On May 2, in anticipation of Vesak Bochea, the holiday marking the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death, hundreds of young Cambodians from around the country made their way to Puthi Khorsachara pagoda, in Kampong Cham province, to experience – however fleetingly – the life of a Buddhist monastic.
It is traditional practice in Khmer society for young people to be temporarily ordained as monks or nuns at a Buddhist pagoda. The rite is often done as a show of gratitude from children to their parents, and as a way of earning merits during one’s lifetime by learning the Buddha’s teachings.
Each year, boys and girls ranging from primary school to university students are ordained at Puthi Khorsachara, where they stay for a week to live as monks and nuns.
This year, 300 young people made the journey to the temple 200 kilometres from Phnom Penh.
Soun Sok Chamrouen, a former engineer student at Preah Kossomak Polytechnical Institute in Phnom Penh, participated in the ordaining ceremony to further his spiritual practice.
“I decided to ordain in right now, because I want to understand about Buddha’s lessons and his advice, which led people to educate my spirit, my family and society peacefully,” said Soun Sok Chamrouen, adding that “this event also educates Khmer youth to be grateful to their parents.”
“We want to learn about the two basic beliefs of Buddhism, which are the principles of rebirth and karma,” said Vises Sothearath, a young woman ordained as a nun for the ceremony.
“For example, the eight steps to enlightenment through the Buddha’s way,” she said
Thammear Nunth, a high-ranking Buddhist monk and the General Secretary of Buddhism Practice Section at Pannasastra University, said that in the past both boys and girls relied on pagodas to access general education as well as Buddhist teachings.
Now that they are provided education in schools and universities, they seem to be drifting away from Buddhism, he said. This ordaining was an opportunity to connect university students to Buddhism again, explained the monk.
Kong Rotana, 45, from Lavea Em district, was glad to see his 14-year-old son ordained as a monk even though the pagoda is far from their home.
“We are parents. We always hope to see our children ordained as monks or nuns to practise their ways accurately or similarly to the previous generations,” said Kong Ratana. “We are happy to see our children educated well in Buddhism.”
Though the yearly event only lasts one week for those preferring a temporary stay, some novice monks and nuns have chosen extend their ordinations in the past.
In 2010, for example, 700 young monks and nuns were ordained, and 70 of them continue to live as monastics. Meanwhile, 60 of the 500 youth ordained in 2011 continue to live in the pagoda as monks or nuns.
To contact the reporter on this story: Sou Vuthy at [email protected]