AK-47 gunpoint is the "religious respect" shown by cops in the Hun Xen's regime to Khmer Krom monks who tried to send a petition to the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh
“Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.” – Mohandas Gandhi, Political and Spiritual Leader of the Indian Independence Movement (1869 - 1948).Friday, April 16, 2010
Op-Ed by NEAY KRUD’TH
While Americans ruminate over the issue of pushing religion on their government and leadership (politicizing religion) despite the principal of separation between church and state, we Khmer, the laity and the Sangha community, cannot afford to continue down the path of relative passivity while being ensnared by the religious paradox which was the unintended consequence of the Theravada Buddhist tradition established by our predecessors during the previous centuries.
While struggling to recover from the recent trauma and at the same time gathering strength to crawl out of the carnage, we must also realize that the perpetual dark era of self-destruction afflicting us Khmer was hardly the result of an unmitigated interference of the Khmer Sangha and laity with the game of political monopoly of the privileged ruling elites. On the contrary we have been so naïve to remain silent not to “rock the boat” until politics run amok, and swept our lives, hopes and dreams over the precipice. Our present adversaries (foreign and domestic) continue their flagrant encroachment on our liberty and security with impunity because they conclude that we have degenerated into an amorphous, fractionalized nation without clear leadership or central structure. Slowly but persistently they have exploited our disunity by keeping us isolated, surrounding us with sustained threat, intimidation and uncertainty to wear down our resolve, until such time when no one is looking they will then swiftly finish us off.
The foundation of our Khmer nation has been and continues to be rice farming. Cambodia has no natural wealth to speak of other than its people, the land, and the mercy of the monsoon rain. The author has heard of the latest discovery of oil and gas off-shore, but remains very skeptical as to how much, if any, our country will truly benefit from this new found wealth. Throughout our history, the mutual duties and the intimate relationship between Sangha and laity has provided a stable basis for the persistence of our Buddhist faith (Sāsana) through the centuries, which in the absence of a reliable central civic leadership became the de facto source of our comfort, certainties, moral guidance and strength that kept us moving along through the rise and fall of our country’s economic and political fortune.
Traditionally, the socio-economic make up of our country is predominantly peasants and farmers. Khmers have always been a very independent and proud race ― we like neither take nor give orders. In recent past, common Khmers would eagerly tell any foreigner that “we Khmer may be poor and unsophisticated, but we are contented people”. But since the Paris Peace Agreement of October 1991, the country is seeing more and more of its population moving out of rural farmland, perhaps not by choice but out of necessity, or worst as of lately by brutal evictions (which is often sanctioned by the powerful elites), at an unprecedented rate, to become urban laborers, pouring en-masse into urban slums to eke out a living off city sweatshops, construction sites, and out of all places city streets and landfills. This new phenomenon should serve as an ominous sign of a serious breakdown in our social fabric. This growing evidence of social degradation must never be allowed to escape the conscience of any Khmer. It should be seen as a dire warning which should prompt all of us to urgently exercise our collective wisdom and act decisively to avert the devastating impact on the old and fragile mutual social support system which is already on a shaky ground. The author would like to ask our compatriots to imagine what has happened to “failed states” such as Somalia (No.1 at the bottom of the heap, Cambodia is at No. 49 and sliding), Zimbabwe, Sudan, Haiti and the one close to home ― Burma. There must be an urgent and serious effort to figure out what measure or remedy readily available that can be applied to stem the rising tide of poverty and hopelessness among our less fortunate citizens who are rapidly becoming dispossessed people in their own ancestral land. The prospect of a genuine, meaningful governmental or outside intervention on our behalf is slim to none.
