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Thanks for the memories

Thanks for the memories

Dear Sir,

I refer to the letter to the editor by Michael Vickery of your issue of Aug 12-25 which has been forwarded to me for comment. Clearly my inadequate memory has resulted in your reporter and journal being accused of misinformation. What a sad outcome of a genuine concern for the rehabilitation of Buddhism in Cambodia. Guilty is my perhaps inadequate report of what I was led to believe was the first ever delegation of Buddhists from the outside world after the terrible problems of the mid-seventies. After checking with my documents from that time, let me now elaborate further on that visit which is the cause of comment by Mr Vickery.

I visited Phnom Penh on April 23, 1979 as a delegate of the Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace. Our delegation was at the invitation of the then government of Heng Samrin. The other members of the delegation were from among others, the Soviet Union, India, Japan, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. We were flown in by a chartered flight from Hanoi. After our visit, we prepared a document on the sorry state of affairs of Buddhism in Cambodia at the time and submitted it to the headquarters of Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace in Ulan Bator. Our visit included meeting leading officials including Heng Samrin and I dare say they were satisfied with our subsequent report. The sights I have described were as I remembered then, unless the then government carried out a great hoax to mislead us which I find impossible to believe. I am sure the present Sangharaja will testify amply on this visit as we took up his cause and he was subsequently active in our organization.

My impressions at the present visit were impressions of everyday life, that one observed in a few days. Clearly some of the negative features that Vickery lists were not the ones that stood in striking contrast to my first visit.

As for Vickery's remarks on Sri Lanka, I agree that Sri Lanka over the last ten years has had a tragic history. The many conflicts are complex and the reason manifold, both internal as well as external factors contributing. Nearly seventy thousand Sri Lankans of various ethnic and religious persuasions met with violent deaths during this period. Well over 70 percent of these deaths were among Buddhists as were the nearly 600 Buddhist monks killed. Hardly any other clergy suffered. The Buddhist monks themselves who are active in social life as opposed to those who devote themselves to meditation type practices (parallel to the old division of gamvasin and vanavasin monks) are influenced by a variety of contemporary social philosophies, some for example are socialists, others are believers in the market. These different persuasions are in keeping with the absence of a central hierarchy in Buddhism.

My recent visit at the request of the Cambodian authorities was however primarily as the General Secretary of the World Buddhist Sangha Council. Its aim was to mobilize international support for the Cambodian Sasana after the terrible time when almost all monks were either eliminated or disrobed and almost all Buddhist books destroyed, during the mid-seventies. I hope to mobilize support to rebuild what was destroyed. I do hope also that well meaning persons like the writer could help the Cambodian authorities in this regard. I have been canvassing in my capacity as a member of the World Sangha Council in several countries for help to Cambodia Buddhism. Sri Lanka in spite of her many problems has to be an important source in these efforts if for no other reason than that the Buddhism practiced in Cambodia is one that was transmitted several centuries ago from Sri Lanka.

As for Mr. Vickery's references to my apparent youthfulness. Thank you very much for your compliment. But I am seventy years old. And the memory fails sometimes. Anicca vata sankara, "All compounded things decay". This happened when I met the first Prime Minister of Cambodia His Royal Highness Norodom Ranariddh in this visit. As we spoke, we both realized that in the early seventies we were for one month together in Havana in a conference on culture. Although we two were perhaps the only two members without a Communist Orientation, let me add that the meeting was hardly organized by capitalists. As was not my first visit to Phnom Penh.

M. Wipulasara Thero, Sri Lanka

This letter was written in response to one by Michael Vickery, which criticized an article by John C. Brown on Thero's visit to Cambodia to aid Buddhism's revival. Vickery claimed the article was a thinly-veiled attack on the CPP.

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