nearly cried today

The self-immolation of Thich Quang Duc in a Buddhist protest against Ngo Dinh Diem’s leadership, Saigon, 1963

watching the video today left me in such a state of disbelief and shame that it was all i could think about for many hours after. i felt the heat of the fire lick the back of my eyes and i nearly broke into tears in class. could i possibly imagine the variety of unhappiness and anger that must have driven Thich to set himself up in flames? the Buddhist resistance seems eerily akin to what the non-bumiputra resistance could be like. and yet of course nobody in godforsaken Malaysia today could ever be as passionate or desperate as he was, sitting calmly till his death for the sake of carrying the message of a just cause. i wanted to cry, to scream, to flail my arms in agony for him. i couldn’t believe his meditative posture, cross-legged and firm, all the way until he fell onto his back and gave himself in to the hungry flames. never before had i ever felt the blow of politics and religion so keenly on my own burning cheek. perhaps i will never understand the ridiculous technicalities of the subject within the sterile confines of academia, but i will never forget the burning motivations behind such an act.

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6 comments
  1. Cow said:

    Wish I didn’t watch this. The video left me feeling quite detached from humanity. I’m quite disgusted that anyone would ever be desperate enough to calmly let himself burn like that. It’s supposed to be a sign of protest against an oppressive leadership. One that’s supposed to invoke a sense of injustice, to incite passions or even anger so that some collective action will result.

    But instead I’m just left numb by the hopelessness of a situation where setting yourself on fire is deemed to be a necessary cause of action. I’d just give up, really.

  2. krysoberyl said:

    but why? i didn’t feel any disgust actually, just a huge bout of sadness and shame. had a friend who commented on how stupid the act was but hearing the brazen cynicism in her voice just made me want to hit her. instead i just stood there, stumped and silent. some people clearly believe life is about more than the fact of being alive. i wish i had that sense of principle.

  3. Cow said:

    its a huge leap from believing that life is more than the fact of being alive, to setting yourself on fire. maybe you saw something to be admired to respected in the motives behind the act but i really don’t. maybe i need to feel like life isn’t something you should throw away like that, even if you believe you’ll come back to the earth again in another form.

  4. krysoberyl said:

    damn. i forgot they believed in reincarnation. that cheapens the act a bit, imho. but at any rate it’s that “need to feel” i think we need to question. is the mere fact of being alive the best way to appreciate the value(s) in and of life? as in, do we really need to be alive to fight for what’s important in life? i think a health beggar pawning off centimes from passersby < self-immolation for a worthy cause anyday.

  5. Cow said:

    im not saying a beggar’s worth more than thich quang duc. that’s a simplistic comparison between two extremes. One’s a man who’s surviving but not really doing much with his life. The other’s one who values his current life less than what he believes he could achieve do by extinguishing it in a certain fashion. Perhaps he believes he’s got more lives left. You could even say that the beggar loves life less than the monk cause at least the monk wants to do something with his life, even if that means putting an end to it.

    However is this so if we compare two persons who equally want to do something with their lives? i’m just saying man alive > man dead as a general rule because man alive is still able to do something while man dead is powerless unless he’s already done enough while he’s alive to ensure some legacy continues while he’s no longer around. on that premise, imho, setting yourself on fire barely achieves that.

    Also let me tell you why I NEED to feel that the mere fact of being alive means something. I dont subscribe to any faith that believes in any life after death. To me this one life is all i have. I wont know/wont care what happens after i’m dead. you see why being alive is so important to me. religion seems to play a big part in reassuring men that their lives won’t be meaningless if they were to suddenly die, because there is a next chapter, a continuation of that story. Even an eternity in hell is an existence. I don’t have that comfort. I see death as a real end. I do not exist anymore after that. This act of his reminds me of that and makes light of human life which i treasure much more than him. I am left as a result, feeling extremely disturbed and detached from these people.

    This is me speaking from my upbringing and experience. I also probably feel way more empowered as an individual than TQD, who being subject to an indoctrination of bhuddist pacifism and attitude towards suffering, combined with being oppressed for most of his life (I presume), would view this kind of torture as just another inevitable part of the cycle of lives. He also has been told that this can only truly be avoided by attaining nirvana and breaking the cycle. If I were in his shoes, I could in all likelihood have been driven to do the same. But I’m not him and I don’t believe in the bhuddist path to enlightenment because it doesnt make sense at all to me. I attended dharma classes for about a year. I know what the teachings are and I see alot of truth in them, but the idea as a whole doesn’t speak to me.

    The way I see it, it just boils down to beliefs that are just as personal as religion. And for that reason I feel to discuss it any further would really be quite meaningless because I personally will never feel the way these people do but neither can I really fault them for their conviction which may be just as valid as mine.

  6. krysoberyl said:

    whoa “a subject to an indoctrination”? way to vilify religion. i know you’re neither monk nor choir boy, but this issue isn’t centered around what TCL would do and at any rate his religious-ness shouldn’t discount the effectiveness of his protest. it became a turning point in the whole crisis and if you’ve been googling around enough you’ll find that he DID leave behind a legacy by means of death. and sure you can do more while you’re alive, but in both cases (alive or otherwise) your cause is larger than your life. and the one who recognizes it sooner would be more likely to make the same sacrifice as Thich. anw chat about this elsewhere.

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