Sacrifice in Vietnam

50 years ago today 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 régime 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 régime, 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 vic­tim’s fam­il­ies and pun­ish those respons­ible for their deaths.

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 when 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 was 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.

Arash Sharifi

Arash Shari­fi

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Arash Sharifi

Arash Sharifi

Arash has been pas­sion­ate about Hip hop for many years. He believes through hip hop you can teach, edu­cate and empower people to become bet­ter ver­sions of them­selves and help and sup­port their com­munity and oth­ers. Hip hop is more than just music, it can be a teach­er to us all.

About Arash Sharifi

Arash Sharifi
Arash has been passionate about Hip hop for many years. He believes through hip hop you can teach, educate and empower people to become better versions of themselves and help and support their community and others. Hip hop is more than just music, it can be a teacher to us all.

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