Thích Quảng Đức

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Thích Quảng Đức
Other namesBồ Tát Thích Quảng Đức
(Bodhisattva Thích Quảng Đức[1])
Born1897 (1897)
Died11 June 1963(1963-06-11) (aged 65–66)
Cause of deathBurning himself to death
Other namesBồ Tát Thích Quảng Đức
(Bodhisattva Thích Quảng Đức[1])

Thích Quảng Đức (1897 – June 11, 1963) was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. He was born in Hội Khánh, French Indochina. He committed suicide by burning himself to death while sitting in a street in Saigon.[2] He was protesting the South Vietnam's government and Catholic president Ngô Đình Diệm's persecution of Buddhists. Pictures of him burning spread around the world, and made more people know about the Buddhist crisis.

Because of Quảng Đức's protest, Diệm said that he was going to change how the government acted towards Buddhists. However, Diệm did not, so Buddhists kept protesting. The ARVN Special Forces (a group in the Vietnamese army) attacked many Buddhist pagodas in South Vietnam. They took Quảng Đức's heart, and killed many people. Many Buddhist monks were inspired by Quảng Đức, and also burned themselves to death. The Buddhist crisis ended when Diệm was killed in a coup in 1963.

Life[change | change source]

When he was born, Quảng Đức was named Lâm Văn Túc. He had six siblings. When he was seven, he left Hội Khánh to study Buddhism. His teacher, Thích Hoằng Thâm, took care of him. Lâm Văn Túc changed his name to Nguyễn Văn Khiết. When he was 20, he became a monk, and was renamed to Thích Quảng Đức. After becoming a monk, he went to live in a mountain in Khánh Hòa. He lived there as a hermit for three years. Later in his life, he came back to the mountain to make a pagoda.[3]

After being a hermit for three years, he left the mountain. Quảng Đức traveled around central Vietnam teaching people about the dharma. After two years, he went into retreat at a pagoda near Nha Trang. In 1932, he became an inspector (someone that makes sure rules are being followed) for the Buddhist Association in Ninh Hòa. He later became an inspector for monks in Khánh Hòa, the province where he was born. While he was in central Vietnam, he helped build 14 temples.[3][4] In 1934, he moved to southern Vietnam and taught people about Buddhism. He later went to Cambodia for two years to learn about Theravada Buddhism.

After he came back to Vietnam, he helped build 17 more temples. After building these temples, Quảng Đức became a leading member of the Congregation of Vietnamese Monks. He also became the abbot (Buddhist temple leader) of the Phuoc Hoa pagoda.[3]

Protest[change | change source]

Background[change | change source]

About 70 to 90 percent of people in South Vietnam were Buddhist.[5][6] However, the country's president, Ngô Đình Diệm, was Catholic. He made many laws that made things easier for Catholics, such as being promoted in the military and getting land.[7] Many officers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam became Catholic so they could still be officers. When village militias in South Vietnam were given weapons, they were only given to Catholics. Some Buddhists in the army were not promoted unless they became Catholic.

Some Catholic priests had their own armies.[8] Some of them made people become Catholic and destroyed pagodas. The government did not do anything about this.[9] Some Buddhist villages became Catholic so that the government could help them.[10] Catholics did not have to do corvée (unpaid) work, which the government made everyone else do. When the United States gave money to South Vietnam, Diệm gave most of it to Catholic villages.[11]

The Catholic Church was the largest landowner in South Vietnam. The Vatican flag was shown at all major events in South Vietnam.

Many Buddhists got very angry when the government did not let them show the Buddhist flag in Huế on Buddha's birthday. Earlier, the government let Catholics show the Vatican flag at an event for Ngô Đình Thục, an archbishop. A large group of Buddhists protested this, and marched while showing Buddhist flags on Buddha's birthday. Government soldiers shot at the group, and killed nine people. Diệm said that the Viet Cong were the ones who killed the protestors. This led to more Buddhist protests.

Burning[change | change source]

A picture of the protest taken by Malcolm Browne.

On June 10 1963, United States journalists in South Vietnam were told that "something important" would happen the next day in front of the Cambodian embassy in Saigon.[11] Most of the journalists did not do anything, because the Buddhist crisis had been going on for a month. The next day, only a few journalists went to the Cambodian embassy. Quảng Đức came to the embassy as a member of a Buddhist parade. Around 350 monks and nuns were in the parade, and they were led by a car. They had signs with words in Vietnamese and English that said Diệm's laws against Buddhists were bad. They wanted religious equality.[11]

The parade stopped, and Quảng Đức came out of the car with two monks. One of them put a cushion on the road in front of the embassy, and another got a five-gallon can of gasoline from the trunk of the car. Quảng Đức sat on the cushion in lotus position, and the gasoline was poured onto him. He rotated a string of prayer beads in his hands, and then used a match to light himself on fire. Flames went around his entire body, and a thick black smoke came off of him.[11][12]

The car Thích Quảng Đức traveled in before burning himself to death.

Quảng Đức's last words were in a letter. He wrote that Diệm needed to have religious equality in South Vietnam to keep the country strong. He also wrote that other Buddhists should "make sacrifices to protect Buddhism".

The people who watched the protest were mostly silent, but some cried and prayed. Many of the monks and nuns from the parade laid on the ground around Quảng Đức while he burned.[13] Some of the police officers who were sent to control the crowd also did this.

