Dialectical Relation between Buddhism, Secular World and Society
I am so happy that I have the chance to be with wise men/women who finished their training in the past six courses in the presence of Samdech Preah Sangha Niayuok (the Chief of the Buddhist Monks), Samdech Preah Sangha Niayuok Rong (the Deputy Chief of the Buddhist Monks) and of Buddhist monks, as well as Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen who are here present. Initially I thought maybe I should just have a few words with the wise men/women so that to save some of the time. However, because of some misinterpretations so far about how and what consequences a wise man/woman may face if s/he would not abide by the rule, I think there is a real need for me to spend time with you today.
Rumors and improper interpretations should be averted and the whole of my discourse today will broadcast on TV and radio so that misunderstanding from rumors and misinterpretation will be averted and prevented.
First of all I would like to express the Royal Government’s wholehearted gratitude for Samdech and every Buddhist monk in the whole country, especially the exemplary actions of Samdech Preah Sangha Niayuok to help the Royal Government deal with the disasters, albeit caused by foreign interference or natural disasters. It has been an encouraging example that our Buddhist monks from every hierarchy have actively participated in the movement, especially their visits to our soldiers at the fronts as well as those who have suffered from disasters.
While dealing with flood disaster in 2011, the Ketsana typhoon in 2009, and various other natural calamities, as reflected on the TV screens, the Buddhist monks either offered materials to the Cambodian Red Cross to deliver them to the victims or in various instances did it themselves.
I am so grateful equally to the Ministries of Religious Affairs and of Culture and Fine Arts for their collaborations under the leadership of Samdech Akka Moha Sangha Raja Dhibdei (the Chief Head of Buddhist Monks) as well as Samdech Preah Sangha Niayuok to set up and run what is known to be the Buddhism in relation to society. I see a great interest in that and its fruits will be not only for the present but also for a long time to come in the Cambodian society. I am to take this moment to express my gratitude to every participated monk in the program and I must assure them that I have gained so much interest listening to them on TV.
I am of the opinion that Buddhism is in fact doing a great deal to assist the secular society and also to orientate in a way for social development. Every social development, no matter what society it may be, could not achieve its goal if therein it there are plenty of sinful actions. This is not to deny difficulties and sinful acts in our society, but effort like that to help cure the illness in our society is highly appreciated. I have a belief that wise men/women, together with the Buddhist monks, will fervently continue to do from their parts to help our society and I would urge all TV stations to provide them airtime as well.
As a result, having seen all this, I consider it to be what is called dialectical relation between the Buddhist and the secular worlds.
As is said earlier the Ministry of Religious Affairs has organized six training courses for wise men/women already after I made my suggestion in 2008 for such courses to be conducted in face of what I called knowledge crisis of wise men/women.
It is commonly known to everyone that our country was destroyed by the Pol Pot’s regime – not just in people’s life and materials, but even tradition and custom. What remains under Pol Pot were only letters and language. In fact, for those Polpotists, if letters and language could be changed, they would also do it. They took everything from precedent society as their enemies and needed to be abolished.
It is in this note that I reminded that under that regime our tradition and custom were ruined to the core. After the liberation of the country in 1979, our people have regained their rights to restore and reestablish their customs and traditions. With that remark there came this issue of lacking of knowledgeable people of traditional and custom practices because of the regime’s effort to uproot the previous society. It should be reminded that after the liberation the whole country has not got a Buddhist monk, not to mention the wise men/women to be working along with the Buddhist monk. That was Cambodia’s reality.
In 1979 there was only one monk – Long Sim, whose wife and children are under my care till the present. We could not find even a single monk to join then National Front for Salvation of Kampuchea (NFSK). Since Long Sim used to be monk, we then invited him to become monk at the time that we establish NFSK. Started with venerable Long Sim, we then have more people who became monks – Samdech Akka Moha Sangha Raja Dhibdei and Samdech Prah Sangha Nieyuok also included. Particularly, Samdech Preah Abhiserei (from a different Buddhist sect) went abroad and becomes monk there before returning to the country in 1991.
As far as wise men/women, though there were some of them left they could not perform proper ritual or traditional ceremony because there were no monks to go along. However, under the leadership of Samdech Chea Sim and Samdech Heng Samrin around the NFSK, we got everything back on track. However, there is this issue of unity among their practice and/or the way they administer ceremony. According to the report of HE Min Khin, Minister of Religious Affairs, twenty lessons have been offered in the six courses conducted so far.
