10 June 1963,
"something important is going to happen tomorrow outside the Cambodian embassy in Saigon" a letter containing these words was delivered to the U'S correspondents based in Vietnam in china. Most reporters decided to ignore this piece of information. The Protests of the Buddhists in Vietnam had been going on for over a month and nothing that might grab a front page headline was expected out of the Buddhist revolt, there wasn't going to be any "fireworks". The Buddhists were peaceful people after all....
Malcolm Browne was one of the few reporters that turned up at the venue the following day. Monks carrying banners and shouting slogans were on a procession nearby. this was not an uncommon sight as the protests by the Buddhist community against the Diem government for ill treating monks in vietnam had been only increasing in the days preceding 11th June.
An Austin west-minister Sedan rolled to a halt at a busy intersection outside the Cambodian embassy,a monk dressed in traditional Buddhist robes emerged from the car along with two companions. In his hand, he held wooden prayer beads. He uttered prayers under his breath as he sat down in a lotus position on a pillow placed by his compatriots on the road.He continued his prayers with calmness as they brought out gallons of gasoline and poured them over him. A crowd had gathered now and wondered what was happening. The monk paused for a moment before reciting the words "Nam Mô A Di Đà Phật" ( homage to Amitabha Buddha).
He struck a match and dropped it on his robes.
The crowd watched in horror as the monk burned right before their eyes. a group of monks had encircled themselves around him and wouldn't let the police men who tried to reach him.
Some of the people around began screaming while others started to pray, a police man got down on his knees in reverence. Malcolm saw the event unfold and captured the image of the burning monk, this image would later win him a Pulitzer Price. But he too was gasping for breath at the gory sight.
The monk however, sat engulfed in flames. he moved not a muscle, he uttered not a word. His body slowly withered and wilted, the air was rife with the smell of a burning human. A mass of charred, black and crumbling matter fell to the ground. flesh and bone had turned to ashes.But his heart remained intact and unscathed.
This was considered a symbol of compassion and soon, the monk came to be regarded a Bodhisattva- the enlightened being. He had just set about a movement that inspired thousands of Buddhist monks and brought the attention of the world to the issue he considered dear..
He burned to death in a few minutes, but with his sacrifice- he became immortal.
His name was Thích Quảng Đức.