Persons who regarded themselves as Buddhists, collectively comprising the great majority of South Vietnam's population, were found at all social levels, in all occupation groups, in all regions and in city and countryside alike. The Buddhist population, taken to include all persons who did not identify themselves as adherenta of some other faith, included an estimated 70 to 80 percent of the population. Buddhist spokesmen have stated that individuals who participate in Buddhist religious life by attending rituals at the pagoda represented only a minority of this group. Estimates of the number of those who join in Buddhist rituals outside the home range from 2 million to less than 6 million persons; the remainder of the Buddhist community was inactive and basically secular.
By the 1960s. Buddhist leaders, representing themselves as the most authentic spokesmen for the majority of Vietnamese, including especially the rural population, asserted that a passive attitude was no longer appropriate and that secular means would need to be employed to help people realize their aims. As stated by a young Saigon monk: "In the past the monks have not dealt in business and politics, but when the government is not giving people what they want, it is time for the monks to step in." Political activities of the type in which the Vietnamese monks came to engage presented no conflict with their essentially passive faith, as the doctrine of nonviolence denounces killing but not the sacrifice of one's own life for a just cause.
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