no person; You are to kill no animal. Anything that possesses self-consciousness -- that is, anything other than a plant -- is to be loved as a brother or sister.

We must love our plants, too; but we can show this by allowing plants to grow as naturally as possible -- with forests thick and healthy, and farm crops grown without chemicals or genetic manipulation. It is okay to kill -- to harvest -- plants; but it is only through honoring them while they live that their sacrifice for us is made spiritually acceptable.

Despite my concern regarding the morality of his final act, I marvel at Thich Quang Duc's fierce determination. Though it was a nihilistic deed, and though it prevented him from assisting his fellow Vietnamese to confront a U.S.-spawned political crisis, it was instrumental -- via the photographs that captured it -- in bringing the world's attention to the unconscionable and totally preventable suffering of his people.

Lastly, as a human-fire metaphor, I see his act as being nearly the exact opposite of the phenomenon of spiritual transfiguration. Whereas Thich Quang Duc's fiery demise arose from a body-mind that had reached absolute frustration with this world -- and became, literally, consumed by death through a red, burning fire -- the event of transfiguration arises from a body-mind in complete fulfillment in/through/as this world -- an event where one is joyously, miraculously raised up to God in a brilliant, healing, white light.

To be burned at the stake, or to explode in radiant transfiguration: Such are the two extremes of what is possible on our planet. It is entirely up to humanity which outcome it chooses.

Note from June 3, 2004

In the past year or two that this post has been up, I've received a half-dozen critical comments from practicing Buddhists. At some point I will post my responses to these communications. The following is just an overview.

Some people revere Quang Duc as a saint, claiming (among other things) that his heart was untouched by the gasoline fire that consumed his body. I've been told that the Chinese government tested the heart, placing it in a 700 degree Farenheit oven, with no visible effect upon it. If this is true, it doesn't mean that Quang Duc was enlightened, but it certainly reflects a kind of siddhi (miracle) capacity of his bodily form. This could very well be the case, given his incredible feat of being burnt alive without a move.

An abbot from Texas stated that Buddhist doctrine is not life-negating -- that it is very "this worldly" in its focus. He argued that Buddhists generally do not consider this world to be on fire. Though I intend to research this more, I am certain that the beliefs cited above do in fact come from standard Buddhist doctrine (see below for a Buddhist sermon culled from an internet search for the keywords, Buddhism, on fire). But the point I was trying to make is actually quite a bit broader than a critique of Buddhism alone. All of the world's major religions regard some "other" state or condition as being the ideal. For Christians, Jesus is God (while you are not), and Heaven (some immaterial realm that can be accessed only upon physical death) is the goal of life. This schism in belief system between the "here and now" and "life's great goal" plays itself out all across the planet.

While I have no problem with the individual agency (and inherent risk of error) required to pursue goals and develop one's consciousness, I am critical of any belief system that does not embrace one's present condition. In my view, any ultimate state attainable by the human being necessarily includes and transcends our present condition: It is never something "other." Because of this, in my view, any belief system that enables a person not to take their reality seriously -- and work constructively to improve it -- is deluded.

Buddha's Discourse On Fire

The Hindu website has a great page on Buddhist doctrine. From that page comes "The Third Sermon of the Buddha," known also as Buddha's Discourse on Fire:

The Master delivered his third sermon at Uravela, to three Brahmincal ascetics and their followers whom he had just converted. Uravela Kassapa, who later became one of his chief disciples, was one among them. Since they were previously fire worshippers, he rightly delivered to them this third sermon which is popularly known as "The Discourse on Fire."

"O monks know that all things are on fire. And what are they that are on fire? The eye, the forms, the eye-consciousness, the impressions, and whatever sensation, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral that arises from the impressions received by the eye, they are all in fire.

"And with what are they on fire? I say with the fire of lust, of aversion, and passion (raga, dvesha and moha); with birth, with old age, with death, lamentation, misery, grief and despair, they are on fire.

"Similar is the case with the ear, with the nose, the tongue and the sense of touch. The mind is also on fire. The thoughts are on fire. The mind-consciousness, the impressions received by the mind and the sensations that arise from such impressions, also are on fire.

