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Monk on fire: The meditative mind of a burning monk

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posted on 22.10.2019 by Francis A.M. Manno

Thich Quang Duc was a Buddhist monk protesting in South Vietnam, when his image captivated the world. Malcolm Browne won the World Press Photo of the Year in 1963 photographing Duc committing an act of self-immolation, burning to death. Current research into mindfulness and meditation gives neuroscientists, scientists, and clinicians a glimpse into the physiology, structure and function of the brain of expert meditators such as Duc. A growing body of literature indicates that basic breathing techniques and meditation can alter cortical structures with very little training. Structural and functional MRI has revealed the anterior cingulate and insular cortex are altered in functioning due to meditation and mindfulness practice. Continued research into mindfulness and expert meditators should help us gain a greater understanding into how a monk like Duc was able to commit such a powerful behavioral act, becoming the monk on fire.


The author received funding from the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong SAR, China HKPFS # PF16-07754 for this research.