Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

(Photograph by Malcolm Browne, awarded Pultizer Prize)

The self-immolation of the Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc in 1963

"Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngo Dinh Diem to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organise in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism." - His last words 

To protest against the continued oppression of Buddhists by the Catholic administration of Ngo Dinh Diem of Vietnam (after the US-Vietnam war), on 10 June 1963, a Buddhist procession led by a car began at a Pagoda in Saigon, and stopped at a busy intersection.

Thich Quang Duc emerged from the car, calmly seated himself on the ground over a cushion in the traditional Buddhist lotus position, while other monks emptied a tank of gasoline over him. He invoked the Buddha, struck a match and set himself on fire.

Onlooking journalist David Halberstam wrote:
"... 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"
Ten minutes later, his body was completely burnt, and the charred remains finally fell forward onto the street. His heart was discovered intact and had survived the immolation.

This photograph, and its subsequent worldwide circulation, brought about the final collapse of the Diệm regime.

What a haunting photograph. Its depth and emotive power is... poetic. Capturing a moment in time, of surreal strength and the surreal sacrifice of a human mind.



Anonymous said...


abousec said...

I don't know whether I'm mystified or horrified. I don't know if I am both.

I know I'm in shock, I know I don't completely understand how. Or, why...

The power of intense faith. The power of the mind.

"... implement religious equality ..."
" ... make sacrifices to protect Buddhism."

The ultimate sacrifice of one's self. Not a sound, not a movement.