Author Archives: thaitriplegem

A REFLECTION ON MY EDUCATIONAL SOCIAL MEDIA PROJECT: Spiritual Leadership

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Spring 2013

Time flies! The semester has almost ended. I think that all students must be very busy with paperwork or final exams just like I am.  During the Spring Semester of 2013, I had a good chance to learn and a good opportunity to create a personal blog posts under the user name “thaitriplegem. These personal blog posts were something that I have never made before. I also contributed a couple posts here at “Dharma Dialogue” such as my “Skid Row Reflection,” in which I give a reflection based on my trip to Skid Row. My personal blog post was on the topic, “What Does the Theravāda Buddhist Religion Have to Say about the Poverty on Skid Row?”  This reflection considers the poverty of Skid Row from the perspective of Theravada Buddhism. In my previous blog post, I said the following:

If our religion means anything in today’s society, it must be able to address in a significant way the conditions of the poor in places like Skid Row.  What follows is divided into two parts.  First there is a consideration of the Theravāda Buddhist teaching of kamma.  Second, the divine abodes (brahma-vihāra) of loving-kindness and compassion are discussed.

These projects are for the Spiritual Leadership Class taught by Professor Danny Fisher.

The Midterm Proposal Project is my Educational Social Media Project, which I have posted on the same website and created a Facebook group for named “Healthcare Needs to Improve in Thailand.”  In this group I presented information about the healthcare system in Thailand, the problems that it has, and what you can do to help change it.  My media project can be found on my Facebook page.  I am very happy to see all your feedback.  And I would really like to see the healthcare system in Thailand be more like the Healthcare system in European countries.

My personal blog, “thaitriplegem,” has a post on the topic, “What Does the Theravāda Buddhist Religion Have to Say about the Poverty on Skid Row.” It has received seventeen comments as of May 15, 2013. I think this is a very important way to use social media or the Internet in the right way. We should employ right thought and right understanding when using social media in the modern world, a world without borders. At the same time, we can propagate Buddhism worldwide, too. All of your comments have been encouraging for me. Now I feel confident to share more on the Buddha’s teaching.  And all the comments were very helpful for me and my blog posts. They have even been of help to the people who read or who will read my blog posts, too. More than that, the comments also helped me to improve my way of thinking and writing for future blog posts. I would like to share what I have learned from the comments on the blog. These comments encouraged me to write and share more about the teachings of kamma, or in English what we call causes and effects, which the Buddha showed us more than 2,600 years ago.

First, on April 1, 2013 at 8:19 PM, I got the first comment from my classmate named 3ratna3kaya, who said, “Thank you for your teachings, Venerable. Your explanation of kamma was very clear and insightful.”

Second, on May 10, 2013 at 10:52 PM, Anonymous said, “What an interesting topic! I believe the readers must have some idea about the Theravada Buddhist religion on the skid row in order to easily clearly understand what it’s all about the article. However, I have to thank you for providing this useful knowledge in a friendly way.”

And third, on May 11, 2013 at 2:09 AM, there was a very interesting comment from

Du Wayne Engelhart, who stated, “Thank you for the discussion about kamma. What you say can be seen in a wider context. There is not only, roughly speaking, white kamma (with good effects for actions done), black kamma (with bad effects for actions done), and black and white kamma (with mixed effects for actions done). As the Buddha teaches us, there is also no kamma at all. No kamma at all is the state of Enlightenment. I think many times we worry too much about getting the effects of good kamma (in this lifetime or in future lifetimes) for the good actions we perform. We should, however, not worry too much about simply good kamma. We should try to reach the state where we are beyond kamma–where we are enlightened. We can reach this happy state by letting go of everything in the world, and that means everything–even letting go of trying to get the results of good kamma.”

