Buddhism is a State Religion of Cambodia - Buddhism, Philosophy, and Khmer Literature


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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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Buddhism is a State Religion of Cambodia

by Preah Dhammavipassanā SAM BUNTHOEUN (Ketudhammo)


In a national seminar on “The Present Situations of Religions in Cambodia” held on July 31, 2002 by Humanity and Social Science Institute of the Royal Academy of Cambodia with the purpose of:

  • To make balance the situation in the country
  • To study about the revolution of each religion “Buddhism and Other Religions”
  • To share information, ideas, and experience among the officers of concerned departments and religious representatives in Cambodia
  • To find solutions and objectives of religions
  • To understand the advantages and disadvantages of religions, and Activities of Buddhism and other religions in Cambodia nowadays.
    In this auspicious occasion, I would like to present a topic entitled “Buddhism is a state religion.”

    The Reason Why Buddhism Becomes a State Religion

    There are many reasons why it is stated in the constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia that “Buddhism is a state religion.” Now I would like to take this opportunity to give a brief description of the essence of Buddhism as follows:
    Buddhism is a word in English and it is Buddhasāsanā in Pāḷi. The word “Buddha-sāsanā” is derived from Buddhassa and sāsanā.
    The word sāsanā means “teaching” and Buddhassa means “of the Buddha”, so Buddhasāsanā (Buddhism) means the teachings of the Buddha. The teachings of the Buddha consist of 84,000 Dhammakkhandhas: the Basket of Discipline (Vinaya-piṭaka) consists of 21,000 Dhammakkhandhas, the Basket of Discourse (Suttanta-piṭaka) consists of 21,000 Dhammakkhandhas and the Basket of Higher Doctrine (Abhidhamma-piṭaka) consists of 42,000 Dhammakkhandhas. The brief teachings of the Buddha are:
    1. Sabbapāpassa akaraṇaṁ, Not to do any evils,
    2. Kusalassūpasampadā, To do good, and
    3. Sacittapariyodapanaṁ, To purify one’s mind.
          1. Sabbapāpassa akaraṇaṁ, not to do any evils. Evil is ‘pāpa’ in Pāḷi meaning a bad, low or vulgar deed. It is a kind of deeds that causes passiveness and all kinds of destruction to the society. Here, only ten kinds of unwholesome deeds are presented as the following:
      a) Pāṇātipāta: killing living beings
        Pāṇātipāta refers to the destruction of life by using various kinds of weapons such as stick, sword, javelin, gun, bomb, grenade, atomic bomb, nuclear weapon, and so on. Those who suffer from all kinds of destruction by others’ violence experience abject misery. Those who are defeated lose their lives or hide themselves and stay angry, and when they have the opportunity, they will take revenge on the winners. Also, those who achieve victory live happily, but fear will arise in them because they are afraid of being defeated. In that way, these two kinds of people (the loser and the winner) revenge on each other and wish very bad things to happen to one another, causing the vast destruction to arise in this world. In one occasion, the Buddha talked about the consequences of killing that if people still kill each other, in the future their life span will decrease. At that time, girls will be marriageable at five years of age, and the people’s lifespan is ten years.

        b) Adinnādāna: taking what is not given by words or by the body
          Adinnādāna means theft or banditry of which people in society are afraid. Theft includes stealing, picking pocket, exploitation, robbery, abduction, and the confiscation of others’ private properties. The Buddha said that even taking things without owners’ knowledge, threatening to take properties in their presence, or making a living by cheating customers of the goods weight or quantity are also referred to as theft.

          c) Kāmesumicchācāra: sexual misconduct
            Men who commit sexual misconduct refer to those who have a sexual intercourse with women, who are not their wives, by force, threat, or abuse. As for women, they commit sexual misconduct by having a sexual intercourse with those who are not their husbands.

            d) Musāvāda: false speech
              Musāvāda means telling lies intentionally by saying what is seen as not seen, what is not seen as seen, what is heard as not heard, what is not heard as heard, what is touched as not touched, having touched as not having touch, what is known as not known, what is not known as known. These are called false speech.

              e) Pisuṇāvācā: malicious speech
                Pisuṇāvācā refers to a speech aimed to provoke two or more people to have quarrels, to destroy their unity, or even to divide the world into different groups, which   can lead to race, class and gender discriminations and destructive wars.

