Image of the Buddha on low currency banknote prompts protest in Cambodia

buddhabanknote

It is reported in The Phnom Penh Post that a new low currency Cambodian banknote has caused protest from some Buddhist groups. A group of monks have suggested that the new 100 riel banknote, the smallest currency note worth about 2 cents, containing an image of the Buddha, is offensive to the Buddha.

Bo Samnang, chairman of National Culture and Morality Center commented:

‘A 100 riel note is the lowest currency in Cambodia and Buddha is of the highest status, higher than the royal king; this is unacceptable to have his photo on the currency.’

Venerable Lorm Loeum of Tomnak in Siem Reap suggested that:

‘This is awful, as normally people keep money in pockets and even their bras for women. This is very offensive to the Buddha. I urge the government to consider this and withdraw that Buddha picture from currency.’

‘The Buddha doesn’t belong in temple’, says statue breaker

 

Bayon

An odd episode, reported by various news outlets about a New Zealand resident destroying an ancient statue of the Buddha at the Bayon temple in Cambodia. Here’s one version of the story:

The New Zealand resident who broke a Buddha statue in Cambodia says she did so because it was inside a temple dedicated to another deity.

Willemijn Vermaat, 40, who moved to Wellington from the Netherlands eight years ago, had been on a four-week holiday to Laos and Cambodia when she entered the 12th-century Bayon Temple in Siem Reap late on her final night.

She was later questioned by the Apsara Authority about pushing over a Buddhist statue, which broke into four pieces, but she said it was out of her control.

Delayed by rain, she said, she was standing in the temple entrance way after permitted viewing times when something strange happened to her.

“I was drawn to go into the inner sanctuary where the Buddha statue was,” she said. “When I got in there I got a very strange feeling that something was talking to me, but it was like it was my own thoughts.

“It was telling me I had to clean up the temple because there was too much rubbish, from the monks and other people.”

She said the voice identified itself as the Mesopotamian goddess Inana, who told her the temple was not a temple of Buddha, rather one belonging to her.

While cleaning, Vermaat, who has a PhD in linguistics, was discovered by three monks, who allowed her to walk away even though she had been in there after the 6.30pm cut-off time for visitors.

The monks then alerted the Apsara Authority, which started searching for her. “I was hiding in the jungle until I didn’t hear them searching for me any more. So I returned to the inner sanctuary and I had to meditate.

“I was told I had to move the Buddha but I said I didn’t want to as it’s such a great religion and nothing to make fun of. So I tried to sit on his lap but that didn’t work so I pushed him out, and I was apologising to him, but that must have been when I broke it.”

Breaking it was not intentional but it was quite heavy and hard to move, she said.

It did not look like an old statue, rather one that had been put there for decorative purposes.

The Cambodian Daily reported it dated from the reign of Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century and had already been broken into several pieces when rediscovered, but was restored in 1988 so that it could be put on display at Bayon.

But other Cambodian media said it was a replica made in 1988.

Vermaat said she felt bad about breaking the statue but it should not have been in there as it was not a Buddha temple and did not look anything like the many other Buddhist temples she had seen in Asia.

The voices abruptly stopped soon after her meditation so she walked out of the temple.

“I went to where I was supposed to meet my tuk-tuk driver and one of the guys from the authority was there and then eight or so others came and took me to my guest house.

“Two of them took my statement and I told them I had pushed over the Buddha but then they let me go.”

She had spent so long in the temple that she had missed her evening flight to Bangkok but flew out the next day.

Vermaat said she was not fazed by people who thought she might be crazy. “They can take it as they want, there are things in this world that we cannot always explain.”

Khmer Krom Buddhist monks ask Cambodian parliament to demand apology from Vietnam

 

Cambodian monks

This is a picture of Buddhist monks from Vietnam’s Khmer Krom ethnic minority who live in Cambodia protesting outside the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh. Holding the so-called ‘Buddhist flag’ they are demanding an apology from the Vietnamese concerning recent statements about ownership of disputed territory.

As part of the protest there was a call on Cambodians to boycott Vietnamese goods. Reflecting other movements in Southeast Asia part of the protest raised concerns about ‘illegal immigration’, in this case from Vietnam.

Radio Free Asia report the history of the dispute:

‘France’s Cochinchina colony, which included the former provinces of Kampuchea Krom, was officially ceded to Vietnam in 1949, but had been under Vietnamese control since the mid-17th century.

One of the most important seaports of Kampuchea Krom, once called Prey Nokor, is now known as Ho Chi Minh City—the financial hub of Vietnam and one of the largest cities in Southeast Asia.

Since Hanoi took control, the Khmer Krom living in Vietnam—believed to number considerably more than one million and who are ethnically similar to most Cambodians—have increasingly faced social persecution and strict religious controls, according to rights groups.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has said the Khmer Krom face serious restrictions of freedom of expression, assembly, association, information, and movement in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese government has banned Khmer Krom human rights publications and tightly controls the practice of Theravada Buddhism by the minority group, which sees the religion as a foundation of their distinct culture and ethnic identity.

On the other side of the border, the Khmer Krom who leave Vietnam for Cambodia remain one of the country’s “most disenfranchised groups,” Human Rights Watch said.

Because they are often perceived as Vietnamese by Cambodians, many Khmer Krom in Cambodia face social and economic discrimination.

They also face hurdles in legalizing their status in the country as authorities have failed to grant many Khmer Krom citizenship or residence rights despite promises to treat them as Cambodian citizens, according to Human Rights Watch.’

The Saffron Revolution in Cambodia

Cambodia

As reported in The Phnom Penh Post Buddhist monastics are involved in the current political struggle in Cambodia. They have been active at Freedom Park in central Phnom Pen in opposition to the government. The monks have been active in recent political movements. For example, in the garment and service sectors they have supported strikes by workers for more pay:

“We don’t want the regime to control the people. We want the people to control the regime,” said But Buntenh, founder of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, a group at the forefront of anti-government protests. “Whoever are the justice lovers, we will side with them.”

It is interesting to compare these sentiments to those expressed by the Buddhist Association of Thailand about the political monk Buddha Issara:

“Monks can have personal feelings but political expression is banned by sangha regulations,” said the association’s secretary Sathien Wipornmaha. He said Buddha Issara’s involvement in anti-government protests “destroys the image of Buddhism”.

Luang Pu Buddha Issara was involved in the recent anti-government protests in Thailand.