I am not a wise man. It would be wrong if I claim to know everything about being wise men/women and even more so if I have to instruct what a wise man/woman should do or act. However, as one among millions who pay attention to this issue of high traditional and customary values, and since I was the one to sounded out major concerns relating to this issue, and as one of the Cambodian leaders, I have a thing or two to suggest the way we go about dealing with this challenge. I would say even twenty lessons is not yet sufficient.
While delivering appreciation I would give an early warning that please do not “make too much fire to burn stuff and too little fire to undercook it.” It is a risky and dangerous action. Any action along this line would cause our society to break apart. To adhere to a principle in negligence of local and sub-cultural traditional and customary values may lead to a complete disaster. Take for instance this small issue of whether a groom should be welcomed by the bride while he is delivering the “Pka Sla” (areca palm) at the bride’s home in a wedding party has become a topic of misinterpretation and ill-propaganda among our people. They have exaggerated that any wise man/woman does not follow this rule set by the Ministry of Religious Affairs would stand to be fined. This could create a new animosity and disunity.
It should be known to all that Cambodia has got multicultural and multi-customary values which vary from one part of the country to another, one ethnic minority to another. There is a proverb in Khmer that goes “people learn to do things from different pagoda.” It is true. Take for instance in matter of wedding or other religious ceremony, there has always been different requirement and instruction by different wise men/women, regions and practices. It should be noticed also that while giving sermon to similar religious ceremony, the Buddhist monks from different pagodas or regions would do it differently too.
Taking cultural element into consideration, while it is general practice that immediate relatives are crying when seeing a late person off to his grave or cremation ceremony, it is always not so for some regions in our country. They would have to dance and sing before sending their parted ones to the graves. In light of all this, how could we enforce everyone with only one way to practice it? It is even so when in our country we have the Mahanikaya and Dhammayuttikanikaya and the way the two give the Buddhist sermons are different too.
In current practice, in a wedding party, people find it popular to display a huge wedding cake for the bride and groom to finally cut it and share with people who come to bless their party. That is totally not Cambodian. However, the wise man/woman could not by any means to tell the bride and groom not to do it at all. It has become a family intention matter. If the Ministry of Religious Affairs or the Royal Government were to issue any prohibition of such thing, people would see it as disrespect of their rights.
In another instance, also in a wedding party procedure, it has proven that the research result has shown a reasonable practice and view. It has been discovered that before the ceremony to pair them together, a groom may not be standing in any way to the right of the bride. Though it may not be my role to give judgment I can say it is reasonable because until they both are paired sitting together, the groom has not been considered fully as the bride’s husband yet. Though reasonably it is so, with this discovery, wise men/women could not change their practice all of a sudden at all. To fine them for not following the discovered rule is even worse. That is what I term “do not make too much fire to burn stuff and too little fire to undercook it.”
With undue attention was given to this matter and decision is made, one may fall into making decision in favor of one and neglecting the other. It is a good thing that we follow research on tradition and custom by previous generation and I urge to keep going in this direction. However, it is important to clarify that there is no rule to force anyone to respect or even to accuse him/her for not respecting the researched material that we call the rule at all. What the research has discovered and compiled should be kept as a rule that every wise men/women should learn and introduce into their actions when they see fit. We cannot enforce a unity on all this overnight in the whole country at all.
Over the time that the Ministry of Religious Affairs and related institutions provided the training for wise men/women, I have followed the development closely. In March this year, there was this ill-willed rumor that anyone (wise men or women) who disrespect the rule appears to be set by the Ministry would be fined. This was mentioned particularly with regard to the fact that in the Cambodian wedding tradition the bride would have to wash the groom’s feet before allowing him to enter the house and pair-sitting with the bride.
Tradition and custom are indeed a major issue. As for wise men/women, it should be noted that they also have different expertise too. While some are specialized in wedding party, some are in funeral, or other Buddhist rituals. Take for instance we have the religious practice and belief in inviting the monks to bless when the old year ends and a new year comes. Would it be possible to tell the Head monk at the Saraong Andet Buddhist pagoda not to hose down water on bless seekers? You cannot and cannot fine him too though hosing water was not a practice during the Gautama Buddha time. It is not a practice that a wise man/woman performs in every function.
It is very important that the Buddhist monks and the wise men/women have to be in consistency with one another in every function they work together. It should be taken into consideration issue of multi-cultures, customs and faiths. We have to on the one hand do the research to compile what has been written and kept from old days and on the other we have to go according to the pace of our people’s faiths. This should be carried out in such a way that further division is not the case. However, I am so glad that thanks to the cooperation of related ministries and institutions, we have compiled twenty lessons to start with.
