Dhammayietra XI, which is less known in local media than a cigarette advertisement, arrived at the top of Preah Vihear Mountain on the evening of March 22. More than 200 walkers, including Buddhist monks, nuns, lay people, international and local NGOs workers, walked for days from Oddar Meanchey province across landmine affected areas in order to bring awareness of peace and reconciliation to the isolated people there. On the 23rd, walkers completed their task with prayers for peace at Preah Vihear temple.
It was a privilege for me to catch up with the Dhammayietra at Preah Vihear temple. It was hard enough to travel for two full days to reach the destination but that was nothing compared to the Dhammayietra whose walkers travelled on foot across hundreds of kilometres to reach their destination. Preah Vihear is one of the most difficult provinces in Cambodia to be accessed because of the road conditions and lack of communication facilities.
At Preah Vihear temple, a few Dhammayietra organisers who I have known for some years as we worked on peace issues together, welcomed me. Along with this welcome, was the warning about landmines.
Life is risky for the people who live there as they are surrounded by landmines. There is only a narrow path for people to walk through safely from one place to another, and even on that they cannot be sure they are safe from landmines. I was told that a young man recently stepped on landmine while walking on a path people travel on every day, and had his leg cut off.
This is only one part of the war legacy which Cambodian people are still facing today. There are other psychological impacts, which play active role in sustaining the war legacy.
While talking with some walkers, I could not help admiring how much they were committed to achieving peace. They have gained so much knowledge about the issues facing the villagers they have met across the country. Their efforts deserve to be heard and appreciated.
Dhammayietra is a pure peace movement. However, it almost cannot survive in the extreme political atmosphere in Cambodia. The Dhammayietra, led by Samdech Preah Maha Ghosananda, began in 1992.
In 1998, the image of Dham-mayietra was severely damaged by the political crisis. A group faked a political march using Dhammayietra in order to achieve their own political desire. However, the committed members have continued working hard to maintain the true intention striving for a peaceful Cambodia.
The Dhammayietra XI (2001) is part of the process of peace. It is part of and a continuation of the peace movement in Cambodia. The combined sound of a Japanese monk's drum and Buddhist monks and nuns chanting echoed across the jungle appealing to all to participate in the quest for a positive peace.
Dhammayietra is not a religious procession as such but it is a mechanism for peace building, which understands deeply about the culture of the locality and tries to speak the language that can be understood by the people. The essence of Dhammayietra brings together people from all walks of life, all religions and all political backgrounds. The Dhammayietra should be a source of pride for all Cambodians.
Post war is peace, post peace is war. Dhammayietra is aiming to see Cambodian society remain in peace as long as possible. People may wonder why Dhammayietra is still needed if the country is already at peace. The answer to this question is related directly to the concept of reconciliation and healing. Mr Phay Sophal, a Dhammayietra organizer, explained that although Cambodia now has no war and people can live together no matter who they have been in the past, we live together only physically. Psychologically we are still divided and our capacity to deal with problems in a non-violent way is still limited. It is very true that Cambodians when they first meet each other before speaking openly assess which political party or group each belongs. The levels of trust at the political and community levels are low.
Thus, Dhammayietra and other work for peace is very necessary for Cambodia. Their roles are from a different end of the spectrum to that of the political parties who have caused so much division within the society.
In a democratic society, political choice is very important but community peace is more important for every day life. Dham-mayietra seeks to bring about this awareness so that sustainable peace can be achieved.
- Soth Plai Ngarm, Phnom Penh.