"And with what are they on fire? I say with the fire of lust, of aversion, and passion (raga, dvesha and moha); with birth, with old age, with death, lamentation, misery, grief and despair, they are on fire.

"And knowing thus O Monks, the true disciple develops an aversion to the eye, to the forms, to the eye-consciousness, to the impressions received by the eye, to the sensations arising from there, to the ear, to the nose, to the tongue, to the sense of touch, to the mind, to the thoughts, to the mind-consciousness, impressions, and sensations.

"Thereby he overcomes his desire, becomes freed and having become freed realizes that becoming is exhausted, that he has lived a pure life, that he had done what was expected of him and that he has done away with mortality for ever. "

Thus ended the third sermon of the Buddha. The monks who assembled and listened to it became free from attachment and attained Arhat and Nirvana in due course of time.


The above is NOT reflective of holistic, integral, emancipatory thinking.

Additional Pictures of Thich Quang Duc



I found this image (with accompanying descriptions) at this site.

David Halberstam: "As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him."




Additional thumbnails of Thich Quang Duc.














An unidentified monk setting himself aflame in Saigon in protest of the Diem government's anti-Buddhist, anti-democratic policies on October 5, 1963. Is that an empathetic response from the police officer casually lighting up his cigarette? :-(


A cropped version of the unidentified monk.



Someone sent me the above picture of Thich Quang Duc's heart. According to Wikipedia: "After his death, his body was cremated. During the cremation, his heart shrunk, yet remained intact. It was henceforth considered holy and placed in the care of the Reserve Bank of Vietnam."



Pentagon Papers, government study of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. Commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara in June, 1967, the 47-volume, top secret study covered the period from World War II to May, 1968. It was written by a team of analysts who had access to classified documents, and was completed in Jan., 1969. The study revealed a considerable degree of miscalculation, bureaucratic arrogance, and deception on the part of U.S. policymakers. In particular, it found that the U.S. government had continually resisted full disclosure of increasing military involvement in Southeast Asia -- air strikes over Laos, raids along the coast of North Vietnam, and offensive actions by U.S. marines had taken place long before the American public was informed. On June 13, 1971, the New York Times began publishing a series of articles based on the study. The Justice Dept. obtained a court injunction against further publication on national security grounds, but the Supreme Court ruled (June 30) that constitutional guarantees of a free press overrode other considerations, and allowed further publication. The government indicted (1971) Daniel Ellsberg, a former government employee who made the Pentagon Papers available to the New York Times, and Anthony J. Russo on charges of espionage, theft, and conspiracy. On May 11, 1973, a federal court judge dismissed all charges against them because of improper government conduct.

See the New York Times ed., The Pentagon Papers (1971); S. J. Ungar, The Papers and the Papers (1972); D. Rudenstine, The Day the Presses Stopped (1997).

From Mystic Unlimited

Burning Monk - The Self-Immolation

On June 11, 1963, Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk from the Linh-Mu Pagoda in Hue, Vietnam, burned himself to death at a busy intersection in downtown Saigon, Vietnam.. Eye witness accounts state that Thich Quang Duc and at least two fellow monks arrived at the intersection by car, Thich Quang Duc got out of the car, assumed the traditional lotus position and the accompanying monks helped him pour gasoline over himself. He ignited the gasoline by lighting a match and burned to death in a matter of minutes. David Halberstam, a reporter for the New York Times covering the war in Vietnam, gave the following account:

"I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think. As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him."

Thich Quang Duc had prepared himself for his self-immolation through several weeks of meditation and had explained his motivation in letters to members of his Buddhist community as well as to the government of South Vietnam in the weeks prior to his self-immolation. In these letters he described his desire to bring attention to the repressive policies of the Catholic Diem regime that controlled the South Vietnamese government at the time. Prior to the self-immolation, the South Vietnamese Buddhists had made the following requests to the Diem regime, asking it to: Lift its ban on flying the traditional Buddhist flag; Grant Buddhism the same rights as Catholicism; Stop detaining Buddhists; Give Buddhist monks and nuns the right to practice and spread their religion; and Pay fair compensations to the victims' families and punish those responsible for their deaths.