                f) Pharusavācā: harsh speech
                  Pharusavācā means whatsoever speech that is rough, cutting, bitter about others, abusive of others or provoking wrath, which makes others upset or furious.

                  g) Samphappalāpa: frivolous talk
                    Samphappalāpa is a speech that is humorous or useless in the society. Sampha-ppalāpa also refers to speech intended to make useful words become worthless or to make important things become unimportant so as to take advantage of others (selfish).

                    h) Abhijjhā: covetousness
                      Abhijjhā means coveting the property of another to be one’s own. One who is covetous thinks only of one’s own profit but not of other’s profit. All actions he or she does bodily or verbally has only one goal; that is to make one’s own profit, not others’ profit or joint profit (stealing nation property).

                      i) Byāpāda: ill-will
                        Byāpāda means malevolence of heart or the thoughts of one’s heart are corrupted. Anger arises in his mind because of the unpleasant sense object or the object is not his favourite sense object. Thus he thinks: Let these beings and his property, wife and children, relatives, power and honour and even his life be slain, come to destruction, be destroyed, not exist at all.

                        j) Micchādiṭṭhi: wrong view
                          Micchādiṭṭhi means holding wrong belief, not believing in good or bad deeds. Those who hold this view believe that there are not any fruits of bad and good deeds, which results in suffering and happiness, or believe that helping others (humanity) is not useful for the society. They also believe that giving and taking bribes, deception and killing, which are against the worldly laws, such as institutional laws, and the natural laws, are profitable activities.
                          The ten unwholesome actions mentioned above are bitter and spoiled, which does not enable the society to exist. It is better not to do these unwholesome actions because those who do not commit them live happily and peacefully with no fear of retribution.

                                  2. Kusalassūpasampadā, to do good refers to wholesome deeds which gives good results free from fault. It brings about all kinds of development to society. There are a number of good deeds, but here only ten good deeds are mentioned as follows:

                           A. Dāna: to donate one’s own property for developing the society such as building roads, schools and hospitals, digging wells and reservoirs, growing trees, gardening, giving donations to poor people, constructing and renovating pagodas or monasteries such as building monks’ quarters, Buddhist temples and other achievements or doing meritorious deeds and performing ceremony in Buddhism, i.e., Four-requisite-offering ceremony and so on. This is called generosity or giving.
                            B. Sīla: good conduct, neat appearance, good manners in living, restraint in bodily, verbal and mental actions by not doing five kinds of bad deeds, namely killing beings; taking what is not given; having a sexual intercourse with girls or wife of others, committing adultery or prostitution; telling lies and drinking intoxicant, all of which cause the society to be in chaos.
                              C. Bhāvanā: culturing one’s mind and thought, i.e., to train the mind to be calm, honest and free from greed, hatred, conceit, and discrimination of race, class, and birth so as to adapt oneself to live harmoniously in the society.
                                D. Apacāyana: means reverence to the elder, gentleness to human beings and other living creatures, no discrimination against class and friendliness to others such as greeting by placing both hands together palm to palm to the parents, or teachers, etc.
                                  E. Veyyāvacca: Helping others like building shelters for orphans or street children, preparing protocols in various occasions such as greeting distinguished high-rank guests or Buddhist monks who have arrived at the ceremony, or arranging parents’ or others’ ceremony, and so on.
                                    F. Desanā: giving dhamma talks, teaching the doctrine, explaining, advising, or guiding others to know what is reasonable, what is not reasonable, what is wholesome, what is unwholesome, and so on.
                                      G. Dhammassavana: listening to the Doctrine or right teachings means listening and following parents’ advice, the elder’s advice or monks’ advice and also listening to preachers or advisors who give us guidance to become good people.
                                        H. Pattidāna: sharing or giving out merit, that is when he performs meritorious deeds such as Four-requisite-offering ceremony, etc., he shares his merits to the departed ones and let them rejoice in his merit. For example, when Buddhist people perform any meritorious deeds, they always share or dedicate their merits by reciting "May this be for our relatives. May our relatives be happy!" or spreading their loving-kindness to all beings because they want them to live well and happily. This is called Pattidāna.
                                          I. Pattānumodanā: rejoicing in others’ merit shared to us. Any meritorious deeds done such as Four-requisite-offering ceremony are shared to us to rejoice in their merit and we agree, we appreciate to rejoice in that merit. Rejoicing in others’ merit in this way is called Pattānumodanā.
                                            J. Diṭṭhujukamma: straightening one’s view. Right view refers to the view: “Surely by oneself is evil done, and by oneself one becomes pure. Purity and impurity are of the individual. No one purifies another.” Those who do good experience pleasure and happiness and those who do evil experience misery. Realizing in this way is called “straightening one’s view”.

