Fanaticism, hate speech and Buddhism
If your ultra-royalist friends say we need to uphold the Nation-Religion-Monarchy state ideology to protect the country's peace, order and national identity, ask them whose nation and what religion they are talking about.
Also, how on earth could racism ensure peace and protect the royal institution?
If they erupt in anger and start calling you "nation haters" and "ingrates", then you know you have asked the right questions.
As the Sept 19 rally led by the youth movement nears with great uncertainty over what might ensue, questioning our beliefs may be the first step for a self-proclaimed Buddhist country to avoid further violence and bloodletting.
Admit it, "nation" in the national mantra means a racially homogeneous country of ethnic Thais. "Religion" means "Buddhism" only. And "monarchy" means a sacred institution beyond any criticism.
For starters, defining this country as a land owned solely by ethnic Thais is historically false. Making Thais superior to other groups is also racist.
Before the exodus of ethnic Thais from southern China to what is now Thailand about one thousand years ago, this land had been the home of many ethnic and indigenous groups dating back to prehistoric times. That's a fact.
The ancient maritime trade also brought a continuous flow of people, beliefs, and know-how from foreign lands to this peninsula, making it a crossroads of cultures. Even after the Thai-speaking groups gained political control over pre-existing principalities, the kingdoms continued to welcome people from afar as part of the social fabric.
Wasn't King Taksin ethnically Chinese?
Wasn't the family of King Rama I from an ethnic Mon community?
Were not the ancestors of top statesmen from the Bunnag family in the early Rattanakosin era Muslims?
Didn't the influx of Chinese immigrants strengthen and expand the local economy?
Were not the grandparents of many hyper-royalists who want to chase pro-democracy activists out of the country immigrants?
With the influx of people from foreign lands came their different religious beliefs. Buddhism was only one of them.
For centuries, multiculturalism and tolerance prevailed. To lessen other religions, including indigenous beliefs, and give Buddhism political superiority betrays the spirit of multiculturalism of the land.
This should not have posed a problem had the true spirit of Buddhism prevailed. Sadly, what happened is the state making Thai Buddhism into an autocratic and misogynistic system, turning its back on the Buddha's teachings in its pursuit of wealth and power.
By adopting the state policy of racial superiority, Thai Buddhism has become a tool to propagate state racism and prejudice, shunning the Buddhist principles of compassion and equality. Religious tolerance gives way to a quest for supremacy, resulting in the Sangha's implicit support for state violence against other faiths.
It is not uncommon to hear monks and self-proclaimed devout Buddhists supporting state violence against the southern Muslims, the Rohingya, the hill tribes people, and migrant workers because they are "outsiders" and "national security threats".
Do we want to uphold this kind of racist nationalism?
We also need to probe why any discussions short of glorifying the monarchy are taken as blasphemy deserving severe punishment.
Criticism of the monarchy is deemed sacrilegious because in the Thai traditional cosmos, kings are not only demi-gods. Given their obligations to accumulate merit and fulfil the Buddhist virtues as monarchs, they are also viewed as being on their holy paths to attain Buddhahood.
When royal reverence becomes a religion on its own, anything short of total devotion is unacceptable. Breaking away is a sin and heretics must go to hell.
It need not to be so. And it must not be so.
During his lifetime, the Buddha was attacked by lies and vile attacks several times. Never did he respond with anger, hatred, nor violence. Only with equanimity and kindness.
When a woman was hired to accuse him of impregnating her, the Buddha did not revile her or allow his followers to do so. Instead, he kindly reminded her of her conscience and allowed the truth to reveal itself.
When a brahmin attacked the Buddha with vulgarity, he composedly made the attacker realise that when the abusive words were not accepted, their poisons remained with the giver.
When two monks engaged in arguments about the Buddha, one full of criticism while the other full of praise for him, the Buddha listened to their stances throughout the night with equanimity. Then he told the congregation that one should not allow oneself to be happy when praised nor agitated when being reproached.
The Buddha's teachings: Take ownership of our actions or karma. Refrain from reacting negatively or positively to what we hear, see, taste, smell and feel. Remain equanimous at all times with the constant awareness of impermanence and non-attachment.
The Buddha also warns against blind faith and mindless obedience to traditions, urging people to think independently and use their experience to arrive at their own conclusions.
The Buddha has shown us the way. Yet, the self-proclaimed Buddhist protectors of the monarchy insist on crushing critics at all cost.
Are they Buddhists or fanatics?
Repressive governments benefit directly from the ultra royalist/nationalist movement. Apart from the draconian lese majeste law, they also have the national security, anti-assembly and computer laws to arrest critics who are growing in numbers. Intimidation and harassment of critics and their families are routine.
The military-aligned government also uses the Covid-19 pandemic to maintain the emergency law and suppress pro-democracy activists.
Equally distressing, state authorities are using tax money to spread falsehood and hate speech through their information operations. Misinformation and political divisiveness is intensifying. So is hate speech among hyper-royalists.
All Buddhists should know the teaching on Right Speech: Only speak what is factual, helpful, kind, pleasant and timely. State orchestration of hate speech on social media violates Right Speech at every level.
It's clear. Although the state makes Buddhism one of the three elements in the Nation-Religion-Monarchy mantra to hypnotise the populace, they only pay lip service to the teachings.
For the country to move on peacefully, we need to inject a new spirit into the Nation-Religion-Monarchy state ideology. There must be respect for cultural and religious diversity while rational discussions on the royal institution must be possible.
Critics, too, should observe the principles of Right Speech, especially when the subject at hand involves other people's faiths.
But when the power balance is unequal, the responsibility rests with those with guns and repressive laws not to crush the calls for freedom of expression with raw power.
If they still consider themselves Buddhist, listen to the Buddha's advice: Welcome criticism as the path leading to a hidden treasure trove. Open your hearts to listen and improve.
If not, they are just power-hungry hypocrites.
Former editorial pages editor
Sanitsuda Ekachai is a former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post. She writes on social issues, gender, and Thai Buddhism.