Next, my project proposal titled, “Healthcare Needs to Improve in Thailand” has received fifteen comments as of May 15, 2013. I have gotten comments both in Thai and in English.   In the project proposal, many people agreed with my opinion on the subject.  For instance, on May 10, 2013 at 8:22 AM, Saranya Kim said, Yes, I agree with you. I had an experience about this ‘Only wealthy families can afford health insurance. If the average Thai becomes sick, unfortunately they have to pay their medical bills by cash. If they have to go to the hospital, they would have to wait in line for a long time before seeing the doctor. If a wealthy person needed to go to the hospital, on the other hand, they would just pay extra to see the doctor right away.’” This must be painful situation for the oppressed group because of privilege and poverty in Thai society. Also, Wattana Suriyawararak agreed with my project and said, Yes, I am sure that someday Healthcare in Thailand will be better! (Someday, I do not know not how long.) This comment comes with the hope that good healthcare will improve in Thailand someday.

I wish her dream will come true soon.

Also on May 10, 2013 at 11:53 PM, Daniel Terestenyi, my good Dhamma friend who just moved to Europe made a comment. His comment helped me get more understanding about the healthcare system in Europe. He said, “Andrew, you might consider being specific to one country in Europe, rather than the whole of Europe. Mainly, because healthcare does change some radically from country to country, and is not based upon EU law. France has an extremely good healthcare system, which I have used while living there.” Thank you very much, Daniel, for your information.

Lastly, Facebook’s group page still does not get many comments or much feedback. I am not sure if the members have enough time to read it all. Mostly, they just click on the “Like” button, but that made me happy enough. I got a nice comment from Anonymous that I would like to share. People should understand about the healthcare system in Thailand more, because many people like she or he just hear the news from friends who have enough money to go to get good treatment in Thailand. The comment from Anonymous on May 11, 2013 at 1:51 AM says: Thank you very much for the information in your Facebook group. I thought what you said was very informative. It is a good idea to make information available about the health care system in Thailand. I did not really have a good understanding of the situation. I thought the system was much better than what you describe. I didn’t really know: I based my ideas on what I heard from Thai friends waiting to go back to Thailand to have dental work done or to get glasses. I thought the health care was pretty good and the costs low. Now I understand that many Thais are not able to participate in the health care system. Now I understand the need for reform. Thanks for the information.”

Once again, thank you very much for all the comments that I have received on my Skid Row Reflection, my Project Proposal, and also on my Facebook page. All your comments were a very good source of encouragement for me. Thanks again for all the comments made by family members, my classmates, friends, professors, and also from people I do not know.  You can find my blog posts and my Facebook page at these URLs:

https://dharmadialogue.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/what-does-the-theravada-buddhist-religion-have-to-say-about-the-poverty-on-skid-row/#comments

https://dharmadialogue.wordpress.com/author/thaitriplegem/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/273506612786732/

With much Metta,

Palms together,

thaitriplegem

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HEALTHCARE NEEDS TO IMPROVE IN THAILAND

Grand Palace, Thailand

This Article is my Educational Social Media Project for the Spiritual Leadership Class taught by Professor Danny Fisher.  I have created a Facebook group named “ Healthcare Needs to Improve in Thailand.”  In this group I will present information about the healthcare system in Thailand, problems that it has, and what you can do to help change it.  My Facebook page can be found here.  Please feel free to provide your feedback.  I would like to see the healthcare system in Thailand be more like the system in European countries.

Healthcare in Thailand is practically non-existent. Only wealthy families can afford health insurance. If the average Thai becomes sick, unfortunately they have to pay their medical bills by cash. If they have to go to the hospital, they would have to wait in line for a long time before seeing the doctor. If a wealthy person needed to go to the hospital, on the other hand, they would just pay extra to see the doctor right away. There is a big difference in the quality of care that is given to patients depending on their financial status. In order to create a better society, I think Thailand needs to adopt universal healthcare system as seen in most countries in Europe, as well as in Canada and Taiwan. You can read more about the current healthcare system in Thailand here.

