The Asian School of Wisdom

building a wisdom-based society



 The Asian School of Wisdom (ASW) emerges out of the Research and Training Center for Religio-cultural Community/RTRC’s unique experience of “ecological conversion” (LS 216). It is a historic conversion through a dialogic process of being evangelized by the upland indigenous communities still steeped in their strong spiritual beliefs and practices. RTRC imagines itself as“a space for people inspired by the spirit and indigenous cultures who seek to exercise this “sacred power” for the transformation of self and society in these times of change, for the realization of a more contemplative and prophetic lifestyle characterized by resilience and self-sufficiency.” Inspired by this vision, RTRC has become an emerging Asian ecclesial-social movement given due recognition by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Dicastery for promoting Integral Human Development in 2016 (Appendix 1).This recognition legitimizes RTRC’s promotion of the close and inter-connected link between spirituality and development. This inspiration is foundational to ushering in a more compassionate, humane and green future that is characterized by diversity, inclusivity, and intergenerational justice and sustainability.

Our Inspiration

 ASW draws its inspiration from three major sources.

Our Vision 

ASW envisions shaping youthful and learning communities that live in authentic dialogue-based partnership and active harmony with themselves, with the marginal farming and indigenous communities, with Mother Earth and all of Creation. 

Our Mission

ASW aims to build learning and action ecologies around its unique religiocultural methodology. The aim of this is to promote the holistic transformation of young Asian learners, within or outside formal educational institutions, into organic or public intellectuals (OIs or PIs) who are agents in an era of change for the world through mobilizing their own communities. These communities will engage with the power and promise of Asian wisdom in the service of the global commons, or public goods, in the effort to build an equitable, just and sustainable Asia. Through its partners and associates, ASW will reach out to the young of the marginalized and vulnerable communities for the creation of a hope-filled future. It will be an effort to establish a just and green world filled with intergenerational love, faith, hope, justice and peace.

Our Goal

Asian School of Wisdom (ASW) will promote the primacy of the wisdom of the Asian indigenous peoples through their religiocultural traditions of sacred sustainability and the practices of sustainable livelihood. ASW will offer the wisdom of the indigenous people for global social and ecological problems.

Our Roots and Motivation:

The Humanism of the Social Teachings of the Church & Vatican II

ASW continues and expands the work of the DISAC (Diocesan Social Action Commission of the Chiang Mai Diocese) from 1975, and the RTRC (Research and Training Center for Religio-Cultural Communities – since 1980) in the spirit of Vatican II and the call to engage with the world, cultures and peoples. These in turn had built on the missionary charisms of the MEP (Mission Etrangeres de Paris) and the Betharam Fathers who begun work in this area from 1931s to 1970s. 

The pioneer of this Religiocultural model of engagement with the lowland and upland communities is the DISAC of the Chiang Mai Diocese, headed by Fr Niphot Thienwiharn with the team of co-workers in collaboration with community leaders.

On July 25, 2018 the Board and Stakeholders of RTRC (representing the different community-based farming, indigenous movements and the universities in Thailand – Chiang Mai, Maejo, Kasesa, Chulalungkorn, Sokothai), and the newly formed International Advisory Team (IAT) – collectively decided to set up the Asian School of Wisdom under the aegis of the Sacred Earth Movement in an Era of Change (S.E.M.E.C – see Appendix 2).

ASW will continue the work of RTRC and DISAC in de-linking the local communities from the productionist-progress-oriented paradigm of the current model of economic development while reorientating them with the “religiocultural approach” at the national, regional and hopefully global levels. This “treasure”[i] is an emerging pastoral strategy that employs the “triple strategy of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) to facilitate a more fruitful inculturation of the Gospel in these communities. As affirmed by Querida Amazonia, the indigenous beliefs and myths are “charged with spiritual meaning,” “religious festivals” with their “sacred meaning and are occasions for gathering and fraternity” (OA 78) and “the many elements proper to the experience of indigenous peoples in their contact with nature, and respect native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures and symbols” (OA 82) can be creatively inculturate in the liturgy and the structures of the church.  

