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20 October, 2007


June 11, 1963, Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam, burned himself to death at a busy intersection in downtown Saigon to bring attention to the repressive policies of the Catholic Diem regime that controlled the South Vietnamese government at the time. Buddhist monks asked the regime to lift its ban on flying the traditional Buddhist flag, to grant Buddhism the same rights as Catholicism, to stop detaining Buddhists and to give Buddhist monks and nuns the right to practice and spread their religion.

While burning Thich Quang Duc never moved a muscle.

Before the Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Due burned himself alive in 1963, he meditated for several weeks and then wrote very loving letters to his government, his church, and his fellow monks and turns explaining why he had reached the decision. When you are motivated by love and the willingness to help others attain understanding, even self-immolation can be a compassionate act. When Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified, He was acting in the same way, motivated by the desire to wake people up, to restore understanding the compassion, and to save people. When you are motivated by anger or discrimination, even if you act in exactly the same way, you are doing the opposite.

When you read Thich Quang Duc's letters, you know very clearly that he was not motivated by the wish to oppose or destroy but by the desire to communicate. When you are caught in a war in which the great powers have huge weapons and complete control of the mass media, you have to do something extraordinary to make yourself heard. Without access to radio, television, or the press, you have to create new ways to help the world understand the situation you are in Self-immolation can be such a means. If you do it out of love, you act very much as Jesus did on the cross and as Gandhi did in India. Gandhi fasted, not with anger, but with compassion, not only towards his countrymen but also toward the British. These great men all knew that it is the truth that sets us free, and they did everything they could to make the truth known.
Budhist and Christian practice is the same--to make the truth available--the truth about ourselves, the truth about our brothers and sisters, the truth about our situation. This is the work of writers, preachers, the media, and also practitioners. Each day, we practice looking deeply into ourselves and into the situation of our brothers and sisters. It is the most serious work we can do.


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