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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia mourns a spiritual leader

Cambodia mourns a spiritual leader


AT ten minutes to seven on the evening of July 11 His Majesty the King, ignited a

firework in the shape of a rat which shot along a wire and ignited a chain of pyrotechnics,

initiating the cremation of Buddhist Patriarch the Venerable Samdech Oum Sum.

A portrait of the Venerable Samdech Oum Sum sits in front of his casket

Fireworks around the casket in the shape of elephants moaned as they burned echoing

the laments from the thousands of mourners who cried out good byes and their wishes

for Samdech Oum Sum to be reborn to a good life.

The depth of grief and sorrow at the death of Oum Sum was a reflection of his life-long

commitment to Buddhism and the community.

Samdech Patriarch Oum Sum died on March 25, 2000 at 1:30 am at Wat Moha Montrei Pagoda

where he had been chief monk since 1991.

His body was held at his pagoda for 100 days before the ceremonial journey to the

center of Phnom Penh for the funeral.

On July 9 thousands of Buddhist monks, nuns, lay people and mourners joined a solemn

procession across the city.

Lead by the Samdech Patriarch Tep Vong and Samdech Patriarch Bou Kry, leaders of

the two main Buddhists sects in Cambodia, the procession began at Wat Moha Montrei

on Sihanouk Bvld then turned on to Monivong Blvd, stopping for prayers in front of

the stupa near the railway station.

The procession then went through the center of the city ending in front of Wat Botum

where the cremation was to take place.

Along the route Phnom Penh resident brought out refreshments for the thousands of

mourners many of whom were elderly.

On Monday evening the final ceremony got under way. Their Majesties, The King and

Queen arrived at 5 pm.

Thousands of mourners walk in procession behind the coffin

The ceremony then began. Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng read a eulogy highlighting

key aspects of Oum Sum's history.

Funeral letters were received from the King, Acting Head of State, Chea Sim, Acting

President of Senate, Sisowath Chivan Monirak, President of National Assembly, Norodom

Ranariddh, Prime Minister Hun Sen, and other mourners.

All the correspondents noted that the passing of Oum Sum meant the loss of a scholar

and a great Cambodian son who sacrificed his entire life to Buddhism, the Nation

and the people.

Oum Sum was born on Friday, Febuary 12, 1918 in Chum Nap village, Chiros commune,

Tboung Kmom district Kampong Cham province.

His parents were farmers and he was the youngest son in a family of 12 children.

He had been a monk continually since he was 16-years-old.

Senior monks and a police honour guard accompany the coffin of the Venerable Oum Sum to the cremation site

Even when he was forcibly disrobed during the Khmer Rouge era he maintained the monastic

life-style - never eating after midday and praying in secret once his working day

was at an end.

He returned to the Wat in 1980 and continued his life as a Buddhist scholar researching

and writing books on Buddhism, Pali and the Buddhist perspective.

His commitment, his teachings and his example ensured the large contingent of mourners

at the funeral.

Ouk Yen, 68, a nun from Takeo province was sitting directly on the ground as the

ceremony took place. As the cremation started she clasped her hands together over

her head and cried out: "We will never meet again Samdech. Please, I wish you

to be reborn in paradise."

She continued as tears rolled down her face "I am so sorry he has died.

"He had no wife, no children. He was true to the Buddhist religion.

Sitting with a face wracked with grief at the back of the dais for dignitaries was

Yong Sok, 85, head of the monks in Kampong Cham and the person closest to Oum Sum.

Although older than Oum Sum, Yong Sok regarded him as his teacher

He said he felt a loss personally because he loved Oum Sum like a father loves a

youngest son but the loss for Buddhism and Cambodia was also profound.

"It will be hard for us to find such a well educated monk like him." he

said.

Oum Sum was the most educated of the country's top monks.

His knowledge of Buddhism could be compared to Choun Nath, Cambodian's most respected

literary scholar and, a monk and religious leader in the 1960s.

Oum Sum was a graduate of the Phnom Penh Buddhist University and was fluent in Pali,

French and English. In 1956 he became a member of the Tripitaka translation advisory

group at the Buddhist Academy. He worked on the fifth Khmer dictionary with Choun

Nath.

From the 1950s almost until his death, he taught in many Buddhist schools in Phnom

Penh and across the country.

In 1993 he became director of the National Buddhist Institute.

Mao Mong, 65 was one of a number of laity and nuns from Tousna Ram Chruy Thmar pagoda

who were receiving donations to assist with the funeral costs.

Mong said he was grateful he had a chance to participate in the funeral of a monk

he admired so much.

"I had to come here. We are Buddhist and respected him because he served Buddhism

all his life," he said.

But Mong was also realistic about Oum Sum's passing.

"Life cannot escape death. Birth, ages, sickness and death; no-one can avoid

it," he said sighing.

Choeun, a monk from Moha Montrei Pagoda said that he would miss the softly spoken,

gentle and peaceful Patriarch.

"He spent so much time educating the new generation of monks. I am so sorry

we have lost him," he said quietly as he clasped his hand and turned back to

the pyre and began to pray.

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