The author doesn’t think the answer to our survival lies in the past, but rather in the realm of the future. Thus, using traditions to put constraint on our monastic orders, such as favored by a certain sector of our traditional Buddhist Elders, is self-defeating, and is hardly a viable solution to the crushing challenge laid in our path. We must not forget that personally and collectively we have paid an utterly steep price for adopting the traditional approach of total obedience, conformant, and avoiding collision with the status quo. We have played this political game into the hand of the oppressors and put ourselves at a grave disadvantage. It’s irresponsible of us to subject future generations of Khmer Sangha or otherwise, to this kind of blunder and keeps on paying the horrendous price. For those of the laity and the Sangha Elders who advocate narrow interpretation of the monastic orders code of conduct given in the context of traditional Theravada teaching, the author would like to offer this excerpt of the Buddha addressing his disciples in the preaching hall at Rajagaha shortly before he passed away, for the purpose of further discussion:
“O Bhikkhus, as long as you remain united and meet together frequently, so the Sangha will continue to flourish and prosper. So long as you meet together and decide all important questions in union and harmony one with another, and do not make new and oppressive rules, hard to keep, where I have made none, but strictly for your help and protection, ― so long as you do this, the Sangha will never decay and die out.”The History of Abuses Past and Present:Mahaparinibbana
The Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime was full of demagoguery and false promises. In addition to running a popularity contest against the Sangha for legitimacy of its party and securing loyalty from the laity community, it treated the Sangha with contempt ― a proclaimed Buddhist State, Sangkum-Reastr-Niyum’s Cambodia put three dissidents on public execution by firing-squad.
The Khmer Republic regime of General Lon Nol and Samdech Sisowath Siri Matak burned the bridge to the Sangha. Field commanders of the Khmer Republic Army hard-pressed by strategic and tactical imperatives often violate the sanctity of Khmer wats and the monks with impunity.
Until this day the author is still wondering ― what if Samdech Norodom Sihanouk and General Lon Nol had the God-given wisdom to make conciliatory gesture toward the Sangha to encourage them to open up and voice their concerns, and to tap into their input at the time, before dragging the uninformed Khmer mass into the impending doom? Would our fate have turned out differently? Similar egomania is still being observed in the country’s “high places” today.
The Khmer Rouge regime began to move-in on the Sangha long before their final victory in 1975. No sooner than when their control apparatus was up and running, KR swiftly and brutally uprooted the monastic orders and buried them along the laity. If anyone had a better knowledge about wat politics, it was the KR cadres who possessed a deep and thorough understanding of the influence of the Sangha on the laity and the dynamics of the mutual relationship between the two communities. How do they get to be that clever? ― They were the sons of rural peasants and farmers who were once sheltered and fed by the wats while pursuing higher education away in the cities and provincial towns. To KR leaderships, the Sangha/Laity solidarity is the equivalent of a powerful locomotive with an activate/energize switch (the Sangha) followed by a long line of freight cars (laity), waiting to be activated/energized at any moment by the consensus of the people, unleashing the run-away train on the upcoming violent regime. To leave this threatening mechanism standing is suicidal. Unfortunately, unbeknown to both communities, the logic circuit was severed by KR long before anyone even had the wisdom to realize that such a mechanism existed.
Additionally in hindsight, considering the socio-economic condition at the time, the author envisions that if the laity were relatively prosperous and stable to where they can afford to keep the youngsters in school, or to induct them into traditional temporary service in the monastery, while the employment prospect was not so bleak for them, the idea of accepting AK-47 rifles and rocket propelled grenades from either faction to hunt down one another in exchange for a daily ration would not have become so appealing to the hearts and minds of young Khmers. The author still remember the year preceding the regime change of 1970, our then beloved Samdech Norodom Sihanouk went on the national airwave chastising and threatening to punish our dimwitted peasants for undermining the national and provincial road embankments in many part of the country while they were digging for crickets, frogs, crabs, and snakes along the sides of the roads. During the entire episode, neither Samdech nor his administration mentioned a word about the country “food shortage” and/or “hungry population”.
The present regime, CPP & Associates, Inc., does not even bother to invent new bag of tricks to perform their deeds, they just replay the old familiar political scripts from the Sangkum Reastr Niyum era.