A Buddhist monk repeated the words "a Buddhist priest burns himself to death. A Buddhist priest becomes a martyr." into a microphone in English and Vietnamese. After arond 10 minutes, Quảng Đức's body fell onto its back. Once the fire stopped, a group of monks covered the body with robes. They picked it up and put it into a coffin, then carried it to Xá Lợi pagoda in the center of Saigon. Outside of the pagoda, students showed banners that said "a Buddhist priest burns himself for our five requests" in English and Vietnamese.[11]

At 1:30 p.m., around 1,000 monks met inside of the pagoda. Outside, a large number of students blocked anyone else from going inside. After the meeting ended, 900 of the monks left. The police stayed near the pagoda. At around 6:00 p.m., thirty six Buddhists were arrested for praying on the street outside of the pagoda. Police officers blocked anyone from going inside of the pagoda.[11]

Funeral and events after death[change | change source]

After the protest, the United States wanted Diệm to give the Buddhists want they wanted. After Quảng Đức died, Diệm had meetings about the Buddhist crisis with all of his ministers. United States Secretary of State Dean Rusk told the United States embassy in Saigon that the U.S. government would not "associate itself" with Diệm's government if the Buddhists were not given what they wanted.[14] On June 16, the Joint Communiqué was signed. This was an agreement between Buddhist leaders and South Vietnam.[15]

Quảng Đức's funeral was supposed to be on June 15. However, the funeral was postponed after 4,000 people came to it. On June 19, his body was carried to a cemetery 16 kilometers south of Saigon. His body was cremated, and 500 monks came to the funeral.[15]

When he was cremated, Quảng Đức's heart did not burn.[16] This was thought to be holy, and the heart was put in Xá Lợi pagoda. Because of this, many Vietnamese Buddhists say Quảng Đức is a bodhisattva, and call him Bồ Tát Thích Quảng Đức. On August 21, the ARVN Special Forces attacked Xá Lợi and other pagodas. They wanted to take Quảng Đức's ashes, but two monks took the ashes and ran away. The Special Forces took Quảng Đức's heart.[17]

Impact[change | change source]

Malcolm Browne with a picture he took of Thích Quảng Đức.

Vietnamese monks had burned themselves to death before Quảng Đức. Buddhists had been doing it for centuries to honor Gautama Buddha. In 1948, a monk in Harbin, China burned himself to death. He was protesting how Mao Zedong and Chinese communists treated Buddhists. His heart did not burn, in the same way that Quảng Đức's heart did not burn.[15]

Malcolm Browne, an American journalist, took pictures of Quảng Đức burning himself to death. They were quickly put on the front page of many newspapers worldwide. The protest is thought of as a major point of the Buddhist crisis, and the start of Diệm's government failing.

Diệm's newspaper, The Times of Vietnam, said many bad things about journalists and Buddhists. The newspaper wrote stories named things such as "Monks plot murder". Diệm also said that Browne gave Quảng Đức money to burn himself.

After Quảng Đức's protest, five more monks burned themselves in the Buddhist crisis. On November 1, Diệm's government was overthrown by a coup. Diệm and his brother Ngô Đình Nhu were killed on November 2.[11]

References[change | change source]

  1. Buswell & Lopez 2013, pp. 134, 906.
  2. "Monk Suicide by Fire in Anti-Diem Protest," New York Times, 11 June 1963, 6.; David Halberstam, "Diem Asks Peace in Religion Crisis," New York Times 12 June 1963. 3.; Marilyn B. Young, The Vietnam Wars: 1945–1990, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1990. 95–96.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Huỳnh Minh (2006), Gia Định Xưa (in Vietnamese), Ho Chi Minh City: Văn Hóa-Thông Tin Publishing House
  4. Thích Nguyên Tạng (2005), Tiểu Sử Bổ Tát Thích Quảng Dức (in Vietnamese), Fawker: Quảng Đức Monastery (published 1 May 2005), retrieved 20 August 2007
  5. Gettleman, Marvin E. (1966). Vietnam: History, Documents, and Opinions on a Major World Crisis. Penguin.
  6. Tucker, Spencer (2000). Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO. pp. 49, 291, 293. ISBN 1-57607-040-9.
  7. Tucker, Spencer (2000). Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War. Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO. p. 291. ISBN 1-57607-040-9.
  8. Warner, Denis (1963). The Last Confucian. Macmillan.
  9. Fall, Bernard B. (1967). The Two Viet-Nams: A Political and Military Analysis. Praeger.
  10. Buttinger, Joseph (1967). Vietnam: a Dragon Embattled: Vietnam at war. Praeger.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 Jacobs, Seth (2006). Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America's War in Vietnam, 1950-1963. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7425-4447-5.
  12. Jones, Howard (2003). Death of a Generation: How the Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-517605-6.
  13. Halberstam, David (1965). The Making of a Quagmire. Random House. p. 211. ISBN 9780345357779.
  14. Jones, Howard (2003). Death of a Generation: How the Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-517605-6.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Hammer, Ellen (1987). A Death in November: America in Vietnam, 1963. New York City: E. P. Dutton. pp. 146, 149. ISBN 0-525-24210-4.
  16. Karnow, Stanley (1997). Vietnam: A History. New York: Penguin Books. pp. 297. ISBN 0-670-84218-4.
  17. "The Crackdown - TIME". 2007-07-13. Archived from the original on 2007-07-13. Retrieved 2022-11-12.