Buddhism In A Few Words by Ven. Oung Mean - 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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Monday, August 15, 2022

Buddhism In A Few Words by Ven. Oung Mean


“Buddhism in a Few Words” was prepared for a lecture to an audience at the Saint Matthews Methodist Church at Bowie, Maryland, on September 25, 1988, at the request of Mrs. Jan Eagan, a high school teacher at Bowie.

After that presentation, I made several copies of my text and distributed them to some of my American friends who come to practice meditation every week at the Vatt Buddhikarama, and to some Cambodian lay Buddhists. A few day later, they told me that the article was very interesting. It is short but meaningful, telling the whole life of the Buddha – about His princehood, His Enlightenment, His sermon to the world, His fundamental teaching of the Fourfold Noble Truth, and His entering Nibbana and His demise.

As a result, I decided to translate this article into Cambodian and make it a small book for both English speaking and Cambodian speaking readers.

May I dedicate the merit of my work on the “Buddhism in a Few Words” to all my relatives, teachers, preceptors, and especially to my father Oung Chhun and to my mother Keo Nuon, nee Chea; may they all, by this virtue, attain happiness and a blissful state.

I am deeply graceful to Mr. Tarun Khemradhipati, Mr. Nicholas B. Stevens, Mr. Sungthareth Omkar, Mr. Sophy Meas, Mr. Sereyvath Bou, and Mr. Proeung Phing for helping me get this booklet materialized.


May those beings who suffer be free from suffering.

May those beings who are in fear be free from fear.

May those beings who are in grief be free grief.


Bhikkhu Oung Mean Candavanno

Vatt Buddhikarama, Saturday, October 1, 1988

Silver Spring, Maryland.



Venerable Oung Mean Candavanno



“Homage to the Exalted One, the Worthy One, the Fully Enlightened One.”


Buddhism was founded by Gotama the Buddha about two thousand five hundred and thirty years ago. It is one of the most ancient religions in the world and is practiced even today by tens of millions of people. The Buddha’s original name was Siddhattha Gotama. His birthplace was Lumbini, near Kapilavatthu, the capital city of the Sakyas in northern India (nowadays it is Nepal). He was born in 563 B.C. to king Suddhodana and Queen Maya and grew up within the palace grounds.

The life of luxury and worldly happiness at the royal court could not long satisfy Gotama. At the age of twenty-nine he was for the first time confronted by the four omens of human life, that is, an old man, a sick man, a dead man and a recluse, and he decided to renounce the world. He rode out of the palace gates on his horse Kanthaka with his charioteer, Channa. When they reached the river Anoma, SiddhatthaGotama dismounted, cut off his hair, took off his princely clothes, and became a wandering sage.

The sage Gotama studied with two well known teachers of the time. The first one was named Alara Kalama and the second named Uddaka Ramaputta. But he was not satisfied with the way they taught and eventually left them and wandered alone again.

At this stage, he joined five other ascetics, whose names were Kodanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanamaand Assaji. Together, they practiced self-mortification, that is, going without the normal needs of food and rest and sleeping on hard ground. They led such a very uncomfortable physical life because they believed that was necessary to become spiritually pure. The sage Gotama finally became so weak that one day that he collapsed with hunger, fatigue and great pain. He was found by a shepherd who fed him on milk and looked after him till he became strong again.

Now Gotama realized from his experience that self-mortification was useless and that the life of luxury which he had enjoyed as a prince was also futile. Therefore, he decided to follow a course between these two extremes, known as “The Middle Path”. When he started to return to a normal life, the five ascetics were disappointed in him and left him. He was then determined to seek the truth alone, unaided by teachers or companions. He sat under the Bodhi Tree and resolved that he would not move from there until he had attained Full Enlightenment. He spent the whole evening sitting in the meditation posture, which is also called the “Lotus position”.

Many thoughts came to distract him from his goal-thoughts of his beloved wife and child, memories of his luxurious home, of parents and friends, of feasts and sports. All these flashed before his eyes. But he was not tempted. With determined will, he continued to meditate until his mind became pure and clear. He emerged from his meditation as the Fully Enlightened One, the Buddha, on the full moon day of Visakha, which is in May, at a place later called Buddha Gaya in northern India.