Institutionalizing Asian School of Wisdom

ASW will think globally and act locally and vice versa. It is a glocal institution with a ‘worldview’ and ‘world feel’ with the aims:

  • To promote integral ecology through transformative education and sustainable living that creatively integrates Spirituality/Mysticism with Integral sustainable Development.
  • To establish three departments or centers: (i) Indigenous Communities (Indigeneity) and Femininity, (ii) Sustainable development and Spiritual Futures, (iii) Inter-Faith Co-existence and Compassion.
  • To evolve from a platform into a network of institutes and centers with plural campuses (at RTRC, village, forest), diverse collaborative platforms, and participatory learning at the local communities. 
  • To produce (i) Organic intellectuals (OI) and (ii) Public intellectuals (PI), the former are organic to a location, cultural space or issues while the latter are activists-intellectuals who work for a more just, sustainable and spiritual world as their roles are complementary and mutually supportive.    

 Our Philosophy

ASW will promote:

1.     The diverse local traditions as sources of dynamic liberating-transformative power;
2.     The learning centres as places of rest, healing, and restoration and deep reflection, contemplation and meditation. 
3.     Local initiatives, village networks, ‘friendship circles’ and local community initiatives and movements.
4.     Local wisdom that can challenge the dominant paradigm but also offer sustainable solutions.
5.     Both organic and public intellectuals* working for global and local common good.

For the fuller flourishing of the learners, ASW promotes rest, reflection in the light of local wisdom and regeneration of knowledge as related to God’s Creative Spirit of rest  and recreation  and thus integral to the process of transformative education. In the reflective process of generating local knowledges in the light of the communal sapiential memory, meaning is generated and people’s spirituality and theologies produced for the ushering a change of era from the age of economics to the age of religioculture and wisdom that constitute the grassroots’ cosmologies of sacred sustainability such as self-sufficiency economy, gross national happiness, trihita karana, ubuntu, Mayan worldview of the global village. ASW endeavors to collaborate with centres and social movements to negotiate the transition from an age of economics into an age of culture and mysticism through the promotion of inclusive, gender-sensitive, intercultural relations and inter-spirituality dialogue (Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Primal Religions).[iii]   

Specific Education Goals

(a) Religiocultural Immersions

A systematic approach to religiocultural immersion to sensitize learners to the religiocultural wisdom of the local and indigenous communities. In its curriculum, ASW will offer content on the mystical and sacred traditions as well as intergenerational practices that constitute the embodied/lived local knowledges of the land, soil, seasons, seeds, irrigation, barks of trees, leaves and roots of herbal plants, animals, chickens, buffaloes, goats, pigs, the Creators, spirits, rituals, chants, dances and songs. (ASW will share its extensive experience with the farming communities of the lowland and the indigenous communities of upland of northern Thailand.)

(b) Theory, Method and Practice

(i) Inter-disciplinarity, trans disciplinarity and transformative learning approach.
(ii) ASW will expose learners to critical theories and methodologies from the mainstream sciences (physical and social), humanities and the arts such as compassion studies.
(iii) Faith/Inter-faith based civic or public engagement.

(c) Sacred and Social Teachings of Religions and the Asian Humanist Traditions

ASW will offer structured learning opportunities to the sacred and social teachings of indigenous religions, cosmic religions, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Shintoism, Zen, Sikhism and Sufism. It will explore the Asian mystical traditions. It will also explore Asian humanist traditions and inter-faith initiatives. All these explorations will be in relation to compassion, mercy and harmonious living between the Divine, humans, natural world, Mother Earth and the Cosmos. 

[i] Prof. Attachak Sattayanurak, Chiang Mai University. Remarks at Stakeholder meeting, 25 July 2018. 

[ii] Felix Wilfred, ed. Asian Public Theology. Critical Concerns in Challenging Times. ISPCK, Tercentenary Publications, 2010.

[iii] Thienviharn, Fr. Niphot (n.d.) – The Power from Within for the Change of Self and Society (Mimeo), p.2

Our Governance

(i) The ASW is the natural result of the growth of the existing RTRC.

