I left Nepal to study Buddhism in Thailand as a 15-year-old novice monk in 1975. At that time Thailand was at a similar state of development as present-day Nepal. South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia had fallen to the communists within a few days of each other. The 'Domino Theory' predicted that Thailand would be next. I was residing at a royal monastery under the patronage of the present Supreme Patriarch of Thailand. He was quite influential and The King and Queen, many top Thai generals and senior members of the national government would visit him for advice and inspiration. I had become fluent in Thai and so gained an insider's understanding of the seriousness of the situation. The military and the government were not as concerned with the communists in neighbouring countries as they were with the communists and sympathisers within Thailand.
Many brilliant Thai university students had fled to the jungles in northeastern Thailand to support a domestic Thai Maoist guerrilla force. Their weaponry was supplied from outside as was their training. But the villages in the 'pink' parts of the northeast gladly supplied food and other requirements to the rebels. They were an ominous threat precisely because they had local support.
They declared many parts of Thailand 'red' where it would be very dangerous for civil servants or governmental staff to go. The Thai military often engaged the militants in bloody firefights. I often followed my teacher to the red zone trying to help villagers who were secretly sympathetic to the communists. We were threatened and on one occasion, a bomb was detonated on the route where my teacher passed after visiting a monastery.
My senior colleague, a British Buddhist monk, Ajarn Brahm, who was in Thailand during 1970s, has written in his book, Opening the Door of Your Heart and other Buddhist Tales of Happiness, how the Thai government addressed the Maoist problem. Brahm says the Thai military and government took a three-pronged strategy:
1 Restraint: The military did not attack the communist bases, though every soldier knew where they were.
2 Forgiveness: Throughout this dangerous period, there was an unconditional amnesty in place.
3 Solving the root problem: New roads being built and old roads being paved in the region. The King of Thailand personally supervised and paid for the construction of many hundreds of small reservoirs with connected irrigation schemes, allowing the poor farmers of the northeast to grow a second crop of rice each year. Electricity reached the remotest of hamlets and with it came a school and a clinic.
A Thai government soldier on patrol in the jungle told me once: "We don't need to shoot the communists. They are fellow Thais. When I meet them coming down from the mountains or going to the village for supplies and we all know who they are, I just show them my new wristwatch, or let them listen to a Thai song on my new radio then they give up being a communist."
Thai Communists began their insurgency because they were so angry with their government that they were ready to give up their young lives. But restraint on the part of the government helped to prevent their anger from becoming worse. Forgiveness, through an amnesty, gave them a safe and honourable way out. Solving the problem, through development, made the poor villagers prosperous. The villagers saw no need to support the communists anymore: they were content with the government they already had. And the communists themselves began to doubt what they were doing, living in such hardship in the mountain jungles.
By the early 1980s, there were hardly any insurgents left, so the communist leaders also gave themselves up. They were not punished but offered important positions in the Thai civil service. Why waste the resource of such courageous and committed young men?
There is a lesson for Nepal in all this. Following the Buddha's teachings, the path to resolving the present conflict lies in addressing the following six points:
1 The economy. Poverty is a root cause of violence and the Buddha himself pointed out: "If a ruler allows poverty to develop, it will lead to social strife, so it is his responsibility to avoid this by looking after the poor."
2 Negotiations. The Buddhist way of solving conflict by peaceful means is carried in the Buddha's own life when he gave practical lessons in tolerance.
3 Nonviolence. The Buddha always instructs his followers to be true pacifists by telling them: "Conquer anger with love, conquer evil with good, conquer greed by giving, and conquer lies with the truth."
4 Patience. The Buddha instructs his followers to advance themselves by practicing loving kindness, compassion, appreciative gladness and equanimity.
5 Forbearance and forgiveness. The Buddha says: "The words of a fool are best stopped by responding to his anger and verbal onslaught by oneself remaining calm, not by harsh measurers. This will not lead to one's opponent thinking he can take advantage of one's 'weakness', forbearance is a sign of real strength, unlike the deceptive 'strength' of a fool."
6 Tolerance and amity. The Buddha teaches his followers to have religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence with followers of other religions.
If the leaders of the government or Maoists practice these values sincerely, it would guarantee peace in Nepal. The ruler's actions are of far-reaching consequence since they affect his own kingship as well as the fortune, fate and destiny of his subjects who are almost entirely dependent upon him. By his exemplary action the King, the leader, influences, for good or bad, for weal or woe, the material as well as the spiritual condition of those who live under his rule, and he thus influences and determines their happiness or misery. Perhaps the ancient wisdom of the Buddha who was nurtured on Nepali soil can solve the current problems.
Phra Sugandha (Anil Sakya) is a Nepali monk who is assistant secretary to the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara. This article is excerpted from a theme paper he presented at the World Buddhist Summit in Lumbini recently.