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Doing good

About two years ago, Prachatai columnist and university lecturer Surapot Thaweesak met a monk from the Dhammakaya Temple who visited his university to propose a joint Buddhist training programme for students.  He was told that his university would have to recruit students to attend the programme and they would be required to pay for Dhamma books and other expenses.  However, the temple provided a promotion discount for the expenses if his university decided to join the programme immediately.

Surapot responded that he disagreed with forcing students to take training, as this issue should be left to the free choice of the students, and the temple had better just put up posters advertising the programme.

The monk looked dissatisfied and said, ‘if people think like you, this programme will never succeed. I’ve been to many universities and always received good cooperation from the administrators.  They agree to recruit students to join the activity because they are aware that students will benefit in the end.  As you also know how youths are nowadays; it’s difficult to expect them to pay attention to religion on their own.  I’d like to ask you what is wrong with forcing young people to do good?’

Feeling that the conversation was getting intense, he said that in his view to force students to do good was against Buddhist principles.  ‘I may be wrong, but I’ve never learned that the Buddha or his disciples forced anyone to do good or to study and practice dharma. […] He never went hungry for students, did he?  To study dharma in those days did not require money, and there was no atmosphere of total obedience in believing and not arguing with the monks like at present.’

After pausing for a while, the monk ended the conversation by saying, ‘All right. If you’re so obstinate, it’s up to you. I consider my job today is done, which was to bring you merit.  My job is finished, and I have to leave.’

The monk said goodbye with a calm and restrained gesture, but it was calm and restrained in a way that chilled Surapot.  He did not understand what the monk meant by saying ‘to bring you merit.’  And he wondered whether he had to be a sinner if he disagreed with monks.  He thought that he had the right to say yes or no to the activity.  The monk should not have exerted his moral authority to force him to force students.

More recently, students from the Buddhism Club in his university came to tell him that they wanted the university to provide them with a van and a driver to take them to Surin as they had been invited as resource persons on Buddhism training organized by a local government agency, and they demanded that the university pay them and the driver a daily allowance as well.  He asked them whether the government agency would take responsibility for all the expenses.

He read their project proposal and found that one of the objectives was, ‘to bring the genuine teachings of Buddhism back to Thai society and to follow His Majesty the King’s first address [upon ascending to the throne] which said “I shall reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people”.

He asked the students how they were sure that they would bring the real teachings back to Thai society.  Their answer made him speechless.  ‘If you want to know, you have to learn with us.’

He asked them further, ‘What are the genuine teachings of Buddhism?’  They answered, ‘The genuine teachings are the ultimate truth of Buddha.’

The conversation ended with the conclusion that the host agency should be responsible for the expenses.  The students were apparently unhappy with that.  They said that they were following the King’s guideline ‘for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people’ by bringing back the genuine teachings of Buddhism to solve the problems of Thai society.  They worked with devotion, and if the university did not support them, it would be OK for them.

From these two incidents, he feels sorry how Thai society has been indoctrinated with the idea of morality.  He wonders how come those who think that they are doing good in the name of Buddhism and/or the King believe that what they do must be unarguably right and must always be supported, and anyone who argues or is not supportive is wrong or ignorant.

What they are doing, which they think is good for society, is not necessarily good, he thinks.  This reminds him of those who claim dharma and love for Nation, Religion and King to exert a superior moral authority over others who hold differing views, and that has resulted in the problems we see today.



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