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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

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.

Odds and Ends

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Graduation Day at Upaya Zen Center

Lots to catch you up on… I’ve been away for a while because I was occupied with Upaya Zen Center’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Program for an intense 10-day period. During this time, we graduated and ordained our very first group of chaplains: thirteen brave souls who started in the program in 2008 and successfully completed all requirements, including a thesis-equivalent final project. And we welcomed 24 new students into the program.

It’s really quite an amazing program – part seminary training in Buddhist teachings and practice, part professional training in chaplaincy and servant leadership, and part mystery school. As one person put it, the program becomes a kind of karmic accelerator for one’s life. I’m honored to work with Roshi Joan Halifax in leading and shaping the program… and this year, I am putting myself in the training as well.

I continue to be in the middle of a busy stretch of life work. But a number of great socially engaged Buddhist items have crossed my desk and I want to pass them along to you. Here’s the shorthand version:

• Hozan Alan Senauke, founder of the Clear View Project, recently returned from a trip to India where he spent time with the “untouchable” communities of Maharastra. You can read his account of it here: “Buddhism Among India’s Most Oppressed: Notes & Impressions.”

• Ouyporn Khuankaew, an amazing, dynamic activist from Thailand, has been right here in Santa Fe for the past few weeks and I’ve loved getting to know her better. Her center, The International Women’s Partnership for Peace and Justice, is offering an event called “Women Allies for Social Change: Exploring Buddhism and feminism for personal and social transformation” in Chiang Mai, Thailand, this July. I’ve added it to the SEB Calendar on this blog.

Also, Ouyporn, Roshi Joan Halifax, and I are cooking up an idea to create a version of the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program for Thailand. Stay tuned for more developments on this initiative.

• Another project I’ve been involved with is helping to collect material for the companion website to the upcoming PBS documentary “The Buddha.” The show will be aired on April 7. There are a number of good articles there on socially engaged Buddhism, as well as many other topics.

• Finally, there’s been a lot in the news lately about Burma and Thailand. If you’re trying to sort it all out and have a better understanding of what’s going on in that part of the world, Danny Fisher’s Buddhist Beat column on the Shambhala Sun website is a good place to start.

And in case you’re wondering, I really don’t care about all this Tiger Woods/Buddhist news… my only wish for him as well as for everyone else: May all beings be free from suffering.

A Trio of Marvelous Engaged Buddhist Talks

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Jimmy Santiago Baca

We’re in a rich stretch of time here at Upaya Zen Center, where I direct the Buddhist Chaplaincy Program. On Sunday, we graduated 13 chaplains, and we’re currently training 43 students in our second and third cohorts. I’ll write more about all that soon.

For now, I thought you might enjoy three powerful dharma talks given here at Upaya over this past month. Upaya provides these as a service to the community; any donation you feel inspired to give to support these offerings is greatly appreciated.

Ouyporn Khuankaew on Feminism and Buddhism for Transformation
Ouyporn is the founder of the International Woman’s Partnership for Peace and Justice in Thailand. She begins by speaking about her motivation for becoming a peace activist and feminist. Ouyporn also discusses the meaning and importance of engaged Buddhism in Thailand.

Jimmy Santiago Baca on “Seeing it to the End (And All the Stops In Between)
Jimmy Santiago Baca begins with a variety of compelling stories related to his life in prison and the way in which writing and reading became an important part of his life at that time. He moves on to discuss his book “A Place to Stand”, and his present work teaching literacy in prisons.

Eve Ensler on “The Future is Girl”
Eve Ensler begins by speaking about the process of writing her new book, I’m an Emotional Creature. She also explores a variety of topics including the pressures on girls to conform, the importance of social change, and her work in the Congo.

Quote of the Week: Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

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Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (1906 – 1993) is one of the founders of modern socially engaged Buddhism, and was a key person in the reformation of 20th century Thai Buddhism.

Born in Thailand (then called Siam), Buddhadasa became a monk in 1926. However, he soon became very concerned by the corruption of the monastic sangha and its preoccupation with money, politics, and comfort. He returned to the rural area of his birth and founded the forest monastery Suan Mokkh, which means “Garden of Liberation.”

Through Suan Mokkh, his talks, and his books, Buddhadasa strove to practice a Buddhism that was closer to the spirit of its original source. He once wrote, “People…have become attached to and view Buddha as a god instead of seeing him as a human being who attained enlightenment and had great compassion for others. They are not aware that Buddha teaches that anyone can follow his path and find the way out of suffering by and for themselves.”

He was very ecumenical in his understanding of Buddhism, and also reached out to members of other religions including Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs.

Buddhadasa’s teachings, and especially his emphasis on interdependence, inspired a generation of Thai social activists and artists, including Sulak Sivaraksa and many of the monks who have protected Thai forests.

This week’s quote from Buddhadasa comes from Donald K. Swearer’s essay “The Three Legacies of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu” (in The quest for a just society: the legacy and challenge of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, ed. by Sulak Sivaraksa).

The entire cosmos is a cooperative. The sun, the moon, and the stars live together as a cooperative. The same is true for humans and animals, trees and soil. Our bodily parts function as a cooperative. When we realize that the world is a mutual, interdependent, cooperative enterprise, that human beings are all mutual friends in the process of birth, old age, suffering and death, then we can build a noble, even heavenly environment. If our lives are not based in this truth, then we shall all perish.

To learn more about Buddhadasa and his legacy, visit this website.

Jan 7-11, 2010: Mindfulness Retreat with Ouyporn Khuankaew

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This retreat, to be held in Chiang Mai, is organized by the International Women’s Partnership for Peace and Justice, of which Ouyporn Khuankaew is a co-founder. Khuankaew is a remarkable Thai woman who addresses gender-based violence through her Buddhist practice. In 2006, she was named one of the “Outstanding Women in Buddhism.”

According to the  IWPPJ website,

This 5 day retreat, in a peaceful and quiet village setting, will cultivate wellness and awareness of the body, mind and spirit through:

  • Meditation,  incorporating various meditation techniques and mindfulness practices throughout the day
  • An introduction to socially engaged Buddhist teachings
  • Experiential sharing and personal reflection
  • Daily meditative yoga practice
  • Ample time for rest and relaxation
  • Simple living close to nature

You can find out more information about this retreat here.

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