He realized that suffering was a characteristic of all living beings and he decided to give his teaching of loving-kindness and great compassion to the world. He delivered his first sermon to the five ascetics, whom he rejoined at the Deer Park, the present Saranath, near Benares, on the full moon day of Asalha, which is in July. He said, “Monks, a recluse should avoid the two extremes, namely, indulgence in sensuous pleasure and indulgence in self-mortification. The Middle Way, as I understand and practice it, gives visions and knowledge and leads to Enlightenment”.

The Buddha then explained to them the Four Noble Truths, which form the basis of his teaching. The Four Noble Truths are:

1-  There is suffering everywhere in the world (Dukkha Sacca): birth is suffering, old age is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow is suffering, lamentation is suffering, bodily pain is suffering, grief is suffering, despair is suffering, association with whom you do not like is suffering, separation from whom you love is suffering, not getting what you want is suffering, is short, the grasping of five Aggregates is suffering.

2-  The cause of suffering is desire or craving (Samudaya Sacca). There are three types of desire: the desire for sensuous pleasure (Kama Tanha), the desire for rebirth (Bhava Tanha), and the desire for no rebirth (Vibhava Tanha).

3-  The cessation of suffering is to entirely terminate desire of all kinds (Nirodha Sacca). Just as a fire dies when no fuel is added, so suffering will end when the fuel of craving is completely destroyed.

4-  The way to end suffering is to follow the Middle Path or the Noble Eightfold Path (Magga Sacca), namely, Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.

The five ascetics, who had highly developed minds, understood the Buddha’s teaching and became his first disciples. The Sanghas, or community of monks, was thus formed.

There are four different groups of individuals in Buddhism – the monk or Bhikkhu, the nun or Bhikkuni, the layman or Upasaka, and the laywoman or Upasika. The first two kinds of individuals are those who see the danger of the secular world and choose the monastic life to undertake self-training in search of spiritual truth to free themselves from suffering. They devote their lives to the monastery. They are regarded as both teachers and as guardians of the Buddha’s teaching. The other two kinds of individuals are called lay Buddhists because they are primarily concerned with the affairs of secular life. They have less time to cultivate Buddhist spirituality because of their occupational, familial, and social concerns. Much of their religious activity involves cultivating moral behavior, earning merit, and providing support to the monks and the monasteries. This includes the daily offering of food to the monks and the donating of other requisites when needed. They help in the construction and maintenance of monasteries and temples and in the restoration of the old buildings. Many elderly lay Buddhists spend special periods in the monastery observing the eight or the ten precepts and practicing meditation.

These two pairs of individuals mutually support each other, and the close coordination of their efforts is necessary to maintain and perpetuate the Buddha’s teaching. Monks and monasteries cannot survive without the laity. The laity needs the monks and monasteries to properly preserve the Buddha’s teachings and to help direct the laity in the way of moral, meritorious, and spiritual living.

Due to the factual differences in the temperaments, inclinations and circumstances of these four groups of individuals, the Buddha laid down his teaching in different levels in order to fit different situations. But all of his teachings have a single goal, that is, to free man from suffering. Just as he was a human being who attained enlightenment through his own strenuous effort, so others can achieve freedom from suffering by their own efforts. He said that each person must realize the Dhamma (the Buddha’s teachings) individually; one must experience it for oneself. He said that his teaching is a gradual path and he compared it to the seashore which is different from the bank of river. The bank of river is so steep that a man falls into the water suddenly and can be drowned, while the seashore is like a gradually descending floor: as one walks into the deepening water step by step, so one deepens one’s practice and understanding of Buddhist spirituality step by step. This means that Buddhism should be practiced in the proper order – from the beginning, through the middle, to the end. The beginning of Buddhism is moral conduct or Sila, the middle is concentration or Samadhi, and the end is wisdom or Panna.

Sila, or morality, consists of disciplinary rules to control physical and verbal behavior. It is intended to prevent body and words from going astray. Silais of two categories – one is for the laity, and another for the monks.

For the lay people, there are Five Precepts, the Eight Precepts, and the Ten Precepts. The Five Precepts are: to refrain from killing; to refrain from stealing; to refrain from sexual misconduct; to refrain from false speech; and to refrain from the use of intoxicants.

