Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The price of peace

By Simon Taylor , of Global Witness.

Today marks the anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords - the agreement which signalled the beginning of the end of decades of violent conflict in Cambodia and the start of the biggest and most costly peacekeeping operation in history. Yet 16 years later, the country once regarded as the international poster-boy for post-conflict nation building is fast becoming South-East Asia's newest kleptocracy; its reputation marred by allegations of massive corruption, impunity, human rights abuses, and repressive, undemocratic governance. The international community - whose money has bankrolled this shattered state's rehabilitation - has singularly failed to stop the rot. Lessons must be learned if other fragile states are to avoid a similarly disastrous outcome.

On paper, Cambodia's natural resources and state assets - the land, forests, minerals and heritage sites - were the basis for kickstarting the post-conflict economy. The revenue generated should have gone towards poverty alleviation and rebuilding infrastructure. Instead, systematic and institutionalised corruption has deprived the entire population of the revenue that could have come from these public goods.

A cursory glance at today's Cambodian business sector reveals the country's forests, land, mining, ports, national buildings and casinos to be predominantly controlled by a handful of government-affiliated tycoons or family members of senior political figures. Information about deals is not made available to the Cambodian people to whom the state's resources belong. Similarly, consultation with local populations dependent upon forests or land is often non-existent. For many Cambodians, the first they know is the sound of a chainsaw revving or a bulldozer arriving to flatten their crops.

Cambodia's forests are a case in point. In the 1990s they were described by the World Bank as the country's "most developmentally important resource". Today they are largely degraded, having been sold off over the years by the political elite to private companies or individuals intent on logging as much as possible to turn a quick buck. Most of the vast wealth generated has not reached the national coffers: instead it appears to have been siphoned off into the private bank accounts of the loggers and their political patrons.

While a booming textile and tourism industry has resulted in double-digit economic growth in recent years, the reality is that Cambodians are still among the world's poorest people and wealth inequality is increasing. With an estimated 35% of the population living below the poverty line, and the vast majority without electricity or mains water, survival remains a challenge for millions. Meanwhile, government-sanctioned forced evictions and land grabs are rife, human rights violations are common, corruption is endemic and impunity is the norm. Over the past five years, this has been accompanied by a backward-slide in space for civil society and political opposition to operate, resulting in a governance system recently described by the UN rapporteur on human rights as "a shaky facade of democracy".

Cambodia's donors have provided the equivalent of over 50% of the government's annual budget for over a decade now. Having spent billions of dollars in setting up a democratic system in Cambodia, one would assume that donors and their domestic tax payers have an interest in preserving it. Yet the international donor community has consistently failed to bring the government to book for blatant violations of its commitments to protect human rights, fight corruption, and ensure the protection of natural resources. In the 1990s, turning a blind eye was justified by the need to ensure "stability". From stability would flow economic development, and from economic development would flow political pluralism. The past 16 years have revealed the impotence of such logic. With each successive failure of the donor community to deal with the regime's failure to honour commitments to good governance, those responsible have increased their wealth and impunity. The end result is that Cambodians find it harder and harder to call their government to account.

It is not too late for the international community to redefine its terms of engagement with Cambodia, but it will require a fundamental shift in mindset. At its core must be a recognition that stripping a country of its assets for personal gain represents a mass violation of the social and economic rights of its people. Next, donors must impose sanctions on those who they believe are corruptly profiteering from the exploitation of the state's resources. These measures should include a freeze on all assets, restrictions on international travel and a ban on doing business with nationals of the donor country.

This will be a bitter pill to swallow for those donors who would prefer to enjoy an amicable relationship with the Cambodian government. Yet, if the international community cannot get it right in a small and relatively non-strategic country such as Cambodia, what hope for the likes of Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo? To continue to give overseas aid without the courage to tackle blatant mass corruption and poor governance is the equivalent of pouring good money after bad. Worse, it confers a badge of approval and reinforces the legitimacy of a government which is not acting in the interests of its own population. Cambodia and its people deserve better.

