When socialist restrictions on Cambodian Buddhism were loosened in the early 1990s, Cambodian monks began traveling to Sri Lanka and India, as well as other Buddhist countries, to study. Eventually, a pattern emerged of many young monks being supported by individual sponsors from Cambodia or, more commonly, the Cambodian diaspora communities of Europe, the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Anthropologist John Marston (Center for Asian and African Studies, Colegio de Mexico) offers an overview of the interrelated processes of religious and national identity formation taking place among Cambodian and South Asian actors.
Listen to “Transnationalizing Cambodian Buddhism” and see questions below that can be used to inspire discussion and writing.
- While travelling in Sri Lanka, John Marston learned that Cambodian temples existed in the country. On one level, this made a lot of sense to him, since the countries share a majority religion. What religion is that, and why were Cambodian students traveling to Sri Lanka? Give at least two reasons.
- The fact that Cambodian temples exist in India was “the more surprising case” to Marston, since less than 1% of India’s population identifies as Buddhist. Discuss how the following play into India-Cambodia linkages:
- Pali and Sanskrit languages
- Origins of Buddhism
- Mention of sites in Buddhist scriptures
- Ritual function/merit making
- Theravada Buddhist plays a central role in Cambodian society. Describe monkhood expectations for young men. Consider age, duration, possible outcomes, and commitment in your answer. How does the picture you have painted of Cambodian monks possibly differ from what you know about monks in other parts of the world?
- Listen carefully as Marston describes what happened to Buddhism in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, making notes of occurrences on the following dates mentioned (some dates have more than one event associated with it): 1970, 1975, 1979, 1989, 1991. Create a chronological storyboard, illustrating your vision of the events surrounding each date.
- Although Marston says that Cambodia’s connection to India and Sri Lanka existed prior to the Khmer Rouge regime, his research looks at the relationships that developed around the time of the Paris Peace Accords (1991) and the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (1992-93). He mentions an influential Sri Lankan, Hema Goonatilake, among others, who worked to restore Buddhist institutions in Cambodia.
- What was Goonatilake’s (and her colleagues’) strategy for establishing and attempting to strengthen ties with Cambodia?
- What was the reasoning behind her strategy, and what (if any) were the advantages to Sri Lankans?
- How do early Cambodian participants report feeling about their experiences in the efforts to forge strong ties with Sri Lanka and India? How do they remember these early experiments?
- How have subsequent groups of monks experienced their time abroad in Sri Lanka differently from the initial groups? Consider changes to the selection process, language acquisition, vetting, educational opportunities, and retention rates in your answer.
- Consider the following article from the Sept. 23, 2019 edition of the Tamil Guardian:
“Sri Lanka and Cambodia should ‘work together to spread teachings of Theravada Buddhism throughout the world,’ said Sri Lanka’s [then] president Maithripala Sirisena, whilst attending a Buddhist religious service in Phnom Penh last month. Sirisena, who has increasingly burnished his Sinhala Buddhist nationalist credentials, said Buddhism ‘is the historical foundation of the relations between Sri Lanka and Cambodia’ and called for closer ties between the two governments. During meetings with both the prime minister of Cambodia as well as the monarchy, Cambodia’s king said earlier that ‘Cambodia stands firmly together with Sri Lanka in further cementing bilateral relations in economic, trade, social as well as the renaissance of Buddhism.’”
- Notice the phrase in the second paragraph, “who has increasingly burnished his Sinhala Buddhist nationalist credentials.” Spend a bit of time researching Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. Where, when, and why did this ideology originate? Why do you think it was important to the editor that this phrase be included? How might Sinhala Buddhist nationalism play into a symbiotic Sri Lanka-Cambodia relationship?
- Notice the phrase in the third paragraph, “further cementing bilateral relations in economic, trade, social as well as the renaissance of Buddhism.” Spend some time looking into the two countries’ current relationship. Since fall of 2019, have there been any notable economic/trade agreements? Have there been any interesting meetings—official or not—between leaders of the two countries? How would you describe their purported joint effort in spreading the teachings of Theravada Buddhism and bolstering a Buddhist renaissance?
- Follow this link to the United Nations “Cambodia - Resolutions of the Security Council - UNAMIC” page and select one document to read: (https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/mission/past/unamicres.html). Once you’ve read your UN document thoroughly, visit the “United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia” Wikipedia page and proof its information, as compared to the original document (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Transitional_Authority_in_Cambodia). How much can you corroborate comparing Wikipedia to the Unites Nations document you read? Can you find any discrepancies?
See more teacher resource installments that correspond to insightful conversations with Southeast Asian experts, writers, artists and musicians recorded at NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.