Thursday, March 8, 2012

Zeitgeist of the '60s

"No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one."
- John F. Kennedy, 1963

Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức burns himself to death at a busy intersection. The self-immolation was done in response to the persecution of Buddhists by the Roman Catholic regime of South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem.
Saigon, South Vietnam, 1963 

An Andrew Abroad Special Report:
          It is not often that you get to meet someone who was a part of our collective history. On the third day my school group was in the city of Hue, we were given just such an opportunity, as we met a monk who had been an integral part of one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century - and we had absolutely no idea we were going to meet him.

          We were visiting a monastery and had just sat down to have tea with the monk who was hosting our visit, when a little, old monk who lived at the monastery walked by where we were sitting and our host casually called him over to introduce him to us. But it turned out that he had an incredible story to share with us.......many years before, in 1963, he had been with Thích Quảng Đức on the day pictured above. They drove together to Saigon - likely in the car in the background - and he had been the one to pour gasoline on Thích Quảng Đức just moments before the photograph was captured. It was absolutely amazing to be able to talk with him. He was only a young man back in 1963, and we were eager to ask about what was going through his mind at the time of such a momentous event. He told us that he knew it was a great sacrifice that Thích Quảng Đức was making, and that he was very heroic and our monk knew it was the right thing for him to do. There had been a lot of suffering and persecution during Diem’s Roman Catholic based rule over South Vietnam, and by martyring himself in such a way he understood the impact it would have, and that he could make a major difference.

We asked him a lot of questions and received thoughtful, interesting answers, but I simply do not possess the ability to comprehend the decision process of Thích Quảng Đức. I have so much more to learn about religion and the religions of the world before I could even start.....

            Just by looking at him, no one would ever have guessed that this little old monk from Hue was a part of a moment in time so famous and iconic. But that just brings me back to the old lesson, “never judge a book by its cover”. My classmates and I all noticed and discussed afterwards was how happy he was. He obviously had no regrets, and I could tell that this was something that was very important to him, and that he believed in Thích Quảng Đức's sacrifice 100%. It was such an honor to meet him, and gain insight that only someone involved in such an emotional time/event/decision could possibly posses. And we didn't even know who he was until he was introduced - you never know who you’re going to find next in Vietnam!

a modern, colorized version

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