CHAMPION OF ENGAGED BUDDHISM



By Swati Chopra

January 2002

Sulak Sivaraksa is an activist-economist-philosopher from Thailand who has been using Buddhist ethics for social and spiritual transformation in his country and beyond for the past 40 years. Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, he is a legend in his own time. He gave an exclusive interview to Swati Chopra


Sulak Sivaraksa

Each one of us carries within seeds—potentialities—for love, anger, happiness, violence, and peace. These lie dormant until we water them with our actions. Being angry sprouts the seeds of sadness and discontent. Living in awareness sprouts seeds of peace. This is the vision Thai Buddhist activist Sulak Sivaraksa has employed to effectively bring about social transformation, for, he believes, each individual is a seed in himself and by practicing it can encourage goodness in others.

Sulak, now widely regarded as a ‘Thai institution, in a class by himself’, is an activist-economist-philosopher from Thailand, or Siam, as he prefers to call his country. Educated in England and Wales, he spent nine years working for the BBC before returning home. In the 1960s, at age 28, he founded Sangkhomsaat Paritat (Social Science Review) that soon became the foremost intellectual publication in Siam. Editing it led Sulak to minutely examine issues related to development and its impact on the grassroots, and then dawned the realization that true change could only be brought about through social activism. Thus began his search for development models based on Buddhist ideals.

For over four decades, Sulak’s outspoken denunciation of dictatorial regimes, consumerism and MNCs has made him ‘Public Enemy No. 1′ for successive Thai governments. He has been the central figure in Thailand’s NGO movement and has founded the International Network of Engaged Buddhists. Sulak was recently in Delhi to deliver a lecture, and to network with Indian friends. Age has not dulled his enthusiasm for exploring ideas and sharing thoughts.

Excerpts from an interview:

What is ‘socially engaged Buddhism’?

‘Buddhism’ is an English word; the Buddha never used it! When ‘Buddhism’ became popular in the West, it became the notion that Buddhists should meditate, be calm and tranquil, divorced from society. This is very different from the way I was brought up in my country where firstly, Buddhism means practicing sheela—not exploiting yourself or others. This very first step links you to society. The
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