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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - "Put down the gun Take up the Dharma"

"Put down the gun Take up the Dharma"

The sound of hundreds of flip-flops hitting the ground could clearly be heard - even

above the solemn gong and chanting by the Japanese monk, the Venerable Muri Kami.

The annual Dhammayietra, or Peace Pilgrimage, is once again underway, making its

route through four provinces in Cambodia's north and east, covering 170km over two

weeks, ending in Ratanakiri.

Around 500 marchers, mainly Buddhist monks and nuns, set off from the provincial

town of Kampong Cham, led by the Buddhist patriarch and four time Nobel Peace Prize

nominee, Maha Ghosananda (pictured right).

Wearing T-shirts proclaiming "Put down the gun: take up the Dharma", and

holding banners with Buddhist slogans, the procession of largely flip-flop-wearing

marchers will be taking their message of peace and non-violence into towns and villages

along the route.

"Our message begins from each one of us," explained the Venerable Maha

Ghos-ananda.

"We always repeat: a peaceful heart makes a peaceful person; a peaceful person

makes a peaceful family; a peaceful family makes a peaceful community; a peaceful

community makes a peaceful country; a peaceful country makes a peaceful world."

But the peace walk - now in its seventh year - which has travelled to many areas

affected by Cambodia's civil war including former Khmer Rouge zones, hasn't always

run smoothly.

In 1993, a grenade that didn't explode was thrown into the march; the following year,

two people were killed and five injured when the procession was caught in cross fire

between government troops and the Khmer Rouge.

"People are still angry, it's true," said Maha Ghosananda.

"But step by step, I think we can make them free from anger. We make them compassionate."

As the march toured Kampong Cham town, armed police in a van were a visible presence,

much to the annoyance of one of the Dhammayietra organizers.

"I don't understand why they are here," he said, with some exasperation.

"We explained to everyone that we are non-violent and non-political and that

we do not want to be associated with the military. So why do they come?"

But the Venerable Maha Ghosananda and fellow Buddhist monks and nuns appeared not

to notice and continued their walk, stopping to sprinkle water and say prayers to

well-wishers, or collect donations of money.

This year's peace walk travels through areas affected more by environmental devastation

than the ravages of Cambodia's long years of civil war.

And the march will be bringing an environmental message to villagers, urging them

to protect the forests, while also planting symbolic tree saplings along the way.

Buddhists believe trees are sacred. It was under the Bodhi tree that Buddha gained

enlightenment.

"You cut the tree, you cut the Buddha," said Maha Ghosananda, "you

harm the tree, you harm the atmosphere and if you harm the atmosphere, you harm yourself."

He predicted that it wouldn't be long before Cambodia's monks took lessons from their

Thai counterparts who have begun ordaining trees, wrapping them in traditional yellow

robes to give them a symbolic and sacred protection from the saws of the loggers.

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