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Why the Heart of Thich Quang Duc did not burn in self-immolation and cremation? E-mail
Written by Viên Minh   
Sunday, 10 June 2012 18:56

Viên Minh Translated to English      Read in Vietnamese

After the self-immolation of The Most Reverend Thich Quang Duc, it was a great surprise to learn that his heart did not burn to ashes like the rest of his body, even after hours of cremation afterwards. For nearly 37 years since the self sacrifice, the Vietnamese Buddhists always have this nagging question on their mind: Why didn’t it burn? Not only the question was raised by normal people, but numerous scientists, philosophers, researchers of holy phenomena and mysterious wonders of the non-form world also were at a lost to adequately explain this strange fact. Last week the Vietnamese Newspaper had posted an article by Mr. Mat Nghiem Dang Nguyen Pha, in which the author gave an account of what happened and his reasoning of why the heart remained intact and did not burn in the intense fire and re-cremation after.


Author Mat Nghiêm Dang Xuan Pha recounted
: Thirteen years after the self-immolation of Bodhisattva Thich Quang Duc, I happened to hear a story – or rather a mythology (something hard to believe) – as to why his heart did not burn. It could be considered a modern Zen story. In 1976, I was in a concentration camp at Suoi Mau in Tam Hiep district, Bien Hoa province, together with two prominent monks who were high-ranking officers/Buddhist chaplains in the pre-liberation Vietnamese National Army (Army of the Republic of Vietnam – ARVN) before 1975. During this jail term, I have learned a lot about Buddhism from the Ven. Thich Thanh Long who passed away many years ago. I profoundly admired his righteousness, good moral quality and dedication. It was through him that I learned the wonders surrounding the self-immolation and the charred heart of Thich Quang Duc.

He told me that no one believed that it could happen as such. And that he himself was witness to the whole incidence in 1963. Here is the account of HT Thich Thanh Long’s words:

“I don’t really remember how long before this memorable day, but we had a kind of closed-door meeting at Xa Loi temple for all leaders of the Buddhist Struggle for Equality. I was there among them. After the meeting agenda was finished, during the miscellaneous reports, Rev. Thich Quang Duc asked to put his name down on the list of self-immolation. As we were riding in the same taxi back to his Quan Am temple before I went to mine, I joked with him: “The Zen patriarchs all leave relics, what are you going to leave us?” Immediately his answer was: “How about my heart?” I replied: “Of course, wonderful…” And that was it. With extremely busy schedules and lots of events and happenings after that meeting day, I did not even remember the short exchange we had on the ride home.”

“Until that day, the 11th of June 1963, Thich Quang Duc self-immolated at the intersection between Phan dinh Phung and Le van Duyet streets at 11 in the morning. I was at Xa Loi temple again for a meeting. The news reached us, and the cataclysmic situation was rather tense everywhere. I decided to stay at Xa Loi temple, first for better protection, and secondly to help with the work, for multitude of people - thousands and thousands of them every day and night - came by to pay respect as soon as the body of Thich Quang Duc was retrieved and carried back to the temple. Five days later his body was then transported to the crematorium in Phu Lam for the last rites.”

“In the evening of the 16th of June, a young monk came back from the crematory to report that the heart did not burn. We – the leaders at the time – instruct him to continue the cremation process for another 6 hours. The next morning the same young monk returned to Xa Loi temple with the brownish harder-than-rock heart of Quang Duc Bodhisattva, with tear on his solemn face. He reported that not only 6 hours but they tried for 10 more hours, and the heart was still intact. In my mind, I thought maybe the heart was made up of musculatory tissue which could be harder to burn – so much anatomy that I knew.”

“But then four days later, another reverend master in the Tharavada tradition passed away, I witnessed his cremation, and there was nothing left but ash particles. It was only then that I remembered the joking question I asked Thich Quang Duc, and his serious promise to leave his heart behind, on the day he offered to sacrifice himself for protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the then-government regime. And this is the explanation I came up with for myself: While HT Quang Duc meditated when the fire started, he had used the Samadhi fire (v. Lửa Tam Muội) – the undaunted inner-strength fire – to consume his own heart – so that ordinary fire cannot burn his already-turned-to-quartz heart. This Samadhi fire converts the heart of Bodhisattva Quang Duc into Indestructible Diamond.”

