Venerable Thích Quảng Đức was a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection on 11 June 1963. Thích Quảng Đức was protesting against the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam's Ngô Đình Diệm administration. Photos of his self-immolation were circulated widely across the world and brought attention to the policies of the Diệm regime. Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for his iconic photo of the monk's death, as did David Halberstam for his written account. After his death, his body was re-cremated, but his heart remained intact. This was interpreted as a symbol of compassion and led Buddhists to revere him as a bodhisattva, heightening the impact of his death on the public psyche.
Venerable Thích Quảng Đức was born as Lâm Văn Tức, one of seven children born to Lâm Hữu Ứng and his wife, Nguyễn Thị Nương. At the age of seven, he left worldly life to study Buddhism under Hòa thượng Thích Hoằng Thâm, who was his maternal uncle and spiritual master. Thích Hoằng Thâm raised him as a son and Lâm Văn Tức changed his name to Nguyễn Văn Khiết. At the age of 15, he took the samanera (novice) vows and was ordained as a monk at the age of 20 under the dharma name Thích Quảng Đức. After ordination, he traveled to a mountain near Ninh Hòa, vowing to live the life of a solitary Buddhism-practicing hermit for three years. He returned in later life to open the Thien Loc Pagoda at the site of his mountain retreat.
After his self-imposed isolation ended, he began to travel around central Vietnam expounding the dharma. After two years, he went into retreat at the Sac Tu Thien An Pagoda near the south central coastal city of Nha Trang. In 1932, he was appointed an inspector for the Buddhist Association in Ninh Hòa before becoming the inspector of monks in his home province of Khánh Hòa. During this period in central Vietnam, he was responsible for the building of 14 temples. In 1934, he moved to southern Vietnam and traveled throughout the provinces spreading Buddhist teachings. During his time in southern Vietnam, he also spent two years in Cambodia studying the Buddhist texts of the Theravada tradition. After his return from Cambodia, he oversaw the construction of a further 17 new temples during his time in the south. The last of the 31 new temples that he was responsible for constructing was the Quán Thế Âm (Avalokiteshvara) Pagoda in Phú Nhuận district of Gia Dinh province, on the outskirts of Saigon. The street on which the temple stands is now named in his honor. After the temple-building phase, Thích Quảng Đức was appointed to serve as the Chairman of the Panel on Ceremonial Rites of the Congregation of Vietnamese Monks, and as abbot of the Phuoc Hoa Pagoda, which was the initial location of the Association for Buddhist Studies of Vietnam (ABSV). When the office of the ABSV was relocated to the Xá Lợi Pagoda, the main pagoda in Saigon, Thích Quảng Đức resigned in order to concentrate on his personal Buddhist practice.
Venerable Thích Quảng Đức's act increased international pressure on Diệm and led him to announce reforms with the intention of mollifying the Buddhists. However, the promised reforms were implemented either slowly or not at all, leading to a deterioration in the dispute. With protests continuing, the Special Forces loyal to Diệm's brother, Ngô Đình Nhu, launched nationwide raids on Buddhist pagodas, seizing the holy heart and causing deaths and widespread damage. Several Buddhist monks followed Thích Quảng Đức's example and burned themselves to death. Eventually, an Army coup toppled and killed Diệm in November. The self-immolation is widely seen as the turning point of the Vietnamese Buddhist crisis which led to the change in regime.
Last Updated on Monday, 31 August 2009 22:45