In my opinion, healthcare in Thailand should look more like this:

“The Healthcare in European country is provided through a wide range of different systems run at the national level. The systems are primarily publicly funded through taxation (universal health care). Private funding for health care may represent personal contributions towards meeting the non-taxpayer refunded portion of health care or may reflect totally private (non-subsidized) health care either paid out-of-pocket or met by some form of personal or employer funded insurance. All EU and many other European countries offer their citizens a European Health Insurance Card which, on a reciprocal basis, provides insurance for emergency medical treatment insurance when visiting other participating European countries.”[1]

I think that healthcare reform is urgently needed in Thailand.  “In 2000 the World Health Organisation, WHO, published its rankings of 190 of the world’s healthcare systems.“[2]  Many European countries ranked in the top 20 and Thailand was ranked 48th.  (You can read more about the current healthcare system in Europe here).



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What Does the Theravāda Buddhist Religion Have to Say about the Poverty on Skid Row?

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The following reflection paper was written after a visit by the Spiritual Leadership class of University of the West to Skid Row in Los Angeles California. The class was led by Professor Rev. Danny Fisher to experience the poverty of those living there by walking through the heart of Skid Row.

This reflection considers the poverty of Skid Row from the perspective of Theravāda Buddhism.  If our religion means anything in today’s society, it must be able to address in a significant way the conditions of the poor in places like Skid Row.  What follows is divided into two parts.  First there is a consideration of the Theravāda Buddhist teaching of kamma.  Second, the divine abodes (brahma-vihāra) of loving-kindness and compassion are discussed.

The question arises, first, whether the poor people in places like Skid Row are somehow personally responsible for their poverty.  Did they do something to bring this condition upon themselves?  Traditionally, in Theravāda Buddhism kamma (Sanskrit, karma) is understood as a person’s wholesome or unwholesome volitional actions that produce results (vipāka) in his or her present life or future lives.  In this way the idea of kamma goes together with the idea of rebirth and is interpreted in terms of three lives: past, present, and future.  Therefore, in accordance with the traditional teaching, if a person is suffering poverty in the present life, this condition can be seen as a result of inappropriate behavior in a previous life.  This is especially true if a virtuous person is suffering in the present life for what appears to be no good reason.  The reason must be that the person did something unwholesome in a previous lifetime to bring about the present-day suffering.  If, then, we view the poor people of Skid Row in these terms, we will tend to think their suffering is something they deserve because of what they have done previously.  We may tend to blame them for the conditions that exist in their lives.  We may be less likely to try to help take away the poverty to which these people are subjected.

There is another way to interpret kamma, however, besides considering it in terms of three lives.  If the focus of the Thereavāda Buddhist life is on suffering and the elimination of suffering here and now, all speculative matters being set aside as not pertinent and useful,[1] then kamma is more properly interpreted in terms of the law of nature in the present world.  “The Law of Kamma is nothing other than the Law of Nature [conditionality, causes and conditions for the way things are] expressed in terms of action.”[2]  Conditionality as the law of nature means that given this and this, this and this is the result.  And if this and this is not given, something else is the result.  The law of kamma as the law of action can be said to apply to everything in the world, that is, to natural phenomena, to human beings, and to society as a whole.

In terms of natural phenomena, the law of kamma means, for instance, that if you plant a mango seed, a mango tree will grow up and eventually give you mangos, not an apple tree from which you will pick apples.

In terms of human beings, the law of kamma applies to the bodily, the mental, and the spiritual.  In each aspect of human life, causes and conditions exist that must be considered to fully understand the human situation.  So in the case of the poor on Skid Row, for instance, many people suffer from physical illness.  There are causes for this: the people most likely cannot afford health care and may not even know what is available to them.  If these causes are to be addressed by would-be benefactors, certain actions have to be taken—for example, information about health care has to be made available.  Many people on Skid Row suffer from mental illness.  Again, there are causes and conditions for the mental illness that have to be taken into account if something is to be done to help those who are ill.  Furthermore, many people on Skid Row suffers spiritually, that is, they experience various forms of suffering in their lives, for instance, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, and lack of purpose.  These are forms of suffering that a Buddhist chaplain could help them deal with—all these forms of suffering having causes and conditions that have to be understood if solutions to problems are to be found.

