An email of CAN and Campro member questioning on the daily Dana or charity in Cambodia has drawn attention members a lot to further explore this social recurring puzzling question. Sophal Chan who initiated this question upon his field research and observation over Tver Bon or Making Merit by Cambodian people. It has not been consistent with the well-being and living standard of those religious people at all while those poor donors have will to donate huge amount of materials rather than use those material for the demand of their daily living. The question possibly falls upon what term Tver Bon's equivalency to the English one ie ceremony, making merit or ritual etc? Why many Cambodian people can afford to donate and prepare luxurious rituals to dedicate to their dead relatives or parents more than plan to inject those money to the present daily living or make their living standard well off? Does the belief in next life overturn this life in term of making merit?
As a member of both CAN and Campro, and as my keen research interest has tremendously fallen up Cambodian Buddhism, Cambodian leadership and culture; I wish to take this opportunity to elaborate to the best of my ability.
I will not try to answer those questions substantially but I will pick up some important agenda on the core value of Buddhism and the way of practices that Cambodian Buddhists should do.
Is ritual important in Buddhism?
In general, Buddhism is composed of five fundamental pillars:
1. Founder or Saasadaa which refers to Lord Buddha or the term means Enlightened One or Awaken One
2. The teaching or Dhamma or Saasanathir which refers to His teaching totaling of 840,000 chapters comprising of 110 books within Cambodian Tripitaka version.
3. The monk community or Sangha or Saasana Saavaka which refers to four different types of followers such as Bhikkhu monk, Bhikkunii monk, lay man or Upaasaka, and lay woman or Upaasikaa
4. The rituals or Saasana Pithii which refers to rites, ceremonies, function, celebration, commemoration, charity, volunteering, worshiping and other activities to accumulate merits
5. The sacred places or pilgrimages or Saasanasathaan which refers to holy places of Buddhism such as Birthplace, Stupa for Relics, Bodhi tree, temples and other sanctuaries.
By mentioning above five fundamental pillars, ritual is important in Buddhism.
What are those rituals?
In general, we can distinguish rituals into two types:
1. Pure Buddhist rituals which refer to any ceremonies are conducted to honor Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Those activities are including daily worshiping or chanting, Vishaka Bochea day, Magha Bochea day, Asalaha Bochea day, Buddhist Lent, Buddhist out of Lent, Kathina, ordination etc.
2. Traditional Buddhist rituals which refer to any ceremonies are conducted to get along with tradition, culture and local belief. Those activities are including Khmer New Year, Bon Pchum Ben or Ancestor Festival, Bon Pachai Boun or four necessities offering, Bon Teakenaanupatean or Offering for the Death, wedding, funeral, gratefulness or longevity parita chanting etc.
Beside these, there are many merit making or social activities such as volunteering, charity to the poor and destitutes, the engaging in protecting environment, the engaging in treatment of the HIV/AIDS population, or the engagement in the guarding on those peaceful rallies etc.
Political Scientist Jean-Jacques Rousseau said in his book on "Social Contract" that political leadership is the distribution between "leaders" and "followers". Leaders can shape and change attitude of followers; and followers can shape and change capacity building of the leaders. The interaction of these two contracts has evolved in accordance to culture, geography, political climate and norms etc.
Cambodia has been known for her history of great Angkor civilization and the renewal of this pride has been strongly embedded within Cambodian mindset. Among other means to legitimate power and the effective communication of the political contract is the charity activities.
Rousseau pointed that the leaders can apply all his capacity to utilize the existing pattern of culture and belief to infuse their power. It is the comprehension of the leaders to know their followers very well in order to lead them. If leaders don't know the mindset of their followers, the interaction and power communication will vanish spontaneously. Thus, Rousseau encouraged legislators to draft and amend the neutral laws to mediate and neutralize any types of power abusing by the leaders.
Buddha's principle teaching is not different from Rousseau's. All rituals are encouraged to cultivate all good, to give up all evils and to cleanse one own's mind. Any rituals which are not supportive to the practice of the Dhamma were dismissed by the Buddha. Buddha dismissed Bhikkhu monks who have conducted rituals such as charming spell, good luck writing, palm reading, tattooing, fortune telling, water sprinkling and others in which He addressed that Bhikkhu monks are highly revered and if any Bhikkhu monks conducted such rituals, it is comparing like lowering themselves down to the lowest level and they are running a business which is not the duty of the Sangha.
In my book "Political Leadership: Which Way Cambodian Leaders Should Choose to Pursue?" (it will be for the public soon) has thoroughly elaborated on the way Charity in Buddhism for Cambodian people should be undertaken. The premises that all leaders and followers must be mindful to practice in accordance to the Buddha's teaching are:
1. Giver (Daayaka/Daayikaa) must be in good stand of morals, pure mind and courteous.
2. Receiver (Padikhaahaka) must be in good stand of discipline (Vinaya), pure mind and behaviour.
3. Material (Teyavattu) must be in good stand of right livelihood, pure and unconditional.
Merit and sin in Buddhism cannot be traded off or interchangeable. If one stole and killed, one cannot expect to make merits in order to redeem sins at all.