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Cambodia is becoming more and more Vietnamized

Cambodia is becoming more and more Vietnamized

In 2007, almost every week, the number of “friendship” visits between Hanoi and Phnom Penh by communist Vietnamese leaders has multiplied, along with the signing of “cooperation” agreements in all fields, such as political, judicial, parliamentarian, military, administrative, economic, technology, cultural religious, etc… with their Cambodian counterparts. For the Cambodian leaders, these are obviously a systematic cooperation-alignment of their parties, of the national institutions at all levels, and of all the activities in Cambodia with those in Vietnam. That is how a communist Vietnam came to teach to a liberal Cambodia, for example, on how to create laws, how to organize internal elections, how to manage its economy, how to broadcast information, how to develop its literature, how to supervise the youth, and how to rule religious practice of Cambodians. Any opposition to this domination by Hanoi is punishable by jail sentence, or by kidnapping “sentence” and deportation to Vietnam by the secret police, such as the case of the alleged crime against “the Cambodia-Vietnam” friendship accused on Venerable Tim Sakhorn.

At the same time, after some 5 million Vietnamese people are counted in Cambodia between 1979 and 2003, the wild colonization of Cambodia by Vietnamese “immigrants” is being pursued unabated throughout Cambodia, thanks to the illegal agreements dated from the 80s, and thanks to the protection of Associations of Vietnamese people already established in Cambodia. Currently, Vietnamese people form the majority in Cambodia eastern provinces, such as Svay Rieng and Prey Veng, and with the so-called “common economic zones,” the Vietnamese in fact control the economy and the administration in these two provinces. Higher north, our provinces of Kampong Cham, Kratie, Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri and Stung Treng are again under the domination of Vietnamese troops, militias, workers and their families, again thanks to the “economic cooperation,” with huge land concessions – and national sovereignty – lasting 70 years of more, granted by the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) directly to the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). Similar concessions were also granted in the provinces of Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear.

At the end, nobody talk or dare talk about the forced annexations by Hanoi of the Koh Tral and Krachak Ses Islands in 1982, as well as a large swath of Cambodia maritime territories. The so-called “historical waters and common waters between Vietnam and Cambodia” are totally under Vietnam’s law and boot. Furthermore, the Vietnamese forces arrogate itself the right to control the entire maritime space located in front of Cambodia’s costs in the province of Kampot: the weak vessels of Cambodian fishermen who are found there, risk being sunk by Vietnamese patrol boats, or they risk being arrested by the Vietnamese guns, and even last month, Cambodian fishermen from Kampot who were protesting the incursions of Vietnamese fishermen in Cambodian waters, were taken and severely beaten by the Vietnamese maritime police from Koh Tral island, before they were later released.

Therefore, the Vietnamization of Cambodia inexorably moves forward in great strides. Those among the Cambodians and foreigners who concluded and promised to respect scrupulously, the October 23, 1991 Paris Peace Agreements on Cambodia, in order to restore the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and inviolability of Cambodia against all external aggressions and interference – from Vietnam, in particular, which occupied Cambodia militarily – shamefully remain silent. Some even found “normal” this unremitting invasion of the “weak” Cambodia by the “powerful” Vietnam.

In reality, the Paris Agreements were not elaborated or adopted by the governments uniquely, but they were adopted for the Right and the Action of the citizens who can find in them their landmarks and their inseparable guaranties.

Cambodian citizens must continue to protest, they must support the legitimate protests by the victims, they must demonstrate against the Cambodian Government and its accomplices. Cambodian citizens must protest against the Superpower and Powerful governments which maintain the corruption and the dictatorship of Mr. Hun Sen and his CPP. Cambodian citizens must, at the very least, write to these governments, even personally, to alert them and to ask them to honor their engagements for a fair application of the Paris Agreements which they also signed. Cambodian citizens must tell these governments that their support to this regime must come to an end, if they sincerely want peace for Cambodia and the wellbeing for its citizens.

The Cambodian citizens must react, and they should not expect anything from those who betrayed them and abandoned them, if they want their Nation to still survive.

