Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
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by Chanikarn Mint Wongviriyawong, founder of Young Plants of Peace
Young Plants of Peace (YPP) is a group of young people in Thailand working toward creating a culture of peace based on respect for the dignity of life. It developed organically in 2013 out of collaboration between Soka Gakkai Thailand’s student group and English language group in Bangkok and currently consists of about 70 members. At the core of YPP activities are our efforts to put the spirit of Buddhist humanism—to value each individual and cultivate their capacity for positive change—into practice in our local communities.
One of the inspirations for establishing the group was a passage from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s serialized novel The New Human Revolution in which he reflects on his first visit to Thailand in 1961: “Thailand is destined to be an important center from which the light of happiness will shine on all Asia, a lighthouse that will illuminate the way for its many peoples.”
When I returned to my home country of Thailand in 2012 after 12 years of study in the US, I faced reverse culture shock and was struggling to find my sense of purpose. It was during this period that I came across the above passage. It helped me realize that Thai culture is inherently one of compassion, generosity and respect for life. For example, the gesture of putting our palms together and bowing whenever we meet represents respect for one another.
It has taken me three years to discover that Thailand has great potential to become a model of a peaceful society. It is just a matter of bringing this potential to the forefront so that it informs the way we live our lives. This has become the aim of YPP activities and the sense of purpose I had been looking for.
In one of our projects, we studied ways to effectively engage in dialogue and the role that listening plays in the process. We then drove to a nursing home in Chonburi Province to practice listening to the stories of our elders. Through this simple act we learned a great deal and realized how our willingness to listen in turn encouraged those we had gone to visit.
Focusing on the power of one-to-one encouragement, YPP then began a two-month campaign called “Chain Reaction of Hope” to encourage 20,000 young people—our friends and acquaintances—through sending them handwritten postcards designed by our team. One participant with early onset Parkinson’s disease challenged herself to write 50 postcards a day. Even after the campaign, she still writes postcards to encourage others, and the trembling of her hands has become almost unnoticeable.
YPP meets on a monthly basis to read selected excerpts from books by leading philosophers, peace activists and world leaders and to discuss various topics ranging from global citizenship and nuclear disarmament to the dignity of life, friendship and family.
On August 15, 2015, we hosted a peace festival to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the horrific atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We also invited SGI representatives from Cambodia and Laos to join us in exchanging ideas for building peace in our respective countries and in the region. The festival included cultural performances, a film on the devastating effects of nuclear weapons, the signing of an antinuclear weapons petition and a segment where young representatives of Soka Gakkai Thailand shared their determinations to work for peace.
The existence of nuclear weapons is rooted in a silent, passive form of violence that exists in the hearts of individuals as prejudice, disrespect and a lack of concern for others’ suffering. In the run-up to the festival, the nearly 300 staff members and performers focused on trying to discern and “abolish” these tendencies in their own lives. Through this effort, the often-distant goal of nuclear abolition became a personal one. Each of us was able to reflect on and experience how the establishment of a culture of peace must begin with a transformation within ourselves and our immediate environment.
While peace can seem like a distant goal, we of the YPP are committed to advance along the path of personal transformation as a sustainable means toward making respect for the dignity of life the spirit of the age.
Chanikarn Mint Wongviriyawong is a young women’s leader in Soka Gakkai Thailand and a lecturer at the Institute of Field Robotics at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi. She began exploring themes related to peacebuilding and nuclear abolition as part of SGI-USA activities around 2010 as a graduate student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Aspiring to make education a force that enables learners to construct knowledge for social good, Chanikarn conducts research ranging from building robotic toys that facilitate learning, to objectively quantifying learning outcome, passion and happiness.
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