Sulak Sivaraksa (Thai: สุลักษณ์ ศิวรักษ์; RTGS: Sulak Siwarak; pronounced [sùlák sìwárák]; born 27 March 1932 in Siam) is a Thai social activist, professor, writer and the founder and director of the Thai NGO "Sathirakoses-Nagapradeepa Foundation", named after two authorities on Thai culture, Sathirakoses (Phya Anuman Rajadhon) and Nagapradeepa (Phra Saraprasoet). He initiated a number of social, humanitarian, ecological and spiritual movements and organizations in Thailand, such as the College SEM (Spirit in Education Movement).
Sulak Sivaraksa is known in the West as one of the fathers of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), which was established in 1989 with leading Buddhists, including the 14th Dalai Lama, the Vietnamese monk and peace-activist Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Theravada Bhikkhu Maha Ghosananda, as its patrons.
When Sulak Sivaraksa was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1995 for "his vision, activism and spiritual commitment in the quest for a development process that is rooted in democracy, justice and cultural integrity", he became known to a wider public in Europe and the US. Sulak was chair of the Asian Cultural Forum on Development and has been a visiting professor at UC Berkeley, the University of Toronto, and Cornell.[1
The grandson of a Chinese immigrant whose surname was Lim and born into an affluent Teochew Sino-Thai family, Sulak Sivaraksa was educated at Assumption College in Bangkok and at the University of Wales, Lampeter, where he is now an honorary fellow in Buddhism. He passed the Bar in London in 1961. Upon his return home, he became the editor of Social Science Review magazine. Many considered it the leading Thai intellectual journal of its time.:199 By 1968 the Social Science Review had become "the intellectual voice of the nation".:199 Also in 1968, Sulak founded the Sathirakoses-Nagapradipa Foundation (SNF), which publishes "the intellectual successor" to Social Science Review and acts as an umbrella organization for a group of NGOs.:204 Soon after his return to Thailand, he directed his energies towards the development of sustainable models for a rapidly changing economic and social environment. The military coup of 1976 forced him into exile for two years. At this time he toured Canada, the US, and Europe to lecture academic audiences. Because of the coup, Sulak's commitment to peace was strengthened. Since then he has championed nonviolence in war torn and repressed countries like Sri Lanka.:206 His devotion to peace and nonviolence is demonstrated by his leadership and membership in international peace organizations like Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Peace Brigade International, and Gandhi Peace Foundation.:206 After he returned to Thailand, Sulak was prompted to establish the Thai Inter-religious Commission for Development (TICD), and soon thereafter Sulak was appointed chairperson of the Asian Cultural Forum on Development (ACFOD) and the editor of its newsletter, Asia Action.:206 In 1982, Sulak established the Thai Development Support Committee as a way to coordinate other nongovernmental organizations to better tackle large problems that they could not tackle alone.:204
The foreign contacts he made while in exile proved beneficial when Sivaraksa was arrested in 1984 for lèse majesté, causing international protests which pressured the government to release him. Sivaraksa was again charged with lèse majesté in September 1991 after a talk he gave at Thammasat University about the repression of democracy in Thailand. Sivaraksa fled the county and went into exile until he was able to convince the courts of his innocence in 1995. He was awarded the Swedish Right Livelihood Award in 1995, the UNPO (Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization) Award in 1998, and the Indian Millennium Gandhi Award in 2001. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the American Friends Service Committee in 1994.:198
Sulak was a strong critic of deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He publicly accused Thaksin of adultery at rallies organized by the People's Alliance for Democracy. However, he has never cited any evidence for his claims. During a protest on 26 February 2006, Sulak called Thaksin a pitiful dog. Sulak's comments were condemned by Somsri Hananantasuk, former Chairperson of Amnesty International Thailand, who said that such words could provoke violence.
In 2007, he spoke out against proposals to declare Buddhism Thailand's "national religion" in the new constitution, arguing that to do so would exacerbate the existing conflict in southern Thailand.
Sulak Sivaraksa also appears in the documentary film about the Dalai Lama entitled Dalai Lama Renaissance.
Sulak Sivaraksa is an advocate for social and political change in Thailand, as well as globally. Sivaraksa has written several influential works that have both inspired people to work towards justice and provoked controversy from political leaders. Nonetheless, Sulak Sivaraksa's speeches and other writings discuss political and economic corruption in Thai government, universal ethics, and socially engaged Buddhism. Some of Sivaraksa's most influential works include his autobiography, Loyalty Demands Dissent, as well as Seeds of Peace: A Buddhist Vision for Renewing Society, and Conflict, Culture, Change: Engaged Buddhism in a Globalizing World. Sulak Sivaraksa’s writings, as well the organizations he has created, express his desire for a moral and ethical world from a Buddhist perspective. Sivaraksa's religious faith is clearly the foundation of all of his political and social beliefs, yet he uses his religious beliefs to create social change in a modernist fashion.
Sulak was arrested on 6 November 2009 for lèse majesté. He was bailed out shortly thereafter.
In 2014 Sulak was again charged with defamation of the monarchy after questioning the historicity of a 16th-century royal duel on elephantback. He was cleared of these charges in December 2017.
In a 2019 interview with The Isaan Record, Sulak expressed his disappointment with the government of Prayut Chan-o-cha, but saw great promise in the rise of new progressive parties.