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112 CLASSICAL LANGUAGES Paṭisambhidā Jāla-Abaddha Paripanti Tipiṭaka nīti Anvesanā ca Paricaya Nikhilavijjālaya ca ñātibhūta Pavatti Nissāya http://sarvajan.ambedkar.org anto 112 Seṭṭhaganthāyatta Bhās through up a levelhttp://sarvajan.ambedkar.orgup a level Buddhasasana “In the Buddha you see clearly a man, simple, devout, alone, battling for light, a vivid human personality, not a myth. He too gave a message to mankind universal in character.” TIPITAKA BUDDHA SASANA KUSHINARA PARINIBBANA BHOOMI TBSKPB 668, 5A Main Road, 8th Cross HAL III Stage Bengaluru - 560075 Karnataka India Ph: 91 (080) 25203792 Email: buddhasaid2us@gmail.com, http://sarvajan.ambedkar.org Voice of All Awakened Aboriginal Societies (VoAAAS) https://www.keepinspiring.me/buddha-quotes/ 108 Buddha Quotes on Meditation, Spirituality, and Happiness in 60) Classical Lao-ຄລາສສິກລາວ,61) Classical Latin-LXII) Classical Latin,62) Classical Latvian-Klasiskā latviešu valoda,63) Classical Lithuanian-Klasikinė lietuvių kalba,64) Classical Luxembourgish-Klassesch Lëtzebuergesch,
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Part 2   LESSONS 3009 Sun 2 & 3010 Mon  Jun 2019  Tipitaka - DO GOOD BE MINDFUL is the Essence of the Words of the Awakened One with Awareness  Tipitaka is the MEDITATION PRACTICE in BUDDHA’S OWN WORDS for welfare, happiness and peace on the path of Eternal Bliss as Final Goal  Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta — Attendance on awareness — [ mahā+satipaṭṭhāna ]  from  Analytic Insight Net -Hi Tech Radio Free Animation Clipart Online Tipiṭaka Law Research & Practice University
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112 CLASSICAL LANGUAGES  Paṭisambhidā Jāla-Abaddha Paripanti Tipiṭaka nīti Anvesanā ca  Paricaya Nikhilavijjālaya ca ñātibhūta Pavatti Nissāya   http://sarvajan.ambedkar.org anto 112 Seṭṭhaganthāyatta Bhās  through  up a levelhttp://sarvajan.ambedkar.orgup a level    Buddhasasana  “In the Buddha you see clearly a man, simple, devout, alone, battling for light, a vivid human personality, not a myth. He too gave a message to mankind universal in character.”  TIPITAKA BUDDHA SASANA KUSHINARA PARINIBBANA BHOOMI TBSKPB 668, 5A Main Road, 8th Cross HAL III Stage Bengaluru - 560075 Karnataka India Ph: 91 (080) 25203792 Email: buddhasaid2us@gmail.com, http://sarvajan.ambedkar.org   Voice of All Awakened Aboriginal Societies (VoAAAS) https://www.keepinspiring.me/buddha-quotes/  108 Buddha Quotes on Meditation, Spirituality, and Happiness in 60) Classical Lao-ຄລາສສິກລາວ,61) Classical Latin-LXII) Classical Latin,62) Classical Latvian-Klasiskā latviešu valoda,63) Classical Lithuanian-Klasikinė lietuvių kalba,64) Classical Luxembourgish-Klassesch Lëtzebuergesch,



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Buddhism, Power and Political Order


BUDDHISM, POWER AND POLITICAL ORDER

Weber’s claim that Buddhism is an otherworldly religion is only
partially true. Early sources indicate that the Buddha was sometimes
diverted from supramundane interests to dwell on a variety of
politically related matters. The significance of Asoka Maurya as a
paradigm for later traditions of Buddhist kingship is also well
attested. However, there has been little scholarly effort to integrate
findings on the extent to which Buddhism interacted with the political
order in the classical and modern states of Theravada Asia into a wider,
comparative study. This volume brings together the brightest minds in
the study of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. Their contributions create a
more coherent account of the relations between Buddhism and political
order in the late pre-modern and modern period by questioning the
contested relationship between monastic and secular power. In doing so,
they expand the very nature of what is known as the ‘Theravada’. This
book offers new insights for scholars of Buddhism, and it will stimulate
new debates. Ian Harris is Professor of Buddhist Studies at the
University of Cumbria, Lancaster, and was Senior Scholar at the Becket
Institute, St Hugh’s College, University of Oxford, from 2001 to 2004.
He is co-founder of the UK Association for Buddhist Studies and has
written widely on aspects of Buddhist ethics. His most recent book is
Cambodian Buddhism: History and Practice (2005), and he is currently
responsible for a research project on Buddhism and Cambodian Communism
at the Documentation Center of Cambodia [DC-Cam], Phnom Penh.

ROUTLEDGE CRITICAL STUDIES IN BUDDHISM General Editors: Charles S. Prebish and Damien Keown

Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism is a comprehensive study of the
Buddhist tradition. The series explores this complex and extensive
tradition from a variety of perspectives, using a range of different
methodologies. The Series is diverse in its focus, including historical
studies, textual translations and commentaries, sociological
investigations, bibliographic studies, and considerations of religious
practice as an expression of Buddhism’s integral religiosity. It also
presents materials on modern intellectual historical studies, including
the role of Buddhist thought and scholarship in a contemporary, critical
context and in the light of current social issues. The series is
expansive and imaginative in scope, spanning more than two and a half
millennia of Buddhist history. It is receptive to all research works
that inform and advance our knowledge and understanding of the Buddhist
tradition. A SURVEY OF VINAYA LITERATURE Charles S. Prebish THE
REFLEXIVE NATURE OF AWARENESS Paul Williams ALTRUISM AND REALITY Paul
Williams BUDDHISM AND HUMAN RIGHTS Edited by Damien Keown, Charles
Prebish, Wayne Husted WOMEN IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE BUDDHA Kathryn R.
Blackstone

THE RESONANCE OF EMPTINESS Gay Watson AMERICAN BUDDHISM Edited by Duncan
Ryuken Williams and Christopher Queen IMAGING WISDOM Jacob N. Kinnard
PAIN AND ITS ENDING Carol S. Anderson EMPTINESS APPRAISED David F.
Burton THE SOUND OF LIBERATING TRUTH Edited by Sallie B. King and Paul
O. Ingram

BUDDHIST THEOLOGY Edited by Roger R. Jackson and John J. Makransky THE
GLORIOUS DEEDS OF PURNA Joel Tatelman EARLY BUDDHISM – A NEW APPROACH
Sue Hamilton CONTEMPORARY BUDDHIST ETHICS Edited by Damien Keown
INNOVATIVE BUDDHIST WOMEN Edited by Karma Lekshe Tsomo TEACHING BUDDHISM
IN THE WEST Edited by V. S. Hori, R. P. Hayes and J. M. Shields EMPTY
VISION David L. McMahan SELF, REALITY AND REASON IN TIBETAN PHILOSOPHY
Thupten Jinpa IN DEFENSE OF DHARMA Tessa J. Bartholomeusz BUDDHIST
PHENOMENOLOGY Dan Lusthaus RELIGIOUS MOTIVATION AND THE ORIGINS OF
BUDDHISM Torkel Brekke DEVELOPMENTS IN AUSTRALIAN BUDDHISM Michelle
Spuler

ZEN WAR STORIES Brian Victoria THE BUDDHIST UNCONSCIOUS William S.
Waldron INDIAN BUDDHIST THEORIES OF PERSONS James Duerlinger ACTION
DHARMA Edited by Christopher Queen, Charles Prebish & Damien Keown
TIBETAN AND ZEN BUDDHISM IN BRITAIN David N. Kay THE CONCEPT OF THE
BUDDHA Guang Xing THE PHILOSOPHY OF DESIRE IN THE BUDDHIST PALI CANON
David Webster THE NOTION OF DITTHI IN THERAVADA BUDDHISM Paul Fuller THE
BUDDHIST THEORY OF SELF-COGNITION Zhihua Yao MORAL THEORY IN ¯
NTIDEVA’S S´ A ¯ SAMUCCAYA S´ IKS. A Barbra R. Clayton BUDDHIST STUDIES
FROM INDIA TO AMERICA Edited by Damien Keown

DISCOURSE AND IDEOLOGY IN MEDIEVAL JAPANESE BUDDHISM Edited by Richard
K. Payne and Taigen Dan Leighton BUDDHIST THOUGHT AND APPLIED
PSYCHOLOGICAL RESEARCH Edited by D. K. Nauriyal, Michael S. Drummond and
Y. B. Lal BUDDHISM IN CANADA Edited by Bruce Matthews BUDDHISM,
CONFLICT AND VIOLENCE IN MODERN SRI LANKA Edited by Mahinda Deegalle ¯
DA BUDDHISM AND THERAVA THE BRITISH ENCOUNTER Religious, missionary and
colonial experience in nineteenth century Sri Lanka Elizabeth Harris
BEYOND ENLIGHTENMENT Buddhism, religion, modernity Richard Cohen

BUDDHISM IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE Reorienting global interdependence Peter
D. Hershock BRITISH BUDDHISM Teachings, practice and development Robert
Bluck BUDDHIST NUNS IN TAIWAN AND SRI LANKA A critique of the feminist
perspective Wei-Yi Cheng NEW BUDDHIST MOVEMENTS IN THAILAND Toward an
understanding of Wat Phra Dhammaka¯ya and Santi Asoke Rory Mackenzie
BUDDHIST RITUALS OF DEATH AND REBIRTH Contemporary Sri Lankan practice
and its origins Rita Langer BUDDHISM, POWER AND POLITICAL ORDER Edited
by Ian Harris

The following titles are published in association with the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies

The Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies conducts and promotes rigorous
teaching and research into all forms of the Buddhist tradition. EARLY
BUDDHIST METAPHYSICS Noa Ronkin MIPHAM’S DIALECTICS AND THE DEBATES ON
EMPTINESS Karma Phuntsho HOW BUDDHISM BEGAN The Conditioned Genesis of
the Early Teachings Richard F. Gombrich BUDDHIST MEDITATION An Anthology
of Texts from the Pa¯li Canon Sarah Shaw REMAKING BUDDHISM FOR MEDIEVAL
NEPAL The Fifteenth-Century Reformation of Newar Buddhism Will
Tuladhar-Douglas METAPHOR AND LITERALISM IN BUDDHISM The Doctrinal
History of Nirvana Soonil Hwang THE BIOGRAPHIES OF RECHUNGPA The
Evolution of a Tibetan Hagiography Peter Alan Roberts THE ORIGIN OF
BUDDHIST MEDITATION Alexander Wynne

BUDDHISM, POWER AND POLITICAL ORDER

Edited by Ian Harris

First published 2007 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon,
Oxon OX14 4RN Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by
Routledge 270 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016 Routledge is an imprint of
the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2007 Editorial
selection and matter, Ian Harris; individual chapters, the contributors
This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2007. “To
purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or
Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks please go to
www.eBookstore.tandf.co.uk.” All rights reserved. No part of this book
may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any
electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented,
including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for
this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress
Cataloging in Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been
requested ISBN 0-203-94749-5 Master e-book ISBN

ISBN10: 0–415–41018–5 (hbk) ISBN10: 0–203–94749–5 (ebk) ISBN13: 978–0–415–41018–2 (hbk) ISBN13: 978–0–203–94749–4 (ebk)

CONTENTS

xi xv

Contributors Preface 1 Introduction – Buddhism, power and politics in Theravada Buddhist lands

1

IAN HARRIS

2 Idealism and pragmatism: A dilemma in the current monastic education systems of Burma and Thailand

10

VEN. KHAMMAI DHAMMASAMI

3 Rajadhamma confronts Leviathan: Burmese political theory in the 1870s

26

ANDREW HUXLEY

4 Colonial knowledge and Buddhist education in Burma

52

JULIANE SCHOBER

5 Reconstructing the Cambodian polity: Buddhism, kingship and the quest for legitimacy

71

PETER GYALLAY-PAP

6 The Cambodian hospital for monks

104

JOHN MARSTON

7 Buddhism, power and political order in pre-twentieth century Laos VOLKER GRABOWSKY

ix

121

CONTENTS

8 Past, present and future in Buddhist prophetic literature of the Lao

143

PETER KORET

9 In defence of the nation: The cult of Nang Thoranee in northeast Thailand

168

ELIZABETH GUTHRIE

10 King, sangha and brahmans: Ideology, ritual and power in pre-modern Siam

182

PETER SKILLING

216 233

Bibliography Index

x

CONTRIBUTORS

Ven. Khammai Dhammasami was educated in Buddhist monasteries from his
early years. He also studied Buddhism and Pali in Sri Lanka, where he
obtained two MAs and an MPhil, and completed his DPhil at Oxford in
2004. He is now a trustee of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies and
abbot of the Oxford Buddha Vihara. His interests include vipassana¯
meditation, monastic education, and Pali and Shan Buddhist literature.
Volker Grabowsky is Professor of South East Asian history at the
Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster. He has specialized in the
history and culture of the Tai peoples in northern Thailand and Laos. He
worked at the Department of Southeast Asia Studies, Passau University
(1990– 94), and subsequently joined the Department of Thai and
Vietnamese Studies, Hamburg University (1994–96). From 1996 to 1999, he
taught traditional Lao literature as a DAAD lecturer at the National
University of Laos, Vientiane. He is currently supervising a research
project on ‘traditional Tai polities and state formation in pre-colonial
South East Asia’. His postdoctoral thesis Population and State in Lan
Na: A Contribution to the Demographic History of South East Asia (in
German) has recently been published (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2004).
Together with Andrew Turton, he edited the volume The Gold and Silver
Road of Trade and Friendship: The McLeod and Richardon Diplomatic
Missions to Tai States in 1837 (Bangkok: Silkworm Books, 2003).
Elizabeth Guthrie was born in 1955 in Chicago, Illinois, and moved to
Dunedin, New Zealand in 1980, where she lives with her husband and three
adult children. She has worked with Cambodian refugee-migrants, for
NGOs as a contract researcher in Cambodia, taught English as a Second
Language in New Zealand and Thailand, and is presently a tutor in
Religious Studies at the University of Otago, Dunedin. In 1994, she
completed a PhD at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New
Zealand, on the history and cult of the Buddhist earth deity in
Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Arakan and Sipsong Panna (PRC). xi

C O N T R I BU T O R S

She is currently working on a project documenting contemporary mural
paintings in Buddhist temples in Siem Reap and Kandal provinces,
Cambodia. Peter Gyallay-Pap received his PhD in political science from
the London School of Economics in 1990. An independent scholar and
adjunct at Adams State College (Colorado), he has since 1988 worked as
an education and research consultant primarily in Cambodia, including
two years as a volunteer in the Khmer refugee camps along the
Thai-Cambodian border. He has conducted research and published numerous
articles on aspects of Buddhism and social renewal in that country. Ian
Harris was educated at the Universities of Cambridge and Lancaster. He
is Professor of Buddhist Studies in the Division of Religion and
Philosophy, University of Cumbria, Lancaster, and was Senior Scholar at
the Becket Institute, St Hugh’s College, University of Oxford (2001–4).
Author of The Continuity of Madhyamaka and Yogacara in Early Indian
Mahayana Buddhism (1991) and editor of Buddhism and Politics in
Twentieth Century Asia (1999), he is co-founder and current Secretary of
the UK Association for Buddhist Studies (UKABS) and has written widely
on aspects of Buddhist ethics. His most recent book is Cambodian
Buddhism: History and Practice (2005), and he is currently responsible
for a research project on Buddhism and Cambodian Communism at the
Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), Phnom Penh. Andrew Huxley is a
barrister who used to practise in London’s criminal courts. Since 1984
he has studied Burmese law in the Law Department, School of Oriental and
African Studies. He has edited the books Thai Law: Buddhist Law (1997)
and Religion, Law, Tradition (2002), and has published numerous articles
on the subject. Peter Koret completed his doctoral thesis at the School
of Oriental and African Studies, writing his dissertation on
traditional Lao Buddhist literature. Following graduation, he has taught
at Arizona State University and the University of California, Berkeley.
He has recently completed a book-length translation and study of the
Lao poem Leup Phasun, and is currently working on a biography of Narin
Phasit, a religious and political reformer in early twentieth-century
Siam. He has written extensively on Southeast Asian literature,
including, for example, ‘Religion, Romance, and Politics in the
Interpretation of a Traditional Lao Poem’ in Contesting Visions of the
Lao Past, edited by Soren Ivarsson; ‘The Invention of Lao Literature as
an Academic Subject of Study’ in Laos: Culture and Society, edited by
Grant Evans; and ‘Convention and Creativity in Traditional Lao
Literature’ in The Canon in Southeast Asian Literatures, edited by David
Smyth. xii

C O N T R I BU T O R S

John Marston’s interest in Cambodia began when he worked as an English
teacher in refugee camps in the 1980s. He completed a doctorate in
anthropology at the University of Washington in 1997. Since then he has
been teaching at the Center for Asian and African Studies of El Colegio
de México in Mexico City. His articles have been published in Estudios
de Asia y África, the Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science, and
Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, as
well as several edited volumes. He is the co-editor of History,
Buddhism, and New Religious Movements in Cambodia (2004) published by
the University of Hawaii Press. Juliane Schober teaches at Arizona State
University. Her research focuses on Theravada Buddhist practices,
ritual and the veneration of images. Her publications include an edited
volume on Sacred Biography in the Buddhist Traditions of South and
Southeast Asia (Hawaii University Press, 1997), numerous encyclopedia
essays, and recent articles such as ‘Buddhist Visions of Moral Authority
and Civil Society: The Search for the PostColonial State in Burma’ in
Burma at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century, edited by M. Skidmore
(University of Hawaii Press, 2005) and ‘Buddhism and Modernity in
Myanmar’ in Buddhism in World Cultures: Contemporary Perspectives,
edited by S. Berkwitz (ABC-Clio, 2006). Her current project traces the
genealogies of modern Buddhism in Myanmar. Peter Skilling is Maitre de
conférences, École française d’Extrême-Orient. Resident in Bangkok, his
primary research interest is the history of Buddhism in pre-modern Siam
from inscriptions, chromides, and literature. His publications include
Maha¯sutras: Great Discourses of the Buddha (2 vols., The Pali Text
Society, Oxford).

xiii

PREFACE

The genesis of this collection dates back to my two-year period as
Senior Scholar at the Becket Institute, St Hugh’s College, Oxford, where
I was undertaking research into the persecution of Cambodian Buddhists
under Pol Pot. At the suggestion of the Institute’s then Director, Dr
Jonathan Rowland, it was agreed that I would convene a small
international and multidisciplinary symposium of academics working at
the interface between religion and politics in Theravada South and
Southeast Asia. In due course eighteen assorted anthropologists,
historians, political scientists and Buddhist studies scholars
congregated for a convivial but intellectually focused three-day session
of presentation and debate. The enthusiasm and sense of intellectual
community generated by the symposium suggested that at least some of the
essays delivered there should be collected together into a publication.
That this has taken significantly longer than first planned is something
for which I, as editor, am almost exclusively responsible. Nevertheless,
it is hoped that the resulting publication will complement and enrich
existing work in the area. I am thinking here particularly of general
studies of institutional Buddhism in the modern world, such as Bardwell
Smith (1978), Bechert (1966–73), Dumoulin and Maraldo (1976), Harris
(1999), Keyes, Kendall and Hardacre (1994), Ling (1993) and Reynolds
(1972), as well as more geographically and culturally circumscribed
works on Burma (e.g. Mendelson (1975), Sarkisyanz (1965), Smith (1965)),
Cambodia (e.g. Harris (2005), Marston and Guthrie (2004), Yang Sam
(1987)), Laos (e.g. Evans (1998), Stuart-Fox and Bucknell (1982)), Sri
Lanka (e.g. Gombrich (1988), Seneviratne (1999), Tambiah (1992)) and
Thailand (e.g. Ishii (1986), Jackson (1989), Suksamran (1977), Tambiah
(1976)). On the surface such a profuse set of references might suggest
that the study of the socio-political circumstances of Buddhism in the
modern world is a well-winnowed field. But this is very far from being
the case. Although Buddhist studies as a discipline has grown quite
rapidly in the last halfcentury, especially in the United States,
interest in its doctrinal and textual resources, as well as in the
history of its formative period, has massively xv

P R E FA C E

eclipsed other modes of enquiry. This has been no bad thing, but when
the field is observed with an eye to the future it seems a shame that the
role of Buddhism in shaping the nature of contemporary Asian societies
has been comparatively so neglected. Certainly the Buddhist heartlands,
and Southeast Asia most particularly, manifest signs of a capacity both
for astonishing economic growth, but also potential political
instability, in the coming years. A better appreciation of the
indigenous factors that have contributed to this paradoxical situation,
Buddhism being perhaps pre-eminent, is a clear desideratum. All that now
remains is for me to thank those who have made this publication
possible; namely, all the contributors and Becket Institute colleagues –
Jonathan Rowland for first suggesting the idea and Raphaela Schmid for
helping out with some of the practicalities of organizing the original
symposium. Also the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Washington DC,
and the British Academy for providing the funding necessary to convert
ideas to concrete realities and the St Martin’s College Research
Development Fund for supporting the editorial process. Finally, thanks
to my old Lancaster colleague John Shepherd for endless fiddling with
endnotes and bibliographies, occasionally fortified with walks and beer
in the Lakeland hills. Ian Harris Burton-in-Lonsdale August 2006

xvi

1 INTRODUCTION – BUDDHISM, POWER AND POLITICS IN THERAVADA BUDDHIST LANDS Ian Harris

These chapters represent an edited collection of essays, some of which
were first delivered at a symposium entitled Buddhism, Power and Politics
in South and Southeast Asia held by the Becket Institute, St Hugh’s
College, University of Oxford, on 14–16 April 2004. The intention of the
event was to get the widest possible contribution from scholars working
in Theravada Buddhist contexts to the debate over what constitutes a
natural sphere of Buddhist political activity, with specific emphasis on
the history of the last two centuries. All religions have a political
dimension. Yet, despite high-level interest in the political
manifestations of the great monotheist traditions of Christianity,
Islam, and Judaism, little sustained attention has been given to this
crucial aspect of Buddhism, Asia’s most important religion. Buddhism has
exercised a significant geographic and historical presence in most parts
of the continent, often for very considerable periods. It has also
played a substantial role in the formation of specific states as well as
in less formal ways of interpreting and informing social and political
processes, and this influence has continued down to the present. Early
Buddhist sources indicate that the Buddha preached on a variety of
politically related topics (Harris 1999, 1f). The importance of Asoka
Maurya (268–233 ) as a paradigm for later traditions of Buddhist
kingship is also well attested, while in China the spread of Buddhism
seems to have reflected and reinforced tendencies towards social mobility
and a more egalitarian ethos. So Max Weber’s influential observation
that Buddhism is a fundamentally other-worldly religion must be, at
best, only partially true. The extent to which Buddhism interacted with
the political order in the classical and modern states of South and
Southeast Asia has certainly been 1

IAN HARRIS

the subject of important regionally based studies, but there has been
little scholarly effort to integrate these findings into a wider picture
which might be employed as a means of illuminating relevant social and
political aspects of contemporary Asian life. Given the crucial
importance of this tradition in key areas of the globe, this is
surprising. One factor at play here may be the complexity of the
material. Indeed, the literary, doctrinal, practical and cultural
manifestations of Buddhism are too complex for any individual, however
learned, to do full justice to their political ramifications. Yet the
time is surely ripe for the matter to be examined in a systematic
manner. It is clear that, even if in the Buddhist context politics is
merely the exercise of power, the nature of such power has been
conceived in radically different ways from that in the modern west. To
give one fairly obvious example, Durkheim observed, long ago, that the
concept of the supernatural is a modern category. Yet from the
traditional Buddhist perspective, a way of envisaging the world that has
survived largely unscathed into the contemporary period, power has
always been something that may be exercised across the
natural/supernatural continuum. As is well known, the Buddha came from
an aristocratic family and, despite the fact that he personally
repudiated his right to inherit the throne by withdrawing from the world
to pursue a life of moderate asceticism, he seemed to have been
perfectly content to mix in the society of kings and other nobles after
his enlightenment. As Craig Reynolds very aptly puts it, ‘If the Buddha
represents the absence of power, then he leaves a very large black hole
that exerts immense gravitational forces on all those in its orbit’
(Reynolds 2005: 220). From an early period Buddhism seems to have shown a
marked preference for monarchical forms of governance. Nevertheless,
the tradition was not univocal in its approach to laws of succession and
related matters. While the ideal of an elected king, along the lines of
the legendary Maha¯sammata, may certainly have been sanctioned by
ancient tradition, it does not seem to have been a method of selection
that fared well in the historical process. In most Theravada lands the
preference appears to have been much more oriented towards the principle
of primogeniture punctuated by regular and bloody conflict between
competing claimants to the throne. The victor in such a contest could
often compensate for the sins committed in gaining the throne by the
performance of elaborate Buddhist rites, large-scale donations, and the
like. In this manner, he could envisage himself sitting firmly in the
tradition of Asoka, the model of all subsequently righteous Theravada
rulers. Such rulers were expected to exercise their power in accord with
Buddhist principles. In return they regularly claimed high spiritual
attainment. They may, for example, have been regarded as bodhisattvas –
the eighteenthcentury Burman King Alaungpaya’s name means ‘embryo
Buddha’ – or as the Buddha-to-come, Maitreya. The latter appellation
often came with 2

I N T RO D U C T I O N

millennial or chiliastic connotations, and we have plenty of Southeast
Asian examples of individuals who sought the highest degree of worldly
power on the back of claims to be an embodiment of the future Buddha. In
line with Durkheim’s previously mentioned observation, Theravada
Buddhist conceptions of sovereignity did not really differentiate between
‘political leadership’ and ‘charismatic authority’ (ibid. 219), for the
king’s status was also determined by his possession of merit stored up
over previous lives. But monarchical claims are only one side of the
coin in understanding the relations between power and political
authority. The monastic order (sangha) was itself perfectly capable of
challenging the state when it seemed significantly out of line with
Theravada virtues. Quite apart from any other consideration, the impact
of large numbers of able-bodied monastics in a state of withdrawal from
economic activity has done much to shape the societies and cultures of
Theravada lands for centuries, and monastic law (vinaya) has provided
the basis on which many ‘larger political structures rest’ (ibid. 225).
In addition, the renunciation represented by the sangha, and in
particular by those members of the order who undertake ascetic practices
(dhutan˙ga) at the periphery of society (Harris 2000), in the
wilderness for example, is traditionally held to generate prodigious
quantities of power which may then be transmitted to amulets and relics
deemed to be especially convenient physical receptacles for
concentrating and storing this supernatural energy (Thai: saksit).
Possession of such special objects confers great power on their
custodians, be they rulers or those who seek their overthrow. In this
context, then, it is perhaps not too much of an exaggeration to suggest
that a healthily functioning Buddhist polity is one in which the
respective powers of king and sangha are held in a state of antagonistic
symbiosis. The essays in this collection engage with the ways in which
Theravada Buddhism from the late pre-modern period has variously engaged
with, or reacted against, a range of historical circumstances which may
help to define a general concept of power conceived from a political
perspective. As such, the contributors treat debates over the role of
education, the evolution of a distinctively Theravada political theory,
charisma, anti-colonialism and the rise of nationalism, and arguments
over the proper role of political and social institutions. In addition,
they seek to shed further light on the Theravada concept of security and
protection, law, the acquisition of wealth, the idea of civil society,
prophecy, peace-building and reconciliation, as well as the possibility
of explicit Buddhist political representation and the proper forms of
governance. Not unsurprisingly, the idea of monarchy is a leitmotif that
runs throughout most of the collection. Ven. Khammai Dhammasami’s
‘Idealism and Pragmatism: A Dilemma in the Current Monastic Education
Systems of Burma and Thailand’ identifies the inability of the current
monastic community to find a consensus on the principal objectives of
monastic education as a major problem. Traditionally, 3

IAN HARRIS

in both Burma and Thailand, the sangha had offered two kinds of taught
curricula in their schools: one exclusively oriented towards monks, the
other somewhat adapted to the needs of the wider society. As the forces
of modernization and westernization grew stronger throughout the latter
part of the nineteenth century, there were attempts to reform the
educational system and these meant that the respective governments
eventually took full responsibility for both countries’ secular
education needs. Yet the changes did not stop there, for monastic
reformers soon began to call for an expansion of their own traditional
Buddhist curricula so that they might take on board various new and
potentially helpful subjects like English and mathematics. Sangha
traditionalists in turn opposed the imposition of these unfamiliar
elements, which they denoted by the derogatory term ‘animal sciences’
(tiraccha¯navijja¯), even though mathematics, in fact, appears to have
had some natural role in traditional education, particularly with
reference to the semi-rote learning of Pali literature. The
traditionalists’ opposition to English language acquisition was further
amplified by the fact that it represented the primary mode of European
colonialism. Nevertheless, and especially given the pattern of Southeast
Asian ordination practices, both the Burmese and Thai governments
recognized the need to equip monks with a system of learning that would
not hinder their prospects if and when they disrobed, and leading
monastic modernizers, such as Janaka¯bhivamsa in Burma and Prayud
Payutto in Thailand, have worked to develop a˙ new kind of sangha
education that meets the unique needs of Buddhism, while at the same
time being of service to both wider society and the state. These
developments have led to the creation of new sangha universities which,
ironically, particularly given the sometimes bitter disputes over the
imposition of the ‘animal sciences’, have seen part of their goal as
producing international Buddhist ambassadors with a level of education
suitable for missionary work in the medium of English. Andrew Huxley is a
leading figure in the study of indigenous law in Burma. His essay
entitled ‘Rajadhamma Confronts Leviathan: Burmese Political Theory in
the 1870s’ takes the career and political writings of U Kyaw Htun and U
Hpo Hlaing as its focus. Both men had been heavily influenced by the
Theravada Buddhist culture from which they had emerged and both
attempted to synthesize the best of indigenous political thought with
elements received from the colonial power. U Kyaw Htun had started to
work for the British a year before the Second Anglo-Burmese War and,
despite subsequent dismissal from his post, he won the Judicial
Commissioner’s Prize in early 1876 for his Essay on the Sources and
Origins of Buddhist Law. U Hpo Hlaing, on the other hand, was an
aristocrat who had been a faithful servant of King Mindon of Mandalay
(1853–78). Huxley applies what he terms a ‘listological analysis’ to key
writings of both men. He shows that Kyaw Htun’s Essay on the Sources
and Origins of Buddhist Law, which includes a short analysis of Burmese
political theory, represents a balance 4

