2009.02.07: February 7, 2009: Headlines: COS - Cambodia: Blogs - Cambodia: Religion: Personal Web Site: Peace Corps Volunteer You're Not Asking the Right Questions writes: Buddhism

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Cambodia: Peace Corps Cambodia: Peace Corps Cambodia: Newest Stories: 2009.02.07: February 7, 2009: Headlines: COS - Cambodia: Blogs - Cambodia: Religion: Personal Web Site: Peace Corps Volunteer You're Not Asking the Right Questions writes: Buddhism

By Admin1 (admin) (151.196.46.182) on Saturday, February 14, 2009 - 5:24 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps Volunteer You're Not Asking the Right Questions writes: Buddhism

Peace Corps Volunteer You're Not Asking the Right Questions writes: Buddhism

"The first thing I noticed was how different Buddhism is here from what I saw in Japan. The Buddhism that came to Japan passed through China first, whereas the Buddhism that is here in Cambodia came directly from India. Buddhism in China and Japan are strongly influenced by Confucianism, Taoism, and other Chinese beliefs, whereas the Buddhism here has none of that, and is strongly influenced by Hinduism. The major difference is architecturally. The Temples that I saw in Japan were built with dark wood, and had an earthy feel to them. The Wats here are all painted with bright colors and have a very Indian feel to them. Of course, the Wats here were almost all built within the last twenty years. The Khmer Rouge, being communists, werenít very big on religion. Many Wats were destroyed, and the monks suffered manyÖindignities."

Peace Corps Volunteer You're Not Asking the Right Questions writes: Buddhism

Buddhism
2-7-09

I realize I havenít really written about what itís like to live in a Buddhist country. Iíve written about Pchum Ben and other major festivals that Iíve experienced, but not really about the day to day stuff that makes living in a Buddhist country unique.

The first thing I noticed was how different Buddhism is here from what I saw in Japan. The Buddhism that came to Japan passed through China first, whereas the Buddhism that is here in Cambodia came directly from India. Buddhism in China and Japan are strongly influenced by Confucianism, Taoism, and other Chinese beliefs, whereas the Buddhism here has none of that, and is strongly influenced by Hinduism. The major difference is architecturally. The Temples that I saw in Japan were built with dark wood, and had an earthy feel to them. The Wats here are all painted with bright colors and have a very Indian feel to them. Of course, the Wats here were almost all built within the last twenty years. The Khmer Rouge, being communists, werenít very big on religion. Many Wats were destroyed, and the monks suffered manyÖindignities.

But Buddhism is worked in so deeply to the fabric of life here that not even a genocidal communist regime could drive it away. Today there are Wats all over the countryside. I can think of three just within the immediate area of my site. And the monks are an important part of society again. Every day you can see them out begging alms from the town.

Becoming a monk is something that a lot of young men do for a few years. It really is a good opportunity to improve your life here. For one thing, you get free room and board at the Wat. For another, you get a lot of opportunities that you wouldnít have otherwise had. Iíve spoken to a lot of monks who took the vows simply because then that they would have an opportunity to go to University. Some larger Wats have schools on the temple grounds, so that the monks can get an education. I teach at one in Svay Rieng town on Sundays. For some, becoming a monk is the only way that they would be able to get an education. For others, they became a monk simply because there family could not afford to feed them, much less send them to school.

There are also those people who became monks because they fell in with the wrong crowd, and their parents sent them away to the Wat to keep them out of trouble. If you go to a Wat, chances are you will see at least a few monks with tattoos, or obvious old wounds. There are at least two obviously ex-gangster monks in my class alone. Generally they are pretty nice guys now.

Other than the monks and the reverence showed to them by the general public (there is a whole level of formal speech that you need to use when addressing monks), Buddhism in the general public isnít that in your face. People usually have a small shrine at their house that they will place food and money in for offerings, and they often attend major shrine festivals (Phcum Ben, Katan). But thatís pretty much it. It isnít like a Christian or Muslim country, where the devout go to the religious institution of their choice at least once a week. Granted, elderly Cambodians are more likely to spend a fair amount of time at the Wat, but younger people just generally go about their business.

Except for the belief in ghosts. Ghosts are a major part of Buddhist and Cambodian folklore, and I get asked about them a fair amount. When I tell my students that I donít believe in ghosts (I actually take a sort of agnostic view towards the subject, but for the purpose of this writing that is neither here nor there, and would be too complicated to explain to my students given the language barrier) they look at me like Iím stupid. Like Iím telling them that I donít believe that the sky is blue. Or like telling devout Christians that you donít believe in God.

So I guess living in a Buddhist country isnít that much different for me after all.




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