Paris, October 23, 2007
The Cambodia’s Border Committee
in France and Worldwide

(Singed) Dy Kareth,

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Press Advisory: Northeast Cambodians Abandon Riverside Homes for Safer, Higher Ground

PRESS ADVISORY - For Immediate Release
15 October 2007
3 S Rivers Protection Network

Report: Northeast Cambodians Abandon Riverside Homes for Safer, Higher Ground

Ratanakiri: More than 3,500 dam-affected people in northeastern Cambodia have abandoned their riverside villages and moved upland, according to research conducted by 17 community-based researchers with technical support by the 3S Rivers Protection Network (3SPN) in Ratanakiri province.

3SPN researchers found that 722 households from 17 villages along the Se San River have resettled upland – without government or donor assistance – to escape damaging floods and erratic river conditions caused by upstream dam operations in Vietnam.

"We published this study to educate government authorities and international donor agencies about the difficult life imposed on indigenous communities since Vietnam built the Yali Falls dam in 1993," says Meach Mean, Acting Coordinator of 3SPN.

The 720 mega-watt Yali Falls dam is the first and largest of four hydro dams built on the upper Se San by Electricity of Vietnam.

"Abandoned Villages Along the Se San River in Ratanakiri Province, Northeastern Cambodia" was prepared by local researchers from three of the eight indigenous groups living along the Se San in Cambodia. The report highlights villagers' perspectives on how the Se San has changed in the last decade and what compelled them to abandon their riverside homes:
  • Since dam construction upstream, the river is no longer a reliable source of fish and water for irrigating rice and dry season crops, Mr. Roman Mal, a Jarai Village Chief of Dal Pok village, explains: "Villagers have lost their hopes and dependencies on this river, because nearly all of the river resources are gone."
  • Mr. Pous Pin, a Brao villager from Ta Veng district stated: "We moved our village away from the riverbank because we no longer could cultivate rice in our Chamkars (farm land) along the Se San River which flooded every year and because so many people and animals have died (from the floods)."
  • "Everyday, both during the day and at night, I live with fear of severe water fluctuations and of the dam breaking. I cannot sleep well at night. I often get up and go to see the river late at night because I fear a water surge may come," said Mrs. Romas Veun, a Jarai villager from Pi village who has recently built a house away from the river for shelter in an emergency.

Earlier this year, Electricity of Vietnam released an assessment of the downstream impacts of Se San hydro development but the report – prepared by Nordic engineering consultants

SWECO Grøner – provides no information about the villagers' move upland nor does it recommend compensation for damages caused by EVN dams.

3SPN is a local organization working with communities affected by hydropower development in Vietnam and Lao PDR on the Se San, Srepok and Sekong rivers in northeastern Cambodia.

For more information: Contact: Meach Mean, Acting Coordinator, 3SPN, se...@camshin.net or at +855 (0) 11214752, or Ngy San, Deputy Director, NGO Forum on Cambodia, s...@ngoforum.org.kh or at +855 (0) 12802290. Hard copies of the report can be requested from 3SPN at se...@camshin.net. The electronic report is available in English and Khmer at NGO

Forum on Cambodia's website at: http://www.ngoforum.org.kh/Environment/Docs/mekong/Abandoned%20Village%20Report%20August%202007.pdf

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

History, Ethics, Culture and Practices

Bon Pchum Ben or Feast Festival for Ancestors

Bon P'chum Ben is the remarkable ceremony of Cambodian annual gathering. On the 15th day of the waning moon (Ronouch) during the tenth month of the Khmer calendar, called Pheaktrobotr, Cambodian Buddhists celebrate this auspicious P'chum Ben event (the Ceremony of the Dead or Feast Ceremony for Ancestors). This ceremony usually falls in the first half of September in the Western calendar. This year it falls on September 22. It is called P'chum Thom (big ceremony). Actually, the celebration has begun since the waxing moon (K'nert) day falling in September 7; and this is called P'chum Touch (small ceremony). During the period between small ceremony and big ceremony, people always commit to take turn in offering food to the monks who are staying in door of three months of rainy retreat. This is called Kan Ben (food offering turn).