I N T RO D U C T I O N

sheet between ruler and ruled. It also seeks to demonstrate that
absolutism is unacceptable in the Burmese context, while the author
underlines the need for due process and the rule of law. When King
Mindon died, Hpo Hlaing had been a co-leader of a ‘coup for
constitutional monarchy’, and it was in this capacity that he wrote his
Rajadhammasangaha in 1879 to instruct the new king in the cabinet
arrangements that, it was argued, should now bind him. This work of
political theory addressed to a monarch on his taking the throne was
both a policy statement of a coup d’état and strong defence of cabinet
government. In the light of subsequent political developments in Burma,
Huxley regrets that the distinctive political thought of U Kyaw Htun and
U Hpo Hlaing was not better received. In her essay ‘Colonial Knowledge
and Buddhist Education in Burma’, Juliane Schober notes that colonizing
forces have a tendency to impose their forms of knowledge on newly
conquered territories. This takes place in many ways, one of which is in
the training of suitable members of the local population to become
civil servants and administrators. In Burma, the arrival of European
learning gradually displaced India as the ultimate and natural source of
knowledge, and marked the beginning of a new relationship between
modern science and Theravada Buddhism. In an essay that touches some of
the themes previously explored by Ven. Khammai Dhammasami, we discover
that monastic education during the reign of King Bodawphaya (r.
1782–1819) already incorporated a variety of putatively secular subjects
of Indian origin, such as astronomy, astrology, military arts, boxing,
wrestling and music. But by the mid-nineteenth century, when Burmese
monks began to come up against a British insistence on the teaching of
science, they began a policy of non-cooperation. However, the sangha’s
activities had unintended and far-reaching consequences, eventually
giving rise to a series of millenarian resistance movements during the
1920s and 1930s. Schober also focuses on the emergence of the Young
Buddhist Men’s Association (YMBA) and its promotion of four national
objectives: strengthening the national spirit or race (amyo), upholding
national Burmese culture and literature (batha), advancing Buddhism
(thathana) and developing educational opportunities (pyinnya). Among the
reformers who emerged from this background were U Chan Htoon, Judge of
the Supreme Court of the Union of Burma and Secretary-General of U Nu’s
Buddha Sasana Council, and Shwe Zan Aung, who stressed the compatibility
between Buddhism and science. The essay concludes with an examination
of the ways in which Burmese governments have continued to politicize
education since independence, with particular emphasis on efforts by the
military regime, since the 1990s, to employ monasteries in the delivery
of basic education in rural areas, particularly among non-Buddhist
tribal peoples, and on the strategic closure of schools and institutions
of higher education as a means of preventing or quelling student
unrest. 5

IAN HARRIS

Peter Gyallay-Pap trained as a political scientist but has been
personally involved in attempts to re-establish Buddhist-based welfare
and educational projects in Cambodia following the tragic events of the
1970s. In his essay, entitled ‘Reconstructing the Cambodian Polity:
Buddhism, Kingship and the Quest for Legitimacy’, he asks the question:
can political science can gain a grasp of Cambodian political culture
and its vicissitudes with the vocabulary and tools available to it? He
responds with a fairly resounding no. Building on the insights of the
political philosopher Eric Voegelin, he sees the modern Cambodian
conception of political order as an allotropic arrangement in which the
modern western concept of the nation has been conjoined with the older
indigenous symbols of Buddhist kingship and sangha to create a civic
religion of loyalty to the Cambodian state. He concludes that, while Pol
Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea (DK) ‘. . . could not be a more graphic
metaphor of a political system that had lost its existential bearings’,
post-DK attempts to embed Cambodian culture and politics within the
western liberal paradigm continue to be elusive. It is against this
background that he suggests that it may still be possible for Cambodians
to construct a modern, or post-modern, polity that does justice to a
more indigenous and Theravada Buddhist political culture, and that it is
only in this way that the institutions of governance will be able to
gain more obvious legitimacy with the Cambodian people. There has been a
significant flowering of scholarship related to Buddhism in Cambodia
since the middle of the 1990s, and John Marston is one of the leading
figures in this new movement. His essay, entitled ‘The Cambodian Hospital
for Monks’, tells the story of the establishment of a place of healing
for sangha members in the early Cambodian Independence period which was,
coincidentally, also the time when Buddhists throughout the world were
celebrating the two thousand five hundredth anniversary of the Buddhist
religion. It seems that the project fed into an emerging pan-Asian
vision for Buddhism. Its main initiator, Khuon Nay, had a prior
background as a member of the country’s major political grouping, the
Democratic Party, but he was also motivated by an engagement with the
central Buddhist insight into life’s impermanence. His fund-raising
involved use of relics and his conception of the healing can be read in
moderately millennial terms. The hospital was also a consciously
national project with a ‘civil society’ dimension that linked back to
both Theravada traditions of kingship and to the reformist Buddhism that
had emerged during the French colonial period. Indeed, the location of
the hospital some distance away from the historic and French centres of
the capital seems to confirm this impression. Furthermore, Marston argues
that the project’s backers were able to plug into a form of
spirituality that provided them with an authentically Khmer identity,
while at the same time recognizing the power of western science and
technology. By so doing, this unusual project of modernity was able to
draw heavily on the pre-modern and indigenous so 6

I N T RO D U C T I O N

that the Khmer could validate their own culture as equal to that of the
colonizers. Volker Grabowsky describes himself as, ‘an historian not
specialised in Buddhist studies’. Nevertheless, his ‘Buddhism, Power,
and Political Order in Pre-Twentieth Century Laos’ touches upon issues
crucial to the understanding of how Buddhism interacted with wider Lao
society in its pre-colonial past. It addresses three interconnected
questions: When and how did Buddhism become the dominant religion in Lao
society? How did Buddhism influence Lao conceptions of kingship? What
was the relationship between the political and religious orders in
pre-colonial Laos and to what extent did Buddhist monks help legitimize
and strengthen political institutions? The author investigates how
accurate the standard view on the diffusion of Buddhism in pre-colonial
Laos is in the light of the historical evidence. He concludes that
mid-fourteenth-century Cambodian influence was not a decisive factor in
the diffusion of Buddhism in Lao society and that it was not until the
reign of Sainya Cakkhaphat Phaen Phaeo (r. 1442–79/80), that Theravada
Buddhism became the dominant religion of the ruling elites. From that
time on, kings tended to abide by the tenfold royal code (dasa
ra¯jadhamma), build stu ¯ pas, manipulate relics, dedicate Buddha
images, donate land to the sangha, and institute the practice of temple
serfdom much the same as their fellow rulers in other regions of
Theravada Southeast Asia. The author also discusses an interesting case
of antagonistic symbiosis between ruler and sangha as illustrated in the
career of a senior and charismatic monk called Pha Khu Phon Samek, aka
Pha Khu Achom Hòm (literally, ‘the learned monk whose faeces smell
[good]’), following King Suriyavongsa’s death in 1695. Peter Koret’s
‘Past, Present, and Future in Buddhist Prophetic Literature of the Lao’
offers a unique glimpse into a genre of writing hitherto largely ignored
by the scholarly community. Prophetic writing effectively represents a
tradition of underground religious literature which authors can reflect
on the social, political and other ills of their time in a context that
gives a far higher degree of protection from persecution than that
allowed by alternative genres of writing. Koret divides his coverage
into two sections, one dealing with materials produced in the nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries, the other focusing on writings from the
mid-twentieth century. Both clearly reflect the political and economic
circumstances of their times, many from the former period dwelling on
the suffering of the Lao and other groups under Siamese domination, and
both, while fitting into a general Theravada pattern of explanation,
nevertheless possess elements that might be regarded as heterodox. To
give one example, the god Indra, the falsely attributed author of much
Lao prophetic literature, regularly comes to the fore as an enforcer and
powerful agent of righteous anger, to such an extent that the Buddha is
relegated to the background as an ultimate but very remote source of
justification. Nevertheless, these works tend to avoid simple 7

IAN HARRIS

solutions to present suffering whether caused by government oppression,
war, foreign domination or other factors. For the Lao authors of these
works, the only real solution to suffering is a fundamental restoration
of the moral and orderly ‘world’ of the past, in line with mainstream
Buddhist principles. The Buddha’s defeat of Ma¯ra (ma¯ravijaya), the
mythological embodiment of all negativity from the Theravada
perspective, has been a potent political metaphor in Southeast Asia for
many centuries. The Buddha’s principal ally in this incident is the
Earth Goddess (nang thoranee) and in her ‘In Defence of the Nation: The
Cult of Nang Thoranee in Northeast Thailand’, Elizabeth Guthrie explores
that deity’s association with fertility but also with more aggressive
protection, which in the modern period has taken the form of the
protection of the nation state. Focusing on the northeast Isaan region
of Thailand, and the relatively new Khon Kaen City in particular,
Guthrie traces the relationship that has grown up between Nang Thoranee
and the Thai political right since the end of the Second World War. The
construction of a Nang Thoranee fountain shrine in Khon Kaen coincided
with a period in which the central government was trying to deal with a
putative communist threat in the northeast of the country. But in the
late 1990s, the earth goddess’s devotees turned to her again in attempts
to protect themselves from the adverse economic effects of International
Monetary Fund policies towards Thailand. Some believed that she would
reveal vast hidden sources of underground gold which could be used to
help the nation pay off its international debts. The essay also considers
possible financial corruption at the shrine itself and its inevitable
decline once the country’s economy began to move in a more favourable
direction. The final essay in this volume, ‘King, Sangha, and Brahmans:
Ideology, Ritual and Power in Pre-Modern Siam’ is by Peter Skilling, who
uses inscriptions, the Three Seals Law Code, chronicles, royal
eulogies, and other primary materials to illuminate both the conceptions
and idealizations of kingship and religion and the intricacies of
ritual relations from the Ayutthaya to the early Ratanakosin periods. He
argues that ritual was essential to the political functioning of the
states that evolved within and beyond the boundaries of modern Thailand,
and that its role in state economies and regional and trans-regional
diplomacy should not be dismissed as pre-modern extravagance or despotic
caprice. Indeed, the impact of ritual on royal finances was enormous,
although when looked at from another perspective, the needs of ritual
also influenced trade. Skilling points out that ritual in the Siamese
context had a complex and hybrid nature, reflected in the Thai phrase
samana-chi-phra¯m, i.e. ‘mendicants, renunciants, and brahmans’. It was a
cardinal duty of the king to care for these religieux, and the role of
brahmans needs to be included in any examination of pre-modern
statecraft in the region, for brahmans presided over royal rites and
participated in ceremonies alongside Buddhist monks. While recognizing
that the sources 8

I N T RO D U C T I O N

are multivocal, the essay also looks at the ways in which kings are
variously described as bodhisattvas, Buddhas, cakravartins, Indra, and
so on. It also covers the ten royal virtues (dasabidha-ra¯jadhamma),
evidence for the evolution of Theravada monastic lineages, monks as
witnesses in legal processes, brahmans in literature and the
classification of various religieux in the sakdina¯ system.

9

2 IDEALISM AND PRAGMATISM A dilemma in the current monastic education systems of Burma and Thailand Ven. Khammai Dhammasami

The problem In Burma, the highest ecclesiastical body, the State Sangha
Maha¯na¯yaka Committee, wrote in its Education Report of 1981 that, . . .
. . due to the current education system, although it is not possible to
say that the efforts and intelligence of the monks and novices, who are
sons of the people, are fruitless, it is, however, clear that, despite
their invested effort and intelligence, the end-result is a minus, not a
plus.1 In Thailand, Phra Prayud Payutto, whom Tambiah refers to as a
‘brilliant scholar-monk’, also observed the sangha’s education in his
country in 1988 as follows: The present state of monastic education is
similar to the sky which, although with some spots of sunshine, is in
fact full of cloud. The sky is not clear. When monks themselves see the
dull and overcast sky they may feel disheartened, tired and might as
well fall asleep.2 Here the scholar-monk, Payutto refers, I believe, to
various problems, for instance, the sangha’s gradual loss of cultural
leadership; the inability of the majority of monks to relate the
teaching to social problems; the uncoordinated syllabuses of various
monastic examinations; shortage of teachers; the decline of Pali study
(Tambiah 1976: 200; Report 1941: 11); and students being over-examined.3

10

I D E A L I S M A N D P R AG M AT I S M

Based on the above observations, I shall suggest that these problems are
primarily caused by the inability of the sangha, the monastic
community, to find a consensus on the objective of monastic education. To
that end, I shall discuss how the argument on defining the aim of
monastic education has been debated between idealists and pragmatists.

The background The sangha in Burma and Thailand was the main educator of
society as a whole before the 1890s.4 Although the emphasis in monastic
education has always been morality, the sangha until the 1890s defined
the objective of its education as to serve the buddhasa¯sana, ‘the
Buddha’s religion’, as well as the society at large. In other words, it
was not only to educate those who wished to free themselves from
suffering but also those who had a worldly motive. The sangha did well by
producing two types of curricula, taking account of the needs of both
the monastic order and society: one is general and the other is
specialised (Bunnag 1973: 41; Zack 1977: 45–46). The general curriculum
included lessons or texts on basic moral and monastic training as well
as on vocational subjects current at the time. Occasionally, secular
arts and sciences were integrated into the monastic curriculum, to fulfil
the needs of the wider society (Wyatt 1969: 4; Rahula 1956: 161). This
type of curriculum was designed and modified by individual abbots to suit
the needs of their students and never adopted nationally, despite
similarities in curricula between monasteries. The other type of
curriculum was for those who stayed in the monastery longer as monks and
were thus more committed to the religious life. This category of
curriculum was specialised, focusing entirely on the Dhamma and Vinaya,
‘teaching and discipline’, and it was presumed that those who studied
this curriculum were committed to serious spiritual practice and would
themselves one day become leading members of the order. The aim of this
curriculum was to preserve the doctrine, thus the buddhasa¯sana.
However, in the 1890s, the governments of both Burma and Thailand
urgently sought modern sophisticated secular education because, feeling
the need to modernise since the second half of the nineteenth century,
both countries wished to acquire more sophisticated ‘weaponry,
steamships, telegraphs, hospitals, smoke-billowing mills’ (Myint-U 2000:
113) and administrative machinery. As a result, in Burma and Thailand,
society as a whole began to require a more sophisticated general
education, and that was not available in the monasteries. Therefore, the
king had to find alternatives to provide a better general education,
that is, to send students abroad to where they could obtain such
education, and to set up schools independent of monasteries. In Burma,
in 11

KHAMMAI DHAMMASAMI

1859, King Mindon (1853–1878) sent the first state scholars to St Cyr and
the École Polytechnique in France. More students, some as young as
fifteen, were sent to Calcutta, India, and to Europe, mainly France and
England. Between 1859 and 1870, Mindon sent a total of at least seventy
students abroad for western secular education. He also encouraged
Christian missionaries to set up schools where western secular subjects
would be taught. The first schools for laity not run by the sangha were
set up by Rev. Dr John Marks, a British missionary, and Bishop Bigandet,
a French Catholic missionary, in Mandalay (Sein 1986: 441). The king
provided these missionaries with lands and financial assistance to build
churches and schools,5 where his sons, including Prince Thibaw (later
King Thibaw, 1878–1885), were educated. In Thailand, King Chulalongkorn
sent students first to the famous Raffle’s School in Singapore, a British
colony, and then to Europe, mainly Germany and England. One of his sons,
Prince Vajiravud (later Ra¯ma VI), received his general education in
England and later graduated from Christ Church, Oxford. In fact, secular
schools offering western secular subjects had been first set up in the
palace in the previous reign by King Mongkut (1851–1868). Mongkut was
well versed in both traditional Buddhist learning and western sciences,
which he had studied with American and French missionaries during his
monkhood at Wat Bovonives. This secular school system was expanded by
Mongkut’s successor, King Chulalongkorn, in the 1890s, when he
introduced secular primary education to the whole kingdom. In fact, the
monasteries had not only lacked a general system of education similar to
western secular education, but also were reluctant to embrace one when
it was offered to them, as would happen in the next few decades. In Lower
Burma from 1866 and in Upper Burma from 1896, the colonial authorities
made attempts to offer support to modernise the curriculum in the
existing monastery schools (Smith 1965: 58). In 1894, the chief
commissioner wrote in his report: ‘Where kyaungs (monastic schools)
exist, which are supported by the people, and in which the instruction
is efficient, it is not desirable to encourage the opening of lay schools.
The efforts of the department should be devoted to improving the
indigenous institutions of the district.’6 However, the monasteries
were, as Matthews notes, unprepared ‘to come to grips with ideological
and intellectual issues associated with modernisation and foreign
cultural presence’ (Matthews 1999: 29). The monasteries resisted
introducing additional subjects, even English and arithmetic (Smith
1965: 60). So the attempts by the British rulers to modernise 20,000
monastery schools failed.7 In Thailand, too, there was similar
resistance to the introduction of western secular subjects. King
Chulalongkorn (Ra¯ma V) had to treat the introduction of primary
education in the 1880s extremely carefully because most schools were
situated in monasteries and the monks could object to the teaching of
what they considered to be secular subjects. Even some of the 12

I D E A L I S M A N D P R AG M AT I S M

most progressive monasteries were not always ready to embrace western
secular education. For instance, Ra¯ma V attempted to make Wat Bovonives
the centre of ‘relevant education in an age of progressive education’
(Prawat 1983: 73)8 not only ‘for the whole kingdom of Siam’ but also
‘for other countries’.9 The king’s vision of ‘progressive education’ was
planned and implemented by his brother Prince-Patriarch Vajirayan, who
combined the study of Buddhism and the secular subjects newly introduced
from the west. The Prince-Patriarch was educated in the palace secular
school and later also at Wat Makutkasat, where he studied for a Pali
degree. However, although under him Wat Bovonives became a teachers’
training college for some time, it did not become the desired centre of
learning that promoted secular knowledge guided by Buddhist philosophy
for the masses. The Prince-Patriarch was the only monk there who had
sufficient secular knowledge of his time and understood the needs of the
kingdom. The others at Wat Bovonives and its branch monasteries were
initially even reluctant to support the modernisation of the Pali
curriculum introduced by the Prince-Patriarch, let alone the
introduction of secular subjects. Therefore the Prince-Patriarch’s
initiatives, such as the teachers’ training school and the Thai school
at Wat Bovonives, soon came to an end.10 Here, there was also a radical
change for the monasteries in what were considered to be secular
subjects. Secular education was earlier taken by the monks to mean
sciences, which were not directly relevant or even considered by some to
be inimical to achieving enlightenment. These subjects ranged from
astrology, medicine, healing and carpentry, the skill of the blacksmith
and goldsmith, and martial arts. However, by the second half of the
nineteenth century (after the lower part of Burma had been annexed into
British India), secular education in Burma and Thailand came to mean the
type of education which would secure those who had studied a job, a
position in society, and in general the type of education to make one a
good bureaucrat. In brief, people wanted a secular education system like
that of the west. When the government had taken over the educational
responsibility from the sangha in the 1890s, this development, at least
in theory, relieved the sangha of the need to provide education for lay
society; the sangha could now fully dedicate themselves to studying the
teaching of the Buddha. However, in practice, the government could not
alone provide education to people from all parts of the country. Even as
late as the 1970s in both Burma and Thailand the government’s education
programmes still failed to offer equal opportunity in education to the
people, particularly those in rural areas, where the majority lived. For
many people, education within their reach existed only in their village
monasteries or in a town nearby. Indeed, recognising its inability to
extend universal education to all parts of the country, the government,
from the very beginning, requested the monasteries to adopt a secular
curriculum to help implement a universal education 13

KHAMMAI DHAMMASAMI

policy. In Burma, the request was made by both the British colonial
authorities, who ruled the country until 1948, and the government of
independent Burma. However, in Burma that request was accepted by fewer
than 20 per cent of the 20,000 monastic schools.11 The reason why the
majority of monastic schools refused the request was because the
conservative members of the order, who had occupied important
administrative positions, were against two particular developments: the
monasteries teaching secular subjects; and the prospect of lay teachers
teaching student monks. Indeed, in 1891 the san˙ ghara¯ja, or the head
of the Burmese sangha, issued a ‘circular’ warning the monasteries of
the pain of excommunication if any of them defied his order.12 Even after
the rejection by the monasteries the colonial rulers continued with
their attempts at persuasion. In 1939, the Pathamapyan Review Committee
appointed by the governor, consisting of influential monks such as
sayadaws from the Pakhokku Pali University and the deputy head of the
Shwegyin-nika¯ya, the Abhaya¯rama Sayadaw of Mandalay, suggested that
novices should be taught arithmetic before they studied the Tipitaka
(Janaka¯bhivamsa 1997b: 377). This suggestion was supposed to set a
˙pre˙ further secular subjects in the near future. Many prominent cedent
for certain sayadaws were in favour of the proposal. Unfortunately,
when World War II intervened, the whole process had to be abandoned.
Soon after independence in 1948, Prime Minister U Nu (1948–1958,
1960–1962) gave some grants to monasteries to encourage them to open
primary schools, which came to be known as ba. ka in brief or monastery
schools. U Nu intended to open up to five thousand of such schools.13
Some of the monasteries that did open primary schools were later
upgraded to secondary level. These schools accepted both boys and girls.
Almost all the teachers were monks. Even some teaching monasteries in
big cities, especially those in deprived parts of town, were requested
to open primary schools. However, the success was very minimal. The
military government that toppled U Nu in March 1962 suspended this
programme about two years after it came to power. Although no official
reasons were given, it was at the time believed that General Ne Win, the
coup leader, wanted to get rid of as many of his predecessor’s
programmes as possible. Critics pointed out that Ne Win also abolished,
almost at the same time, the Pali University system and the Sasana
University, both of which were the brainchildren of U Nu. But the
current military government, which came to power in 1988, has overturned
Ne Win’s ruling and asked the sangha to open monastery schools for lay
students. So far, only a handful of individual monasteries, not the
sangha as an institution, have responded to the request. Phaungdaw-Oo
monastery high school in Mandalay is one of a few such examples. In
Thailand, too, in 1898 when the introduction of primary education to the
provinces was made, King Chulalongkorn made sure that the sangha 14

I D E A L I S M A N D P R AG M AT I S M

was involved from the outset. Prince-Patriarch Vajirayan, then the
deputy leader of the Dhammayuttika-nika¯ya, and twelve other learned
monks were entrusted with the task of organising the ‘religion and
education of the Buddhist population’ and made the Mahamakut Sangha
College the headquarters of national education in Thailand. Almost all
schools were situated in the monasteries and monks were the teachers.
However, despite the fact that they had successfully carried out the
introduction of the primary education programme, Prince-Patriarch
Vajirayan and the other monks soon withdrew themselves from involvement
in the educational affairs of the nation. However, just as in Burma, even
half a century after the introduction of primary education and after
the kingdom had embraced constitutional monarchy, the Thai government
continued to attempt to enlist the help of the sangha in providing
general education to the people by setting up, in 1940, special schools,
rong rien wisaman, in some monasteries.14 The special schools (rong
rien wisaman) to educate monks in secular subjects were in addition to
the existing traditional monastic courses, Parian and Nak Tham. Their
aim was to provide education for the monks that was ‘relevant to the
modern age’. The ecclesiastical cabinet, created by the government
through the amended Sangha Act of 1940, was the official organ through
which these schools were set up. The introduction of special schools was
popular with young monks. However, when the 1940 Sangha Act was
replaced in 1961 and the sangha cabinet no longer existed, the
ecclesiastical hierarchy, the Mahathera Samakhom, moved to abolish those
special schools for monks.15 However, some young monks and novices took
their own initiative by attending classes at evening schools run by the
Department of Adult Education. They studied a secular curriculum in the
same classes as lay students, including girls. The number of these
monks is not known because the Department of Religious Affairs did not
participate in the programme, and at the Department of Adult Education
they were simply registered as students, not monks. The decision of the
young monks to find every possible way to educate themselves shocked the
senior monks, starting with the Council of Elders. Furthermore, for the
monks who had taken a vow of celibacy to study in the same classroom as
‘villagers (chao barn)’, including girls, was considered socially
unacceptable. As a result, on 7 May 1963, the chairman of the Parian
Examinations Board, Somdej Buddhaghosaca¯rya (Pheun Cutindharo), set up a
committee to reform the curriculum to accord with the vision of the
state. The reform resulted in 1967 in a new form of curriculum that
combined secular subjects with those existing subjects in the
traditional monastic curriculum. The system started functioning in 1970
and has since become popular at the expense of the traditional Parian
Tham and Nak Tham examinations. Secular subjects are emphasised because
the government is concerned that when monks leave the order, which many
do in Thailand, they will not be equipped with 15

KHAMMAI DHAMMASAMI

‘necessary knowledge to become valuable human resources to lay
society’.16 In fact, the aim of the study was no longer to understand
the words of the Buddha and to end suffering alone, but to help develop
the nation and society. However, in Thailand, despite the introduction
of some form of general education at the primary and secondary levels at
the government’s encouragement, conservative members of the sangha
continued to resist the change and thus prompted a debate with those who
wished to modernise monastic curricula. This resistance arose partly
because the combined religious-secular curriculum now demanded was more
complicated and largely unprecedented in the history of monastic
education. The education programmes of the government had raised not
only the standard of general education but also public expectation as to
what a curriculum should consist of. This was totally different from the
kind of general education the monasteries had provided up to a century
or so earlier. After all, the primary education being thrust upon the
sangha at this time was based on the model of western education, in
which the sangha had no expertise. Meanwhile, people, particularly in
rural areas where the majority live,17 continue to send their children,
mostly boys, to the monastery for education. Indeed, recognising its
inability to extend universal education to all parts of the country, the
government, from the very beginning, requested the monasteries to
include some western secular subjects in their curricula to help
implement the government’s education policy. However, for the last
century the sangha has not shown a keen interest in helping the
government. In my opinion, this is because the sangha has not resolved
within its ranks the problem related the objective of monastic
education.

