Friday, June 05, 2009

Ethics in Early Cambodian Buddhism

Note: the author has well accumulated academic credit in this article, but he is likely lacking comprehension of using Theravada terminologies. With this matter, he should not use term "reincarnation" to describe Theravadian teaching. Reincarnation literally derived from Brahmanism's "Avata" which directly translates the concept of permanence of Atman which has been reborn again and again. Atman is the permanent soul and entity in Brahmanism. Buddha had always pointed out that we will be always reborn again and again according to our Kamma (action), Vibaka (consenques), and Kilesa (fetters). Thus, Buddhists accept the rebirth and recycling lives in the concept of impermanent entity. Buddha taught that "all beings are impermant (Anicca) , all counpouned lives (Sanghara) are suffering (Dhukka), and all Dhammas are non-self (Anattha)".

By Sochenda (Ph.D. candidate, Delhi)

The spread of Buddhism to Cambodian Land added new and more numerous gods to the belief systems to offset the perceived declining power of the traditional gods and engender new possible sources of protection. Early Khmer Buddhism offered a more gentle religion with an explanation of the human condition and prescription for a humble life, in contrast to a basis for elite associated with Brahmanism. Rather than a priestly class with their supernatural powers and access to supernatural sanctions, the teachers of Buddhism lived simple lives exemplifying the moral values of the religion and were supported solely by the voluntary contributions of the laity[1]. Buddhism is described by one scholar as “a system of thought, a way of understanding life, an analysis of mental processes, and a series of well-constructed arguments which point towards the adoption of certain attitudes and values and practices which may create the conditions for a new vision of human life and purpose”[2].

Buddhist doctrines speak to the role of sadness and suffering in life (dukha), acceptance of proper relationships between groups in society, the effect of past actions (good and bad) a determinant of the current life circumstances (karma), and proper behavior, humble attitude and merit-making to improve reincarnation. The ethics of Khmer Buddhism are expressed through two interrelated components: the Dhamma or ideas, ideals and truths; and the Vinaya or concepts of social regulation and organization. Buddhist teachings emphasize ethical action that is calculated to enhance moral or “karmic” condition. The whole emphasis is upon turning attention away from the individual towards a shared, common life[3]. Buddhist teaching, for example, clarifies the proper behavior between the major type of human relationships or roles.. Human life is explained as essentially social in character, connected through these interlocking and reciprocal relationships. The Buddhist concept of political authority assumed that given the imperfections of man, a king was needed if social order was to prevail. Suksamran[4] describes the relationship between the king and his subjects as follows: “… the king has reached his exalted position because he was the great merit maker in former lives. Such accumulation of merit entitled him to the kingship… Thus, Buddhist kingship was essentially based on the concept of righteousness… The morality and righteousness of the Dhamma Raja is closely related to the prosperity of his kingdom and the physical and mental well being of his subjects. The king’s conduct and his action have far-reaching consequences since they affected not only his own kingship but the fortunes of the subjects as well who were almost entirely dependent on him.”

The relationship between the ruler and the Sangha was also reciprocal: the ideology of Buddhism needed a supportive political power and the ruler befitted from a legitimizing theology. Buddhism has its origins in the cities of India, and as Max Weber observed, was mainly urban and rationalistic[5]. To maintain the integrity of the teachings and Buddhist precepts presupposes intensive scholarly study and reflection, and Cambodian Buddhism has lacked the resources or perhaps the inclination to engage in either. Buddhism in Cambodia finds its greatest number of followers in rural areas, and has been greatly affected by the rural influences. The merging of classical Buddhist thought with animistic and Brahmanist traditions produces patterns which are quite atypical of Buddhism as practiced elsewhere. What is essentially a social doctrine in ancient Cambodia can best be understood by examining the relationship between its principles and actual practice in social life. Cambodian society is inherently conservative, reflecting its historical position as an agricultural-based folk society and its religious heritage. The constant theme that runs throughout its cultural history has been a search to mitigate the fear of unseen powerful threats to the sense of security of peasants which stemmed from two sources: the unrestrained authority of personal cults (embodied in the role of the elite) to determine the fate of their subjects, and the constellation of numerous spiritual gods with awesome power to inflict retribution should they be ignored.

[1] Trevor Ling, A Buddhist Concept to Build the National Economy. Nationale University of Singapor, 1986.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Suksamran, The Buddhist Concept of Political Authority. Bangkok: Chulalongkorn Unviersity, 1986

[5] Ibid, Ling

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