Saturday, June 14, 2008

My Lil' Miss Buddha

Buddhist, JFK, John Kennedy, Self immoliation, Catholic , American,   Religious Freedom,Sadly, this is the image of a Vietnamese Buddhist monk that many Americans of my generation are familiar with from the beginning of our country's involvement here.

"June 11, Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam, burned himself to death at a busy intersection in downtown Saigon to bring attention to the repressive policies of the Catholic Diem (American supported) regime that controlled the South Vietnamese government at the time. Buddhist monks asked the regime to lift its ban on flying the traditional Buddhist flag, to grant Buddhism the same rights as Catholicism, to stop detaining Buddhists and to give Buddhist monks and nuns the right to practice and spread their religion. U.S. Senator, Frank Church, a member of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations" claimed that "such grisly scenes have not been witnessed since the marched hand in hand into the Roman arenas." The self-immolation was later regarded as a turning point in the Buddhist Crisisthe critical point in the collapse of the Diệm regime. U.S. President John F. Kennedy said that "no news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one." Whilst burning, Thich Quang Duc never moved a muscle."

That was 45 years ago – and a Catholic President was moved to put pressure on the then South Vietnamese government to allow religious freedom for Buddhists in the country.

Today, things are much quieter in Vietnam. Every day a woman in her 60s, I call Lil' Miss Buddha, pads barefoot along my street, holding a wide brass bowl for contributions. I approach her, sometimes with very little to offer, and put what I can into her container. Hands folded, I bow my head, as she bows hers and recites a prayer, for about 30 seconds. And then we are both on our way. I feel some peace every time this happens.


  1. Just in case you don't want your moments of generosity generated peace later spoiled in one bigger aggregation by sudden disillusionment, here's the potential disillusionment earlier on: most panhandling "monks" and "nuns" in Pham Ngu Lau are fakes.

    Look to see if they're barefoot or not and how the Vietnamese respond to them. If either observation is negative, your "Buddhists" are likely just more of the more sophisticated scammers dominating that backpacker zone you're living in.

  2. Yes, coming from Chicago I'm well acquainted with the "baby scam", the "blind man playing a Casio" and a few other subway stop standards. Here is no different in that way. I've seen wheel chair men walk and blind people drive cars. For all I can tell this Lil Miss Buddha is the Real McCoy. Always at the same time everyday, always barefoot and always pleasant and peaceful. Should she be a fake, my sentiments are always directly to a higher power so will go over her head in any case. Thanks for the "heads up".

  3. Sounds like the "Nuns" you once saw begging in Subway stations in NYC. We were always warned, that "Real Nuns" do not beg in the Subway! I still gave them money.


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