The debate between the conservatives and the reformists As to the lack
of consensus among monastic scholars on the definition of the objectives
of monastic education, the argument has centred on idealism versus
pragmatism. The conservatives hold idealism while the reformists
pragmatism. For the former the ideal life of a bhikkhu was to study and
practise the Dhamma and Vinaya, ‘teaching and discipline’, aimed only at
liberating himself from suffering. Part of this ideal was for a bhikkhu,
when he could, to impart his knowledge of the Dhamma and Vinaya to
newcomers into the order to ensure the continuation of the sa¯sana.
However, on a practical level, the life of a bhikkhu was interwoven with
those around him. Those who join the order may not all have had
liberation from suffering as their immediate aspiration. If the number of
such worldly aspiring bhikkhus increased, it could cause an
institutional problem which would reflect the reality of the society in
which the ideal bhikkhu lives. The main reason for resistance offered by
the conservative members of the sangha was, however, that the study of
the secular subjects which the 16

I D E A L I S M A N D P R AG M AT I S M

governments wished to prescribe for monastery schools was not
appropriate for monks, and could even be considered as ‘animal science’,
(tiraccha¯navijja¯/). The rejection by the leading monks of those
secular subjects, particularly English and mathematics, appears to have
been made on a doctrinal basis. The Pali canon discusses some subjects
(vijja¯) or talk (katha¯), for instance, of ‘rajahs, robbers, great
ministers; . . of armies, panic and battle; . . of food and drink and
clothes, beds, flowers, garlands and perfumes; . . of relatives,
vehicles, villages, suburbs, towns and districts; . . of women and
champions; of streets and gossip at the well; . . of ghost stories,
desultory and fabulous talk about (the origin of) land and sea; . . of
being and notbeing’ as one not being ‘the rudiments of the holy life. .
[they do] not conduce to nibba¯na’.18 Some of the modern science
subjects may be included in these ‘animal sciences’. However, the main
objection by the monks seems to have been the study of the English
language (Sı¯la¯nanda 1982: 51),19 although arithmetic has always been
mentioned together with it in the debate. Not only are these two
subjects not included in the ‘animal science’ but they had also been
taught in Buddhist monasteries in Southeast Asia for centuries. And,
before the British colonisation of the whole of Burma in 1885, a debate
of such a kind on the study of languages, European or Indian, was
unknown in either country. As such, it is doubtful if the debate over
‘animal science’ was ever conducted in the light of the canonical
scriptures. In Burma, it could be argued that the sangha’s designation
of some subjects, particularly English and mathematics, as ‘animal
science’ stemmed from the British presence in Burma. In the periods
leading up to the British occupation, the sangha moved in a strongly
nationalist direction. The Burmese monastic order came to regard the
native kings as the protectors of the faith and the British as its
destroyers.20 As occupiers, the British adopted a policy of so-called
neutrality towards religion (Smith 1965: 38–9, 45), refusing at the
outset the traditional protection afforded by a Buddhist ruler (Bischoff
1997: 58), and ended all support for the order. (They had done the same
in Ceylon (Malalgoda 1997: 183–4)). Under the British, the judicial
power of the thathanabaing, the head of the Burmese order, was taken
away (Hall 1981: 773). This was, indeed, a fundamental change for the
order, and came as a blow to its influence over society, especially in
education. The lack of material and moral support from the state caused
the monastic educational institutions to decline, and Mandalay saw a
considerable number of teacher-monks leaving the capital for other
places within a few years of its fall.21 On the issue of designating
arithmetic as an ‘animal science’, Janaka¯bhivamsa reasoned that one
could not study San˙ khya¯va¯ra, the ‘chapter on ˙ in the Pattha¯na,
without some mathematical skill. The Vuttodaya, a numbers’ ˙˙ part of
the pathamagyi syllabus, also requires a good knowledge of arithmetic,
and the ancient vinayadhara sayadaws, ‘experts on the Vinaya’ 17

KHAMMAI DHAMMASAMI

themselves, he pointed out, taught arithmetic.22 However, none of the
sayadaws at that time suggested the incorporation of English in the
pathamapyan syllabuses; and, this was understandable, given the strong
sentiment of nationalism among the people and the sangha in opposition
to the British. In Thailand there was the same debate on this issue,
although the country was never colonised by any European power. We do
not know how it all began; but we learn that two of the most important
figures in the history of Thai sangha education in the early twentieth
century, Somdej Khemacari of Wat Mahadhatu (Maha¯-nika¯ya) and Somdej
Nyanavaro of Wat Thep (Dhammayuttika-nika¯ya), did not allow their
students to study English on the grounds that it was ‘animal science’;
ironically, both were pupils of the English-speaking Prince-Patriarch
Vajirayan.23 When the British left Burma in January 1948, the
anti-colonial feeling that had clouded the debate started to subside. As
it also became clear that there was no doctrinal conflict in studying
English and mathematics, so the conservatives started to offer different
reasons. This was that after they had studied English and mathematics,
educated young monks changed their minds and left the monkhood, and this
brought a great loss to the sa¯sana. This reasoning caused tremendous
anxiety among lay supporters, who feared that young monks were now
likely to be attracted by the good prospects for employment in the lay
life.24 In the early 1930s, Ashin Thittila (Setthila), the translator of
the Book of Analysis (Dhammasan˙ gan.¯ı),25 was ˙˙ by his benefactor in
Mandalay never to come to his house for alms asked again because he had
heard that Ashin Thittila was studying English. For a monk to study
English was seen as corrupt and having an ignoble aim. This perception
was directed even to a dedicated monk, like Ashin Thittila, with two
degrees, the Pathamakyaw26 and the Sakyası¯ha dhamma¯cariya, and already
a lecturer at the famous Phayagyi teaching monastery at that time. But
there were also some leading sayadaws with a more pragmatic attitude,
who tried to put the issue in perspective to allay the fears of the
sangha and the people. One such sayadaw was Janaka¯bhivamsa. Due to the
lack of writ˙ ten records by others on the debate, we shall be referring
to much of his work here. In one of his famous works aimed at educating
lay people, Bhathatwe, ‘The Essence of the Religion’, Janaka¯bhivamsa
blamed ‘the lack of a good foundation in monastic discipline’, not the˙
study of English, as a factor contributing to the abandonment of the
monkhood: if a monk had been well trained in the Vinaya and lived under
his teacher, he would not leave the monkhood. He argued that the first
six generations of leading sayadaws from the Shwegyin-nika¯ya, including
its founder Ja¯gara and his successor, Visuddhayon Sayadaw, had studied
English. Many of them were also well versed in Sanskrit and Hindi, and
with the knowledge gained from these studies they had written books on
Pali grammar useful to understanding the 18

I D E A L I S M A N D P R AG M AT I S M

Tipitaka.27 If these secular subjects were not taught, people would not
bring their˙ children to the monasteries any more but take them to the
Christian convents where they could study more widely. If those educated
at convent schools became leaders of the country, they would have
little contact with or respect for the sangha (ibid.: 123, 137–8). He
held responsible ‘for a drop in the number of students in monastery
schools the attitude of some sayas (sayadaws) that arithmetic and
English are not appropriate (for a monk) to learn’.28 He said that ‘arts
and science subjects that are not prohibited by the Vinaya should be
taught (to lay people) by monks free of charge. So the monks should make
efforts (to study) so that they could teach.’29 In Thailand some forty
years later a similar argument was made by Prayud Payutto, considered as
one of the leading scholar-monks in the twentieth century. In his
lecture at the Mahachulalongkorn Sangha University in 1984, he said that
the sangha had a responsibility towards individual students and the
state. Individual students wished to be educated and had turned to the
order for help. The quest for good education through the order by
certain sections of society was a good opportunity for the order to
instil Buddhist values in those students and to propagate the dhamma.
The sangha also had a responsibility to assist the state in producing
good citizens, because the sangha as an institution could not exist by
itself without the support of the state. Eminent educationists such as
Prince-Patriarch Vajirayan, Payutto and Janaka¯bhivamsa have all
believed that the sangha’s education should be ˙ for the sa¯sana,
society and state. Against the point that educated monks left the order
once they had received a good secular education, Payutto argues that
taking away an opportunity for monks to study secular subjects is not a
guarantee of their not leaving the order. On the contrary, among the
educated monks who had left the order, the overwhelming majority were
trained in a purely religious curriculum and had no knowledge of secular
subjects. That could be disadvantageous to a monk who left the order
highly educated in religious scriptures and yet totally ignorant of any
secular subject. He would be lost, unable to integrate into secular
life. This would degrade monastic education, and thus the order, in the
eyes of society. However, there was no way that the order could prevent
its members from leaving if individual members chose to do so. The
sangha is an organisation of volunteers, which upholds the freedom of
individuals to join or to leave. Instead of wasting effort in trying to
prevent the unpreventable, the order, Payutto says, should concentrate
on ways to provide education that would benefit both those who decide to
stay in the order and those who wish to leave. If the order could help
move its former members up the social ladder, not only would that help
individual members, it would also bring esteem to monastic education
from those who were in contact with those individuals. Not only would
these individuals become better citizens, but the Order could also count
on them to spread throughout 19

KHAMMAI DHAMMASAMI

society the knowledge of the Dhamma and Vinaya they had acquired as monks.

A mission or a pretext? Meanwhile, a debate to win the hearts and minds
of the people was also going on. The modernisers sought to address the
lay devotees in order to allay their concerns that if they studied
secular subjects more monks might be tempted to leave the order.
Providing monks with both secular and religious knowledge, the
reform-minded monks claimed, was essential for the promotion of Buddhism
in the modern age, especially in the western world. The reformers in
Burma found a sympathetic audience in the government and educated
Buddhists, who considered the notion of sending Buddhist missionaries
abroad, particularly to western nations who had once ruled the whole
world, as a matter of national pride. In Burma, the result was the
setting up of a Sangha University, officially called the World Buddhist
University at the Kabha-Aye, Rangoon, where the Sixth Buddhist Council
was held between 1954 and 1956. Indeed, the founding of the university
was one of the many objectives of that Council. Mendelson, who visited
the new Sangha University to hear formal speeches, ‘was struck by the
emphasis upon missionary efforts in the Englishspeaking world’ (Mendelson
1975: 304). ‘The burden of virtually all the speeches was the need for
learning English as a universal language and as the key to understanding
the people missionaries would work among.’ Even Janaka¯bhivamsa in his
argument for setting up two modern universities for ˙ the sangha, one in
Mandalay and the other in Rangoon, saw their main purpose as producing
missionary monks.30 Any purpose other than producing missionaries would
not have won from the outset the support of the people, or even the
modernisers, such as Janaka¯bhivamsa. ˙ The founding of the university
was not in the end successful, not necessarily because General Ne Win
was determined to abolish it but rather because the sangha was not ready
for education that combined both western and Burmese traditions. There
were only eleven students from Burma, and the sangha was not able to
participate in building up this new university or in running the
administrative and academic support services. However, the university
was able to inspire some of its students, small though it may sound as a
consolation, to seek further education, to redress the shortcomings of
their own monastic education system. But only one batch of students
graduated from this university before it was closed by Ne Win. In
Thailand, the sangha universities, Mahachulalongkorn and Mahamakut, also
initially focused only on producing missionary monks rather than
enhancing academic disciplines for their own sake. This was essential to
win over the hearts and minds of the prospective benefactors, and
ultimately the powerful conservative members of the Council of Elders.
Founded under 20

I D E A L I S M A N D P R AG M AT I S M

King Chulalongkorn in the 1890s, these two universities continued for
half a century as no more than big teaching monasteries with the
traditional curriculum of the Parian. In 1947, however, they decided to
modernise their curricula in line with those of western universities.
This meant that not only the format but also the subjects were to be
adapted to the practice in the state universities. However, this move to
bring in secular subjects and new administrative machinery, unlike in
Burma, had no backing from the government or from the highest
ecclesiastical administrative body, the Council of Elders. It was rather
the two biggest monasteries, Wat Mahathat and Wat Bovonives, with a
traditionally close relationship with the monarchy, that took the
initiative to modernise. Ironically, the abbots of the two monasteries
were also members of the Council of Elders. These two monastic
universities have produced many graduates over the years without the
recognition of the secular and ecclesiastical authorities. When the now
most famous alumnus, Payutto, graduated in 1956, his degree was
recognised neither by any of the state universities nor by the Council
of Elders. Only in 1969 did the Council of Elders recognise the two
universities. But the government, for its part, took no measure to
support this ecclesiastical decision. So in 1973 the Council of Elders
passed a motion saying that if the government were to recognise the two
sangha universities, that would indeed be an appropriate action.
However, it was not until more than a decade later, in 1984, that the
government officially recognised the two universities; and the 1984
Education Act recognised only first degrees and not the two universities
as institutions. (The government has since recognised master degree
programmes, and recently doctoral programmes.) Here we can see that the
government itself sent out contradictory messages. Although it wanted
the sangha to help shoulder the responsibility of educating the
underprivileged, it failed to give adequate support to the members of
the sangha willing to do so.31 In Thailand, Payutto has summarised this
problem facing the education of the sangha. He argued that if the
government and the leaders of the sangha failed to give appropriate
support, the sangha would not be able to lead the people in instilling
Buddhist values into the nation. He cited examples of how the sangha
could not teach Buddhism and Pali at state universities because their
qualifications were not recognised, and argued that the higher
institutions of the sangha themselves faced many obstacles in producing
qualified teachers. He pointed out how universities in non-Buddhist
countries have produced competent Buddhist scholars and how Buddhist
countries themselves could not do the same. This comparison came after
Payutto visited in the late 1970s some top American universities, such
as Harvard and Princeton, where there has been a long tradition of
Buddhist studies.32 In Burma, where the debate between monastic scholars
on the definition of education was quiet for almost two decades, there
was a sudden movement 21

KHAMMAI DHAMMASAMI

in 1980 towards providing the sangha with secular education through an
‘up-to-date method of study’. There were two political reasons for this
move. The first was the retirement of General Ne Win, who had been in
power since 1962, from the post of President, although he retained the
post of Chairman in the only party, the Burma Programme Socialist Party
(BPSP). This meant he would no longer run the country on a day-to-day
basis. The other was the government’s drive to win over the sangha to
support the controversial ‘purification programme’, (thathana thant shinn
yay), of the monastic order launched in December 1979. Seizing the
moment, Ashin Vicittasa¯ra¯bhivamsa, the first monk to have ˙ been
successful in the Tipitakadhara examinations, who had worked ˙ closely
with former Prime Minister U Nu, took the initiative to set up two
sangha universities. The government represented his effort as part of
their ‘purification programmes’. However, the government did not directly
finance the project, but left that burden to the voluntary donations of
the followers of Ashin Vicittasa¯ra¯bhivamsa. The two universities, one
in Rangoon and ˙ the other in Mandalay, focused on the same theme: to
send missionary monks abroad. The courses would be available in five
major languages: English, French, German, Japanese and Chinese. In
reality, however, there has been only one medium available, Burmese; and
elementary English is taught in the first few years for only three hours
per week by a visiting lecturer. The setting up of the universities was
very popular with the public, not only because it recaptured the spirit
of the newly liberated Burma, that is to send Buddhist missionaries to
the English-speaking world, but because of the calibre of the leading
monk, Ashin Vicittasa¯ra¯bhivamsa, who had ˙ such as the come first in
all the then newly introduced examinations boards Sakyası¯ha and the
Tipitakadhara. Since then, two more sangha universities have been
established,˙ one by a graduate from the now defunct World Buddhist
University, Ashin Ña¯n.issara. He led the foundation of a sangha
university at Sagaing in Upper Burma. For this project, he receives
solid moral support from the leading sayadaws of the Shwegyin-nika¯ya,
to which he belongs, and generous financial support from wealthy donors,
who are attracted to his status as the best preacher in the country.
Sayadaw Ashin Ña¯n.issara continues to build on the earlier appeal of
producing missionaries to go abroad. The name selected for this new
sangha university, Sitagu¯ International Buddhist Academy, reflects the
view of the lay benefactors and the conservative members of the sangha
as to why a bhikkhu may legitimately learn English and other secular
subjects. Sitagu¯ is also named after some major social welfare projects
Ashin Ña¯n.issara has led over the years, for instance a water scheme
for all monasteries and nunneries in Sagaing; an eye hospital, the best
in the country, for the sangha and the people; and a rice project for
the monks and nuns of Mandalay, Sagaing and Mingun Hills. 22

I D E A L I S M A N D P R AG M AT I S M

The other sangha university, Theravada International Missionary
University, was founded by the present government with the aim of
sending Theravada missionaries abroad. Its name shows why the government
thinks that the monks should study English. Indeed, the very reason the
government set up this Buddhist institution in December 1999 was
because the existing sangha universities lacked the capacity to teach in
the English medium and the intention was to address that shortcoming.
Although the government claims to have made this university a modern
higher institution of study for the sangha, with the medium of
instruction in English, there has been a shortage of English-speaking
academic staff. This is not surprising, given the fact that the
lecturer-monks have received their principal training in the Pathamapyan
and Dhamma¯cariya systems, which provide no teaching of English or any
other European or Asian languages.

Conclusion The debate is far from over in both Burma and Thailand. While
both the idealists and the pragmatists agree that the principal aim of
the monastic education systems should be to train monks in the Dhamma
and Vinaya, the two sides cannot agree whether or not steps should be
taken to help fulfil some of the educational needs of society by bringing
in some secular subjects in monastic schools. Today, in Burma, the
curriculum in the various monastic examinations focuses exclusively and
from the very beginning on the study of Pali and the Tipitaka. No
English, mathematics, geography, history or social studies are ˙offered
because they are considered secular subjects.33 As a result, even
educated monks find it difficult to relate the Dhamma to lay people’s
lives. In Thailand, too, the main curricula, such as the Nak Tham and
the Parian, have remained exclusively religious. Although since 1970
there has been a new curriculum, called Sai Saman Suksa, with a combined
religioussecular content, it seems that it has been forced on the
leadership and has not been a well-thought-through policy. This
curriculum has both religious and secular subjects, but too many
subjects at each level means student monks do not have sufficient time to
learn either Pali and Buddhism or secular subjects properly. In
addition, this religious-secular curriculum has been designed neither to
replace nor to complement the traditional religious systems, such as
the Nak Tham and the Pali Parian curriculum. Indeed, its separate
existence from these two highly regarded religious curricula suggests
that the conservatives and the reformists have yet to work their
differences out in defining the objective of monastic education.

23

KHAMMAI DHAMMASAMI

Notes 1 Ministry of Religious Affairs (1981) Naing gan daw thangha
mahanayaka aphwe pariyatti simankein [The State Sangha Maha¯na¯yaka
Committee’s Pariyatti Education Scheme], Third Draft. Rangoon: Ministry
of Religious Affairs: 7. All translations are mine unless otherwise
indicated. 2 Phra Thepwithi (Prayud Payutto) (1988) Thit thang karn
suksa khong khana song (Directions of the Education of the sangha),
Bangkok: Mahachulalongkorn University Press: 9. 3 In Burma, the founder
of one of the leading teaching monasteries, Ashin Janaka¯bhivamsa
(1890–1977) said in 1971: ‘Nowadays monks and novices do not benefit
˙spiritually from their study as much as they used to [because] the
entire monastic scholarship is fixated only on formal examinations. The
student’s exclusive focus on the syllabuses of formal examinations takes
place not only at the beginning of their monastic study, but also from
halfway until the end of it.’ Ashin Janaka¯bhivamsa (1994) Nan net khin
ovada mya (Records of Morning ˙ 1971), Dhamma byuha sarsaung, 23–24.
Speeches, delivered in 4 Department of Religious Affairs (1983) Prawat
Karn Suksa Khong Khana Song Thai (History of the Education of the Thai
sangha), Bangkok: Ministry of Education: 16; Phra Thepwethi (Prayud
Payutto) (1986) Phra phutthasasana gup karnsuksa nai adid (Buddhism and
Education in the Past), Bangkok: Mahachulalongkorn University Press:
117; (1961) Prawat Krasong Suksathikarn (History of Ministry of
Education, 1891–1961), Bangkok: Khrusapha Press: 1–2; Thammata se zaung
dwe (A Collection of Ten Texts), Mandalay: Thammata Press, (undated):
267. 5 Gaing Tha, Shwe (1959) Mandalay hnit taya pyi (The Centenary of
Mandalay), Mandalay: Gyi Pwa Yay Press: 216 6 Report on Public
Instruction in Burma, 1893–94: 9–10, cited in Smith 1965: 60. 7 Report
on the National Education in Buddhist Monasteries Inquiry Committee,
1948, cited in Mendelson 1975: 259. 8 Mahamakut University (1983) Prawat
Mahakakut ratchawithayalai nai phra boromarachupatham (History of Royal
Mahamakut University), Bangkok: Mahamakut University: 73. 9 Department
of Religious Affairs (1983) Prawat Karn Suksa Khong Khana Song Thai
(History of the Education of the Thai Sangha), Bangkok: Ministry of
Education: 103. 10 (1961) Prawat Krasong Suksathikarn (History of
Ministry of Education, 1891– 1961), Bangkok: Khrusapha Press: 217, 335;
Mahamakut University (1983) Prawat Mahakakut ratchawithayalai nai phra
boromarachupatham (History of Royal Mahamakut University), Bangkok:
Mahamakut University: 157. 11 Report on Public Instruction in Burma,
1893–94: 9–10. 12 Report on Public Instruction in Burma, 1891–92,
Resolution: 9–10. 13 Ministry of Welfare (1958) Phongyi kyaung pyinnya
thinkyaryay mawgun (Records of Monastic Education), Rangoon: Ministry of
Welfare: 28–29. 14 Department of Religious Affairs (1983) Prawat Karn
Suksa Khong Khana Song Thai (History of the Education of the Thai
sangha), Bangkok: Ministry of Education: 142. 15 Ibid: 143. 16 Ibid:
142. 17 Tambiah 1976: 270–273 mentions that 85.37 per cent of 35,550,105
total population of Thailand in 1970 live in rural areas. The
northeastern region where the availability of secular education is
behind the other regions is described by Tambiah as ‘the powerhouse of
the country’s sangha’.

24

I D E A L I S M A N D P R AG M AT I S M

18 F. L. Woodward (trs.) The Book of the Kindred Sayings, Part V:
355–356; S v 419–420. See also D i. 9; Vin i. 73. 19 Ashin
Janaka¯bhivamsa, (1979) Pa¯timok bha¯tha¯t¯ıka¯ (Commentary on the ˙ ˙
Pa¯timokkha), Amarapura: Mahagandhayon Press 439. 20 The destruction,
soon after the occupation of Mandalay, of the royal monastery Atumashi
Kyaung Taw, where the British army was stationed, was often cited as an
obvious example. Lord Dufferin, the British governor of India, in his
meeting with the sayadaws in Mandalay in 1886 denied that the British
had the intention to destroy the sa¯sana, as was rumoured among the
people. The denial was among the six points he made during the meeting
designed to reassure the order. See, Gaing Tha 1959: 279–280. 21
Sa¯sana¯bhivamsa (1998) The Centenary of the Pariyatti Sa¯sanahita
Association of Mandalay,˙Mandalay: Pariyattisasanahita Athin: 14. 22
Janaka¯bhivamsa, op cit: 439; Janaka¯bhivamsa (1995), Anagat thathana
yay (The ˙ Future of the˙ Sa¯sana), Rangoon: Department of Religious
Affairs, Ministry of Religious Affairs (Reprint): 371; Janaka¯bhivamsa
(1999) Bhatha-thwe (The Essence ˙ Pitaka Press (Reprint): 82–88. of the
Religion), Amarapura: New Burma Offset 23 Sivarak (1976) Sarm Somdejs
(Three Somdejs), Bangkok: Khrusapha: 3. 24 Janaka¯bhivamsa (1999):
139–40; Janaka¯bhivamsa (1997) Tatbhava thanthaya ˙ sa¯ra), Amarapura:
Mahagandhayon ˙ (One Life in Sam Press, 3rd reprint: 256. . 25 Published
by the Pali Text Society in 1969 and reprinted in 1988. 26 Pathamakyaw
was considered a degree at that time because the government board of
examination for the Dhamma¯cariya had not been set up. 27
Janaka¯bhivamsa 1999: 85–88. ˙ sa 1979: 439. 28 Janaka¯bhivam ˙ 29
Janaka¯bhivamsa (1975) Yup pon shin kyint wut (Illustrated Training for
the ˙ Sa¯man.era), Rangoon: Department of Religious Affairs: 195. 30
Janaka¯bhivamsa 1995: 373–374. ˙ 16–17, 21–24. 31 Thepwethi 1988: 32
Ibid: 23. 33 Nor are student monks admitted to government schools to
study those subjects because culturally it is not sensible for the
novices and monks to sit in the same classroom with lay students. In
brief, the sangha does not participate in the nation’s education. The
monks do not even teach Buddhism at government schools.

25

3 RAJADHAMMA CONFRONTS LEVIATHAN Burmese political theory in the 1870s1 Andrew Huxley

In 1885 Upper Burma was invaded and its political and legal institutions
destroyed. What possibilities thereby became lost to the world? The
Indian civil servant who had lobbied most intensely for the invasion of
Mandalay came to regret what he had done: ‘It was a pity – they would
have learnt in time.’2 If Burma had avoided being annexed to British
India, what might it have become? Thailand’s recent history offers some
kind of clue. The constitutional monarch of Thailand has made himself
astonishingly popular over the last sixty years. If Britain had chosen
to rule Burma through a client king, then a newly independent Burma in
1948 would have inherited at least one of its traditional political
institutions. In this alternative universe, might Burma’s political and
legal institutions of the 1870s have embraced democratic and rule-of-law
virtues by the 1970s? What might Burmese modernism have looked like,
under a less destructive form of British imperialism? Although such
hypothetical questions don’t lead to any determinate answer, we can only
evaluate Burmese legal and political theory by imagining an answer. Few
would dispute the centrality of law to Burmese culture. This is
evidenced by Burma’s having: (1) a voluminous legal literature, the
three best-known genres of which were dhammathat, rajathat and pyatton;
(2) a homegrown legal profession (the shene); and (3) a home-grown legal
history (the dhammathat book-lists). Burma’s political theory is less
visible. Sometimes it is found in the dhammathats, mixed with rules on
divorce and agricultural credit. Sometimes a whole text is devoted to
it. One such political genre is the Royal Order, wherein the king can
give his own account of how politics works. Others are the myittasa and
rajovada genres, in which monks and ex-monks expound dhamma to the king.
It was in the 1870s that Burmese thinkers first broke out of these
genres. 26

R A J A D H A M M A C O N F RO N T S L E V I A T H A N

My chapter focuses on the first Burmese account of politics to appear in
print, and on the first to be written as the policy statement of a coup
d’état. Hence the reference in my title to the 1870s. Leviathan is the
epithet J. S. Furnivall gave to the Anglo-Burmese colonial state
(Furnivall 1939). Rajadhamma denotes that part of the Pali Buddhist
tradition dealing with the ethics and practice of kingship. Dhamma
covers a spectrum of meanings from ‘law’ to ‘necessary conditions’ to
‘things as they should be’, but raja can only mean one thing. For the
rest of this chapter I shall translate rajadhamma as ‘king-law’. In the
1870s, my title suggests, Burmese political theorists had to tweak the
tradition of king-law so as to better confront political theory and
practice in British Burma. I look at two Burmese politicians, one in
British Burma, faithfully serving Victoria, Empress of India, and one in
Mandalay, faithfully serving King Mindon of Mandalay (1853–78). U Kyaw
Htun, from Arakan, got his first job with the British a year before the
Second Anglo-Burmese War. He joined the British troops on their way to
invade Rangoon, and was never to return home. His Essay on the Sources
and Origins of Buddhist Law won the Judicial Commissioner’s Prize in
early 1876 and was published in 1877.3 Its contents include a short
analysis of Burmese political theory. U Hpo Hlaing’s Rajadhammasangaha
(written in 1879) is a work of political theory addressed to a monarch
on his taking the throne.4 Its title can be translated as ‘Compendium of
King-Law’. Kyaw Htun and Hpo Hlaing were political activists as well as
political theorists. For the three months that his coup lasted, Hpo
Hlaing was the most powerful man in Upper Burma. A few years earlier,
Kyaw Htun had very nearly become the most powerful Burmese in Lower
Burma, but was suddenly disgraced and sacked. The lives of political
theorists illuminate their work. What Cicero did as a member of the
triumvirate helps us understand his De re publica. That Hobbes tutored
the Stuart pretender in France helps us understand his Leviathan. Kyaw
Htun and Hpo Hlaing led lives as dangerous, and lived in times as
interesting, as Cicero and Hobbes. Though my focus is on their work, I
shall have to say a good deal about their lives. King-law, the Pali
Buddhist political tradition, was well over two thousand years old by
the time Kyaw Htun and Hpo Hlaing wrote about it. I haven’t the space to
give a comprehensive history of its development,5 but I need to
describe three of the salient characteristics this body of knowledge had
acquired in Burma by the 1870s. First, how it distinguished data from
theory. Second, how it used lists and combinations of lists to preserve
its theory. (We Europeans are so unfamiliar with organising knowledge
this way that I must offer a tutorial in listology, illustrated by
several examples.) Third, the who whom? issues: who taught this
discipline to which students under what conditions? What was its
seat-in-life, its sociology of knowledge? I deal with these points in
the rest of my introduction. I then devote a section each to Kyaw Htun
and Hpo Hlaing, before drawing some conclusions. 27

ANDREW HUXLEY

How does king-law distinguish between data and theory? I had better
define my terms. By ‘data’, I mean the history of everything that has
happened in the world. By ‘theory’, I mean suggestions as to how the
data may be shaped and structured, so as to inspire answers to current
problems. The canonical data-bank is largely made up of the collection
of 547 Ja¯taka, many of which tell stories about kings, queens,
ministers, usurpers, and princes. We normally think of the Ja¯takas as
narratives, but they are more than that: they are exemplary narratives
or, as lawyers put it, precedents. A monk or courtier, let us say, has
to advise a king who plans such grandiose acts of merit that the country
will be bankrupted. ‘Don’t be like Vessantara in Ja¯taka No. 547’ the
king will be told: ‘When Vessantara gave more away than his people could
stand, they threw him out.’ This is no different from how European
politicians use history: ‘Don’t be like Charles I in the 1630s. When
Charles I took more tax from his people than they could stand, they
threw him out.’ The Burmese chronicles draw no line between the kings
and queens described in the Ja¯taka, and the kings and queens who
actually ruled Burmese cities. They belonged, after all, to one
super-dynasty: offspring of Maha¯sammata, the original and the exemplary
king of this cycle of ages. Maha¯sammata’s history is told in the
Aggañña sutta (Sermon on Origins), one of the two great allegories on
the rise and fall of the state which are prominent within the king-law
data-bank. Theory, the shaping mechanism, consists of the various
‘king-law’ lists with which this chapter is concerned. Such a list is
designed to be memorised verbatim in Pali.6 Pali grammar and morphology
allow complex ideas to be expressed in a couple of words. Here, by way
of example, is the 4 solidarities list as generations of Buddhist
students have committed it to memory: assamedham purisamedham /
samma¯pa¯sam vajapeyyam // We shall see later that a great deal of
information is packed within these words. A political theory that relied
on a single king-law list would be like a cookbook that contained only
fish recipes: we know we’re going to need other cookbooks. The 4
solidarities solve some political problems, but there are others on the
menu. Each list specialises in a different range of problems, and my
particular ambition in this chapter is to translate these ranges into
the political terminology (rule of law, bureaucratisation, fiscal
accountability, etc.) that my morning paper uses. Burmese political
theorists expressed their individuality in choosing which lists to
emphasise, just as these days our political theorists choose which
topics they will cover: John Rawls said a lot about how politics should
handle risk, but little about subsidiarity.7 Pope John Paul II said a
lot about subsidiarity, but little about risk. Each time a political
theorist picks some lists and arranges them into a bouquet, she makes a
statement about which problems are most important to her. Before I
analyse the statements that Kyaw Htun and Hpo Hlaing made, I must offer a
tutorial in the mathematics of the bouquet of lists, or
‘list-of-lists’, as I shall henceforth call it. 28

R A J A D H A M M A C O N F RO N T S L E V I A T H A N

Buddhists combine lists in different ways. In his work on the Abhidhamma,
Rupert Gethin (1992) describes matrix-like combinations where a row of 3
combines with a rank of 7 to generate 21 new possibilities. King-law
uses a simpler arithmetic. The most common combinatorial device is the
listof-lists, which is based on addition. Imagine I’m a Burmese monk.
Tomorrow a 10-year-old boy will join the monastery for the first time,
and I have to deliver a sermon at his shin-pyu ceremony. To generate my
sermon, I shall choose three relevant lists (but ones that have never
been put together in this particular way before). As a list-of-lists, my
sermon could be presented in this form: 1 2 3

12 kinds of children 4 noble truths 4 offences of defeat 3 lists of 20 items checksum

If I ever published my sermon, I could title it the 20 things a novice
should be told at their shin-pyu ceremony, following the useful naming
convention of what I call the ‘checksum’ (the total of items contained
in all the lists). Now let’s turn to some canonical and post-canonical
examples, starting with two that Gethin has discussed. At A.i.295–7 the
middle way is defined as: 1 2 3 4 5 6

4 applications of mindfulness 4 right endeavours 4 bases of success 5
faculties 5 powers 7 awakening factors 6 lists of 29 items checksum

Checksum 29 has its own set of numerical associations. In the science of
lists, these are what give 29 its own personality. There are
approximately 29 days in the moon’s cycle, so 29 is appropriate for
those occasions which stress the calendrical or the lunar. The next
personality number, 37, has spatial connotations.8 To convert the 29
definitions of the middle way into a checksum of 37, the list-combiners
needed to add any list of eight. They chose the Noble Eightfold Path.
Gethin rates the resulting 37 Elements of Enlightenment as one of the
most important Pali list-of-lists (Gethin 1992: 156). This process need
never stop. The Golden Pali Text is Burma’s earliest Pali document, and
the earliest Pali text to have survived from anywhere in the world. It
incorporates the 37 Elements of Enlightenment into ‘7 lists of 88 items
checksum’. I’m not sure what personality was attributed to the number 88
by the king and queen who dedicated this offering. It must have meant
something, because after it was discovered at the last minute that two
items had 29

ANDREW HUXLEY

been omitted from the 14 kinds of knowledge possessed by the Buddha, the
two items were written in abbreviated form on the rim of the silver
reliquary. Janice Stargardt comments that ‘These defects were made good .
. . The ritual completeness of the deposit was thus assured’ (Stargardt
1995: 207–8). I’ll give a final example from nineteenth-century Siam to
show the list-oflists operating in a king-law context; a work called 24
Forms of Princely Knowledge (Gray 1886: 40). Its title derived from its
checksum: 1 2 3 4

4 crafts 5 arts 8 merits 7 means of action 4 lists of 24 items checksum

I shall apply this kind of listological analysis to Kyaw Htun and Hpo
Hlaing. Third, and briefly, I turn to the seat-in-life issues. Who taught
king-law to whom in what educational institutions? Occasionally, a
Ja¯taka hints at how princes were educated. There is mention of an
atthadhammanusakamacco (an officer who advises the king on dhamma and
artha) (Gokhale 1966: 18, citing J ii 30). Elsewhere there’s a list of
five disciplines, which could be the syllabus he taught from: artha
(knowledge of the conditions and causal relations), dharma (norms,
standards of behaviour), matra (due measure in punishment and taxation),
kala (knowledge of the daily timetable of a king) and parisad (how to
treat the various classes of society).9 As to Burma, here’s a
description of the syllabus of princely education in the fourteenth
century, from a work written in 1780: After he had received the lordship
of Pyinsei, Mingaung sought an education like that of other princes, in
elephant and horse management, in handling a shield, in the use of bows
and spears, and some instruction in the chronicles of the country and
the customs and precedents in use in it, and their distinctions.
(Bagshawe 1981: 51) Prince Charles, heir apparent to the Windsor
dynasty, received a not dissimilar education. Charles has learned to
hunt on horseback. He spent a year at school in the Australian outback
at the age of 16, so he can probably manage a kangaroo, if not an
elephant. For ‘bows and spears’, substitute five years in the navy,
latterly in command of his own ship. And for the academic stage (‘the
chronicles of the country and its customs and precedents’), compare
Charles’s bespoke degree course at Trinity, Cambridge, in British
history, constitutional law, archaeology and anthropology. Imagine a
Burmese tutor taking a bunch of princes through the Ja¯taka and the
king-law lists. Imagine 30

R A J A D H A M M A C O N F RO N T S L E V I A T H A N

him writing up some of his better lectures for publication. Imagine some
of these texts spreading through Burma’s manuscript tradition. Such is
the seat-in-life of the rajovada and myittasa genres.