The history, meaning and objectives
According to the Vinaya (discipline) of Bhikkhu Monks (Sangha); they have to stay in door or rainy season hibernate for three months starting from the first waning moon of Srab (July) to the fifteenth waxing moon of Assoj (October) annually. These three months period reasonably recommended by the Sangha assembly presided by Lord Buddha to amend this law in order to benefit for the Bhikkhu monk community such as:

– monks have to spend this full time three month to study and practice the Dhamma,

- teachers, students and laypeople can make acquaintance with each other in one place to bolster their unity,

- and it is the rainy season which is hard for the monks to go outside as it is wet, muddy and easily to step on the crops of farmers.

But monks are able to go outside the door of temple during the rain-retreat unless they have sufficient excuses such as to preach the Dhamma, to visit ill relatives, to participate or preside over functions or to get away from some disasters etc. However, if any monks have offended the rules, they would be sentenced by a weak probation decided by the Sangha's assembly and they can be uncharged when they confess and follow accordingly in front of the assembly.

Through this important three months of strict practicing of Dhamma makes laypeople further their commitment and generosity to feed and take care all monks Sangha. So each family and village will take turn to offer food and other four necessities to monks daily. And there are two specific days which laypeople join together to make the ceremony more crowded and significant. They are the P'chum Touch (min ceremony) and the P'chum Thom (large ceremony). Especially, P'chum Thom is recognized as the most important day for all citizens regardless of ethnic background, color, race or faith should be attend, pay gratitude to their relatives and enjoy the ceremony.

P'chum Thom has happened since the Sakymuni Buddha period. When king Bhibisara felt sad about his absence to pay back gratitude to his ancestries and heard the crying voice every night in his palace, he went to ask some advices from the Buddha and he got insight that he has to celebrate the food offering ceremony annually. We don't know that when this cult of celebration was being celebrated by Cambodian Buddhists, but following our chronology observation, it must be arrived Cambodia in the same time of the arrival of Buddhism. It has become the root of Khmer culture and unique identity. This celebration has coincidently combined with the genuine religious cult of Cambodia that dominantly respects and worships their ancestors. This religious cult is called the Religion of Neakta.

The full outcomes of P'chum Ben day signifies many different aspects to bond Cambodia together in both material and spiritual, social value and unique identity, harmony and prosperity. It is not different from the Choul Chnam day or Cambodian New Year Day that these two celebrations are remarkable event and the most auspicious day.

We can outline some of these prospects relating P'chum Ben day.
1. To offer the chance to everybody to stay away from all evils, to cultivate the good and to purify their mind.
2. To provide the opportunity for everybody to empower their peaceful mind and spiritual adherence.
3. To pay gratitude to their dead ancestors as well as their living seniors.
4. To share their kindness and compassion by exchanging of their food, snacks and money with each others and especially to the poor people. Remarkably, this period is considered as the hardest time for low income or poor conditioned people to find food to eat in Cambodia.
5. To bond everybody together through their spiritual practices, gratefulness, social networking and local stylizing.
6. To increase the sense of multiculturalism, fraternity, compassion, respect, unity and righteousness.
7. To unify the interests, concerns and identity roots of the national or international distinctions and stratifications.

Factual accounts of P'chum Ben Day
There is the reality and legendary about P'chum Ben Day.
- Buddha taught and explained that our ancestors who died and reborn as angels, animals, human beings or in hell cannot receive our meritorious dedication. But if any of our ancestors or relatives who were born as the hungry ghost (Praet); they need food a to eat and they cannot eat like us; they eat only through our goodness, generosity and offering to dedicate to them by naming those relatives respectively. Doing this, all those relatives of hungry ghost can receive all the delicate food and offerings. So it is possible for us to gain merits as our ancestors can receive our offerings as well as through our own hearted generosity and gratefulness.
- Buddha encouraged King Bhimpisara to celebrate this ceremony as well as everybody has to celebrate this too. Nobody in this world has never had relatives or ancestors who have been passed away. More than this, this auspicious celebration also inspires us to pay gratitude with our living parents, grandparents or seniors too.
- As the season is remarkable for its darkness during the night time makes Cambodian people think that their dead ancestors could be released from the abysses of woeful realms and wander around all over seven temples. If they don't see any of their children or relatives have offered any food or gain merits to dedicate to them; they will be sad, upset and sorrowful in their heart. This sadness echoes badly to their living relatives which can bring along with bad Kamma, bad luck and sufferings.

