Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong's views on political parties and people power in
his interview published in the Post of December 15, 2006 did not reflect well on
his erudition in and practice of Buddhism.
He was too much attached to and continued to defend the ruling Cambodian People's
Party (CPP) which he belonged to and served. He named this party "the older
party or host party" and the other political parties "the younger or guest
parties" and "requested" the latter parties "to limit their opposition."
Furthermore, Tep Vong had a dislike for "people power" as it could lead
to "strikes, demonstrations, terrorism and coups d'etat," and he would
use religion to cooperate with the government to curb this power.
To Tep Vong, the older party or host party, the CPP, would rule Cambodia for ever.
By entertaining this idea he ignored the law of impermanence (anatta), which is one
of the key tenets of Buddhism. He was very much Buddhist when he disliked terrorism
and coups d'etat as these acts entail the use of violence. But his dislike of strikes
and demonstrations, when they were peaceful, had no Buddhist character at all.
Strikes and demonstrations are but assemblies of people to voice their opinions and
concerns on issues affecting their groups or their nation as a whole. They are very
much part of people's participation in the national affairs, participation that is
the first two of Buddha's seven teachings in governance for the country's prosperity:
"First, people should assemble often to discuss political affairs, and to provide
for national defense. Second, the people of all social classes should meet together
in unity to discuss their national affairs." (See Society for the Promotion
of Buddhism, The Teaching of Buddha, Tokyo, 1966, page 456.) The Khmer version of
this book is available at the Buddhist Institute's library and at Hun Sen Library,
Furthermore, people power already existed in Buddha's days and Buddha himself accepted
it with grace when it affected him personally. As told in the book Moha Vesandor
Cheadok, Book II: Kann Hemapean, Buddha, then King Preah Bat Srey Vesandor of Srey
Pireast country gave as charity his elephant to the people of Kaloeung Reastr country.
But his own people held the elephant to be their country's sacred animal of blessing
that he should not have given away at all. They were very angry with him. They exercised
their people power and went to protest en masse to King Father Preah Bat Srey Sanchey
against Buddha's gift of the elephant to the people of Kaloeung Reastr country. They
held that the gift was a crime and at first demanded death for Srey Vesandor for
this crime. But after negotiations with Srey Sanchey they settled for Srey Vesandor's
exile. Srey Vesandor, Buddha, willingly accepted his people's verdict and went into
exile with all his family in the Hemapean Forests.
Considering his position and status, Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong could and should
provide spiritual leadership and a leading source of morality in Cambodian society.
Unfortunately, his leadership and authority are ineffective and are not much felt.
Morality is very low in Cambodian society. This society has many political and social
problems. It is consumed in materialism. Immoral and unethical means, including abuse
of power and corruption, are used to acquire material gains. Tension between political
parties, killing of political activists, strikes, demonstrations and protests, and
violent crackdowns on these expressions of people power continue to occur.
It is highly probable that his closeness and attachment to and protection of his
favorite political party, and his prejudice and bias against the younger or "guest"
parties and people power is a major obstacle. He could and should, however, overcome
To start with, he should show in words and deeds more of the four sublime states
of minds or the four immeasurables or Prum Vihearth (in Khmer) or Brahma -vihãra
(in Pali), that is, lovingkindness (mettã), compassion (karunã), sympathetic
joy (muditã) and equanimity (upekkhã), as taught by Buddha and as Cambodia's
greatest king, Jayavarman VII, a Buddhist, symbolized in the form of the four faces
at the top of the many towers of his Bayon temple in Siem Reap.
At this particular juncture of Cambodian society which is characterized by pluralism
and conflicting demands, what would be most required from our Great Supreme Patriarch
is his practice of equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger, if he wishes,
as he did in his interview, to use Buddhism to contribute to consolidating peace
and stability in Cambodia.
Lao Mong Hay - Senior Researcher, Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong