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In Session: Engaged Buddhism: Historic Relic of the 1960s or Alive and Well in Contemporary Southeast Asia
3: Glum Ahimsa and the Beginnings of Socially Engaged Buddhist Networks in Thailand
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States
Socially engaged Buddhism has, in recent years, received a fair amount of scholarly attention. Despite this, little is known about the early years of the now global movement. This paper examines the beginnings and sources of the first socially engaged Buddhist network in Thailand and the social and political conditions they were responding to. Built on and inspired by the work and ideas of Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu, Sulak Sivaraksa, Thich Nhat Hanh and other figures, a number of young college students in Bangkok came together starting in the early 1970s for weekly meetings to discuss non-violence, religion and social change. Encouraged by Gandhi’s example of non-violent protest in India, they labelled their informal organization Glum Ahimsa or the “non-violent group.” At the time, armed struggle on the left and right was overshadowing Thailand while vocal advocacy for non-violent solutions had not breached mainstream society. This group of students met regularly and, under the guidance of Sulak Sivaraksa, began writing, translating and publishing on various topics but with a strong focus on religion and non-violent social change. Ahimsa members felt that in order to change society for the better – to eliminate individual and collective suffering – one must simultaneously restructure one’s own consciousness while simultaneously striving for social transformation.