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Buddhist Education for Social Transformation in Thailand

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Ouyporn Khuankaew, co-founder of IWP

Ouyporn Khuankaew and Ginger Norwood are two Buddhist feminist activists based in Thailand who co-founded the International Women’s Partnership for Peace and Justice (IWP) in 2002. Through IWP, Ouyporn and Ginger and a wonderful team of other activists offer workshops on anti-oppression feminism, collective leadership, gender and diversity, nonviolent direct action, and peacebuilding.

In the winter of 2011, I was honored to spend some time at IWP (located north of Chiang Mai), and have a deep appreciation for the work that Ouyporn and Ginger are doing to support activists from all over Asia. Just a few weeks ago, Ginger graduated from Upaya’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program here in Santa Fe, so our connections with each other literally span the globe.

This summer, IWP is launching a new training program called BEST — the Buddhist Education for Social Transformation Project. BEST is an innovative yearlong certificated course focused on transformation of individuals, communities, the environment, and the world. The program is open to anyone seeking a Buddhist perspective in his or her approach to personal development, social justice and social change work.

I’m very excited to share this news with you for two reasons.

> First — If you are an activist based in Asia or if you know someone who is, the BEST training is now open for applications. The course is open to people of all identities, welcoming of all genders and sexual identities, spiritual/faith traditions and beliefs, ages, ethnicities, education levels, professions, etc. First priority will be given to activists living and working in the Asian region. The deadline for applying is May 1, and you can find the application material on this page. 

Second — I’m very excited that Ouyporn and Ginger have invited me to teach at BEST during the opening session this July. BEST has limited funding which is prioritized for supporting program participants. I don’t have enough resources to make this trip on my own, so I am asking for help to cover transportation to Thailand so that I may support this great program and teach a workshop on “The Mandala of Socially Engaged Buddhism.”

You can find out more on my fundraising page here:

I would be deeply grateful for any support you can offer, and my biggest thanks to those of you who have already made a contribution to this travel fund! And thank you also for helping to spread the word about BEST to others who may be interested.

palms together,


Bodhisattvas of Great Strength…

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Photo from Oakland Tribune

 During the short aeons of swords,

 They meditate on love,

 Introducing to nonviolence

 Hundreds of millions of living beings.

 In the middle of great battles

 They remain impartial to both sides;

 For bodhisattvas of great strength

 Delight in reconciliation of conflict.

 In order to help the living beings,

 They voluntarily descend into

 The hells which are attached

 To all the inconceivable buddha-fields.

—Vimalakirti Sutra

Photo taken in Oakland, CA, Nov 14, 2011; Francisco “Pancho” Ramos-Stierle and friends, sitting in meditation in front of the City Hall, prior to being arrested.

Buddhist Monks Pray for Peace in Thailand

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There is some more news coming out of Thailand. The Buddhist Channel picked up an AFP story about monks in Bangkok praying for peace. You can read the full story here. An excerpt:

At a monument to a conflict that took place decades ago, hundreds of Buddhist monks prayed for an end to the modern urban warfare being waged around them in the Thai capital.

The Buddhist association that invited the monks to Bangkok’s Victory Monument had a message for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva – stop the army killing “innocent people”.

An emergency vehicle raced past, siren wailing, as about 400 monks clad in orange and brown robes gathered at the city landmark on the edge of the Ratchaprarop district on Sunday evening.

More News from Thailand: The Nonviolent Network

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An urgent appeal from Thailand’s Nonviolent Network (original website is in Thai; see this page for Google’s translation into English):

The Nonviolence Network urges all sides to stop killing one another and to stop the civil war. Stop sacrificing people’s lives for political gains. Where is Thailand heading?

Right now, the situation of conflict, the violence and the use of arms from both the soldiers and the protesters have resulted in the loss of lives, as many as 17 people have died and more than 150 are injured. The violent confrontations are happening continuously and are likely to escalate.

The Nonviolence Network and the people hereby appeal to all sides to stop the killing and the civil war. Please stop sacrificing people’s lives for political gains and leading the country into disaster, a situation which cannot be healed. As citizens with rights to live in a safe and sound environment, we ask all sides for the following:

1. For the government to withdraw military forces from all areas of conflict and for the UDD leaders to declare the end of the protest immediately, without conditions.

2. For all those disguised behind the scenes to stop hurting people and stop destroying our society for personal gains.

3. For all officials in the justice system to start collecting evidence that will lead to truth finding in all of the incidents. We believe that only truth sharing will lead to the reduction of conflict.

Nonviolence Network
15 May 2010

Thailand: The Listening Project

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photo from The Brisbane Times

As the violence and internal strife increases in Thailand, we can take some heart in knowing that there are people on the ground there who are dedicated to offering a nonviolent, loving presence.

My friend Anchalee Kurutach, a native of Thailand who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and serves on the board of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, took the time to translate the following statements from those involved with the project.

One of the most moving parts comes at the very end… here it is:

No matter what color shirt we wear and no matter what opinion we have, everyone is a human being who has basic needs, suffering, and pain. We all have someone we love and worry about. May all the pain we see here remind us to help each other as best as we can so there will be no more repeated history, such as this, in our society.

And here is the full translation from Anchalee:

The Listening Project, Thailand (LPT) consists of a group of volunteers whose mission is to listen to the sufferings, stories and feelings of people who are affected by the violent incidents. The volunteers are there to show sympathy and provide encouragement to all sides, while recognizing them as fellow human beings who suffer, who are in pain, and who experience loss from the incidents in ways that are no different from others. We, the Listening Project volunteers, do not point out what is right or what is wrong. We do we give guidance or use any logic to judge or blame any side. Our main duty is to listen as a friend to the sufferings of fellow human beings and then share some of those stories to the society.

On April 25, 2010, some LPT volunteers went to Lerdsin Hospital to visit the people who were injured from the explosions on Silom Road on April 22, 2010. There were nine patients receiving treatments there.

Patient #1

A 35 year-old female. She sustained an injury from the blast, which severed the ligaments on her middle and ring fingers on her right hand. She said that she worked near Silom Road and regularly commuted back and forth on this road. She had joined the demonstration after work with the Silom community contingent since Wednesday (April 21). On the day of the incident, she decided to join the demonstration and turned off her mobile phone so her family could not get a hold of her. She decided to join the protest because she disagreed with the red shirts’ ideas. And, she did not want the red shirts to close off Ratchaprasong intersection with their gathering because it had an impact on the country’s economy. She also wanted to support the government in their effort to solve this problem and did not want the dissolution of the parliament. She said, “I came to the demonstration by myself. I didn’t invite others to come along because I didn’t want to bother them. I saw how troubled the Silom community have been and I disagree with what UDD does. So I decided to join in. I didn’t expect at all that there would be a violent incident. I am just an ordinary citizen who came to the scene with my heart and with no weapon none whatsoever. There was no mob organizing and no mob leaders. There was no stage for us. We each got there on our own.”

When the incident happened, she was standing in front of Sri Ayutthaya Bank near Au Bon Pain. “There were three blasts but I thought they were nearby and didn’t think it was going to happen where I was standing. But the fourth one did explod behind my back. Everyone scattered and I ran away quickly. I didn’t even know that my fingers got hit. I felt numb on my fingers and when I lifted my hand to look at it, I was so frightened because my fingers were dangling. I was afraid my fingers would fall off completely so I used my other hand to hold them and ran for help from people nearby. Someone drove me to the hospital.”

She said she was very lucky that the shrapnel didn’t hit her wrist and abdomen. This is because when she later examined herself, she found some pieces of shrapnel embedded on her bracelet and there were holes in her purse, resulting from the shrapnel that penetrated through. It was fortunate that she had some documents and cosmetics inside so the shrapnel couldn’t get through to her abdomen. She said, “I didn’t think that just because we came out to protest the UDD, there would be people who disliked us enough to throw grenades to hurt people like this.”

