Traditional Khmer Buddhism was embodied in a didactic poem
called Trai Phum or “Three Worlds”
These outlined cbabor “laws, of relationships, similar to Confucianism, these proverbs were memorized by every Cambodian child. The proverbs delineated proper relations and conduct between people. Everyone has a “place” in society, with accompanying rights and responsibilities.
The most important relations are parents and teachers.
This relationship insures a “transmission” process over generations, and does not recognize “progress.”
This cerate a static, stable, sustainable type of society emphasizing the high priority and value placed on continuity.
The earliest religious ideas of the proto-Khmer people were centered on worship of a “mountain god” who was venerated as the ancestor, and the king or patriarchal figure was identified with the “god of the mountain” or “king of the mountain.”
This mountain has phallic symbolism and was associated with
virility, potency and fertility.
When the proto-Khmer people came into contact with Indianized Hindu culture through sea-trade which gave rise to the Funan culture of the Mekong Delta, they assimilated the Hindu mountain-cosmology with their own religious cosmology and began to increasingly accept Hindu, particularly Shiva, interpretations, and began to identify their “king of the mountain” with the God-king, Shiva.
In Hindu cosmology, Mt Meru is the center of the universe. The earthly temple-mountain is the symbolic center of the empire, from which the king reigns. The temple-mountain, in which his Shiva lingam phallic-symbol is housed and ritually worshiped, is the center and source of the kings’ potency and fertility, which blesses the empire with fortune and well-being. The potency-virility of the king fertilizes the earth, earth-goddess, the people, who bring forth rice, i.e. life, abundance, happiness, security, stability, well-being.
This is a continuous religious concept of Khmer tradition, extending from the earliest prehistory of Cambodia, and enduring into the present day.
Each year the king officially opens the rice-planting season with a formal ceremony in which he personally plows furrows in the earth, accompanied by musicians, and followed by young maidens who walk behind and scatter rice seeds into the furrows.
Mt Meru is the center between heaven and hell, between heaven
and earth. Six circle chains of mountains surround Mt Meru, separated by
six oceans. The Ocean of Infinity encloses the entire mass.
“In Buddhism, a continent shaped like an island lies beyond the ocean in each of the four cardinal regions of space. Layers of heaven soar above Mt Meru. The four rulers of the cardinal directions live in the summit of the mountain. Fantastic animals live in the forest at the base of the mountain, which serves as a refuge for ascetics to meditate.” (1)
The temple-mountain reached its perfect expression in Angkor
These temples were designed according to mathematical calculations and astrology, to represent harmony between heaven and earth, and to establish harmony in the universe.
The east represents the sun-creation; the west represents death and destruction.
DEVARAJA – GOD KING
In the Hindu world view, the king was the embodiment of the god, usually Shiva (the destroyers) or sometimes Vishnu (the sustainer).
The Shiva lingam was stored in the temple of the devaraja – the god-king. The king was the “creator” and sustainer of the nation.
“The temples represented the mystical Hindu golden Mount Meru, home of the gods and center of the world. Organizing the empire in the image of the universe and the center of the capital in the image of Mount Meru ensured harmony – and reassured Khmers that they were at the magical center of the world. The capital, and within the capital, the king’s palace and the mausoleum-temple in which his remains would be preserved had great cosmological significance, beyond being the administrative and cultural center of the country….” [Angkor Life, Stephen Murray, 1996]
In the minds of the Khmer kings, Hinduism and Buddhism were not distinct. The Mahayana Buddhists thought of Buddha as an avatar (manifestation) of God. The Shivite God-king (devaraja) idea blended with the bodhisattva ideal in their minds.
“The conflation of the Buddhist bodhisattva, Lokeshvara, and the Mahashvar may also date back to the fifth century. Beginning in the fourth century, Champa kings were attaching the suffix -varman (“protector”) to their names. The sixth century Buddhism king of Funan, Rudravarman, was apparently Buddhist. Nonetheless, he was careful to have his lingam worshiped (at Ba Phnom, east of the Mekong).” [Angkor Life, Stephen O. Murray.]
Worshiped Avalokitashvara who is portrayed in Angkor art.
