|Forest Sangha Newsletter||October 1993|
The Long Path to Peace
A Moment of Peace - A Glimmer of Hope
'Our journey for peace begins today, and everyday, slowly, slowly, step by step. Each step is a prayer. Each step will build a bridge.' (Ajahn Maha Ghosananda). It was in this spirit a group of over four hundred people took their first steps on a 350 kilometre cross country journey through the war-torn provinces of Siem Reap, Konpong Thorn, and Kompong Cham down to the capital city of Phnom Penh. It was the beginning of a walk for peace in areas of Cambodia which have known nothing but war, before and since the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in October 1991.
We were told not to come, but they cannot stop us. This is our religion. We hunger for peace so much.
The Dhamma Yietra walked through areas where UN peace-keeping forces do not travel further than 500 metres from their compounds for the sake of their own security; through areas where people's prayers were hauntingly simple: 'May we sleep above the ground again, instead of gathering our children for another night in the bunker.' 'May the shelling stop.' 'We just don't know where to run to anymore,' pleaded a mother of five, 'May we just stop fearing the night.' As the walk passed through this war-torn country, many soldiers started to lay down their weapons, and ask for a blessing, as the monks, who walked in front, filed past. At one stop, several armed soldiers came into the temple in which we were staying and asked to see a monk leading the walk. They then laid their weapons on the floor. They bowed in front of Ven. Kim Teng and requested a blessing of protection. 'We don't want anyone to be killed or hurt,' one said. 'Even though I am a soldier, I have no ill-will in my heart,' he continued. 'So please bless us in a way that our bullets don't hit anyone, and so that no one else's bullets hurt us.
In some towns, government officials tried to discourage the people from welcoming the walkers, believing the peacewalk was a threat to their political interests. One of the Dhamma Yietra's warmest welcomes was in a town where the people had been clearly told not to come. Old men and women would whisper to the walkers, 'We were told not to come, but they cannot stop us. This is our religion.' 'We hunger for peace so much,' they said while they made an offering of food to the monks, nuns and lay walkers.
In another village, which was also instructed not to receive the walk, a young man related how the village had recently experienced a massacre of 30 people at the temple. 'This is the first time we have dared to gather together again in a large group," he said. "We just couldn't stay away. Everyone is here. The market closed, and people have left their jobs to come to receive you. We are so grateful that you have come to help us find peace again. The UN has sent people from all over the world to keep peace, but it has not worked. All we have left is Buddhism. If you will help us, it should not be so difficult to make peace. The monks and nuns must lead us out of this mess of killing one another. If we just think of killing and revenge, it will never end. Buddhism must guide us."
Before the walk reached Phnom Penh, the city was tense with the expectation of violence. As the walk approached the outskirts of the capital, the number of walkers increased to over three thousand, as many people spontaneously joined the walk. A coalition of women's groups, student associations and human rights groups coordinated the walk through the streets of Phnom Penh, as it swelled with people from all walks of life. 'I saw the walk in front of my office, and I just had to join,' explained a Khmer worker for an international organisation. '1 just couldn't keep inside. I walked off my job. All Cambodians, and foreigners too, should stop work and walk for peace today. When I saw the monks, I was speechless.' Another added, 'People were so afraid of elections. Here in Phnom Penh they had started to stockpile rice. The walk has relieved us of our fear, and given us new hope.'
On the final morning of the event, walkers gathered in front of the royal palace to meditate in silence and pray that all beings be free from suffering, fear and sorrow. Prince Sihanouk greeted the walk with words of deep gratitude for the Dhamma Yietra. He made a solemn plea to all of his compatriots to 'put an end to violence and hatred, and take out the spirit of vengeance from this day forward.'
A Moment of Peace - A Glimmer of Hope; a report by Bob Maat SJ and Liz Bernstein.
Dhamma Revival in Cambodia Dr. Peter Carey traces the disintegration and subsequent revival of the Sangha in Cambodia.
The monarchy and Sangha are amongst the most cherished institutions in Cambodia. The Buddhist wat (monastery-temple), has long been a pivot of the local community, providing both a focus of devotion and a source of practical support. Traditionally, most of the primary education in both towns and villages was provided by the Sangha, and at present, wats are donating land to the homeless and participating in a multitude of rural development projects.
Despite their comparatively small numbers and lack of training, the Cambodian
Sangha has played a key role in the revival of Cambodian society since
the holocaust of the late 1970's. Once the Khmer Rouge were ousted and
basic food supplies restored in the 1979-81 period, the Cambodian people
began to look to the re-establishment of their cultural and religious
heritage. Almost the first thing which they did in this period was to
take out of hiding the old dancing masks which depict the heroes of the
Ramayana and Mahabharata (which had been brought to Cambodia by visiting
Indian Brahmins), and to start rebuilding the wats. In some cases, the
presence of Buddhist monks has been essential in preventing new outbreaks
of violence and inter-communal strife. One recalls here, how the Venerable
Maha Ghosananda prevented a Khmer Rouge-controlled refugee camp on the
Thai-Cambodian border erupting into violence during the early 1980's by
placing all its adult members on the Eight Precepts for a day. In other
cases, such as the second Dhamma Yietra walk from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh
last May, the courageous example set by the Sangha has inspired others
to turn away from the path of violence.