Kyaw Htun of Lower Burma Kyaw Htun entered the British records on 18
December 1851 (under the name ‘Moung Kyaw Doon’) when he was appointed a
clerk in the Akyab office of Arthur Phayre, the Commissioner of Arakan. I
know only two things about his life before 1851: that his parents were
‘lineal descendants of the ancient Arakanese Royal Family’,10 and that
he acquired perfect copperplate handwriting for both Burmese and
English. I infer that he spent some years at an English-run school
(perhaps a mission school) in Akyab. I don’t know his age, but I’ll
assume that he was about 17 when he started work for the British
commissioner, meaning that he was born around 1834. When the Second
Anglo-Burmese War started, the British troop-ships, provisioning in
Akyab, were on the lookout for trustworthy interpreters. Phayre
recommended Kyaw Htun, who had been in his office a year, to Lt Col.
Anstruther: I know his family, also that they are respectable. He has
learnt English, and I think you will find him useful as a Burmese
interpreter. I think Rs. 35 would be a fair amount of wages for him.11
He enlisted on 18 December 1852 under General Steele ‘as a guide and
interpreter to the British forces’, and fought at Martaban and Beeling.
After the war was won, Kyaw Htun moved back from the army to the Civil
Service. He became clerk to J. S. Baird, the Assistant Commissioner of
Prome, and spent the next decade at Prome, working his way up from
Burmese writer, to assistant clerk, to treasurer, to record keeper. In
September 1866, he was promoted to Extra Assistant Commissioner (EAC),
1st class, 1st grade (earning Rs.400 per month) and moved from Prome to
Danubyu,12 the fortified river port upstream from Rangoon. He was to
spend the next seven years as EAC of Danubyu. Subject only to sporadic
supervision by his British superiors, his word in Danubyu, and for
twenty miles up and down the river, was law. The Reverend John Marks13
records how Kyaw Htun helped out in a crisis. The premises Marks had
bought at Henzada for his mission school were flooded overnight by a rise
in the river. While waiting anxiously, and thinking what we should do,
my friend Moung Kyaw Doon, the Extra Assistant Commissioner, came along,
and at once solved the problem by putting a very suitable house (his
own property) at our disposal, free of rent, for half a year. (Marks
1917: 114) 31

ANDREW HUXLEY

In 1871 and 1872, as Kyaw Htun neared the age of 40, his career
prospects shone bright. Just before Albert Fytche retired as Chief
Commissioner, he had agreed with Colonel Plant to propose promoting Kyaw
Htun beyond the glass ceiling to Assistant Commissioner. Had it
happened he would have been the first non-European in Burma to reach this
level.14 In 1872, the Chief Commissioner endorsed him to the newly
appointed Judicial Commissioner as ‘one of the most intelligent native
officials in Burma’.15 When the Viceroy of India came to Rangoon that
year, Kyaw Htun was singled out to meet him: the Earl of Mayo awarded
him a gold watch and medal. Perhaps it was a bad omen that the Viceroy
was assassinated a few days later in the Andaman Islands. Within a year
of hitting these peaks, Kyaw Htun’s career came abruptly to an end. The
year 1873 proved to be Kyaw Htun’s climacteric. He started the year well
by publishing Pakinnaka dipani kyam (‘Explanatory Treatise on
Miscellaneous Topics’), a book summarising Burmese culture and history,
and contrasting it with British history and institutions (Kyaw Htun
1873). He is the first modern Burmese editor of a printed work. Other
Burmese publishers over the previous four years had moved text straight
from one manuscript to one book. Kyaw Htun extracted and compiled the
various texts he printed ‘by myself’.16 On 19 April 1873, a month before
publication, Kyaw Htun received unexpected visitors – Kinwun Mingyi
(one of the senior ministers to the Peacock throne) and his entourage on
their way back to Mandalay from their embassy to London. Htin Aung
summarises Kinwun Mingyi’s diary entry: At 8pm the steamer stopped at
Danubyu to take on firewood. Maung Kyaw Tun, the township officer, was
acquainted with Major McMahon, who sent him a letter. At 7 pm he arrived
and presented to the Royal secretary a copy of the ms. of a book which
was being printed. The book was a comparative study of English and
Burmese terms and phrases relating to history, law and taxation. He left
the steamer at midnight. (Htin Aung 1974: 138) The ambassadors took
this copy of Pakinnaka dipani back to Mandalay, where Hpo Hlaing would
have been able to consult it.17 The British paid little attention to
their protégé’s work. The only review of it that I have seen in English
came eleven years after publication.18 Meanwhile, events in Danubyu were
unravelling. Six months after publication, the Judicial Commissioner
(Kyaw Htun’s ultimate boss) announced: The Judicial staff this year lost
Moung Kyaw Doon, an intelligent and learned judge, but who unfortunately
allowed himself to engage in speculations of trade and to adjudicate
upon matters in which it was considered that he had a pecuniary
interest.19 32

R A J A D H A M M A C O N F RO N T S L E V I A T H A N

During the Viceroy’s visit the previous year, an anonymous petition had
been handed to him alleging dirty deeds in Danubyu. The petition was
shunted leisurely down the system, to lodge with Kyaw Htun’s immediate
superior William DeCourcy Ireland, Deputy Commissioner at Henzada.
Ireland spent the next nine months surreptitiously investigating affairs
in Danubyu. Ireland accused Kyaw Htun of having become a rich man, worth
2½ lakhs of rupees, by skimming off the profits of Danubyu’s fishing and
river trade. He alleged specific instances of Kyaw Htun’s involvement in
robbery, sexual misconduct, and perversion of justice. An investigation
by Ireland’s superior, who admitted to having ‘a high opinion of [Kyaw
Htun]’s character’,20 acquitted him of the wilder charges, but found him
guilty on count two: ‘Trading, and deciding suits brought on these
trading transactions in his own court in his own favour.’ Kyaw Htun
escaped jail by submitting his resignation on 15 November on grounds of
ill-health.21 The archives reveal that Ireland ran a one-man campaign to
destroy Kyaw Htun’s career, but they do not reveal his motives.
Undoubtedly, the disgrace of Kyaw Htun was a significant event in British
Burma. It taught Burmese onlookers that the British treated their
courtiers just as capriciously as had the Burmese kings. Why endure the
uncertainties of working for the British as EAC, when one could earn
more money, have more independence, and enjoy higher status as a
barrister or doctor? Strange, then, that so soon after Kyaw Htun’s
disgrace, his second publication should be funded by the British
government. In 1874, the Judicial Commissioner announced a prize of
Rs.1,000 for the best essay in English on the sources and history of
Buddhist law. In early 1876, he awarded the prize to Kyaw Htun and
arranged for its publication as a twenty-page pamphlet in 1877. This is
Kyaw Htun’s Essay on the Sources and Origins of Buddhist Law (hereon his
Prize Essay). It is a thoughtful summary of Burmese tradition,
discussing the different ways in which one might speak of ‘the sources’
of law. It contains a mixture of lists and stories taken from both the
canon and the dhammathats. I shall concentrate on what Kyaw Htun tells
us in the Prize Essay about king-law. He presents a list of king-law
lists, with checksum 28: The Laws binding on a King or Ruler, numbering
twenty-eight in all, are the [4 solidarities] (sangahavatthu) . . . the
[3 coronations] (abhiseka). (Kyaw Htun 1877: 3) Kyaw Htun set these
lists within his telling of the Maha¯sammata story, making it far more
explicitly a social contract than it was in the Aggañña sutta (see
Huxley 1996: 407; Collins 1996: 42). Kyaw Htun’s small print reads:
everyone except Maha¯sammata must obey the 5 wheel-turning precepts,
while Maha¯sammata alone must obey the 28 duties incumbent on the king.
Mention 33

ANDREW HUXLEY

of coronations leads Kyaw Htun to continue the Aggañña Sutta story, and
by the time he finished it, he had lost his thread. He forgot to give the
remaining lists, and left us with a puzzle: How shall we complete the
equation 4 + 3 + n + p . . . = 28? I’ll propose a solution based on
three comparable texts written earlier in the Konbaung dynasty
(1752–1885). The first is a lecture by a Regius Professor, addressed to
foreign royalty while conducting a diplomatic mission. The lecture was
delivered in the fifteenth century, but this account of it was written in
1780. The second is a classical poem written in the 1810s in praise of
King Badon (1781–1819). The third is King Bagyidaw’s (1819–38) appeal,
in a Royal Order of 1824, for supernatural aide to dislodge the British
from Rangoon. Let’s look at these three from the list-of-lists angle. In
1780, the year before the coup and counter-coup that put Badon on the
throne, Shin Sandalinka wrote his Maniyadanabon, his edition of the wise
counsels given by the courtier Minyaza to the kings of Ava in the early
1400s. How far this work can be used as a source for fifteenth-century
Burma is debatable, but it is certainly a useful source on Konbaung
Burma in the eighteenth century. One passage reproduces an address on
king-law that Minyaza was invited to give before the King of Monland: O
King, who are lord of all your people, if you wish to attain great
honour and reputation in this present life, and if you hope to become
lord of all men in the course of your successive lives in this world,
you must act so as to perfect the rule of religion in your knowledge,
charity, patience, enthusiasm, piety, kindness and fortitude; also you
must act so as fulfil the ten royal duties of almsgiving, piety,
liberality, uprightness, gentleness, austerity, self-control, mercy,
patience, and consistency; you must also act so as to fulfil the four
ways of helping other men, almsgiving, wise conduct, kind words and
treating others like oneself. In acting thus you will win much benefit in
your present and your future lives. (Bagshawe 1981: 96) Schematically,
as a list-of-lists, this lecture can be represented as: 1 2 3

7 virtues 10 king-law virtues 4 solidarities 3 lists with 21 items checksum

The Rajadhiraja Vilasini (Manifestation of the King of Kings) is a
panegyric on King Badon written by the 1st Maungdaung sayadaw in Pali
(with Burmese commentary). The Uddesa (précis) summarises chapter two,
which describes Badon’s ‘patronage of the world’ in terms of king-law
lists: 34

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He took a constant delight in the observance of hereditary precepts,
such as [the 4 solidarities, the 7 ways not to make things worse and the
10 king-law virtues] and so forth. (Maung Tin 1914: 16) The Niddesa
(the chapter itself) leaves out the 7 ways not to make things worse,
describing instead the 5 precepts preached by the Wheel-turning Emperor
in the Cakkavattisı¯hana¯da Sutta (Discourse on the Lion’s Roar of the
Wheel-turning King). Mixing together the Uddesa and Niddesa yields the
following list-of-lists: 1 2 3 4

4 solidarities 10 king-law virtues 7 ways not to make things worse 5 wheel-turning precepts 4 lists with 26 items checksum

My third example comes from Bagyidaw’s order in 1824. It was addressed
to Burma’s protective spirits and asked for their help in kicking the
British out of Rangoon. King Bagyidaw deserves this help because: Like
the forefathers beginning with Maha¯sammata . . . the King observes the 4
ways of a leader, and the 10 rules of a king so as to ameliorate the
lot of the ruled. For the same reason, he had the muddha abhiseka
coronation just like Ashoka. He made the appropriate offerings to the
nats, as directed in the [7 ways not to make things worse] rules . . .22
Which yields the following list-of-lists: 1 2 3 4

4 solidarities 10 king-law virtues 3 coronations (implied) 7 ways not to make things worse 4 lists with 24 items checksum

Let’s return to the problem Kyaw Htun has set us. How would he have
completed his equation 4 + 3 + n + p . . . = 28? Here’s my
reconstruction in italics: 1 2 3 4 5

4 solidarities 3 coronations 4 roads not to take 10 king-law virtues 7
ways not to make things worse 5 lists with 28 items checksum 35

ANDREW HUXLEY

All of these lists occur in Richardson’s bilingual edition of Manugye
dhammathat.23 Kyaw Htun must have regarded his copy of Richardson (with
its Burmese text on the left hand of each spread and its English
translation on the right) as his Rosetta stone. Writing a twenty-page
essay in English is a sharp test of one’s language skills, and Kyaw Htun
must have been relieved to have Richardson’s translations from Burmese
into English available. There are, however, many other king-law lists to
be found in Manugye. I think that Kyaw Htun chose these particular five
lists as representative of the Burmese political tradition. I have
offered a reconstruction of Kyaw Htun’s list-of-lists based on three
Konbaung texts. I shall use other Konbaung texts to explain the current
interpretation of each of the lists. I start with Kyaw Htun’s account of
the 4 solidarities: (1.) Thatha Maida, meaning that he should not
receive more than a tithe of the produce of the country. (2.) Pooreetha
Maida, by which he binds himself to pay his servants and Army once every
six months. (3.) Thamapatha, by which he is bound to assist his
subjects with money, and to receive payment of it three years after,
without charging interest. (4.) Wahtsapayah, or the use of courteous and
fitting language; according to the age and position in life of the
person addressed. (Kyaw Htun 1877: 3) When he wrote this, Kyaw Htun had
few predecessors in the Romanisation of Pali. These days (unless we
fussed over diacritics), we would transliterate his four terms as
Sassamedha, Purisamedha, Samapasa and Vacapeyya. Kyaw Htun’s Burmese
text (whatever in the quote above is not in italics) is a close
translation from the Commentaries [Mp iv 69; Spk i 144]. This
Commentaries passage has been translated and discussed in most of the
languages of mainland Southeast Asia. Evidently Southeast Asian
Buddhists found it good-to-think. I suspect that this was because the
list implies a balance-sheet between ruler and ruled: sassamedha:
purisamedha: sammapasa: vacapeyya:

income, expressed as share-of-rice outgoings, for the government and
army outgoings, for farmers and merchants respect, to be shown by the
rulers to the ruled

The ruler is entitled to his tax share of the rice crop. The ruled are
entitled to a redistribution of all this tax, either as wages or as
loans. Everything off-balance-sheet is summed up in the word ‘respect’.
The ruler should use 36

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sweet language, because the ruled would like to retain some, at least,
of their dignity. But why the two different categories of outgoings?
Purisamedha is the ruler’s wage bill. It is the budget through which he
pays his bureaucrats and soldiers. In Burmese terms, these soldiers are
ahmudan (the higher-status villagers on the irrigation systems nearest
the capital city, who were expected to form themselves into army units
during the campaigning season, and could muster for self-defence at
fairly short notice at other times of year). They are under a separate
bureaucracy to the athi (the free non-servicemen who lived in villages
beyond the nuclear zone, sometimes in villages that lacked an irrigation
system). King Badon gives us a glimpse of how the ahmudan finances were
organised. Soon after his accession, he ordered: King Alaung-hpaya,
following the [4 solidarities], made loans from the Royal Treasury to
certain Saw-bwas, Myo-zas, Thagyis, Kalans and to other officials and
commoners. Some part of the principal amounts of these loans is still
outstanding . . . There are also moneys that remain to be collected,
from the time of my brother Sin-gu-min, from various Princes, Ministers
and commoners, arising out of criminal suits brought, according to their
kamma, against various Princes, Ministers and commoners.24 When the
king advances money to a military commander or local ruler under his
purisamedha budget, the recipient was under an obligation to account. In
other words, he faced criminal charges ‘according to his kamma’ if the
money was spent otherwise than as the king intended. The sammapasa
section of the balance-sheet describes the king as merchant banker, and
as bank of agricultural credit. Wet rice cultivation requires money or
credit up front. Just to get started each year, you need to invest in
compost, seed rice, and a week’s hire of labour and heavy equipment. But
if your crop failed last year, your credit is no good this year. The
1750s edition of Manugye dhammathat, associated with Alaungpaya, founder
of the Konbaung dynasty, says that: If a person has incurred debts
beyond his means of paying, and his family are unable to assist him . . .
he shall make a petition to the king, who will say ‘On conditions, give
him an advance . . . In three years the king may take back the
advances. This he may do in accordance with the [4 solidarities].25 It
is in this role as lender of last resort that the Burmese king won the
hearts of his athi population. But Badon talks as if there were a means
test: 37

ANDREW HUXLEY

Kings observe the [4 solidarities], of which sammapasa means that loans
are advanced to the poor for three years without taking interest on
them. As for loans made by other people, they might take interest on
them as it is already a recognised usage.26 Which I read as meaning
That’s just poor people I help, you understand. I can charge normal
rates to my middle class subjects. E Maung argues that language like
this is the language of entitlement. The Burmese jurists had moved from
‘moral exhortations to legal obligations binding on the ruler’ (Maung
1951: 6). The Konbaung dynasty, in E Maung’s view, had developed this
particular king-law list into constitutional law. His view is plausible:
the idea of a balance-sheet between ruler and ruled does suggest an
entitlement on each of the parties doing business together. From the
balance-sheet it is a short step to thinking that the ruler and the
ruled owe correlative rights and duties to each other under a social
contract. However, I haven’t yet found a Burmese text that stresses
correlativity as strongly as did the early modern European theorists.
Kyaw Htun’s second list is the 3 coronations, which he works into his
account of Maha¯sammata. Once the Great Elect had accepted the
invitation to rule over them: the people poured on him the three kinds
of Beet-theik, viz:- (1.) Yazza Beet-theik consecrating him King. (2.)
Manda Beet-theik marrying him to a Queen. (3.) Thenga Beet-theik,
confirmation or renewal of his engagement to abide by all the laws . . .
(Kyaw Htun 1877: 3) It is the third item (a Burmanisation of the Pali
phrase meaning ‘solidarity anointment’) that connects the coronation
ceremony with constitutional law. Ryuji Okudaira, in his study of the
nineteenth-century Burmese sources on coronations, sees the ceremony as
something like a referendum: the king asks the people to endorse the
fact that he rules according to the ten royal virtues and the four
solidarities (Okudaira 1994: 7, 9). Coronation European-style is an
on-off validity switch at the start of a monarch’s reign. But Burmese
kings are encouraged to ‘renew their vows’ mid-reign, which gives a
hitherto bad king the chance to turn over a new leaf. By choosing to
undergo the sangaha abhiseka, a king could relaunch his career by
declaring, in effect, Now that my throne is secure thanks to my adhammic
acts against potential rivals, I choose henceforth to rule according to
dhamma. The form in which he declared this was an oath to the people’s
representatives to rule according to dhamma. As Badon explained,
‘Coronation means a promise on the part of the king to rule with
benevolence and justice . . . placing a curse on him if he fails to do
so.’27 Mindon underwent such a coronation in 1874, twenty-two years
after becoming king.28 38

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A king thus constrained by his oath is, in European terminology, a
princeps legibus non solutus (‘Prince not freed from obedience to the
laws’). This terminology goes back to Ulpian (the first European lawyer
to have clearly distinguished between public and private law) as cited
in D.1.3.31.29 It is one of the oldest themes to survive in contemporary
western discourse on politics and public law. It is, to use a single
word derived from Ulpian’s Latin, the absolutism theme.30 Some European
political theorists – Robert Filmer, Joseph de Maistre – explain that
absolutism is the most rational political structure we can adopt, given
the way the world really is. There were no Filmers or de Maistres in
Burma under the first nine Konbaung kings. Until King Mindon (1852–78)
no-one argued that kings need the freedom to act adhammically (that is,
to transgress or revoke any of the traditional understandings of the
king-law lists). In Part two I shall describe how Mindon systematically
dismantled the 4 solidarities section of the Burmese constitutional
settlement. At this point in his exposition, Kyaw Htun gets diverted. In
my reconstruction, the next list is the 4 roads not to take
(partiality, hate, illusion and fear). In the canon these are presented
as part of the causal chain that leads to suffering [D.iii.182]. It is
Ja¯taka No. 22 that firmly links the list with government. The
Buddha-to-be, born as the leader of a pack of wild cemetery dogs, and
unjustly accused of criminal damage, exhorts a king that partiality,
hate, illusion and fear are the four ways to misjudge a case. These 4
roads not to take itemise aspects of the king’s duty, when acting as a
judge, to act fairly. In Europe we think of due process and fair
procedure as judicial values. The 4 roads not to take cover much the
same ethical territory. Next come the 10 king-law virtues (generosity,
morality, liberality, honesty, mildness, religious practice, non-anger,
non-violence, patience and nonoffensiveness), first mentioned in the
canonical Ja¯taka verses [J.iii.274]. This list seems too much concerned
with personal morality to be part of political theory as we understand
the term. But the Burmese aren’t embarrassed to admit ethics into
constitutional law. This list reminds us that a Buddhist king is
duty-bound to be a good king. How, then, could a tutor to the royal
princes bring this list alive? I suspect that it was by linking each of
the ten virtues to episodes in the 10 last Ja¯taka (No. 538–547 of the
Pali recension). The Burmese princes, I surmise, were taught ten
different ways to be good, illustrated to them by precedents from the
Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births. The 10 virtues allow some
rudimentary analysis and comparison of the precedents, along the lines
of In this episode the king displayed great respect for morality, but
very little for non-violence. My aim in this article (to understand
Burmese politics in European terms) becomes impossible with the 10
virtues. I know nothing in the European tradition that specifies the
particular virtues that each monarch should display. The 10year-old
princess, later to become Queen Victoria, declared simply and
generically: ‘I will be good.’31 39

ANDREW HUXLEY

Finally, the 7 ways not to make things worse,32 which appears at the
beginning of the Great Discourse of the Final Nirvana [D.ii.75]. The
special 1781 edition of Manugye, written in connection with Badon’s
accession to the throne, translates the Pali into Burmese thus: The king
should: [1] Hold meetings and consult with his royal counsellors three
times a day, [2] Tackle affairs with the application of consistent rules,
[3] Only collect taxes and impose punishments which tradition allows,
[4] Respect and cherish the elderly, [5] Govern his subjects
paternalistically, without oppression, [6] Make the usual offerings to
the Nats who watch over the capital city and the rest of the kingdom,
(7) Provide for the monastic community. (Okudaira and Huxley 2001: 252)
The Konbaung authors treated items [1] and [2] as determinative of the
list’s character. They invoked it in relation to good governance,
efficient decision-making and better bureaucracy. In 1786 King Badon
proclaimed: It is right that the affairs of the Kingdom should not evade
the [Law of not making things worse] . . . In accordance with the [7
ways not to make things worse], which rules the actions of Kings, and in
accordance with ancient custom, those Ministers and officers who attend .
. . the law courts will go to their proper place [therein] . . . at the
first hour of the day and they will deal with whatever matters need to
be dealt with for the true administration of the law . . . The Ministers
. . . and petitioning lawyers will all take their places at a moderate
distance from the Heir and make their reports upon whatever needs to be
reported, about crime, about the affairs of the country in general and
about the Religion.33 This seems to be what Tim Murphy, in the English
context, calls ‘adjudication as the mode of government’ (Murphy 1991:
194). Part of this list’s meaning is to reinforce a preference for
presenting policy issues in the guise of legal issues. And part of it
(since king-law is a subset of ethics) implies a counsel of perfection:
kings should keep on searching for ever more efficient ways to govern. At
worst I’ve given my own summary of Konbaung political theory as it was
about 1870. At best I’ve reconstructed Kyaw Htun’s summing up of it.
I’ll end this first part by summarising my comparisons with European
political theory in tabular form:

40

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Table 1 Konbaung political theory as Kyaw Htun saw it, with English
equivalents 4 solidarities 3 coronations 4 roads not to take 10 king-law
virtues 7 ways not to make things worse

balance-sheet between ruler and ruled absolutism unacceptable due process; fair procedure [no equivalent] rule of law

Hpo Hlaing of Upper Burma Hpo Hlaing was born in 1830 to a family that
had served the Konbaung kings as staff officers for more than fifty years.
His father, Yindaw Wungyi, had a reputation as a scholar and as a friend
to the Europeans in the Burmese capital. However, Yindaw Wungyi was
murdered by King Tharrawaddy (1838–46) in 1845. The details are
disputed: either he had been complicit in a plot against the king, or he
was an innocent victim of one of the king’s periodic insane rages. Hpo
Hlaing advanced socially after his father’s death: he was adopted by two
of Tharrawaddy’s sons, Mindon and Kanaung, and thenceforward received a
prince’s education. He attended the leading teaching monasteries of the
capital as a novice, and then as a monk. By December 1852, the loss of
the Second Anglo-Burmese War had made King Pagan (1846–52) unpopular:
Mindon and Kanaung were talked of as replacements. Pagan sent men to
arrest his brothers, but they escaped to raise a revolt. He also tried
to arrest Hpo Hlaing but, so the story goes, the troops who went to his
monastic cell missed him, because he was up all night reciting the
Pattha¯na in the ordination hall. That homage to the Abhidhamma was his
last act˙˙as a monk: at dawn, he put on lay clothes and made his way to
join Mindon and Kanaung. Because he gave the crucial advice that secured
their victory, for the next twenty-seven years, as long as King Mindon
ruled, Hpo Hlaing was a protected person. For most of that time, he
served the king as minister, but occasionally he was too blunt in his
criticisms and had to go into exile for a year or two. In 1871, he was
exiled for maintaining that the consumption of beer in moderate
quantities did not breach the precepts. In 1873, there was a more
serious row, when he criticised the king to his face for giving favours
to those officials who pandered their daughters to him. Mindon snatched
down from the wall the very spear with which his father had killed Hpo
Hlaing’s father: Who was executed with this spear? My father the Yindaw
Wungyi was executed with that spear, your Majesty. King Mindon: Do you
also want to be executed by the same spear? Hpo Hlaing (projecting his
chest towards the king): Please execute me, your Majesty.34 King Mindon:
Hpo Hlaing:

41

ANDREW HUXLEY

An adopted son criticises his father’s predatory sexual appetites:
perhaps this is as much to do with the Oedipus complex as with the good
government agenda. At any rate, Mindon backed down and left the room.
When the other courtiers remonstrated with Hpo Hlaing, he replied: If he
had struck me with that spear and I were killed, that would have been
worthwhile. If kings are to order what they feel like at any point, the
country will be lost because of the ill deeds that will be done. If I
leave that behind me as my reputation, my death will be of little
benefit. It is right to be afraid of that kind of foul smell sticking in
the noses of all the peoples . . . Have your say . . . That is what
ministers are for.35 In 1879, Hpo Hlaing showed that he was prepared to
risk his life in order to prevent the country being lost. When King
Mindon died, Hpo Hlaing was co-leader36 of the ‘coup for constitutional
monarchy’, and wrote Rajadhammasangaha to instruct the new king in the
cabinet arrangements that would now bind him. The plotters kept control
of Mandalay for three months, running the country from their
headquarters in the Southern Royal Gardens, having installed one of the
weakest of Mindon’s children, the 20-year-old Thibaw Prince, onto the
throne.37 They drafted an oath of office for him to swear that invoked
three of the king-law lists and the sassamedha tax’s upper limit of 10
per cent, before saying: There is the oath of allegiance twice
administered to ministers and officers. They shall meet and talk and
decide rules that would stand the test of time and remain good for
several generations to come. Once they had decided the rules, people
should abide by them.38 Thibaw was being asked, as I understand it, to
cede legislative sovereignty to his Council so that they could draw up a
formal constitution. As far as we know, Thibaw took the oath without
demur (and, perhaps, without understanding). All government functions
were reorganised into fourteen ministries. Hpo Hlaing headed the new
Sassamedha department, which gave him sole authority to authorise
payment from the Treasury. By controlling all government expenditure,
he, in effect, controlled the government, though Kinwun Mingyi was the
oldest and most prominent of the ministers involved. The coup was
defeated when Thibaw managed to win the support of an army commander. On
13 February 1879, units of the Household Guard under the Yanaung
Myoza’s command arrested Hpo Hlaing and two of the other coup leaders.
Hpo Hlaing was sacked from court, but escaped death or 42

