In the degree examinations held on 12 November 2012, the first Buddhist student at the Sophia University Institute, Preeyanoot Surinkaew, had her viva voce examination on her thesis in political philosophy. The title of her thesis was Buddhadasa Bhikku’s idea of political fraternity. The study focuses upon the idea of fraternity present in the thought one of the most influential Thai Buddhist monks in the twentieth century (1906-1993). He developed the concept of ‘Dhammic Socialism’, a vision of a possible application of socialism to Buddhism where the idea of fraternity is seen to be central and innovatory.
‘Dhammic Socialism’ is distinct from any Western forms of socialism. Unlike these it contains the notion of the interdependence of all natural phenomena, including human beings, displaying in this a profound harmony with the teachings of Theravada Buddhism. The comparative study undertaken by Metta (meaning compassion in Pali), as she is known by many people, begins by exploring the cultural paradigm offered by Chiara Lubich’s notion of fraternity. This becomes the key, on the one hand, to drawing out fraternity as present in Buddhadasa’s thought and, on the other, to interpreting Western thought on the basis of Christian wisdom. In the process the study uncovers insights have not so far been sufficiently considered in the history of relationships between East and West.
Antonio M. Baggio, the thesis supervisor, said: ‘The thesis is a helpful contribution to mutual knowledge and understanding between Christianity and Buddhism and, in some ways, constructs useful tools to renew relations between West and East.’ During the discussion it became clear how challenging and yet fruitful working on the study had been. As the discussion proceeded the two traditions of thought with their religious roots were often deeply appreciated and were seen in their capacity to orientate the history of peoples towards dialogue and peace and to inspire each person to employ the best of self in developing paradigms of welcome and encounter.
Without smoothing over difficulties or doctrinal confusion, the discussion looked at Buddhadasa’s idea of political fraternity and at key concepts to be found in writings that so far have been undervalued or exploited but that Metta was able to re-interpret and re-evaluate: wisdom, as mental emptiness open what is outside self and predisposing the person to mutual relationships; concentration, as freedom from individualistic egoism and perfect balance between the intellect, instincts and emotions; morality as the essential condition for a fruitful relationship based on a balance between respect and loving courtesy. These were the basis for dialogue between the two traditions, which showed how Chiara Lubich and Buddhadasa shared a similar desire: respectively to bring about a ‘living Jesus’ and a ‘living Buddha’ in the heart of humanity today. If the paradigm of fraternity is alive and active, it stimulates new solutions, offers a viewpoint that illuminates personal questions, harmonizing them with a wider vision—in the political field as well.
Source: Sophia Institute online