Alternative Nobels and Republics with a small r.

In Monday’s post I mentioned the wonderful Malala Yousafzai who last week became the youngest person (17) ever awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, but have you heard of the “Alternative Nobel”? This is also known as the Right Livelihood Award, established by a Swedish charity and presented annually in the Swedish Parliament.

On September 24, the 2014 awardees of the Right Livelihood Award were announced and they are NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger (The Guardian is a British national daily newspaper founded in 1821).

Snowden is being recognized for “courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights” and Rusbridger for his role in “building a global media organisation dedicated to responsible journalism in the public interest, undaunted by the challenges of exposing corporate and government malpractices.”

Earlier in September, the 1995 recipient of this award, Buddhist activist and social critic Sulak Sivaraksa spoke at the University of Wisconsin in commemoration of 9/11. The eighty-one year old delivered what was described as a “fiery lecture.” He cited the need to create new economic systems as a path to peace, and discussed the individualism of Western economic systems in contradistinction to the more collective Buddhist philosophy:

The capitalist myth of individual emancipation is not equal to the we. The community is made of the individual and the people around the person. Only through realizing the suffering of others can peace arrive . . .”

According to The Progressive, he also expressed his hope that young Americans will less hesitant to question the lifestyles of their elders than past generations:

Young people will save the world from the American empire and make it into an American republic with a small r.”

I must admit that I am not wild about first part of that sentence.  “Empire” sounds so evil, but I suppose someone needs to be saved from us, probably us most of all. That aside, I very much like the idea of a republic with a “small r.”

Sulak Sivaraksa likes small letters. So do I. Lower case is cool.* I have written about Sivaraksa several times. Included in those posts are his thoughts about Buddhism with a small b. He says,

Buddhism with a small “b” means concentrating on the message of the Buddha and paying less attention to myth, culture, and ceremony.

I think having a small “r” republic is much the same thing.  The question, however, is what is meant by message. Many people seem to think that Republic means patriotism, flag-waving, parade-holding, adopting a sort of us or them mentality, nationalism.  All that is message, all right, but it is usually of little real substance.  What I think Sivaraksa means is something less symbolic and more significant, more liberating.  In a republic with a small “r” patriotism is not as important as people and upholding the principle that the supreme power rests with the people and that all people in the republic are equal.

The people in Sivaraksa’s country of Thailand do not have much power at the present time.  It is a country going through a great deal of unrest. The current issue of National Geographic has an article from New York Times ‘ Asia correspondent Seth Mydans that explores the roots of the situation, “Thailand in Crisis.” Accompanying the article are photographs by James Nachtwey and I thought there was one in particular you might enjoy seeing:

13-robot-aide-buddhist-monk-670The caption reads, “Icons of different eras meet as Dinsow, a robotic home health aide, attends to a Buddhist monk. Not all changes sweeping Thailand are so benign.”

* Re: small letters – see this


Bits and Pieces

Today, a smattering of news culled from the wonderful World Wide Web:

WHILE in Japan, President Obama enjoyed some green tea ice cream and revisited the Great Buddha of Kamakura.

I’VE written about Sulak Sivaraksa before, here and here. He’s a activist-economist-philosopher and Buddhist from Thailand, and has one of the most relevant and thoughtful voices out there. I really like him and I’m not alone. So do the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu San Kyi, Thich Nhat Hanh and many others. You can read their comments about Sivaraksa here.

This week the Huffington Post ran an interview with this great peacemaker, conducted by Katherine Marshall. He relates some of his biography and speaks a bit about Buddhism, offering thoughts such as this:

To make a long story short, I feel that to practice Buddhism, you must care not only for yourself but for society. To be Buddhist, you should not only adhere to the main teachings — not killing, stealing, having sexual misconducts or lying — but you also have to consciously distance yourself from the structures of violence that frame our lives. You may not kill directly, but you kill through the social structure. You don’t steal directly, but you let the bank steal. So, I became more involved in addressing what you could term “structural violence.”

Read the entire interview here.

SPEAKING of Aung San Suu Kyi, here’s what has happened since her release a week ago: Burmese Aids patients ordered to leave shelter after Aung San Suu Kyi visit; Lady of Burma Aung San Suu Kyi counts the true cost of isolation; Suu Kyi sees military role in democratic Myanmar; and UN chief, Suu Kyi hold first phone call.

ON a completely different note, according to Kenki Sato, horse riding “gels well with Buddhism”.

I’VE lamented the use of the word “Zen” in marketing and poked fun at articles with “Zen of” and “Zen and” whatever-one-is-promoting in the title, but this is one case I’m willing to overlook: a review of Begin Again, A Biography of John Cage By Kenneth Silverman, in the NY Times entitled “The Zen of Silence”.

IN the healthy and green living section of, Marc Lesser offers 3 Radically Simple Zen Lessons.

WHILE in Grand Rapids, be sure to check out The Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse.