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imprisonment. He used his retirement to add to his reputation as an
author. Previously he had translated Ampère’s textbook on chemistry from
French to Burmese (Pyinthit Dat kyan), and developed a Morse Code for
the Burmese alphabet to use on Kanaung’s newly installed telegraph line.
Between 1879 and his death in 1883, he wrote his popular book on
medicine and health Udobhojana Sangaha, and wrote Mahasu Ja¯taka, a
Burmese summary of Sanskrit works on divination. With the possible
exception of the Ledi sayadaw, Hpo Hlaing was the most prolific Burmese
author of the late nineteenth century. It is his Rajadhammasangaha
(Compendium of King-Law) that concerns us. U Htin Fatt produced his
revised scholarly edition of the Compendium of King-Law in 1978. His
seventy-six-page introduction describes and discusses all the known
textual and epigraphic evidence of Hpo Hlaing’s career. I have drawn
heavily on Htin Fatt’s work, and owe an equally large debt to Euan
Bagshawe, who has made his translation of the Htin Fatt edition of 1978
available to all for free. Hpo Hlaing had divided the ninety-four pages
of Compendium of KingLaw into three parts, respectively thirty-one
pages, thirty-eight pages, and sixteen pages long. At the end of each
part he summarised its content in traditional Burmese deadpan style.
Part 1 ends: In this section the [7 ways not to make things worse] and
other rules that are to be followed by kings and their ministers the
book named Rajadhammasangaha sets out.39 His three summaries reveal
nothing of his authorial intentions. That, I take it, was the point. The
longer it took Thibaw to discover what was going on, the easier for the
conspirators to prosper. Hpo Hlaing has, I think, written a muddled
book when he was quite capable of writing a clear book. He did so by
slavishly following Burmese genre conventions. The closer Compendium of
King-Law resembled earlier works in the myittasa and rajovada genres,
the better the chance that the young Thibaw king would skim through it
without realising its revolutionary import. The plotters needed all the
help they could get, and Hpo Hlaing’s hide it in the small print
strategy might have bought them a few extra weeks. As a result, Hpo
Hlaing emerges as Burma’s first ironist. He wrote the Compendium of
King-Law entirely within Burmese genre constraints, but did so
ironically, that is, in full appreciation of the muddying effect that
strict adherence to genre could have. Let’s examine the structure by way
of its Parts and Sections:

43

ANDREW HUXLEY

Table 2 The structure of Hpo Hlaing’s Compendium of King-Law Part 1:
(1–6) 7 ways not to make things worse (as the People of the West);
(8–13) 4 solidarities (as the People of the West) (14–15) 3 motives
leading down (Burma’s population decline), (16–18) 2 motives leading up
(leading to a 2×2 Burmese deontology) (19–24) 4 rules for here and
beyond (as the People of the West), (25–6) 5 winning arguments and 4
ways for people to do what they’re told Part 2: (1–7) Three Birds
Ja¯taka (the West on implementation) (8–10) 10 royal virtues (plus
sticks and carrots debate) (11–18) 7 ways to beat an enemy (19–22) six
more random lists (23–27) Art of War sections (28–36) five more random
lists, interspersed with: (32) another Art of War section (31, 33, 36)
the revolutionary manifesto Part 3: (1–6) Singalovada sutta (7) 7 types
of wife (8–12) Singalovada sutta Coda: Hpo Hlaing’s autobiography in
Pali verse, followed by an auto-commentary in Burmese

If one omits the last two sections from Part 1 (the 5 winning arguments
from Narada sutta and the 4 rules for defeating inferiors from the
Dhammapada), Part 1 makes much better sense. From beginning to end, the
argument would become a sociological and political comparison between
Burma and ‘the people of the western countries’. The first six sections
contain his revolutionary theory, and the last five his Weberian analysis
of the motivation behind western capitalism. Perhaps Hpo Hlaing tacked
on the two lists of s25–6 to ensure that, despite its strong start, Part
1 ended on an anticlimax?40 Or perhaps he was making up the numbers? If
the list-of-lists analysis influenced him (and nowhere does he even hint
that it does), then the extra two lists might have arithmetical
significance. Here’s the schema: Part 1: 8 lists contain 34 items Part 2:
16 lists contain 116 items Part 3: 13 lists contain 65 items 37 lists
of 215 items checksum I am not aware of any special personality attached
to the number 215. But 37, as we have seen, connects with space, with
protection, and with the 37 nats, who may be invoked for protection
against most threats. The Compendium of King-Law is a book about how
Burma may be protected from Britain. 44

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What are we to make of the book’s tripartite structure? Why are the 37
lists divided into three parts? Htin Fatt gives an answer that is of
considerable jurisprudential interest: . . . after dealing very
elegantly with the question of rights in the first part of the book, in
the second and third parts he went on to demonstrate the duties mutually
incumbent upon the rulers and those who accept their rule.41 Hpo
Hlaing, in Htin Fatt’s reading, understood the social contract between
ruler and ruled in terms of correlative rights and duties, and used this
relationship to provide the structure of his book. I remain agnostic.
To my eyes, the contents of Hpo Hlaing’s three parts are distinguishable
as follows: Part 1: Morality for kings Part 2: Techniques of governance
Part 3: Rules for the Buddhist laity The first two parts concern the
ruler; the third addresses the ruled. Part 1 deals in moral
generalisations; Part 2 in institutional particulars. How do we know
which of the 37 king-law lists in Compendium of KingLaw Hpo Hlaing
thought most important? That the book is, fundamentally, a comparison
between Britain and Burma suggests a likely answer. He explicitly
singles out four areas (three lists and one theme) as being the areas in
which the British have worked out a political ethics superior to the
Burmese. The first two of the lists are old friends: Because . . . they
give the greatest importance to the [4 solidarities] . . . the peoples
of the West stand out for their prosperity . . . Since the [7 ways not
to make things worse] have been observed, the peoples of the western
countries are at present the most advanced of all lands.42 The third
list, which I call 4 rules for here and beyond, has not, as far as I am
aware, previously appeared in any Burmese work of king-law. It is from
the Alavaka sutta [S.i.213] wherein the Buddha answers ten questions put
by the earth-destroying demon Alavaka. Alavaka asked him ‘What
strategies hold good both in relation to this world and the next?’ The
Buddha answered with this list: ‘[1] sacca truth, [2] dhamma learning,
[3] dhiti purposeful energy, [4] ca¯ga charity.’ I think that Hpo Hlaing
has searched the vast repertoire of canonical lists for one that best
expressed his understanding of what had prodded Europe into modernity.
That which Max Weber identified as a certain combination of Puritan
attitudes, Hpo Hlaing identi45

ANDREW HUXLEY

fies as the 4 rules for here and beyond. Of these four, it is dhiti that
most interests him. We can have all the technological knowledge in the
world, he says, but unless we exert ourselves, nothing will get made.43
Part of the western mindset that encourages purposeful energy is a
fixation with time-keeping: Thus the peoples of the West, recognising . .
. that failing to keep properly to time brings loss, and punctuality
brings profit, do not go beyond a promised time and, so that work may be
done quickly, make use of telegraph lines, steam ships and steam trains .
. . Everybody – women, men, important and unimportant people, all carry
watches so as not to miss an appointment.44 These are the three lists
in which Burma lags behind Britain. Fourth comes a theme: that Burma’s
government institutions are weaker than the British, in that Burma is
unable to get its policy intiatives enforced at lower levels of the
bureaucracy. In Burma, though government tells its minions what the new
policy is, they find ways to delay its implementation: If in a major
project you speak without meaning it, you will get much blame . . . The
peoples of the western countries know that speaking the truth and
keeping faith bring great benefits, while untruth is a great fault . . .
Whatever they have agreed in joint consultation to enact into law cannot
be begged off, there are no exceptions and the law is so enacted45 Since
he talks in terms of promise-keeping, it is possible to read this
passage as extolling the virtues of sticking to agreements. But in
context, I think he is talking about bureaucrats who agree the king’s
new policy to his face, but subvert it behind his back. This is one of
two explanations offered by Hpo Hlaing as to why the Burmese state is
weaker than the British state. The other explanation is that the
mid-levels of the bureaucracy travel the 4 ways not to go: ‘since a bias
might be introduced by bribes or presents and by the status of people
involved in the action.’46 Government by king-in-cabinet will
automatically put an end to such difficulties: What one man does not know
another will; when one man has feelings of hate, another will not; when
one is angry, another will be calm. When people have agreed in a meeting
and preserve their solidarity, there will be no need for fear . . .
[When] people conduct their business in an assembly there is no way in
which the [4 ways not to go] can be followed.47 The checks and balances
involved in cabinet government will cancel out 46

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each individual’s bias, duress or ignorance. These are the final words of
the Compendium of King-Law, and they sound like an anticipation of
Jürgen Habermas. The Burmese minister and the German professor both
believe in the disinfectant powers of decision-making by committee. But
they differ over democracy: Habermas is in favour, and Hpo Hlaing was
not. Hpo Hlaing wanted to move Burma from absolute monarchy to rule by
an oligarchy of courtiers and generals. He belongs with the barons at
Runnymede, not with the conventioneers at Philadelphia. If his two
explanations overlap, we may substitute the 4 ways not to go for the
‘weak state’ theme, in order to present Hpo Hlaing’s analysis of how the
people of the western countries excel as a list-of-lists: 1 2 3 4

4 solidarities 7 ways not to make things worse 4 rules for here and beyond 4 ways not to go 4 lists of 19 items checksum

I don’t attach any significance to the checksum: I believe that here, at
the heart of what Hpo Hlaing had to say, he was no longer guided by
numerological considerations. These four lists happen to be what the
data (the comparison between Britain and Burma) threw up. Hpo Hlaing’s
analysis of modernity is itself modern. It remains to interpret what Hpo
Hlaing says about these four lists. The 4 solidarities would cause
difficulty to anyone writing about it in the 1870s. Mindon had
systematically dismantled that whole chapter of Burma’s constitutional
understandings whose heading was the 4 solidarities. Kyaw Htun,
observing Upper Burma from down-river in Danubyu, put it thus: Since
[Maha¯sammata’s time], up to about 12 years ago, the several Kings and
Rulers contented themselves with one tenth of the revenues of the
country, but the present Sovereign of Burmah introduced a system of
paying his servants, and abolished the tithe system. (Kyaw Htun 1877: 2)
King Mindon changed the currency of the tax system from rice to cash.
In 1857, he imposed a poll tax, named the sassamedha tax, at three kyat
per household. It rose to five, and then to ten kyat per household after
1866. Thant Myint-U has calculated that this ‘vast change in the working
of political power’ imposed a severe drag on the most dynamic parts of
Upper Burma’s economy (Myint-U 2001: 115, 124). In respect of the 4
solidarities, it was Mindon who was the revolutionary. Hpo Hlaing,
inaugurating the post-Mindon era, had to decide whether this bit of the
tradition has been 47

ANDREW HUXLEY

irretrievably ruined, or whether it could be reconfigured to present
needs. His attempt at reconfiguration was to shift the name sassamedha
from the tax to the central treasury department that he headed. As to
the 7 ways not to make things worse, Hpo Hlaing merely added some
detail. Like his predecessors, he thinks of the list in terms of
optimising the daily procedures for cabinet government. He adds four
checkpoints for successful meetings: 1 2 3 4

The time and place of meeting to be circulated in advance An unfinished
meeting to adjourn to a fixed date Follow the agenda. Let everyone have
their say. The final decision should be made public, and should pursue
consensus.48

These help us achieve ‘discussion, leaving out individual prejudices,
aiming for agreement’.49 Finally the 4 roads not to take concentrate on
the institutional advantages that comes with well-conducted cabinet
government: As has been said on the [7 ways not to make things worse],
if a number of people get together for any sort of action, there can be
no question of following the [roads not to take] way.50 As I did with
Kyaw Htun, I shall try to summarise Hpo Hlaing’s core message in tabular
form, with European equivalents: Table 3 Konbaung political theory, as
Hpo Hlaing saw it, with English translation 4 solidarities 7 ways not to
make things worse 4 rules for here and beyond 4 roads not to take

budget under cabinet control institutional cabinet government motivation of western modernity epistemological cabinet government

Conclusion Two of Hpo Hlaing’s Burmese readers differ as to the extent of
his debt to western thinking. Tin Ohn reads Compendium of King-Law as
showing that: ‘Burmese intellectuals were fully aware of the world
outside their own country and were quick enough to appreciate the new
ideas.’51 Htin Fatt concedes that Hpo Hlaing was enthusiastic about some
of the political ideas arriving from western countries. However: We
cannot say that it follows from this that it is only a book that copies
western ideas; in it the author compares the past with the present, the
old with the new, western notions with eastern, in his search for
objectivity.52 48

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If you’re a Burmese proponent of cabinet government, as Hpo Hlaing was,
does that make you un-Burmese? If you covet the strong government that
westerners have achieved, are you thereby betraying your eastern roots?
Did the Compendium of King-Law so revolutionise the Burmese political
tradition as to catapult itself outside that tradition as Kyaw Htun and
his contemporaries understood it? We are now in a better position to
assess the different emphases of Tin Ohn and Htin Fatt. In relation to
Table 3’s first, second and fourth lists, we can make a direct comparison
between Burmese king-law as presented by Kyaw Htun and by Hpo Hlaing.
Mindon’s monetarisation of the tax system had destroyed a
long-entrenched part of the Burmese constitutional settlement.
Certainly, Hpo Hlaing’s treatment of the 4 solidarities is a new
approach to the theme, but the old approach was already dead. In this
respect Hpo Hlaing was a revivalist rather than a revolutionary. In
respect of the 7 ways not to make things worse Hpo Hlaing was a
traditionalist: the details he added were well within the parameters set
down by Burmese tradition. In respect of the 4 roads not to take, he
gave an epistemological twist to the Buddhist analysis of natural
justice. Decisions reached after full discussion by a well-briefed
cabinet were likely to be better (meaning purged of more of the 4 roads
not to take) than decisions reached in other ways. This does introduce
something new into the previous Burmese discourse on the 4 roads. In
relation to this list and this list only, Hpo Hlaing does choose to bend
the tradition he inherited into something new. There were two big
might-have-beens in relation to Upper Burma’s governance. Hpo Hlaing’s
coup of 1879–80 might have succeeded, and Compendium of King-Law become
the official ideology of Mandalay’s constitutional monarchy. Or Viscount
Dufferin and Randolph Churchill might have accepted Kinwun Mingyi’s
proposals of 1886 and installed a constitutional monarchy in Mandalay.
In the first case, Upper Burma might have been able to evolve through the
twentieth century as a nominally independent state, like Thailand. In
the second case, Upper Burma might have been subject to indirect
colonial rule, as were the northern Malay states. I concede that we
cannot know whether these might-have-beens would have brought a better
future for the Burmese. But looking at Burma as it actually was in 1948,
and as it is in 2007, it is hard to imagine that things could have
turned out worse.

Notes 1 My thanks to Patricia Herbert, Euan Bagshawe, Michael Charney
and John Okell, for their help in researching Kyaw Htun and Hpo Hlaing. 2
Charles Crosthwaite, cited in Harvey (1932: 439). 3 Kyaw Htun (1877). 4
Hpo Hlaing (1979). Euan Bagshawe’s translation (2004) of the whole text
is available at
http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docs/The_Rajadhammasangaha-print.pdf 5 For an
excellent guide to the first millenium of its history, see Steven
Collins (1998).

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ANDREW HUXLEY

6 Note the interesting ambiguity in the Pali word ma¯tika¯. It can refer
to each item in a list: ‘Monks, there are these eight ma¯tika¯ for the
removal of robeprivileges . . .’ [V.i.255]. And it can also refer to the
list as a whole: the Pa¯timokkha, which is a list-of-lists comprising
227 items, is commonly referred to as the ma¯tika¯ of the second half of
the Vinaya. If you know the list, it’s because you have learned all its
items by heart, and can reproduce each one verbatim. 7 ‘Subsidiarity’
meaning which levels of government are appropriate to handle which
problems. 8 That is, 32 quarters of the compass + 4 options in the third
dimension + the point where the observer sits. 9 The five Pali nouns are
in A.iii.151. The information in brackets is from the Commentary [Mn
P.iii.283]. See Gokhale (1953: 162). 10 India Office Library Records
[henceforth ‘IOLR’], P4/36 November, citing Col. W. Plant’s letter to
Albert Fytche, June 1871. 11 IOLR, P4/36 November. 12 Kyaw Htun spelled
it ‘Donabyoo’ on the front of his Pakinnaka Dipani Kyam. 13 Born into
the Jewish faith in London’s East End. Spent most of his life as an
Anglican missionary in British Burma. For a few eventful years, he ran
an Anglican church and school in Mandalay. 14 IOLR, P4/36 November,
Plant to Fytche, June 1871. 15 IOLR, P3/37, 18 March 1872. 16 John
Okell’s translation of a manuscript letter (Kyaw Htun to Col. Ardagh)
bound into the SOAS library copy of Pakinnaka Dipani Kyan. 17 Though I
have not yet found conclusive proof that he did. 18 Emil Forchhammer,
Rangoon’s Professor of Pali, said that it ‘recommends itself for the
fair judgment which the author displays in the selection and arrangement
of the material, and in the omission of all, or, nearly all, that a
European critic would condemn as emanating from national idiosyncrasies’
(Maung Tet Pyo (1884), General remarks by Dr E. Forchhammer, Professor
of Pali and Government Archaeologist, British Burma: 1–2). 19 IOLR,
V/24/2233: Judicial Commissioner’s Report for 1873: 49. 20 IOLR, P4/36
November. 21 IOLR, P4/35 November, inclosing a medical certificate dated
14 November from J. Lamprey, Surgeon-Major HM 67th Regiment, Rangoon,
attesting to Kyaw Htun’s impaired vision. 22 ROB 24–5–1824. Than Tun
justifies this date (the manuscript has 15–7–1817) at: Than Tun 1984–90:
VII:109–10. 23 The 10 royal duties, 4 solidarities and the 7 ways not to
make things worse all appear in a single passage offering reasons why
the king should not be a sexual predator (Richardson 1896: 181). The 4
roads not to take are enumerated (without their collective name) as
characteristic of the seven types of incompetent judge (Richardson 1896:
157). The 3 kinds of coronation are given their collective name in the
book’s opening pages (Richardson 1896: 7). Richardson adds an
enumeration taken from a named manuscript source (‘Benga R’heo’s Book,
letter su.’). Unfortunately, we do not know who Benga R’heo was. If
Manugye was indeed Kyaw Htun’s source for the 3 coronations, he has used
it critically. Manugye’s thaga becomes thenga in the Prize Essay, with
the implication that this kind of coronation connects with the thenga
taya leba (the 4 solidarities). 24 Badon’s ROB of second waning day of
Kahson 1144, quoted in U Tin (2001: 304). 25 Richardson (1896: 109). 26
ROB 28–1–1795 s.56.

50

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27 ROB 18–3–1796, Than Tun’s English summary. 28 Htin Fatt,
Introduction, trs. Bagshawe (2004: 58ff) (see Hpo Hlaing 1979). This
ceremony was designed by Hpo Hlaing, along lines indicated in his
Decisions of King Mahasammata, written two years before. Htin Fatt was
unable to find a copy. 29 Ulpianus libro 13 ad legem Iuliam et Papiam:
Princeps legibus solutus est: Augusta autem licet legibus soluta non
est, principes tamen eadem illi privilegia tribuunt, quae ipsi habent.
30 See, as representative of a much larger literature: Esmein (1913),
Daube (1954), Simon (1984). 31
http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/Page1699.asp. 32 Pali apariha¯niya,
literally meaning ‘connected with whatever causes non-decay’. Buddhists
believe that things will naturally get worse. What deserves special
attention are the few things that can reverse the downward trend. 33 RoB
14th waxing day of Tazaung-hmon, 1148, quoted in U Tin (2001: 314). 34
My paraphrase of Htin Fatt, Introduction, trs. Bagshawe (2004: 56) (see
Hpo Hlaing 1979). 35 Htin Fatt, Introduction, citing the Hmawbi Sayadaw
Theingyi, trs. Bagshawe (2004: 56) (see Hpo Hlaing 1979). 36 Kinwun
Mingyi, Hkanbat Wungyi, and Yeinangyaung Wungyi were the other important
figures in the coup. 37 On one account, they would have preferred to
enthrone the Nyaungyan Prince, but he had taken sanctuary inside the
British Residency, which refused the Kinwun Mingyi’s formal demand for
their delivery. See: Aung San Suu Kyi (1990: 43). Thibaw Prince had
learned English and cricket at Rev. Mark’s Anglican school in Mandalay,
before shifting to a more traditional education at the Bagaya kyaung. 38
ROB 12–10–1878, Than Tun’s summary of the Burmese text. 39
Rajadhammasangaha, trs. Bagshawe (2004: 119) (see Hpo Hlaing 1979). 40
There seems to be more obfuscation in Part 2. The agenda for the
institutional implementation of the coup is to be found in s31, 33, and
36. But these sections are hidden within a deliberate muddle of lists
from a military manual, along with a random handful of king-law lists.
41 Htin Fatt, Introduction, trs. Bagshawe (2004: 75) (see Hpo Hlaing
1979). 42 Rajadhammasangaha, trs. Bagshawe (2004: 103), 94 (see Hpo
Hlaing 1979). 43 Ibid.: 117. 44 Ibid.: 123. 45 Ibid.: 122. 46 Ibid.: 92.
47 Ibid.: 174. 48 Ibid.: 92. 49 Ibid.: 89. 50 Ibid.: 174. 51 Tin Ohn
(1963: 90). 52 Htin Fatt, Introduction, trs. Bagshawe (2004: 70) (see
Hpo Hlaing 1979).

51

4 COLONIAL KNOWLEDGE AND BUDDHIST EDUCATION IN BURMA Juliane Schober

Faith and power must always, however uneasily, take a stance toward one
another. The polity, more than most realms of human action, deals
obviously with ultimate things. (Bellah and Hammond 1980: iv)

Education has long been associated with power and privilege. To this,
one may add the role of religion in education. Taw Sein Ko, the eminent
scholar of Burmese history and culture and Superintendent of the
Archeological Survey (1918–19) observed categorically that ‘education
divorced from religion is of little value’.1 Indeed, it is difficult to
negate the role of religious education in the formation of the self, in
shaping moral values and even in promoting social change from colonial
hegemony to national sovereignty. And there is perhaps no better vantage
point to explore the intricate connections between knowledge, religion,
and power than in the contexts of colonial education. Education is a
tool for mediating diverse, and at times contradictory, bodies of
knowledge concerning culture and world-view, modernity and tradition,
politics and religion, and temporal and ultimate visions of reality. It
helps shape conceptual structures of knowledge used to negotiate the
fluctuating boundaries of experience in the encounters of traditional and
modern societies, such as colonial Burma and colonizing Britain. This
is particularly apparent at those moments in history when colonial
reforms of education seek to integrate divergent bodies of local
knowledge. Education therefore also plays a role in shaping cultural
notions of identity, national belonging, and religious reasoning.
Colonizing forces tend to impose their forms of knowledge on newly
conquered territories by training local populations to become civil
servants and administrators in the colonial regime (Cohen 1996: 1–15).
Colonial education claims to convey objective facts through the rational
methods of 52

K N OW L E D G E A N D E D U C AT I O N I N BU R M A

modern science and technology. The curriculum and language of
instruction in colonial education are significant instruments in the
consolidation of foreign rule (Altbach and Kelly 1991: 1). It teaches
what Cohen calls colonial forms of knowledge that comprise subjects such
as historiography, geographic surveys, ethnic practices and beliefs,
surveillance, and so on. The colonial state itself becomes a theatre for
‘experimentation, where documentation, certification, and representation
were . . . modalities that transformed knowledge into power’ (Dirks in
Cohen 1996: xi). This essay casts into relief cultural and historical
locations at which particular forms of knowledge can open access to
power, while other forms of knowledge lose relevance in the political
context of the time. By focusing on colonial knowledge and Buddhist
education in Burma, I do not intend to privilege any particular
education, policy, or curriculum. Nor do I seek to describe Burmese
Buddhism as ‘compatible’ with or ‘hostile’ to rationalism, modernity, or
secular knowledge. Instead, I hope to locate debates about education
within colonial histories to highlight selectively cultural dynamics
that motivate the continuing politicization of education in Burma.
Secular subjects were not novel to the monastic curriculum in Burma.
During the reign of King Bodawphaya (r. 1782–1819), monastic education
incorporated what might loosely be termed secular subjects of Indian
origins, including astronomy, astrology, military arts, boxing,
wrestling and music (Mendelson 1975: 151). Yet, in the mid-nineteenth
century, when Burmese monks encountered the colonial stipulation to
include the teaching of science as an instrument of colonial power, they
largely refused to cooperate with British education policy. My essay
begins by describing the cultural contexts in which the monastic
opposition to teaching modern subjects emerged, especially to
mathematics, geography and drawing. The sangha’s refusal was motivated
largely by reactions against the colonial threat to monastic authority,
autonomy and ethics. The sangha’s position on educational reforms proved
to have unintended and far-reaching consequences, and eventually gave
rise to millenarian resistance movements against colonial rule, such as
the Saya San Rebellion during the 1920s and 1930s (Schober 1995). A
second focus is the emergence of nationalism advocated by the Young
Buddhist Men’s Association (YMBA), which was in many ways a colonial
organization. Founded in 1906, it was the first civil organization to
raise awareness about national identity. Its members were primarily
products of colonial education and included many of the country’s
post-independence leaders. The YMBA’s nationalist agenda focused in
large measure on matters of education. It advocated standards for
instruction in secular subjects in rural areas, while, at the same time,
promoting government support for instruction in religious and
vernacular subjects like Buddhism, Burmese language and classical
literature in public schools where modern, secular subjects and
instruction in English formed the core of the curriculum. 53

JULIANE SCHOBER

Next, the discussion shifts to modern efforts to construct a fundamental
Buddhist rationale that encompasses and foreshadows modern science and
to missionize Buddhism among sympathetic western audiences in the 1950s
and 1960s. Here, a modern Buddhist discourse appropriates, seemingly
without contradiction, scientific rationalism, perhaps the hallmark of
modern western education. In this context, colonial knowledge is again
subordinated to a universal, yet modern Buddhist cosmology. The essay
concludes with a brief delineation of the ways in which Burmese
governments have shaped public debate about education since
independence. Particularly noteworthy in this regard are efforts by the
military regime, since the 1990s, to employ monasteries in the delivery
of basic education in rural areas and particularly among non-Buddhist
tribal groups. Restrictions imposed on access to education under
military rule have motivated pro-democracy forces in Burma to bring to
the attention of the international community the widespread need for
education in shaping the future of civil society.

Colonial and cultural knowledge To a significant degree, the Burmese
experience of modernity commenced as a colonial project. The encounter
of what is now called ‘traditional Burmese culture’ with historical
forces that would link this country’s future to modernizing innovations
was motivated by the concerns of colonial administration and propelled
by particular historical conjunctures in this unfolding development.
Together, these forces eventually eclipsed traditional cultural values,
institutions, and life-ways.2 The collapse of traditional institutions,
initially only in Lower Burma and, after 1886, also in Upper Burma
accelerated the restructuring of Burmese society in the advent of
modernity.3 Colonial rule in Burma effectively dislodged military or
secular power from its Buddhist world-view in which it had been
traditionally embedded. By separating practical, physical and secular
power from its Buddhist foundations, the British followed a deliberate
policy of non-involvement in the religious affairs of the colony. This
diminished colonial authority in the views of traditional Burmese
Buddhists, who expected the British to act like righteous Buddhist
rulers (dhammara¯ja). At the same time, colonial rule introduced
alternate access to power that until then had not been a conceptual
possibility in Burmese cultural knowledge. British rule promoted the
rationalization of the state, modern values and western education, and
created administrative structures that furthered the economic and
political goals of the empire (Schober 2005). The British encountered in
Burma a firmly established and entirely different system of formal
education, with a relatively high rate of literacy among the general
population. Colonial sources report that basic literacy rates exceeded
those of India and matched those of Italy, Ireland and North America in
the mid-nineteenth century. Yet, British and Burmese notions of
education 54

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were not commensurate. Colliding world-views and political projects
characterized debates about educational policy, access and reforms of
education. Education remained a contested issue throughout colonial and
national history, informing national identity, politics and religion,
and serving as flashpoints around which Burmese leaders rallied and
mobilized public opinion in the struggle for independence. From the
British perspective, the purpose of colonial education was to produce
local administrators trained to implement the colonial project. Colonial
knowledge was primarily secular in its orientation, although Christian
missionaries played significant roles in delivering a curriculum infused
with a Christian ethos. It presumed an ideology of cultural evolution
that legitimated colonial rule over native peoples and obligated
colonizers to take on ‘the White Man’s Burden’ and educate the
colonized. In this western view of enlightenment, modern man was able to
master human progress through scientific rationalism. The 1854 British
Dispatch on colonial education echoes these sentiments (Bagshawe 1976:
28–29). Accordingly, the government’s objectives for education in India
were to bring about intellectual and moral improvement; ensure the
supply of government servants, and safeguard the expansion of trade. It
was intended to produce an appreciation for ‘European knowledge’ by
teaching about the arts, sciences, philosophy and literature of Europe.
English was to be taught already in the elementary grades along with
vernacular literacy. Under the authority of colonial departments of
Public Instruction, reforms of local school systems were undertaken and
institutions of higher education were to be developed. Private and
missionary schools observing these government regulations would receive
government funding. The purpose of formal education (batha) in
pre-colonial Burmese culture was intrinsically religious. Education
properly belonged to the domain of Buddhist monks and monastic learning.
Its premise rested on a Buddhist understanding of the world wherein all
phenomena, be they social, political, cultural, are constituted by
karmic action and regulated by the Universal Law, the dhamma, the
Buddhist Truth. Religious and other ultimate concerns encompassed
secular and temporal matters (lokiya) that were ultimately meaningful
only to the extent to which they were linked to notions of Buddhist
morality. Humans were not in control of nature, but subject to it
through the Universal Law. Practical or vocational knowledge was
imparted primarily through contextual learning and mostly in informal
settings. Buddhist knowledge is also intensely personal and the insights
it entails are believed to lead to moral perfection (nibba¯na). Such
knowledge is embedded in lineages of monastic teachers that can be
traced, at least in principle, to the pristine time of the Buddha.

