Alternative Nobel laureate says disasters an opportunity for Japan


Sulak Sivaraksa

TOKYO (majirox news) — The disasters of March 11 and the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis “could present a wonderful opportunity for Japan to change,” according to Sulak Sivaraksa, the Alternative Nobel Prize winner who has been described by Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as one of the most influential thinkers in Asia today.

Sivaraksa, one of Thailand’s most prominent social critics and Buddhist activists, told Majirox News during a July visit to Tokyo that, “people should realize that crises also provide them with opportunities. People might think that a crisis is filled with death, but it is also a heavenly sign to help us. Buddha himself found his way through much suffering.”

He added the disaster tells us that the Japanese need to change.

“The people can’t go on this way,” Sivaraksa said. “This is wrong. Once one begins to question their way of life, minds listen and compassionate hearts wake up.”

Sivaraksa, a founder of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists that connects Buddhists from around the world, says that contemporary Japan has become too caught up in the mainstream media, and places too much emphasis on capitalism, materialism and scientific knowledge, instead of on the creation of a healthy soul. However, he said, the somber mood surrounding the country hinted at a brighter future.

“There are problems in Japan today, such as rising suicide rates, a lack of interest in voting among young people, and general apathy about politics and other issues,” he said. “This seems hopeless. But for me, this is a good sign. We can expose the youth to politics and tell them that that many people are suffering. This will lead us to empowerment. Learning how to be happy and how to empower yourself is important.”

In 1995, Sivaraksa was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, or the Alternative Nobel Prize as it is otherwise known, which goes to those who work on solutions to the most urgent challenges facing the world. His answer for turning Japan’s current crises into opportunities lies in strong communication.

“What is needed is to talk and have dialog with people, and to study one another,” Sivaraksa said. “Also, it’s important to make good friends. A good friend is someone who can tell you what you do not want to hear.”

The 78-year-old humanitarian added that wealth was not always the key to contentment.

“GDP can equate to happiness to some extent,” he said. “But even rich and educated people are not happy in the present. For happiness, you have to learn how to be self-reliant, how to be mindful, how to be content and how to be generous.”

Ogi is Majirox’s Religion Writer

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One Response to Alternative Nobel laureate says disasters an opportunity for Japan

  1. Christopher Queen on 08/02/2011 at 12:14 am

    Sulak Sivaraksa has spoken for a more compassionate world and a more socially engaged Buddhism for more than three decades. Along with the Dalai Lama (Tibet), Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnam), A. T. Ariyaratna (Sri Lanka) and Aung San Ssu Kyi (Burma), he has pointed to the social consequences of hatred, greed, and ingnorance — the three poisons in Buddhist psychology — as well as their antidotes, kindness, generosity, and wisdom.

    Sulak’s insights on Japan’s spiritual crisis today are based on his intimate experience of life in the developing and industrialized countries of Asia and the West. Surely materialism and power politics have taken their toll on the people and the ecosystems of the 21st Century.

    My question for Sulak and others who may wish to blame “scientific knowledge” or technology for such disasters as Fukushima is: what is the alternative? Cultivating the human spirit cannot be accomplished without solving the material challenges of the post-modern world: how to feed everyone, how to provide clean energy, and how to prevent medical pandemics and environmental catastrophes.

    These challenges cannot be addressed without science and technology, coupled with idealism and compassion. And even capitalism, with necessary government restraints, is an engine that can unleash human creativity, innovation, and growth in ways that socialism has failed to do. Look at the GDP of India and China since their embrace of freer markets. Even Buddhism was supported by the generosity of ancient capitalists and elites who caught a vision of a better world.

    Japan is a world leader in science, culture and spirituality. I agree with Sulak that these painful times will lead to better ones, as the ingenuity and courage of the Japanese people manifests itself again. The world hopes and prays for Japan’s full recovery.

    Christopher Queen
    Harvard University

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