Those hopeless Cambodian heathens

Over the past week I haven’t made much time for blogging. But I still read the feeds, and I saw a post on Cambodia: Details are Sketchy this morning, which really touched my (Angry Asian Buddhist) heart.

They sure are lucky the white people are here to save them.

“After 24 hours of travel – starting in Rocklin and ending in Battambang, Cambodia – not counting layovers, our team has settled into life and ministry in Cambodia. Even though our afternoon activities were rained out today we have already visited two local churches in the Battambang area where we shared testimonies, sang, prayed, made some crafts, and just had fun and fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. Their stories are inspiring to us and we hope we have been an encouragement to them.

After church on Sunday we climbed 358 steps to visit the ruins of a Buddhist temple on top of a local mountain. We were glad to learn more about the beliefs of the Cambodian people but we were also reminded of the hopeless situation of those many people who have yet to put their trust in Jesus Christ.

Poor little suckers, all brown and poor and heathened.

Controversy over the Rock Opera

Where Elephants WeepWhen writing up my last post, I forgot to check with Cambodge Soir. As I read there today, I found out that the rock opera Where Elephants Weep has not been banned outright, as is also reported in a (translated) piece on KI Media. I found the Cambodge Soir report particularly insightful, relating who exactly said what and also including the views of the monk, the government and the opera representatives. You can read the original report in French by Ung Chansophea and Alain Ney on Cambodge Soir. My translation is below.

I must ask for forgiveness in advance. My translation from French is as bad (and liberal) as it is from Khmer. I hope that you can at least walk away from this with an understanding that there is a more complex story behind a headline as simple as “Monks Force Rock Opera Off Air.”

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Oh Those Cambodians…

Where Elephants Weep

Via Danny Fisher, I read about the rock opera that was forced off the air in Cambodia due to complaints from monks. Apparently, they were offended by the character of a bad monk who disrobed, slept with a woman and then was later seen again in robes. There was some other coverage of this story at Precious Metal, Mongkol and also at Shambhala Sun, where Rod Meade Sperry in particular caught my attention with the following lines:

This stands in stark contrast to how we Westerners mostly deal with cultural portrayals of Buddhism. Whether it’s a rapper co-opting a chant for his song, or a major motion picture taking incredible liberties with Buddhist ideas or imagery, or just the mountains of semi-Dharmic knick-knacks that are popping everywhere, we — for the most part — just shrug our shoulders and say, “Meh.”

It seems like a very simple story. Cambodian monks are basically narrow-minded angry Asian Buddhists who get offended every time they see Buddhism wrapped up in something they don’t recognize. If only they were as open-minded as us Western Buddhists. Those rock opera producers certainly had no idea what they were doing when they put the character of a nasty monk into their plot. Or did they?

Few journalists care enough to report in depth about Cambodia (except you Nicholas Kristof!), so here’s what I’ve got to say on the subject.

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Dhammayuttika Nikaya of Cambodia

The other night, I was eating dinner with a scholar of Cambodian literature and his family, and somehow we got onto the topic of Buddhism and chanting. I mentioned that I chant in the style of the Dhammayutt.* Bour KryHis children (all my age or older) had no idea what I was talking about. They had never heard of the Dhammayutt.

We had some discussion about the two orders of Theravada monks in Cambodia. There is the Dhammayuttika Nikaya and Maha Nikaya, they have different sangharajas, and their practices and chanting differ. But I didn’t do the subject justice. This topic has come up a couple times before, so for the sake of reference, here is a background sketch of what I’m referring to when I talk about the Dhammayutt order.

(What I know is incomplete and admittedly biased, so feel free to set me straight.)

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Put on the red light

Over on DJ Buddha, I read about the upcoming Women in American Buddhism convention, something that I feel is getting too little attention in the Buddhist community. Women and “not enough coverage” were the themes of another post I’d attempted to write in June. Cambodian sex workers had staged a protest at a Buddhist temple, taking issue with the government’s recent crackdown. 

These news stories were accompanied by comments of disgust and repulsion: Prostitutes and Buddhism don’t go together. But there is more overlap than one might otherwise imagine.

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