All very strange, since Vietnam has denied that it ever issued a visa to Sakhorn, as I reported at the time. It is deeply unclear what jurisdiction Vietnam has over Sakhorn’s activities in Cambodia.
That’s right, everybody, there’s a new Khmer Vihear in town – it’s beautiful, on top of a hill surrounded by farmland, in traditional Khmer style of modern building materials, has an ‘activated’ Buddha image, an abbot and a few resident monks, and as of today, a fully active and installed sima (boundary).
Every temple requires a boundary – at least around one building, which is the location of the regular mutual and public confession sessions. In these sessions, the collected monks at a local hermitage gather together to chant, collectively and in unison, the 227 ascetic rules (the monastic code, essentially). They are also supposed to confess if they have transgressed any of these prior to the group chanting of the rule. Punishments or restrictions are also meted out, according to settled Vinaya tradition.
The maintenance of a sacred ascetic discipline is not often the most interesting of subjects for Western students of Buddhism, who are more often drawn to the doctrinal or even, of late, the ritual. Very little work has been done on the Vinaya. (That said, the work that does exist on Vinaya is most commonly exceedingly excellent, and very rarely read). However, among the Buddhist laity in Southeast Asia, it is the adherence to this ascesis which qualifies monks, more than any other qualification, as valid fields of merit. Without this ascesis, monks are frauds. Beyond the personal human tragedy involved in living life as a fraud, it also makes the monk a fradulent means of creating merit.
Given this emphasis, it is perhaps not at all surprising that the singlemost important community ritual in Cambodian Buddhism is widely considered to be the Bun Bañjoh Sima Ceremony, (បុណ្យបញ្ចុះស៉ីមា – The Meritorious Boundary Foundation Ceremony, or Sima Ceremony) in which the necessary Sima installation is performed, and the confession and public recognition of a community’s morality is publicly acclaimed and validated.
And it was with great pomp, fanfare, and acclaim that Wat Munisotaram in Hampton, Minnesota, today completed the final day of their four-day Sima Ceremony. They join a select group of Khmer Buddhist temples in the United States, but even rarer is the existence of a new Vihear (central shrine, and in modern times, the location of the confessions, hence the site of the sima boundary) in traditional Khmer style, made out of modern materials. I made a previous visit with a class of mine, and had a wonderful time in the aloneness of the area – it was just us and the monks for miles around. More than a bit different from today! (( purists beware! This is not an art history blog! I refer only to the fact that the temple is shaped roughly like a Khmer Buddhist temple and attempts to follow some basic rules of form!!!)) Continue reading
Choeung Ek has slowly been experiencing a proliferation of different types of commemoration. It used to be the case that Choueng Ek was strongly controlled – but never truly monopolized – by the Cambodian People’s Party, for the benefit of the reproduction of the CPP message – “We saved you people from Pol Pot – We’re all that’s protecting you now.” But once the May 20th commemorations were restarted, enough morbid interest began to accumulate in the international press that Phnom Penh began to grow its tourist numbers. Instead of flying into Angkor Wat from Bangkok and then turning straight back around, tourists were now starting to visit Phnom Penh as well. But where they saw temples in Siem Reap, they saw Choueng Ek and S-21 in Phnom Penh. Cambodia, the land where a nation sells views of its past in one city, and sells memories of its past in another. Anyway… Continue reading
I’ve written before on monks and voting, implying that for the most part, non-Cambodians don’t understand the ambiguity of emotions and opinions of the majority of Cambodians on this issue. It’s a bit like most white Americans trying to understand the black American response to the OJ Simpson verdict. But the latest news moves the goalposts a little farther. Seeming to accept that monks will vote in the next election, the election monitors have tried to set a bar against them running for office.
Tep Vong is holding his tongue about the recent spate of affirmations of monks’ rights to vote (he has previously been much opposed).
Lots of reading this week: The new Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, almost completely on Cambodia; David Graeber’s big book on anthropological value, Thom Hartmann’s atrocious but well-intentioned eco-nightmare, and Alfie Kohn’s lovely caution against bribing your kids.
Here’s another piece of monkish news. A Siem Reap provincial wat recently built a new vihear – a very popular activity for temples, since it creates a great deal of activity at the temple and can bring in a great deal of money. The problem, as always, is that there were accusations that the money was not well-spent. (More likely, people were accusing them of not spending all the money given). Regardless of the truth or falsity of the claims, the squabble has degenerated into two camps: those who want to hold the monks involved ‘responsible,’ and those who argue that such a desire means they don’t know how to properly respect monks or the religion.
Full story here.