Interpreting kamma as the law of nature as it applies to human beings does not mean the poor are not to some extent, in many cases, responsible for and cause their situations.  If a father abandons his family because of a drinking problem and ends up on Skid Row, his suffering and that of his entire family have a lot to do with his irresponsible drinking—unwholesome, non-beneficial behavior that has to be corrected.  But this interpretation of kamma does also mean there may very well be extenuating causes and conditions at play here and now that need to be addressed to fully appreciate the situation of the poor people and to understand what courses of action are possible to improve their lives.  Perhaps better job opportunities for the drunk father on Skid Row would have kept him from succumbing to drinking and destroying his family.

The law of kamma as the law of nature in terms of human action applies not only to individuals but also to society as a whole.  Sometimes the law of kamma is described simplistically as “Do good, get good, and do bad, get bad.”  This simple understanding works in the case of kamma as human action, applied to society as a whole.  According to the law of kamma for the welfare of society, the good or the bad things that we do affects for good or bad society as a whole: “There are immediate effects on the society and the person’s external circumstances.  The welfare or decline of a society is thus dependent upon the good and bad actions of each of its members.”[3]  The good that we do accumulates and lives on after us for the betterment of all, but so does the evil for the harm of all.  For example, in terms of the poor people on Skid Row, why are there so many African American homeless and not so many White?  Does not even this particular situation exist to some extent because too many Americans, by their individual actions, contribute to the prejudice that exists in our society as a whole toward Black people?

In terms of the individual, however, “Do good, get good, and do bad, get bad,” does not always apply.  The law on conditionality complicates the situation, and the law of kamma is not so simple.  For example, if a man robs a bank, say on Skid Row, he may not get caught: he might be clever enough to avoid suffering incarceration.  (He might suffer, however, in other ways.  He might live a life of constant fear of being discovered by the authorities.)  Also, the person who does good deeds may not always receive good in return.  Things may not be that simple for him.  For instance, if he lives in a bad neighborhood—if he lives on Skid Row—the law of conditionality being what it is, he may very well be the victim of a violent crime—not because of something he did in a previous life but because he lives on Skid Row!  Yet if conditions in the neighborhood can somehow improve and incidents of violent crime decrease, the person who does good will more likely get good in return.  This is the law of conditionality, too.

The above is sufficient for a consideration of the Theravāda Buddhist teaching of kamma in a reflection on the poverty that exists on Skid Row.  Kamma is action in terms of the law of nature regarding human beings with respect to their bodily, mental, and spiritual aspects.  As such, kamma works in accordance with causes and conditions: if this and this are done, this and this are the results.  Let us turn now to the second part of this reflection: a consideration of the abodes of loving-kindness and compassion as these apply to the Skid Row poor people.

There are, then, four divine abodes, brahma-vihāra, in Buddhism: loving-kindness (mettā), compassion (karunā), sympathetic joy (muditā), and equanimity (upekkhā).  Regarding loving-kindness, traditionally this abode has been understood as getting rid of ill will and spreading friendliness.[4]  Loving-kindness, however, can be interpreted as more than mere lack of ill will and mere friendliness.  It can be interpreted in terms of the desire to assist those who are in need: “the desire of bringing (to one’s fellow man) that which is welfare and good.”[5]  The latter interpretation, however, can be pushed even further.  Loving-kindness then becomes not just the desire to assist those in need but, rather, actively helping those who are suffering.  This is the view of Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu: “Unlike Buddhaghosa, Buddhadāsa regards loving-kindness as denoting explicitly assisting others, and not simply as the development of the intention of benevolence.”[6]  Loving-kindness, it is not too much to say, can become a kind of social activism in accordance with which we are actively engaged in good works for the benefit of other people.