(ii) RTRC is governed by its local board, a national board, SAT (Society Theological Studies) and a Council of Elders.
(iii) ASW  has its own Board of Management. They are assisted by an International Advisory Team, consisting of Fr. Niphot, Fr. Larry Radice, MM, (Dali, Yunan, China), Dr. Victor Karunan (Professor at the Thammasat & Chulalongkorn Universities, Bangkok), Dr. M. Nadarajah (Xavier Centre for New Humanities and Compassion Studies, Bhubaneswar, India), Charles Bertille (Fondacio Asia), Mdm. Norma Gonos, Mandaya Woman-Elder (Davao, Philippines), Dr. Dicky Sofjan (Gajah Madah University, Indonesia), Ven. Dr. Pharmaha Boonchuay Doojai (Buddhist Monk, Chairperson of the Asian Interfaith Network on AIDS (AINA), Director of Thailand’s Chiang Mai Buddhist College), Dr. Vinai Boonlue, SJ (Professor at the Xavier Learning College, Chang Saen, Thailand) and Jojo Fung SJ (Sacred Springs: Dialogue Institute of Spirituality and Sustainability, Loyola School of Theology, Philippines).

Near Future: ASW AS A Hub For Asia

(1) Religiocultural methodology with deep religiocultural-spiritual immersion
(2) Transdisciplinarity, transformative learning, and civic engagement.
(3) Adult-learning method (Andragogy)
(4) Reflection, contemplation and meditation*
(5) Mentoring, handholding and accompaniment
(6) Online-Onsite/Blended Learning
(7) Multi-location collaborative and exchange learning hubs
(8) Publicly beneficial project work

* Meditation inspired by Laudato Si’ as learners are seated in front of the trees, with the fish at the edge of a fish pond, and soil in our hands, seated near to the rows of organic vegetable farm, and in the village field.

Near Future: ASW AS A Hub For Asia

        (i) ASW operates as a multiversity-hub

This hub will be based in Chiangmai, Thailand. As a hub, it is actively involved in nurturing the indigenous wisdom of Asia to nurture a humane, just and green future for Asia and the world.

The hub is also a religio-cultural-spiritual enterprise unfolding in two inter-connected directions: (i) It offers a platform to bring together 4 functional areas – eco-social documentation, community-based action and participatory  research, transdisciplinary and transformative education, and public/civic engagement (including outreach programmers),

and (ii) It offers a platform to establish a comprehensive learning ecology, in close collaboration  with many (a) local wo/men wisdom-figures; (b) educational institutions and (c) civic organizations and new social movements across Asia. It also works with persons associated with these formations.

Its reach is growing with its network of associates and partners. It is now associated with the Xavier Learning College (XLC, Thailand), Xavier Center for New Humanities and Compassion Studies, (XCHCS, India), and Institute of Formation, Fondacio Asia (IFFA in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Philippines, including Thai regional seminary). It is also associated with a number of liberal arts and agricultural universities in Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia. It is recognized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Dicastery For Promoting Integral Human Development in Rome in 2016.  

        (ii) ASW as a Legal Entity in Thailand

ASW will eventually be registered as a legal entity, acting like a consortium that will bring together smaller formation centers and initiatives from ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), particularly those of Fondacio Asia located in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Philippines, Malaysia and other countries; and other such entities. This Consortium of the Asian School of Wisdom will be involved in promoting the Sacred Earth Movement in an era of change, that Pope Francis speaks about in Laudato Si, “to hear the cries of the poor and the earth.” (LS 49).

For now, to pursue working partnerships and academic accreditation the RTRC, as an established legal entity, will provide the necessary legal platform. To strengthen the work of RTRC, a National Advisory Team cum Board of Management will be established.

A Council of Elders will be set-up with Fr. Niphot helming it. They will be the guardians or keepers of the spirits (Khwan) or seed of the religiocultural wisdom endowed in the people. The Council of Elders will commit each for a minimum period of three years, and guide the work of the International Advisory Team (IAT) during the period of transition. They will ask of the IAT what is needed to build up RTRC and ASW; offer advice; mediate in certain concerns such as inter generation dialogue; and ensure the transmission to the younger generation.