Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Buddhism and the Party Line in Cambodia

An interview with a disillusioned monk
By Prah Sokha (with Antonio Graceffo)

Prah Sokha has been a Khmer monk, off and on, for more than ten years. He once left the monkhood because he felt the Cambodian monks had strayed from a pure form of Buddhism, in order to follow the mandates of the Cambodian government (CPP).

He feels that the influence of politics, greed and the modern world have perverted the religion. He complains about the lack of discipline among the monks and stringent government controls on the temples' teachings. Finally, he fears that as the people move further and further away from Buddhist values, the social order of the country could collapse. He sees the monks as being the only ones who could save the people, bringing them back to their core beliefs. But he asks the question, how can corrupt monks be expected to save the Cambodian people?

According to Prah Sokha:

Theravada Buddhism has played an important role in Khmer society for centuries. Khmer people decided to adhere to Buddhism since it was a religion that required the followers to observe strict principles and follow rigid precepts. They paid the highest respect to the people who became Buddhist monks.

Historically, Khmer people have taken the monastery as their refuge, as well as their training centre, where they could develop both their mind and their spirit. Buddhism is one of the strongest influences on Khmer culture and tradition.

In the past, monks fulfilled essential roles in traditional Khmer society, such as teachers and healers. In ancient times, they were the practitioners whose role was closest to that of modern psychiatrists. The monks provided kindly counseling and encouragement to the laity. They helped develop the country, resolving problems that occurred in Khmer society and interceding between the government and the people. A god example is Prah Samdach Song Chhuan Nat, who was the top hierarchical monk and an advisor to King Sihannuk during the 1950s and 1960s.

The Present: Cambodian Buddhism is in Decline

After the Khmer Rouge regime was finished, Buddhism was reborn, and started developing from day to day. But the development came only from outside forms of Buddhism. They new influences focused only on the constructions. They didn't know what the core of Buddhism was. The roles played by the Khmer Buddhist monks in Khmer society were greatly decreased. The Grand Patriarch, the ranking Buddhist monk, who has traditionally been an advisor to the king, lost most if not all of his influence and power. The monks themselves lost their focus and became selfish. They don't dare to share what they have in order to help Buddhism.

Why Khmer Buddhism is in decline:

Practitioners, Buddhist Monks, novices and laity, are not strict in Vinaya, monastic discipline. They are only attracted to modern materialism such as motorcycles, cars, phones, televisions, and electronic entertainment. They concentrate on earning money in anyway way possible, even engaging in illegal or immoral behavior. They are crazy with money at the moment. They don't spend money in the right way.

"Some monks in PP are gambling; betting on football matches. CamboSix centers have opened nationwide, allowing laity and monks to gamble on football matches around the world." says Phra Nhean, living in Thailand 8 years.

The monks suffer from a limited belief system, because they don't study and find out the deep core of Buddhism. So, they are reluctant to commit to the discipline of the religion. Monks don't have enough knowledge to explain Buddha's teaching to the laity.

The Monk Educational System in Cambodia is not up to standard, and the qualifications are not accepted by any university. Even if you complete your monk education, you must study again from beginning. I, Prah Sokha, was also forced to do this. I completed secondary school, then I became a monk and studied the same grade again. It takes us a long time to complete our studies because we have to do everything twice.

Recently, a monk decree was issued, stating that monks who have completed their studies in a foreign country will not be allowed to work in the government or monk hierarchy. I don't understand why they are so crazy.

"They don't want us to grab their power," says Phra Minh, a Khmer monk who recently went to Thailand for education. "They are afraid because they are ignorant, unlearned, and belligerent."

Some monks who need power, try to have a secrete relationship with government officers of the CPP. The monks bow their heads down to the government and flatter them. Some even dare to kneel down to receive money from Hun Sen. Some agree to work as servants. This is all wrong for Buddhist monks!

Outside Threats to Khmer Buddhism

Other religions, Islam, and Christianity, are penetrating into Cambodia everyday. They are trying to use money to buy the people to practice their religions by offering gifts or cash to the poor and then force them, behind the scenes covert. Buddhist monks have not shown any interest in this situation.

I think if All of Cambodian monks are still sleeping in ignorance don't look at the neighboring countries, don't upgrade their thought or idea, Buddhism will possibly vanish or disappear in the nearest future. And there will be a religious war in Cambodia, no longer, no sooner

Antonio Graceffo has been embedded with the Shan State Army inside of Burma. This article is part of the "In Shanland" project. To raise awareness about the plight of the Shan people Antonio will release one print article and one video per week for a year. He is giving these media away for free to ensure that they will reach the largest audience. You can watch all of the Shan videos released to date on Antonion on YouTube.

Antonio is self-funded. If you wish to contribute to the "In Shanland" film project, you can do so through paypal, through the Burma page of his website.

You can contact Antonio: Antonio@speakingadventure.com
Currently, Antonio is attending paramedic training in Manila, while waiting for word that he can return to Burma as part of a medical aid mission.

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