How to practice during ceremony?
During this time everybody prepares their body and mind, and sacrifice both materials, time and mind to join this day. All villagers and all different stratifications of people prepare their food and sweet, four necessities, offerings, special traditional dressing clothes; and they obligate to undertake the five commandments during this auspicious occasion.

For the food comprises of:
- Ordinary meal such as rice, soups, salted grilled fish, fresh grilled fish with mango sauce, spring roles, salad and fermented fish (prohok) etc.
- Some seasonal snacks or bakes such as Num Onsam and Num Korm (steamed cakes wrapped in banana leaves). Num Onsam is a kind of cylindrical cake of glutinous rice wrapped around a mixture of pork, salt and other ingredients. Num Korm and Nom Thmey is shaped like pyramid and made of rice-flour and filled with coconut and palm sugar mixture.
Some other distinctive fruits and snacks are also included.

For the four necessities include:
1. Saffron robes or clothes
2. Food and other storable foods
3. Umbrella, raincoats or shelters
4. Medicine, shampoo, toothpaste and tooth brash etc.
These four necessities always packed with brightly, pyramid wrap.

Some other Offerings includes
Incense sticks
Garland or leis

Clothing is very colorful and delicate which include:
Sompot Hol or Sompot Phamoung which is the silk skirt of Cambodian women. It is dressed for national important day and Buddhist ceremonies. These delicate skirts always dress with short sleeve blouse (Aov Pak) made in Cambodia and put with tiny scarf. Men also wear neat dresses and polite.

Five commandments or precepts:
The five precepts in which every Cambodian Buddhist is aware about it and practice them in their daily life. Importantly, in this occasion they have to observe it to re-affirm their obligation and purification.
1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
3. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech such as lying, malicious words, harsh words and talk in vain.
5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

Overview the appropriate practices during the celebration
When food, dressing and other necessities are already prepared; individuals have to be aware when they are stepping into the monasteries compound or ceremonial spaces. They should keep quiet, modesty and polite. Wearing hats are not allowed. They should take off shoes before stepping into the hall or ceremonial space. People will go in front of the Buddha statues and sit with a right position calmly, bow down three times, lit the candles and incense sticks, offer flowers and perfume. After listening attentively to the monk's preaching, chanting or other blessing; they should prepare food which is ready to offer to the monks. Most of the time, all participants will put their rice into the rice bowl collected by the long procession of monks. During offering the food into alms bowl, they have to take off shoe and concentrate on merits and dedicate to their dead ancestors by naming with good wishing.

All of these good-deed activities must be attentive, silent, peaceful, mindful and compassionate. When our mind is peaceful during the cession; we can feel the great merits growing in our heart and the blissful sense we should receive from this paying gratitude to our ancestors.

More than this, when the application of our mind access deeply, subtle and insightful to the Dhamma; we can get into the Dhamma stream which is the stream of Enlightenment.

There are many other things symbolizing Cambodian culture and identity, but Pchum Ben Day is considered as the most important one. In this day, people will not only attend because of their faith, their generosity, tradition or habit, but to survive their daily life and strengthen the "family society system/tradition of Cambodia". Distinctively, to develop their individuality of right thought and right understanding; and strive persistently toward individual's goal follows the eightfold path of ethics awareness, peaceful meditation and insightful wisdom.

This is rigorous for everybody to come, participate and enjoy this solemn day.

By Preah Bhikkhu Vodano Sophan S.

