THE BURNING MONK

Years ago I saw a photograph of a monk in a sitting meditating
position burning to death. I was wondering why a monk would
want to die in such a painful manner and his reason and motive.
I guessed it must be something very critical as I have studied
and practised Buddhism before and I understand its teachings
quite well. A monk is supposed to live in peace and also a
vegetarian (for the Mahayana Sect) and suicide is definitely
not allowed to end one’s life for whatever reason. Then I came
across this article below and I believed it relates to the
photograph I saw. 

Thich Quang Duc - The Burning Monk
By Aazdak Alisimo

Buddhism is usually known for its gentle ways and belief in
non-violence in order to solve problems, but occasionally more
dramatic displays happen, like Thich Quang Duc – the burning monk.

Who was Thich Quang Duc – the burning monk? Duc was born
in 1897 in Vietnam, and became a Vietnamese Buddhist monk
who lived in the Linh-Mu Pagoda in the town of Hue. He lived
in a monastic community from the age of seven up until his
death at the age of 67. He practiced a very severe ascetic
lifestyle and meditation practice for years – and was considered
a bodhisattva at the time of his death, an enlightened one.

Thich Quang Duc came into the public eye on June 11, 1963,
when he and two other monks drove to a busy intersection in
Saigon, Vietnam. Duc sat in the middle of the road in the
traditional lotus position, and had the other monks pour
gasoline over his body. He then ignited a match, and set
himself on fire. Duc burned to death in a matter of minutes,
and he was immortalized in a famous photograph taken by a
reporter who was in Vietnam in order to photograph the war.
All those who saw this spectacle were taken by the fact that
Duc did not make a sound while burning to death.

Thich Quang Duc was quick to point out (in letters left for the press)
that his self-immolation was not an act of suicide, which would go
against his Buddhist beliefs. Instead, Duc viewed the burning as a
wake up call, a way to call attention to his cause. His death has
been termed a “religious suicide” by Chinese Buddhism scholars,
who state that it was religiously justified based on texts found
dating back to the 5th and 10th centuries BCE. Others think the
opposite, that this suicide was not at all religiously driven and was
instead a political act.

Duc had burned himself in order to bring awareness to his cause,
which was the belief that Vietnam was suffocating Buddhist tradition.
He wanted the ban on flying the traditional Buddhist flag lifted,
wanted Buddhism to have the same rights as Catholicism did,
and wanted Buddhist monks to have the right to practice their
religion, among other goals. Thich Quang Duc's self-immolation,
along with the picture it created, did have some impact on these
goals, including the overthrowing of the Catholic Diem regime that
was in possession of South Vietnam.

While burning to death may not seem the best way to attain one's
religious and even political goals, the experience of Thich Quang Duc
– the burning monk shows that extreme measures can have an effect.

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