I don?t know the exact origin of the word ?intellectual?. All I know is that several individuals have labeled me as an intellectual. For instance, Saichon Sattayanurak examines the thoughts of ten leading Siamese intellectuals from past to present in her research funded by the Thailand Research Fund. I happened to be the tenth on her list, and the only one who is still living. Allow me then the liberty to unashamedly use this number in the title of today?s speech, and please bear in mind that I am not implying anything about the Tenth Reign.  

Apparently, the Thai word ?panya-chon? was derived from the English word ?intellectual?. On the definition of ?intellectual?, T.R. Fyvel put it well in the book Intellectuals Today (Chattos Windus, 1968): which word not be repeated here.  There is also the word ?intelligentsia? which related to ?intellectual?. Here I will rely on Isaiah Berlin?s ?The Role of the Intelligentsia? (The Listener, 2 May 1968). Based on Berlin?s account, the term was first used approximately 100 years ago in Russia. Those who called themselves ?intelligentsiya? (derived from ?intelligenza? in Italian) were a minority group. They were exposed to Western culture and know-how and were proficient in foreign languages. They also felt excluded by or alienated from the masses. As a result, they often felt like foreigners in their own country. Some of them felt a sense of noblesse oblige toward their (seemingly) less cultivated, fortunate and modern compatriots. They gradually organized into many groups and deemed that it was their responsibility to express ideas and views freely in public in various forms in order to aid the masses. This was happening against the backdrop of a reactionary Russian regime that opposed any kind of reformism, not to say egalitarianism.  

From Berlin?s account we can say that an expression of disagreement or opposition?whether right or wrong?does not automatically make a person an intelligentsia. Any disagreement must also be prescriptive and based on reason. It must aim for progress not disaster and must be based on good intentions, not spitefulness, egoism or personal aggrandizement. In other words, the intelligentsia is different from the cynic. The latter makes criticism by and large in order to appear smarter than others and has nothing really constructive to offer. The cynic takes great joy in knowing what is wrong, but does not really care about correcting it. The cynic only gazes backward and has no hope for the future.

There are many cynics in Siamese society but little if any intelligentsia. Small wonder that Herbert Phillips argued that there were only literati in Siamese society; that is, those who at best sought to reclaim the country?s glorious past without the ability to think about constructing a different future (see ?The Culture of Siamese Intellectuals? in Change and Persistence in Thai Society: Homage to Lauriston Sharp, eds. Skinner and Kirsch). However, if we study the past carefully we will see that at the time of the intelligentsia?s birth in Russia, a similar event also took place in Siam. In 1884, Siamese officials in England and France requested King Chulalongkorn to embark on political reforms and transform the kingdom into a constitutional monarchy (commonly known as the Incident of Rattanakosin Era 103).

Based on Fyvel?s definition above, we can argue that the individuals who made this request were the country?s first generation of ?technical intelligentsia.? However, absolutism ultimately co-opted all of these individuals. The only exception was Prince Prisdang who fled the kingdom and became ordained as monk in Sri Lanka. He returned to Siam during the Sixth Reign, but the ruling elites treated him as persona non grata.

We can also say that Tianwan and K.S.R. Kularb were Siamese intellectuals during the Fifth Reign. Both were oppressed by the Siamese government, and the ruling elites turned a deaf ear to their pleas and constructive criticisms.


The name ?Siam? came into official use in the beginning of the Fourth Reign, which was a time of great change?the most significant one being the opening of the kingdom to Western influence and extra-territorial rights. Although nominally independent and sovereign, Siam was practically a pseudo-colony of Britain.

Although King Mongkut was a highly capable monarch, his aptitude for ruling has often been over-exaggerated. The successes and failures resulting from the kingdom?s opening to the West must be taken into full consideration when examining the Fourth Reign. The decision to open the country would not have been possible without the support of the principal adviser to the king who was the head of the powerful Bunnag clan (Dit Bunnag); the latter was also instrumental in engineering Mongkut?s ascension to the throne. The king himself conceded this point saying, ?I made a rule that if I want to do anything.  First of all is must seek advice from the powers that be.  If they agree with my proposal, I will then carry it out.  I will never do anything against their advice.? (Quoted in Neon Snidvongse, ?The Development of Siam?s Relations with Britain and France in the Reign of King Mongkut 1815-1868?, Ph.D. dissertation, University of London, 1960)

Moreover, Sri Suriyawong (Chuang Bunnag) became the right-hand man of King Mongkut toward the end of the Fourth Reign. He also served as Regent during the early years of the Fifth Reign. Sri Suriyawong told Townsend Harris, the American envoy to Siam, thus: Kings who claim the superior birth rights often forget that they them self came from the commoners.  Once they feel above there and neglect to listen to the voice of the suffering hour, the dynasty often does not last more then four reigns.?  

