Koan: In Memory of Thích Quảng Đức


In memory of Thích Quảng Đức

For a week, we have studied the grain
of the wood, seen how the floor grows
golden in the afternoon light. We eat
our meals in silence, see how white
beans glow like moons on silver, and after-
wards, we dedicate the merit of these
things we eat to help free all beings.
But in the afternoon, especially, I am skeptical.
I want to know what all this
sitting has to do with war.
Novices, we are learning to focus
on a single breath. Our minds wander,
and when the pain becomes
too much, we move our legs. We shift
on the cushions. We learn that if you stay still
long enough, you can see the mind spinning
like a prayer wheel on its own axis, how time is
a flickering picture, moving backwards and forwards.
Breathe in you flash on Baghdad,
Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, stress positions,
the hooded figure atop the box
standing for hours, a human
emotion detector. Breathe out,
the soldiers are children at home,
studying the only way they know
to lose themselves. Wired for hours
to the flickering box, they learn to move
the almost human figures, make them fight,
hold the controls. Breathe in and it is
1963 and Thích Quảng Đức
arrives with his retinue of monks,
the can of gasoline, an anointing, and then
the match falls, the gasoline flares.
The reporter reports, “As he burned,
he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound,
his outward composure in sharp contrast
to the wailing of people around him.”
Here, we are all novices. We are studying
complicity, what to do with our eyes,
how to let go of ideas, how to see
without flinching. This much I
know: we are worlds
away from knowing
how to respond to
the sound of
one body burning.

More articles by:

Desiree Hellegers is a co-founder and affiliated faculty of the Collective for Social and Environmental Justice at Washington State University Vancouver. She has just completed a play based on her 2011 book No Room of Her Own: Women’s Stories of Homelessness, Life, Death and Resistance (Palgrave, 2011).

August 12, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s War On Arms Control and Disarmament
P. Sainath
“We Didn’t Bleed Him Enough”: When Normal is the Problem
Kenneth Surin
The Decrepit UK Political System
Robert Hunziker
Freakish Arctic Fires Alarmingly Intensify
Riva Enteen
Kamala Harris? Really? Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
Ramzy Baroud
The Likud Conspiracy: Israel in the Throes of a Major Political Crisis
Sam Pizzigati
Within Health Care USA, Risk and Reward Have Never Been More Out of Kilter
John Perry
The US Contracts Out Its Regime Change Operation in Nicaragua
Binoy Kampmark
Selective Maritime Rules: The United States, Diego Garcia and International Law
Manuel García, Jr.
The Improbability of CO2 Removal From the Atmosphere
Khury Petersen-Smith
The Road to Portland: The Two Decades of ‘Homeland Security’
Raouf Halaby
Teaching Palestinian Children to Love Beethoven, Bizet, and Mozart is a Threat to a Depraved Israeli Society
Jeff Mackler
Which Way for Today’s Mass Radicalization? Capitalism’s Impending Catastrophe…or a Socialist Future
Tom Engelhardt
It Could Have Been Different
Stephen Cooper
Santa Davis and the “Stalag 17” Riddim
August 11, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
Why Capitalism is in Constant Conflict With Democracy
Paul Street
Defund Fascism, Blue and Orange
Richard C. Gross
Americans Scorned
Andrew Levine
Trump and Biden, Two Ignoble Minds Here O’erthrown
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Nationalism Has Led to the Increased Repression of Minorities
Sonali Kolhatkar
Trump’s Presidency is a Death Cult
Colin Todhunter
Pushing GMO Crops into India: Experts Debunk High-Level Claims of Bt Cotton Success
Valerie Croft
How Indigenous Peoples are Using Ancestral Organizing Practices to Fight Mining Corporations and Covid-19
David Rovics
Tear Gas Ted Has a Tantrum in Portland
Dean Baker
There is No Evidence That Generous Unemployment Benefits are Making It Difficult to Find Workers
Robert Fantina
War on Truth: How Kashmir Struggles for Freedom of Press
Dave Lindorff
Trump Launches Attack on Social Security and Medicare
Elizabeth Schmidt
COVID-19 Poses a Huge Threat to Stability in Africa
Parth M.N.
Coping With a Deadly Virus, a Social One, Too
Thomas Knapp
The “Election Interference” Fearmongers Think You’re Stupid
Binoy Kampmark
Mealy-Mouthed Universities: Academic Freedom and the Pavlou Problem Down Under
Mike Garrity
Emperor Trump Loses Again in the Northern Rockies in Big Win for Bull Trout, Rivers and the ESA
Alex Lawson
34 Attorneys General Call to Bust Gilead’s Pharma Monopoly on COVID Treatment Remdesivir
August 10, 2020
Gerald Sussman
Biden’s Ukrainegate Problem
Vijay Prashad – Érika Ortega Sanoja
How the U.S. Failed at Its Foreign Policy Toward Venezuela
Daniel Warner
Geneva: The Home of Lost Causes
Mike Hastie
The Police Force Stampede in Portland on August 8, 2020 
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s Executive Orders: EOs as PR and FUs
Rev. William Alberts
Cognitive Without Conscience
David Altheide
Politicizing Fear Through the News Media
F. Douglas Stephenson
Is Big Pharma More Interested in Profiteering Than Protecting Us From Coronavirus?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Money Plague
Howard Lisnoff
Revolutionaries Living in a System of Growing Fascism
Ralph Nader
Donald Trump is Defeating Himself
Lynnette Grey Bull
The Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Human Rights Emergency is Not a Photo-Op for Ivanka Trump