                                              Theory of Kamma and Its Result

                                              People in this world experience suffering or happiness, have long life or short life, are wealthy or poor, wise or ignorant sometimes because of previous kamma or sometimes because of present kamma giving results.
                                              • Previous kamma gives its result by conditioning living beings to be born in a poor family, to be born dumb, deaf, blind, or crippled at birth, or to be born to live a long life or short life, and so on.
                                              • Present kamma gives its result, for example, by conditioning living beings to inherit their parents’ properties or someone’s wealth. However, when they spend those properties on useless things such as seduction of women, drunkenness, and indulgence in gambling and bad company until the properties are ruined, this is not because of the previous kamma bearing its result, but surely because of the present kamma giving result.
                                              Those who possess the four factors of learners, namely Su, Ci, Pu and Li will become intellectuals easily. Nevertheless, without these factors how can one be an intellectual?
                                              • Su is from pāḷi word ‘Sutta’ meaning studying hard, memorizing, learning by heart and listening a lot.
                                              • Ci from ‘Cinta’ means trying to think of the lessons learned from teachers. After that, make an effort to think about them thoroughly in order to dispel doubts.
                                              • Pu is from ‘Pucchā’. It means one should ask teachers about the lessons of which one is not sure after thinking about them.
                                              • Li comes from ‘Likhita’ meaning taking notes of the lessons one has understood so that one will not forget them. According to the practice of the four factors described above, one is wise or ignorant because of the present kammas.
                                              If we realize the fact as described above, this view is called Diṭṭhujukamma (forming correct view).
                                              We human beings should fulfil the wholesome deeds described above because such actions can help to develop our society and country.
                                              1. Sacittapariyodapanaṁ: to purify one’s mind
                                              Mind is unsteady, trembling, difficult to guard, difficult to restrain, seizing whatever it desires, especially sensual pleasure, and always corrupted by the defilements. The Buddha said, “Mind is the leader; all mental phenomena are made by mind.” In this world, for instance, people have different jobs such as teachers, doctors, soldiers, polices, officers, farmers, businesspeople, or illegal jobs such as thieves, robbers or prostitutes. All these jobs have the mind as the leader.
                                              All in all, the world is in peace and happiness because of the mind. Whilst the mind is defiled by greed, hatred and delusion, human beings commit evil deeds such as killing, and so on. Whilst the mind is horrified by evil deeds, human beings do only good deeds (merit). And whilst human beings commit both evil and good deeds, both suffering and happiness arise in them because suffering is the result of evil deeds and, happiness is the result of good deeds.
                                              He who wants happiness should culture his mind. The Buddha said in Dhamma-pada that: ‘A well-cultured mind brings happiness. A well-controlled mind brings happiness.’ When all people in the world train their mind, the world is truly peaceful because there is no one who has an evil mind to do unwholesome deeds to disrupt the society.
                                              Because of the above reasons, the Buddha advised us to purify our mind.
                                              Due to the fact that Buddhism is about kamma and its result, which is scientific advice, reasonable and practical, Cambodian people have believed and gone to Buddhism as the refuge since a long time ago. Buddhism lies in every Cambodian people’s heart, including not only the King and the Queen, but also royal officers and ordinary people. In the present time, at least 95% of Cambodian people are Buddhists. Buddhism has become the main Khmer culture. For example, some of Khmer words derived from Pāḷi and Sanskrit languages, which are mainly used in Buddhism, are used in spoken language and in Khmer literature.
                                              Moreover, Buddhism is an important formula for Cambodia to build peace for the country. Without Buddhism, Cambodia could not find peace for the country. After Cambodia had internal and chronic wars for more than two decades, Cambodia recently found the ways for peace through Buddhism by using reunifying and reconciling strategies.
                                              Since Cambodia re-united and reconciled by stopping fighting each other with weapons, Cambodia has practiced supremacy of the Dharma tightly, Cambodia has gained peace forever until the present time. Cambodian people have adopted Buddhism since Nokor Phnom era, starting from the 1st A. D (Theravada Buddhism), and Buddhism prospered in the 2nd A. D. Nowadays, it is stated in the Royal Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia for all generations that “Buddhism is a state religion.” Furthermore, a new Ministry of Public Worship and Religious Affairs has been established for governing religious institutions, especially Buddhism.

