If one learns a Western language, be it English, French, German, or even Latin and Greek for that matter, one has to bear in mind the tenses used in such language to indicate time, as verbs can denote the past, present or future tenses. In the Thai language, however, the concept of tenses does not exist; therefore the words “60 Years of Achieving Peace in Siam” in the Thai language can either stand for the six decades following the proclamation of peace on 16 August 1945 or the six decades to come in developing peace in Siam. But if I could read the minds of the organisers, I can imagine that they would want me to emphasise on the events from the past to the present day. Let me, however, bridge today’s events to the future as well, as I believe that this would undoubtedly be the aspirations of fellow peace-loving public to find solutions to the ongoing conflicts and violence that have plagued this Kingdom as well as other parts of the world.
Come to think of it, in the six decades that have passed, actions of conflicts and violence have been spread in this Kingdom much more than the sowing of the seeds of peace.
One can easily consider that the more democratic a society is, the more peace it develops. On the contrary, the more dictatorial a society becomes, either in the forms of economic, political, educational or cultural dictatorship in the guise of democracy, the more its citizens will be deprived of their rights, thus eventually leading to conflict and violence.
What has just been said is the introduction and summary of my address today, which would hopefully lead the way to a more peaceful situation, for the private and public alike, from today at least to the coming six decades.
Let me begin by recalling that when Pridi Banomyong as Regent to King Ananda Mahidol made the peace proclamation on 16 August 1945 , this was a genuine achievement of peace in Siam . This is because from 25 January 1942 , a state of war existed de jure between this Kingdom-under the premiership of Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram-and the United Kingdom as well as the United States . De facto, however, Siam was invaded by the forces of the Japanese Emperor, even though it was claimed that the intent of said “invasion” was to use the Siamese territory to march into Western colonies in Burma , Malaya , Singapore , and Indonesia . Siam might have not been declared as a Japanese colony proper, but in fact the sovereign powers of this Kingdom were lost or corroded following the invasion of 8 December 1941.
Without the Free Thai Movement under the leadership of Pridi Banomyong, which had its headquarters in this very institution, the University of Moral and Political Sciences, peace would not have returned to this Kingdom. On the day the peace proclamation was announced, 16 August 1945 , the Allied powers including the United Kingdom and the United States recognised the independence of the Siamese state, even though it took another while for Anglo-Siamese relations to normalise.
One important word that should be noted here that the leader of the Free Thai Movement chose the name “Ruth” as his nom de guerre, in the spirit of “Truth”.
This word “truth” carries greatest significance for mankind. Without truth or sincerity, man cannot flourish, let alone grow. In Buddhism, man is often compared to a tree. Such a tree should develop from good seeds (truth-sacca), which, when sown should adapt to the soil (adaptation- d ama ). Once sprouted, it should weather the sun, wind, rain or even storms (perseverance-khanti). Fully grown, the tree spreads its branches and provides good use for humans and animals to use its trunk to rest, its leaves for shades and fruits for nourishment (charity-c?ga). In the same light, humans have to be sincere to each other, be able to adapt to various situations with perseverance, so that they can be able to help each other.
It may be said that Pridi Banomyong upheld these four righteous principles throughout his lifetime. Amidst the horrors of war, his sincerity, his ability to adapt to the environment and his perseverance all led to his proclamation of peace, thus returning the normal livelihood to the people.
In real life, peace cannot thrive where there is no sincerity. There is a Buddhist adage which says: “A council that has no honest and truthful members is no council.” Hence, without truth, everything becomes futile, false, full of half-truth and thus lacks any essence.
In politics, truth has to come hand-in-hand with peace and independence, nurtured by the stream of freedom. By freedom I mean liberty in essence, not a competitive laissez-faire kind of freedom. This liberty would lead to fraternity and may eventually result in equality, legally, economically, socially and culturally. This is the quintessence of democracy.
The same way that a country enjoys its independence, so should its people. Each and everyone of us should be independent by respecting oneself as a free person and not a slave, be it from an economic, political or cultural perspective. One should also respect one’s heritage by understanding its essence. This should be done through the practice of inner peace, and sharing this peace with fellow humans, animals, and the natural environment. Once one has respect for oneself and is independent, one would respect other humans or animals regardless of differences in birth, status, power or any predetermined social norms. This is the way to fraternity that would lead to genuine equality.
The peace proclamation on 16 August 1945 can be considered as achieving peace in Siam , at least politically. Independence was restored to the Kingdom, both de facto and de jure. Democracy was also restored to an extent. Elements of dictatorship disappeared, and the once-powerful armed forces-a state within a state-lost political influence.
In achieving ideal peace, both politics and education have to be utilised so that each and everyone of us would be able to treasure the value of peace, and that the country would enjoy peace and independence concurrently.
Let us, however, not forget that at the time of the peace proclamation, the Siamese Kingdom was surrounded by Southeast Asian countries which had previously lost their independence to the British Empire , France , the Netherlands , and the United States . During the Second World War, these colonial dependencies were invaded by Japanese troops, who claimed they were liberated from the yoke of western empires. Yet, in reality, it was the Japanese Empire which seized control and recolonised these lands, be they the Philippines from the United States , Indochina from France , Singapore , Malaya and Burma from the United Kingdom , and Indonesia from the Netherlands.
Though peace was returned to this Kingdom, all our neighbours were not in the position to enjoy peace and independence. Despite Japan having lost the war, all the territories invaded by Japan had liberation movements fighting against the return of western powers.
In this regard, it was Pridi Banomyong who was instrumental in assisting these movements in our neighbouring territories, particularly in Vietnam , Cambodia , Laos and Indonesia.
As much as we would want peace and independence, so do our neighbours. If they need our assistance and we are in the position to do so, we should help them as much as possible.
Not only that, Pridi Banomyong led discussions with their leaders with the goal of establishing a n Association of Southeast Asian Nations , which would serve to let all these countries with different governmental systems to unite in peace. A unified and peaceful regional community certainly has more bargaining power with the great powers or other regional groupings than a small, individual country. Pridi had the vision to realise that once India regained her independence, she would be as great as China , once China is free from warring factions plaguing the country at that time. Moreover, the United States would also exert influence over this region rather than the United Kingdom . This is said even without the mentioning of the sphere of influence extended by the Soviet Union.
It should be noted that every member of this Association of Southeast Asian Nations would need independence and peace, both internally and intra-regionally, in addition to being democracies, which were more inclined towards socialism rather than capitalism.
The Thai word for “independence”, ?kar?j, is composed of the word e k a , meaning being the first, or second to none, in terms of country and people, and r?j a , meaning causing g lad ness. In other words, in the formation of a state or nation, its people should not be second-rated citizens as in the case of colonies, or being subjugated under a class of nobility as in absolute monarchies. The real essence of the word ?kar?j is therefore that nations and its peoples must be considerate and respectful to each other.
In English, ?kar?j may either be translated as “independence”, “free”, or “sovereign”. A country might have independence. Its people might be free, hence synonymity between the words “independence” and “freedom”. Sovereign, which sometimes denotes kingship, means that sovereignty or the highest power belongs to the country and its free people. This very idea was enshrined in Siam ‘s first constitution of 27 June 1932.
Under a democracy, the voices of the majority must be heard without neglecting the voices of the minority. If a country consists of different ethnic groups, religions, languages, and culture, the independence of a country implies that each and every region of that country can be free. Each independent country should be interdependent, similarly to the way the Association of Southeast Asian Nations would have been.
What I have just mentioned may recall Gandhi ‘s vision for Village Republic which he elaborated thus in this structure composed if innumerable villages, there will be ever-widening, never ascending circles. Life will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. It will be an oceanic circle whose center will be the individual always ready to perish for the village, the village ready to perish for the circle of villages till at last the whole becomes one life composed of individuals, never aggressive in their arrogance, but ever humble, sharing the majesty of the oceanic circle of which they are an integral part.
Burma , which was a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations , proclaimed that once it was independent, every ethnic group within the country would be free and under autonomous rule in a sovereign country. This would mean that the central government would only be responsible for defence, foreign affairs and finance.
It should be remarked that the Association of S outheast Asian Nations chose Tiang Sirikhan, a Thai Member of Parliament from Sakol Nakorn, to be its president , as during the Second World War, he played an important role in the Free Thai Movement’s operations in the Northeast of Siam.
Therefore, the policy of the Government of Siam 60 years ago was that of decentralisation to create regional autonomy-in the Northeast, the North and South. Had this policy been fully implemented, democracy and independence would have been established concurrently with peace in every region.
