Ngo Dinh Diem is the president,
20 Ngo Dinh Nhu the
Ngo Dinh Can warlord of Hué province,
Ngo Dinh Luyen an ambassador,
Ngo Dinh Thuc the archbishop of Hué,
French-educated, Catholic quislings,
last oligarchs of the ancien régime
at war with the Buddhist sects, having
public displays of faith—flags or
But the monks of Hué, the scholars’
Vietnam’s center of Buddhist learning,
30 defied the ban on Buddha’s
the Ngo’s had not enforced days before
on the twenty-fifth anniversary
Thuc’s installation as bishop.
Armored army troops attacked the
nine killed, two children, and
Thousands marched in outrage. The
united around a manifesto
to the government of South Vietnam
demanding punishment, compensation,
40 equal treatment for
Diem considered compromising but
Tru Le Xuan, Nhu’s grasping wife,
the effort and he equivocated,
signed a communiqué but then added
a note calling the Buddhist sects
See Thich Quang Duc emerge from the
He’s 73, practiced ascetic,
a rebuilder of temples, director
of rituals, monk at Hué’s Quan The Am
50 temple and prepared in his
though weak now. He’s helped to the
where he sits in the lotus position
how he has sat his whole life, whole
looking to become a bodhisattva,
volunteer for a Buddhist martyr’s
His life is
his to give away today.
His fellow monks pour the pink mix of
gasoline half diesel fuel they tested
for the hottest, longest possible
60 onto Quang Duc’s
robes and head, as he stays
silent, meditating, holding the match.
Does he think of ancient Godhika high
on Black Rock, Isigili mountain, who’d
reached release six times in
only to fall back into samsāra?
The seventh time Godhika slit his
Buddha and his monks were traveling
to see him, but saw a dark cloud
raging across the whole sky. “That’s
70 the Wicked,”
Buddha said, “looking to see
where Godhika’s consciousness has been
But Godhika has achieved nirvana;
his consciousness is established
Quang Duc says “nan mo amita Buddha,
nan mo amita
“return to eternal Buddha,”
match and drops it on his wet robe.
becomes a force around him, billows
flames, black smoke separating
80 him from his
fellow monks and gray-robed nuns
him as he maintains perfect
posture, meditating through the flames
into death. The flames around him,
reaching up to twice his sitting height.
face blackening, eyes clenched in pain,
sickening smell of his burning flesh
the crowd. Halberstam notes how
beings burn surprisingly quickly.”
a fire truck from responding,
90 and unfurl a
sign for the western press:
priest burns for Buddhist demands.”
Quang Duc burns for ten
in Browne’s photos, shaking America.
this in Christianity
suicides were assigned, by Dante,
stumps to hell’s seventh circle.
Christendom had witnessed in the past
faith and of defiance.
Crusade in 1095 began
100 with a little
Rhineland house cleaning
knights killing Jewish neighbors
who refused to convert. And many Jews
chose to follow the example of the
apostasy or agony.
during the Black Death, blamed on
Jews by the
Christian public, crowds attacked,
throughout Europe five hundred Jewish
neighborhoods. Vienna’s Rabbi Jonah
110 gathered his
people in their synagogue
killed themselves before being killed.
The synagogues of Worms, Krems,
and Frankfurt did the same.
World too—defiant suicides—
the thousands in Spanish
killed themselves instead of
to church, state, and slavery.
body twists forward as the flames
His compatriots gather
120 his rigid,
sitting corpse, which cannot fit
coffin they brought. As they drive past,
a charred arm sticking out, smoking.
Tru Le Xuan, when
she hears the news, declares
Duc’s death a barbecue and offers free
gasoline and matches to other monks.
“Let them burn!” she said, “We shall
clap our hands.”
But the Kennedy Administration
wasn’t clapping, not with such a photo
on the front page. “How could this
130 asks, shouts
JFK, “Who are these people?
Why didn’t we know about them before?”
Then fiery August: Thich Nguyen Huong
himself alone in Phanthiet, and
seventeen-year-old Thich Thanh Thuc in Hué,
Buddhist nun, Dieu Quang, in Ninh Hoa,
and again in
Hué, elder Thich Tieu Dieu.
administration shifts its support
encouragement for a coup.
State Rusk, when asked why
140 by Ambassador
Nolting in Saigon,
cannot stand any more burnings.”
continue with monk Thich Quang Huong
near the Saigon market—
others alerted again—
alone pours the gas, lights the match.
kick the watching journalists.
more Buddhists prepare to die.
November, the Ngo’s are
and Can assassinated
and Tru Le Xuan in exile.
Three weeks later Kennedy lies dead
The U.S. now takes control of the war.
other war continues between
South Vietnamese Government
sects. The Buddhist leaders engage
continued social protest trying
to define a Third Way, not that of the
Viet Cong nor that of the government.
Self-sacrificial burnings their main strength.
“Such grisly scenes have not been
Christian martyrs marched hand in hand
Roman arenas,” Senator Frank Church.
his Senate Committee.
Nothing like this in Christianity.
Until Alice Herz, 82 year-old
Universalist, on March the 16th
1965, utterly alone,
170 no monks, no
nuns, no priests standing with her,
herself with cleaning fluid flames
on a downtown street corner in
“I did it to protest the arms race all
over the world,” she told a fireman
attending to her burns in the
“I wanted to burn myself like the
did.” Her note denounced the
“use of high office by our President,
in trying to wipe out small nations.
180 I want to call
attention to this problem
the illuminating death of a Buddhist.”
Then exactly two years after the coup
against Diem, Norman Morrison acts
out the tale
of Abraham and Isaac
Secretary of Defense
Robert McNamara’s office at the
Secretary of the Friends
Baltimore, Morrison is
of three, including
Emily whom he carries
accelerant to the very
steps of the Pentagon. He puts her
away from where he makes his own altar
himself upon it with fire.
act of faith” he said once teaching
wrote to his wife, “Dearest Anne, Please
condemn me … For weeks, even months,
I have been
praying only that I be
200 shown what I
must do. This morning I was shown …
At least I
shall not plan to go without
my child, as
Abraham did. Know that I
love thee but must act for the
United Nations one week
LaPorte, a 22
year-old Catholic Worker sits at dawn
himself on fire. U.N guards
put out the
flames, ask him why he did this.
against war, all wars,” he explains,
210 “I did this as
a religious action.”
treated for his critical burns
New York goes dark—it is the great
of ‘65. LaPorte dies in two days.
Vietnam Thich Quang Duc becomes
hero and bodhisattva.
The car that carried him will be
tactic of self-immolation
celebrated in repetition
government, against the war,
220 peaking in ’66
In May ’66
four young women burn
themselves to death and three more
burn in June.
A year later Nhat Chi Mai prepares a
banner that proclaims her wish:
“Kneeling down with my lotus-shaped
I ask Virgin Mary and Bodhisattva
Avalokitesavara to help
me to have
my wish fulfilled. I offer
my body as a
torch to repel
230 darkness, to
awaken human beings,
peace to Vietnam,” before she
burns herself on Vesak, Buddha’s
50,000 march in her funeral.
America after LaPorte’s
Catholic Worker leaders
Dorothy Day and Tom Cornell, with
Daniel Berrigan, all urge activists
follow this path, question whether
self-immolation was true non-violence.
240 Their lives
aren’t theirs, but God’s to give away.
turns from this tactic, believes
living sacrifices as strong
ones, remembers with regret
burning Buddhists—burning monks,
burning Catholics, and burning
calling for peace with their flesh
through the flames.