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Cambodian Buddhism

History and Practice

Ian Harris

Publication Year: 2005

The study of Cambodian religion has long been hampered by a lack of easily accessible scholarship. This impressive new work by Ian Harris thus fills a major gap and offers English-language scholars a booklength, up-to-date treatment of the religious aspects of Cambodian culture. Beginning with a coherent history of the presence of religion in the country from its inception to the present day, the book goes on to furnish insights into the distinctive nature of Cambodia's important yet overlooked manifestation of Theravada Buddhist tradition and to show how it reestablished itself following almost total annihilation during the Pol Pot period. Historical sections cover the dominant role of tantric Mahayana concepts and rituals under the last great king of Angkor, Jayavarman VII (1181–c. 1220); the rise of Theravada traditions after the collapse of the Angkorian civilization; the impact of foreign influences on the development of the nineteenth-century monastic order; and politicized Buddhism and the Buddhist contribution to an emerging sense of Khmer nationhood. The Buddhism practiced in Cambodia has much in common with parallel traditions in Thailand and Sri Lanka, yet there are also significant differences. The book concentrates on these and illustrates how a distinctly Cambodian Theravada developed by accommodating itself to premodern Khmer modes of thought. Following the overthrow of Prince Sihanouk in 1970, Cambodia slid rapidly into disorder and violence. Later chapters chart the elimination of institutional Buddhism under the Khmer Rouge and its gradual reemergence after Pol Pot, the restoration of the monastic order's prerevolutionary institutional forms, and the emergence of contemporary Buddhist groupings.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

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Preface

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pp. vii-xv

Surprisingly little material specifically related to Cambodian Buddhism has been written in English. A brief glance at the bibliography accompanying this book demonstrates the truth of this assertion. Rather more is available in French, as one would expect from the ex-colonial power, but much is out of...

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1. Buddhism in Cambodia: From Its Origins to the Fall of Angkor

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pp. 1-25

The great pioneering works of French scholarship on ancient Cambodia were primarily concerned with the construction of royal chronologies and with the problem of how Hinduism had been transplanted in an alien setting.1 The towering figure in the field, George Coed

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2. The Middle Period and the Emergence of the Theravada

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pp. 26-48

Sr

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3. Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia: Territorial and Social Lineaments

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pp. 49-80

In common with most cultures of the region, the Cambodians contrast the world of settled, rice-growing existence with the wilderness beyond. From the end of the Angkorian period until the 1840s the country had no roads of significance, and a royal chronicle relates: “In former times there was little dry...

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4. Literary and Cult Traditions

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pp. 81-104

Cambodian literature is customarily divided into two major categories. The first encompasses all explicit works of religious instruction (gambhir), including canonical, cosmological, and ritual Buddhist texts; commentaries on these; annals and chronicles; works of moral and political instruction...

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5. Cambodian Buddhism under Colonial Rule

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pp. 105-130

Cambodia’s weakness after the fall of Angkor meant that it could offer little resistance to the oscillating influences and rivalry of its two stronger neighbors, Vietnam and Thailand, which tended to dominate its internal affairs. The Cambodian royal family periodically divided into antagonistic pro-Thai and...

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6. Buddhism and Cambodian Nationalism

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pp. 131-156

Southeast Asian Buddhist monks have often participated in movements of contestation. From the Burmese sack of Ayutthaya in 1767 to the establishment of the Chakri dynasty in 1782, civil war raged in Thailand. Among the combatants, clans of monks proficient in the use of swords and guns attempted to carve...

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7. Liberation: The Religio-political Dimension

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pp. 157-189

A Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party (KPRP) history written in 1991 mentions a number of insurrections during the early 1930s, including the “uprising of two monks: Achar Mean and Achar Pring, etc.” The Vietnamese sources on which these assertions are based acknowledge that there is no evidence that...

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8. Cambodian Buddhism after the Khmer Rouge

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pp. 190-224

In May 1978, Heng Samrin gave a speech in Cambodia’s eastern zone revealing the existence of a dissident grouping within the Khmer Rouge. He called on “all patriotic forces regardless of political and religious tendencies,” including “Buddhist monks and nuns,” to join a united front to help “topple the reactionary...

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Conclusion

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pp. 225-230

Buddhism has had an active presence in Khmer population zones for approximately one and a half millennia. During that time it has manifested a variety of differing forms, while its influence has ebbed and flowed both among members of the ruling elite and in the wider population. It was an important...

Appendix A. Cambodian Inscriptions Discussed in the Book

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pp. 231-232

Appendix B. Evidence Chart Based on Materials Discussed in Chapter 1

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pp. 233-235

Appendix C. Ecclesiastical Hierarchies in the Two Cambodian Buddhist Orders

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pp. 236-238

Abbreviations

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pp. 239-240

Notes

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pp. 241-300

Glossary

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pp. 301-304

Khmer Word List

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pp. 305-308

Bibliography

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pp. 309-342

Index

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pp. 343-352


E-ISBN-13: 9780824861766
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824827656

Publication Year: 2005

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Subject Headings

  • Buddhism -- Cambodia -- History.
  • Buddhism and politics -- Cambodia.
  • Political atrocities -- Cambodia.
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