Wild monks should raise concern in Cambodia by Anya Palm

11. Nov 2009

In Cambodia, on TuesdayOct 26, a nun was murdered. She had grabbed the wrong bowl to feed the pigswith and then an angry man beat her to death with a stick for her mistake. Sameday, in an unrelated case, a young student became the center of a drunkenbrawl. Two men got so upset with the student that they beat him with a hammerand an iron bar. 

The only thing those twoincidents have in common – apart from a deadly outcome for the victim – is thatthe perpetrator was a Buddhist monk.

The cases do not standalone. There are frequently reports of Cambodian monks getting into violentfights, watching porn, drinking, gambling, raping and doing pretty much exactlyas they damn well please.

And while a collective consensusof condemning the wild monks arises – it is not difficult to agree thatmurdering someone is wrong – Cambodian authorities either fail to acknowledgeor simply ignore the greater problem.

There are procedures forbreaking the law and those can be followed. (That they tend to be followedsomewhat creatively in the super corrupt Kingdom is another issue.) In anycase, the crime will be dealt with and does not constitute the core of theproblem.

The orange garments do.

Those are symbols of peaceand morality that the Cambodian people need and the role of the bearer in theCambodian society is of crucial importance.

90 percent of the peopleidentify themselves as Buddhist and go to the pagoda on a regular basis. Alarge part of the population is not educated and looks to the monks for wisdomand answers. Most people are raised amidst corruption, violence and poverty;yet, those are the same people that are struggling to rebuild a nationshattered by genocide, occupation, coup and political instability.

There are three corevalues that constitute the pillars of Cambodian society: King, Nation andReligion. While the retired King is largely still who Cambodians refer to whenthey say King, he is in his own way contributing to society by doing what he feelsis best for his country. There are issues, that can certainly be discussed andlooked upon critically, but in the greater picture, King Sihanouk fights forhis Kingdom. As mentioned, the people themselves have taken it upon them torestore the Nation and thus, it lays with the monks the rebuild the Religion.

This is the consequencesof monks running wild: They obstruct the rebuilding of a country that is verymuch only beginning to rise again. They risk that the Cambodian people losefaith in them as role models and if that happens, one ground pillar is missing.

And having identifiedthat, there is yet another problem: What can be done?

This is a difficultquestion. None of the politicians seem to not take up the discussion. If it wasonly because they recognized that politics and religion are two separatethings, they would be excused, but seeing as the religious system is indeedvery politicized in Cambodia, they might for once use it for the good. Alas.None of the chief monks and religious leaders has taken any steps worthmentioning either and the intellectuals and public debaters are a largelypowerless group.

A young monk from the WatLanka pagoda in the capital proposed his idea for a solution in a chat withfriends: Longer training period and defrocking at first offense. His idea -good or bad – will not be heard, though. It is not his place to propose suchthings.

But…maybe it should be?