Saturday, September 19, 2009


Friday, September 18, 2009
Op-Ed by CHN

During July and August of this year, I had a chance to travel across the United States and Canada to do a research on how Cambodian communities practice Buddhism and why most of the Cambodian temples in North America forbid the holding of events that relate to “Politics”. I am sharing below what I found out during my journey. I am fully aware that this article may anger some of the temple leaders who forbid holding “Political” events in their temples. Nevertheless, if they are angry with what I write here, it really means that what I found is indeed the truth.

Before talking about temples abroad, I would like to briefly mention about how Buddhism is practiced and controlled in Cambodia. As you may already know, Buddhist monk leaders in Cambodia always claim that they do not get involved with “Politics” while most of them are members of Cambodian People Party (CPP) and they always vote for the CPP during election time. They not only just vote for the CPP, they even use their power to threaten Abbots at all temples in Cambodia to vote for the CPP. For Abbots who are not CPP members, the monk leaders will use dirty tactics to accuse/threaten them so they can take remove that Abbot from power and replace him with another one of their allegiance. Also, when a temple has an Abbot who is a CPP member, then most of the monks residing in that temple are also CPPP members, otherwise, they will have a hard time living in that temple. This is how the CPP controls religion in Cambodia.

Now, the question that we should ask is whether monks in Cambodia get involved with Politics or not? Publicly, they all will say “No” because they never do anything to oppose the Cambodian government controlled by the CPP. This is why all the monk leaders in Cambodia always forbid other monks from being involved with Politics because they are scared that other monks will join parties that oppose the CPP. There are some courageous monks who join political parties other that the CPP, however, their numbers are very small.

In Cambodia, every year, you may hear that there are more temples being built than schools. Why? Because powerful officials behind the Cambodian government want to see it that way, they don’t want to see Cambodian people educated, they purposely tell Cambodians to live a peaceful life so that when they die, they can go to Heaven. Therefore, in order to go to Heaven, they have to build even more temples and they should not care too much about what is going on with their country (corruption, land confiscation, illegal Vietnamese immigrants in Cambodia, joblessness, poverty, etc…). Furthermore, when people build the new temples, it costs them a lot of money and the majority of the materials used to build these temples are not even made in Cambodia. In fact, these building materials are imported mostly from Vietnam and Thailand. So who benefits from building a new temple? Of course, NOT the Cambodians, they are those countries that have strong connection with the powerful Cambodian leaders, and these countries sell these building materials to Cambodians.

If you visit Thailand or other countries that practice Theravada Buddhism like us, you will see how the people in these countries respect their monks. The monk leaders in those countries are well-educated. Most of them have PhD and they can even speak English fluently. For the monk leaders in Cambodia, every time they speak to the public, they never forget to remind to the Cambodian people about the “January 7” victory in which Vietnam helped Cambodia, rather than telling the people that is was a date when Vietnam invaded Cambodia. It is really sad to see how our religion is being led by those uneducated monks. I had also heard disgusting stories about monks who had to pay bribes to Tep Vong or Non Nget, the Cambodian Supreme Buddhist Patiarch and Patriarch, respectively, to get their signatures allowing them to travel abroad. Corruption is even taking place inside Cambodia’s religion.

Suffice it to say that Buddhism in Cambodia is controlled by uneducated and corrupted monks. Let’s now turn to see how the Cambodian temples are organized abroad. Most of the temples abroad are commonly started from a small house. The temple is run as a non-profit organization that has a board to control that temple. Thus, most of the monks do not have power in their temples. They basically just conduct religious services, eat, and sleep. Some temples even tactically forbid the monks to drive so they cannot go to school. They are scared that, when monks can speak English, they will demand for their rights to lead the temple because, after all, the temple is where the monks live, not the temple leaders. The monks are the ones who provide religious services and directly conduct the fundraising to pay for the temple’s mortgage. Every so often, you will hear stories about the temple leaders swindling the temple’s money and some of them even had to face the court because of their abuse of power in the control of monks and in the control the temple’s finance.