Those were the exact words that Ven. Thich Thanh Long told me of what happened 24 years ago. If looking from the time when Ven. Thich Quang Duc self-immolated, it has been 37 years (note: the year of this article was 2000). Today, since it is close to the anniversary of that special day when Bodhisattva Quang Duc sacrificed himself for the sake of the Vietnamese Buddhism, I wrote and retold this story, to first commemorate the extraordinary occasion, and secondly to make offers to both Bodhisattva Thich Quang Duc and my jail-mate Most Ven. Thich Thanh Long, also a close friend of Rev. Thich Quang Duc.

And here is a little Biography of Most Ven. Thich Quang Duc:

He was born in 1897, named Lam Van Tuat in the township of Hoi Ninh of Van Ninh district, in Khanh Hoa province. He was adopted by a maternal uncle and had his name changed to Nguyen Van Khiet. At 7 years of age he went into the monastery and learned under the tutelage of Most Rev. Thich Hoang Tham, who also was his Buddhist master. He received his Samanera (novice) vows at 15, and his full ordination Bhikkhu vows at the age of 20. He then spent five years of ascetic practice in the Ninh Hoa mountain where he started his mendicant conducts (skt: dhuta, v. đầu đà) with just a set of monk’s outfit and an alm bowl. He then traveled throughout the countryside until finally settled at the Thien An temple in Ninh Hoa city.

In 1932 at the secular age of 35 and with 28 monastic years, he was asked to be Head Master for the An Nam Buddhist Study Program in Ninh Hoa. He traveled and taught at many monasteries throughout the middle regions of Vietnam. He contributed to building, renovating and repairing 14 temples during this time. In 1943, he headed south, arriving to Saigon, then Gia Dinh, Ba Ria, Long Khanh, Dinh Tuong, and Ha Tien. He also lived three years in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to research and learn the Pali texts. In 1953, he was asked by the Congregation of Vietnamese Monastics of the South to be Head of the Rites & Rituals Committee, and was given the abbot responsibility for the Phuoc Hoa temple in Saigon. During the period living in the southern regions of Vietnam, he has contributed to renovating and forming 17 different temples, the longest stay being at Long Vinh temple in the Phu Nhuan district of Gia Dinh province. Therefore, he was also known more by lay Buddhists in this area as the Abbot of Long Vinh. The last temple he called home before the self-immolation was Quan The Am temple, with the address of 68 Nguyen Hue, in the Phu Nhuan district of Gia Dinh. Now this long stretch of road bears his name Thich Quang Duc Avenue.

His protesting self-immolation happened on June 11, 1963, and resulted in having an “Undestructible Heart”. The grand message he left behind was “To Sacrifice for Buddhism and for the Nation” with the esteemed Compassion-Wisdom-Courage spirit of a Bodhisattva and the miraculous marvel of Dharma. The late poet-writer Vu Hoang Chuong who was so emotionally taken by the sight of  his courageous sitting position in the fire, had composed the famous poem “Compassion Fire” (v. Lửa Từ Bi). We would like to quote a portion of this beautiful writing as the conclusion for our article:

“For the love of sentient beings in the sea of sufferings
He – parting the night shadow of darkness
facing West, sitting in total absorption
calling the fire, come come… the body’s open
The Dharma – his hands tightly clutched
The six realms of Samsara – somewhere
be so moved - silencing all inhalation
for each breath after the wheels rolling
the air twisted, crying with crescendo wind
Beyond enlightening… the storm calms
nine floors of white clouds, He is risen
under the Bodhi tree, via cooling shadow.
Quartz or rock, who to do sculpting
Cloth or bamboo sheet, who to write upon
Where he sat – indescribable masterpiece
Invisible – shine brilliantly his compassion…”

The fire of Quang Duc will always shine brilliantly for the Vietnamese Buddhism. The Heart of Quang Duc truly proves that Dharma exists forever and ever.

From Wikipedia: Thích Quảng Đức (English pronunciation: TICH KWONG DUUK; 1897 – 11 June 1963, born Lâm Văn Tức), 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 the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam's Roman Catholic government led by Ngô Đình Diệm. 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 renowned photograph of the monk's death. 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, (heroic-minded one (satva) for enlightenment (bodhi)), heightening the impact of his death on the public psyche.


                                                      Viên Minh - The Buddhist Translation Group


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Last Updated on Sunday, 10 June 2012 19:24