Author Topic: A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism  (Read 1964 times)

Offline former monk john

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A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism
« on: May 16, 2013, 01:08:30 am »
This is an interview I did at the Cambodian Therevada Temple where I was briefly a monk, and recounted with rather poor response on a different forum over two years ago. The interview is with one of the senior Lay leaders at the temple who was a monk for 10 years in Cambodia, and attended A Buddhist College/school in Cambodia. It was an attempt to cover the basic elements of Buddhism as presented to beginners from A Cambodian Thervada perspective; Thank you

A VISIT TO THE CAMBODIAN BUDDHIST TEMPLE
Today was an exciting day, I got up early and around ten drove the the local Therevada Cambodian Temple in Loma Linda, California USA. We have almost the largest concentration of refugee immigrants from Cambodia and Vietnam in the USA and at the temple things go on much the same way they do in Asia, white people like me are real rarity and there has been very little "westernization" of the Buddha's message. The monk who speaks good english was away so I talked for 1 1/2 hrs to an old friend who was one of the elders at the temple, attending almost every day and very knowledgeable on the Buddha as he had been a monk for ten years back in Cambodia, before starting a family.

The first thing I did was go over some facts about Buddhism, ideas I had been almost ridiculed for on this forum such as Buddha's being an advocate of vegetarianism, but Ill leave that for the bottom of this post. I questioned him on the most basic teaching of Buddhism, how important were the precepts etc. To the best of my recollection this is what he said in more broken english than mine;

"The most important, central teaching of the Buddha is Love, Love for those around us, and Love for everyone, then compassion for everyone" He went over and over this teaching, it was obvious he considers it much more important than following the rules like the precepts, I asked him about how important it was to follow the precepts, he thought very important; He really scoffed when I brought of the idea People calling themselves buddhist who weren't bothering to keep the precepts, he thought that was bad. In his opinion he said"the most important precept is number 5, no drugs and alcohol, drunks are more likely to kill and break the other precepts, understanding the religion requires a clear mind and you can't get a clear mind when you are using drugs and alcohol" remember I was asking him which precepts were the most important to the beginner or buddhist young person.

He agreed wholeheartedly that buddhism promoted a simple life, not addicted to a lot of things , and that it was fairly conservative religion, not a lot of partying etc, although in southeast asian tradition they often have fairly festive "parties" or religious events at the temple, with lots of people, live bands, dancing and free food. I talked to him about being single and he mentioned"its better to be a monk all your life, having a wife and family makes it harder to be a good person because it splits your time. It's good that your single, that's like being a monk, its easier to grow in the religion that way"

We talked at length about reincarnation and the soul. These Therevada people definetly believe in past lives, future lives and reincarnation and the soul, but he told me the soul dies with the body, its the Spirit that was before and reincarnates and always will be. I asked him about Bodhissatvas, people who reincarnate back on earth repeatedly to help mankind, he definetly agreed with this teaching but had not heard the term Bodhisattva or I was pronouncing it wrong or something. I asked him about buddha nature, is everyone born with a small buddha nature that can grow and grow even into being a full buddha, and that anyone can do that, he wholeheartadly agreed, though once again the term buddha nature was of course something different in his language.

On vegetarianism he said basically what I have recounted before"the Buddha himself was a vegetarian, but he didnt say everyone has to be one, but he definetly indicated it was better to be vegetarian, in my country we have meditation schools that are very strict and they are all vegetarian, also in Vietnam and China the Buddhist temples are almost all vegetarian. It's very bad to kill animals, but we are allowed to buy meat killed by some one else and eat it, but this is not ideal,I would never kill any animal even a chicken or a fish, the ideal of the Buddha is be vegetarian, animals are just as good as people, anything that breathes deserves to be treated well especially animals, the Buddha came not just for people but for the animals as well, the Buddha came for every living creature(sentient being) to benefit them all" Please believe me this is my best recollection of a conversation this morning with a venerateed temple elder, not my own thought or words, as I've already put my thoughts in writing; I'll leave it at that.

Lastly the issue of Lying, is it OK to lie to prevent a greater crime, he just didnt know one way or the other but agreed lying to prevent killing seemed right, but he didnt know what the scripture said, he had been a monk many years ago starting in his teens and he is approaching 70 now.Thats all for now, thank you for your time. sincerely John


« Last Edit: May 16, 2013, 01:14:59 am by former monk john »
to me, the signs of a successful practice are happiness and a cessation of suffering, buddhism often gives me this; not all the answers.

Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism
« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2013, 02:25:14 am »
We talked at length about reincarnation and the soul. These Therevada people definetly believe in past lives, future lives and reincarnation and the soul, but he told me the soul dies with the body, its the Spirit that was before and reincarnates and always will be.

John, did you get the distinction he made here between "soul" and "Spirit"?

