June 11, 1963 -It appeared to be a normal afternoon in a far from normal time. Saigon had undergone many changes since being engulfed in civil war. The intersection at Phan-Dinh Phung and Le Van Duyet on this particular day was even more congested than usual. There seemed to be someone with car trouble in the middle of the road, most bystanders weren't suspicious; they all had troubled times to overcome and bustled by concentrating on the tasks at hand. Suddenly, a group of Buddhist monks stepped out of the car. From the sidewalks of the street even more monks and nuns who were waiting in the wings joined those in the car, encircling a single individual 7-8 fold. Seventy-three year old Thich Quang Duc quietly assumed the lotus position on the scorched pavement. The nuns broke into sobs as the imminent progressed. However, Duc remained silent. He was silent when two of his fellow monks doused him with gasoline. He was silent when he struck his own fatal match. He was silent when the flames engulfed his body. Not once did he cry out in pain or move a muscle as he was reduced to ash.
Thich Quang Duc, whose lay name was Lam Van Tuc, was born in 1897 in a small village of a province in central Vietnam. At the age of seven, he entered into the religious life and became a disciple of the Zen master Hoang Tham. At the age of twenty, he was ordained as a full Buddhist monk (Bhikkhu). After ordination, he spent many years practicing isolated and extremely demanding ascetic purification practices in the Ninh Hoa Mountains, near Nha Trang City. In 1932 he started his Buddhist teaching career at Ninh Hoa. He then went to a central Vietnam province to rebuild temples. By 1943, he had rebuilt nearly 20 pagodas, and the same year, moved to Saigon, South Vietnam where he lived in the Long Vinh temple finally taking permanent residence in the Quan The Am temple.
In 1953, he was appointed Head of rituals Committee of the United Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation, a position that he held until the time of his death.
In 1963, after four years of increased oppression by the Diem government towards Buddhist priests and the Buddhist community, Thich Quang Duc perfomed his heroic deed to highlight Buddhist demands for religious equality in South Vietnam his act literally flashed around the world by television. At midday, on June 11, 1963, he took a ride to the corner of Phan Dinh Phung and Le Van Duyet in central Saigon (now Nguyen Dinh Chieu and Cach Mang Thang Tam Street). Pouring petrol over himself, he sat in the middle of the corner, struck a match, and immolated himself.
His body was consumed, and all that remained was his heart. Later when his later when the Buddhist community tried to cremate his heart it remained intact. It was placed in the Reserve Bank of Vietnam and became the symbol of the Holy Heart.
Millions all over the globe saw his self sacrifice, and Thich Quang Duc has become world-famous figure. Before he passed away, he left a letter to the government of the day, and through them, for the people of Vietnam. In Vietnamese culture, this letter is now known as the letter of Heart Blood. The core of his letter was a plea for all Buddhist believers, monks, nuns and lay people, to unite and strive for the preservation of Buddhism. His plan was to demonstrate to the world the injustice that was being perpetrated on the Buddhist religion and community by a repressive regime and it worked extremely well. Many nations worldwide brought pressure on the South Vietnamese government to soften its attitude to the traditional Vietnamese religion. The Saigon government complied.