For his vision, activism and spiritual commitment in the quest for a development process that is rooted in democracy, justice and cultural integrity.
Sulak Sivaraksa is a Thai intellectual and activist, who has played a leading role in the mobilisation of Thailand’s civil society. His life-long activism has involved the creation of a string of social welfare and development organisations; the proposal of alternatives to consumerism; and his concern for democracy, human rights and accountable government.
His work has been able to inspire people beyond the borders of Thailand and his concept of development has been of great influence worldwide. However, Sivaraksa’s activism has repeatedly brought him into conflict with the local authorities. He has spent time in jail after being charged with lèse majesté and has had to flee Thailand on several occasions. However, he has never lost his determination to mobilise Thai civil society.
He is credited with starting the country’s indigenous NGO movement through his creation of a string of social welfare and development organisations rooted in different aspects of Thai society. Running through these organisations is an emphasis on the importance of the spiritual and religious dimension of human life, rooted in his own deep Buddhist sensibility.
Through his prolific writings and speeches, at home and abroad, as well as through his activism and organisational initiatives, Sivaraksa’s concept of development has been of great influence worldwide.
Activism through "buddhism with a small b"
Sulak Sivaraksa was born in 1933 and educated in Britain before returning to Thailand in 1961 to be a lecturer at the Thammasat and Chulalongkorn Universities. In 1963, he founded and for 6 years edited the Social Science Review, which soon became the most influential publication in Thailand. According to several testimonies, the Review played a crucial role in awakening the student awareness that led to the overthrow of the military regime in 1973.
Concern for democracy, human rights and accountable government, and the ability to inspire thousands of others in many different countries with such concern, have been a central strand in Sivaraksa's life-work. After the 1988 uprising in Burma, he was much involved in the support of Burmese refugees in Thailand - for example with the famous Jungle University for fleeing Burmese students.
Sivaraksa has had a leading role in the mobilisation of Thai civil society. He is credited with starting the country's indigenous NGO movement through his creation of a string of social welfare and development organisations rooted in different aspects of Thai society. Running through these organisations are two principal visions, reflected in (i) a rejection of Western consumerist models of development in favour of an approach growing out of Thai (or, more generally, indigenous) culture; and (ii) an emphasis on the importance of the spiritual and religious dimension of human life, rooted in his own deep Buddhist sensibility, which he calls "buddhism with a small b," rejecting all flamboyant and shallow rituals and emphasis on titles. Through his prolific writings and speeches, at home and abroad, as well as through his activism and organisational initiatives, Sivaraksa's concept of development has been of great influence worldwide.
Speaking truth to power
His social activism has repeatedly brought him into conflict with the authorities in Thailand. In 1976, when Sivaraksa was visiting the United Kingdom, Thailand's bloodiest coup took place and Sivaraksa's bookshop, being a hub for social discussions and activism, was burned down. Many of his friends and colleagues were killed and put in jail, and he was forced to stay out of the country for two years during which he travelled around the world and lectured at universities. In 1984, after the publishing of his book Unmasking Thai Society, he was charged with lèse majesté and ended up in prison. Due to heavy international protests and the King's intervention, he was acquitted. In 1991, he had to flee the country after a speech he held at the university. He returned to Thailand in 1992 to face the charges in court. The charges were finally withdrawn in 1995.
In the meantime, Sivaraksa developed new initiatives. One - an international network on "Alternatives to Consumerism" - aiming to record sustainable alternatives to the Western consumer model with different spiritual motivations. The other - the Spirit in Education Movement - developed an alternative approach to mainstream education.
Sivaraksa is also a publisher and the author of over a hundred books and monographs in both Thai and English. One of the most popular ones being Seeds of Peace - a buddhist vision for renewing society (1992) where the foreword is written by H.H. The Dalai Lama and the preface by Thich Nhat Hanh.
In 1989, he founded the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) to integrate the practice of Buddhism with social action for a more just and peaceful world.
In 1998, Sivaraksa received the UNPO Human Rights Award, in 2001 the Millenium Gandhi Award, and in 2011 the Niwano Peace Prize.