If so, Laos might have joined with Siam under an autonomous and democratic rule. Of course, peace should be key here, for all the countries in the region.
Likewise, the 18 Shan States , at least Kengtung , might have united with the Siamese Kingdom . Unfortunately, Siamese troops under the leadership of Phin Choonhavan, with the aid of the Japanese, marched into Kengtung during the Second World War, which made the Prince of Kengtung detest any idea that his state should join military-ruled Siam . Instead, it was decided that this princely dominion be part of the Union of Burma. This, despite existing linguistic and ethnic differences, but the reason was that the Burmese constitution stipulated that any autonomous region had the rights of secession from the Union after a decade of independence . H owever, General Ne Win seized power in 1962, resulting in the deprivation of peace and freedom for every ethnic group in the country.
Concerning Siam , the central government was considering the demands for autonomy of the four Muslim-dominated southernmost provinces within the Kingdom in the same vain as the mentioned demands by northeastern MPs. In deed , the MPs play ed important roles in upholding sovereignty, democracy, as well as peace for every citizen in the Kingdom. These MPs united themselves under the banner of the Sahachip Party.
What I have just elaborated was the achievement of peace in Siam 60 years ago, beginning from 16 August 1945 . Peace not only among all the regions in the Kingdom, but also peace among member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations .
It was unfortunate that the development of peace, within Siam herself and among her neighbours, ended abruptly with the coup d’?tat of 8 November 1947 by a military clique led by Plaek Pibulsonggram and Phin Choonhavan. Democracy in form might have been in place until 1958, but its essence were gradually lost. What happened was the freedoms of the people eroded: the right of free speech were successively contained, the autonomous rule in the regions were undermined by the junta, resulting in many false charges against secessionist movements in the Northeast and the South, liberal-minded politicians and journalists were purged, prosecuted and executed. Even Buddhist monks were not exempted. Ultimately , peace was lost.
More unfortunate was that truth also gradually faded away. Anyone of integrity found himself more and more difficult in surviving politically. This was the time for characters with doubtful morals and opportunists subservient to the dictatorial powers-that-be. Yet these Machiavellian souls low on integrity were highly admired by the society of that time. Individuals in the like of Kimliang Vichitvadakarn or Kukrit Pramoj penned works which have not been viewed from a genuinely critical perspective, yet are still being propagated. Corrupt, even murderous politicians of the day are honoured with statues-one can count Plaek Pibulsonggram, Sarit Thanarat and Phao Sriyanonda, without naming others in their league, whose monuments stand in various government offices.
The truth was that half-truths replaced the truth. Education was there to intoxicate the masses with these half-truths instead of to search for truth, beauty or virtue. Once this ” University of Moral and Political Sciences” changed its name, moral courage and ultruistic sense in politics disappeared from this very institution. As a matter of fact, every educational institution here ha s become deferential to money, power, and western mainstream thinking characterised by fragmentary, rather than holistic perspectives, with the brain separated from the heart. The goal of education was to prepare for a career that would match the time and effort spent. Whether the career in question was a right livelihood or not, it did not seem to matter at all.
Th e powers that be painted the name of Pridi Banomyong black, accusing him of prematurely demanding democratic rule from Rama VII, who had already intended to grant Siam her first constitution. This is said without even mentioning the mud-slinging allegations of his involvement in the circumstances surrounding the death of Rama VIII. It was in fact Pridi who defended the monarchy along with the constitution. When he passed away in 1983, the Parliament he had founded and had served as its first secretary did not show any sign of respect or reverence. In some text books h is name could not even be found in the history of Thai democracy or the history Thammasat University , which he established and became the first rector.
In 2000, the year of Pridi’s centenary, there were those who conspired to erase Pridi’s name from the Government’s list of nominations for UNESCO’s important personages of the year. Indeed, though the plot was not successful, the Government’s festivities to celebrate this occasion were done rather half-heartedly. This was not surprising, as the ruling powers-that-be are still fearful of truth and fearful of those with moral courage. Lately, they have not even acknowledged the deeds of unsung heroes such as the former foreign minister Direk Jayanama, who was not included in this year’s UNESCO-list, despite being nominated by the Government.
But fortune is at times on our side too, when the writer Kulab Saipradit was given the honour by UNESCO, even though he had been jailed on account of leading the Peace Movement of 195 2 , not to mention other suffering that had been inflicted upon him by the dictators P. Pibulsonggram and S. Thanarat . Ultimately, he had to pay the highest price of dying in his exile in China .