When these temple leaders sponsor monks from Cambodia to conduct religious services at their temples, rather than sponsoring monks who are educated, they mainly sponsor those who are related to them in some fashion or another instead, even if these monks merely know basic religious chanting and have very limited knowledge about religion. Most of the Cambodian monks abroad don’t even know how to teach basic Meditation because they cannot even perform meditation themselves. There are many well-educated monks in Cambodia who have completed their studies in Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, India, but they are not sponsored to conduct religious services for Cambodian communities abroad because those monks do not have connection with the temple leaders abroad.

In fact, the CPP maintains its agents abroad. These agents are ordered to make the round of Cambodian communities and they tacitly tell Cambodians not to be involved with politics because they know that when Cambodians living abroad are involved with politics, of course, they will oppose the ruling CPP party. Buddhist temples have a profound meaning in our Cambodian’s culture: most of our community activities revolve around the temple. Thus, CPP agents are very scared when Cambodians use temples to hold events to discuss how Cambodians living in Cambodia fare – events that these CPP agents label as “Politics,” never mind the fact that these events are merely held to discuss about Human Rights issues or to hold a Candle Light Vigil to pray for an activist unfairly imprisoned in Cambodia.

Moreover, some of the monks, who were originally sponsored to come as religious workers and, later on, they obtain the rights to live abroad permanently, used to be CPP members. Thus, for these CPP-monks, they will always try to preach the “don’t use temples for politics” mantra. Should you meet such monks, please do a research on their background, because, almost 90% of them would have ties with the corrupt monk leaders in Cambodia. While I was visiting California, one of the monks I met was always against using his temple to host any events that are viewed as opposing the current Cambodian government because he said that he does not want to use his temple for politics. Later on, when I met him at a Buddhist event in Cambodia, I was very surprised to find out that, in fact, this Californian monk maintains a very good relationship with Tep Vong and Non Nget.

If the temples abroad are not used for hosting events related to “Politics” – as the CPP agents label them – who will benefit from them? By now, you should be able to answer this question by yourself: of course, the CPP will benefit from them. Thus, when you see a temple that is not allowing the holding of any political events, then that temple is directly or indirectly supporting the corrupt Cambodian government led by CPP.

Below are my two-cent suggestions on how to improve our Cambodian communities practice our religion abroad:
  1. The temple can have a board of directors to help take care of the temple, but that temple must be led by the Monks. The monks should have full rights to decide what to do to improve, maintain the temple, and handle all the financial issues. I saw some temples have more than 10 members in their board of directors just like running a company, but monks are merely puppets in their temple.
  2. Monks must be allowed to drive so they can go to school. Monks must go to school to obtain an education, or at least, so they can speak English enough to handle their own temple. Furthermore, when they can speak English, they can also spread our Cambodian religious practice to other foreigners as well. The monks cannot afford to just chant prayers, sleep and eat. Because of the reasons cited above, for some of the monks, once they obtain their permanent residency status, they would defrock, leave religion and move on with their life simply because they don’t want to be controlled by a helluva board of temple directors.
  3. Monks who are sponsored abroad must at least complete a university degree in Cambodia or in another Asian country, such as Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka or India. Sponsored monks must NOT have family ties or relationship with members of the temple board of directors or other monks in that temple. This condition would provide a fair chance to smart monks who are capable of conducting religious services to come over even if they do not have connections with temples abroad.
  4. Temples should be a place to teach about culture, religion, language to the younger Cambodian generations. Some temples are scared to allow the involvement of young Cambodian members because they are afraid that these young Cambodians would learn their dirty tricks. Just imagine this: if Cambodians abroad control monks and temples as they do now, within the next decade or so, we will not see a single young Cambodian frequenting temples abroad any longer.
  5. Temples should be allowed to host any events that relate to issues of concerns by the Cambodian communities, and it should even allow politicians to come and talk about political issues that are of interest to its Cambodian members.
Of course, there are many Cambodian temples that have done a great job in the United States and Canada. Some temples now even have the Dharma Hall just like in Cambodia. Following my trip across North America, I came up with the following conclusion which, if not 100% true, is at least 90% true: “If you frequent a temple some time back, and you now return to this same temple 10 or 20 years later and it still remains the same, you can tell that the monks in that temple are just being treated as puppets by a bunch of temple board of directors.” The same also goes to temples that have not been upgraded or do not open up to people’s involvement to create more activities to serve our Cambodian communities.