(From Journal of Townsend Harris, ed. Consenza, New York, 1930)

Whether or not King Mongkut felt troubled and uneasy because he did not possess decisive power cannot be proven. He did find plenty of time to produce 88 royal children during his relatively short reign (after 27 years of celibacy in the monkhood). From a Buddhist perspective, did he choose to express royal or sovereign power in private, sexual matters instead? That is, channeling hatred (dosacarita) into lustfulness (ragacarita)? He often punished wives or concubines who went against his will harshly?even brutally. The disturbing story of Tubtim as told by Anna Leonowens is well-known.

Lustfulness was thus King Mongkut?s main shortcoming (a flaw inherited by his immediate successor). As a teacher, however, he was a genius. He produced many brilliant disciples, both lay and ordained. For instance, one of his lay disciples published the book Kitchanukit, which was intended for the instruction of the young and which expressed a worldview that transcended the outdated Buddhist cosmogony expressed in the Three Worlds of King Ruang. Henry Alabaster captured well this achievement in The Wheel of the Law: Modern Thai Buddhism (1871)? a book which helped to spread Buddhism to foreign lands.

King Mongkut founded the Dhammayuttika Order as a reform movement when he was a monk. He aimed to enhance monastic discipline and purge superstitious and non-Buddhist elements from the religion. He emphasized rationalism in Buddhism, treating it as on the same level as modern scientific thought, thereby counter-acting the prejudices of many missionaries. This however had the unintended consequence of robbing faith and spirituality from Buddhism. Put another way, Buddhism in the kingdom became corrupted from within.


When one of his sons began to reorganize Sangha education during the Fifth Reign and absolutely controlling the Sangha institution in the Sixth Reign, the study of the Scriptures was emphasized at the expense of contemplation and meditation practice. In other words, Sangha education was deprived of mental training. When Buddhist education became patterned like lay education, there was a disconnection between head and heart. Virtue was downplayed. With the neglect of the supramundane or transcendental, the main objective of Buddhist education for monks became nothing more than climbing up the ecclesiastical order. The Sangha began to weaken. As such the Wheel of Dhamma, epitomized by the Sangha, became increasingly impotent against and therefore could not counterbalance the Wheel of State. Even though King Mongkut felt that he was more knowledgeable than most monks, he still felt it prudent to heed the warnings of the brilliant Somdej Toh of Wat Rakang. Here he was following a best practice tradition: all of the previous kings of the Chakkri Dynasty had great monks who acted as their moral conscience.

In the Fifth Reign, however, the Wheel of Dhamma was deliberately placed beneath the Wheel of State as witnessed by the Sangha Adminstration Act R.E. (Rattanakosin Era) 121 or 1910 of the Common Era.  Not only did the king exert absolute control over the Sangha he also maneuvered to overpower various officials and families that had provided vital support to the monarchy between the Third Reign and the early years of the Fifth Reign. He even abolished the title of the Vice Roy. With the passing of Sri Suriyawong, King Chulalongkorn became the country?s first truly absolute monarch.

Here, King Chulalongkorn was emulating the absolutism in Europe, especially Russia and Prussia. Unfortunately, he did not realize that absolutism was entering its twilight globally; and that not long after his reign it would be gone. The king also thought highly of England. But he couldn?t see that the monarchy there was essentially an important symbol?with actual power lying in the government and parliament.

It seemed that King Chulalongkorn received precious little knowledge of economics, politics and administration during his two trips to Europe in 1897 and 1907. He tried to befriend several European monarchs, and assumed that he was their equal. He did not question British colonialism in India and Burma. He did not see imperialism and colonialism as a wrong that needed to be corrected. Rather, he felt that the ruling elites in, for instance, India and Burma were too ignorant and backward. Therefore, being colonized was the inevitable price they had to pay. The important lesson the king learned was thus: to maintain Siam?s independence, the country must produce ?modernizing? elites and it must be (selectively) reformed along Western lines.

The king made it clear that his sons would be educated abroad. Likewise, the eldest sons of his younger brothers would also be granted this privilege. He believed that they would help preserve absolutism in the kingdom as well as its independence. Additionally, the king also sent a small number of commoners to study abroad. Interestingly, Mr. Scott, an Englishman and long-time resident of Siam, commented to Prince Damrong Rajanubhab while the latter was in exile in Penang that King Chulalongkorn was a great monarch who benefited Siam in numerous ways with the exception of sending Thais to study abroad, especially when they were too young. For Scott this was a major blunder because these Thai students were uprooted from their culture. Ultimately, they were proud of being like farangs rather than Siamese.