Even though she was injured from the explosion, she said that she still would like the red shirts’demonstration to end peacefully. “I myself didn’t want any violent dispersion of the mob. I didn’t want anyone to be hurt. Even though my injury is just this, I still feel so much pain. If the mob is dispersed (with force), there will be more people that will be hurt like me or more than me. When I watched television and saw people getting hit or hurt, I felt pity and sympathized with them. They must have been quite hurt. Although I disagree with the red shirts, I don’t want anybody to get hurt.”

She said that after this incident, she would not go back to the demonstration again. “When it happened, I only thought of my mom at home. I was very worried about her. I was afraid she would feel miserable. I don’t want my mom to suffer from what happened to me.”

Patient #2

This patient just went through a four-hour surgery to remove the shrapnel that went deep into the right side of her throat and almost hit the main artery. She told us that there were many reasons why she went out to the demonstration that day and the day before. She lived in Saladaeng area but she said the people who came to the protest on the day of the incident (April 22) were people who lived in the area, people who worked in the office nearby, and people from other communities. They all wanted to express their opinions along side those who were affected (by the red shirts’ demonstration) on Silom Road. One important reason for her was that she wanted to show her love and devotion to His Majesty the king. Another reason had to do with her concerns for the trouble of many people who were not permanent employees of the department stores in the Ratchaprasong area. These people were very much affected by the red shirts’ demonstration because their income derived from their daily work, which they could not receive at this time. However, she did not go out to protest to fight with the red shirts. She only wanted to express her opinion. “I wanted people to see that there are also plenty of others who have different opinions.”

“I don’t know who fired the grenades. But even if it were the red shirt, I will not generalize all of them. In a family, if one person did something that is not right, it doesn’t mean the other siblings have to be blamed for it. The red shirt group is much bigger than a family. They have a variety of people.” She continued, “But for sure, I didn’t go out to fight with the red shirts and I don’t want the red shirts or any color shirts to have face the violence the way I did. I don’t want any violence at all.” She expressed her view that “in order to have diversity, we have to listen (to each other).”

“In the past, our country never saw people in conflict with one another. There were only people in conflict with the government. But it’s not like that right now. My friends who came to the demonstration are also from another province. They have relatives that are red shirts. We can have different opinions. But, we probably don’t want the other side to die or get hurt.”

She shared that she did not think anyone would throw the grenades at the gathering of “ordinary people who were without weapons and only carried the national flags” like this. On one hand, if there was a need to blame someone, she would blame herself. “However, if I hadn’t stood right there, if I weren’t the one who got hit, if that space were empty, there might have been others standing in that spot and got hurt instead of me.”


No matter what color shirt we wear and no matter what opinion we have, everyone is a human being who has basic needs, suffering, and pain. We all have someone we love and worry about. May all the pain we see here remind us to help each other as best as we can so there will be no more repeated history, such as this, in our society.

Listening Project Volunteers (The Listeners)
25 April 2010

Micro Peacework

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This post originally appeared on Danny Fisher’s blog as part of the Buddhist Blog Swap a couple of weeks ago… including it here now for the archives.

We often think about activism and peacework in grand terms, even grandiose terms. We think it means we have to stop an entire war, save the planet from global warming, eliminate racism. Free Tibet, Save the Redwoods, End Poverty. That’s a big agenda. No wonder we’re exhausted.

Lately I’ve been thinking that two of the most common sources of violence are actually much closer to home, rooted in our own psyches. These are: 1) the tendency to hold tightly to fixed ideas, and 2) the compulsion to rush or speed in our lives.

I realize I’m not saying anything dramatically new here… teachers from the Buddha himself to Thich Nhat Hanh and His Holiness the Dalai Lama say this much better than I could. But it’s such a good teaching that it bears remembering, and we will never run out of chances to practice with these obstructions.

The first, holding tightly to fixed ideas, probably comes our way almost every waking moment. The second, the compulsion to rush or speed, causes harm in more ways than we are probably aware of. The movie “Changing Lanes” (2002, with Ben Affleck and Samuel Jackson) was a great parable on the karma generated by unwholesome actions that are so often fueled by speed. And recently, I posted a wonderful quote by Thomas Merton on that very topic on my blog.

What would it be like to consider that every moment, every interaction, is an opportunity for reversing the karma of those tendencies, and for potent peacemaking? And to consider that these apparently small actions can add up to make a significant difference in the world?