The Eight Precepts are: to refrain from killing; stealing; false speech, and intoxicants, the same as four of the five Precepts; then in addition, to refrain from sexual intercourse; to refrain from eating at the wrong time; to refrain from dancing, singing, music, and watching entertainments, waring garlands, scenting oneself with perfumes and beautifying oneself with cosmetics; and to refrain from using a high and luxurious seat or bed.

The Ten Precepts include all of the injunctions included in the Eight Precepts; however, the single proscription against entertainment and self-beautification listed in the Eight Precepts are made two separate precepts for emphasis; and finally, there is an additional precept, namely, to refrain from accepting gold and silver.

For the monks, there are only Four Precepts: The first one is to obey the 227 disciplinary rules of the Bhikkhu Patimokkhaor the Rules of the Monks; the second is to restrain the six sensory faculties, namely, the eyes, the ears,  the nose, the tongue, the body and the mind – or thought; the third is to lead a righteous life, meaning to go around for alms for a living; the fourth one is to reflect at the time of accepting or using any of the four requisites, that is, robes, food, a seat or bed, and medicine, as well as to reflect after having accepted or used them.

Through developing Sila or morality gross kinds of defilements can be discarded. In Buddhism Sila or morality should be practiced first. It is like the soil in which plants, shrubs and trees grow. In the same way, Sila is the ground in which concentration or Samadhi can develop.

Concentration or Samadhi means keeping one’s attention on a particular object so that the mind can withdraw from the excitement of sensual pleasure, from ill-will, from laziness and lethargy, from restlessness and worry, and from skeptical doubt. These five elements are known as the hindrances which obstruct the mind from spiritual progress.

These five hindrances are usually explained in the text like this: A mind with the excitement of sensual pleasure is usually compared to water mixed with dark dyes in which a man cannot see his reflection. A mind with the excitement of ill-will is like boiling water in which a man cannot see his reflection. A mind with laziness and lethargy is usually compared to a pond full of algae in which a man cannot see his reflection. A mind with restlessness and worry is compared to a stormy, turbulent sea in which a man cannot see his reflection. A mind with skeptical doubt is like water dense and thick with slime in which a man cannot see his reflection.

Through developing concentration, the state of one-pointedness of mind can be achieved. The concentrated mind can only temporarily discard medium defilements. The development of wisdom is necessary to discard subtle defilements.

Wisdom is a penetrative knowledge. It is understanding suffering and seeing the need to comprehend its full breadth and depth; it is understanding the cause of suffering and seeing the need to discard that cause; it is understanding the cessation of suffering and seeing the need to realize that end; and it is understanding the path leading to the cessation of suffering and seeing the need to develop that path. When the path is fully developed, true wisdom is achieved. This is seeing things as they really are. It is the insight into the three characteristics of existence, namely Impermanence or Aniccam, Suffering or Dukkham, and Non-Self or Anatta. At this stage, the mind is completely free from all kinds of defilements, gross, medium, or subtle.

During his forty-five years after Enlightenment, the Buddha traveled from place to place to teach people. His fame as a teacher was widespread and his followers came from all classes of people. Kings, Brahmins, the poor and the rich as well as the Outcastes, or the Untouchables, all took refuge in him.

In later times, the monastery became a place of learning, and the Buddha’s teaching spread over all of Asia. Nowadays, Buddhist temples and Buddhist societies are scattered throughout Europe, England, America, Australia, and New Zealand as well.

The Buddha advised the Sangha, the Community of Monks, to lead a very simple life in the service of the people. Monks were to have clothing, food, shelter, medicine but not to have luxurious homes or many possessions. At the age of eighty, the Buddha passed away near Kusinara, in modern Uttara Pradesh, on the full moon day of Visakha, which is in May. While he lay in a grove of sala trees, he addressed his last words to the monks around him: “Brethren, all things decay. Be mindful, be righteous and be vigilant. Be lamps unto yourselves. Transient are all component things. Therefore, strive earnestly to attain Perfection”.



May the Saddhamma flourish forever.



May all living beings be free from hatred.



May all living beings be happy.

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