Let?s look at a concrete example. During the Fifth Reign, Bangkok greatly expanded beyond the Rattanakosin isle. On the Suan Dusit side, we could witness Siam?s civilized status, which in practice meant copying farangs. The consecrated hall of the latest Buddhist temple was constructed with marble and foreign materials. And so was the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. Needless to say, the king?s palaces and those of his wives and sons were constructed in Western style. To paraphrase a Latin saying, when Augustus became emperor Rome was a city of clay. When he passed away, it was made of marble.


Although, the official use of the word ?Siam? first appeared in the Fourth Reign, it wasn?t until the Fifth Reign that ?Siamese-ness? became apparent. King Chulalongkorn even signed his name as ?Siamindra?, meaning the chief god of Siam. King Mongkut on the other hand had used only the Latin title of Rex Siamensis to call himself.

It was also in the Fifth Reign that the people were encouraged to venerate ?Phra Siamindra?; that is, the deification of King Chulalongkorn. This was unprecedented. In the Fourth Reign Siamese had only Phra Siam Thevathiraj or the guardian deity of Siam, which is a non-human entity. In the Fifth Reign, Phra Siamindra stood at the apex of both the people and the State. This is evident in the royal anthem, which was composed by Prince Narisaranuvadtivongs, one of Chulalongkorn?s younger brothers. Translated into English, the royal anthem goes as follows:

We, servants of His great Majesty,

prostrate our heart and head,

to pay respect to the ruler, whose merits are boundless,

the supreme and most exalted monarch,

Phra Siamindra [King of Siam],

with great and lasting honor,

(We are) secure and peaceful because of your royal rule,

results of the king?s treatment

people are in happiness and in peace,

May it be that

whatever you will,

be achieved

according to the hopes of your great heart

as we wish (you) victory, hurrah!

(Translation modified from Wikipedia?s)

To say the least, this was a fine piece of propaganda. The modern education system that began in the Fifth Reign also exalted the monarch in unheard of ways. It can even be argued that this practice was contrary to Buddhism. If we read the jataka tales composed by monks, we will be struck by the fact that in many of these stories the evil character is often the king. These stories urged Buddhists to renounce the desire for glory and the quest for power and wealth and to practice the ascetic virtues of simplicity and humility.

As John Crawfurd, who was sent by Lord Hastings on a mission as an envoy to the court of Siam in the Second Reign, noted: ?The half naked, like barbarians and slaves dare to feel that they are the highest in the world.  To serve the foreigners in any way is to lose their dignity.  

As a result of the centralization of power and modern education system, which began in the Fifth Reign, rural people increasingly felt inferior vis-?-vis urban folks. Eventually, they looked up to and wanted to emulate the upper class. Various means were used to make social hierarchy acceptable or at least non-humiliating to the subordinate classes. For instance, Prince Damrong and Prince Vajirayana proposed the idea that the prosperity of the kingdom depended on having a capable and virtuous monarch. Furthermore, ?Thai-ness? was (re)defined as loyalty to the monarchy. An exalted monarch was one who possessed loving-kindness toward virtually everyone, from royal family members to monks and lowly commoners. He would guarantee that everyone would be able to live well in accordance with their different (unequal) position in society. Lucky are those who were born into the upper class. They could lead lavish lives, and no one saw this as illegitimate.

The expansion of Bangkok?s political and economic power, as centralized in the hands of the court and bureaucracy, inevitably led to rebellions in the former vassal regions, especially in the north, the northeast and the south. Bangkok officials aggressively attacked what they saw as the evils and abuses perpetrated by local ruling families. The old system was deemed as corrupt and inefficient. Hence, a new order had to be created through the centralization of power. But from the perspective of the vassal regions, Siam?s absolutism threatened their autonomy.

The Ven. Somdet Phra Dhirayanamuni of Wat Chakkawat told me that he came to study in Bangkok at the end of the Fifth Reign and the beginning of the Sixth Reign. Although he was residing in Pak Thong Chai which was not far from Bangkok, local villagers pleaded him not to leave the temple. They claimed that Bangkok had lots of mosquitoes and that water there was unclean. In short, Bangkok was considered an unhealthy place to live in. In any case, Bangkok was the newly recognized center of power in both secular and religious terms. He eventually passed the ninth grade of Pali studies examination and gradually rose in the hierarchy of the Thai Sangha, ultimately being second only to the Supreme Patriarch. At the same time, he was well aware of the waning power of the Sangha, which was undermined by the lack of internal cohesion as well as political intervention.

