Respected for their religious adherence and intellectual curiousity, Buddhist monks have long been the backbone of Cambodian society. Regardless of how religious Cambodian citizens are, the men walking around in colorful yellow-orange saffron are an integral part of everyday life and one of the main forces revitalising the Kingdom’s spirit.
When he was younger, Hou Chhivneath was difficult to deal with and his parents decided to send him to a Buddhist pagoda for a short spell, where most elders believe that the monks and serene surroundings can provide a basic foundation for young boys and adults to develop into mature and peaceful men.
“My father wanted me to be a monk for a while to learn how to deal with life and to be a good man for my family and other people,” Hou Chhivneath said of his initial entrance into monkhood in 1989.
“Dedicated monks usually work hard on their own, so that they can play a significant part in awakening citizens to the importance of culture and tradition, social morality, Khmer civilisation and Buddhism in particular,” explained the 30-year-old monk who hails from Takeo province.
The monks do not only share their religious wisdom with the general public, they also try to be good role models for society and teach people about “the merit of good deeds, good citizenship and peaceful living”, he said.
Hou Chhivneath went to a Buddhist primary school in Kandal, a province that shares its border with Phnom Penh, to learn Pali language for a year before moving to the Cambodian capital city for his Buddhist secondary school in 1994. He said that being immersed in Buddhist teaching has been great for him.
Since completing high school he has received three post-secondary degrees: a bachelor’s degree in Buddhist philosophy from Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University, a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Pannasastra University of Cambodia and a master’s degree in human resource management from the University of Cambodia. “I also completed a continuing training program for senior officials at the Royal School of Administration in 2008-2009,” he said.
Things like luxury houses, new cars and cool tech gadgets don’t mean a lot to Hou Chhivneath.“The innovation of technology only helps extrinsic happiness, while the Buddhist principles instruct us to cultivate intrinsic happiness,” he told Lift.
Currently attending a workshop on religion in the US, the Buddhist University teacher said that “the time to practice Buddhism is limited for laypeople; there are many things to deal with in daily life. Time flies and waits for no man; it will never be back for us when we lose a first chance in our teens,” adding that he thinks the experience of monkhood can be valuable for all Cambodian youth.