Buddhism, Philosophy, and Khmer Literature

The teachings of the Buddha are aimed solely at liberating sentient beings from suffering. The Basic Teachings of Buddha which are core to Buddhism are: The Three Universal Truths; The Four Noble Truths; and The Noble Eightfold Path.

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Monday, June 17, 2019


1.      A multitude of epigraphs on different materials at Bagan around and beyond, it proves that Bagan Period was highly literate and highly educated. Inscriptions on stone, metallic plates – silver, gold, bronze, brass, alloys, inscriptions on palm leaf, ink writing on folding papers and walls of religious buildings run into several thousands. Six volumes of elephant size compiles by Archaeology Department entitled “Epigraphia Birmanica” in the early decades of the 20th century could cover only the early period of Bagan. Professor G.H. Luce and his associate Professor U Pe Maung Tin the two life-long scholars of Bagan history never finished their study and research on Bagan. A magnun Orpus [a great work] produced vby Luce is a set of three volumes named Old Burma: Early Bagan. They are elephant size books one contains his writings, one contains illustrations and one explanations and indexes. The Three must be read togetheṛ Before Luce died at old age, he is said to have told his associates that he would wish and pray to be reborn human in Myanmar to resume and complete his unfinished study and research of Bagan.
2.      Buddhist philosophical words and terms in Pali are found in ephigraphs especially in stone inscriptions. The awareness of “Impermanence” and prayer for attaining “Nirvarna” as well as prayer for Buddhahood are often expressed in dedicatory records on stone slabs st up by the donors near the religious buildings and other works of public welfare they donated.
3.      In the reign of King Nartheinkha [A.D. 1170-73] there was a prominent minister named Anantasuriya. His death song reflects how well understood the tenets of Buddhism were by the literate people of Bagan. The following is an English translation of his death song:

When one attains prosperity
Another is sure to perish
It is the Law of Nature
Happiness of life as king
Having a golden palace to dwell in courtlife with an host of ministers about one
Enjoyment shadow peace,
No break to felicity
Is but a bubble mounting
For a moment to the surface of ocean

Thou’ he kill me not,
But in mercy and pity relaese me
I shall not escape my Karma
Maṅs stark – seeming body
Lascltr not ever,
Verily it is the nature of every
Living thing to decay.

Thy slave, I beg
But to bow down in homage
And adore thee!
In the wheel of Samsara
My past deeds offer me vantage


“I seek not for vengeance
Nay, Master, mine awe or thee is too strong!
If I might, yet I would not touch thee
I would let thee pass without scathe
The blood is transitory, as all
The elements of my body.”

Background history of the death song

            Anantasuriya was a wise and learned knight-cum-minister who served under two took by force the wife of younger brother in the latter’s absence. The younger brother knowing the crime of sexual misconduct committed by his elder brother, slew the latter and he ascended the throne. He mistakenly suspected that Anantasuriya was involved in that crime by not preventing it. So he ordered Anantasuriya to be extempore just at the moment he was about to die at the hands of the executioners.
            When the king received his death song inscribed on a palm leaf and read it, he gave order to set Anantasuriya free. But it was too late. Anantasuriya was already done to death. The king feel into deep remorse. He told his ministers that in future death penalty should not  be carried out immediately, but it should be delayed at least one week.
            To a non-Buddhist the above death song of Anantasuriya may sound like the bewailing of a desperate fatalist who was resigned to death. But for Myanmar Buddhists it epitomises the Law of Impermanence.
            One famous English poet named J. Shirley also compossed a verse in similar vein. It is entitled “Death the Leveller”. For comparative study it is reproduced as follows:

Death the Leweller

The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
Thereis no armour against fate:
Death lays his icy hand on kings
Sceptre and vrown
Must tumble down
And in th dust be equal made,
with the poor crooked scyathe and spade.

Some men with awords may reap the field
And plant fresh laurels where they kill
But their strong nerves at last must yield:
They tame but one another still
Early or late
They stoop to fate

The garlands wither on your brow
Then boast no more your mighty deeds;
Upon Death’s purple altar now
Se e, where the victor-victim bleeds;
Your heads must come
To the cold tomb;
Only the actions of the just,
Smell sweet, and blossom in their dust.”

It is interesting to note that though Anantasuriya and J. Shirley differed vastly in terms of time, place and circumstances as well as in race, religion and culture the two shared common philosophy on life – Law of Impermanence.

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