Should Buddhists cry for war?


Former Bangkok governor Chamlong Srimuang leading a 2006 protest. The co-leader of Thailand's nationalist "yellow shirts" street faction is known for his devotion to the breakaway Buddhist sect Santi Asok.



As global conflicts go, the Thai-Cambodia border dispute can hardly compete with the drama playing out in the Arab world.

But it's still stewing, even as the world's interest is diverted to the Middle East. Tens of thousands of troops remain on alert and both Thai and Cambodian leaders refuse to call a truce.

I've previously described the hardline rhetoric coming from self-proclaimed Thai "patriots," who want the army to back down Cambodia with force. The group's leader even urged troops to launch a full-scale invasion to seize Angkor Wat, an ancient temple and symbol of Cambodian pride. (The patriots continue to camp out by the prime minister's compound and vow to stay until Thailand wins the conflict.)

Today I got a chance to hear from a charismatic monk who is aligned with the Thai patriots.

A Buddhist monk standing side-by-side with nationalists agitating for bloodshed?

That's right. His name is Samana Bhodirak and he leads a breakaway Buddhist sect called Santi Asoke. His followers are notoriously disciplined in forsaking meat, sex and material comforts.

With his faithful, he arrived, barefoot, to speak to Thailand's foreign correspondents' club.

I wanted to know -- how could a holy man support people clamoring for war?

"We're aware that people who've joined the protests have burning desires," Samana said. "That's why we try our best, with discipline and knowledge, to soften their stance. I'd argue that the sort of violence that's been detected is limited to verbal violence."

"I don't support military action against Cambodia," he added. "Even if we're right."

Americans with an idyllic view of Buddhism may be surprised to hear of a monk aligned with hardliners eager for conflict. (Worth noting: this sect split from the mainstream Thai Buddhist council in the 1970s.)

But as with all religions, Buddhism has a history of seeping into politics in Thailand. This monk's politics just happen to be a bit more intense.

Consider this poster, hung by the sect's followers on the gate of the Thai patriots' Bangkok encampment.

Yes, that's the World Trade Center on fire.

The message? "Wealth is the cause of violence."