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Ven. Quang Duc, the first Vietnamese monk to self-immolate

Jerrold Shecter 

Ven. Quang Duc, the first Vietnamese monk to self-immolate, in July, 1963. This image is from a painting of the famous news photograph.


The orange-robed monks and the grey-robed nuns appeared to be part of a quiet protest as they walked slowly down Phan-Dinh-Phung Street in Saigon on a hot June afternoon. Heading the procession was an automobile filled with monks. At the intersection of Phan-Dinh-Phung and Le-Van-Duyet streets the priests got out of the car and lifted the hood. It appeared that they were having engine trouble. The procession parted around the car as if to move on, but instead the monks and nuns formed a surrounding circle seven and eight deep. Slowly they began to intone the deep, mournful, resonant rhythm of a sutra. The priests in the auto walked to the center of the circle and seventy-three-year-old Thich Quang-Duc sat in the lotus position, a classic Buddhist meditation pose. Nuns began to weep, their sobs breaking the measure of the chant. A monk removed a five-gallon can of gasoline from the car and poured it over Quang-Duc, who sat calmly in silence as the gasoline soaked his robes and wet the asphalt in a small dark pool. Then Thich Quang-Duc, his Buddhist prayer beads in his right hand, opened a box of matches and struck one. Instantly he was engulfed in a whoosh of flame and heavy black smoke that partially obscured him from view. The chanting stopped. The smoke rose and, as the fierce flames brightened, Quang-Duc's face, his shaven skull and his robes grizzled, then blackened. Amidst the devouring flames his body remained fixed in meditation.


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Last update: 01-02-2002


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