In any case, the word “peace” at that time was tainted by the Government’s poisoning of the mentioned Peace Movement. Some years later, the word “peace” was revered again following President Kennedy’s establishment of the Peace Corps in 1961–this, of course, without realising what cruelty this very President unleashed onto Vietnam, much more than any of his predecessors. The United States has become the new imperialist power, replacing the old guards of Britain , France and other European countries. Peace is being jeopardised by the United States ‘ collaboration with just a handful of multinational corporations taking advantage of the global public and destroying the natural environment. This is being done in the name of “development” and “globalisation”-two catchwords used to mesmerise the people.
In the sense that the word “peace” was regarded in a negative connotation, many of us today have realised that the word “development” is not untainted. The Siamese Government, however, has yet to realise this. It also yet to realise that ever since it has pursued the path drawn by the United States since 1947, the Kingdom is being gradually destroyed-in terms of peace, independence, democracy, and also including religion and culture.
Conflicts that beset this Kingdom are not constrained in the southernmost provinces. Those are the areas in which differences in religion, language, ethnicity and culture are most apparent. Peaceful existence cannot be found in a place which the ruling class or multinationals transgress communities in the name of “development” or “globalisation”. Examples are abound whether in potash mine in Udorn Thani, the Pak Moon Dam in Ubol Ratchathani, the Thai-Malaysian gas pipeline in Songkhla, or the mushrooming tangerine plantations encroaching the virgin forests of Fang in Chiang Mai. Here, one does not need to mention the gradual rise in poverty among the middle class, a direct consequence of Siam ‘s globalisation policy, naively copied from the West.
These accounts are vividly depicted in Daniel Fineman’s A Special Relationship: The United States and Military Government in Thailand 1947-1958 (Honolulu, University of Hawaii, 1997). Chris Baker and Phasuk Phongpaichit elaborated and expanded this theme until the present day in A History of Thailand (Cambridge University Press, 2005). In another publication of the two, Thaksin: The Business of Politics (Chiangmai, Silkworm 2004), Siam is regarded as lacking in peace and freedom in every aspect of these words.
The fact that I have only cited English-language books was that I was afraid I might be accused of being biased against our Prime Minister, had I mentioned Thai-language books such as Remove Thaksin and Plutocracy by myself .
Despite having never been colonised by a western power, Siam was for a period of time under Western judiciary and economic control. It was Pridi Banomyong who played an instrumental role in achieving full independence for Siam in 1939. In any case, we have never acknowledged that intellectually, we have been a western colony ever since the reign of King Rama V. It might even be said that this “intellectual subservience” to the west was most prominent in the past half century. Think about it.
Many of us have come to realise that whatever that goes by the name of “western modernity”, often called “development” or “globalisation” is something that unjustly reaps the benefits away from the people. The Industrial Revolution spread the capitalist system through violence, conquests, ethnic cleansings, and slavery. Even within the hearth of the empire the poor are taken advantage of through various means. The more the few of the upper classes exploit the many of the lower class, there is an increase in violence. This violence multiplies the more modern technology is introduced, the more powers are vested in multinationals, and the more superpowers lose their moral conscience. This is not only happening in Siam , but has become a world-wide phenomenon.
Economic, social and political inequalities, not to mention the exploitation that come in various forms, form the roots of violence: Violence that is inflicted on those from a different class background, those believing in a different religious creed, and those practising different customs. These differences are linked to the unjust social structure, which, in turn, depends on the world economic order operating under the laissez-faire principle.
The stark differences existing in society results in one side enjoying privileges, making the other find various ways of opposition, even perhaps not through the normal means of justice, since the law serves the rich and powerful.
Once one side abuses the other, it is natural that the other would retaliate, hence exacerbating violence. This corresponds with a Buddhist saying that: “Bad deeds cannot be ended through retribution.” If such “bad deeds” such as violence keep persisting in our world, then our economies would continue to produce arms, making the superpowers and their defence-related industries profit, at least in the short run. Eventually, such investments would yield no value to society but would only create losses.
How do we then find a way out of violence? The answer lies of course in the pursuit of non-violent means. That is, we need to swim against the mainstream currents of thought. We have to cease developing technology for weaponry. We have to set limits to modern technological developments. We have to make the existing free trade transparent and bounded.
