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6 Jun, 2010

The law of Karma is very much alive, and will prevail until justice is done

Originally Published: 06 June 2010

The crisis in Thailand has destroyed one myth, exposed one danger and highlighted the truth of one divine law. All three points come to light upon reading a brilliant essay by Prof Dr Somparn Promta of the Department of Philosophy, Chulalongkorn University, in the latest edition of the academic journal, “The Muslim World.”

The destroyed myth is the oft-repeated and widely-believed lie that “Islam is a violent religion” which advocates and/or espouses violence. The exposed danger is the role of ill-begotten wealth and its usage for the attainment of selfish goals. And the divine law is that of the role of karma in the destinies of men and nations.

The first two are referred to in Dr Somparn’s essay entitled “The View of Buddhist on Other Religions with Special Reference to Islam”. Although the journal’s normal focus is on Christian-Islamic issues, the April-July 2010 issue is a special edition that covers relations between Islam and Buddhism.

Journal editor Prof Dr Imtiyaz Yusuf, now a visiting professor at Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, Washington DC., called it “a new point of departure in the venture of Islamic Studies.”

Of the 13 articles in the journal focussing on various aspects of Buddhist and Islamic doctrines, Dr Somparn’s essay is the only one written by a Thai. The points it raises, as well as the timing of the journal itself, are quite uncanny developments, given the recent developments in Thailand.

Writes Dr Somparn, “The truth of religion consists of two kinds: the first is empirical truth and the second is mystic truth. Empirical truth can be verified by sense experience. I believe that in Buddhism and Islam, we can find this kind of truth everywhere in the texts and in the practices of the believers of both religions.

“The truth of empirical statement is necessary truth in the sense that we can never deny it. For example, a Buddhist or a Muslim feels that his or her friends were treated unjustly by government officers and thus, helps them through the way of wisdom and non-violence. Eventually, their friends were successful and got justice. This is the state of happiness. The truth that happiness which comes from the feeling of friendship will cause the feeling that our life has meaning and is not empty – becomes self evident, and this kind of truth can be found both in Buddhist and Muslim communities.”

The essay then goes into details about how Muslims and Buddhists came together in the protests two years ago against “an ex-prime minister” who was accused of not paying millions of baht in taxes stemming from sale of certain properties.

“Normally, Muslims and Buddhists have not much of a chance to live together and do something in common with the same aim, as found in these citizens protesting against the ex-prime minister.

“It is interesting that during the last long protest of 193 days, the leaders of the protest who are all Buddhists were strictly protected by young Muslim guards. A Buddhist monk who played the significant role as the moral advisor of the protesting group said to me that after the protest, he continues to this very day to be invited by Muslim communities to visit and have conversations.

“It should be noted that when there are dialogues between Buddhism and Islam – the speakers of both religions seem to stress the spirit of their own religions as meant by the masters. For them, the spirit of Buddhism and Islam is moral cleanliness. Religion is not a personal matter only, but it is a social obligation to not allow evils from happening in our country.”

Dr Somparn then discusses the role of wealth and religion which “seem to be the enemy of each other.”

The essay adds: “Jesus says that it is not possible for a person to be the slave of God and money at the same time; in Buddhism, at the lower level of morality, a person can be the servant of morality and money at the same time – but at higher stages must choose only one thing.

“I believe this idea is found in Islam as well, because of the emphasis on financial-charity to the less-fortunate people in society. The accumulation of wealth to be consumed solely by oneself only is never endorsed by any religion in the world. Actually, religion does not reject wealth, religion rejects selfishness. If the possession of wealth leads to the happiness of other, for example, the poor, there is no reason for religion to reject such wealth.”

How both violence and wealth came together in the last few weeks is now a key factor in the debate on the future of Thailand. Muslims played no role in either.

The 1997 economic crisis was triggered by the attack on the Thai baht by another billionaire, the Jewish currency speculator George Soros. Like Mr Thaksin, Mr Soros, too, is devoted to spreading “freedom and democracy” through his “Open Society Institute”. Billionaire oligarchs pursuing regime change in countries are clearly becoming a major global menace, and Thailand has become their victim twice over.

As for the violence, I have often wondered what would have been the reaction if it had been Muslims thundering on the stage at Rajprasong, spewing out that abusive, offensive language, threatening to burn buildings and attacking the monarchy.

Both these points in Dr Somparn’s essay serve to highlight the truth of karma – highly cherished in both Buddhism and Islam.

For Buddhist-majority Thailand, the truth of karma is heavily felt in the lingering consequences of the theft of billions of baht worth of Saudi jewels, many of which remain unreturned and until today adorn someone’s neck, finger or earlobe, hanging like a curse over the country.

It was that crime, and the killing of the Saudi diplomats (whose killers have proven to be as elusive as those jewels), which led to Thailand losing all the labour contracts in Saudi Arabia. As most of the labour was originating in the Northeast, the loss of billions of baht worth of remittances perpetuated the high levels of poverty – poverty which Mr Thaksin exploited in coming to power, and making the Northeast his stronghold.

Add to that the violence in Tak Bai and Krue Sae, both under Mr Thaksin’s watch, and it becomes clear that the law of karma is very much alive – and will continue to manifest itself until justice is done. No amount of elections, economic recovery packages or image-building campaigns will help remove that stain.

When man-made law stands in direct contradiction to divine law, the former loses, always.