Beyond the Killing Fields

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Op-Ed: The Economist: Intelligent Life

Nearly 50 years ago, Nicholas Shakespeare’s family was forced to flee Cambodia. Now he and his father return for the first time since the fall of the Khmer Rouge, and find ordinary Cambodians enduring a new kind of agony

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2013

“IT’S THE SAME STAIRCASE!”

Excited, my father starts climbing it. We are in the air-conditioned residence of America’s ambassador to Phnom Penh, formerly the British embassy. On a humid day in 1964—in an incident unreported at the time because Western journalists were banned—my father walked down this staircase to confront about 1,000 angry students who had come to trash the building. They were acting on instructions from Cambodia’s ruler, Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

The British ambassador, Peter Murray, was away that morning and had left my father, John Shakespeare, the first secretary, in charge. Three days later, Murray sent a confidential despatch back to the foreign secretary, Rab Butler. This year, on the eve of our first visit to Cambodia since our abrupt departure nearly half a century ago, my father found a copy of Murray’s message in a damp cardboard box in his Wiltshire garage, along with letters, receipts, maps and photographs. Murray’s despatch begins: “I regret to report that the official premises of Her Majesty’s Embassy in Phnom Penh were attacked and badly damaged by a mob on the morning of the 11th of March 1964…As for what happened in my absence, I have the honour—and this for once is no formal phrase—to refer you, Sir, to Mr Shakespeare’s account.”

My father, now 82, reaches the top step. He has rarely spoken about his part in Sihanouk’s sacking of our embassy. The details come back as he looks down the staircase.

He remembers crowds of people assembling in the street out of a clear blue sky. “I saw somebody painting on the wall outside the embassy ‘US go home’ and I went and told him, ‘Look, you’ve got the wrong place. The American embassy is down there.’” More people turned up with placards bearing the words “Perfide Albion”, and in one case “Perfide Albino”. The shouts grew louder. My father instructed all the embassy staff, about 20 of them, to go up these stairs, to a safe area where secret papers were kept in a strong room. Then the crowd surged into the grounds.

Continue reading “Beyond the Killing Fields”

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CAMBODIA: Every person can and should be Preah Batr Dhammik

Another former Buddhist monk, Sophoan Seng, earned a graduate degree in political science from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and now serves as Director of KEEN Investment Groups LTD and president of Alberta’s Khmer Youth Association. He asserts that “the highest goal of Buddhism is ‘liberty’, not the ‘four necessities’, i.e., food, shelter, clothing, medicine.” He says, Buddha teaches that humankind is sustained through a balance and an equalization of “liberty” or “Nama” (the mind or spirit) and the “four necessities” or “Rupa” (the body or physical appearance), that is economic development (food, shelter, clothing, medicine) and spiritual development (liberty/human dignity) must go hand and hand.

Monychenda agrees with Buddha’s “Nama-Rupa” or “mind-matter” teaching which means the mind affects matter and matter affects the mind.

According to Seng, it’s true that Buddha sees humans need food (Rupa, the four necessities) to survive, but Buddha sees Nama (the mind, liberty) as taking the lead. Humans are made by the mind and through balancing Rupa and Nama will attain their highest level of enlightenment – the liberty of the mind from the bondage of greed, hatred, delusion.

FOR PUBLICATION
AHRC-ETC-003-2013
January 15, 2013

An article by Dr. Gaffar published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

CAMBODIA: Every person can and should be Preah Batr Dhammik

In my last article I wrote about Cambodians who longed for a Khmer Mahatma Gandhi or a Khmer Aung San Suu Kyi. Some believe the struggle against the violations of rights and justice of the Khmer people is slow because of the absence of a Khmer equivalent to such figures.

Yet, the world’s successful revolutions have rarely been led by a charismatic individual such as Gandhi or Suu Kyi. And even those remarkable individuals, it should be recalled, also are burdened with very human strengths and failings, as are we all. Would a Gandhi or a Suu Kyi do well in the Khmer environment? We like them for their abilities and skills – which can be taught and learned. Gandhi and Suu Kyi possess strengths – which we should learn and apply – and weaknesses – which we should learn and discard. Would those who long for a Gandhi or a Suu Kyi be willing and ready to learn from them to advance their causes?

A proverb says, “Nothing succeeds like success.” Another says, “Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan.”

From the same source

Gandhi was a Hindu political and spiritual leader in India, renowned for his commitment to advance causes through civil disobedience and nonviolence. His philosophical and political perspectives were derived from the teaching of Lord Siddhartha Gautama Buddha (563BC-483BC), himself a Hindu prince of the ruling Shakya clan.

Suu Kyi, daughter of Burma’s father of independence, Aung San, is a devout Buddhist. She returned to her homeland in 1988 after years of studying and living in England, to witness widespread killings of her people by the Ne Win regime, and broad protests against it. As her father’s daughter, she says, she could not remain silent. She spoke out against the regime and initiated a nonviolent movement for democracy and human rights. In 1989 she was arrested and spent 15 of the next 21 years in custody during which she read, wrote, and meditated. She was released in 2010.
Continue reading “CAMBODIA: Every person can and should be Preah Batr Dhammik”

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Critics on the Pursuit of Happiness

There are critics on the theory of Maslow. Many scholars affirmed that “the pursuit of happiness” is not hierarchical at all. Among them, Manfred Max-Neef said satisfactoriness is the state of happiness (read this summary).