August 22, 2006

Email: sophan@hawaii.edu

Original source: http://sophanse.blogspot.com/2006/08/cambodian-pchum-ben-day-festival-or.html


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Ke Kimyan-Hun Sen Rift Inside Cambodia's Ruling Party Said Flaring Up Again

17 Sep 07
By Srei Ka
Moneakseka Khmer
Translated from Khmer and posted online

A high-ranking official of the Cambodian People's Party [CPP] said that Prime Minister Hun Sen and Armed Forces Supreme Commander Ke Kimyan seldom see eye to eye with each other. In 1997-98 Hun Sen and Ke Kimyan had problem with each other once before, but thanks to a timely internal reconciliation effort and also because he did not want the outside world to see that the CPP was rifting, Hun Sen accepted the party's internal arbitration since Ke Kimyan was also a fellow member of the CPP Permanent Committee. At that time, Ke Kimyan and Sar Kheng were not yet related by the marriage of their children, but when Hun Sen and Ke Kimyan fell out with each other, Chea Sim, Heng Samrin, Say Chhum, and Sar Kheng moved in to help find a settlement, in which all of them sided with Ke Kimyan.

According to the same CPP official, even Chea Soth, the most senior of the party's elders and sixth most powerful person in the party, also stood behind Ke Kimyan. For this reason, Hun Sen could not do anything to Ke Kimyan.

Some other CPP officials, too, agreed that Ke Kimyan and Hun Sen were not on good terms with each other but the CPP has made a great effort to prevent this problem from spilling over and leaking to the outside.

The CPP official said that Hun Sen announced his resignation as armed forces supreme commander, handing over this post to Ke Kimyan and even presenting him with a gold-handled pistol, a gift from an Indonesian army chief, during the first ceremony to destroy weapons held at the Olympic Stadium the following year. However, this was merely a diplomatic ploy to hoodwink the world and prevent it from seeing that there was a rift inside the CPP. Anyway, the command of armed forces was still solely in Hun Sen's hands.

The same CPP official said that Hun Sen was also worried after he announced the handover of the supreme commander's post to Ke Kimyan, fearing that CPP military commanders would listen to Ke Kimyan's orders. Therefore, he hastily appointed Kun Kim as deputy supreme commander of the armed forces. This invited a mixture of criticisms as Kun Kim had never been a military commander nor was he trained by any military academy before. After Kun Kim was appointed there was a strong expression of discontentment from Tie Banh, Meas Sophea, and Pol Saroeun. However, Hun Sen then resorted to the trick of beating the cart to spite the oxen by not directly blaming Tie Banh, Meas Sophea, or Pol Saroeun but instead blaming the Cambodia Daily, which interviewed these army chiefs, saying that this newspaper was stirring up trouble.

According to the CPP official, after appointing Kun Kim and more or less settling the problem inside the party, Hun Sen sent Kun Kim to attend a brief course at a military academy in Vietnam to shut up his critics from accusing him of appointing a man who did not go through a military school as an army chief.

The same source said that in the situation in which the CPP was dealing with its internal crisis, a number of moderate army commanders stood on the sideline, belonging to no particular faction. These included Pol Saroeun, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces and chief of the joint staffs, and Meas Sophea, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces and Army commander. But now, these two top-leveled commanders appear to have drifted away from Hun Sen.

The high-ranking CPP official said that at first Hun Sen wanted to intimidate Ke Kimyan by pounding on him like someone squashing a nit. However, the situation has turned out to be different from what he thought, for not only is Ke Kimyan related to Sar Kheng by the marriage of their children and is openly a man of Chea Sim several army chiefs have also lent him their support. This is because several veteran CPP army chiefs seem to be very annoyed with the way Hun Sen has been appointing and promoting the young generations. Some of the latter are businessmen who do not even know which direction the barracks faces are already given a general's stars. It is true that the signing of the promotion for an officer must go through the Supreme Command and the minister of national defense. However, some cases ordered by Hun Sen are difficult for Ke Kimyan and Tie Banh to decline. The two have to obey.