Offline former monk john

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Re: A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism
« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2013, 02:34:37 am »
I think we have to be aware that these are English words that he might not be totally familiar with their exact meaning, but no I did not go into any length to try and determine what those words exactly meant to him, maybe next time. But I think the idea is the "soul" is not permanent and dies but something, call it "spirit" existed before and goes on to our future lives, maybe this is his word for the "subtle conciousness" other people refer to????

Also I should add these are the words of a conservative 70 Yr old man, and perhaps not so reflective of a younger generation of more liberal thinkers.
to me, the signs of a successful practice are happiness and a cessation of suffering, buddhism often gives me this; not all the answers.

Offline Hanzze

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Re: A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2013, 04:15:23 am »
Buddha Dhamma is neither reflected by gray hairs and even lesser by younger generation of more liberal thinkers, John.

There is neither a "soul" nor a "spirit" but that fits well with normal peoples idea of identity. There is cause and effect, nothing else.

The outstanding destructor of Cambodians Buddhism and way preparer for the holocaust with his nationalism was the "hero" Chuon Nath. He was the founder of modern Khmer love and nationalism and still has his use for all kind of politicans:

Khmer Soul Research Center has built upon the curiosity to explore the Mentality and Conscience of Khmer Race/Nationality, Khmer Culture/Tradition/Buddhism, Khmer Social Security, Khmer

Khmer Soul Research Center Seminar on 17 March 2012


National Hymn composed by Chuon Nath:


English Translation

1
Heaven protects our King
And gives him happiness and glory
To reign over our souls and our destinies,
The one being, heir of the Sovereign builders,
Guiding the proud old Kingdom.
 

2
Temples are asleep in the forest,
Remembering the splendour of Moha Nokor.
Like a rock the Khmer race is eternal.
Let us trust in the fate of Kampuchea,
The empire which challenges the ages.
 
3
Songs rise up from the pagodas
To the glory of holy buddhistic faith.
Let us be faithful to our ancestors' belief.
Thus heaven will lavish its bounty
Towards the ancient Khmer country, the Moha Nokor.

 


Offline former monk john

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Re: A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism
« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2013, 04:50:57 am »
I have the deepest respect for Cambodia and the Cambodian people, they were so wonderful to me, the reason I mentioned the soul and spirit is its a simple fact that not all buddhists buy into the modern interpretation of"no-soul" it really is a matter of theological debate, and unfortunatley we only hear the more nihilistic arguements of no soul on these forums, its certainly nothing I was taught at the temple, though only my one young monk friend spoke good English, many of the lay persons did speak some English, believe it or not even the notion Of God is foreign to all Buddhists, whether they picked it up by mixing Christian ideas I don't know, I tend to believe more what I was taught by monks than what I read on forums, that's just me.

The important thing to realize is there isn't just one right way to believe Buddhism, a lot of these concepts we hear are controversial and not accepted by all, for instance meditation plays a very small role in the Buddhism taught at my temple, certainly rare devoted monks meditated more, but actual silent meditation in our group prayers/chanting lasted about 5 minutes/day, and we certainly weren't expected to go off in our rooms and meditate more, though of course we were free to if we wanted. Of course the chanting is a form of meditation/devotion and we did quite a bit of that, but I could only learn a small percent of the pali prayers, the rest of the time I listened.

Also they don't sit cross legged very much, but sideways, sitting on your legs going to one side, or kneeling sitting on the heels of your feet, quite good yoga for a westerner!!
to me, the signs of a successful practice are happiness and a cessation of suffering, buddhism often gives me this; not all the answers.

Offline Hanzze

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Re: A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism
« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2013, 05:20:40 am »
Quote
The Lonely Path

Whatever there is in the mind: If our reasons aren't yet good enough, we can't let it go. In other words, there are two sides: this side here and that side there. People tend to walk along this side or along that side. There's hardly anybody who walks along the middle. It's a lonely path. When there's love, we walk along the path of love. When there's hatred, we walk along the path of hatred. If we try to walk by letting go of love and hatred, it's a lonely path. We aren't willing to follow it.


Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism
« Reply #6 on: May 16, 2013, 06:15:05 am »
The important thing to realize is there isn't just one right way to believe Buddhism...

Yes, that's certainly true, I guess people can get attached to a particular way of looking at things.  One of the things I like about Buddhism is it's diversity, all these different traditions and methods of practice.

Offline Hanzze

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Re: A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism
« Reply #7 on: May 16, 2013, 06:35:28 am »
At the end even developing faith of what was taught... NO... pure fundamentalism, it's much better to be (conditioned) liberal as fare we can.


 
Papañca & the path to end conflict

In a striking piece of poetry (Sn 4:15), the Buddha once described the sense of samvega–terror or dismay–that inspired him to look for an end to suffering.

I will tell
of how
I experienced
samvega.
Seeing people floundering
like fish in small puddles,
competing with one another–
as I saw this,
fear came into me.
The world was entirely
without substance.
All the directions
were knocked out of line.
Wanting a haven for myself,
I saw nothing
that wasn’t laid claim to.
Seeing nothing in the end
but competition,
I felt discontent.