Avalokitashvara is the Bodhisattva of Compassion, known in Khmer as Lokeshvara-
“Lord of the World.”
Avalokiteshvara means literally “the lord who looks down from above.”
The bodhisattvas appear in the stone sculptures of the period, as a four-armed deity who carries a flask, book, lotus and rosary and has a Buddha or lotus on his head.
Cambodian traditions tended to blend, synthesize religious ideas. The god Harihara, for example, is a uniquely Cambodian god who is composite of Shiva and Vishnu.
The word “varman” – “protector”
– from “armor” was used among the Pallavas and other southern
and central Indian kings in the 3rd century, suggesting a transmission and
exchange of cultural influences between Funan and Buddhist India.
Fundamental Beliefs of Khmer Buddhist Cosmology
Human life is affected by variety of factors. These factors are influential in human life, but are not ultimately fateful, determining human destiny and depriving the individual of free will. These energy factors are limited. Human destiny is generated by one’s personal free, volitional action or “karma”.
A) In Spirits and gods (spirits below and gods above)
B) Vital essences
C) Fate: in the stars; astrology
D) Modern science – such as germ theory
The spirits cause illness, accidents, plant and land fertility, fertility of women.
There are also group spirits, protectors, ancestors.
These spirits must be respected and honored, and they will protect and nurture the human being. If they are dishonored, ignored or angered, they can be dangerous.
Winds or “vital essence” - All living things have “vital essence” – air, breath, wind, called “pralu’n” in Khmer. This vital essence exists in plural forms in the 19 parts of the body in Khmer world view (32 parts of the body in Thai). The winds act as a unity in reality. They may survive death.
Male and female energies are vital essences. The “vital essence” is nourished by the female energy – the woman’s body, the mother’s milk, the “rice” of the earth. The earth and rice are feminine, goddess. Every grain of rice is part of the body of Mother Rice (Maeae Posop) and contains a bit of her vital essence.
The essence of male energy is “potency” – the power to fertilize the earth and fertilize woman; power to govern. Potency is a sense of glory, a religious essence, which men have, because men can achieve nibanna.
Fate refers to the cosmic elements; heavenly bodies; topography of land; elements of the body; osculation of day and night; directions – orientation to the cosmic elements.
Disturbance can be corrected through ritual reaction that restores, balance, reorientation of the individual to the cosmic elements.
In modern times, the Khmer people have come to accept western scientific notations of causality such as germ theory, chemistry, physics, etc, as influential forces affecting the course of human life.
Karma: all these above influences are limited and experienced because we’re born in the human realm. They “influence” our lives, but do not determine our destiny/fate.
Our fate is caused by Karma.
We have a great degree of freedom in determining our future experience.
Our place in this world can change in the course of a lifetime when karma “burns out.”
Khmer Buddhists take “precepts” or vows in their
They must avoid demerit and perform acts of merit.
Demerit is breaking precepts, such as expressing greed, hatred and delusion.
Merit is accumulated through dana (giving gifts) especially to monks, keeping precepts, ordination, listening to Dhamma, performing acts of veneration to the three-jewels, pilgrimage, meditation (bhavana).
Meditation by older people especially in preparation for death is powerful merit.
Merit is also increased through “transfer of merit” in giving it to the goddess of the earth to spread it to all livening beings.
Chanting Buddhist sutras or “Paritti” (Protection) and religious ceremonies are great sources of merit, creating good karma and dissolving bad karma, by changing the mind.
“We are what we think. All that we are arises from the mind. With the mind we create the world.”
Chanting the Buddhist sutras tends the mind toward enlightenment and away from delusion with its accompanying suffering.
1. Through the power of truth. The Suttas are expressions of enlightened mind, recited by the Buddha. Recitation of the Suttas inclines the mind toward enlightened truth.
2. Through the power of love. The Suttas are teachings of the compassionate Buddha, and incline the mind toward compassion and love.
3. Through the power of virtue. The suttas are expressions of a noble being and incline the mind toward virtue, accompanied by wellbeing and happiness.
4. Through the power of sound. The power of sound sets off various levels of vibrations that are powerfully healing on many levels, both physically and mentally.
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Started: Wed, August 13, B.E.2547,A.D.2003, Last Updated: July 23, 2005