I am thinking about the adaptation of Bhutanese government to convert GDP to GDH. As the world is hugely influenced by materialism, the Buddhist country like Bhutan embarked on a different approach to answer a question that “Happiness of human beings really constructs on material or psychological satisfaction?”. For Max-Neef, he listed many domains and sub-domains of human’s need and his conclusion to satisfactoriness as the state of happiness for human beings arguably coincides with the teaching of Lord Buddha.
 
Dr. Richard Davidson who is the American neuroscientist believes that the spot of happiness of human beings is on the brain. He used lab to experiment happiness. There are exact spot of brain movement to show happiness. But in general, common people show their happiness spot unstable. After spending many years for his research, finally he met with Somdech Dalai Lama and got advice on taking monks to the lab to experiment happiness. 
 
Two monks who have deeply pursued into Dhamma stream from their Vipassana show their brain absolutely stable. Dr. Richard called this spot “Nibbana”.
 
So what is the true commodity of happiness? GDP or GDH? However, I am considering “four necessities” is the basic need for all human beings. Buddha said “Subbe Satta Ahaarakitikaa” or means that “All Beings Survived by Food”.
 
With this statement, common people understand that food means rice or other edible substances to swallow through mouth. But for Buddha, at least there are four types of food. Among those foods, the food of freedom is very substantial. 
 
Western philosophers adopted “freedom” as the factor of development since the end of crusade era. Allow people to act and speak freely is the diversification of human capital and social capital. As a teacher, if you don’t allow your student to approach their own thought and finding, how can the knowledge being obtained? As the parents, if they cope strictly their children, those children might not be able to develop their own potential at the highest. As a country leader, do you want to see your citizens being silent in order to develop a country?
 
For Western countries, the freedom of press, the freedom of speech, and the freedom of participation etc. are the core value of “development states”. 
 
To end the above point, “the pursuit of happiness” might be not motioned far from the “Vimutti” or “Freedom” Buddha addressed.
 
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CAMBODIA: New Year 2013: Opportunities for another 365 days to make a difference

Buddha says, “Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” Suu Kyi told Burmese in their struggle for rights and justice, “Don’t just sit there. Do something!”

Buddha teaches mankind to do all good, avoid all evil, and purify the mind. He provides mankind with an eight-fold path to follow. Gandhi exclaimed, “Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well,” as he applied Buddha’s teaching to himself: “I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal . . . I have humility enough to confess my errors and to retrace my steps.”

Whereas Buddha preaches, “Pay no attention to the faults of others . . . Consider only what by oneself is done or left undone,” and, “It is easy to see the faults of others, but difficult to see one’s own faults . . . one conceals one’s own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice”, Gandhi explains: “I look only to the good qualities of men. Not being faultless myself, I won’t presume to probe into the faults of others.”

FOR PUBLICATION
AHRC-ETC-001-2013
January 03, 2013

An article by Dr. Gaffar Peang-Meth published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

CAMBODIA: New Year 2013: Opportunities for another 365 days to make a difference

Happy New Year 2013!
The New Year brings each of us a new beginning. What has happened in the past year is behind us; neither the good nor the bad can be erased. Instead, we confront 365 days of opportunity to demonstrate that we have learned from the successes and challenges of the year — of the years — through which we have come.

The past is a guide to the present, the present a springboard toward the future. We learn from the past to improve today. Men and women are capable of change. Those who study human behavior suggest ways to accelerate change in how we manage our day to day interactions and long term decision making.

Since humans are creatures of habit, we are likely to think and behave the same way as we have done in the past. We reproduce the old because it takes no effort to repeat what we have always done. Much of our behavior is on autopilot. Remember Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Some Cambodian readers told me that they believe it to be a “safe bet” that their compatriots’ thinking and behavior in the next 365 days are likely to be the same as last year’s. A Khmer septuagenarian, a former instructor at the Khmer Military Academy, lamented that this very way of thinking is outmoded and unchanged from the patterns of behavior of earlier generations of Cambodians. It was he who sent me the poem, O Khmer oeuy Khmer, chous ach knong srae, which was the focus of my article in February 2012. The poem is about an ignoramus who does private business in the rice field and cleans himself with an ivy leaf. . . His ignorance is one aspect of the poem. The other aspect is Einstein’s definition of insanity. The septuagenarian wrote, it is “same old, same old for generations.” I am optimistic, however, that each of us has the capacity to change how we analyze and respond to people and events around us.

New Year, “new soul”? 

As Cambodians write to me, it is not unusual for them to blame the country’s political status quo on the absence of a Khmer Mahatma Gandhi or Aung San Suu Kyi. Were there such a person, they say, everything would be different. Does the alleged absence of such a leader justify the lack of effective progress in the Khmer struggle against Cambodia’s “kleptocracy”? It’s worth noting that both Gandhi and Suu Kyi embrace the philosophy and teaching of Gautama Buddha, the same principles in which nearly all Cambodians profess to believe, and that permeate Khmer society.
Continue reading “CAMBODIA: New Year 2013: Opportunities for another 365 days to make a difference”

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