From a Buddhist perspective, all suffering in this world are directly or indirectly linked to the three root causes of suffering, that is, greed, anger and delusion.
In our present-day world, greed is expressed through the creeds of capitalism and consumerism. People are coerced to believe in money and worldly sciences, which includes modern technology which will not let us time to search our true capabilities or the miracle of life. W e should realise that the basis of western philosophy lies in Ren? Descartes, whose dictum “cogito ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am” has become immortal. We learned that Descartes is the Father of Modern Philosophy, but have we ever contemplated where the roots of individualism are? Individualism, expressed by oneself, is in fact a duality: If there exists a “one”, there also exists an “other”. This essence is contrary to the Buddhist principle of interdependence of all beings. Infact, we inter – are .
Today’s world has transformed Decartes’ “I think, therefore I am” to “I buy, therefore I am”, the essence of consumerism. The reason why we study is to be able to get a job and make money. Money for buying goods which are made to intoxicate us through the powers of advertising. It follows that if we lose the power to buy, we lose the purpose of ourselves.
Have we ever realised that we have been misguided by something that is the cause of violence? To achieve peace, Buddhism proposes the dictum “I breathe therefore I am.”
Our humanity is not about our thoughts. Thoughts may make us more intelligent, but they certainly do not make us be good. Even without thinking, we might be good. But without breathing, we die.
We constantly breathe, without stopping. Yet we do not seem to give any importance to breathing. Our first breaths come when we are conceived, and our last when our bodies are d ead . With western education, however, we ignore the importance of breathing. We breathe in anger, hatred, stress, vengeance, greed, and delusion almost at all times.
Buddhists call the mindfulness of breathing ?n?p?nasati, and it works as follows:
When you inhale a long breath , know that you are inhaling a long breath.
When you exhale a long breath , know that you are exhaling a long breath.
When you inhale a short breath, know that you are inhaling a short breath .
When you exhale a short breath , know that you are exhaling a short breath .
From these simple exercises, we may want to try breathing in love instead of anger. We may be able to overcome the scourges of greed, anger and delusion through our conscious breathing.
When we are conscious, we are able to understand the essence of mindfulness , which is the key to life. To understand life means more than knowing the sum of its mechanical parts, which is what we have been preached by materialistic science. At least we should come to realise that we should not be living our lives for our self-glorification, for climbing the social ladder-which is abound with injustices, but we should rather recognise that the downtrodden and exploited members of our society are no less important than us. We should also realise that we share a responsibility in protecting our natural environment, which is being incessantly destroyed. We should also learn how not to hate even those who are exploiting us, but we should instead overcome the unjust social structure which is full of violence .
The core teachings of Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths. If we do not confront suffering, we do not know the essence of suffering. Suffering that is both individual and social.
What we call globalisation or modern development does not have an understanding of the essence of suffering. One escapes from suffering using intoxicating means of consumerism and globalisation as the civilisation of the new generation. However, globalisation does not acknowledge the essence and meaning of life at all. Globalisation might be argued to improve the livelihood of people, but in fact it denies the true path towards true happiness, which is peace.
“Natthi santi param sukham” -so spake the Lord Buddha, or ” There is no greater happiness than peace.” I am afreaid that many of us do not believe in these words anymore.
From a Buddhist perspective, man can enjoy happiness when man has three levels of freedom (1) Freedom to have a decent livelihood, which needs material and natural environments. In other words, man should not be taken advantage of in the pursuit of a good life. His environment should not be destroyed so that it drifts away from its natural equilibrium. Man should also be aware of the dangers lurking in nature and hence adapt himself to such dangers. (2) Freedom to enjoy a good life with others. This means freedom from being exploited by fellow men, be it from the state, theft, or dangers from capitalism and consumerism. Both freedoms are factors which foster man to achieve freedom of the mind , which is supreme happiness. Man would be content in living simply, be compassionate towards others and should safeguard the environment. From a theological perspective, man must be able to experience God.
Once man is able to be with God, or recognise the supreme Dharma , his ego would diminish and peace would consequently be an important basis of his life and his society.