Some military observers and diplomats concurred that recently Ke Kiyan and Hun Sen appeared to be in disagreement again. This is because at a few public forums where the majority of CPP ministers and army chiefs were seen escorting Hun Sen but Ke Kimyan was conspicuously absent. As a matter of fact, recently either Pol Saroeun or Kun Kim was seen playing the role of acting supreme commander of the armed forces.

An officer at the Supreme Command said that normally when Ke Kimyan is absent from the Supreme Command it is Pol Saroeun who acts in his place. But now, even in the absence of Ke Kiyan, Pol Saroeun, too, is not always present. Instead, it is Kun Kim who more frequently acts as supreme commander.

According to the CPP official, the party elders are trying to reconcile the rift inside the party between Hun Sen and Ke Kimyan, but their effort apparently has not borne fruit. Therefore, the Hun Sen-Ke Kimyan confrontation is suspected to be flaring up inside the CPP again.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Vassa, The Buddhist Lent

Vassa, The Buddhist Lent

By Antonio Graceffo

Most of us have some aspect of our personality or our life that we wish to change. We want to lose weight, quit smoking, save money, or develop the discipline to meditate daily and heal our minds. Some people wish to become less materialistic and to appreciate the simple things in life. Our biggest holidays, Christmas and Thanks Giving (and Chanuka) are good opportunities to overeat, overindulge, overspend, over-consume, and overdo.

What most westerners need is a prolonged fast, a quiet return to the simple life and an escape from the modern world of consumer culture. The Buddhists have such a holiday.

Toward the end of July, travelers may have noticed inordinate numbers of monks crowding the bus stations of Cambodia ’s and Thailand . Most of the monks were given special leave to visit their families, in preparation to the Buddhist lent, a three month celebration of faith, when they would not be permitted to leave the monastery.

Anyone who has tried doing business in South East Asia during rainy season, you will find that things slow down immensely. Actually, the slow down, at least in part, is based on the observance of the Buddhist holiday, Vassa (called Phansa in Thailand ), the Buddhist lent, which is primarily practiced in Cambodia , Thailand , Lao, and Burma . The Buddhist lent is often loosely referred to as the “rain retreat.” The period of deep religious dedication begins on the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month.

The word Vassa is actually an old Pali word which means rain. The holiday is divided into two parts. The first part, for the entering of the rainy season, is called “Choul Phrah Vassaanother. The second part, for the exit of the rainy season, is called “Cheanh Phrah Vassa”. While lay people are free to chose what level of discipline they wish to exert in following the rules of the lent. For monks, however, strict observance is mandatory.

Non-monks often use this Lenten period to renew their spiritual practices and give up some of their luxuries, such as meat, alcohol, or smoking.

During the lent period, normally from August to October (depending on lunar months), monks aren't allowed to sleep outside their temple, neither are they permitted to wear “regular clothes.” The tradition stems from a story abut how Buddha remained in the temple during rainy season to prevent stepping on any insects of sprouting seeds. They are, however, permitted to go out during the day.

Monks use this period of restricted movement to do intensive study, meditation, and prayer. This is also a time when they would teach the sacred scriptures to younger monks.

Buddhist lent is the most important religious holiday for monks, novices, and lay people. Monks stop wandering and stay on the temple grounds. Novices benefit because they receive additional education. Laypeople stop doing evil and cut back on bad habits. Some people take this opportunity to purify themselves and start a new life.

A few days before the Buddhist Lent, Cambodian people buy pairs of big candles decorated with dragons or flowers. One candle is for the buyer and one to get a husband or wife in the next life. The day before Buddhist Lent, the 15th day of the dark moon, commemorates the first sermon of Buddha to his first five disciples. Crowds of people gather in the temple in order to listen to the Dharma. In some parts of Cambodia there are grand candle processions, with the people walking three times around the pagoda with the lighted candles.

And thus begins a three month period of abstinence, sobriety, and meditation.

If you really want to understand the southeast Asian culture, and if you want to stop gambling or drinking shoe polish, Buddhist Lent could be like a low-cost spa treatment to get your life back on track.

Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia . He is a professional fighter and the author of four books available on amazon.com Contact him Antonio@speakingadventure.com see his website www.speakingadventure.com

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