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