55

JULIANE SCHOBER

Colonial rule and the demise of traditional Buddhist education In
response to a growing European mercantile presence encroaching upon its
southern coast regions, the Court of Ava had followed the cultural mode
of its predecessors by retreating inward and temporarily moving the
court from Ava across the Irrawaddi River to Amarapura, near Sagain
(Stewart 1975: 32ff). Embedded in the Burmese retreat was a fateful
misapprehension of European global trade networks and the political
power protecting the colonial enterprise. Although intermittent efforts
to become familiar with European knowledge and technical capacities had
been initiated during the reign of King Bodawphaya, the Kingdom of Ava
was, by all accounts, at the political and cultural apex of an imperial
Theravada polity whose ruler styled himself to be ‘The Master of the
White Elephant’ and ‘The Lord of all Umbrella-Bearing Chiefs’ (Myint-U
2000: 53). Through the aid of Barnabite missionaries and Father
Sangermano, the King of Ava requested the papal court in Rome in 1723 to
provide access to western knowledge, explaining that ‘many teachers and
technicians were needed’.4 While the Portuguese had initiated some
Christian missionary education along Burma’s southern coastline since
1600, western education was carried out primarily by Roman Catholic and
American Baptist missionaries well into the first half of the nineteenth
century (Ba 1964; Kaung 1931, 1960a, 1960b, 1963). The Reverend J. E.
Marks, of the British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel,
established St James College in Rangoon in 1885, following several
years’ residence in Mandalay during the 1870s. Thant Myint-U credits two
members of the Burmese elite, the Myoza of Myawaddy and the Prince of
Mekkaya, as pioneering a renaissance of local scholarship during the
1830s and 1840s affecting: . . . many and diverse fields of knowledge,
including geography, astronomy, history and the natural sciences. The
arrival of European learning also displaced India as the ultimate and
natural source of outside information, and marked the beginning of a
long relationship between modern science and Theravada Buddhism.
(Myint-U 2000: 101) In 1824, the British commenced the first of three
wars that eventually led to the annexation of Burma in 1886. The First
Anglo-Burmese War (1824–1826) served to protect mercantile interests of
the British East Indian Company in the region and was declared against
the Kingdom of Ava and King Bagyidaw (r. 1819–1837), the reigning
monarch of the Konbaun Dynasty. A significant milestone of the colonial
project, however, had been achieved in 1826, when British land surveyors
completed a map of the geographic boundaries of the Kingdom of Ava
(Myint-U 2000: 101).

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Access to formal education in pre-colonial and early colonial Burma
continued to be largely shaped by a pre-modern, cosmological Buddhist
mentality and its cultural values. Religious education and literacy were
products of that mentality, and a monastic career was the primary venue
for gifted young men to realize educational goals and join the ranks of
the literati. Prior to the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–1826),
literacy was acquired through the study of religious subjects and firmly
rooted in the monastic mission to preserve the dhamma. Scholarship and
teaching were natural extensions of a religious vocation. Formal
education was concerned with ‘general principles’ and timeless, ultimate
knowledge. Its study was accessible through the institution of the
sangha, the teaching practices of monks, and through knowledge engraved
in palm leaf manuscripts that were catalogued according to Theravada
classifications and housed in monastic libraries. Taw Sein Ko notes that
basic multiplication was taught in monasteries alongside the study of
classic texts (Taw Sein Ko 1913b: 228). Khammai Dhammasami (in this
volume) also points to the use of basic mathematics as an aid to
memorizing Pali texts. The monastic curriculum further incorporated
subjects such as Burmese traditional law, history, astrology, military
skills and archery, taught by court Brahmins of primarily Manipuri
descent to children of the elite (Myint-U 2000). In dynastic times, too
much erudition among commoners entailed the risk of raising suspicion
about a potential incursion of power and possible revolts against royal
power. Buddhist monasteries functioned as primary educational
institutions providing basic literacy for Burmese young people. British
surveys taken in the mid-nineteenth century confirm that monastic
education was firmly established throughout the country.5 Most males
spent some time as students (kyaun:tha) or novices residing in the
monastery where daily routines made study of the dhamma a central focus.
Other male students attended monastic instruction, but continued to
live with their families. Taw Sein Ko (1913: 224) bemoans the fact that
the education of girls was generally left to ‘untutored masters’, as
teaching young girls was considered beneath the ‘holy dignity’ of monks
and viewed as ‘unnecessary’ by much of the population. By 1869, however,
slightly more than 5,000 girls, who were not permitted to attend
monastic schools, enrolled in 340 lay schools located in homes set aside
for instructional purposes in some of the larger villages. However,
attendance at these home schools was intermittent, instructional periods
were shorter, and educational expectations were less rigorous.6
Monastic examinations sponsored by kings offered monks access to higher
levels of education since at least the seventeenth century in Burma
(Spiro 1970: 362). Following a hiatus after the fall of Mandalay in
1886, the British Government reinstituted Pali examinations in 1895 (Taw
Sein Ko 1913b: 248). Scholarly achievements were honoured with monastic
titles and continue to be rewarded today. A curriculum of four levels,
pahtama-nge, pahtama-lat, pahtamak-gyi, and pahtama-gyan, led to the
higher levels of Buddhist 57

JULIANE SCHOBER

learning. Education began with simple recitation and memorization of the
Burmese alphabet, religious liturgies (the Three Refuges, the Precepts,
the Eightfold Noble Path, etc.), and formulae of homage and protection.
At higher levels, Pali language instruction complemented the
memorization of increasingly extensive selections of canonical texts
taken from each of the three baskets.7 In addition, monks were also
taught the Man˙ gala sutta, the Lokanı¯ti with its astrological focus,
the Dhammanı¯ti and Ra¯janı¯ti.8 Cultural knowledge was therefore found
in monks as the embodiment of Buddhist learning and in the palm leaf
manuscripts housed in monastic libraries of local communities that
served as repositories for textual study. Monks were expected to lead a
life that was withdrawn from and above worldly affairs (Mendelson 1975:
157). Monastic teaching styles affirmed cultural expectations that one may
not challenge the authority of monastic teachers. Senior monks like
local abbots tended to assume teaching roles and hence enjoyed
considerable authority and respect. They instructed students in
traditional methods such as reading aloud in unison and recitation from
memory and seldom offered explanations or interpretations of the
materials studied. As questioning a monastic teacher might be perceived
as a challenge to his authority, students would seek answers from
parents and others in the lay world. The work of interpreting or filling
in gaps in basic religious knowledge occurred mostly outside the sangha
in the larger social circles of the family. Monastic education in
nineteenth-century Burma relied mostly on scarce copies of palm leaf
manuscripts as the major material repositories of textual knowledge. In
her study on the local diversity in Buddhist learning in northeastern
Thailand, Tiyavanich (1997) notes the advent of printed materials helped
facilitate concurrent reforms to standardize the monastic curriculum.
In the absence of detailed research on diverse Buddhist traditions in
Burma during the nineteenth century, we may nonetheless surmise that the
introduction of print similarly served to standardize a heterodox
tradition and a diverse monastic teaching curriculum. In 1864, Bishop
Bigandet, the Vicar Apostolic of Ava and Pegu, was instrumental in
producing the first printed version of the Burmese Tripitaka.9 Although
print culture flourished in Burma relatively late, we can point to
several hallmarks of an incipient print culture. The first English
newspaper, The Moulmein Advertiser, began publication in 1846, serving
the commercial interests of the East India Company and its local
representatives.10 By 1852, Rangoon had emerged as the centre for
printing and publishing,11 and by 1874, the Yadana Neipyidaw became the
first newspaper published in Burmese in Mandalay, King Mindon’s (r.
1853–1878) capital in Upper Burma.12 Printed textbooks became available
only after the British sought educational reforms in the 1870s. In his
exhaustive study on books in Burmese used in the curriculum, Bagshawe
(1976) notes the impoverished literature on modern subjects available to
schools.13 Moreover, the availability of printed materials in Burmese
developed at a relatively slow 58

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pace. The growing cultural currency of colonial bodies of knowledge in
print continually challenged the viability of monastic education, for
which few printed materials were used.14 Soon after the First
Anglo-Burmese War, the British government began to develop educational
policy for its Indian colonies. Subsequent educational reforms during
the late nineteenth century profoundly shaped the colonial and national
history of Burma. British policy to remake education in its colonial
rationality met with strong resistance among the sangha, as most
monastic schools refused to integrate western, secular subjects into the
curriculum taught at monastic schools. Indeed, disdain for local canons
of knowledge was expressed by the chairman of the Committee on Public
Instruction, Thomas Macaulay, who announced that: . . . (w)e have to
educate a people who cannot at present be educated by means of their
mother tongue. We must teach them – our own language . . . We must form .
. . a class (of) interpreters between us and the millions we govern; a
class of persons, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in
opinions, in morals and in intellect. (cited in Rives 1999: 122) Against
such pronounced objectives of the colonial project, the proposal made
by Sir Arthur Phayre, the British Chief Commissioner, in 1866 appeared
liberal and progressive.15 His educational reforms envisioned a
collaboration between government institutions and Burmese monastic
schools. Phayre’s goal was to ensure that colonial knowledge, so central
to the concept of a modern government, be taught through the existing
infrastructures in Burmese Buddhist monasteries. He sought to persuade
the sangha to integrate modern subjects, including arithmetic and
geography, into the existing monastic curriculum. His proposal offered
financial incentives to Buddhist monasteries to compensate monastic
teachers, to employ government-certified lay teachers to teach modern,
secular subjects at monastic schools, and to extend stipends to
students. The cultural chasm between Buddhist learning and colonial
knowledge soon became apparent as British conservatives and the Burmese
monastic patriarch both responded negatively to Phayre’s proposal. It
was unpopular among British conservatives because they saw it as
contravening the AngloIndian government’s policy not to become involved
in the religious affairs of colonies. Similarly, few monastic schools
responded to Phayre’s initiative, and the implementation of educational
reforms was slow. In 1866, an education department was established by
the local government and a plan for building a public education system
was inaugurated. By 1871, five years after Phayre’s initiative had been
launched, only forty-six monastic schools were authorized under the
government’s policy. Two years later, in 1873, ‘the number of authorized
monastery schools had risen to 801’ (Ono Toru 1981: 59

JULIANE SCHOBER

111), a considerable proportion of approximately 3,438 monastic schools
in Lower Burma alone (Smith 1965: 59). By contrast, only 112 lay schools
had registered with the government by 1873.16 The slow acceptance of
British education policy in Burmese monastic schools was complemented by
a concurrent and rapid increase in demand for colonial education. Eager
to promote its agenda of colonial subject formation and train potential
recruits for the Indian Civil Service, the colonial government
determined to increase its support to existing Christian missionary and
secular government schools. The demand for colonial education, with
English as its medium of instruction, also increased rapidly. This trend
was amplified after the annexation of Upper Burma in 1886. Following the
British annexation, the Taungdaw Sayadaw was the monastic patriarch or
thathanabain who had been appointed by Thibaw, the last king of the
Konbaun dynasty. Although he resided in Mandalay, he assumed at least
nominal authority over the entire Burmese sangha. When he passed away in
1895, the office was left vacant until 1903, when the British confirmed
his successor, the Taunggwin Sayadaw, who resided in Rangoon. Census and
registration figures during the final decades of the nineteenth century
make clear that Phayre’s plan to involve monasteries in the delivery of
secular education subjects proceeded very slowly, and with considerable
resistance from the sangha until it was finally abandoned in the
vernacular Education Committee report of 1924 (Mendelson 1975: 159). The
sangha’s objections to Phayre’s attempt to deliver a modern secular
education through existing monastery schools centred on what would have
amounted to a colonial redefinition of monastic authority.17 The monks
did not want to be accountable to the colonial government concerning
their roles as teachers and resented British interference in what the
sangha perceived to be concerns internal to its organization. There was
also resistance to accepting the presence in the monastery of
government-certified lay teachers who had been commissioned with the
instruction of secular subjects, and there was some perception that the
presence of lay teachers in monastic schools constituted a threat to
monastic authority. In 1891, the thathanabain explicitly prohibited
monastic schools from implementing the colonial education curriculum,
specifically the teaching of arithmetic and geography.18 The presence of
lay teachers on monastic grounds was not permitted. Emissaries were sent
out to reinforce these orders with local abbots, who were enjoined not
to employ government-certified lay teachers (Smith 1965: 59). For the
most part, the sangha stood its ground throughout the decade-long
vacancy in the office of its patriarch, refusing to assume a monastic role
in colonial education reforms. However, a few monasteries, especially
in Lower Burma, showed at least nominal participation in the reforms by
registering with the government and by accepting government school books
and other forms of support. It was not until 1909 that a new
thathanabain in his letter to the Director of 60

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Public Instruction indicated his willingness to assume a neutral
position on this issue, affirming his intent to work towards a resolution
in matters of mutual interests by delegating the decision to participate
in the colonial education project to local abbots.19 He stated that the
acceptance of money granted by the government to monks constituted a
breach of vinaya rules as the notion of ‘results grants’ and ‘salary’
was unsuitable for Theravada monks, who may not accept money or work for
pay. He further objected to certain proposed subjects as unsuitable for
monastic study. Indicating his flexibility on some subjects proposed in
the Education Code, he objected firmly to instruction in drawing, and
especially the drawing of maps.20 He found the idea of starting
education in kindergarten ‘quite unsuitable’ and concluded by stressing
that: Special rules should be framed for the guidance of monastic
schools, and the indigenous curriculum should be adopted with such
modifications as are necessitated by circumstances. In other words, only
such subjects should be taught as are consistent with the tenets of
Buddhism. (Taw Sein Ko 1913b: 268 – emphasis added) The sangha’s
response to Phayre’s proposal proved detrimental to the future of
monastic education in colonial Burma. Over the three decades of relative
prosperity and stability between 1891 and 1918, there was a rapid
increase in secular government schools and a concurrent decline of
government-recognized monastic education throughout all of Burma.21 The
British saw the lack of Buddhist collaboration as undermining the
colonial project to educate a new class of civil servants. Christian
missionary and government-funded schools soon attracted talented,
ambitious youths for whom instruction in English and western knowledge
provided new opportunities and life-ways. With profitable opportunities
in the economy and in colonial administration afforded by a modern
education, missionary and government schools soon recruited bright and
ambitious young Burmese. This trend was especially pronounced in towns
and urban centres, which further deepened the cultural divide between
urban and rural areas that already characterized Burmese colonial
experience. In contrast to pre-colonial Burma, where elites sought out
monastic teachers and mentors, monastic education was relegated to the
cultural and political backwaters in rural areas, where monastic schools
instructed rural youths with less ambition or talent. This further
weakened the intellectual vitality of Buddhist institutions in colonial
Burma. Monastic authority continued to be diminished by a rise in lay
meditation and lay religious education in the aftermath of the decline
of Burmese traditional culture. In short, the trend away from monastic
education created economic, cultural and intellectual divisions between
British 61

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educated colonial elites and those who remained confined to a
pre-colonial Buddhist rationality. The impact of colonialism and
modernity on traditional Burmese culture was not confined to monastic
education. The British conquest of Upper Burma was devastating to
traditional life-ways and to social, cultural, political and economic
institutions (Myint-U 2000). Colonial rationality and practice had
dislodged secular uses of power from the Buddhist cosmology that
traditionally encompassed it. The colonizers looted and burned Mandalay
Palace, the seat of power in Upper Burma. They exiled the Burmese King,
Thibaw (r. 1878–1885) to India, and relocated the Lion Throne, the seat
of royal power, to the Calcutta Museum. Mandalay Palace itself was
transformed into a British military garrison, Fort Dufferin, and Rangoon,
the mercantile centre of Lower Burma, now assumed still greater
political and economic importance. Though diminished in its influence and
cultural vitality, the institution of Buddhism, as embodied by the
sangha, nevertheless emerged as the only traditional institution to
survive colonization. The thathanabain’s refusal to allow monastic
schools to become conduits of colonial knowledge diminished the
political and cultural relevance of the sangha. Monastic leaders
seemingly had not anticipated the historical and political consequences
this decision would hold. Nor did they foresee the utility colonial
knowledge held for an emerging class of Burmese civil servants. Living
within a world-view in which Buddhist rationalities encompassed
practical knowledge, the sangha could not foresee the authority colonial
knowledge would acquire within a modern way of living. From the
perspective of a traditional sangha, practical, applied and vocational
subjects traditionally had been taught in the informal contexts within
the worldly realm. Technical and practical education therefore did not
fall with its educational mission. The patriarchal decision indicates
more than a Buddhist rejection of secular rationalism and colonial
knowledge. It constituted a defence of monastic education as rooted in
the vinaya and, more generally, a defence of the monastic status
vis-à-vis a colonial regime that had shown scant respect for Buddhist
monasticism. This stance placed the sangha in opposition to the colonial
regime, and eventually created an arena for resistance against
colonialism, secular power and knowledge. It located early Burmese
anti-colonial resistance movements within a pre-modern Buddhist context.
Increasingly, the sangha as an institution and monks as political
actors became focal points of anti-colonial resistance around which
Burmese national identity was affirmed and articulated through millennial
movements and other forms for neo-traditional Buddhism. The
thathanabain’s fateful refusal of Phayre’s proposal undermined monastic
authority as the source and embodiment of knowledge in the future. The
vacuum created by the disjuncture between Buddhist knowledge and
colonial education opened venues for cultural innovations of authority
by Burmese 62

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lay teachers.22 Mendelson comments that the sangha’s retreat from modern
education transformed Burmese Buddhist practice and gave rise to new
lay associations: The loss of the educational role, formerly the
exclusive role of the monk, has had profound effects upon the Sangha’s
place in modern Burmese society. The movement to place education into
secular hands was a legacy of colonialism that left a vacuum in Burmese
life, for the specifically Buddhist nature of the traditional learning
process was lost in the transfer to lay schools. Lay associations,
formed in the realization of such a loss, attempted to promote Buddhism
to make up the difference . . . (Mendelson 1975: 161)

Colonial education and the rise of nationalism The Young Men’s Buddhist
Association (YMBA) was that kind of lay organization that spoke to the
popularly felt need among urban and middle-class Burmese at the time to
enhance lay authority in religious matters. Perhaps indicative of a
popular disenchantment with modern life-ways, the YMBA championed a
modern rationalism and an educational agenda centred on Buddhist and
vernacular canons. It was an urban, colonial organization that aimed to
instil nationalist sentiments based on Buddhist principles through mass
education and public schools. It emerged independently from its Sri
Lankan namesake in Rangoon in 1906 as a religious, cultural and
welfareoriented organization that served as an umbrella structure for a
variety of disparate groups (Taylor 1987: 177). The Buddha Batha Kalyana
Yuwa Athin (Association to Care for the Wholesomeness of Buddhism), as
it was known in Burmese, was explicitly modelled after modern
organizational and social objectives of the Young Men’s Christian
Association. In particular, it aimed to imitate the YMCA’s
organizational form, and use of print materials to mobilize the public
and mass education ‘crucial to the development of a Burmese nationalist
organization’ (Taylor 1987: 162). It initiated an organization to
mobilize nationalist sentiments across Burma, and its agenda was largely
articulated around issues of education. During its early development,
the leadership of this Buddhist society was decidedly pro-colonial. Both
mirroring and reacting to the secular values British colonialism had
introduced, the YMBA initially adopted a civil and religious charter
that championed the project to define Burmese Buddhist identity in
contradistinction to the British elite. Implementing its charter to
uplift Burmese society in religious, social, cultural and economic ways,
the YMBA promoted four national objectives: namely to strengthen the
national spirit or race (amyo), to uphold a national Burmese culture and
literature (batha), and to advance Buddhism (thathana) and education
(pyinnya). The 63

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last two items bear particular relevance to this discussion. Support for
a national language (batha) resulted from the fact that ‘knowledge of
Burmese literature [had] almost died out among the educated Burmese
classes and . . . Burmese speech tended to be confined to rural areas and
the domestic sphere . . . [A]t the beginning of the twentieth century,
the greatest number of Burmese students studied in Europe’ (Becˇka 1995:
399; Sarkisyanz 1965: 108). English had become the language of use,
knowledge and instruction among the Burmese colonial elite. Burmese
language and literacy were insufficiently taught, as the teaching of
Burmese literacy and literature was located in monastic education. Yet,
the educational and cultural decline of the sangha was pervasive and the
declining knowledge of classical Burmese literature also entailed a
decline in cultural and religious values. A reformed, modern perspective
on Buddhism (thathana) pervaded the YMBA’s mission. To reduce the
economic burden in rural areas, the YMBA petitioned the government to
exempt monastic land from taxation (Maung Maung 1980: 4). They
discouraged traditional Buddhist rituals associated with ostentatious
spending such as funerals, weddings and novice initiations. They
encouraged moral self-reform among their fellow Burmans (Becˇka 1995:
40) and advocated the prohibition of intoxicants, including liquor and
tobacco. The YMBA undertook many initiatives on education (pyinnya) to
promote a modern educational system that incorporated instruction in
Burmese and in the fundamentals of Buddhism. Concerned about the
pervasive influence of western education on Burmese national identity,23
it promoted schools where Buddhism was part of the curriculum and sought
government funding in parity with colonial support for Christian
missionary schools (Singh 1980: 30–31). It petitioned for the
appointment of a Minister of Buddhist Affairs and for instructors of
Buddhism (dhammakatika) to teach religious fundamentals in public
schools. The YMBA further wanted national schools where Burmese was the
medium of instruction. It also agitated for compulsory basic education
enforced by the government in rural areas and support for examinations
in mathematics in rural schools (Maung Maung 1980: 5). Aware of the
declining relevance of monastic education in shaping Burma’s future, the
YMBA pursued a religious and modern educational orientation, implicitly
acknowledging its preference for modern schools that incorporated
religious instruction by lay teachers over traditional monastic
education. The history of this organization thus represents significant
modern conjunctures of colonial and Buddhist education from which a
spectrum of nationalist movements would develop.

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Educating westerners: the scientific discourse about the dhamma In the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, rational and scientific
discourse was the primary lens through which orientalists and western
converts gained an understanding of the Buddhist dhamma. In Burma, as
elsewhere in the Theravada world, Buddhists engaged in the project of
educating colonizers about the Universal Law (dhamma) and history of the
dispensation (thathana) by using a ‘scientific’ discourse that appealed
to western audiences. Their efforts were successful amongst two kinds of
western audiences, namely colonial orientalists in the late nineteenth
century and western converts to Buddhism by the mid-twentieth century.
For the colonial scholar engaged in the discovery, classification and
enumeration of Buddhist doctrines, texts and histories, this rationalist
discourse confirmed their goal of defining the pristine origins of the
tradition (Hallisey 1995). A rational system of ethics, structured by
causality, held a strong appeal for western converts. Both of these
projects displayed an intuitive affinity between Buddhist philosophy and
western intellectual inquiry and seemed to imply an unqualified affirmation
of modern rationalism in Buddhist terms. A variety of modern Buddhist
teachings may be adduced to support this contention and several
modernist Buddhist organizations developed to bridge this divide.24 In a
lecture delivered in 1958, the Honorable U Chan Htoon, Judge of the
Supreme Court of the Union of Burma and SecretaryGeneral of U Nu’s
Buddha Sasana Council, addressed a Conference on Religion in the Age of
Science in Star Island, New Hampshire, in the following way: Scientific
knowledge has shown itself not only negative towards dogmatic and
‘revealed’ religion, but positively hostile to it . . . In the case of
Buddhism, however, all the modern scientific concepts have been present
from the beginning. There is no principle of science, from biological
evolution to the general Theory of Relativity that runs counter to any
teaching of Gotama Buddha. (Chan Htoon 1958: 29) Similarly, U Shwe Zan
Aung (1871–1932) published an essay in the Journal of the Burmese
Research Society 25 that explored the relations between Buddhism and
science. He asserted that Buddhism, while never departing from its
original canonical texts, encompassed scientific discoveries, past and
future, in the way a philosophy of science foreshadowed scientific
discoveries. In support of his contention, Shwe Zan Aung pointed to
shared comparative and analytical methods, and rules of criticism,
between the two bodies of knowledge. Both encouraged the study of
phenomena and both rely on observation as a method, with the Buddhist
cultivation of insight as the highest form of

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observation. He asserted that Buddhism proclaims generalizations of the
highest order, such as the theory of ceaseless flux, the theory of kamma
and the theory of causality. Hence, Buddhism is held to have
foreshadowed many modern sciences such as psychology, geography,
astronomy and geology, cellular biology, chemistry, etc. His discussion
likened key concepts in each scientific discipline to a corresponding
Buddhist notion. Asserting that Buddhist explication proceeds sometimes
allegorically, he even likened Mount Meru to the axis of the Earth and
the North Pole to the desired abode of gods. He concluded that Buddhism
was undogmatic and universal, and that its philosophy underlies all of
science. Thus, in the Buddhist education of western converts, the
Universal Truth of the dhamma frames the modern discourse of science,
rational inquiry and secular knowledge.

Buddhism and education in post-independence politics The tension between
traditional Buddhist and modern colonial knowledge created a legacy of
contestation in the Burmese struggle for national identity. The
rejection of colonial knowledge in monastic education in the late
nineteenth century portended lasting effects and eventually contributed
to a politicization of education in the Burmese public sphere, where
educational policy has been pivotal since the advent of the colonial
project. Student strikes have been important junctures in the struggle
for national independence in Burma.26 State support for religious
education, and especially for Buddhist education, proved to be a
deciding factor in the collapse of U Nu’s government in 1960. Disputes
between the sangha and the democratic government of U Nu over the place
of the religious education for non-Buddhist Burmese nationals
precipitated the military take-over in 1962, ending more than a decade
of parliamentary democracy and the way to ‘Burmese Buddhist socialism’.
As Prime Minister of Burma from 1948 to 1962, U Nu promoted the Sixth
Buddhist Convocation (1952–1958) to revitalize Buddhist institutions and
practices, to lend religious legitimation to his political office, and to
control the public influence of the sangha. However, U Nu’s government
was coming under increasing pressure from the sangha to institute
Buddhism as a state religion. Following lengthy and complex
negotiations, a constitutional amendment was passed to adopt Buddhism as
the state religion in August 1961. As the State Religion Act defined
non-Buddhists as second-class citizens, ethnic and religious minorities
were alienated from the nation-building project. Negotiations between U
Nu’s government and the sangha finally collapsed over state support for
non-Buddhist religious education in public schools, despite U Nu’s
significant support for Buddhist institutions and causes. Although U Nu
accommodated sangha demands for Buddhist instruction as part of
state-funded, public education, he failed to secure the sangha’s
acceptance of educational rights for non-Buddhist minorities. Although
the 66

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government supported Buddhist education in public schools, monastic
leaders refused to accept policy provisions for non-Buddhist minorities
that would have entitled them to offer religious instructions on private
property with non-government funds (Smith 1965). As negotiations failed,
the military usurped the political vacuum in a move that weakened not
only Buddhist institution but all forms of education in Burma for the
remainder of the twentieth century. Against the background of complex
tensions between the government and ethnic separatists, the educational
demands of the sangha had again emerged as pivotal forces in the project
of nation-building, subject formation and modernization. The collapse
of U Nu’s government ushered in decades of military rule, economic
deprivation and cultural isolation. Ne Win’s government and its
successor regimes continued to politicize education through the
strategic closure of schools and institutions of higher education,
appealing to a national need to prevent or quell student unrest.
Students at Rangoon University emerged as leaders in the popular
uprising in 1988. The failures of educational policy and practice, and
particularly of the prohibition against teaching English in public
schools during the 1970s, intensified Burma’s isolation during Ne Win’s
regime. While teaching English has been reintroduced into the public
school curriculum, the present regime continues to restrict access to
higher education. In the 1990s, the government augmented again the role
of Buddhist monasteries in delivering basic education, especially among
non-Buddhist tribal minorities. Since then, various civil rights
advocates, including the Human Right Documentation Unit of the National
Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) and Aung San Suu Kyi
have appealed to the international community to promote education at all
levels in Burma, arguing that four decades of military rule have had a
negative impact on quality and access to education in Burma.27 The lack
of government support for education, they argue, has disastrous effects
on basic human rights, including political participation in shaping
civil society and public health care. Restricted access to education,
particularly to higher education, has indeed become a major hurdle in
the development of modern civil society in Burma. Nonetheless, the
enduring cultural value of education for many Burmese is attested by the
numerous private schools in towns and cities that opened in an effort to
compensate for the state’s restrictions to education.

Conclusions The cultural history of education in colonial and
independent Burma is not a continuous narrative that distinguishes
consistently between modernity and tradition, secularism and religion,
rationalism and Buddhist cosmology. My aim in this essay has been to
show that the unfolding of this history defies categorical distinctions
that contrast religious values in education with 67

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modern knowledge and secular rationalism and, instead, focuses our
attention on conjunctures deeply embedded in cultural contexts.
Religious and nationalist concerns weave through the project of
education during the colonial period and the independent nation state in
complex and often fragmented episodes that link the agendas of local
actors with the cultural trajectories of institutions and the concerns
for the greater good of civil society. Education, it seems, is always
someone’s project. Our attention therefore must focus on the cultural
and political contexts and audiences at specific moments, when
educational values and policy emerge as pivotal agents of social change,
profoundly shaping the course of Burmese colonial and national history.
I began this essay with the assertion that the Burmese encounter with
modernity began as a colonial project in which knowledge and education
offered pivotal access to power and wealth. Implicit in this assertion
are also questions about the present conditions of modernity, Buddhism
and civil society. Recent studies on Buddhism and the nation state in
Sri Lanka contend that the modern nation state represents a continuation
of the colonial project (Abeyesekara 2002; Scott 1999). Similar
arguments can be made concerning the moral authority of the modern
Burmese state that appeals to neo-traditional Buddhist ritual to
legitimate a military elite in power, particularly in the absence of a
national constitution. In analogy to its colonial history, the Burmese
sangha is similarly locked into a continuing dynamic of co-optation by
and resistance to modern state power. The monastic role in public
education continues to be multifaceted, ranging from state-mandated
meditation retreats for civil servants to the critical engagements with
the needs of modern civil society socially engaged Buddhists have
undertaken. There can be no doubt, then, that Buddhism in Burma, like
religion in contemporary western and Middle Eastern societies, inserts
itself into the public sphere in ways that challenge received
understandings of modern education as a rational and secular project.

