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Colors and the Wheel

Twenty-one years ago Khaou Phallaboth, or 'Peck' as his friends know him, left Phnom

Penh for Paris to begin his junior high school studies at the tender age of 12. Little

did he realize at the time that it would be almost two decades before he would return

to Cambodia and with a different name as well.

After some disappointing time at university, and with his entire family of twelve

forced by the events of 1975 to settle in France, as a French citizen he did his

military service, serving in Lebanon as a medic. He returned to Paris and worked

in a bank for a while but left there as well.

"Life seemed meaningless," said Peck "I felt I needed to understand

more about myself, to get some spiritual experience."

Having grown up in a Buddhist family and versed in aspects of Buddhist theology during

his teens, at the age of 23 he joined a Cambodian monastery in Paris. According to

Buddhist tradition, and having taken Theravada vows, he was given a new Sanskrit

name-Dhammarangsi.

Dhammarangsi studied under The Venerable Bour Kry at Khemararam monastery in Paris.

Within a year he was sent to Brussels to serve as the head monk at a temple there.

Every day he taught meditation and gave discourses on the teachings of the Buddha

to both Cambodians and Europeans alike. Fifteen or twenty seekers would visit his

temple every day.

After five years in the order Dhammarangsi asked to leave, he says, with the expectation

that he would one day return to the monkhood. "The nice thing about Theravada

is that you can enter and leave the order," says Dhammarangsi. Since then his

efforts have been devoted to expressing spiritual values through art. In l990 he

switched to visual mediums, after having spent much time with poetry.

The return to Cambodia came in l991. "This will be my base from now on,"

he says.

Dhammarangsi has been painting on silk of late. His work will soon be shown at the

Cambodiana from Aug. 17 to Sept. 16 in what is being billed as the first large scale

exhibition to be held in Cambodia since l970. "I am not a creator," says

Dhammarangsi, reflecting on his work "but a medium for carrying traditional

values which are important for modern society. I try to give new features to symbols

like the wheel. In fact, my show could be called 'Colors and the Wheel'."

Plans for the future? "It is my greatest wish to return to the monastery,"

says Dhammarangsi.

"But I still feel a little immature to rejoin the order. When I go back I want

to join for ever."

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