IN Georgia, it’s Buddha vs. Jesus.

FINALLY, your heart really goes out to this poor woman: Enters hospital for minor gynecological procedure, leaves as double leg amputee.


Sunday Dharma: Buddhism with a Small ‘b’

Sulak SivaraksaSulak Sivaraksa, a Thai activist-economist-philosopher who has been practicing socially engaged Buddhism for the past 40 years, is Thailand’s most prominent social critic. He’s also a Buddhist scholar.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a major influence, and like the Vietnamese Zen teacher, he discusses Buddhism in a simple and direct manner. Sivaraksa says, “Spirituality is not merely personal contemplation, not only meditation, that you feel peaceful and then you feel ‘I’m alright, Jack.’ I think that’s is dangerous. It’s escapism. In fact, meditation only helps you to be peaceful. But you must also confront social suffering as well as your own personal suffering . . .”

Sivaraksa believes that we should be less concerned with ritual, myth and culture, and focus more on ways to make Buddhism relevant to the contemporary world. This is an important message, but one that can also be taken to unnecessary extremes. I much prefer Sivarakas’s notion of “Buddhism with a small ‘b’” to “Buddhism Without Beliefs” in which we demystify dharma to the point that we have stripped away many of the core principles. Some folks are quick to point out that karma and rebirth are “cosmic laws” that belong to the realm of the supernatural, and while that has some merit, I don’t believe too many of us have such a high attainment and deep understanding that we can be absolutely sure about it either way. So, as the old saying goes, why throw the baby out with the bathwater?

A few weeks ago I posted an excerpt from the chapter “Buddhism with a Small ‘b’ found in Seeds of Peace: A Buddhist Vision for Renewing Society (1992). Today, a longer one:

Buddhist liberation, nirvana, requires neither the mastery of an arcane doctrine nor an elaborate regimen of asceticism. In fact, the Buddha condemned extreme austerity, as well as intellectual learning that does not directly address the urgent questions of life and death.

The Buddha advocated the middle path between the extremes of hedonism and asceticism. He promised immediate release, saying that there is no need to work one’s way through a sequence of karmic stages to some remote level where release is feasible . . .

The first step in the teaching of the Buddha is awareness. Recognition of what is going on is enlightenment. Recognition of the fact of suffering is the first step towards its mitigation. The most difficult thing for someone who is sick or addicted is to acknowledge his or her illness. Only when this occurs can there be progress.

The Buddha also pointed out that when we realize suffering is universal, we can relieve a certain amount of anxiety already. When an adolescent realizes that his sufferings are the sufferings of all young people, he is taking a significant step towards their mitigation. It is a question of perspective.

Continue reading “Sunday Dharma: Buddhism with a Small ‘b’”


Seeds of Peace

Seeds of Peace is a book by Sulak Sivaraksa, a Thai social activist. It has the Buddhist seal of approval with a foreword by the Dalai Lama, a preface by Thich Nhat Hanh and a blurb on the back cover by Joanna Macy.

I have seen the book at Borders and other places many times and it was one of those books on my list, but I figured I would wait until I ran across it in a used book store which was bound to happen sooner or later. Yesterday, I saw it on one of the selves in my local thrift store, and it was dirt cheap, at only 50 cents.

Sulak Sivaraksa is founder and director of the Thai NGO Sathirakoses-Nagapradeepa Foundation, a social, humanitarian, ecological and spiritual movement. The back cover says that in Seeds of Peace, “Sulak draws on his study and practice of Buddhism to approach a wide range of subjects, including economic development, the environment, Japan’s role in Asia, and women in Buddhism.

Published in 1992 Seeds of Peace is still very relevant, considering the recent unrest in Thailand and the ongoing discussions over the role of women in Buddhism. On the later subject, he devotes an entire chapter, which he concludes by saying, “If those in Buddhist countries would study the life and teachings of the Buddha, much of the prejudice and ignorance of the present day would be alleviated.”

You’d think that would be the first thing Buddhists would do . . . study the life and teachings of the Buddha . . .

Another chapter that piqued my interest is “Buddhism with a small ‘b’”, and although his focus is on Asia, like the statement above, people everywhere can benefit from his point of view:

Buddhism, as practiced in most Asian countries today, serves mainly to legitimize dictatorial regimes and multinational corporations. If we Buddhist want to redirect our energies towards enlightenment and universal love, we should begin by spelling Buddhism with a small ‘b.’ Buddhism with a small ‘b’ means concentrating on the message of the Buddha and paying less attention to myth, culture, and ceremony.

We must refrain from focusing on the limiting, egocentric elements of our tradition. Instead, we should follow the original teachings of the Buddha in ways that promote tolerance and real wisdom. It is not a Buddhist approach to say that if everyone practices Buddhism, the world would be a better place. Wars and oppression begin from this kind of thinking.

If you’d like to know more about Sulak Sivaraksa, visit his Wikipedia page or his website.