Currently the Sangha are being exploited by the establishment through seemingly charitable acts, such as sponsoring the reconstruction and restoration of dilapidated wats in exchange for the Sangha’s loyalty to the regime ― the practice of “see no evil, hear no evil” is expected of the community receiving the gift. This tactics also works as a wedge to split the already weaken Sangha/Laity solidarity further apart. The author has heard tales of Lexus SUV’s jamming dirt roads in and around the wats during Buddhist events and ceremonies, when new crop of wealthy elites pay visit to their “sponsored” wats to demonstrate their pious deeds or in other words to “max-out” merits with fresh cash, while ragged beggars and hungry homeless children warily looked on.
Buddha’s terms for democracy and politics ― “conditions of welfare” and the “precepts of righteousness”
Ajatassatu the king of Magadha had just launched a coup against his father king Bimbisara and took over the throne, and now is planning to invade a peaceful neighboring state of the Vajjis. He sent one of his Brahman (an equivalent of a Prime Minister) as an envoy to probe what the Buddha might think or say ― “I will bring the Vajjis to utter ruin! Come now, O Brahman, and go to the Blessed One; inquire in my name for his health, and tell him my purpose. Bear carefully in mind what the Blessed One may say, and repeat it to me, for the Buddhas speak nothing untrue”. The Brahman PM ran off to Buddha’s abode, greeted him and delivered the message.
Instead of answering the PM directly Buddha first turned to Venerable Ananda (his lifetime aide-de-camps) and asked ― “Ananda, have you heard that the Vajjis hold full and frequent public assemblies (i.e. congressional sessions)?” Ananda replied ― “Lord, so I have heard,”
He then went on ― “Ananda, so long as the Vajjis hold these full and frequent public assemblies, they may be expected not to decline but to prosper. So long as they meet together and in concord, so long as they honor their elders, so long as they respect womanhood, so long as they remain religious, performing all the proper rites, so long as they extend the rightful protection, defense and protect the monks and priest, the Vajjis may be expected not to decline but to prosper.”
Finally, he turned to Ajatassatu’s envoy and said ― “When I stayed, O Brahman, at Vasali (the city-state of the Vajjis), I taught the Vajjis these conditions of welfare, that so long as they remained so instructed, so long as they continue in the right path, so long as they live up to the precepts of righteousness, we could expect them to not to decline, but to prosper”
Note that Buddha’s concept of democratic government and social equality and justice is more than two thousand years prior to the American Founding Fathers and the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, his diplomatic and political principle is nothing short of magnificent and was way ahead of his time ― instead of telling the envoy to “do or don’t”, he showed him the “moral high-road”, so as to let the PM and his king make informed decision among themselves. Instead of simply say “you can’t beat the Vajjis, they are solid as rock because they practice democracy” he emphasized that the Vajjis will always prevail; they know how to live as a united and virtuous nation; and that Buddha himself taught them this virtue. His wisdom and foresight is revolutionary, and astounding.
The author considers Buddha’s teaching was, and is clearly a very progressive political virtue, so relevant to the old as much as to the new world we are living in. Ironically we Khmer have not been a Progressive Buddhist Nation. The only probable explanation which comes to mind is that perhaps we have only consumed the “bark of the Dharma Tree”, in other words the superficial aspect of Buddhism such as rituals and ceremonies etc, but have yet to taste the “core of Buddha’s Dharma”. It is now critical and urgent that Khmer must shed our utter ignorance and begin to search earnestly for the solid foundation of true wisdom and strength within this core. Until we find it, our collective existence as a free nation is increasingly overburdened with fear, disorientation, disunity, and misery that will end only after our cultural heritage, religion, identity and freedom is finally crushed and reduced into an ash heap of history.
“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is Lord” ― Niccolò Machiavelli, Italian Philosopher/Writer (1469 – 1527)