In order to achieve peace in a society, contemporaries who already have the seeds of peace embedded in them need to analyse the structure of society in order to understand how greed, anger, and delusion are expressed. It is fortunate that this idea has widely spread lately, beginning from Schumacher’s writings on Buddhist Economics some 30 years ago to the works of the Venerable Bhikkhu Payutt? in this country. There is even a school of political science which denounces violence, i.e. that of Glenn Paige, which has considerably gained interests in various educational establishments.
With the Buddhist perspectives on greed and hatred, true understanding of delusion becomes even more important. At last, there are some in institutions of learning who are yearning for contemplative education , which is closely associated with study of morals. In doing so, society would return to normalcy and peace would be achieved, ultimately resulting in mindfulness to achieve the highest freedom – wisdom , the essence of peace.
I sincerely hope that what I have said would make you contemplate and perhaps would even make you act by challenging the status quo-the intellectual subservience to the West which we have been naively following for too long. Perhaps you could achieve peace in society and in the world through achieving peace within yourselves. Perhaps you could spread your individual state of peace through a culture of awakening and non-violence, replacing the evil and violence existing in today’s societies.
If we accept that we are presently in a crisis, we should be contemplating the advice of those who are bold enough to remind our conscience-advice of monks such as the Venerable Bhikkhu Payutto who urged us to transform crises into opportunities. We should also heed warnings of contemporary historians such as Ni dh i Aew sriwong se , who affirmed that the mainstream Siamese society is dysfunctional, meaning that it is not aiming for peace and happiness within the society. Ni dh i himself along with close friends thus used the ” Midnight University ” as a beacon to light up social conscience, something which public or private universities here cannot achieve.
We should not forget the fact that it was our audacity to think beyond our ancient royal customs that eventually prevented us from being colonised by a western power in the 19 th century. We were able to grasp the changes and adapt ourselves to them, unlike our neighbours. Nevertheless, absolute monarchy was gradually intertwined with western imperialism from the middle of the 19 th century onwards to the demise of the ancient regime less than a century later. In other words, the ruling class never understood the essence of democracy. Although King Rama VII contemplated on the subject, he lacked enough courage and motivation. Moreover, some of his powerful relatives tried their utmost to obstruct any changes. Because of this, the Revolution of 24 June 1932 heralded an era of peace and freedom in the essence of democracy. Pridi Banomyong ‘ s Economic Plan was considered as an important vehicle to create liberty alongside equality, upheld by fraternity. Unfortunately, his ideas and ideals were impeded by the powers that be and the military juntas imposed dictatorial rules until 16 August 1945.
What I have just said was to demonstrate that policy-making and administration of a bygone age cannot be utilised to transform present-day crises into opportunities. If we accept that there is a state of crisis, originating from greed (attachment to capitalism), hatred (attachment to centralized power) and delusion (attachment to the so-called “modern” technology, copied entirely from the west), we should be daring enough to confront this crisis using peaceful means. Eventually, peace would be created within ourselves and within society.
We are fortunate, however, that there are non-mainstream groups which are building peace in this country. These groups, predominantly NGOs, are out of sight of the ruling class, or even ridiculed, murdered, imprisoned, or persecuted through various means.
One of the pioneers of the Siamese NGO movement was Puey Ungphakorn, who coined the phrase “Santi Pracha Dharma”, which means that peace would be achieved if the people are able to enjoy justice and democracy.
Ever since the 1970s, more and more youths here have turned to NGOs, as they have realised that bureaucracy and capitalism are doomed. Some former government officials such as Dr. Prawase Wasi whose ideas break the norms realised that these ideas cannot flourish in a bureaucratic system. This is why new ideas to achieve peace and justice among the people could only prosper among NGOs.
Non-mainstream activists, which today count many young people, have increased their criticisms of Siam ‘s development along the lines of a top-down bureaucratic hierarchy, with the ruling class being intellectually subservient to the west. Not only would the system fail, it would also lead to an economic and political polarisation, which may ultimately result in incidents similar to the bloodshed in October 1976. Even the Buddhist clergy have played an increasing role in the development of the country according to Buddhist teachings: Teachings that emphasise contentment and compassion in line with our cultural and natural heritage instead of competition and materialism as copied from the west.
We may have forgotten that once villagers unite, they would be able to obstruct irrational governmental projects usually infested with corruption. Take the village movement in Kanchanaburi for example, which joined hands with villagers from other provinces, Buddhist monks, academics, journalists, and even foreign environmentalists, who were successful in preventing the construction of the Nam Jone Dam in 1988.