When these requests were not addressed by the Diem regime, Thich Quang Duc carried out his self-immolation. Following his death, Thich Quang Duc was cremated and legend has it that his heart did not burn. As a result, his heart is considered Holy and is in the custody of the Reserve Bank of Vietnam.

While Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation has received little attention from religious scholars, it has been interpreted from both a religious and political perspective. From the prevailing point of view he has been "exclusively conceptualized as a transhistorical, purely religious agent, virtually homologous with his specifically religious forebears and ancestors." Therefore, his self-immolation is seen as a "religious suicide" and is religiously justified based on Chinese Buddhist texts written between the fifth and tenth centuries C.E.

On the otherhand it has been pointed out by both Thich Nhat Hnah and Russell McCutcheon that by contextualizing the event in 1963 Vietnam, the self-immolation can be seen as a "political act" aimed at calling attention to the injustices being perpetrated against the South Vietnamese people by a puppet government of Euro-American imperialism. In this context, Thich Nhat Hnah describes the act of self-immolation as follows: "The press spoke then of suicide, but in the essence, it is not. It is not even a protest. What the monks said in the letters they left before burning themselves aimed only at alarming, at moving the hearts of the oppressors, and at calling the attention of the world to the suffering endured then by the Vietnamese. To burn oneself by fire is to prove that what one is saying is of the utmost importance. The Vietnamese monk, by burning himself, says with all his strength and determination that he can endure the greatest of sufferings to protect his people. To express will by burning oneself, therefore, is not to commit an act of destruction but to perform an act of construction, that is, to suffer and to die for the sake of one's people. This is not suicide."

Thich Nhat Hanh goes on to explain why Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation was not a suicide, which is contrary to Buddhist teachings: Suicide is an act of self-destruction, having as causes the following: (1) lack of courage to live and to cope with difficulties; (2) defeat by life and loss of all hope; (3) desire for nonexistence. The monk who burns himself has lost neither courage nor hope; nor does he desire nonexistence. On the contrary, he is very courageous and hopeful and aspires for something good in the future. He does not think that he is destroying himself; he believes in the good fruition of his act of self-sacrifice for the sake of others. I believe with all my heart that the monks who burned themselves did not aim at the death of their oppressors but only at a change in their policy. Their enemies are not man. They are intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship, cupidity, hatred, and discrimination which lie within the heart of man.

The Impact of the Self-Immolation

This famous picture was on President Kennedy's desk that day. As a result, Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation: accelerated the spread of "engaged Buddhism" that had begun in Vietnam in the 1930's; led to the overthrow of the Diem regime in South Vietnam in November of 1963; helped change public opinion against the American-backed South Vietnamese government and its war against the communist supported Viet Cong.

The social and political impact of Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation was far reaching. It was reported in the New York Times the next day. Quang Duc's act in 1963 has been followed by the self-immolation of several monks and by the continued activism of the "rebellious monks of Hue" against the communist government in Vietnam over the past three decades.

Who Was Thich Quang Duc?

Thich Quang Duc was born in 1897 and was 67 at the time of his self-immolation in 1963. He had lived in a Buddhist monastic community since he was seven years old and was ordained as a full Buddhist monk or Bhikku when he was twenty. Thich Quang Duc practiced an extreme ascetic purification way for several years, became a teacher, and spent many years rebuilding Buddhist temples in Vietnam prior to 1943. At the time of his death, he was a member of the Quan the Am temple and Director of rituals for the United Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation. Thich Quang Duc is considered to be a bodhisattva, "an enlightened being - one on the path to awakening who vows to forego complete enlightenment until he or she helps all other beings attain enlightenment."


Self-Immolation in Vietnam

The historical basis for self-immolation is unclear. The idea of sacrifice is a key in Buddhist thought and self-immolation could be thought of as the ultimate form of sacrifice. However, it is hard to totally embrace such a violent act, even if it is directed on the self. Scholars believe that the act can be traced back in history for thousands of years. Thich Nhat Hanh, a well-known authority on Buddhism, believes that the practice of self- immolation may be connected to the ritual of burning incense on one’s body as a form of vow taking. Several sources point to Buddhist scripture, especially the Lotus Sutra, as one possible origin of the practice.

