Cambodian Monastics Gather in Phnom Penh for 24th Annual Congress
The 24th annual congress of Buddhist monks convened in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh on Tuesday, bringing together some 800 senior monastics from across the country to discuss the sangha’s achievements over the past year and to lay out plans for the year ahead.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the two-day assembly in Chaktomuk Hall, Heng Samrin, president of the National Assembly of Cambodia, the lower house of the country’s parliament, extolled the importance of the annual event in strengthening the structure and governance of the sangha. He also emphasized the vital role played by the monastic community in educating members of the public in the Dharma and encouraging right conduct.
“The congress is a good opportunity for Buddhist monks to meet and exchange views on developing and enhancing Buddhism,” he said. (Xinhua)
Despite high-profile cases in recent months, the contentious topic of monastic child abuse was left off the event’s agenda, prompting criticism from child protection advocates in the country. The issue was most recently in the spotlight last month after the head monk of a monastery in the popular tourist destination of Siem Reap was charged with raping nine boys.
“The case of systematic abuse of children recently reported represents a significant failing of the child protection system,” said UNICEF’s chief of child protection, Bruce Grant, in reference to the Siem Reap case. “Although the alleged perpetrator was arrested and many leaders spoke out about how terrible the abuse was, there were still worrying gaps in the response. The confidentiality of the alleged victim was not protected, little assistance was provided by government agencies and the care of the children was primarily left to NGOs.” (The Phnom Penh Post)
The congress is the second major assembly of senior monks in the capital this year. In June, thousands of monks gathered outside Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace to pay tribute to King Norodom Sihamoni’s services to Buddhism in Cambodia. The ceremony was attended by senior monks and Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen, with Buddhist clergy from Japan, Mongolia, and Singapore also among the attendees.
Buddhism has existed in Cambodia since at least the 5th century, initially as a form of Mahayana Buddhism. Today, the predominant form of Buddhism in Cambodia is Theravada Buddhism, which has been the state religion since the 13th century (except from 1975–79, when the country was controlled by the Khmer Rouge communist movement). The Washington, DC-base Pew Research Center estimates that almost 97 per cent of the country’s population identified as Buddhist as of 2010.
Cambodia’s Theravada monastic community is comprised of two schools—the Maha Nikaya order, by far the largest, led by Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong, and the Dhammayuttika Nikaya order, which came to Cambodia from Thailand in 1855, headed by Supreme Patriarch Bou Kry.
Despite royal patronage, the Dhammayuttika Nikaya remains a small minority, isolated somewhat by its stricter discipline and more traditionalist practices. According the minister of cults and religious affairs, Min Khin, there are 59,516 monks and 4,755 monasteries in Cambodia, of which 54,762 monks and 4,551 monasteries are affiliated with the Maha Nikaya order.
Cambodia Holds 24th Congress of Buddhist Monks (Agence Kampuchea Presse)
Annual Buddhist monk congress held in Cambodia (Xinhua)
Monk congress won’t tackle child abuse (The Phnom Penh Post)
Cambodian Monastics Honor King’s Service to Buddhism (Buddhistdoor Global)