EVEN though I believe in karma, which is the effect of a person's actions and conduct
during the successive phases of his/her existence determine his/her destiny, it is
hard to believe that what happened in the Killing Fields was the result of the victims'
karma. But, for the sake of argument, let us assume that is true. Then the karma
of the killers and the victims will become a cycle of cosmic cause and effect, which
means that the Khmer Rouge (KR) killers will become victims and vice versa.
Under Buddhist principles, revenge is not a sustainable solution, because Buddha
said "revenge never ends by revenge". Furthermore, we cannot build a nation
based on ongoing revenge, killings, revenge. Are we willing to forgive and forget
the Khmer Rouge for the sake of "national reconciliation"? If so, how is
the karma, the revenge, and the policy of national reconciliation interrelated?
There is a Buddhist story called Angulimala, about a Brahman youth who studied at
Taxila and had been ordered by the Chancellor of the institution, because of personal
jealousy, to pay a fee of one thousand human right fore-fingers. He had to kill to
obtain these fingers and he became notorious as Angulimala (finger-garland) and was
a terror throughout the land. Such was the fear he inspired and such was his supernormal
strength, ferocity and swiftness, that he put to flight even troops of trained soldiers
sent out to capture him. When he entered the Buddha's Net of Compassion, he had collected
999 fingers. There ensued a conversation between the Buddha and Angulimala, which
resulted in the complete conversion of the latter. Angulimala the killer became "Angulimala
the Arahat" (Arahat is a highest status for Buddha's disciple) and was ordained
immediately by Buddha merely with the words, "come thou, Bhikkhu". (Bhikkhu
is a rank of Buddhist Monk)
There were no repercussions for the 999 people killed by Angulimala. This was not
because Buddha provided him an amnesty, but because of Angulimala's good karma accumulated,
his present bad karma was too insignificant to dilute the past good karma.
One Buddhist school of thought has said that bad karma is like an arrow launched
by a hunter to kill a wild animal. If the latter were alert enough and able to escape
death, the arrow would not follow it forever. It is a one-shot deal. This may also
apply to some civil or criminal lawsuits, in which there are certain periods during
which complaints or charge may be made against the defendants. In general, if the
limitation period has expired, such cases cannot proceed. The defendants or potential
defendants are free from legal judgment. A judgment in absentia may be tolled if
the defendant is unavailable.
The Angulimala case may be applied to the KR troops who only followed or executed
the top leaders' decisions and orders, who are not involved in the decision-making
process. Regardless of their past, whether they joined "Democratic Kampuchea"
by choice, or without a choice, if they wanted to, such troops are welcome to join
the Cambodian family under the wise and serene King's Metta (Sympathetic Well-wishing
towards all beings), and Karuna (Compassion).
Another Buddhist school of thought has said that karma, either bad or good, is like
the shadow of one's self, which always adheres to a person. One of the two Chief
Buddha's Disciples, called Moggallana, first in Iddhi (Iddhi means supernormal powers),
had been killed by robbers for 500 consecutive lives, because in his former life,
for family reasons, he disguised himself as a robber and intentionally beat his mother
to death. Even in his last life being a Chief Disciple of Buddha, and despite his
accumulated merits toward humanity, hard works, and perfect conduct, he still received
the effect of his bad karma. During his last life, being Preah Arahan (Supreme Chief
Disciple of Buddha), he was still beaten to death by robbers. Then, after death,
he obtained Nirvana. In Buddhism, hurting or killing ones' parents, or the Arahan
(one who has achieved arahantship, especially one of those who were the Buddha's
immediate disciples), or to injure Buddha and make Him bleed are considered to be
very serious crimes. Under this school of thought, in any case, the bad and the good
karma cannot balance out.
How do we relate the two above Buddhist stories to the real life situation in which
Mr. Ieng Sary wants to have a political role in the 1998 Election and in the Coalition
government? Who or what institution is entitled to give amnesty to him, and under
Applying the above stories to Mr. Ieng Sary's case, I believe he should be brought
to trial before an independent neutral, free and fair (national or international)
tribunal. Mr. Ieng Sary can remain innocent until he is proven guilty of wrong-doing.
If the court does not find plausible reasons and/or enough proof of Mr. Ieng Sary's
involvement in the Killing Fields, and if he is acquitted, then he will be welcome
to participate in the rebuilding of Cambodia. But, let his karma be first, which
means give him the opportunity to prove himself before the court.
As with former President Chun Doo-hwan of South Korea, who was sentenced to death
after the court found him guilty of mutiny, treason and corruption charges, if through
due process, Mr. Ieng Sary is found guilty, he should be punished as a regular Cambodian
before the law.
To bring the KR leadership involved in the killings to court is not an act to seek
revenge, but to abide by the Law of karma that everything which happens in one's
life has effects. It is also a lesson to all leaders that whoever takes over power
through force or undemocratic means will be punished, sooner or later. We Cambodians
do not want to succumb to another darkness, to another Killing Fields.
Perhaps Mr. Ieng Sary will be found guilty of serious crimes in a court of law. If
so, then after the court sentence, we can ask for an amnesty from the King if the
Cambodian people, the Government, and the National Assembly believe that for political
reasons and for the sake of the country, Mr. Ieng Sary should be free. But to free
him before this because of emotion or for political gain for a group or individual,
is against the spirit of the law of karma, the will of Cambodian people, Democracy,
and especially the Constitution, in which it is stipulated in Article 31 that: "Every
Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law, enjoying the same rights, freedom and
fulfilling the same obligations regardless of race, color, sex, language, religious
belief, political tendency, birth, origin, social status, wealth or other status".
One can argue that what if he won't come back at all without a guarantee of amnesty,
and continue fighting and affecting thousands of lives? Do we want to be morally
responsible for the death of our people, and what will be the karma affect on those
who did not let him return?
Mr. Ieng Sary's continuation of fighting and killing is his choice. Our intention
is not to revenge nor to punish Mr. Ieng Sary per se, but try to establish the rule
of law, and try to prevent another Killing Fields in the future. We want to set a
lesson to all leaders to come that they cannot not kill people for free with no punishment.
The karma of the Cambodian people may be better off at the long-range when Cambodia
will be truly the State of the rule of law.
Another scenario is that Mr. Ieng Sary does return with automatic amnesty. What will
be the karma effects on him? There are at least three plausible answers for that
scenario: 1) because he is really innocent, which means he has a lot of good karma,
2) because he can escape the bad karma at this time (or in this life), but will face
it the future, 3) because he will be able to escape the bad effect of the karma for