On the other hand, Bhikkhu Buddhadasa travelled to Bangkok at the end of the Sixth Reign and the beginning of the Seventh Reign for an entirely different reason. In Bangkok, over four meetings, he discussed the future of the new Siam with the Regent to King Rama VIII. The two agreed that Dhammic Socialism was essential for the new Siam?for both the Sangha and worldly communities. Ultimately, Bhikkhu Buddhadasa turned his back on Bangkok and returned to Chaiya in Surat Thani province to establish Suan Mokh. He believed that Suan Mokh would serve as a bright shining hope for Siamese society. At the same time, the hope of the People?s Party to transform Siam after the 1932 Revolution was eclipsed by a military coup d?etat in 1947.


In its first announcement, the People?s Party stated six major principles.

1) Must maintain securely the independence of the country in all forms, including political, judicial, economic, etc.;

2) Must maintain public safety within the country and greatly reduce crime;

3) Must improve the economic well-being of the people by the new government finding employment for all, and drawing up a national economic plan, not leaving the people to go hungry;

4) Must provide the people with equal rights (so that those of royal blood do not have more rights than the people as at present)

5) Must provide the people with liberty and freedom, as far as this does not conflict with the above four principles;

6) Must provide the people with full education.

More than eight decades have passed since the declaration of these principles. To what extent have they been achieved? Have we moved forward or backward in any of these principles?

  1. On political and judicial independence, the People?s Party successfully brought an end to extraterritoriality and treaty constraints that hindered the country?s legal autonomy in 1938. According to the ?24 June National Day? song, which was popular at the time, the revolution was a great event that marked the advent of modern constitutional democracy in the country. Thai people now have freedom and rights along with happiness because the country has achieved full independence.

Today, can we really claim to have full independence? Or are we nominally sovereign but our national policies have been circumscribed and dictated by the American and Chinese empires?along with transnational corporations and global Capital?

The 1932 Revolution declared all Thai citizens equal before the law. Subsequently, the Thai court tried its best to uphold the principle of justice, fearing that the ?civilized? world would intervene to impose constraints on the country?s legal system. In other words, the court was very trustworthy and respectable. This trend continued even during the early phases of military dictatorship in the country. However, things began to change for the worse after the mysterious death of King Rama VIII. As I put it in my oral closing statement on the case of lese majeste on 3 April 1995:

When King Rama VIII was found dead in his royal chamber, the government created fake witnesses and three innocent people were sentence to death although the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. Later on one of the main witnesses, Mr. Tee Srisuwan, became a monk and confessed that he gave a fake statement that condemned the three victims to death?.Likewise, there are clearly fake witnesses in the case against me this time. This shows that there has been little improvement in the credibility of the Royal Thai Police since the time of Police General Phao Sriyanon.

At present, it also seems that the Thai court has not fully appreciated Pridi Banomyong?s vital role in ending extraterritoriality and reclaiming legal autonomy in Siam. In a recent interview on a public television channel the Supreme Court spokesperson merely gave credits to Kings Rama V, VI, and VII. He did not find it fit to mention the name of the commoner Pridi. Is this a bad case of ingratitude?

At least the present Chief Justice of the Criminal Court recognizes that the BE 2550 Constitution is flawed in large part because it forces the Supreme Court to be an actor in the country?s political conflicts. In other words, this undermines the court?s image as an impartial or politically neutral institution.  This shows that the Chief Justice of the Criminal Court possesses a modicum of ethical courage and is willing to speak the truth to power. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of most of the judges in the system. If the court?s independence and impartiality cannot be restored and if most of the judges in the system don?t have loving-kindness and are unjust, then there?s little hope for progress in Thai society.

  1. At present, there is less security in Siam than 80 years ago in large part because of inefficient bureaucracy and police corruption and abuse. The police have become a state within a state, for instance. The mainstream mass media disseminate hatred, lustfulness, greed, and ignorance in various forms. The education system has not performed any better in this matter. And since the time of Sarit Thanarat, absolutism has returned in different guises.
  2. Needless to say, economically the country is a failure. It has failed to secure the well-being of the people. It has betrayed the great cause to reform or even move beyond capitalism as envisioned in Pridi?s Outline Economic Plan of 1933. As such, any attempt to overcome poverty these days must be treated as a kind of dangerous lie.

First in the name of ?modernization? and then ?development? and ?globalization?, we have destroyed local communities and traditional ways of life. We have exploited rural people and uprooted them from their simple way of life, which was rooted in Buddhism.

