Friday, August 11, 2006


A moment of clarity -- a Joe-free comment

Sometimes people commit suicide.  Sometimes they do it passively.   Sometimes they do it deliberately.   Sometimes it is over in an instant.   Sometimes it takes years.  Sometimes it is done out of anger, or desperation, or madness, or ignorance.   Sometimes it is a final defiant act in the face of untenable choices.   But one thing never changes.   It always hurts the people left behind.

When I think about the Hezbollah rockets and the recent Israeli cabinet vote to expand the fighting, they both strike me as suicidal, but in very different ways.  This brings to mind a third example very different from either of those two.

I was very young when it happened.  But the image left an impression on me and everyone who saw it.  I guess it comes to mind because like a finger pointing to the Moon, it points to A Third Way - a way out of this mess.

One summer day much like today, an aged Buddhist monk sat down in the middle of a busy intersection. As a large crowd of Buddhists and reporters watched, another monk poured gasoline over him. Seated in the traditional lotus position, clutching Buddhist prayer-beads in one hand and a box of matches in the other, he gently lit a match and burst into flames.

A New York Times reporter, David Halberstam, later wrote:

I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think.... As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him."
There was no note, no polemic, no explanation.  This forced people to confront the disturbing image and meditate on its significance.  Many interpreted this act as a  protest against the intolerable gap between morality and the reality of the Diem regime. It was later explained that by taking the pose of Buddha, Thich Quang Duc was "indicating to both Vietnamese and Americans a morality and a responsibility for others that lay beyond the divisions of political systems and culture."

When Most Venerable Thich Quang Duc was later cremated for burial, his heart did not burn.

This sacred relic is revered in Viet Nam as a symbol of the Holy Heart, the Buddhist version of the Catholic's Sagrado Corazón, or Sacred Heart of Jesus.

In the hustle and bustle of the digital age, when honest-to-goodness discussions are becoming as antiquated and quaint as tea parties and calling cards, Most Venerable Thich Quang Duc reaches across time and space to remind us there is more to life than politics.  The real key is connection.


"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.
That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary." -- Hillel

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