Sulak Sivaraksa gave a speech on Thursday at the University of Wisconsin
on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Famous for his engaged Buddhist message that dismantles traditional Buddhist hierarchies, he gave his own unique perspective on the causes and consequences of the attacks.
Born in Bangkok in 1933 he received his primary and secondary education in Thailand before studying at at Lampeter in Wales and completing a Law degree in London. In 1961, at the age 28, he returned to Thailand.
One of his main ideas is Buddhism with a small ‘b’. Buddhism should be stripped of its ritual element to go back to, or to accentuate, a supposed simple core of Buddhism. This is away from the civic and militaristic use of Buddhism. For Sulak the core of Buddhism is personal and social transformation. It’s teachings can be used to solve contemporary problems.
In his speech on 9/11 he states the following:
‘For peace, we need an authentic economic system…The current system is built on structural violence. The project to build a new economic system begins at this moment….
The post-colonial world needs to become modern, not Western…The capitalist global economic system has been built on imperialism. The West has been separated from its roots since Columbus discovered America by asserting superiority over the people living here, and the notion became to look forward without looking back….
I was from an elitist background with an English education who believed the poor should follow us…It is only when I stayed with the poor that I realized that we oppress them unknowingly and that we have much to learn from them.
We need to stop blaming the other party and instead need to start identifying our own rigid and self-righteous views…We need to pay attention to the other’s viewpoint with deep listening, even if the other person’s view is based on wrong notions. Only if we listen without interruption can we move toward clarity and peace…
The choice is not between violence and inactivity when attacked…There are several other options: dialogue, law, negotiations, and diplomacy.
The capitalist myth of individual emancipation is not equal to the ‘we’. The community is made of the individual and the people around the person. Only through realizing the suffering of others can peace arrive.
Young people will save the world from the American empire and make it into an American republic with a small r.’
This final statement echoing his famous message of Buddhism with a small ‘b’.
As reported in The Phnom Penh Post Buddhist monastics are involved in the current political struggle in Cambodia. They have been active at Freedom Park in central Phnom Pen in opposition to the government. The monks have been active in recent political movements. For example, in the garment and service sectors they have supported strikes by workers for more pay:
“We don’t want the regime to control the people. We want the people to control the regime,” said But Buntenh, founder of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, a group at the forefront of anti-government protests. “Whoever are the justice lovers, we will side with them.”
It is interesting to compare these sentiments to those expressed by the Buddhist Association of Thailand about the political monk Buddha Issara:
“Monks can have personal feelings but political expression is banned by sangha regulations,” said the association’s secretary Sathien Wipornmaha. He said Buddha Issara’s involvement in anti-government protests “destroys the image of Buddhism”.
Luang Pu Buddha Issara was involved in the recent anti-government protests in Thailand.