There is one other matter of concern here. While having this booklet in hand, do we make a rule that the lessons should be lectured only by the monks or any lecturers who has the knowledge of this book? Anyone to be lecturer – monk or non monk – must have this book in hands. Teachers must come with documented papers and those who learn by him/herself could also depend on the book. One day we will eventually reach a unity.
I became foreign minister when I was 27 years old and Prime Minister when I was 32 years old. I bow in respect to everyone and everywhere. It was usually true that every time I was in Japan I found their Prime Minister older than I am. This time around I went to Japan the Japanese Prime Minister is younger than I am. So I have served for a long time. However, long or short service is not mine to judge and decide. It is the Cambodian people who will have to do so. Even among many wise men/women I noted that majority of them supports the CPP as one can judge through their petition letter.
It was because of the CPP that the country has got once again this business of wise men/women and Buddhist monks. That is frankly speaking. The CPP’s role in the past is one thing to figure out but the role of future leadership is also another to think about as well. It is not so certain if leaders of other political parties would give similar consent on issue of Buddhism as when it is under the ruling of the CPP. As far as change is concerned, the Cambodian people may have remembered how change in many destructive ways has affected them in the past?
In the mean time, though our country is still poor and facing with hardships, we can admit solemnly that we have peace in hand. We are not at war or turmoil of any sort at all. In the war time, when there were heavy bombardments, people cried out loud “may the Buddhist monks help us.” The Buddhist monk summoned “how could I help you while I could not help myself too.” Bombings know no Buddhist monks or Buddhism.
Some people even untruly claimed to be the one to bring monarchy to Cambodia. I just wanted to tell him that if it were without the Cambodian People’s Party, monarchy could not be in Cambodia. According to the two-third ruling system of the 120 seats in the National Assembly then, though the CPP had only 58 seats, you needed 82 votes to adopt the Constitution. If the CPP were to not join force, would there be the monarchy? In 2008, it was campaigned that if the royalists were in disarray the monarchy would be finished. I wish them to note that while now the two parties claimed to be royalist have only four seats in the National Assembly and while they cannot defend themselves, who then protects the monarchy? Is it not the CPP?
I said it many times that if anyone wanted to overthrow the monarchy, they had to pass my dead body first. Having said so, please allow me to have your attention that for every activity conducted by His Majesty, there is always a responsibility of the Prime Minister, especially his safety. Some people like to make announcement in such a way that will give him benefit in any way. However, no matter what s/he says, HM and their Majesties the King-Father and the Queen-Mother are well aware of the fact. And it was because of their understanding that the three titles of Akka Moha were given to the leaders of the CPP – not for those who are against the monarchy at all.
Having brought this issue up, I am so proud that the Ministry of Royal Palace, under the leadership of Samdech Kong Sam Ol, various great wise men and Chief monks, a great deal of researches were carried out on tradition and custom relating to various ceremony to carried out by HM the King and the Royal Palace – royal plowing, water festival ceremony are included. Though some of the custom and tradition are not for public practice, because they are handed down by our ancestors, we have got to keep them up.
Looking at the way we present our protocol in the Royal Palace while HM the King hosts foreign dignitaries, I am so proud that Cambodia is rich with culture. We have a rich terminology, royal terminology also included, which needs to be maintained. There has been a song that is popularly narrated during the “Kat Khan Sla” or “dowry presentation” ceremony in a wedding party. It is my information seeking behavior to find out – though the poems are repeated by wise men/women or Japei (three string guitar) man, where does the poem come from?
Another reason why I am interested in all this is because I got married under Pol Pot’s regime – a session of 18 couples altogether – and I wanted all my children to get married for three days according to the tradition and custom. In the poem there are some clues about the Sloeung (perhaps the first Cambodian currency under Hluong Preah Sdech Kan – 1512 and 1524) and Baat (a reference to Thai currency) money. I really want to do a research on that. It was good that the National Bank of Cambodia has retrieved from Holland some of the Sloeung currency that we now mold them in gold and silver as presents for foreign guests.
