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.)

The Dhammayutt Order was founded by a Thai prince in 1833.** At the time he was a monk who’d become disenchanted by the conduct of contemporary Thai monks. Monks were commonly seen violating sanghadisesa rules — these are pretty serious rules that require the Sangha to have a meeting whenever the rules are broken.

Seeing monks flagrantly breaking the sanghadisesa rules, the prince-monk began wondering if any were secretly breaking parajika rules — rules that require explusion from the monkhood. That would mean that there were plenty of false monks walking around, and then every monk ordained by a false monk became a false monk in turn. So now the prince-monk worried whether he was a real monk or not.

Inspired by the upright practice and lineage of the Mon monks, the prince-monk had himself reordained in the Mon Sangha. You can tell he was serious because he had himself ordained in a river — he didn’t trust the Thai simas (ordination zones) — and he did it six times with six sets of monks, betting that at least one of those preceptors was a real monk.

The prince-monk then established a reform movement. Drawing on his inspiration and experience with the Mon monks, the movement was to adhere to the ideals of the monkhood as enshired in the Pali Cannon, and was appropriately named the Dhammayuttika Nikaya (“group that practices in accordance with the law”). Other monks then belonged to the Maha Nikaya. The prince-monk set up a number of customs that persist to this day. One of them is the style of chanting, which has strong Sinhalese and Mon influences — this is why I point out that my chanting may sound a little strange to someone who doesn’t hang out with Dhammyutt monks.

The Cambodian Dhammyutt begins with Maha Saukonn Baan, who was a Khmer monk who had ordained in the Dhammayutt tradition in Thailand. In 1851 the Thai prince-monk disrobed and became king, after which the Khmer King Norodom invited Maha Baan to start the Dhammayutt lineage in Cambodia. Unlike Thailand, with a single sangharaja (supreme patriarch) for the entire monkhood, Cambodia now had two: a sangharaja for the Dhammayutt and one for the Maha Nikaya.

The Cambodian Dhammayutt was almost completely exterminated during the Khmer Rouge years. In 1991, the exiled Dhammayutt monk Bour Kry was appointed the seventh Dhammayut sangharaja of Cambodia. He has begun the order’s revival, although still less than five percent of Cambodian temples are Dhammayutt institutions.

That’s the rough historical background. Now you know.

* In Khmer, this is often said as Preah Thoumyut ព្រះ​ធម្មយុត្ត and in Thai it’s Thammayut ธรรมยุต, and there are many, many spelling variations. There’s some stuff on Wikipedia, but it’s sketchy, written mostly by the same person and doesn’t look well-researched.

** Prince Mongkut is probably more famous as King Rama IV, having inspired a character that won Yul Brynner an Oscar.

4 Replies to “Dhammayuttika Nikaya of Cambodia”

  1. I had not heard of this branch either but was delighted to read about it here. Thanks for shining a spotlight on another great lineage in the great and diverse Buddhist world.

    All the best…

  2. Thanks for reading, James! The Dhammayutt is influential, albeit little known. It’s also the order to which Thailand’s Supreme Patriarch belongs to, and it’s also the order into which the current Thai King ordained when he was a monk in his youth. The current Thai forest tradition also grew out of the Dhammayutt, although one shouldn’t confuse the two.

  3. Do you know of any specific reputable dhammayut monasteries or ” Tan Ajahns” in Cambodia?

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