                                              Dhuras in Buddhism

                                              There are two kinds of dhuras in Buddhism, namely Gantha-dhura (dhuras of study) and Vipassanā-dhura (dhuras of Insight development).
                                              1. Gantha-dhura: dhuras of study is a task of learning the Scripture, i.e., Pali Canon.
                                              2. Vipassanā-dhura: dhuras of Insight development is a task of meditation practice or mental culture.

                                              Activities of Buddhism in Cambodia at Present

                                                          Since Cambodia followed Buddhism, these two kinds of dhuras, the Gantha-dhura and the Vipassanā-dhura, have been practiced until now.
                                              • Gantha-dhura: Cambodian people organized studies in Buddhism until Buddhist Primary, Secondary and Upper secondary Schools and Buddhist higher educations as well as the three levels of Dhamma study, the first level named Dhamma-Vinaya Thnak Tri, the second level named Dhamma-Vinaya Thnak Do, and the third level named Dhamma-Vinaya Thnak Ek, were established.
                                              • Vipassanā-dhura: Mental culture is a very important task in taming the mind. From the earlier time until 1996, Cambodian people practised Vipassanā in monasteries, pagodas, hermitages, mountainous areas, or forests, but there was no any administrative structure or trusted committee to support meditators and centres. The practice was different from one another based on knowledge and experiences of the teachers. By 1996, there had been an increasing number of Cambodian people practising Vipassanā. Buddhism in the field of Vipassanā dhura developed gradually from one day to one day, from one month to one month, and from one year to another until 1996, Samdech Preah Sangharāja Gaṇa Mahānikāya Tep Vong, Supreme Patriarch of the Kingdom of Cambodia decided to establish a new and unprecedented educational system in Cambodia called “Studying Buddhism through Gantha-dhura.” To manage a unanimous educational structure based on the Book of the Path of Purification or the Pali Canon, Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong founded a Vipassanā Dhura Center whose temporary address was in Nanda Monivong Pagoda, Sangkat Steung Mean Chhey, Khan Mean Chhey, Phnom Penh. Then, he appointed one committee with Preah Dhammavipassanā Som Buntheurn Ketudhammo as the leader to develop Vipassanā.
                                              Vipassanā-dhura established with administrative systems is divided to three levels:
                                              • Basic Vipassanā: 3 years
                                              • Medium Vipassanā: 4 years
                                              • High Vipassanā: 5 years
                                              Since 1996 until now, thousands of Buddhists from all cities and provinces have trained their minds through Vipassanā-dhura (Tranquillity and Insight Meditations). Because the practice of Vipassanā thrived steadily, the Vipassanā Dhura Center became the present Vipassanā Dhura Buddhist Meditation Center, which is located west of Adharas Mountain, Phsar Dek Village, Ponhealeur District, Kandal Province. Nowadays, there are also many branches of Vipassanā Dhura Centers in a number of other provincial districts, monasteries and pagodas.


                                              Vipassanā-dhura is a vitally important training to cultivate our minds. The mind is a mental entity, whose nature is unsteady, easily trembling when experiencing objects, difficult to control, arising and disappearing quickly through six sense-doors: ear-door, nose-door, tongue-door, body-door and mind-door. When having yet to be trained, the mind is always under the influence of craving (taṇhā). After being corrupted by craving, the mind always seizes desired sense objects and attaches to them.
                                              While seizing objects, the mind sometimes experiences favourable sense objects and sometimes experiences sense objects that are favourable and unfavourable. Therefore, sorrow, lamentation, unpleasant feelings, and joy arise in the mind very often. When the mind wanders to sense objects, all living beings always suffer from all kinds of suffering (dukkhas).
                                              In this world, there is nothing but Vipassanā practice that can help human beings to release from all kinds of suffering.

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