Notes 1 Taw Sein Ko (1913b: 242). See Edwards (2004b) for an insightful
appraisal of Taw Sein Ko’s role in brokering local and colonial
knowledge. 2 See Myint-U (2001) and also Cohen (1996), Furnivall (1943),
and Moscotti (1974). 3 Jan Becˇka (1995: 127, 210) points out that,
prior to 1886, Lower Burma referred to the southern regions under
British administration, namely the Irrawaddi Delta, Pegu, the Tenerassim
and Arakanese districts, while Upper Burma designated territories under
the control of the Mandalay court. Following the British annexation in
1886, Upper Burma comprised the administrative division of central and
northern Burma, such as Magway, Mandalay and Sagain. 4 Rives (1999:
106). Bishop Calchi, Vicar of Ava and Pegu and Bigandet’s predecessor,
began to compile a first Burmese dictionary that later provided Judson
with the foundation for his own dictionary work. 5 Ono Toru (1981: 108)
reports that a British survey taken in 1869 counted nearly

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6 7

8

9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

17 18

3,500 monastic schools in Lower Burma alone, with nearly 16,000 resident
monks and almost 28,000 lay (male) students enrolled. See Ono Toru
(1981: 108–9). Sein Ko (1913b) reports some concern among the British
about the restricted access and lack of quality education for Burmese
girls. Mendelson (1975: 367) lists Buddhist texts used for study at each
of the progressive levels of monastic examination, beginning with basic
vinaya rules and progressing to include studies of Pali grammar and
selected canonical texts from each of the three baskets, including the
Abhidhamma. These Burmese texts, mentioned as part of the monastic
curriculum by Sein Ko (1913b: 230), contain ethical and moral
instructions on matters of lay life, law, and government. For a detailed
discussion, readers may consult the compilations of Burmese Manuscripts
by Bechert et al. (1979–1985). Royal Orders of Burma, AD 1598–1885,
Part Nine AD 1853–1885, Than Tun (ed.) Kyoto: Center for Southeast Asian
Studies, Kyoto University, 1989: XX. Becˇka (1995: 166) states that the
Maulmain (sic) Chronicle commenced publication in 1836. According to
Cuttriss (1960: 45, 47), the Rangoon Chronicle commenced publication in
1853 and was renamed the Rangoon Times, a bi-weekly paper, in 1858. See
Becˇka (1995: 166). An English gloss would be ‘The Mandalay Citizen’,
referring to the city’s classical name, Yatanaboun. The first book
printed in Burmese, Alphabetum Barmanum, was a Burmese grammar published
in Rome in 1776 by Bishop Percoto, a Italian missionary and recognized
authority on Pali and Burmese (Rives, 1999: 109). Mendelson (1975: 158)
writes that in ‘1867–1868, only 41 monastic schools were using the new
textbooks, and only 91 students nominally studying them. In 1868–1869 . .
. 170 books were distributed and 82 pupils were studying them.’ Sir
Arthur Phayre (1812–1885) resided in Burma from 1834 onwards. He was
Chief Commissioner from 1862 to 1867 and headed several missions to
Mandalay between 1862 and 1866. See Ono Toru (1981: 108, 109). Ono Toru
reports that, according to a 1869 government census, 15,980 novices and
27,793 students attended 3,438 monastic schools in Lower Burma, while
5,069 students attended village-based lay schools. Mendelson (1975: 159)
reports that, in 1891, there were 2,343 monastic schools and 757
registered lay schools, whereas in 1938, the numbers had shifted to 976
monastic schools and 5,255 lay schools. The most comprehensive account
is found in Furnivall (1943: 25–30). While the specific statistics differ
in various sources, they concur in demonstrating a trend of decline in
monastic education and a disproportionately greater growth in demand for
a curriculum delivered in English. Report on Public Instruction in
Burma, 1891–1892, Resolution, pp. 9–10; Upper Burma, pp. 12; 24; 35–36;
43–44 and 48–50. It is noteworthy that already in April of 1855, two
‘American missionaries, Kincade and Dawson, presented King Mindon with
history and arithmetic books written in Burmese’, according to the Royal
Orders of Burma (Part Nine, p. xvi). It is unclear why the instruction
of arithmetic, given its general level of abstraction and potential
affinity to mathematical calculations employed in astrology and related
Indian forms of knowledge, should be especially objectionable to the
Buddhist sangha. A plausible explanation may be its application to
geography and colonial landsurveying techniques. Modern conceptions of
geography were in clear contradiction with traditional Buddhist
cosmology. It not only formed the conceptual foundation for a Buddhist
understanding of the structure of the universe, it also formed the basis
for calculating astrological constellations to foretell the future.

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19

20

21

22 23

24 25 26 27

Astrological signs also informed military formations in battle. Given
such radical divergence from received ways of conceptualizing universal
order, it is not surprising that Buddhist monks would object to the
teaching of modern geography and drawing techniques, such as those used
in land surveys. Taw Sein Ko (1913b: 263–268) offers insightful minutes
of a meeting in August 1911 attended by the thathanabain and his
council, representatives of the Education Department and the
Commissioner of Mandalay, Colonel Strickland, and his entourage. Cohen
(1996) notes the important place modern land-surveying techniques held
within colonial knowledge, for they were central to the colonial
project. In contrast, traditional Buddhist cosmology imagined the
geographic order of the universe in entirely different terms, with Mt
Meru at the centre and surrounded by gigantic walls that contained the
Southern island on which human beings were thought to live. For a
particularly helpful discussion of Burmese cosmological representations,
see Herbert (2002). See Cady, (1958: 179), where he writes concerning
all of Burma: ‘In 1891–1892, government-recognized monastic schools
numbered 4,324 compared to 890 lay schools. The numbers were: 3,281
monastic to 1,215 lay in 1897–1898; 2,208 to 2,653 in 1910–11; 2,977 to
4,650 in 1917–1918. Lay schools were obviously taking over.’ Taw Sein
Ko’s discussion (1913b: 249–253) of cultural debates concerning
appropriate demonstrations of respect for lay teachers aptly illustrates
the ways in which the authority of lay teachers was initially
contested. This was brought on in considerable measure by the rush
towards the economic benefits of a modern colonial and secular or
Christian education. It was also a reaction to the malaise that
characterized monastic education and its retreat to rural areas and,
finally, the decline in educationed expectations and levels of
performance, and resulted from the monastic refusal to integrate
scientific subjects into education, particularly geography and
mathematics. Among them can be listed the Young Men’s Buddhist
Association (YMBA), the Mahasi Meditation movement, U Ba Thein’s
Meditation Center, the World Peace Congress, the Buddhist Peace
Fellowship, the Mahabodhi Society, and others. See Journal of the Burma
Research Society, 8(2): 99–106 (1918). As student strikes primarily
revolve around issues of secular education, they have been largely left
out of this discussion. See, for instance, the Burma Human Rights Year
Book 2002–2003: Rights to Education and Health, Human Right
Documentation Unit, NCGUB (www.burmalibrary.org/show.php?cat=333).

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5 RECONSTRUCTING THE CAMBODIAN POLITY Buddhism, kingship and the quest for legitimacy Peter Gyallay-Pap

Cambodians have since World War II endured an array of short-lived
regimes unmatched by any Asian country in number and intensity.1 The
most recent attempt to start anew, with the second post-war Kingdom of
Cambodia, was carried out with massive United Nations intervention in
the early 1990s as Cambodia became the only Asian party-state to shed
its communist mantle following similar reversals in Eastern Europe and
the former Soviet Union. Comparable political reconstruction challenges
were faced following the overthrow of the millenarian Khmer Rouge regime
by the Vietnamese army in early 1979 (People’s Republic of Kampuchea);
the fall of the pro-American republican regime in 1975 (Democratic
Kampuchea); a coup d’état followed by the deposition of the monarchy in
1970 (Khmer Republic); an authoritarian monarchy (first post-war Kingdom
of Cambodia – revised version) two years after gaining independence from
indirect French rule in 1953; and an interregnum of French-sponsored
parliamentarism after 1945 (first post-war Kingdom of Cambodia). One
could go further and mention the tumultuous changes during World War II
that affected all of Southeast Asia; the strains of Cambodia’s
accommodation with colonial France, preceded in turn by the interregnum
of King Ang Duang’s rule in 1847–60, when Cambodia regained its
sovereignty after centuries of unstable rule marked by internecine
struggles linked to territorial encroachments by neighbouring Siam and
Vietnam. Political stability has not been a hallmark of Cambodian
history, modern or pre-modern, but the post-World War II attempts to
establish a modern, or post-traditional, polity, as its victims
especially in the 1970s bear witness, have been especially tragic. My
main task in this essay is to explore why Cambodia has not evolved into
the modern, democratic nation-state that its new elites, including the
young King Sihanouk, aspired to after the war. What is it about
Cambodia’s 71

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political culture that has impeded development towards a goal to which
post-war leaders, whether of the left or right, have given and continue
to give so much lip-service? For all these new regimes foundered, most
on the chrysalis of political legitimacy. Delving into this seemingly
elusive task, however, begs the question of how political science can
gain a grasp of Cambodian political culture and its vicissitudes with
the vocabulary and tools available to it. How can political science
begin to make sense of the heavy cultural and historical baggage that
shapes questions of politics in post-traditional Cambodia? For all
post-war regimes sought, willy-nilly, to justify their existence and
authority to rule through appeals, or reactions, to the cultural and
political cloth of both Theravada Buddhism, here understood as a
localized articulation of a wider Indian-derived religion and
civilizational culture, and the people-centred kingship that has been
tied to it. An entry point we can readily identify are three constants
that have run through the flux of post-Angkorian Cambodian political
history, namely, the Buddhist monarchy, the Theravada Sangha (community
of monks), and the village-based society of ethnic lowland Khmer, who to
this day comprise between 80 and 85 per cent of Cambodia’s population.
These three elements are again embedded, after the turmoil of the 1970s
and 1980s, as the official symbols – ‘Nation’, ‘Religion’, ‘King’ – of the
modern Cambodian polity that emerged after World War II. In this essay,
I use a deconstructed reading of this triune symbolism, first
articulated in the mainland Theravada countries by the
Sandhurst-educated Thai King Wachirawut (1910–25), where the modern
western concept of nationalism was conjoined with the older indigenous
symbols of kingship and Sangha to create a civic religion of loyalty to
the nation. This nationalist discourse only entered the Cambodian
vocabulary in the 1930s through a small coterie of western-educated and
-influenced individuals who, in claiming to speak for the Khmer people,
assumed the reigns of political power after World War II (cf. infra, n.
32). The point I wish to make here is that, for political scientists in
particular, any discussion of political legitimacy in Cambodia that
neglects to factor in these constituent elements, of which the village
community/societal structure is fundamental in terms of its dependence
on the existence of the other two (Kalab 1976: 155), risks being
irrelevant.

Political science, legitimacy, and Cambodia The problem of the extreme
volatility of post-war Cambodian politics has as a phenomenon received
scant attention among political scientists. The remarkable paucity of
political science studies on Cambodia (the sub-field of international
relations being a minor exception), given the social and political
catastrophes that have beset the country, is due only in small part to
Cambodia having been sealed for decades from independent scholarly
inquiry.2 A more cogent reason is intractability. Political scientists
have as a 72

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scholarly community simply lagged behind cultural anthropologists,
social and cultural historians, students of religion, and other social
science scholars in developing approaches conducive to understanding
non-western societies and conceptual systems on their own terms.3
Various neo-positivist methodologies, while subject to recent challenges
in several areas of social science discourse, still largely prevail in a
political science as yet incapable of acknowledging them as products of
the collective self-understanding and language of a western industrial
bourgeoisie. In this essay, I draw as a corrective on work done in
contemporary political theory, understood here as an activity of
experientially grounded inquiry, or as Sheldon Wolin once felicitously
put it, of critical ‘reflection grounded in experience’. Political theory
as a vocation in political science, whose most radical exemplar may be
Eric Voegelin (1901–1985), is not empty conjecturing or opining about
how human beings organize themselves in society but is, rather, a
hermeneutical or noetic ‘attempt at formulating the meaning of (a
society’s) existence by explicating the content of a definite class of
experiences (and whose) argument is not arbitrary but derives its
validity from the aggregate of experiences to which it must permanently
refer for empirical control’ (Voegelin 1952: 64). One attribute of such
inquiry is that it does not subordinate theoretical relevance to method,
where disciplines are organized around certain a priori principles
rather than the contentarea being investigated. While this doesn’t mean
rejecting the systematic results that studies based on a priori
epistemologies produce, one must be aware of their limitations. For
political science, it means going beyond the (neo-Kantian)
‘phenomenalist interpretation of politics in terms of calculative
reason, rational action, contract, and consent’ (Cooper 1999: 166). A
more inclusive theory of politics requires ‘an examination and analysis
of the full breath of the realms of being in which human beings
participate’ (ibid.: 7). For example, in place of a positivist theory of
the state based on an aprioristic concept stipulating juridical
content, invariably in the form of western constitutionalism, a more
adequate theory of the state is one whose ‘systematic center is located .
. . in the fundamental human experiences that give rise to the
phenomenon of the state’ (Voegelin 2001: 5). As a counterpoint to
phenomenalist rationality, critical political theory entails exploring
and analysing the natural conditions of the human being, including
experiences of non-rational modes of being and thought that are
responsible for human culture. It allows for a process of critically
clarifying modes of being as expressed symbolically in myth, ritual,
stories, cultic actions, sacred texts, language, and the like (Cooper
1999: 167). As an ontological philosophical anthropology in the
Schelerian sense (i.e. showing the human person’s position in and
towards the whole of being), it includes in its ambit the religious or
spiritual dimensions that had been separated out from positivist social
science. In this respect, concepts such a ‘motivating centre’, ‘ordering
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political society than any isolated examination of doctrines such as
sovereignty, contract theory, or, for that matter, legitimacy.4
Moreover, such a philosophical anthropology integrates various modes of
human experience rather than splitting them into such familiar
dichotomies as culture and nature, mind and matter, heredity and
environment, spiritual and secular, religious and political, subjective
and objective (Cooper 1999: 170).5 Central for the validity of this
approach is expanding the range of evidence beyond the
self-understanding of western society. Voegelin built on Weber in
insisting on the importance of mastering non-western sources and
acquiring a wider-ranging comparative knowledge. For how else can we
appreciate France’s projection of enlightened reason in the
eighteenth-century context into a legitimizing source for her mission
civilisatrice in Indo-China as amounting to the imposition of ‘reason’
on other people whether they were convinced of its reasonableness or not
(ibid.: 347)? A starting point for most discussions on legitimacy in
western political discourse has been Weber’s classification of three
alternative claims – rational-legal authority, traditional authority,
and charismatic authority – where the former ineluctably trumps the
other claims on grounds that the conventionalization of social life,
itself a product of the disenchantment of the world, requires the
impersonal and rational procedures of a bureaucratic, territorial state
(cf. Connelly 1984: 8f.). Political scientists and others have
accordingly charted the progress of charismatic authority becoming
routinized into traditional authority which, in turn, under the impact
of western science and secularism, gives way to rational-legal
authority, implicitly accepted as the most differentiated, advanced form
of legitimacy (Schaar 1984: 104–105).6 In his New Science of Politics, a
volume of lectures devoted to the question of representation, Voegelin
(1952) posits alternative classes of differentiation where the question
of representation may be linked to that of legitimacy. He begins by
distinguishing between elemental and existential representation. The
former refers to the internal organization or formal structures of a
political society, such as a written constitution, which corresponds to
Weber’s notion of rational-legal authority. The problem with elemental
representation is its confinement to an external description of the
representation of political society, avoiding if not ignoring the
manifestation of human being in political institutions. Existential
representation addresses this problem by dealing with the relation of
the power-state to the community substance, or society. A human society
here is not merely an external observable fact to be studied and treated
like natural phenomena but, rather, a ‘cosmion of meaning’ that is
illuminated from within by its own selfinterpretation through which it
is able to articulate itself for action in history. Such social
articulations are the existentially overriding problem from which an
understanding can emerge of the conditions under which representative
institutions develop. We can arrive at an understanding of a society by
critically clarifying the symbols, which are independent of social or
political 74

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science, through which a given society interprets the meaning of its
existence. A key criterion for legitimate political order is one where
this social articulation is embodied in the form of a state through its
institutions, irrespective of where a society may be on Weber’s
developmental time-line. Voegelin does not stop here but distinguishes
another level of representation. His third level of differentiation
raises the notion of political society as also being a representative of
something beyond itself, namely of a transcendent or cosmological
truth. Until the advent of the modern secular nation-state, political
societies, including those in Asia, were organized as empires that
understood themselves as representatives of such truths. Cosmological
representation is the self-understanding of society as the
representative of a cosmic order through the mediation of a ruler king.
For Southeast Asia, cultural anthropologists (e.g. Heine-Geldern,
Tambiah) and historians (e.g. Coedès, Mus) were independently confirming
Voegelin’s more general finding that ‘one uniformly finds the order of the
empire interpreted as representative of cosmic order in the medium of
human society. The empire is a cosmic analogue, a little world reflecting
the order of (the cosmos)’ (ibid: 54). This imperial symbolism is not
confined to political societies representing the truth of a transcendent
or cosmic order. Voegelin points out that Marxist states had a similar
structure, merely replacing the truth of cosmic or transcendent order
with the truth of a self-willed, historically immanent order in the form
of an ideological second-reality construction where nature, society,
and politics are entirely de-divinized. Liberal-national symbolisms with
their inherent imperial ambitions (the primacy of the impersonal market
and the ethnic principle) are another if more attenuated example of an
historically imagined, immanent order (cf. Anderson 1983). I raise but
leave open the question of whether all immanentist political
constructions lack legitimacy. Marxist-Leninist regimes, whose power
emanated from the people in name only while rejecting a priori any
authority beyond itself, certainly suffered in this regard from a
legitimacy problem. More importantly, my argument in this essay is that
the notion of a political society in the existential (including in the
differentiated cosmological truth) sense has in the case of Cambodia not
been superseded except in outward form by the elemental representation
of the modern western state model adopted after 1945. To help make this
case requires a digression for a political culture, the Cambodian, where
the past is a more of a foundation for the present than we may choose
to think.

‘Allotropism’ as a condition of post-traditional Cambodian politics
After some one hundred and fifty years of exposure to and, since World
War II, direct elite engagement with modernity, Cambodia, along with
other non-western societies in greater or lesser degrees, exists as a
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in what may be described as ‘allotropic’ form, that is, having a variety
of new features or physical properties though essentially unchanged in
form or substance.7 Etymologically, ‘allotropic’ comes from the Greek
allotropos, or form in another manner, and allotropy, a term used in
chemistry, denotes a variation of physical properties without change of
substance. I use the term to describe a non-western political system
whose leaders have knowingly, unwittingly, or ineluctably appropriated
western cultural materials as a means of legitimizing its external
existence as a modern nation-state while its body politic remains more
or less unchanged. I choose the descriptor allotropic as an alternative
to syncretistic, a term often used to describe Southeast Asia’s belief
system and social order. Syncretism refers to mixing and blending
various conceptual systems on a basis of tenets that are considered
common to all, an attempt at sinking differences to effect union between
such systems. But the term has not been helpful in understanding
Southeast Asian societies from a Southeast Asian point of view and
reveals little about the social realities of a particular culture or
lifeworld (Lebenswelt). A better tool for clarifying how indigenous, or
local, cultures in Southeast Asia responded to foreign cultural
materials has been Wolters’ (1982) localization concept.8 In adopting
this conceptual tool for his anthropological work in Southeast Asia,
Mulder (1996: 18) describes how, in the localization process, ‘foreign
elements have to find a local root, a native stem onto which they can be
grafted. It is then through the infusion of native sap that they can
blossom and fruit. If they do not interact in this way, the foreign
ideas and influences may remain peripheral to the culture.’ While
Cambodia’s political system has in fits and starts, since World War II in
particular, assumed the trappings of an imported secular liberal
democracy, not to mention the immanentizations of communism (also
western-derived) in the 1970s and 1980s, these foreign elements, unlike
the earlier Indic or even Chinese materials, have arguably yet to find a
local root for a successful graft. How, then, can political science gain
at least a tentative grasp on Cambodian political culture in terms of a
Cambodian self-understanding of its social and political existence?
Specialists are familiar with formulations of Indic statecraft in the
classical states of Southeast Asia in general and the Angkorian empire
in particular, as well as the Theravada Buddhist polities that followed
on the mainland.9 The classical political system was organized in a
mandala form of concentric circles around an axis mundi represented by
Mount Meru, the cosmic mountain around which sun, moon, and stars
evolve, and which served as the magic centre of the empire.10 As a rule,
the royal palace occupying the centre of the realm is identified with
Mount Meru, where the king, court, and government enact cosmic roles
governing the four parts of the kingdom corresponding to the four
cardinal points.11 The Angkorian cosmic state was intimately bound up
with the idea of divine or (more precisely) semi-divine kingship and in
its dominant Brahmanic form, the so-called god-king 76

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(devara¯ja) was considered an incarnation of a god, usually S´ iva, or a
descendant from a god or both.12 In the Mahayana Buddhist conception,
it was the Bodhisattva Lokes´vara, or the ‘Lord of the Universe’, that
inhabited the central mountain from which the empire extended to the
horizons of its experience. The theory of divine incarnation or, more
accurately, sanction served to justify the legitimacy of the ruler king.
Compared to the work of more than three generations of (mainly French)
Indologists, less work has been done on the subsequent Theravada
Buddhist conceptions of power, authority, and political rule in mainland
Southeast Asia, which is of more direct interest to us. We know that
much of Brahmanic cosmology was carried over and absorbed into the new
faith and that Buddhist concepts were interpolated from Hindu concepts
of kingship. But in a formal sense, as Theravada Buddhism supplanted the
Hindu-Mahayana Buddhist belief system between the thirteenth and
fifteenth centuries, it rejected the Angkorian and pre-Angkorian theory
of divine sanction as justification for rule and replaced it with the
doctrine of kamma and religious merit. As a human being who through
exemplary behaviour merited the right to rule, the Theravada ruler king
was seen as the best person to uphold the Buddhist teachings and law
through the practice of the ten royal virtues, dasara¯jadhamma,
enumerated in the Pali canon. What is less sufficiently recognized or
explored in the literature is the soteriological aspect of the new faith
in terms of its social and political impact. If the Hindu-Mahayana
Buddhist symbolisms were court-centred and did not penetrate in palpable
ways to the village level, Theravada Buddhism as a religion of the
people extended the goals of the ‘state’ by providing for the redemption
of humanity. It sought to transcend the inequality of an attenuated
caste-based system by evoking the concept of a quasi-egalitarian
‘community’ in the symbol of the Sangha. It was in this sense
revolutionary, arguably setting loose a social transformation in
mainland Southeast Asia that added a grassroots vigour to the political
structures it inherited, a vigour that, as Thion (1988: 3) claims, has
extended into our time (cf. Benda 1969; Bechert 1967: 223–4; Leclère
1974 [1914]: ch. 9).13 In the Theravada Buddhist king, birth was
replaced by the virtue of the dhamma, the law of nature to which the
ruler was also subject. The post-Angkorian king was no longer a
devara¯ja, but righteous ruler, or dhammara¯ja, a moral human being who,
ruling in a personal way, was considered a father to his people,
assuring their happiness by respecting the Buddhist laws (Gour 1965:
23). In the eyes of the common people to whom this new faith appeared to
have a particular appeal, a king who did not adhere to the
dasara¯jadhamma was considered unworthy to rule and would lead his
kingdom to ruin. This political conception was not stripped of its older
cosmological moorings, but derived from the mythological Buddhist and
possibly pre-Aryan Indian cosmological theory of the cakkavattin, or the
wheel-turning, worldpacifying universal monarch. The dhamma, or law of
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doctrine symbolized by the sacred wheel, or cakka. In Buddhist
cosmology, the cakkavattin, the legendary temporal ruler counterpart of
the Buddha, was a wheel-turning cosmocrator who created the just society
based on and by embodying the ten royal virtues. Pali canonical texts
refer to the relationship between the Buddha and cakkavattin as the ‘two
wheels of the Dhamma’ (cf. Reynolds 1972). The Theravada tradition thus
constructed ‘kingship in the image of the Buddha and Buddhahood in the
image of the king with power as the key denominator’ (Swearer 1995:
92).14 This source of political authority in Theravada societies derived
not only from the cakkvatti ideal, but also very likely from the
Maha¯sammata, or ‘Great Elect’ principle prescribing election of a ruler
king through a consensus of people calling for order in an otherwise
theft-ridden (lawless) society. This principle, as put forward in the
Aggañña Sutta, appears to postulate a Buddhist social contract theory of
the origins of kingship and political society that is deserving further
attention by social and political researchers (Tambiah 1976: 483; cf.
Collins S. 1998: 448–451). It is plausible that the Theravada monks who
came to inhabit the village-based cultures of the Southeast Asian
mainland between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries adopted this
contract theory in view of the importance Theravada Buddhism places on
assemblies and traditions of monks electing their own abbots. These
ecclesial structures may in turn have shaped political and social
structures of pre-colonial Cambodia, which we know were highly
decentralized and where village headmen in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and
other possibly Theravada lands were elected consensually by the people.
Such elections were as a rule effected through the medium of socially
prominent villagers and elders associated with the monastery (wat),
mimicking, as it were, the election from below (and/or horizontally) of
abbots in Theravada wats.15 Until the French reforms, the royal capital
in pre-colonial Cambodia had little more than a strong symbolic hold on
the people, exercising administrative control only over an area a few
days’ walk from the royal palace. Although the king as judge meted out
punishment, including for capital offences, ‘his judicial and legislative
powers were henceforth [i.e post-Angkor] far from being absolute’ (Gour
1965: 25). The quasi-autonomous royal princes governing the provinces
exercised more direct control over village life, responsible in most
cases for collecting the ten per cent tithe of their harvests to the
king and exacting corvée labour, a practice exercised with more
frequency the closer one lived to the centre. While these mandarins, no
more or less than the Theravada kings themselves, at times abused their
authority, villagers nonetheless enjoyed relative autonomy in regulating
their lives after fulfilling their obligations to their king, who, prior
to France’s introduction of private property in the first decades of the
twentieth century, ‘owned’ the land they tilled. After the fourteenth
century, the new Theravada Buddhist kings modelled themselves after the
cakkavattin as well as its first historical exemplar, Emperor Asoka, the
third-century  Mauryan ruler in India who converted 78

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to Buddhism (Gombrich 1994: 9; Tambiah 1976: 482). Asoka, repulsed by
the military carnage in which he took part that led to his conversion,
not only approximated the ideal of the cakkavattin in his just policies
and benevolent rule, but also established the social and political
validity of the Theravada tradition at the Third Buddhist Council held
in his capital, Pataliputta, around 247 . He thus became the first
historical ruler to found a state on Buddhist principles. In
Suvannaphumi, or ‘golden peninsula’ as Southeast Asia was then known,
some sixteen centuries later, the Buddhist Sangha served as the titular
if not de jure legitimizer of political authority; in return, the king,
many of whom bore Asoka, dhammara¯ja, or paramara¯ja (highest/perfected
ruler) in their royal title or name,16 was the duty-bound protector
(varman), patron, and when necessary, purifier or reformer of the Sangha.
A symbiotic relationship of separated but conjoined powers was thereby
created between these two institutions, with which villagers’ lives were
intertwined. This religio-political dimension bonded the society into a
single Buddhist political community ‘in the sense that the
consciousness of being a political collectivity (was) tied up with the
possession and guardianship of the religion under the aegis of a
dharma-practicing Buddhist king’ (Tambiah 1982: 132). Misuse of these
Buddhist principles of rule and humane behaviour were not few or far
between, due in part to weak succession laws (royal succession in
Cambodia was not heredity but determined through election by a crown
council) that were invitations to both royal rivals and usurpers.
Equally, if not more important, the exercise of royal power in an
imperfect world frequently obliged the ruler, as a warrior and judge, to
commit acts of violence incompatible with the model of virtuous and
ascetic life imposed on members of the sangha.17 Given the tension
between these two realms, monks not infrequently served as moral checks,
direct or discrete, on abusive royal power. The symbiosis between the
political power of the monarchy and spiritual power of the Sangha was
attenuated by a not unhealthy tension between the two (Collins, S. 1998:
35, 415, 496). We have thus far looked at the question of religious
‘power’ and political authority from the perspective of the higher,
scripture-based religious traditions imported from India into the
life-world of pre-modern Cambodia. We can thus far agree in this context
with Steven Collins (1998: 31) of the usefulness in seeing ‘both
“politics” and “religion” . . . as complementary and overlapping
varieties of civilizational articulation, spread in the (largely)
unchanging prestige language of Pali, structuring the time-space
continuum in which human life was both lived materially and construed in
authoritative traditions of representation.’ Both the conception of the
cosmic role of kingship in Southeast Asia and Voegelin’s more general
view of cosmological empires are also confined to historical
civilizational structures tied to the higher ‘book’ religions. To this
must be included the ‘something else’ alluded to by Wolters (cf. supra,
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base that not only represents a pre-existing example of cosmological
structures of consciousness, but also the local stem, as it were, onto
which foreign materials cum civilizational structures are grafted. This
realm, of both local (indigenous) and localized (indigenized)
supernaturalism, is the world of magic forces and spirits which, while
not connected with statecraft in the imperial sense, are nonetheless
expressions of sacred power that to a large degree remain embedded in
the consciousness of Khmer and neighboring peoples to form an important
part of what we call a society’s political culture. Mulder (1996: 21–24)
describes the most fundamental religious practice in Southeast Asia as a
relationship with power that ‘is located in the nature/supernature in
which human life is embedded’ (p. 21). In its indigenous form, it is
concerned primarily with individual potency, protective blessing, and
protection from danger and misfortune. At the same time, localized
supernaturalism has been grafted to this indigenous tradition through
appropriation of ancient Brahmanic (Vedic) and Tantric cosmological
elements.18 Whether these cosmological structures of consciouness, local
or localized, are concentrated or manifested in (Brahamanic) deities,
saints, guardian spirits, the recently deceased, or potent objects, they
remain a part of the human situation and everyday life that constitutes
‘religion’ in Cambodia and the neighbouring Theravada lands. How this
manifests itself politically has been expressed in what Mulder, focusing
on Thailand (Siam), ascribes to the ‘Thai-ification’ of religion and the
‘Thai-ification’ of Indic thinking about statecraft. He states that the
tension between Theravada Buddhism and the so-called animistic practices
in Thailand was resolved by appropriating those elements of the
Buddhist doctrine that are compatible with animistic thinking and basic
human experience. As a result, the institutional and ritual expression
of Thai religion appear to be very Buddhistic indeed, but its
characteristic mentality is not so much interest in their Theravada
message of moral self-reliance as in auspiciousness, worldly continuity,
and the manipulation of saksit (supernatural ‘sacred’) power. (ibid.:
5) As a consequence, Buddha images become seats of such power and the
practice of merit-making becomes what Charles Taylor (2004: 56) calls
acts of ‘human flourishing’, the invoking or placating of divinities and
powers for prosperity, health, long life, and fertility, or, inversely,
protection from disease, dearth, sterility, and premature death – not to
mention the invoking of propitiatory spirits to help deflect anger,
hostility, or jealousy. May Ebihara (1966: 190), the first American to
conduct anthropological fieldwork in Cambodia (in 1959–60), drew a
similar distinction in stating that ‘while Buddhism (could) explain the
more transcendental questions such as one’s general existence in this
life and the next, the folk religion (gave) reasons for 80

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and means of coping with or warding off the more immediate and
incidental, yet nonetheless pressing, problems and fortunes of one’s
present existence.’ If the highly demanding life of the ascetic virtuosu
as the paradigmatic Buddhist life was a calling for the few, respect
for and/or fear of spirit world entities was ‘virtually universal among
the villagers . . .’ (ibid.). The political significance of what modern
political scientists and commentators (not to mention Buddhist
literalists) have described and often dismissed or ignored as local
‘superstitions’ is a field that remains open for further study and
interpretation. Mulder (1996: 20), for one, claims that the powerful
indigenous saksit represents the core element, or cosmic energy, that
fuses and articulates ‘the great traditions of Theravada Buddhism and
Indic theory of state with the ordinary practice of life and the
mentality that animates it’. He points to this powerful yet morally
exemplary core as physically represented in the royal palace cum temple
complex in Bangkok. In a similar vein, Tambiah (1976: 484–85) argues
that Buddhist concepts such as merit and kamma and magical concepts of
power do not exist as separate, discrete entities, but, rather,
‘comprise a set or domain related according to mutuality, hierarchy, and
tension. . . . . Thus instruments such as amulets and verbal formulas .
. . are not necessarily seen as working in defiance of the laws of
merit-demerit and of karma but within their limits and “with the grain”
of merit . . .’ This integration of collective cosmic rituals produced a
‘theatre’ state where the king was a focal point in ‘the building of
conspicuous public works whose utility lay at least partially in their
being architectural embodiments of the collective aspirations and
fantasies of heavenly grandeur . . . (thereby) providing the masses with
an awe-inspiring vision of cosmic manifestation on earth as well as
providing the rulers with an ideal paradigm to follow in their actions’
(ibid.: 487).19 What we may draw from the above is that
moral-cosmological ordering principles, made transparent through an
array of beliefs, myths, and symbols through which the people ritually
participated, were the in-forming signatures, or ‘spiritual form’, of
pre-modern Cambodian political society. This home-grown conception not
only did not abruptly end in 1945 but, if challenged and transformed, is
still with us as a major factor in the equation of what constitutes
Cambodian political culture. As things go, recent scholarship has only
begun the task of an empathetic clarification of the practice of
Theravada Buddhism as a complex moral-cosmological conceptual system,
where a close fit exists between political rule, the (cosmological)
structure of being, and the ethical norms that shape and govern
behaviour (Hobart and Taylor 1986: Introduction, cf. Becker and
Yenogoyan 1979: Foreword).

