June 2011


Doctrine divides, Action unites

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Religious Leaders from Cambodia and Thailand United in Calling on All, Especially Governments, to Use Religious Principles for Resolving Conflict

As the ASEAN heads of state meeting in early May failed to resolve the ongoing border conflict between Thailand and Cambodia, senior Buddhist and other religious leaders from both countries met in Bangkok on May 31, 2011, to forge a collaborative effort for peace and to issue a joint statement on the role of religious communities in resolving conflict and advancing peace.

The meeting was organized by the World Conference of Religions for Peace (Religions for Peace International), the world’s largest interreligious organization accredited with the United Nations and headquartered in New York, and the Religions for Peace Interreligious Council of Thailand and its secretariat at the Mahidol University Research Center for Peacebuilding.

The meeting was organized in cooperation with the Religions for Peace-affiliated Interreligious Council of Cambodia and consisted of a circle of dialogue among Thai and Cambodian religious leaders, which included Cambodian Buddhist and Christian leaders and Thai senior Buddhist monks and Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Sikh leaders, as well as local people from conflict areas and concerned persons. Together 131 persons attended the meeting.

The Thai-Cambodian border dispute has lasted for quite a long time. It has caused suffering due to the loss of lives and damage to houses, temples and properties. Above all, it destroys the trust and friendship between the two nations. We believe that the religious and spiritual dimension can take part and play a vital role for peace through the process of “dialogue.” Dialogue is not simply bilateral talks but consists essentially of deep listening through which people can translate the teachings of their own religion into practice with loving kindness and empathy without prejudgment.

Through the process of “deep listening” in dialogue, people will be able to have a chance to learn different feelings, desires and reasons and may grow and experience the commonality of human beings’ need and security. Hopefully, dialogue may change the feeling of suspicion, bias and lack of trust into better and mutual understanding.

The Cambodian and Thai religious leaders representing different religious traditions, through Religions for Peace-affiliated interreligious councils in both countries, proffer the recommendations below.

  1. May this intra-Buddhist and interfaith dialogue on peace among Thais and Cambodians be the starting point for further dialogue between religious leaders and people in order to restore sustainable peace. The conflict over a religious place should be transformed by rendering it as a “place for forgiveness” (apai-dana) and a zone of non-violence to which everyone can pay respect and visit.
  2. All parties, including the media, should listen to the voices of people who call for peace and justice, not violence. Leaders and the media should try to proceed by all means to nurture mutual understanding, to cultivate their own inner peace and to use history, not to spread hatred, but to improve relationships.
  3. May the Thai and Cambodian governments engage in genuine “dialogue” and remain steadfast to religious teachings, such as truth, tolerance, compassion, treating each other as friends, not enemies, and always acting for the benefit of the people. Instead of using violence to settle territorial conflicts, both countries should try to apply the principle of joint development to areas that are under dispute. This could be done through negotiation, be it bilateral or within an ASEAN framework.