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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Modern cars and ancient rites

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Prey Veng Province chief monk, Sun Chan Sophea, says he has blessed many cars with holy water and ancient traditions. Moeun Nhean

Modern cars and ancient rites

Although automobile makers now equip vehicles with modern safety technology systems, the Cambodian people still hold onto ancient beliefs to protect their health and car. For example, many Cambodians still have parents, ancestors and monks douse their newly-bought vehicles with holy water in order to bring about good blessings and good luck.

Sun Chan Sophea, chief monk of Mesar Prachan Pagoda and the committee of chief monks in Prey Veng Province, is a venerable and internationally respected monk. According to Sun, monks are frequently asked to give blessings to and spray holy water inside houses, businesses and even vehicles.

“I don’t know the result from the holy blessings that people receive, as this is the belief from ancient superstition. We cannot see,” says Sun.

Regardless, Sun continues to issue blessings for those who seek them.

“I only know that many people come from both short and great distances to ask me to spray holy water when they change their cars from old ones to new or modern ones. And I offer my good blessing,” he says.

According to Sun, in ancient times, Buddha’s bible and amulet cloth was broken or synthesized into various amulets to benefit his followers, and it is believed that prosperity and success come through these amulets.

“I practise giving blessings according to the ancient rules I have learnt and by taking some amulet like that from Buddha,” he says.

Sun reveals an amulet cloth shaped like the leaves of the bodhi tree and explains it resembels the amulet Buddha left behind to the ancient Khmer people. “In ancient times, these amulets were easy to keep with us, and these days people put them in their cars or businesses.”

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Sacred bodhi tree amulet, used for road safety and prosperity. Moeun Nhean

Taxi driver Sam Nang, who has been driving a taxi since the late 1990s says, “I am a driver and I always practise both secular and religious [forms of safety]. We respect the traffic laws, and at the same time, I also believe in our ancient tradition. The old saying is that an amulet is an aid to our life.”

Businessman Ho Vandy says, “The belief of the people is to keep an amulet or Buddha statue in the car. Amulets and other items are believed to add additional power to chase bad luck away from our cars and the road. It gives us peace of mind. For me, showing respect [to our religion] does not cost us anything and provides happiness and prosperity, so it is what we should do.”

Ho says he believes that most drivers on the road who follow traditional Khmer beliefs and have amulets or Buddha statues in their cars are usually not the ones involved in traffic accidents, something he attributes to Dharma (religious concept) and good morality.

He adds that the tradition of the ancient Khmer to spray holy water on property, including vehicles, is a way to “help us have peace of mind.”

“Buddha said, ‘Go good, receive good.’ We have to respect each other [through traffic rules] when we drive. Just because you have a modern car or a high safety technology car or depend too much on the amulet [or] drive carelessly and are rude while driving, we [still] cannot avoid the law, so we should follow Buddha’s teaching [in respecting others] to have happiness.”



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