Weekly Local Biography

 Dr. Amnuay Tapingkae


Every so often I will interview someone who thinks they have found the meaning of life. I walked away from an hour with Dr. Amnuay Tapingkae convinced that finally here was someone who really had found out what life was about. A man who has accomplished so much, and been given so many public awards and accolades, but can dismiss them with the words, “All this is an illusion. Whatever position you have is purely temporary. You must return to your roots.”

And this he has done - totally. Born in the Hang Dong area to a lamyai farmer and his wife, this 68-year-old now lives back in his village and helps his family to assist his 85-year-old mother with her 20 rai lamyai orchard. This is truly returning to one’s roots.

His early schooling was right here in Chiang Mai, at the Prince Royal’s College, and his academic achievements were first noted there. He was always in the top 5%, though he did admit, “Sometimes I was lazy and didn’t do so well!”

He followed this up by going to Chulalongkorn University, doing the preparatory work with a career in medicine in his mind. However, he won a scholarship to Illinois in the US and studied for a double Master’s degree - but not in medicine. “I did a course on philosophy and my vision started to expand. I did the two challenging subjects of Philosophy and Psychology for my double Masters. Science, by comparison, is one plus one equals two and is so boring!”

He returned to Chiang Mai after his 4 year stint in the US and took a position as a teacher, back at the Prince Royal’s College. He was only 22 years old but his enthusiasm for teaching still shows through today. His excitement is infectious and we were soon both talking animatedly about the rewards of being a pedagogue (and I do not mean financial rewards, teaching is one of the most poorly paid professions in the world). “As a young teacher you can influence the minds of the up and coming young people. I had some wonderful students, including men who became members of the Privy Council.”

However, again his academic brilliance was noted and he was given a Fulbright grant and a fellowship from the Edward Hazen Foundation and returned to America to the University of Washington, Seattle, to do his 4 year Masters and a PhD in the Philosophy of Education.

Now Dr. Amnuay, though he jokingly says, “I’m not a ‘real’ doctor - I’m only a patient,” returned to Chiang Mai and joined Chiang Mai University (CMU) to teach Philosophy and Psychology. At this point I asked Dr. Amnuay if there were different approaches to philosophy between the western and Asian worlds. He laughed and said, “Even two philosophers cannot agree on the very definition of philosophy. My own personal philosophy includes idealism plus pragmatism. One has to be serious about life. I disagree with ‘book learning’. You have to teach the whole person to look for the meaning of life.”

At CMU he rose to become the assistant dean and then dean itself, which took him away from teaching and into administration. “If it were possible to change history I would not do it again. It took me away too much from teaching.”

But in 1973 he was also taken from CMU and sent to Singapore by the Thai government to be our representative in the Regional Institute of Higher Education and Development. There he stayed for 4 years, rising to become the director of the Regional Institute. This took him all over SE Asia and again was administrative duties.

In 1977 he returned to Chiang Mai and though he had twice previously refused the post of president of Payap College, he accepted when they asked him for the third time. “I could teach again. I was very active and I would invite students to my office to have lunch with me, so that I could keep in touch with student thoughts.”

He stayed at Payap for 20 years, overseeing its transition from college to university and was involved in fund raising for the university. “Charity begins at home so I started with my parents and in-laws, and went on from there to raise a lot of money for Payap Uni.”

He also became involved in social issues outside the cloistered halls of academia, through Rotary International and other service clubs and organizations, and even became a consultant to UNESCO, and it was then when he said, “All this is an illusion. Whatever position you have is purely temporary.” He went further saying, “You are not the supreme ruler. You must be able to move in all directions from the poor to the rich, they are all human beings. I keep that perspective. I teach the power of love, not the love of power.”

As I felt there was much of Buddhist concepts in his philosophy, I asked if he were indeed a Buddhist, to be surprised to find that Dr. Amnuay is a Christian, but one who acknowledges his Buddhist origins. “I believe in a personal God and personal salvation.”

For a man who has been involved in steering the youth of this country in the right direction, he was just as forthright when I asked for his advice to the youth of today. His reply is worth noting, and giving to your own children. “Look at the old values. Don’t be overwhelmed by new trends and try to find the meaning of life. There are three areas to look at. The first is Academic excellence - do your best at your studies. The second is professional excellence - do your best at your job, no matter what it is, and finally try to find the excellence of life - be a gentle man or lady, be kind and compassionate and look for truth, beauty and goodness.”

Advice from a truly remarkable man.