Founder: Sulak Sivaraksa (b. 1945)

The Sekhiyatham movement, more an association of individuals who network among themselves and with the wider society than an organized body with administrative structures, was started in Thailand in 1989 by the scholar-monk Sulak Sivaraksa. Its aim is to promote greater awareness among Buddhists of the misguided policies and inverted set of priorities of secular rulers in relation to development policy, welfare, culture, and the protection of the environment. The Thai government is also perceived to be over anxious to embrace westernization in education, which Sekhiyatham believes fosters materialism, and in other areas of life, to the detriment of Thai values. The movement has also been highly critical of the Sangha or monastic community.

Though twice charged with lese-majesty for attempting to undermine the State but never actually prosecuted Sivaraksa spends less time on directly criticizing the Sangha as an institution than, for example, Bodhirak (see Santi Asoke). He does, however, appear to doubt the Sangha’s ability or even desire to reform itself, and he is also doubtful whether the State is seriously interested in such reform.

It is in this context that the Sekiyatham movement attempts to provide a form of engaged asceticism that not only contributes to the reform of Buddhism but also provides all citizens with a model of how to protect the environment and enable society to retain its essential identity under the impact of westernization.

Though he describes himself as a ‘Buddhist with a small b’, who is open to the values of other faiths and cultures, Sivaraksa stresses the fundamental necessity of providing an alternative to western education which he describes as a system which places the emphasis on property, money, power, and the ability to consume.

What Sivaraksa, and reformers like him, are seeking to promote is learning for life, which involves learning about what separates people from one and another and what blinds them to the natural ‘inter-relatedness’ between themselves, and between themselves and other beings. The principles of this kind of education—promoted in seminars and workshops on ‘Humans and Their Learning’—will, it is envisaged, advance the cause of Engaged Buddhism by making for greater awareness of social inequalities and of the need for social solidarity with those affected by venture Capitalism, which Sivaraksa attacks for its profit only mentality which militates against the interests of the underprivileged. This philosophy lies behind Sivaraksa’s involvement in campaigns such as the attempt to prevent the construction of the Pak Moon dam on the Mekong river, the Yadana gas pipeline, and the ThaiMalaysian gas pipeline schemes.

Next post:

Previous post: