This is an inspiring and uplifting book. Rooted firmly in a particular time and place - Thailand of the early 1990s - its message is universal. 'Depending on how we live our lives, different seeds are watered. When we are in a conflict, the seeds of anger can easily sprout and come to the surface. When we are calm and at peace, the seeds of happiness come forth' (p. xv). Sulak Sivaraksa writes no abstract theory but the lived experience of one who has been a light of inspiration for compassion, respect and democracy within and beyond Thailand. The book is a series of essays collected in two main sections. Part One, The Politics of Greed comes out of Sivaraksa's social and political activism, a stance that led to his exile from his homeland. Here he critiques consumerism and large-scale 'development', offering in its place his own version of 'development as if people mattered.' Despite the ravages of globalising capitalism imposed on his country, most clearly seen by environmental disaster and a whole culture of prostitution, Sivaraksa remains hopeful and determined about the future: 'Asia's new vision of reality must be spiritual and ecological. If we can develop in this way, the future may be bright'. (p. 54)
Part Two, Personal and Societal Transformation, reveals the explicitly spiritual grounding of Sivaraksa's social vision. Here he considers the significance of religion for social change, describes his own vision of 'Buddhism with a small "b"', and discusses The Five Precepts, the role of women in Buddhist society and Buddhist nonviolence. He concludes with a call for the construction of 'a Buddhist model of society' - the sangha as 'one prototypical form of the emerging counter-civilisation' (p. 102). The book ends with an appendix of essays relating specifically to the political events of the early 1990s. They give an insight into the personal risk the author's principled position has led him to undertake. Sivaraksa is clearly an eloquent exponent of what has come to be known as 'engaged Buddhism'. I read this book because I wanted to know how this strand of dharma works from within a traditionally Buddhist culture, rather than from a 'western' perspective. I was not disappointed.
Never before have I read one book with so many answers to so many problems, save for the Gospels perhaps. Ajarn Sulak Sivaraksa for years was a much-criticized, crystal clear voice for positive social change and human rights during the dark days of military dictatorship in Thailand. Unfortunately, with the realization of democratic freedom in that country starting in 1992, most influential Thais used their freedom not to rediscover the fundamental values of human decency as taught by Buddha and Christ, (and which made Thais world famous as a loving, generous people), but to embrace the new gods of consumerism and development in pursuit of their own financial gain.
The result of that idolatry is an economy in shambles today, thanks to a "Rich then Green" economic approach which placed wealth for a few above quality of life for all. In this setting, it is appropriate for Thais, (and foreigners who love Thailand), to discover or re-discover "Seeds of Peace," and it's message of human spiritual transformation -- starting with each of us -- expanding outwards (much like Bobby Kennedy's metaphor of rings of water in a pond) to transform families, communities, villages, cities, states, nations and the world.
Although the political message is somewhat outdated -- Ajarn Sulak wrote "Seeds of Peace" in 1991 while a political exile hated by the military/police Thai government which was run out of power in the May 1992 pro-democracy demonstrations -- the spiritual, social and activist message is one that is more vital than ever today. Thais are now faced with the proof that profit and material wealth -- as both Buddha and Christ taught -- destroy us as spiritual beings, and they cannont guarantee happiness. The Thai government's answer to the economic downturn has been to put more faith in an export economy in which child and under-paid labor is still rampant, and to accept IMF bailout schemes which cripple local decision-making ability and hobble the rights of the workers even more. By reconsidering and returning to the traditional values of Thai Buddhism, and by embracing "engaged buddhism" as a social and activist model, Ajarn Sulak believes that Thais can regain some of the qualities of Thai life which now exist mostly as sentimental recollections.
And this book is by no means applicable to Thailand, or only to those who acknowledge the wisdom of the Buddha. Ajarn Sulak applies his beliefs to a world out of balance, drawing on conditions and social criticisms which apply to all nations.
Sulak Sivaraksa precieves with crystal clarity the cancers that are inside all of us -- greed, anger, mistrust, hate, ignorance, indifference -- and demonstrates how they infect our entire world on a global scale. But he also offers the answers with equal clarity, of the good, peacefulness, unconditional love and optimism which we hold inside of us as well. That part of us, our "higher selves," are "seeds" which can transform not only our life and the lives of those we love, but change our entire world as well.