In that spirit, I offer this small, handcrafted batch of peacemaking for you to try, specially blended to work with these two obstructions:

  • Observe Shabbat, the Jewish practice of stopping on the seventh day, of being in stillness and rest. You don’t necessarily have to do it on Saturday, but try it for one day each week and see what happens.
  • Walk (or take the bus or the train) rather than drive your car. Notice how the pace of your life changes. What else happens?
  • Consider a long-held grievance you have against someone and, just for today, let it go. Grant emotional amnesty to that person.
  • Allow someone to cut in front of you in line without going into a hissy fit.
  • Watch yourself closely as you note ideas of scarcity of resources arising. Take a deep breath and practice trusting that there is enough for everyone, that all will be well.
  • Meditate. Meditation is the ultimate act of nonviolence. When you are sitting still, you are living in low impact on the world, and you are regulating your own mind and body to operate in a more sustainable way.

What would you add to this list?

First-hand Account from Thailand

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My friend Anchalee Kurutach, a native of Thailand and a board member of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, posted this on her Facebook page earlier today. She translated this account from a peace volunteer in Bangkok who wrote this at 2 am, April 11. Even though we don’t hear much about it in the mainstream media, there is actually a significant nonviolent movement in that country, in the midst of all the turmoil.


I walked away from the protest area exhausted. My physical strength would return soon but my spirit has been lost in the wind of violence that has swept us today.

Before leaving, we the peace volunteers sat down together for some noodles and thought about what we could do next. A friend suggested that we go visit the injured at the hospital tomorrow.

These words hit me hard. I remember the Black May event. What my friends and I did then was to go give blood and visit the injured. That was the first time I ever saw people being hurt from a demonstration. We visited them over and over.

Throughout the time we have been working (as peace volunteers) since the beginning of this protest, people have been suspicious that we are the yellow-shirts in disguise, the red shirts, or the elite. I would like to let you know that my inspiration to become a peace volunteer comes from my not wanting to see people getting hurt and die anymore from political conflicts.

The sound of monks chanting for the dead could be heard from the stage at Phan Fa while we were eating the noodles today.

Again, violence won.

I think of the faces of the people I met today. The image of young soldiers, still in their teens, resting during the retreat time. Some lay down to rest, others ate bread and sodas given by the people. One of them used a pink telephone to talk to someone. I saw several of them doing the same, not just one. They probably called people who were worried about them. Like me, my mom called with concern, “Be careful of the tear gas.”

I thought of another woman in red. She rode a motorcycle into the protest area in a hurry. She said she was looking for her mom. The woman said she put on her red shirt and left home in a hurry when her mom called to say she was there. She didn’t come to take her mom home. She came to be with her mom at the demonstration.

Another woman I thought of was someone who was stuck in her sedan on the way down from Pin Klao Bridge. The road ahead of her was blocked off and the guard wouldn’t let anyone pass because the soldiers were coming in. She probably wasn’t there to join protest, she was just passing by. The soldiers whose trucks were also stuck on the bridge started to come down by the hundreds. The woman asked me if she should leave her car behind. I didn’t think the situation looked good so I told her to leave. I saw the fear in her eyes but I didn’t know what more I could do for her.

I saw the red-shirt protesters shouting in front of the soldiers, “soldiers are our brothers”, “soldiers are I-san people like us”. I saw the protesters handing cold drinks to the soldiers who were sweating from the heat. I heard another protester shouting, “We have gone beyond fear”.

A young soldier told me that he just got the order and just arrived at the protest site. He didn’t know what was going to happen and didn’t know how the night would end.

Another red-shirt student, probably the same age as the soldier with the pink phone, told me about the confrontation with the soldiers. There was fear in his/her voice. S/he asked me to take her/him across the soldier lines to join the friends on the outside. S/he held my hand tightly while we walked pass the soldiers.

I saw the color that each person was wearing and I saw the person under each color. These are people who have love, fear, anger and hope.

The later the night, the higher the death toll, which includes soldiers, protesters, journalists and bystanders.

Tomorrow i will return to the hospital again.

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