This is the Khmer Proverb that supplies the title of my dissertation: “Treasures of the Buddha: Imagining Death and Life in Contemporary Cambodia.”
The treasures of man are women, wine, cars and villas
The treasures of the angels include incense and candles, but
The treasures of the Buddha are the grave and nirvana.
The proverb, which is somewhat obviously ‘non-traditional,’ speaks to what different types of beings consider valuable, and was my entrée to discussions of value in Cambodia, and its transformations, which is the focus of my dissertation.
The last line identifies the treasures of the Buddha with death and (the impossible-to-conceive) nirvana. How is this a value? Khmer often find this proverb both funny and unnerving, since it mirrors back to the monastic establishment what they themselves say about value and the treasures of the Buddha, but does so in such a blatant way that they are convinced, somehow, that it is somehow ‘sacrilegious.’