Anonymous said...

why meditate when there is everything serving you?

Anonymous said...

I know one Temple in New Zealand non-political and run by a group of Trustees and they are doing it very well and always growing. Go to

Anonymous said...

Thanks for providing a wonderful insight of the current situation of how our Cambodian practice our religion abroad.

We are Cambodian, most of our are born as Buddhist. I really respect our monks and our religion, but I won donate a penny to the temple that have no activities besides just open up only for practicing our religion blindly...

Anonymous said...

Khmer Buddhist Religious need to change. It should separate from the state otherwise it's just a pupet of the government - no true value of religious. I have not seen one Khmer Buddhist monk takes stand on any social issues to help community. They always need money to build temple where as some members are starving

Khmer ordinary said...

Do you know Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart? What did these two pastors do?

The word GOD formerly refers to the supreme being which is invisible. The existsence of Jesus Christ is about 545 years after the Buddha.

Buddhist monks are ordinary human beings; your Christian pastors are also ordynaly human beings. Both commit bab sometimes. We respect the good; we disrepect the bad.

I told you once before: People write books. Books do not exist by themselves. Some ideas are universally correct. They don't need to be Buddhism, Christianity, or Islamism. If some ideas of the later mean the same or very similar to those of the former, then the later copied the former.

Here is what Asoka, the Indian King 200 years after the Buddha, said, "One should not honour only one's own religion and condemn the religions of others, but one should honour the others' religions for this or that reason. So doing, one helps one's own religion to grow and render service to the religions of others too. In acting otherwise one dig the grave of one's own religion and also does harm to others' religions. Whosoever honours his own religion and condemns others' religions does so indeed through devotion to his own religion, thinking I will glorify my own religion. But in contrary, in so doing he injures his own religion more gravely."

If one is good from within, one has no need to bring rice and rice-pot to go looking for another god.

12:18 AM

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that Achar Hem Chiev was a Buddist monk, and don't forget that in the last election, Hun Sen's police killed Bikkhuk Som Buthoeun for not voting for him. It's OK to use Watt as a place for gathering people, let aside the Buddhist monks.
But if they want to express their opinions, they are welcomed to do so. They are ordinary human beings who won't become enlightened as Buddhas in this life anyway.

Anonymous said...

You hits the right point. I have noticed that Khmer Communities are seriously dividing where Buddhist Temple are created. Most of the Mutual Association and Buddhist Temple Association did not get a long. Association's members more involve in community services unlike Buddhist association members are insane in worry too much of their fate next life. Ex: If the Association host a meeting to discus Khmer issues, the largest number of participants about 20+. But if the temple do fund raising, there are hundreds people participated. Most of them are on SSI and Welfare. They Challenge each other to give donation sometime they gave more then what they get from SSI or Welfare. They cheated the state to get money to the monk. I wish IRS look into their financial records.

Anonymous said...

good point and good observation. yes, the truth hurts! however, don't let that discourage you all. god bless.

Anonymous said...

Dear all,

Don't forget that If the country is gone so does the religion !(Srok Rolout Sasna Kor Roleay Daer!)

Anonymous said...

that was the old thinking, which could be outdated in today's world and society. it may once held truth, however, in today's reality, it may not be truth like this saying anymore! i think sometimes, it is ok to adopt, change, infuse, modify, create, etc of new thinking, etc... some sayings may be truth once upon a time, however, it may not be true in this modern era of ours. just be smarter about it! that's all! god bless.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your brillant observation and suggestions regarding practice of Buddhism, both in cambodia and overseas.
I must say that you have a fair progressive comment, for welfare of cambodians as well as buddhist on the whole.

As it has been clearly detailed, there requires some changes on practice of buddhism, but not in Buddhism itself.
What you may have seen is traditional buddhism vs practicle buddhism. In short, traditional practice is simply" Do what as romans do",following the variable elders or parents have been doing so.This practice is only relevant to either time or places where considered appropriate.
On otherhand, practical buddhism is where moralities and values of buddhism are clearly focused and practiced.In this case,principles of buddhism have to be emphasised, such as causes and affects-karma (scientific principles),gratitude(social values), compassion(built in for every religion),5 percepts(self control/welfares of others).
Principle of self and not self-others and mutual respects based on human rights.Once these two objectives are clearly defined and mutual respect is served,thus peace would be achieved.
All in all,budhism is a study of humanity with the differences of Self and others(natures and livings). It is a complex study where pali is the language taught and interpreted of this study.