With regard to the comment that washing the groom’s feet by the bride is a devaluation of a woman, I would urge us to be careful as a thorough research should be carried out or we may leave some important thing out because of lack of knowledge about it. According to research, the fact that washing the groom’s feet was not obliged for the bride to do it but for the bride’s brother or close relative to do so. That was instructed so that the groom could join the bride with clean feet for pair-sitting ceremony. It is quite obviously reasonable as in rural wedding ceremony that the groom would not be allowed to go upstairs the bride’s elevated home. He would be summoned for some sessions and then go downstairs where he has a makeshift house.
That washing the groom’s feet is not a good thing to do could be elaborated to be a feeling not from the wise men/women but from the bride’s parents that they do not like to see their daughters being devalued for doing that. There was a poem, according to a research, that goes “Pity young man, he walks across the plowing field, he steps on bamboo’s thorns and bleeds his feet.” So it could be a connection to the fact that this groom coming from afar had to have his feet washed before joining the pairing ceremony. It is a nice story on which our tradition based on, if it is so, and we should not leave it out. Whether these traditional and customary values should be observed or not would not be a matter to coerce and/or to get fined at all.
All we are doing is to compile these values and keep it as a binding material so that the later generation would have something to depend on. It is for documentation value. We have had some documentation left on palm leaves from various generations. It would not be difficult for us to do so when we are now in the IT generation.
The people who truly defend the monarchy are here with 90 seats – with power to change the Constitution – in the National Assembly. What could the party with four seats do to protect the monarchy? It seems that many times they try to benefit from this issue. It was improper to link HM the King and Their Majesties King-Father and Queen-Mother to the deal – “Loving Their Majesties, Voting for Funcinpec.” It has been several legislative terms already and this is still what they tell the people. Do they not understand that while saying so means it is a competition between Hun Sen and (Samdech Preah Norodom) Sihanouk?
The CPP has made it a deal with the voter that if the CPP wins the elections, Hun Sen will be Prime Minister or in reversal order, if voters like Hun Sen, they should vote for CPP. And when the other party says if voters love Samdech Sihanouk, they should vote for Funcinpec, then if less number of voters give supports, it would be a loss for HM the King-Father too. I would clarify that monarchy is a common object and does not belong to any particular political party. If it is made to think or believe that it belongs only to the royal family, they should consider that it is in danger.
Tomorrow is the starting day of the communal elections campaign and I would not make any discourses at all. I brought this issue up just now purely in good intention. I just do not want any politician to claim the monarchy all to him/her. Monarchy belongs to the nation and everyone. HM the King is for everyone and not for only the Royal family. It was a great achievement that we collaboratively bring the monarchy back on its feet but politicians should not create political fuss from it but to leave the Cambodian monarchy a neutral institution.
Some politician has even said “in fact, I did not agree to be King. I would stay on in politics and leave the King position to my brother.” I find this ridiculous. Early on when I first heard this I always send a message through some people that “since when has the throne belongs to the person? And since when the person has become king?” I may rebuke that the throne that is currently under HM the King Sihamoni’s reign is not an abandoned one. As a member of the Throne Council, together with others, the two Chief monks of the two Buddhist Sects, on 14 October 2010, at 4pm, I voted to elect the King. The throne is never a left-over from anyone.
Before coming to a close let me give some recommendations. Firstly, the Ministry of Religious Affairs continues to cooperate with relevant ministries to organize more training courses to orientate the roles and tasks of wise men/women in the Cambodian tradition and custom so as to achieve a unified norm for the whole country.
Secondly, the Ministry of Religious Affairs continues to cooperate with relevant ministries to carry out further research activities so as to compile and formulate into instructions on rules and procedures of all kinds of ceremonies, while widely circulating it as well as documenting in the curriculum of the Buddhist studies.
It sounds big but if we calculate by the number of villages – 13,000 that only two thirds of them need wise men/women, we could come with ten of thousand of wise men/women already. It has been usual now that some wise men/women have to be booked in advance or there could be this problem of running out of wise men/women to carry on the ceremony.
Thirdly, the Ministry of Religious Affairs should further expand the alliance between the Cambodian Wise Men/Women Associations and organize regularly annual meeting so that they could exchange views, knowledge and experiences while listening to the people’s proposals or requests for thorough explanation.
Fourthly, the Ministry of Religious Affairs should pay attention to organizing the Buddhist nuns to pursue the roles and tasks to contribute to social development and cultural and traditional conservation of our nation.
Fifthly, both wise men/women must have good cooperation among themselves and with the Buddhist pagoda committees, the head monks, local authorities, and not to observe social discrimination. A collaborate among them is critical for the maintenance and conservation of the Buddhist heritage and Cambodian tradition and custom for a long time to come./.