Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said on Saturday that the Kingdom had made great progress with the construction of pagodas but that ways must be sought to enhance the quality of the practice of Buddhism to fully benefit society.
Sar Kheng was speaking as he presided over a dedication ceremony at a pagoda in Svay Antor district’s Popeus commune in Prey Veng province, where he highlighted the country’s recent achievements.
“We have rapidly developed solid infrastructure. I want to point out that we have built pagodas and other Buddhist buildings and sponsored schools."
“We have constructed them quickly at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Overall spending has been huge. But I want to put further emphasis on doing what we can to ensure Buddhism has a deeper and stronger influence,” he said.
Sar Kheng, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, said although many pagodas had been built, if not enough people followed the teachings of the Dharma, the pagodas would not be useful.
He said there are more than 5,000 pagodas and some 60,000 monks across the Kingdom.
Comparing the respect for Buddhism in Cambodia to other religions, he said that followers of Islam consistently respect their religion wherever they are.
Whether in offices or even going out fishing, Sar Kheng said, they get down on their knees and worship Allah, even on their fishing boats. He said followers of Christianity also showed good discipline.
Sar Kheng said the government has a duty to maintain peace and strengthen security and public order by fighting crime and injustice throughout society.
If no one committed bad deeds such as theft, exploitation and violence, he said, it would mean they had steadfastly followed the Dharma and also the government’s policies.
“Our society is good. People live without fear. And when our society lives without fear, progress will come,” Sar Kheng said.
Ministry of Religions and Cults spokesman Seng Somony said on Sunday that the ministry was addressing some of the existing shortcomings.
“Through pagodas, we have trained religious leaders and equipped them with knowledge of legal and administrative matters where they were unsure about national or international law,” he said.
Somony said Buddhist education had been strengthened in a broad range of areas including drugs, AIDS, violence and general misconduct in society.
Respect for Buddhism was not declining, he said, but was progressing more slowly than scientific or secular development.
“If we’re driving in a car and another vehicle overtakes us, it might seem like we’re going slowly. But our vehicle is also fast and we’re moving steadily forward,” Somony said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said some pagodas are more like empty shells, as many monks are like ordinary people who wear saffron robes and only have a basic knowledge of Buddhist teaching.
Many young monks, he said, seem to be more interested in secular than Buddhist studies and leave monkhood after graduation.
Mong Hay said monks should first and foremost acquire knowledge of Buddhism and become spiritual leaders.
In this way, he said, they can provide spiritual guidance to lay people, strengthen society’s ethical foundation and elevate morality in Khmer society.
“So far our Buddhist monks have not fulfilled this role, which is as important as the role of our temporal leaders."
“Buddhist monasteries should overlap with the rest of society and serve society which builds the pagodas and provides alms for the upkeep of Buddhist monks,” he said.