Monks may not beg for food in crowded places such as markets, nor are they allowed to solicit donations with loudspeakers or stroll with women along the riverside. Violators face arrest and re-education for a first offense, and expulsion from the monkhood for a second.
Regulations announced jointly by the Ministry of Cults and Religion and the Supreme
Patriarch of the majority Mahanikaya Order have restricted the activities of Phnom
Penh's more than 3,000 Buddhist monks.
From December 1, monks may not beg for food in crowded places such as markets. Nor
are they allowed to solicit donations with loudspeakers or stroll with women along
the riverside. Violators face arrest and re-education for a first offense, and expulsion
from the monkhood for a second.
According to the new guidelines issued on September 13 the directives will guide
monks to behave as the Buddha intended
Chhoeng Bunchhea, cabinet chief for Patriarch (Sangharaja) Tep Vong of Wat Ounalom,
said the regulations were aimed at the small number of monks observed during the
past four or five years whose unacceptable behavior was bringing Buddhism into disrepute.
Bunchhea said his cabinet will organize 20 to 30 monks in each Phnom Penh district
to observe the behavior of monks in their areas. The observers will coordinate with
Sun Kim Hun, secretary of state at the Ministry of Cults and Religion, said the rule
that the Buddha laid down long ago was clear: monks may not touch or have love affairs
with women. They are also forbidden to wander in areas where large numbers of both
sexes mingle. Monks also may not engage in any business for profit.
Kim Hun said he had personally witnessed unacceptable behavior by monks and had received
numerous complaints from the public.
"I have seen with my own eyes that most of the monks who sit on the bench along
the river sit and have love affairs with young ladies as if they were normal people,"
he said. "When I see that I stare at the monk, but he does not care."
Kim Hun said the monks who breach Buddhist discipline will have bad karma come to
He said the new restrictions are not entirely inflexible.
"It is okay for a monk to walk along the riverside with other monks or their
families. It's okay to beg for food where there are not many people," Kim Hun
said. "And it is no problem to ask for money at the pagoda when holding a ceremony."
Among those critical of some monks' behavior is 47-year-old Chea Chamroeun who lives
under a banyan tree on the riverside in front of Wat Ounalom. He said he respects
only those monks who have good Buddhist discipline - and reckons that would be only
10 percent of the monks currently in Phnom Penh.
"Since I was born [in Kampong Chhnang province], I never saw monks tickling
girls, and climbing trees to whistle and wave at girls as the monks in Phnom Penh
do," he said.
Sovanna Rin, 50, electronic equipment vendor at Psar Kandal, said he only offered
money to monks who beg along the street outside the market. He said respect for monks
was decreasing, but that he still goes to the pagoda.
"If a monk offends against Buddhism, I believe that monk will get bad karma
- not me," Rin said.
Bunchhea said, "If we let monks do whatever they want or someone impersonate
a monk to get money from the public, in the future it could attract a lot of monks."
Article 1 of the law on punishment for the possession of weapons and wearing of uniforms
in violation of the regulation adopted in 1992 by the National Assembly states that,
"Any person who is not authorized to wear a uniform by any regulation and still
... wears that uniform, shall be imprisoned from one month to one year ... the uniforms
authorized by regulations such as: the dresses of religious priests and the dresses
of civil servants ... as determined by the text in force."
However, Bunchhea said the conduct of monks had improved since the announcement of
the new regulations. He said most of the monks who behaved badly had only recently
become monks and did not have a deep knowledge of Buddhism.
Ham Sareth, a guard who looks after the garden along the riverside in front of Wat
Ounalom, agreed that behavior had improved. He said now only a few monks come and
sit along the riverside from 6pm to 8pm, but in the past there had been at least
Hang Sakhan, a Psar Kandal security guard, said that in the past weeks he has rarely
seen any monk walking and begging for food or money in the market.
Kim Hun said that of Cambodia's roughly 60,000 monks, 3,000 reside in Phnom Penh.
By his estimate, 95 percent of Cambodians practice Buddhism.