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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Real Conservatives

A little over a month ago, I got an email from Kusala Bhikshu’s Urban Dharma devoted to an article by Bhikkhu Bodhi titled: How will the Sangha fare in North American Buddhism? (You can also link via Abhayagiri.) Now after tearing through a backlog of work and mending a dislocated elbow, here are my thoughts.

First off, I really appreciate Bhikkhu Bodhi’s article because he raises questions that really do need to be addressed, and he did so very respectfully. He asks the question, Are there forces at work that might actually undermine the survival of Buddhist monasticism? While he characterized different approaches and responses as either conservative or liberal, he emphasized that he was not taking a stand with one camp or another.

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