Difficulties lie in changes( natural phenominas) and acceptance to the changes an adaptations.
Traditional views and progressive views are to accept changes and adaptations.

Many have seen politics is power,with limited knowledges and poor morality, it becomes disasters. Many cambodians and generations have experienced with endless sufferings.

Buddhism is Bothi which means knowledges.It is the key to resolve physical, emotional, psychological sufferings.And feelings are the cause of sufferings.
And plenty of Poly-tartics(politics) in buddhism,but not be confused with cheat.

Happy learning!

Neang SA
South Australia

Anonymous said...

Dear author
Did you visit 2 Fresno California Temples? If you did, what did you learn?

Yes, your research are 99% right. Let me tell you about these temples in Fresno. The small one will not go far because people who support this temple have reduced every event. Let talk about the big one. It is run by a group of people (board) who have good relationship with CPP and Tep Vong. Tep Vong came here and recruited them to become CPP agents. In the past they sponsorred a few young monks who were handpicked by Tep Vong. When they were here in Fresno, they learned as much as they could about the activities of those whose supported opposition parties and sent the names and messages to CPP in Phnom Penh. They were not afraid to attack any people, who critized CPP, in the middle of temple or at any ceremonies. Some went to college. After a few years in Fresno these young monks quited their monkhood and married. They are now living with Khmer community in different cities such as Long Beach, Oakland and Los Angeles. One of them is still in Fresno. About a month after he quited his monkhood he engaged and bought an $8,000 diamond ring for his 18 years old bride. These former young monks are still working for Tep Vong and CPP.

You should come to Fresno and do a research yourself.

Anonymous said...

Some monks and board of the temple also have connection with Khmer gangs in Fresno.

Anonymous said...

The Op-Ed by CHN is factual information. It shed more light on the already evident fact. Buddhism in Cambodia is worryingly deteriorating - nothing more than political game in disguise appallingly played by the thinly veiled politicians in saffron robe like Tep Vong, Nuon Nget and all their retinue. They have sadly rendered the practice superficial - a mere ritual of demagogue for enriching a small circle of greedy and megalomaniac people. This is indeed unwholesome act on their part. The inevitable natural law of cause and effect will in due course come to fruitions. Tep Vong, Nuon Nget &crew will enjoy the unsurpassed life of luxury awaiting them at the Avici Resort, the 8 star hotel in recognition for their unsurpassed work they have done to Buddhism.

Anonymous said...

There are all kind of monks.CPP monks,SRP monks,Karaoke monks,Monks with AIDS,fortuneteller monks,voodoo monks,drunk monks,fighting monks,adulterous monks,daytime only monks,computer monks,protest monks,restless monks and a lots more.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

4:43 PM Awesome!

I don't to speculate too much about my friends living in the states. This is what happened in the past in the '80s we all go to church with bunch of Khmer kids in those day for many years here in Long Beach we all together as brothers and sisters. During junior high year kids started joining gangs everything went upside down we got beaten by those mexican kids failed to attend church. Afterward in '90s most of us made to high school everything getting worsen killed every now and then. Some of them locked 3-10 years got out be monk most of them cleaned up their sin. Many got married by this during '00s every calmed. Now most of us are back to christian.

Anonymous said...

Just the thought......
Believed what you believe in or prayed to who is that you pray to. The way I see it; Khmer people have been praying day in and day out with no positive result. It sort of make you wonder if there is such thing as God. And if it is, why is Cambodian continued to suffer? One would think that after all the praying that we've succum to, it would wash away all of the sin.

I am going to change 12:18 AM quote to: "If one is good from within, one has no need to bring rice and rice-pot to go looking for God."
Just the thought......

Anonymous said...

wonderful, it is very good knowlegeable for monk leader learn how to lead their temple.

temple in srok khmer should tell old people let kids express their own oppion, not alway tell them shut up and respect only. becaue some of the temple leader is not alway right and these temple leader will manipult the Buddis rule fo law because they want to control their power and some old people are uneducated they completely obey the these buddism manipulate.