Shamed By A Burning Monk

Monk on fire

On June 11th 1963, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc killed himself on a road in Saigon. Why? To protest the persecution of the Buddhists by the South Vietnamese Diệm government. How? He burned himself…to death.

A Relic

Duc self immolated for religious equality. Hundreds, even thousands of people have done the same thing, for religious or political beliefs, and for hundreds of years. When I saw the famous photos by Malcolm Browne at the shrine of Thich Quang Duc, I was utterly shocked. President Kennedy said of the image; “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.”

Car and Relic

And it got me thinking; how brave am I? Will I ever believe in something…anything…enough to take real and positive action?

I would love the answer to be yes. But alas, I fear, up until now, it is NO. And that is to my great shame. For too long I feel I’ve been blind to the world around me…perhaps not blind, but reluctant to do anything other than speak of it. For too long I’ve been angry about it all, but as yet have done very little. I’ve often donated money to charity, and raised a little cash in various fundraising events…but not enough…not even close. And there are so many causes around the world that I feel passionately about, things that I despise…racism of any kind, child abuse, the oppression of women, poverty, hunger, oppressive governments, religious persecution (even though I’m staunchly atheist) child soldiers, human trafficking, or the power of the W.M.F. The list, sadly, is endless.

But there are so many amazing, selfless people, far braver than me, dedicating and sometimes giving their lives to helping others and raising awareness of the world’s issues. One of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read is ‘Half the Sky,’ by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I won’t go into detail here, but it highlights some of the heinous atrocities committed against women all over the world. It isn’t a happy read, but if it doesn’t shock you, and make you sit up and evaluate what is important, then nothing ever will. If, like me, you want to get more involved with helping others and raising awareness, this is a great place to start. Half the Sky website, Half the Sky on Facebook. There’s a 4-part documentary, well worth a watch, but I highly recommend the book. So, so shocking and immensely powerful.


It was visiting the shrine of Thich Quang Duc that shamed me into thinking about how I could help make the world a better place. No one person can change the world, of course…but if we each do our little bit, and help raise awareness of those less fortunate than ourselves, then slowly we can help, and there are millions of ways to do it.

But the first step always comes from within. Leslie and I have made it a priority over the next eighteen months to get involved in one or more charitable organisations. We both acknowledge that it’s about time we did more to help those who need it. We’re so lucky to get to fulfill our passions of travel and writing, and now it’s time to give something back.

The self immolation of a monk fifty years ago has finally shamed me into action.

What little bit of help are you giving to change the world?

We’d love to hear about some great causes you are involved with, and that we could potentially get involved with too. Please share your ideas or links to organisations in the comments section. Thank you.

Car front with B & W image

All images of the images by the Nomad. Originals, Michael Browne.

6 thoughts on “Shamed By A Burning Monk

  1. I’ve never understood cancer. Lots of us haven’t. It’s indiscriminate. A 26-year-old friend who never drank alcohol nor smoked but played lots of football/soccer died from a rare form that attacked his brain and spinal fluid. A teen who was the best swimmer in Colorado Springs got it. Old people, young people, men, women, good habits, bad habits, doesn’t matter. Whatever research can be done to stop it, I try to support it. You may know Baldy, my dog. He is so named because I bought him at a silent auction during a St. Baldrick’s event. At said event, people get their head shaved (in a show of support for children who must shave their heads as part of treatment). We get sponsors. And people at the event bid on items with the money going to research that one day will find a way to end cancer. We hope. So that’s Baldy’s story, and here is the link:


  2. Great post. I’ve felt the same way — a lot. What more can I be doing? A LOT. And I need to. I *have* to. I follow Nicholas Kristof on Facebook and Twitter. An amazing guy. I need to read that book. Thanks for this.


  3. Steven,
    I also feel that way. After traveling and seeing people in poor conditions, it does make you question your actions. That’s why I am going back to school to become a certified teacher. I think if you can’t save the world, then help just one person. Love the quotes by the way!



  4. There’s an awesome quote that’s always resonated with me by Vaclav Havel: “I mean, rather, a politics deriving from a strong and utterly personal sense of responsibility for the world, a politics deriving from the awareness that none of us – as an individual – can save the world as a whole, but that each of us must behave as though it were in his power to do so.”
    Thankfully, as travelers, the places easy on the wallet are also places where it’s easy to find organizations with which we can work and make a difference. In that unique aspect, the need is on many travelers’ doorsteps and we don’t need to go far to do something. I hope you learn and have some enriching experiences in the coming months! Can’t wait to hear about them!


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