Development monks help their poor communities with economic and educational needs, living examples of why monks still matter.
Photo above of a lotus, a special flower in Buddhism "symbolic of purity of the body, speech, and mind as while rooted in the mud." (Source: Wikipedia)
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COMMENTARY: Isan monks helping their communities by Sanitsuda Ekachai, Assistant Editor
Fed up with rogue monks? Losing hope in ability of the lax and closed clergy to lead the way? Meet Luang Por Ang, Luang Por Chair, and Phra Kru Somsri. All Isan monks. All dedicated to lift the livelihood and spirituality of their villagers. All are living examples of why monks still matter. Probably more so now than ever.
The three so-called "development monks" were in Bangkok earlier this week to talk about their past work and present challenges at a time when the rural folks' way of life and political awakening have dramatically changed from four decades ago.
Luang Por Ang, or Phra Kru Pattanakijjanuwat, is abbot of Wat Huay Bueng in Nakhon Ratchasima's Dan Khun Thot district.
"I finished only Prathom 4," said the elderly monk. "I never thought of such high words as inequality or development. But scarcity was all around me. Right from when I first became a monk, I kept asking myself what I could do to repay the poor villagers who feed me."
He led the villagers in building roads and bridges so that the sick could go to the hospital and farmers could sell their crops. He set up medicine banks, learned how to use needles and syringes, taught himself to be a mechanic, a house builder, and filled in whenever the rice paddies needed more labour. He helped the villagers set up community savings groups and welfare funds. He also succeeded in convincing the villagers to donate land to build a reservoir for common agricultural use.
When dusk fell, the monk completed his day's mission by talking to the villagers about the use of dharma in one's life.
At the height of the communist insurgency in the '70s, he was accused by the authorities of being a communist. "But that didn't bother me. All I wanted was to help the villagers."
He was not alone. Other development monks, like Luang Ta Chair or Phra Kru Amornchaikhun of Wat Asom Dhamatayat in Korat, faced the same fate when he led the villagers to save their community forests from the local mafia.
Fast-forward 40 years. Isan has now changed. So have the Isan people's aspirations.
Transportation, public health and electricity are no longer a concern. The region is now deep in the cash economy with all its urbanisation benefits and pitfalls. Modern telecommunications have connected the villagers with the world, reshaping the villagers' world-views, consumption patterns and life dreams. Farming, meanwhile, is still a losing business. Perennial debt and extra off-farm work have left the villagers little time for the community as before. Like the rest of the country, many villages have also slipped into the deep political divide.
How have development monks dealt with the new challenges?
Knowledge - both in technical skills and management - is now the key, said Phra Kru Somsri, whose official title is Phra Kru Bhodhivirakhun, abbot of Wat Bhodhikaram in Roi Et.
His temple operates as a non-formal education centre offering a wide range of occupational training free of charge so as to give the youth new skills and opportunities.
The temple has also set up a community grocery store, managed by the villagers as a cooperative. The community savings has also grown into a community bank, run transparently by elected village committees to provide low-interest loans, with profits going back to community welfare funds.
Working together is at the heart of these activities. And when the communal, open management structure is already in place, the community can deal with any new challenge, he said, including the political divide which is bridged only when the villagers have to rely on kinship and communal ties to solve common problems.
"When in the temple, they also have the chance to pray, to reflect, to be close to dharma to guide their lives," he added with a smile
More changes are coming. "But don't be alarmed," said Luang Ta Chair pensively. "You can't stop change. Nothing stays the same. It's part of dharma, the way things are. Our duty is to help the villagers be ready to cope with it."
Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor, Bangkok Post
(Source: Bangkok Post, COMMENTARY, Isan monks helping their communities, 18/08/2011, Sanitsuda Ekachai, Assistant Editor, link)
lotus - a special flower in Buddhism that "is symbolic of purity of the body, speech, and mind as while rooted in the mud, its flowers blossom on long stalks as if floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire. It is also symbolic of detachment as drops of water easily slide off its petal" (See Wikipedia on the plant and the symbolism)
why monks still matter - why monks are still important
development monks - Buddhist monks who also help their communities in economic development พระนักพัฒนา (Read an explanation and article and 1999 article by Sanitsuda Ekachai)
dharma - the teachings of the Buddha which lead to enlightenment (See Wikipedia)
development - same as "economic development"
economic development - the increase in the standard of living in a nation's population with sustained growth from a simple, low-income economy to a modern, high-income fully industrialized economy like Japan, Europe and the US, "the process of raising the level of prosperity and material living in a society through increasing the productivity and efficiency of its economy" (See Wikipedia and Google Definitions)
rogue - behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a dangerous and destructive way ไม่ซื่อ, อันธพาล ที่น่าสงสัยว่าจะก่อให้เกิดอันตราย
rogue monk - a monk who does not follow the rules of monks
lax - not paying enough attention to rules, or not caring enough about quality or safety ละเลย
clergy - priests or monks, religious spiritual advisors to normal people (lay people)
abbot - the head monk at a temple เจ้าอาวาส
elderly - older people, over 65 สูงวัย, อาวุโส, อายุมาก
elderly monk - an older monk
mission - a piece of work that a person completes ภาระหน้าที่, ภารกิจ
the monk completed his day's mission - the monk completed his day's work
occupational training - to teach people how to do a job การฝึกฝน
non-formal education centre - a school where people come and study a subject themselves
technical - 1. requiring special detailed knowledge (example: computers, electronics, manufacturing); 2. involving materials, processes, and machines to do specialised work เฉพาะทาง
skills - a type of work or task requiring special training and knowledge ทักษะ ความสามารถเฉพาะทาง
dedicated - working hard at something; believing that something is very important and giving a lot of time and energy to it ซึ่งอุทิศตัวเพื่อ, อุทิศให้ (a dedicated teacher ทรงเป็นพระอาจารย์ซึ่งทรงอุทิศพระวรกายในการให้ความรู้กับนักเรียน)
livelihood - economic needs; the need that people to earn money to pay for food, a place to live, clothing, etc การดำรงชีวิต, การครองชีพ
lift the livelihood - improve people's ability to make money (to look after their family)
spirituality - the religious beliefs and needs of people
dedicated to lift the livelihood and spirituality of their villagers - working hard to help people with both their economic and religious needs
community - local people, all the people who live in a local area or place ชุมชน
community savings groups - groups of people who put their money together to make saving (and investment) easier
funds - money to be used for a specific purpose เงินทุน
welfare funds - help given, especially by the state or an organization, to people who need it; good care and living conditions สวัสดิภาพ
welfare - living in good conditions (with health, wealth, and happiness) ความสะดวกสบาย, ความมีสุขภาพด
reservoir - a natural or artificial lake where water is stored อ่างเก็บน้ำ
common - shared, used by many people ที่ร่วมกัน
reservoir for common agricultural use - a place for storing water used by all the farmers in the community to water their crops
challenges - new and difficult problems to solve, that require effort and determination
rural - connected with the countryside and farming areas outside big towns and cities ในชนบท, บ้านนอก
rural folk - people who live in the countryside; farmers
way of life - the way that a person lives their life from day to day (example: the way of life of a farmer involves a lot of hard physical labour)
political awakening - when you suddenly your political views one day (seeing the truth) (..... which might mean different things for different people)
dramatically - in a big way อย่างใหญ่หลวง
dramatically changed - changed in a very big and important way
decades - periods of ten years เป็นสิบๆปี
inequality - when different groups in society do not have the same (equal) economic opportunity or are not treated the same by the law (example: there is great economic inequality between poor farmers and rich city people)
scarcity - when there is not enough of some good or service for everyone (so the less there is, the higher the price, with the good going to the person offering the highest price, who places the greatest value on it)
