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Cambodian Buddhism

Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice

Ian Harris
Copyright Date: 2005
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  • Book Info
    Cambodian Buddhism
    Book Description:

    The study of Cambodian religion has long been hampered by a lack of easily accessible scholarship. This impressive new work by Ian Harris thus fills a major gap and offers English-language scholars a booklength, up-to-date treatment of the religious aspects of Cambodian culture. Beginning with a coherent history of the presence of religion in the country from its inception to the present day, the book goes on to furnish insights into the distinctive nature of Cambodia's important yet overlooked manifestation of Theravada Buddhist tradition and to show how it reestablished itself following almost total annihilation during the Pol Pot period. Historical sections cover the dominant role of tantric Mahayana concepts and rituals under the last great king of Angkor, Jayavarman VII (1181–c. 1220); the rise of Theravada traditions after the collapse of the Angkorian civilization; the impact of foreign influences on the development of the nineteenth-century monastic order; and politicized Buddhism and the Buddhist contribution to an emerging sense of Khmer nationhood. The Buddhism practiced in Cambodia has much in common with parallel traditions in Thailand and Sri Lanka, yet there are also significant differences. The book concentrates on these and illustrates how a distinctly Cambodian Theravada developed by accommodating itself to premodern Khmer modes of thought. Following the overthrow of Prince Sihanouk in 1970, Cambodia slid rapidly into disorder and violence. Later chapters chart the elimination of institutional Buddhism under the Khmer Rouge and its gradual reemergence after Pol Pot, the restoration of the monastic order's prerevolutionary institutional forms, and the emergence of contemporary Buddhist groupings.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6176-6
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. 1 Buddhism in Cambodia: From Its Origins to the Fall of Angkor
    (pp. 1-25)

    The great pioneering works of French scholarship on ancient Cambodia were primarily concerned with the construction of royal chronologies and with the problem of how Hinduism had been transplanted in an alien setting.¹ The towering figure in the field, George Coedès, had been trained as a Sanskritist and regarded Southeast Asia as a tabula rasa for the reception of Indic religious and cultural ideas and practices, which, rather astonishingly, appeared to bear exactly the same meanings as they had in their land of origin. This is odd, for old Khmer inscriptions are actually slightly more frequent in Cambodia than those...

  5. 2 The Middle Period and the Emergence of the Theravada
    (pp. 26-48)

    Śrāvakayāna Buddhism had been present in Cambodia well before the fall of Angkor, but the precise nature of its occurrence remains elusive and it is difficult to divine any social influence the movement might have exercised. Whether the Śrāvakayāna was represented by one school or by many is impossible to say. It is also hard to get a clear perspective on the movement’s oscillating fortunes over the lengthy period stretching from Funan to the opening of the fifteenth century. The occurrence of scattered fragments of Pali inscriptional evidence, with isolated examples from as far back as the seventh century CE,...

  6. 3 Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia: Territorial and Social Lineaments
    (pp. 49-80)

    In common with most cultures of the region, the Cambodians contrast the world of settled, rice-growing existence with the wilderness beyond. From the end of the Angkorian period until the 1840s the country had no roads of significance, and a royal chronicle relates: “In former times there was little dry land here, and people would go everywhere in boats, but never farther than the sounds of dogs barking in their village could be heard. There were no canals then, and no paths: there were only forests with tigers, and elephants, and wild buffaloes: no people dared leave their village.”¹ The...

  7. 4 Literary and Cult Traditions
    (pp. 81-104)

    Cambodian literature is customarily divided into two major categories. The first encompasses all explicit works of religious instruction(gambhir),including canonical, cosmological, and ritual Buddhist texts; commentaries on these; annals and chronicles; works of moral and political instruction(cpāp’),and juridical literature(kram).¹ The second(lpaeng)is equally large and diverse. It includes legends, fables, epic stories, poems, and novels.Lpaengwere used widely in the monastery-based education of the laity, and even today traditionalist monks continue to chant versified romances based around the Buddha’s past lives and the like, in a spare and stylized manner(smut)that takes several...

  8. 5 Cambodian Buddhism under Colonial Rule
    (pp. 105-130)

    Cambodia’s weakness after the fall of Angkor meant that it could offer little resistance to the oscillating influences and rivalry of its two stronger neighbors, Vietnam and Thailand, which tended to dominate its internal affairs. The Cambodian royal family periodically divided into antagonistic pro-Thai and pro-Vietnamese factions, further undermining the coherence of the state. But the Vietnamese were viewed with more trepidation than the Thai, who at least shared the same traditions of orthography, aesthetics, and religion as the Khmer. The metropolitan outlook, Sinitic worldview, managerial genius, and ruthless efficiency of the Vietnamese were a world away from the Indianized...

  9. 6 Buddhism and Cambodian Nationalism
    (pp. 131-156)

    Southeast Asian Buddhist monks have often participated in movements of contestation. From the Burmese sack of Ayutthaya in 1767 to the establishment of the Chakri dynasty in 1782, civil war raged in Thailand. Among the combatants, clans of monks proficient in the use of swords and guns attempted to carve up the country. For example, Chao Phitsanulok of Fang, with a following of red-robed monastics, managed to establish a short-lived independent state in the north of Thailand (Lingat 1958). Meanwhile at Thonburi, Taksin (r. 1767–1782), an enthusiastic Buddhist layman who claimed the spiritual status of a stream-enterer(sotāpanna)and...

  10. 7 Liberation: The Religio-political Dimension
    (pp. 157-189)

    A Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party (KPRP) history written in 1991 mentions a number of insurrections during the early 1930s, including the “uprising of two monks: Achar Mean and Achar Pring, etc.” The Vietnamese sources on which these assertions are based acknowledge that there is no evidence that these Buddhist figures were inspired or organized by the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP). However, “the progressive thought content of these movements clearly expressed the revolutionary demands of Kampuchea in the new era” (quoted in Frings 1994a, 10–11). Having said that, after the ICP was founded in 1930, it certainly made sporadic attempts...

  11. 8 Cambodian Buddhism after the Khmer Rouge
    (pp. 190-224)

    In May 1978, Heng Samrin gave a speech in Cambodia’s eastern zone revealing the existence of a dissident grouping within the Khmer Rouge. He called on “all patriotic forces regardless of political and religious tendencies,” including “Buddhist monks and nuns,” to join a united front to help “topple the reactionary and nepotistic Pol Pot–Ieng Sary gang” (Steve Heder, inPPP8/6, March 19–April 1, 1999). A United Front for National Salvation of Kampuchea was formed on December 2, 1978. Heng Samrin became president of its fourteen-person Central Committee, which included Long Sim—described as “a revolutionary monk for...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 225-230)

    Buddhism has had an active presence in Khmer population zones for approximately one and a half millennia. During that time it has manifested a variety of differing forms, while its influence has ebbed and flowed both among members of the ruling elite and in the wider population. It was an important ingredient in the religious life of the earliest significant polity in the area, Funan, which flourished from the fifth to the mid-sixth century CE, and some evidence suggests that its influence penetrated to the highest levels of the state. Contact with India seems to have played some as-yet-unspecified role...

  13. Appendix A Cambodian Inscriptions Discussed in the Book Pre-Angkorian and Angkorian Periods
    (pp. 231-232)
  14. Appendix B Evidence Chart Based on Materials Discussed in Chapter 1
    (pp. 233-235)
  15. Appendix C Ecclesiastical Hierarchies in the Two Cambodian Buddhist Orders
    (pp. 236-238)
  16. Abbreviations
    (pp. 239-240)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 241-300)
  18. Glossary
    (pp. 301-304)
  19. Khmer Word List
    (pp. 305-308)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 309-342)
  21. Index
    (pp. 343-352)