Wongsanit Ashram was founded by a group of nonviolent activists who have been actively involved with the uprisings in 1973 and 1976 in Siam with the leadership of Sulak Sivaraksa, a well-known social thinker. They realized the importance of creating a place for spiritual refuge during the tumultuous time where socially engaged people can practice together mindfulness and nurture their spiritual growth as well as experiment with the lifestyle close to nature and society.
The land on which the Ashram is located was donated to the Sathierakoses Nagapradipa in 1984. Covering about 14 acres, the premises are located in Tambon Klongyai, Ongkharak district, Nakhonnayok, Central Thaland. The donor , M.R. Saisawati Sawatiwat is a daughter of M.J. Subhasawati Wongsanit and M.J. Samor Sawatiwat who owned a big chunk of land in local area. Thus, the name Wongsanit Ashram is given in memory of her father. It has become a place where new generation of activists embark on their spiritual journey, a place where they can reenergize themselves after the long exhaustive struggle in different arenas.
The activists who come and live here to get rejuvenated feel they have to return and contribute to society. The projects they have created do not benefit just inside the country, but in neighboring countries including Lao PDR, Cambodia and Burma. The aim is to make Wongsanit Ashram a hub of alternative education which utilizes spiritual practice to provide for a basis of social activism
The basic concepts of Wongsanit Ashram
- Nurture unity and harmony through diversity: Participatory approaches are used here in decision making at all levels to serve society.
- Arrange bioregionalism and community livelihood to make possible the sustainable ecology based on the combination of local wisdom and scientific knowledge
- Promote a simple way of life which encompasses self-reliance, beauty and non-competitive approaches
- Provide for community welfare to help the community members to procure four basic necessities and education as well as services for older persons
- Promote alternative education to empower the community members and for replicating the educational initiatives to benefit larger society
- Promote spiritual practice and community life
- Promote peace and reconciliation among believers
- Promote sustainable community economy making the Ashram the foundation to support social change
Promoting ecological and simple lifestyle through workshops, training and discussions. A series of activities undertaken include among others the following;
1. Mud-house workshops: Workshops help expose participants to the construction of mud-houses based on sustainable housing concepts. By learning to build a house by themselves, people learn the importance of self-reliance and living close to nature.
- Food and health workshops: Workshops on natural culinary areas including vegetarian food, uncooked food, etc. help people learn to cook by themselves and to extend loving kindness to oneself and others while cooking. The food made is thus the reflection of one’s spiritual wellbeing and helps one to learn to slow down and enjoy a simple life.
- Activities for self-discovery such as Pancha Sila Dance to come to terms with oneself through the five step dance along natural dynamism, practice of exchange of power and strike the balance of power or transformation games to entice us to face our own internal being.
- Ecovillage Design Education is a learning process to design an eco-village or eco-community based on four prongs of knowledge including worldview, society, economy and ecology.
- Various aspects of life at the Wongsanit Ashram: Wongsanit Ashram is home to a variety of activists who strive to live a creative community life and to strike the balance between internal and external beauties. They believe in the importance of inner foundation that provides the strength for one to carry out social activism.
Worldview: The vision of Wongsanit Ashram members is to create “an alternative and spiritual-based community to nurture learning and to empower human beings to serve their goals to work for society”. Persons from any religion are welcome here since all the practices are geared toward nurturing one’s goodness and to promote nonviolence, non-exploitation and coming to terms with nature.
Social: Collective decision making is key to the administration of the Wongsanit Ashram community. The direction, goals, policy, and anything related to the implementation is set out through the expansive decision making structure. Most decisions are concerned with two major aspects including social activism and internal practice. Decisions about the activities for society are under the supervision of the Executive Board subject to election every year by the community constituencies. They have to keep members updated about the activity progress. As for decisions concerning goals, basic premises and policy of the community, the Community Council comes in as the governing body and through which everyone in community is consulted.
Economy: Wongsanit Ashram works all out to rely on itself through non-chemical food production and to spread the notion of living a simple and sustainable life. Part of the income is generated through accommodation and catering services provided for those coming to stay here for workshops, retreat, etc. The funds are used for supporting social activities and staff’s remuneration. Also, the money is kept to provide for basic welfare including food, accommodation, education and revolving funds for the community members.
Ecology: Since 1984, Wongsanit Ashram has attempted to restore the local environment turning a barren and fallow farmland into a green and abundant space. The agriculture has been designed to suit the nature of the soil and local environment. Proper waste treatment and recycling has been in use since the beginning. Many experiments have been made to identify choices of food, housing and health care that nurture both international and external nature.