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50th Anniversary of the self - immolation of Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Quang Duc

by Senaka Weeraratna, The Buddhist Channel, June 16, 2013

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- On June 11, 2013 the world commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the self immolation of Thich Quang Duc, an endeavour that had an enormous impact on world opinion and public perception of the then unfolding events in South Vietnam. It may well be said that it was a moment that changed the course of history of Vietnam, USA and the world at large.

The Buddhist world in particular has a moral obligation to commemorate this event and remember the great sacrifice of Bodhisattva Thich Quang Duc who burned himself to death on June 11, 1963 to protest against the persecution of Buddhists by the US-backed South Vietnamese administration of Ngo Dinh Diem.

Thich Quang Duc actively fought for religious freedom and equality for the Buddhist religion in pre – dominantly Buddhist (90%) South Vietnam. Many Buddhists outside South Vietnam who had lived through the western colonial period in Asia and having had the same / similar experience of denial of religious freedom and true equality for Buddhism under western Christian dominance, were very much moved to extend support for the Buddhist struggle in South Vietnam.

Sri Lanka provided meaningful support to the Buddhists of South Vietnam. Ven. Narada heads the list of supporters in having made 17 journeys on Dharmaduta missions to that country. The Bauddha Jatika Balavegaya (BJB) ( Buddhist National Force) led by L.H. Mettananda spearheaded the campaign of public protest. There were public meetings and public demonstrations throughout the country.

One huge public rally held at Ananda College, Colombo sponsored by the BJB following a three hour long Buddhist demonstration in Colombo called on the Government of Sri Lanka under Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike to extend maximum support to the beleaguered Buddhists in South Vietnam.

Mrs. Bandaranaike who was very sympathetic to the cause of Buddhism, promptly instructed Hon. R S S Gunawardena, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the UN to highlight the grievances of Vietnamese Buddhists at the UN. His pleas articulated in an outspoken manner and with mounting evidence coming almost daily over the wires of repression of Buddhists in South Vietnam, resulted in the UN General Assembly adopting a motion on Oct. 8, 1963 to send a UN fact – finding mission to South Vietnam to inquire into the grievances of the Buddhists.  It was while the UN team was in Vietnam that the Govt. of Ngo Dinh Diem was overthrown in an Army Coup on Nov. 2, 1963. 

Thich Quang Duc’s self-immolation sparked a sense of solidarity among Buddhists in Vietnam and brought the fight for religious equality and freedom to a success in 1963. The Most Venerable’s remains was later re-cremated at 4,000 degree Celsius, but his heart did not burn and remained intact.

Therefore, the heart was considered to be holy and placed in a glass chalice in Xa Loi Pagoda. Thich Quang Duc was declared and honored as a Bodhisattva in 1964.

The last words of Thich Quang Duc before his self – immolation contained in a letter were as follows::

“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.”

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