How does this view of loving-kindness apply to the poor on Skid Row?  What the previous discussion about loving-kindness implies is that it is one thing to go to Skid Row to try to experience first-hand the poverty of the people who are there.  It is one thing to feel a certain friendliness (“loving-kindness”) toward them.  It is, however, quite another thing to show the poor true loving-kindness, that is, actively helping them in some way to rise above their condition of poverty.  Active involvement would mean, for instance, helping feed the poor in a soup kitchen, enabling them to get information about health care or affordable housing, or teaching them about the Dhamma in a Buddhist ministry.

What can be said, then, about the divine abode of compassion in the present context?  Compassion in the Western tradition is understood primarily as sympathy for another in a difficult situation and as sorrow at the other’s misfortune.  In fact, both compassion and sympathy mean, literally, suffering along with someone else (com-passion).  How does this meaning of compassion as a kind of suffering relate to karunā in Theravāda Buddhism?  Surely compassion in Theravāda Buddhism does not mean we assume another’s suffering: suffering, whose ever it is, is something to be rid of, not something to be taken up.  The idea of assuming the suffering of others is a Christian notion (consider, for example, the suffering servant, Christ the Redeemer dying on the cross for the sins of others, and the lamb led to the slaughter); it is not a Buddhist one.

The Pāli karunā in the Canon does not denote suffering as the Western word does.  As the Commentary on the Sutta-Nipāta 73 (128) explains, karunā is “the desire of removing bane [destruction, ruin] and sorrow [suffering] (from one’s fellow men).”[7]  The desire to help, purely and simply, by alleviating sorrow is what the word means.  There is no sense here of participating in the state of suffering of another.  The compassionate person tries to relieve the suffering of one in need while maintaining equanimity in  the face of this suffering.  Sharing in the suffering is not wholesome: the idea is to help the other get rid of it while not undergoing it oneself.  And it is important to note, furthermore, that true compassion in the Theravāda Buddhist sense should not be limited to merely the desire to take away the suffering of another but should be, rather, the explicit activity of doing so.  True compassion—like true loving-kindness—entails actively doing something.  Compassion is active involvement in the life of someone else in helping the other get rid of suffering.[8]

Showing compassion to the poor on Skid Row, then, rises above merely feeling pity for them or feeling sorry for them.  In the Western tradition compassion for the Skid Row poor would mean suffering along with them.  For Theravāda Buddhism, however, compassion as karunā is something else: it is the explicit activity of helping get rid of the suffering someone else is experiencing.


[1] Compare the Samyutta Nikāya 56.31: “And what, bhikkhus, have I taught?  I have taught: ‘This is suffering’; . . . ‘This is the origin of suffering’; . . . ‘This is the cessation of suffering’; . . . ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’  And why, bhikkhus, have I taught this?  Because this is beneficial, relevant to the fundamentals of the holy life, and leads to . . . enlightenment  . . .”  The Connected Discourses of the Buddha; A Translation of the Samyutta Nikāya, translated from the Pāli by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2000), p. 1858.

[2] Varasak Varadhammo, Suffering and No Suffering (Hinsdale, Il.: Buddhadharma Meditation Center, 1996), p. 214.   For what follows immediately in this reflection, compare pp. 214-20 of Venerable Varadhammo’s book.

[3] Ibid., p. 218.

[4] Compare Bhadantācariya Buddhaghosa, The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga), translated by Bhikkhu Ñānamoli (Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1956), IX, 93, p. 344.

[5] T. W. Rhys Davids and  William Stede, Pali-English Dictionary, Pali Text Society (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, 1993), p. 197.

[6] Peter Jackson, Buddhadāsa; Theravada Buddhism and Modernist Reform in Thailand (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2003), p. 223.

[7] Rhys Davids and Stede, Pali-English Dictionary, p. 197.

[8] This interpretation of compassion complements Buddhadāsa’s interpretation of loving-kindness

March 30, 2013

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