S. Sivaraksa


No muffling this bold old man
October 18, 2006, 5:16 pm
Filed under: Engaged Spirituality, Human Rights, Siamese History, Thai Politics

AMID all that is ailing Thai society now, Sulak Sivaraksa stands out as its voice of conscience.

He seems like a ray of light, albeit too glaring sometimes, that keeps the moral compass intact.

At 73, he is still viewed by most people as one of Thailand’s more outspoken and respected social activists and scholars.

Here’s a man who has been twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize; a man whom Thaksin Shinawatra, who usually does not hold his tongue against his critics, has not retaliated at all against despite Sulak’s constant attacks of him.

He has not criticised me publicly. Not even privately, according to those from within his circle,” Sulak said in an interview.

Mind you, he has stinging remarks of Thaksin, even calling him a dog at one point.

People know that I have no political aspiration. Even if I had wanted to be a prime minister, I would not have become one,” he said, laughing.

Sulak, according to a friend of his who has known him for decades, has deep moral integrity but no personal agenda, no desire for material benefits.

He is inspired by Gandhi and the Dalai Lama is one of the many international figures who know him well,” said this friend.

During the interview, Sulak did not hold back his views about the way Buddhism was being practised in Thailand.

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He once wrote that “simply performing the outer rituals of any tradition has little value if it is not accompanied by personal transformation”.

To him, the kingdom has enough temples, so more money should be spent on training monks.

As a young boy, Sulak attended two Christian schools before entering monkhood for a while.

I thrived on it. I would have stayed on if my father had not talked me out of it. He asked me: what happens if you fall in love?” Sulak recalled. (He has three children and his wife runs a publishing house.)

He described his father as his very first friend, so the teenaged Sulak was devastated when he died at 43 of cancer.

Sulak, who later studied in England, has often ventured into uncharted territory. He openly admitted that his grandfather was from China back in those days when Thais shunned their Chinese roots. He was also in exile twice.

He has outspoken views of the monarchy but seems to get away with his controversial remarks. Last year, he gave a magazine interview that was deemed lese majeste.

The police questioned the editor but they have not touched me yet,” he said.

Sulak, who has addressed the crowds at anti-Thaksin rallies, said he had initially seen hope in the premier when he came into power in 2001.

One of the first things Thaksin did was to have lunch with the Assembly of the Poor (a group representing the marginalised lot), something which the previous Democrat government never did. It never even looked at the Assembly of the Poor.”

But gradually, Sulak said, he found that Thaksin’s policies were drafted with his own personal interest at heart. Now, he seems to have nothing good to say about the prime minister.

Neither does Sulak profess any respect for Sondhi Limthongkul, a leader of an anti-Thaksin group, whom he views with distrust.

He is, however, cordial to me. So as a Buddhist, I return his cordiality.”

Sulak himself is not without flaws. Those around him and reporters who know him find that he has quite an ego.

And people wonder how someone who espouses religious values could use such harsh words against those whom he criticised.

Perhaps my strength is my weakness,” he admitted.

His long-time friend said Sulak’s views were sometimes considered old-fashioned in these fast-changing times. And he remains that rare breed who prefers to go around in his traditional Thai attire.

Is Sulak, who grew up in Bangkok when it was still known as Venice of the East (“there were no more than 400 cars then”) optimistic of Thailand’s future?

Yes, we can’t get any worse than now. A military coup is the last resort. And I have hopes of the young people. Some of them are even bolder than me.”

Still, they don’t make them like him any more.

 

By FOO YEE PING
Sunday July 16, 2006

The writer can be contacted at e-mail: yeeping@nationgroup.com

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puppies dog…

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Outcomes will likely be shown if used 30 minutes every single day.

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