PATRIARCHS of Cambodia's two rival Buddhist sects, who have squabbled in the past,
met last week in a show of reconciliation. Many hoped that the encounter could serve
as a model for Khmer leaders to end their disputes for the sake of peace.
"[Politicians] should take note of this meeting. This Buddhist meeting is a
good symbol for all leaders and people in all levels to follow," said Samdech
Preah Reap Tep Vong, the head of the Mohanikay sect, said.
Sitting around a flower-strewn sign reading "May Peace Prevail on Earth",
Tep Vong and Samdech Preah Anoch Bou Kri, head of the Thammayut sect, met on March
3 in Phnom Penh's Svay Popei pagoda to pray together for peace.
The Venerable Ing Kieth, who took a weeklong respite from his jobs as Deputy Prime
Minister and Minister of Public Works to join the monkhood, arranged the symbolic
"I had invited the two Samdech partriarchs - Mohanika-ay and Thammayut - to
attend [the ceremony]. This is a good sign to show that ... all the monks are as
one," he said, adding that it was also a good opportunity for him to help push
Cambodia towards peace.
Kieth is loyal to ousted premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh and temporarily fled the
country in fear of his life after last July's coup. His uniformed bodyguards accompanied
him throughout his stay in the pagoda.
"Today, I am not only doing good for the Buddhist religion, but I have also
organized the prayer ceremony in order to bring peace for the younger generation
[throughout the nation]," he said.
Tep Vong said that "too much killing" has been occurring recently. He expressed
regret that Cambodia's reputation as a Buddhist country will be harmed as a result.
Yet the monks themselves may not always have been models of tolerance and compassion.
Although the two patriarchs denied any past dispute between the sects, observers
say privately that the conciliatory tone of the prayer ceremony followed years of
subtle friction between the two sects.
"Samdech Preah Anoch and I have good solidarity and we have made a good friendship,"
Tep Vong said. He declined to talk about past bickering between the sects, using
a Khmer proverb: "I don't want to twist off the ants' bottom to make them attack
But the sects have long-running differences. After the ouster of the anti-religion
Khmer Rouge, Mohanikay was the only Buddhism practiced under the State of Cambodia
regime; Thammayut did not reappear until the King's return in 1991.
Phnom Penh's Wat Botum was originally a Thammayut pagoda, but was taken over by the
Mohanikay during the SOC. In the 90's the resurgent Thammayut asked for their pagoda
back, but the Mohanikay only agreed to split the pagoda half and half, according
to Khmer Buddhist Society director Ou Bun Long. The split continues today.
Thammayut's perceived close association with the Royals - the sect was established
by a Royal family member - and Mohanikay's ascendance during the SOC period has led
some observers to refer to "Funcinpec monks" and "CPP monks".
Differences between the two orders include their methods of prayer and handling of
money, according to Bun Long.
The Mohanikay use a prayer language very similar to Khmer, while the Thammayut use
a more difficult language akin to Sanskrit. And the former sect can use money, while
the latter employs accountants as they cannot touch money, according to Bun Long.
The robes and rice bowls also differ: Mohanikay robes are all one piece, and monks
may hang the rice bowls from their shoulders or hold them. Thammayut robes are of
several pieces and sewn with a different stitch, and monks may only hold their bowls
on the bottom.
But despite their differences, the patriarchs said they are ready to start a new
era of friendship both for their followers and the whole country.
Tep Vong said at the ceremony that peace will not come to Cambodia by just paying
lip service to the word, but that people must follow Buddhist principles, especially
the Five Precepts and the Eightfold Path.
The Five Buddhist Precepts are: don't kill, don't steal, don't drink alcohol, don't
lie and don't commit unchaste acts. The Eightfold Path is: right view; right resolve;
right speech; right action; right livelihood (including not selling arms); right
effort; right mindfulness; right concentration.
Tep Vong said: "If every person at every level can implement at least one of
the Buddhist precepts each, then peace will definitely be reached."