His name was Thich Quang Duc and he was a classical and inspirational Buddhist monk in every way. He was born in Vietnam and began his religious studies at the age of 7, his uncle as his mentor. At the age of 20, he was ordained a monk and traveled to a mountain in south-central Vietnam to advance his spiritual education. He spent 3 years in isolation on that mountain, free to seek the spiritual guidance that the all too prevalent distractions of modern society so effectively veil. Upon his reassimilation, Duc spent 2 years in Cambodia studying their own take on Buddhism. he went on to found 14 temples in central Vietnam and another 17 temples in south Vietnam, while also attaining several prestigious positions in Buddhist organizations. Duc is a symbol for what all religions should be: the peaceful and insightful spread of self-taught spirituality. Do not tell people what to think, support their journey to find out themselves.
After France’s withdrawal from imperialism in Vietnam and Indochina, Ngo Dinh Diem became the first president of South Vietnam in what many consider to be a fraudulent election. The vast majority of South Vietnamese citizens (70%+) were Buddhist, but Diem was part of the Catholic minority. Under his regime, Buddhism was largely oppressed. Buddhists in the military were denied promotion and Buddhist villages were denied aid lest they convert. Such a peaceful and altruistic society was being greatly abused. It seemed as if a shroud of darkness had overcome the people of South Vietnam. The people of South Vietnam were restless, and looking for a way out.
On June 11, 1963, Thich Quang Duc’s life came to a climax. Fed up with the Buddhist oppression installed by Ngo Dinh Diem’s intolerant regime, Duc decided to ascend and become a symbol of the incorruptibility and immortality of not just Buddhism but the principles it stands for – humanity and peace. At a crowded intersection in South Vietnam, in front of a crowd of almost 400 robed Buddhist monks and nuns, Duc became immortal. A fellow soldier in orange doused him in gasoline before Duc calmly lit a match and triggered in unyielding inferno that captured the unconquerable spirit of the Buddhist society. Duc sat resolute as the flames consumed him, an almost natural extension of his orange robes, an all-too-human moment of horror and solitude, of anguish and harmony. The powerful statement was a key turning point and historical milestone that would lead to the end of Ngo Dien Diem’s discriminant rule. The blackness that was the nightfall of Ngo Dien Diem’s rule was all too real for the South Vietnamese Buddhist populace. The Republic of Vietnam had turned out to be just as enslaving as the French imperialism that preceded it. The Buddhist monks toiled in the dark for quite a while, caught in an almost futile search for their light switch, but they eventually found it, and not in the form they imagined. Their light switch came in the form of a brilliant blaze of human will. Duc is now revered as a bodhisattva.