Twenty-one years ago Khaou Phallaboth, or 'Peck' as his friends know him, left Phnom
Penh for Paris to begin his junior high school studies at the tender age of 12. Little
did he realize at the time that it would be almost two decades before he would return
to Cambodia and with a different name as well.
After some disappointing time at university, and with his entire family of twelve
forced by the events of 1975 to settle in France, as a French citizen he did his
military service, serving in Lebanon as a medic. He returned to Paris and worked
in a bank for a while but left there as well.
"Life seemed meaningless," said Peck "I felt I needed to understand
more about myself, to get some spiritual experience."
Having grown up in a Buddhist family and versed in aspects of Buddhist theology during
his teens, at the age of 23 he joined a Cambodian monastery in Paris. According to
Buddhist tradition, and having taken Theravada vows, he was given a new Sanskrit
Dhammarangsi studied under The Venerable Bour Kry at Khemararam monastery in Paris.
Within a year he was sent to Brussels to serve as the head monk at a temple there.
Every day he taught meditation and gave discourses on the teachings of the Buddha
to both Cambodians and Europeans alike. Fifteen or twenty seekers would visit his
temple every day.
After five years in the order Dhammarangsi asked to leave, he says, with the expectation
that he would one day return to the monkhood. "The nice thing about Theravada
is that you can enter and leave the order," says Dhammarangsi. Since then his
efforts have been devoted to expressing spiritual values through art. In l990 he
switched to visual mediums, after having spent much time with poetry.
The return to Cambodia came in l991. "This will be my base from now on,"
Dhammarangsi has been painting on silk of late. His work will soon be shown at the
Cambodiana from Aug. 17 to Sept. 16 in what is being billed as the first large scale
exhibition to be held in Cambodia since l970. "I am not a creator," says
Dhammarangsi, reflecting on his work "but a medium for carrying traditional
values which are important for modern society. I try to give new features to symbols
like the wheel. In fact, my show could be called 'Colors and the Wheel'."
Plans for the future? "It is my greatest wish to return to the monastery,"
"But I still feel a little immature to rejoin the order. When I go back I want
to join for ever."