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Buddhism in the News


Saturday, May 15, 2010

May Thailand Know Peace and Reconciliation.

The political situation in Thailand of late (the past two months) has been intense to watch unfold and tensions seems wound tighter than a stretched and fraying rope. There have been protests of the elitists in Thailand (The government, military, entrenched business interests, and some claim the monarchy) by the poor and working classes called, "The Red Shirts" over a perceived lack of say in affairs of the state. In the past the King has intervened during protests to calm the situation but some say that the monarchy has been too politicized this time. In part because the royalist/elitist faction claims the red-shirt goal is nothing short of tearing down the monarchy itself. Irregardless the King has not done much anyway to tamp down the conflict.

So, in that vacuum of leadership there was no one to keep things from escalating into full-blown rage, which we Buddhists know can easily ignite a bigger emotional fire that involves the spilling of blood. Just so, violence has erupted and is now dangerously close to evolving into full civil war. As it is the military has called the demonstration areas, "live-fire zones," and so far, 37 people have been killed. This is a risky option given the issues in Sri Lanka of monks being (perhaps) too politicized, but is the only institution capable of bringing Thailand back from the brink the great Sangha?

Is it possible they could mediate as the Great Buddha once did during his time walking this Earth? It would be the hope of this humble member of the Greater World Sangha that they could without directly undertaking a political role in the long-term governance of that beautiful, Buddhist, Southeast-Asian country. That all said, however, some wheels once set into motion gather enough speed to be unstoppable. Sometimes violence is what develops from a long string of less than helpful actions by groups and/or whole countries. This collective "karma" of a mass of people has a lot of force behind it and sometimes the only way a person can respond is to do the best in living as mindfully in that storm as possible. It's during massive turmoil such as these where one's practice becomes very helpful.

Perhaps that message is germinating amongst the two parties. A representative of the government who spoke today hoped the countries Buddhist culture would be nourished in this time of need. He claims that because of this culture the Thai people people aren't predisposed to violence. “Between 80 and 90 per cent of Thai people are Buddhists,” he said. “Buddhists are taught that to kill — even animals — is just wrong.” Still, even Buddhists aren't immune from anger and violence. As well as being manipulated to fit a political ideology.

To prove the point, Buddhism was called upon, even while protesters vowed to keep up the fighting, "As night fell, defiant Red Shirt leaders led followers in Buddhist prayers." This is still the realm of samsara after all. May Thailand soon know a greater peace and achieve recalibration upon the middle-path through political reconciliation. I wish my brothers and sisters in Thailand well, and please know that you are all in my thoughts.

PHOTO CREDIT: Thai monks join red-shirted anti-government protesters before donating their blood during a mass demonstration.

~Peace to all beings~

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G said...

An excellent post on a very complicated and dangerous situation in 'the Land of Smiles', James. Thai people are indeed generally a friendly and fun-loving bunch of people, but for some at least, the time for joviality has long passed. Psychological, ethnic, political, social, and economic problems have come to a head in Bangkok, and are now spreading to other provincial centers.

Having lived in Thailand for some years now, James, what becomes clear is that many (most?) Thai Buddhists are essentially cultural Buddhists. That is to say, calling themselves Buddhist and acting in 'Buddhist' ways such as making merit, going to the temple, chanting, and revering monks. etc. As such, they see being Buddhist as part of their cultural identity (despite a minority of Thais being non-Buddhist, the majority of which are Muslim).

This identity does not, in the main, involve walking the Eightfold Path, and Thais generally avoid displaying negativity through acts of suppression rather than because they meditate such emotions away. They are taught from a young age to smile and pretend everything's okay even when it plainly isn't, burying negative feelings deep into their psyche. They consider this to be good Buddhist behaviour. The problem is, both individually and collectively, all this negativity must surface at some point.

Without an active meditative discipline, a multitude of negative feelings pouring out and fueled by a sense of injustice can lead to violent outbursts. (I've noticed this phenomenon in my own life when I've not meditated for some time - only with inanimate objects, though, thankfully!) This appears to be happening with the Red Shirts at the moment.

As to those in power, as with most people in power, they desire to cling on to their privileged positions, using whatever means at hand that they think they can get away with. Unfortunately, the present Thai government believes that it can retain its grip on power with the use of deadly force. Little evidence of Buddhism here, either!

Go to a forest monastery or small village, and you might encounter people actually living the Buddhist life, based on the Middle Way of not resorting to extremes of behaviour. You may even find small groups of people like this in the cities, if you look hard and long enough. But most modern Thais, and many traditionalists as well, are more concerned with the worldly pursuits of power, money, possessions, influence, sense-gratification, and having a 'big face' (looking rich and powerful to others). This is the way of the world, as opposed to the Way of the Buddha, and it is as common here in Thailand as it is just about anywhere else.

Will the government and protesters listen to monks calling for peace? Possibly, but probably not. They are much more likely to listen to the King of Thailand, however, which reveals where their essential loyalties and sense of self are centered - monarchy and Thai-ness as opposed to being Buddhist, whatever the definition of the latter may be.

Whilst the social and ethnic inequalities persist in this kingdom to the sometimes dramatic extremes that they do, feelings of clinging to power and envy of that power will not be let go of. True, they may be suppressed again for some time, perhaps decades, but they will resurface into society again eventually - they have to, they have nowhere else to go.

So, in the meantime, I join in your wish for those people involved in these deadly clashes to discover the teaching of the Buddha in their hearts, and put into practice the Way that he so beautifully described, James. Thank you for your good wishes to the (essentially) lovely people of this troubled land.

They call him James Ure said...

@G...I'm glad that I was somewhat on point with my post given that I don't live there or know it like you do. Given that I am very appreciative of your added insights and analysis into this troubling matter.

Even we Buddhists have a need to live in a relatively safe and free society. So, sometimes we do have to stand up to mess political oppression--if it arises. It would seem to be nihilism to never stand up against tyrants.

I'm against violence unless it is absolutely necessary to protect the greater good. Imagine if we just let Hitler take over the globe because we Buddhists are very much against violence?

Sometimes we have to rise up to ensure that the largest majority possible can live in freedom. Because without freedom we can not practice the Dharma very freely or easily. Again, thank-you.

G said...

As today's (19th May) events have shown, James, this conflict has been the release valve for some genuine grievances that lie not so deep under the consciousness of many Thai people. Whilst not justifying the recent violence that has erupted in this kingdom, it does reveal that to simply suppress such emotions will result in future problems.

The present social, ethnic, and economic inequlaities in Thailand do not remotely resemble the situations in such countries as Nazi-ruled Germany, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, or even junta-ruled Burma. The practice of Dharma is freely practiced here, unlike in neighboring Burma, for example, so from this perspective, things aren't so terrible. If the Thai people can take genuine refuge in the Triple Gem, perhaps a healing process that includes the solving of present problems can occur.

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