  1. Equality is important for democracy. The Buddha created the Sangha as a community of equals. Absolutism destroyed equality in spirit and in practice. Furthermore, the modern education system and the mainstream mass media make social inequality appear as natural or even desirable.
  2. There will be meaningful freedom when there?s courage to challenge the sacred and magical, including absolutism in different guises. People must have ethical courage. We must continue to fight for the Truth despite the great opposition of capitalists, militarists, and absolutists. There must be a space for agonistic debate and discussion. The mainstream mass media have not been able to provide and protect this space for us. One of our last great journalists was probably Kularb Saipradit. After his exile to China, the standard of Thai journalism plummeted drastically. Turning to the television industry, we also need to point to Supsiri Viriyasiri?s ethical courage.
  3. Our education system has become a system of mass intoxication.  It is unable to truly teach ethics. It has succeeded in producing cold and efficient machines rather than humans who are compassionate toward others and concerned about animals and the natural environment.  Our education system must revive the three-fold training and make it relevant to the contemporary world.


Education plays a crucial role for change and emancipation, individually as well as collectively. We must know ourselves, not only the external world. Since the breath is vital for living, we must learn to breathe properly; that is, mindfully. We must learn to breathe in peacefulness and tranquility. When properly practiced, we will also learn to evaluate and criticize ourselves, minimize self-attachment and see the interdependence of all beings.

Self-transformation or emancipation should be the elementary foundation of education. Having virtuous friends also helps in this process since they can act as our external voice of conscience, saying things we might not want to hear about ourselves.

As for collective transformation, we can turn to the alternative models provided by Ladakh and Kerela in India. We should not hastily dismiss Bhutan?s experiment with Gross National Happiness. Nor should we turn our backs on alternative movements in the US and Europe. We also have a lot to learn from promising, grassroots movements in our neighbors such as Burma, Laos and Cambodia.

Militarism, capitalism and consumerism will not be easily dismantled. We must confront structural violence and struggle to overcome it through the power of truth and nonviolence. The Tibetan government in exile has relied on nonviolence and the power of truth to fight against Chinese occupation of Tibet for more than 50 years. One day, it may be successful like Gandhi?s movement.

King Chulalongkorn traveled to India in late 1871?the last year of the regency period?he learned three terrible things from the British Raj: (1) the people must be educated to accept the domination of the ruling elites; 2) political power must be centralized; and 3) armed violence must be used against those who resisted the centralization of power.

Our present ruling elites have not strayed far away from these three lessons. Our elites, past and present, have hardly noticed that Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution, was born into an untouchable caste and later converted to Buddhism. The Indian Constitution has never been torn apart. Thai tourists to India?even those who called themselves ?pilgrims??hardly ever paid attention to this aspect of India. Likewise, the Thai ruling elites have hardly associated India with Satyagraha, Hind Swaraj and the Sarvodaya movement. Little do they know of Rajagopal and his fellow young activists who have spent years cultivating the consciousness of the poor and landless and mobilizing them to defend their basic rights over land and resources, which are being threatened by privatization or undermined by local and international capital with the assistance of the Indian state. (Thai red and yellow shirt leaders and supporters have a lot to learn from Rajagopal?s movement. They should cease their quarrel, join hands, and reach out to and work for the poor.)

In Siam today, there is a high percentage of absentee landlords. Is this legitimate or just? The Crown Property Bureau is a major landlord, owning over one-third of the land in Bangkok. It has forced tenants out in the name of land development; that is, capital accumulation. Is this right? Individuals like Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, one of the richest men in the country and in the world, are also buying large tracts of land to enrich their private empires. And so on. Is it ethical to turn a blind eye to these phenomena?

In conclusion, the Thai ruling elites have long used England and later the US as models, without really properly understanding them. I propose that there are other possible models. Let me once again turn to the Tibetan government in exile. Some of its policies are noteworthy and adaptable to the suit the needs of contemporary society. They are as follows:

1. The government should promote the right livelihood of the people. In the case of the Tibetan government in exile, it even dissuades the raising of livestock for profit, not to say of the production of weapons, poisonous drugs and chemicals, etc. 

2. Considerations on environmental sustainability must be included in every activity and practice.

3. Inspired by Buddhism, development must be sustainable and multi-dimensional. 

4. Any activity or practice that hurts the poor must be immediately stopped. And every attempt must be made to reduce the gap between rich and poor.

Add these four new principles to the original six proclaimed by the People?s Party (of course, rearticulated to be relevant to contemporary conditions), we will have ten principles to fight for?ten principles from the 10th Siamese intellectual.


Sulak Sivaraksa

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