syringes - the plastic tubes used to "inject" medicine into a person's blood
mechanic - a person who repairs broken machines, cars, motorcycles, etc
rice paddies - rice fields
donate - to give something such as money or goods to an organisation, especially to a monastery, charity, school, political party, etc. บริจาค
donate land - when people give land to a monastery, charity, school, political party, etc
dusk - the time before night when it is not yet dark เวลาเย็นก่อนค่ำ
communist - a form of government in which the state operates under a one-party system; the political system and philosophy based on the writings of Karl Marx (See Wikipedia)
insurgency - a violent armed movement against the government of a country (by the country's own citizens)
communist insurgency in the '70s - the war between the communist rebels and the Thai government during the 1970s during the Vietnamese War
authorities - government officials; the police or people in official organisations who have the legal power to make people obey laws or rules เจ้าหน้าที่ (ตำรวจ หรือผู้มีอำนาจ)
bother - annoy, irritate; to make someone feel worried or upset ทำให้รำคาญ, ทำให้วิตกกังวล
that didn't bother me - that didn't irritate me
fate - the things that happen to someone, especially unpleasant things ชะตากรรม
faced the same fate - the same thing happened to him
community forests - forests used by the whole community (not owned by one person)
local - in or related to the area that you live, or to the particular area that you are talking about ท้องถิ่น
local mafia.- organized crime groups operating in a local area
fast-forward 40 years - then 40 years in the future ...
aspirations - the things that a person wishes and hopes to do in the future (the goals they hope to achieve)
concern - a worry ความกังวล
no longer a concern - not a worry now, not something that people worry about anymore
cash - money เงินสด
urban (adjective) - related to cities
urbanisation - the process of making or forming a city
benefits - goods things that can happen from an activity ผลประโยชน์
pitfalls - the things that may fail, go wrong or cause problems (in some activity)
telecommunications - telephone, internet and other forms of long-distance electronic communication (See Wikipedia)
consumption - using, eating or drinking something, money spent by households and families on goods and services (See Wikipedia) การบริโภค
consumption patterns - the kinds of things that people buy (and when they buy them)
debt - an amount of money that you owe หนี้
perennial - always existing (never seeming to change)
perrenial debt - debt that always exists, debt they always have, never-ending debt
political divide - a big difference in political beliefs and opinions
key - important คนสำคัญ
knowledge is now the key - knowledge is now the important thing (that opens up doors in life like a "key")
official - approved by the government or some authority ที่เป็นทางการ
official title - a name or position given by the government or some authority
range - a number of different things that are of the same general type ขอบข่าย, ประเภท
wide range - many different kinds of things
free of charge - free
youth - a boy or a young man เด็กหนุ่ม, วัยรุ่น
opportunities - situations in which it is possible to do what you want or need to do
cooperative - a business organization owned and operated by a group of individuals for their own benefit (See Wikipedia)
transparently - openly; having nothing hidden or secret อย่างโปร่งใส
elected transparently - chosen by the people in fair election (candidate receiving most votes is chosen with vote counting monitored so there is no cheating)
provide - give
interest - payments made for the use of another's money for a period of time
provide low interest loans - give people loans (that they only have to pay a little bit of interest for)
challenge - something that needs a lot of skill, energy, and determination to deal with or achieve สิ่งที่ท้าทาย, การท้าทาย
bridge the political divide -
ties - relations; connections ความสัมพันธ์
communal ties -
chance - what happens when you don't control events (example: gambling = games of chance)
have the chance to pray - have the opportunity to pray
reflect - to show สะท้อน แสดงถึง
dharma - the teaching of the Buddha in the religion of Buddhism (See Wikipedia)
alarmed - worried, frightened, surprised about something unpleasant or dangerous happening ที่ตื่นกลัว รู้สึกตระหนก กังวล
pensive - thinking deeply about something (usually about slightly worrying topics)
said pensively - he or she said (with a voice that sounded like they were deep in thought)
duty - something that you have to do because it is part of your job, or something that you feel is the right thing to do หน้าที่, ความรับผิดชอบ
cope - deal with a problem sucessfully; to deal successfully with a difficult situation รับมือกับ (See glossary)