Rather than trying to solve the problem by looking for a larger puddle for himself or his fellow fish, he looked inside to see why people would want to be fish in the first place. What he found was an arrow embedded in his own heart:
And then I saw
an arrow here,
so very hard to see,
embedded in the heart.
Overcome by this arrow
you run in all directions.
But simply
on pulling it out
you don’t run,
you don’t sink.

This arrow has many names in the Pali Canon–the oldest extant record of the Buddha’s teachings–and one of them is papañca. Papañca is a type of thinking that causes conflict within those who think it, and leads them into conflict with people outside....[so many links]

Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism
« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2013, 06:40:20 am »
.... for instance meditation plays a very small role in the Buddhism taught at my temple, certainly rare devoted monks meditated more, but actual silent meditation in our group prayers/chanting lasted about 5 minutes/day, and we certainly weren't expected to go off in our rooms and meditate more...

I've had some contact with Thai Buddhists in the UK, and the impression I have is that lay-Buddhists in that culture don't do much sitting meditation.  They feel their main role is to support the monks, and "in return" the monks give Dhamma talks.

Offline Hanzze

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Re: A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism
« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2013, 09:31:40 am »
Common is that even the monks never do meditation. They are usually not able and prepared for such. Southeastern Asian Temples (I am sure it's not different with others) do not really have such a purpose but are mainly cultural centers.
They are political platform, mostly of the countries opposition, base for trade and all illegal stuff you would not have even seen in spectacular movies.

One needs first: Understand the language very good and second have real relation, to get some ideas of what is actually going on "subtle". As a western you would not have any idea and you are actually nothing but a potential marriage candidate or and a potential donor.
For sure that does not count for every person involved in such clubs but for 95% and of such you should be aware. Stay in a good distance and think like a thief

Asian "Buddhism" is death and I am not sure if western are wise enough to get the message before the new born will starve unrecognized.

Offline former monk john

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Re: A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism
« Reply #10 on: May 17, 2013, 03:34:21 am »
.... for instance meditation plays a very small role in the Buddhism taught at my temple, certainly rare devoted monks meditated more, but actual silent meditation in our group prayers/chanting lasted about 5 minutes/day, and we certainly weren't expected to go off in our rooms and meditate more...

I've had some contact with Thai Buddhists in the UK, and the impression I have is that lay-Buddhists in that culture don't do much sitting meditation.  They feel their main role is to support the monks, and "in return" the monks give Dhamma talks.


Spiny, I'm in complete agreement about the rarity of devout meditators, however at the Therevada temples I've been to(Cambodian, Thai, Thai-Lao) most of the devout lay followers seem to know much of the pali prayers and participate in the chanting with the monks, although certain parts of the prayers are only for the monks.

Also the rare meditators seem just as likely to be lay people it seems, although many of them were probably monks when younger.

I think it its just a case of chanting replacing meditation in their cultures.

Also a previous post brought up the topic of monks on the internet, I do see monks, at least the younger ones on the internet at my temple, however every time I've looked at the screen they are on Cambodian language buddhist websites,  and I would assume in contact with people in Cambodia, family etc. This is a very modern age, and times are changing, I also see monks with cell phones.

Also at our temple monks didn't use to be allowed to drive cars, now they are.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2013, 04:30:59 am by former monk john »
to me, the signs of a successful practice are happiness and a cessation of suffering, buddhism often gives me this; not all the answers.

Offline Spiny Norman

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Re: A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism
« Reply #11 on: May 17, 2013, 04:34:53 am »
I think it its just a case of chanting replacing meditation in their cultures.

Yes, it does seem that way.  And maybe western Buddhists are less keen on devotional practice, and so tend to prefer meditation?  Though actually when you look at the 8-fold path it does seem more "meditational" than devotional.

Offline Hanzze

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Re: A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism
« Reply #12 on: May 17, 2013, 05:19:35 am »
Yet the base is missing, what a mass... so everybody tries to have his/her shortcut according to ones abilities. Shortcut is most important, who the hell likes to work. Lets look for the next pleasant object and eat as long as we can.

Offline former monk john

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Re: A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism
« Reply #13 on: June 19, 2013, 12:40:40 am »
I'm bumping this thread for reef and all the new and old buddhists, that want a great Cambodian therevada monks two page discourse on what's most important for beginners in Buddhism, funny thing is we're all beginners, some more advanced than others, but if we can't remember and practice these basics, we're really not much of anything, and most Therevadans wouldn't call us buddhists at all. So it shouldn't hurt anyone to read over it, just scroll back to the first post in the thread, sincerely John
to me, the signs of a successful practice are happiness and a cessation of suffering, buddhism often gives me this; not all the answers.

Offline reef

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Re: A Visit to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Basic Buddhism
« Reply #14 on: June 19, 2013, 12:54:21 am »
Thank you john i will read it now

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