No matter what the specific historical origins are for self-immolation, there is a definite connection between fire and the act of sacrifice. Many stories come to mind about pagan rituals in which plants or perhaps animals are sacrificed to the gods by fire. Self-immolation can be best thought of as a way of sacrificing one’s self in the name of ending suffering. In that sense, self-immolation transcends the idea of a religious practice or a political statement and becomes a spiritual plea for peace.

One of the earliest known uses of self-immolation as a protest against the Vietnam War is also one of the most famous. On June 16, 1963, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc immolated himself in downtown Saigon. Quang Duc was actually protesting religious persecution under the Diem regime, not the war. However, the case could be made that Diem would not have been in power had it not been for U.S. intervention in Vietnam.

Quang Duc's self-immolation was a rallying point for political protest in South Vietnam. Directly following the self-immolation:

"...the political climate in Saigon changed as if hit by the drop in pressure preceding a hurricane. Vast demonstrations broke out. The city people, who had for years remained passive, terrified before the Diemist police, crowded into the pagodas to kneel and weep, then, following the bonzes [Buddhist monks], burst forth into the streets calling for the downfall of the Ngos [the ruling family in South Vietnam]" (Fitzgerald, 74).

Obviously, Quang Duc's self-immolation had a huge effect on the South Vietnamese population. It is not surprising that Quang Duc's act also affected the Americans who later immolated themselves in protest to the war.

It is important to note that Quang Duc was not the only monk to use self-immolation as a form of protest. On August 16, 1963, only 2 months after Quang Duc's self-immolation, another monk immolated himself in Phanthiet, about 100 miles from Saigon. The use of self-immolation continued as the war waged on. In May of 1966, Thich Nu Thanh Quang, a Buddhist nun, immolated herself in the city of Hue.

Her death inspired a demonstration of some twenty thousand people in Saigon and a series of eight other self-immolations by Buddhist bonzes and nuns throughout the major cities of Vietnam...President Johnson called the suicides "tragic and unneccessary" and said that they obstructed progress towards holding the elections for a constituent assembly. On May 31, a group of students and Buddhist youths burned down the U.S. consulate in Hue (Fitzgerald, 289).

Again, it seems that the self-immolations were a rallying point for political protest in South Vietnam. While conducting my research, I was suprised to learn that self-immolation is still used today as a form of protest against religious persecution in Vietnam. Although Buddhist officials try to downplay these self-immolations, they admit that that act is often revered by the Vietnamese Buddhist community.


Fire in the Lake by Frances Fitzgerald

Self-Immolation of Thich Quang Duc by Rollie Hicks

Another Self-Immolation, News Analysis, September 8, 2001

"Beyond Vietnam" - a speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr.

This address was given on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before Dr. King's assassination. In the speech, Dr. King states that the U.S. is "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" and that if the U.S. is to avoid a "spiritual death," it must change its moral values and cease using its military might to protect corporate interests across the globe. Dr. King was one of the earliest, as well as the most prominent and articulate U.S. critic of the Vietnam War. Most of the major papers in the U.S. criticized Dr. King for making this speech, calling him "unpatriotic," a "coward," and "ignorant." During the reign of Bush II similar neo-nazi ad hominem attacks are used against citizens who question the legitimacy of the neoconservative's imperial "Global War On Terror," curtailment of civil liberties, and economic kickbacks to the corporations and financial elites that support the Bush regime. Without an independent media giving voice to dissenting views, and under the pressure of constant propaganda, large segments of the U.S. population now equate war with peace, and slavery with freedom. 1984 is here.

"Beyond Vietnam" was re-broadcast over Internet radio by Democracy Now! on Martin Luther King Day, January 16, 2006. Democracy Now! has uncompressed CD quality versions of the speech for sale.

Beyond Vietnam, 27.7 MB, 64 kbps mp3, 59:04











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