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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Let Ieng Sary's karma decide his future

Let Ieng Sary's karma decide his future

EVEN though I believe in karma, which is the effect of a person's actions and conduct

during the successive phases of his/her existence determine his/her destiny, it is

hard to believe that what happened in the Killing Fields was the result of the victims'

karma. But, for the sake of argument, let us assume that is true. Then the karma

of the killers and the victims will become a cycle of cosmic cause and effect, which

means that the Khmer Rouge (KR) killers will become victims and vice versa.

Under Buddhist principles, revenge is not a sustainable solution, because Buddha

said "revenge never ends by revenge". Furthermore, we cannot build a nation

based on ongoing revenge, killings, revenge. Are we willing to forgive and forget

the Khmer Rouge for the sake of "national reconciliation"? If so, how is

the karma, the revenge, and the policy of national reconciliation interrelated?

There is a Buddhist story called Angulimala, about a Brahman youth who studied at

Taxila and had been ordered by the Chancellor of the institution, because of personal

jealousy, to pay a fee of one thousand human right fore-fingers. He had to kill to

obtain these fingers and he became notorious as Angulimala (finger-garland) and was

a terror throughout the land. Such was the fear he inspired and such was his supernormal

strength, ferocity and swiftness, that he put to flight even troops of trained soldiers

sent out to capture him. When he entered the Buddha's Net of Compassion, he had collected

999 fingers. There ensued a conversation between the Buddha and Angulimala, which

resulted in the complete conversion of the latter. Angulimala the killer became "Angulimala

the Arahat" (Arahat is a highest status for Buddha's disciple) and was ordained

immediately by Buddha merely with the words, "come thou, Bhikkhu". (Bhikkhu

is a rank of Buddhist Monk)

There were no repercussions for the 999 people killed by Angulimala. This was not

because Buddha provided him an amnesty, but because of Angulimala's good karma accumulated,

his present bad karma was too insignificant to dilute the past good karma.

One Buddhist school of thought has said that bad karma is like an arrow launched

by a hunter to kill a wild animal. If the latter were alert enough and able to escape

death, the arrow would not follow it forever. It is a one-shot deal. This may also

apply to some civil or criminal lawsuits, in which there are certain periods during

which complaints or charge may be made against the defendants. In general, if the

limitation period has expired, such cases cannot proceed. The defendants or potential

defendants are free from legal judgment. A judgment in absentia may be tolled if

the defendant is unavailable.

The Angulimala case may be applied to the KR troops who only followed or executed

the top leaders' decisions and orders, who are not involved in the decision-making

process. Regardless of their past, whether they joined "Democratic Kampuchea"

by choice, or without a choice, if they wanted to, such troops are welcome to join

the Cambodian family under the wise and serene King's Metta (Sympathetic Well-wishing

towards all beings), and Karuna (Compassion).

Another Buddhist school of thought has said that karma, either bad or good, is like

the shadow of one's self, which always adheres to a person. One of the two Chief

Buddha's Disciples, called Moggallana, first in Iddhi (Iddhi means supernormal powers),

had been killed by robbers for 500 consecutive lives, because in his former life,

for family reasons, he disguised himself as a robber and intentionally beat his mother

to death. Even in his last life being a Chief Disciple of Buddha, and despite his

accumulated merits toward humanity, hard works, and perfect conduct, he still received

the effect of his bad karma. During his last life, being Preah Arahan (Supreme Chief

Disciple of Buddha), he was still beaten to death by robbers. Then, after death,

he obtained Nirvana. In Buddhism, hurting or killing ones' parents, or the Arahan

(one who has achieved arahantship, especially one of those who were the Buddha's

immediate disciples), or to injure Buddha and make Him bleed are considered to be

very serious crimes. Under this school of thought, in any case, the bad and the good

karma cannot balance out.

How do we relate the two above Buddhist stories to the real life situation in which

Mr. Ieng Sary wants to have a political role in the 1998 Election and in the Coalition

government? Who or what institution is entitled to give amnesty to him, and under

what conditions?

Applying the above stories to Mr. Ieng Sary's case, I believe he should be brought

to trial before an independent neutral, free and fair (national or international)

tribunal. Mr. Ieng Sary can remain innocent until he is proven guilty of wrong-doing.

If the court does not find plausible reasons and/or enough proof of Mr. Ieng Sary's

involvement in the Killing Fields, and if he is acquitted, then he will be welcome

to participate in the rebuilding of Cambodia. But, let his karma be first, which

means give him the opportunity to prove himself before the court.

As with former President Chun Doo-hwan of South Korea, who was sentenced to death

after the court found him guilty of mutiny, treason and corruption charges, if through

due process, Mr. Ieng Sary is found guilty, he should be punished as a regular Cambodian

before the law.

To bring the KR leadership involved in the killings to court is not an act to seek

revenge, but to abide by the Law of karma that everything which happens in one's

life has effects. It is also a lesson to all leaders that whoever takes over power

through force or undemocratic means will be punished, sooner or later. We Cambodians

do not want to succumb to another darkness, to another Killing Fields.

Perhaps Mr. Ieng Sary will be found guilty of serious crimes in a court of law. If

so, then after the court sentence, we can ask for an amnesty from the King if the

Cambodian people, the Government, and the National Assembly believe that for political

reasons and for the sake of the country, Mr. Ieng Sary should be free. But to free

him before this because of emotion or for political gain for a group or individual,

is against the spirit of the law of karma, the will of Cambodian people, Democracy,

and especially the Constitution, in which it is stipulated in Article 31 that: "Every

Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law, enjoying the same rights, freedom and

fulfilling the same obligations regardless of race, color, sex, language, religious

belief, political tendency, birth, origin, social status, wealth or other status".

One can argue that what if he won't come back at all without a guarantee of amnesty,

and continue fighting and affecting thousands of lives? Do we want to be morally

responsible for the death of our people, and what will be the karma affect on those

who did not let him return?

Mr. Ieng Sary's continuation of fighting and killing is his choice. Our intention

is not to revenge nor to punish Mr. Ieng Sary per se, but try to establish the rule

of law, and try to prevent another Killing Fields in the future. We want to set a

lesson to all leaders to come that they cannot not kill people for free with no punishment.

The karma of the Cambodian people may be better off at the long-range when Cambodia

will be truly the State of the rule of law.

Another scenario is that Mr. Ieng Sary does return with automatic amnesty. What will

be the karma effects on him? There are at least three plausible answers for that

scenario: 1) because he is really innocent, which means he has a lot of good karma,

2) because he can escape the bad karma at this time (or in this life), but will face

it the future, 3) because he will be able to escape the bad effect of the karma for




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