From this vantage point, a wide array of NGOs protesting against the government and the ruling class have joined forces with members of the middle class who realise the importance of non-governmental development. Elsewhere, environmental movements are also growing and are integrating environmentalism with human rights, especially the protection of the rights of the minority.
Though minorities have always been taken advantage of by the ruling powers for a long time, they are now aligned with NGOs-mostly those from the middle class-and also get support from progressive-minded academics. A case in point here would be the Karen Chief Joni Odochao, who has now turned into a national and international luminary. Former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai had tried to downplay his role, but the attempts were in vain. Another example is Bamrung Gayotha, who had been a labourer in Bangkok and returned to his homeland to lead farmers and villagers and eventually became an important figure in the Assembly of the Poor. When I myself was arrested by trying to block the Siamese-Burmese gas pipeline in Kanchanaburi in 1998 and Bamrung came to pay me a visit at the police station, the police officer in charge said to his subordinate using a form of respect when he mentioned Bamrung.
We should not forget that the Assembly of the Poor is the greatest movement the Kingdom has at the moment. The fact that they were able to unite with honour makes us realise that what we used to claim that the poor are backward and powerless is merely a myth just as the omnipotence and infallibility of great kings.
The Assembly of the Poor does not want any crumbs from the wealthy or politicians, who are likely to pay for or coerce the Assembly to do this or that. On the contrary, the Assembly dares to challenge the government, honourably and peacefully, that the capitalist- and technology-oriented policies are flawed.
Not only does the Assembly of the Poor challenge the government, but it also u s a peaceful movement based on democracy, emphasising on sufficiency, and on maintaining an equilibrium in nature. It also leads is in alternative education, traditional medicine and cooperative farming without chemical fertilizer. The Assembly is not doing this for its own sake, but for the good of society. Such society should bridge the different classes, its activities should be transparent, and it should also respect the natural and cultural heritage of its people.
We are fortunate that the middle class is now working with the Assembly of the Poor. Even businesspeople especially those in the Social Venture Network understand the Assembly and assist it in its activities, not to mention the support given by some aristocrats such as former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, who understands the peaceful non-governmental movements. Amongst the academia, the Midnight University has sparked a trend for professors in various institutions to think and act “out of the box”‘; this is also being encouraged and supported by the Spirit in Education Movement.
Nevertheless, it is a pity that young members of the Buddhist clergy are not playing a great role today as much as their predecessors had in the period immediately following the 1932 Revolution. Likewise, our students of today also lack the vigour and idealism which was so alive among students of the 1970s generation. These two issues are very important and should be studied in greater detail as to their hows and whys.
Yet we should be happy that the role of Siamese women are not at all inferior to their male counterparts. This is most evident in non-mainstream work, and there are examples abound: Prateep Ungsongtham with her urban slum work, Ratchanee Thongchai with her alternative-education schools, Pinan Chotiroseranee and her human rights-cum-environment group in Kanchanaburi, Wanida Tantiwittayapitak and her leadership in the Assembly of the Poor, or grassroot women such as Grandma Hai Khannanta in Ubol Ratchatani and Dr. Jintana Kaewkhao of Prachuabkirikhan who received an honorary degree from the Midnight University, or even Tuanjai Deetes and her environmental projects among the hilltribe people. These ladies are individual examples of courage which have not been recognised by the powers-that-be, even though some of the ladies are elected members of the Senate. If they expand their support beyond their constituencies, there would be hope for societal peace-“Santi Pracha Dharma“. What is also crucial is that these ladies have been searching for their inner peace. In practice, they have asserted their inner peacefulness to the society they are living in, through their network of development organisations.
What I have said may be a small thrust for change in the large Siamese society. However, the British sociologist Margaret Meade put it beautifully: never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, dedicated citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. It is therefore important that those in the mainstream begin by contemplating on what could be a point of inflection of Siamese society that has just been pointed out, besides mentioned in “alternative” literature which is now available in abundance where it did not exist at all in the early 1960s. A just society as well as a noble individual spirit need to have peace, which would light the way for a less selfish world, a world in which one lives not for one’s sake or for one’s career and ambitions, but for serving others, both humans and other living beings.
This should be a good basis for achieving peace, not only for Siam and the Siamese, but for all the citizens of the world and not only for the coming six decades.