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Monks on the march for peace

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Monks take part in Siem Reap’s annual peace walk. Photo by: MICHAEL SLOAN

MORE than 100 Buddhist monks and nuns left Siem Reap for a well earned rest last Thursday after marching 300 kilometres through the province over three weeks as part of the 21st annual Dhammayietra Peace Walk.

Otherwise known as the “Pilgrimage of Truth”, the peace walk was first organised by the former Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism, Preah Maha Ghosananda in 1994 to repatriate Cambodian refugees in camps along the Thai border.

Since then the peace walk has grown into an annual march to promote peace and reconciliation and spread Buddhist teachings throughout the Kingdom.

Peace walk organiser Oddom Van Syvorn said that monks involved in the march hand out books of Buddhist teachings and lecture in schools along the route. “We try to spread the teachings of the Dharma and the five precepts of Buddhism in a different province each year chosen by the monks.”

Oddom Van Syvorn said she became involved after seeing the first procession in 1994 while working as a street vendor in Sisophon.

“There was still fighting going on at the time so I went to Maha Ghosananda and asked him, ‘Where is this peace you talk about?’ He persuaded me to join the march to have peace for one day. When I finished I still hadn’t found it, and asked him again and he told me to come back for another day and then another to find out.”

Anthropology student Napakadol Kittisenee joked that Oddom Van Syvorn kept coming back each year and asking the same question of Maha Ghosananda until his death in 2008.

“She still tries to find that peace annually by organising the march in his name.”

Since her first march in 1994, Oddom Van Syvorn took on an increasingly prominent role which culminated in her being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Volkmar Ensslin, who started attending the Peace Walk in 2005, said the event would be unable to function without her involvement. He added that organising the march was also an unusual role for a woman.

“Buddhism is usually a very macho religion, with a strict hierarchy. It’s unusual for lay people, especially women, to play such a prominent role. She has great respect among the monks because of it.”

Ensslin explained that he became involved in the march after quitting his job as a management consultant in Germany for a two-year stay in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand.

This year, some new recruits to the peace walk came in the form of three dogs that joined the procession when it passed by Pouk district, and will likely find new homes in a Siem Reap temple, according to Ensslin.

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