Representation and legitimacy in modern Cambodia This integrated,
socially embedded political universe began to fray under the weight of
the ninety-year French protectorate, during which time the cultural 81

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seeds for a modern nation-state were planted by a handful of Khmers
equipped with western secular educations (Népote 1979; cf. Edwards 1999,
2004a). But France’s colonial presence in Cambodia as well as Laos
caused, in the end, only light structural damage on the traditional
culture compared to Vietnam, Cochin-China in particular, where
modernizing measures were introduced with more vigor.20 For the first
forty years of the protectorate, until the end of King Norodom’s reign
in 1904, French reforms remained largely on paper, passively resisted by
the monarchy, Sangha, and villagers. The separateness of existence
between ruler and ruled, a feature common to traditional Southeast Asia,
nonetheless belied the totality, or ‘single, unified world’ (Osborne
1997: 52) inhabited alike by kings, courtiers, monks, merchants,
peasants, fishermen, and petty traders. The relative calm in Cambodia was
interrupted only by a two-year open rebellion against centralization
measures in the mid-1880s led by the provincial governor-princes. The
clash of ontological versus deontological (viz., immanentist) political
cultures, as described in a recent Southeast Asian social history text
(Steinberg 1987: 217), which may well apply to King Norodom’s reign,
appeared unbridgeable inasmuch as: the main function of the [Theravada]
ruler was to be, symbolizing in his person an agreed-on social order, a
cultural ideal, and a state of harmony with the cosmos. The new colonial
. . . governments existed primarily to do, providing themselves with a
permanently crowded agenda of specific tasks to accomplish. They felt, by
older Southeast Asian standards, a peculiar need [moral obligation] to
tidy up casual and irregular old customs, to bring uniformity to the
numerous small, local societies in their jurisdictions, to clear paths
for economic ‘progress,’ to organize, reform, and control.21 The French
accomplished more with Norodom’s successors, kings Sisowath (1904–1927)
and Monivong (1927–41), but not merely because they were more pliant.
After World War I, having recognized the deceptive strength and relative
unmalleability of the political culture, France opted to de-emphasize
her assimilationist policies in favor of working more with and through
the indigenous institutions representing the traditional culture. She
sought in fact to strengthen these institutions as a means through which
to effect reform, thus opening a fissure to allotropism. Major French
reforms included the privatization of land and the establishment of a
new administrative unit in the khum (sub-district) that expanded the
colonial state’s taxing authority and administrative reach to the
grassroots level.22 Among more culturally sensitive reforms was the
upgrading, rather than the supplanting, of Cambodia’s wat-based primary
education system.23 During the period, political society as represented
by the two wheels of the dhamma, while subjected to
bureaucratic-rationalization pressures, remained largely intact as most
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Khmer elites evinced little interest in entering this new world. The
French were obliged through World War II to depend mainly on Vietnamese
to staff the middle and lower echelons of the state administration.
Nonetheless, under the separate influences of the École française
d’Extrême Orient and the Thommayut reform sect of Theravada Buddhism
from Siam initiated by King Mongkut IV, the Sangha hierarchy bifurcated
into modernist (samay) and traditionalist (boran) wings. The former,
small though influential, gradually assumed authority with French support
in urban centers (principally Phnom Penh) and became committed to
purging Buddhism of its mythopoeic ‘accretions’ in the name of a purer,
more rational and scripturally based Buddhism while also centralizing
monastic administration (cf. Harris 2005: ch. 5). The making of an
allotropic political system also began to emerge with the appearance of a
small liberal-nationalist movement in which some monks educated in the
Higher School of Pali Studies, founded in 1922, played a not
insignificant role. The main leader of this movement, Son Ngoc Thanh, was
a French-trained lawyer who in the mid-1930s began to appropriate
Buddhism for a budding nationalist agenda through the agency of the
Buddhist Institute. The Institute was established on French initiative
in 1930 as an instrument designed in part to advance a more rational,
print-based form of Buddhism and in part to seal off Thai
cultural-political influence in order to strengthen loyalty to French
Indo-China. When Thanh was implicated in a monk-led nationalist
demonstration against French rule in July 1942, his main organ, the
Nagaravatta newspaper, was suppressed and the Institute’s program
curtailed. Pro-Japanese during the war, Thanh fled to Tokyo from where he
helped form, with King Sihanouk, a Tokyo-backed royal government in
March 1945 that sought to end French colonial rule. By August, while
serving as foreign, then prime minister of this short-lived regime, he
had become a republican and was again implicated, this time in an
abortive insurrection against King Sihanouk. Captured and imprisoned in
Saigon by the British as the French were returning to re-impose their
rule in Indo-China, Thanh was to bob up and down in right-wing Cambodian
politics through 1975. If Siam’s modernizing elites, more copious and
prudent, were able to usher in western reforms over a period stretching
several generations, Cambodia’s shift from a traditional to allotropic
polity was relatively abrupt and, given the turmoil that has accompanied
the process, remains unsettled. Since the political upheavals of the
World War II years, Cambodia remains in search of an existentially
representative political system capable of mediating, if not
reconciling, a problematic power structure with a conservative political
society. The remainder of this essay focuses on contrasting two
post-war regimes that provided at least a semblance of extended
stability and peace: the Sangkum Reastr Niyum (People’s Socialist
Community) between 1955 and 1970, and the post-communist regime
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constitutional monarchy from 1993 to the present. My main interest here
lies in: a) how these allotropic polities sought (or are seeking) to
strike a ‘compromise between old and new conceptions’ (Heine-Geldern
1956: 16), while b) addressing the underlying tension between
existential representation and political authority.

Sangkum Reastr Niyum (People’s Socialist Community) While Thanh
languished in a Saigon prison (until 1951), his followers were among the
first of a new bourgeois elite of intellectuals who, following the
restoration of French rule in 1945, embarked under French tutelage to
establish a multiparty democracy in Cambodia. In a political culture
that had not previously known political parties, they joined forces with
the newly formed Democrat Party established by other Cambodian
returnees from France led initially by Prince Sisowath Yuthevong, a
returnee from more than ten years of study in France. The party’s base
of support consisted of younger Khmer intelligentsia assuming control of
the state apparatus, the reform (samay) wing of the main Mohanikay
Buddhist sect, and supporters of the militant nationalist Issarak
movement. Its emblem was an elephant’s head with three lotus flowers
representing the monarchy, Buddhism, and the people, the latter now
re-imagined as embodying the values of a modern nation-state. With
French assistance and the endorsement of the young, equally reformminded
King Sihanouk, this new elite initiated a reform process that quickly
tipped the Cambodian political balance in favor of a French-modeled
parliamentary regime governed by a majority party or coalition.
Following the 1946 election for a constituent Assembly, the victorious
Democrat Party-led government drafted a constitution the following year
that, if closely modeled on the 1946 constitution of the Fourth French
Republic, attempted to blend the new and the old by preserving elements
of customary law and the monarchy. The constitution was anchored in the
individual rights doctrine of France’s Declaration of 1789, with law
itself now defined as an expression of the national will (Article 17). At
the same time, Buddhism was proclaimed the religion of the State
(Article 8) and Article 21 declared that ‘all powers emanated from the
King’, a departure even from the popular sovereignty principle of the
new constitutions of Laos (1947), Thailand (1949) and other Southeast
Asian states. The same article stipulated, however, that the king’s
powers were to be ‘exercised in the manner established by the present
constitution’, creating an ambiguous separation between essential power
as embodied in the king and the exercise of those powers. The
constitution, which was effectively a pact negotiated between the
twenty-three-year-old king and cautiously republican-minded
representatives of the Democrat Party, had the legislature become the
defining power organ of the new regime (Gour 1955: 49). The equivocal
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to a political standoff between a government run by an artificial
political grouping endowed with formal power but little or no legitimacy
and a legitimate king vested with powers that were highly
circumscribed. Parliamentary government ran into an impasse when a
workable association between the republican-minded dominant party and a
monarch who remained the preponderant personality in the political life
of the country could not be achieved (Preschez 1961: 129). The peasant
electorate came to perceive the urban-based parties as factions breaking
up the unity of a political culture and system where even the concept
of a legitimate opposition, central to the functioning of a
parliamentary system, was absent. A former colonial official cum political
scientist who witnessed the unfolding tragicomedy described the new
political climate as ‘a proliferation of parties, factionalism, usury
among the elites, the paralysis of power (that) led everywhere, or
nearly so, to political disorder; social, ethnic, or linguistic
conflicts; and economic impotence or stagnation’ (Philippe Devilliers in
his preface to Preschez 1961: vii). The necessarily messy nature of
democracy notwithstanding, there was, to state the obvious, little ‘in
Cambodia’s previous experience to prepare it for the sudden introduction
of an alien political system’ (Osborne 1973: 45).24 By 1955, the king,
who was reaching his political maturity and seeking to distance himself
from French tutelage after having successfully negotiated Cambodia’s
formal independence, applied a systemic corrective. Spurred in part by
delegations of villagers petitioning him to assume direct rule and in
part by his undisputed popularity for having single-handedly ended
colonial rule, he exercised the royal mandate by supplanting the
parliamentary system. He created a form of semi-direct rule through a
‘community of national union’, a supra-party royalist movement to which
he appended the modern word symbols ‘People’s Socialist Community’
(Sangkum Reastr Niyum). Arguing the time had come for him to turn his
attention from the independence struggle to the development of the
country, and in view of the elections mandated by the 1954 Geneva
Accords, Sihanouk abruptly abdicated in favour of his father in order to
be able to carry out this mission. In entering the political fray, he
declared the time had come ‘to put an end to a situation in which the
powers of government were concentrated in the hands of a small group of
privileged, who one could in no way say represented the true interests
of the people who they in fact exploited’ (quoted in Preschez 1961: 58).
Inured by the prevailing rhetoric of democracy, his goal was to
transfer power such that the people themselves could exercise it more
directly. Candidates to the national assembly would henceforth only be
individuals from the countryside with at least three years of unbroken
residence in a sub-district (khum), a requirement that proved difficult to
realize. In practice, Sihanouk’s rule was authoritarian (I use this
term in a traditional, not pejorative sense) and highly personalized,
using his new-found freedom of action to establish, unlike former
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provinces inaugurating schools and development projects or in the
bi-annual direct democracy national congresses held on the sacred Men
Ground adjacent to the royal palace.25 The organization and goals of the
Community as spelled out in its statutes reveal how Sihanouk sought to
re-create a traditional polity now re-mythologized by conflating it with
the language of national unity, progress, the fatherland, democratic
socialism, and popular sovereignty. He was able to adapt these new
language symbols into restatements of the older symbiotic relationship
between the people, the Sangha, and the personal rule of the monarch as
the pinnacle of power: Article 3: [The Sangkum’s] organization is
devoted to the formation of a cadre of volunteers constituted for common
action, disinterested and with solidarity, in order to realize the
Union of the children of the Khmer Fatherland (Patrie), a union
compromised by the proliferation of Political Parties, as well as of the
birth in Cambodia of a true egalitarian and Socialist Democracy, and,
finally, of the return of the Fatherland to its past grandeur. The
Community will seek to assure this return by giving a true sense to the
Trinity: Nation-Religion-King, this Trinity (being) unable to survive
and render service to the Fatherland without its state institutions
returning to search for its inspiration next to the mass of the Little
People and functioning under the real control, direct and permanent, of
the latter, and for the purpose of their real and permanent interests. .
. . Article 4: Our Community is the symbol of the aspirations of the
Little People, who are the Real People of Cambodia, our much-loved
Fatherland. . . . Our Community defends the National Unity through the
return to the good traditions that shaped the grandeur of the Country in
its glorious past. These traditions are the Communion of the People
with their two natural Protectors: Religion and the Throne. Our
Community means to promote the Reastr Niyum Regime that must give to the
True People – to the large mass of the Little People that symbolizes
the Khmer Nation – the Sovereignty, the National Powers to enable the
direct, and simultaneous, exercise at the Khum, Khèt (provincial) and
Pratés (national) levels in conformity with the spirit of the
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bestowed and conceived for the People by Preah Bat Samdech NORODOM
SIHANOUK. (Sihanouk 1955: 2–3; my translation from the French) In a
metaphor used on more than one occasion, Prince Sihanouk, who acquired
the unique royal title of Preah Upayuvareach (lord prince as former
king), evoked the twin pillars of the Buddhist monarchy and Sangha to
sustain and accord legitimacy to a new progressive regime that was
simultaneously an affirmation of a traditional polity: Cambodia may be
compared to a cart supported by two wheels, one of which is the state
and the other Buddhism. The former symbolizes power and the latter
religious morality. The two wheels must turn at the same speed in order
for the cart, i.e., Cambodia, to advance smoothly on the path of peace
and progress. . . . (quoted in Zago 1975: 111) The legitimizing
principle, or glue, for the new national regime was a thinly constructed
‘Buddhist socialism’. The term, socialism, was, clearly, conceived not
in Marxist, social democratic, or even Maoist terms, but according to
the egalitarian and democratic principles of Theravada Buddhism (Yang
Sam 1987: 13f.; Bechert 1966: 183–84 and 1967: 250–58). Although both
Premier U Nu in Burma and President Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka were also
propagating ideas of Buddhist socialism from the mid-1950s, Sihanouk
appeared to be less influenced by these latter-day dhammara¯jas than by
pragmatic politics. The legitimizing role of the Sangha, which remained
an autonomous, if weakened, institution during the Sangkum (Bektimirova
2003),26 was indispensable to achieving his goals. Conjoining political
and religious motives was both traditional and useful. He drew his
principal rationale for Buddhist socialism from the social welfare
concerns of the heralded Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII
(1181–1220) and of Asoka, models both of good conduct and national
development. Through much of the 1960s, Buddhist socialism served both
internal and external ends, the former as a model for bringing about a
just, prosperous, and peaceful society, the later as a justification for
his policy of neutrality, peaceful coexistence, and the independence and
territorial integrity of the country (Zago 1975: 111–12; Harris 2005:
144f.). It would be remiss to interpret Sihanouk’s appeals to tradition
‘as a purely artificial device, . . . since the very frequency with which
the appeals (were) made suggests a view of history in which the realty
of the past is perhaps more apparent that is the case in contemporary
western society’ (Osborne 1966: 6). That Sihanouk’s appeals to tradition
were not purely instrumentalist in the machiavellian sense is suggested
by his acts of piety and patronage of Buddhism. Unlike his three
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periods in 1947 and 1963. Although no King Ang Duang in terms of closely
working with and relying on the advice of the Sangha or an U Nu in
terms of conviction, he, among other acts of patronage, founded the first
Buddhist high school (lycée) for monks, named after his father King
Suramarit, as well as the Preah Sihanouk Raj Buddhist University, which
was established in 1954 before the formal opening of any secular
universities. He also revived non-Buddhist rituals such as the ancient
royal practice, enacted on the Men Ground, of the ‘ploughing of the
sacred furrow’, a fertility rite symbolizing the defloration of virgin
soil prior to the rainy season.27 Prince Sihanouk succeeded through much
of the Sangkum period in absorbing and outmaneuvering the political
parties, including through elections.28 His efforts at building a
traditional consensus while simultaneously embracing modernity,
including and especially economic development, brought about more than a
decade of peace, relative political stability, and economic growth. But
these successes in fashioning one of the most original allotropic
polities in perhaps all of Asia began, after the mid-1960s, to be
overtaken by events in the region as well as events of Sihanouk’s own
undoing. Harem politics and dealing with political opponents in unseemly
ways, while contradicting Buddhist teachings, were, however, no
exceptions to the concubines and uses of violence that historically
accompanied the rule of warrior-class Southeast Asian Buddhist
monarchs.29 The escalating IndoChina war emboldened both the left- and
right-wing Khmer nationalists who, with their foreign backers,
compromised Cambodia’s neutrality and drew the country into the
maelstrom of war and social upheaval.

Second Royal Government of Cambodia (1993 – present) Within a week of
his overthrow in March 1970, Prince Sihanouk appealed through broadcasts
from Beijing for the Khmer people to rise up against the
American-backed putchists by joining forces under a royal resistance
movement with the Khmer Rouge, who at the time numbered approximately
2,000 cadres and fighters.30 The coup and ensuing civil war, marked by a
North Vietnamese invasion countered by South Vietnamese and, for a
spell, American troops as the fledging republican regime itself began
massive mobilization,31 led to enormous confusion, anger, and unrest in
the largely apolitical and a-nationalistic peasant society.32 For the
peasants, the absence of a sovereign ruler meant ‘lack of effective
communication between the celestial powers and the world of men; without
him you have complete chaos’ (Ponchaud 1989: 176) and many of them, in
the eastern half of the country in particular, actively heeded their
sovereign’s call. The Khmer Rouge leaders, disguised mandarins
manipulating royal symbolisms while playing into the peasants’
pre-existing distrust of central government, ‘were to ride the wave of
this powerful rural opposition’ and mould the peasantry into a fighting
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against a peasantry’, in this case by the republican Lon Nol forces and
its sponsors (Thion 1993: 43).33 The scenario – a) of a ‘naïve’
peasantry loyal to a sovereign who was protector of their faith and the
legitimate upholder of a social order in tune with cosmic order, b)
manipulated by a band of French educated millenarian ideologues, c)
pitted against a mechanized army of putative city dwellers (many them
wearing amulets and talismans) who were d) armed, trained, and
manipulated by a naïvely ignorant western power – could not be a more
graphic metaphor of a political system that had lost its existential
bearings. In severing all ties with kingship, the republican regime also
‘lost its chance, not only to unify the country, but to gain
legitimacy, even among the mass of urban dwellers’ (ibid.: 125). The
Khmer Rouge period epitomized, homologically, what Camus expressed in
his L’Homme revolté: that for totalitarian regimes, in their moral
nihilism, mass murder became the only sign or manifestation of the
sacred possible in a de-divined nature, society, and polity. In seeking
to create a new world that signified a moral inversion of Buddhism, Khmer
Rouge cadres claimed in their puritanism to have even surpassed the
discipline of monks, who, as members of a ‘parasitical’ class and the
greatest single obstacle to building their utopian society, were
eliminated through forced disrobing and/or death by execution,
starvation, and disease.34 Following Vietnam’s overthrow of the Khmer
Rouge regime in January 1979, wat, not state much less party, structures
spontaneously re-emerged to spearhead the recovery process. Wat
committees led by surviving elders worked informally to assume primary
responsibility for the country’s rehabilitation and reconstruction
efforts well through the 1980s (Löschmann 1991; Yang Sam 1987: 86–87;
personal communication from Yi Thon, who travelled with PRK authorities
to many provinces in 1979–80). As the Vietnameseinstalled People’s
Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) in Phnom Penh gained control of the
countryside, its representatives joined and began to direct the work,
and resources, of the wat committees. The practice of Buddhism remained
tightly controlled by the party-state until the late 1980s, when the
PRK, obliged to address the legitimacy problem, began to court Buddhism.
Initially, the regime created holocaust monuments and sponsored
Buddhist rites at killing fields to evoke a cult of the dead associated
with the restoration of Buddhism. It also allowed and at times assisted
local communities with materials to rebuild their razed or damaged
vihears (sacred sanctuaries) (Keyes 1994: 66, cf. Yang Sam 1987: 79–82;
Harris 2005: 190–200). When the Vietnamese troops withdrew in 1989,
triggering a peace process sponsored by the international community, the
legitimacy issue became a more paramount concern. The PRK, renamed the
interim State of Cambodia (SOC), was faced with the need to placate the
peasantry. In de-collectivization measures short of giving up ownership
of the land, the regime granted usufruct rights to people cultivating
land and transformed the collective labor production solidarity groups
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solidarity groups (Frings 1994: 51–52). Buddhism was restored as the
state religion; restrictions were lifted on both monk ordinations under
the age of fifty and the previously set limit of four monks per wat; and a
detested wat tax was rescinded. Accompanying these legal changes, the
ruling party, renamed the Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP) in anticipation
of internationally supervised elections, engaged in increasingly
numerous ceremonial public displays of courting Buddhism. Setting the
pace in January 1989, Premier Hun Sen, in an unprecedented gesture,
prostrated himself before the head monk at his native wat in Kampot
province and used the occasion to apologize for his government’s past
“mistakes towards religion” (Hiebert 1989: 36).35 A month after the
signing of the Paris peace accords in October 1991, the CPP skilfully
orchestrated Prince Sihanouk’s (viz., the ‘King’s’) triumphal return to
Cambodia, symbolizing the end of a second civil war between a
Sihanouk-led resistance coalition government backed by the West (and
which held Cambodia’s United Nations seat) and the Soviet and Vietnamese
backed PRK/SOC regime. In spite of a sustained campaign of pre-election
intimidation and violence by supporters and agents of the SOC regime,
the UN-sponsored 1993 elections resulted in a surprisingly clear-cut CPP
loss to the royalist party. Some 24,000 UN troops, police, and
personnel (whose presence had its own set of positive and negative
social consequences) and an adroit UN radio campaign assuring voters of a
secret ballot helped guarantee the freest and fairest election that
Cambodia has known before or since. The UN Transitional Authority in
Cambodia (UNTAC), ‘which committed itself to taking complete control of a
foreign state in order to create, ex nihilo, what amounted to a new
social contract for its citizens’ (Lizée 2000: 10), contented itself
with the illusion of a successful exercise in multi-party liberal
democracy as called for in the Paris agreements. What is perhaps closer
to the truth, all but a small fraction of the voters cast ballots not
for any of the two dozen contending parties than with their feet for a)
peace and, not unrelated to this, b) the return to power of their
savior-king. The royalist FUNCINPEC36 party won the election not by dint
being a political party preferred over others based on rational voter
calculations than by virtue of a poster and ballot containing an image
of the King’s son, party leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh, which bore a
striking resemblance to Sihanouk in his younger Sangkum days.37 During
the peace negotiations and subsequent UNTAC election period, neither the
international community, represented by the five permanent members of
the UN Security Council, nor the four Cambodian political factions
(PRK/SOC regime on the one side and an uneasy resistance coalition of
royalists, Khmer Rouge, and the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front
led by former a prime minister, Son Sann, on the other)38 who signed
the Paris agreements envisaged a restored monarchy much less one that
would return Sihanouk to the throne. Sihanouk himself thought in terms
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becoming a non-royal head of state unaffiliated with a party. In the
election aftermath, as if needing a reminder, a rare consensus
materialized between the Cambodian players, with Son Sann as president
of the constituent assembly playing a pivotal role, that ‘the
constitution should provide for a king’ (Brown and Zasloff 1999: 199).
The ensuing Constitution of thirteen chapters and 139 articles again
prescribed a liberal democratic and pluralist system with a sharper
separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers (Preamble,
Article 1, Article 51) and, in a departure from earlier constitutions, a
strong emphasis on human rights (Chapter VI) drafted in western
legalese. It bore a resemblance to both the 1947 constitution and the
views of the Cambodian drafters’ American (and one French) advisors (cf.
Brown and Zasloff 1999: ch. 6). The powers and authority of the monarch
were diminished from the 1947 constitution, with power no longer
emanating from the king but the western popular sovereignty principle
(Article 51); the monarch’s principal role as head of state was to serve
as ‘a symbol of unity’ and the continuity of the nation (Article 8) .39
The constitution notwithstanding, a pseudo-Sangkum authoritarian regime
has emerged since 1993 whose center of power lies with a
self-perpetuating PRK/SOC/CPP elite that at best tolerates political
parties at the margins. If the former East European and even Soviet
communist parties were able to relinquish control and become one among
several contending political parties, in the case of the Cambodia, the
former communist party never considered relinquishing control of the
state apparatus as an option. When the CPP balked at the 1993 elections
results, Sihanouk brokered a face-saving coalition government run by two
prime ministers, Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen, which co-existed
uneasily until 1997, when the latter ousted the former in a violent
coup. The CPP has used subsequent elections to gradually seal
(legitimize) its monopoly of power under the eyes of a Cambodiafatigued
international community acquiescing to strongman rule as the price of
stability. This form of allotropism as an outcome should come as no
surprise for a political society that abhors the insecurity of a vacuum
provoked by factional politics, which is how partisanship continues to
be perceived in Cambodia. The problem, however, is that in spite of
external recognition/ legitimacy accorded by a weary international
community, the CPP-led government is beset with a lack of internal
legitimacy that renders its authority to rule synthetic at best. It
commands a thin veneer of elemental and, more importantly, only such
existential representation as it is able to mine in instrumentalist ways
from the monarchy, Sangha, and people. Wary nonetheless of its
legitimacy problem, the regime has since 1998, following elections whose
campaign and immediate aftermath were protested in the media and
streets, resumed a policy of courting, appropriating, and manipulating
Buddhist and royal symbolisms while attempting to cut a populist
image.40 The official patronage of Buddhism, once a principal royal
prerogative, is a widespread practice of not only the CPP, which has
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to favor wats claiming cosmo-magical powers, but also other parties and
politicians. For example, Premier Hun Sen and his family have through
donations rebuilt virtually the entire complex of Wat Weang Chas (old
palace wat), a wat permeated with magical powers that was once part of
the royal palace complex in the ancient capital of Oudong. Located some
35 kilometres northwest of Phnom Penh, it has since the 1990s has become
a favoured pilgrimage site for Cambodians and foreign tourists. ‘By
taking over the old royal palace at Oudong, Hun Sen is defining himself
as the legitimate successor of the old Khmer kings of Oudong’ (Guthrie
2002: 68). His patronage of the wat, which includes an associated Pali
school, links him to the last king to occupy Oudong, the revered Ang
Duong, who initiated a notable Buddhist revival from Oudong in the
mid-nineteenth century. The apparent thriving of the wat lends visible
proof of Hun Sen’s good karma, personal power, and merit.41 The power he
and other politicians seek to access through, in particular, wats with
cosmo-magical histories is boramei (Pali: pa¯ramı¯), which as a Buddhist
technical term means ‘mastery’, ‘supremacy’, ‘highest’, or
‘perfection’, as in the formal royal titles adopted by many Khmer and
other Theravada kings (paramara¯ja) (cf. supra, p. 79). The indigenous
meaning of the term, however, as Guthrie (2002: 70) points out, also
means ‘sacred force’, ‘magical power’, or ‘energy’, identical or akin to
the supernatural saksit in Siam/Thailand (and Laos) cited above. The
return of symbolic rituals associated with cosmo-magical consciousness
is not confined to modern politicians seeking to appropriate royal
prerogatives. Ritual aspects of the Khmer court, together with their
officiants, the Brahman court priests (baku), were restored with the
monarchy in 1993 (de Bernon 1997). Among these include popular festivals
associated with ploughing of the sacred furrow rite, revived after
twenty-four years in May 1994, and the annual pirogue regatta during a
water festival held in November, when current of the Tonlé Sap river
reverses its flow, ‘thereby symbolically liberating the waters of the
Tonlé Sap and the nagas (serpents) whose benevolence assures the proper
irrigation of the rice fields’ (ibid. p. 52).42 The Hun Sen regime, a
majority of whose senior members reached their political maturity during
the 1970s and 1980s, has been obliged to sustain the monarchy in return
for the king’s bestowal of ‘neo-traditional legitimacy to the (ruling)
Cambodian People’s Party’ (Kershaw 2001: 98). The manner in which the
CPP has successfully courted and co-opted the royalist FUNCINPEC party
since the 1998 election has solidified its image as the sole purveyor of
legitimate power in a kingdom that does not lightly suffer political
division. King Sihanouk, not known among his faults for having forsaken
his sense of independence and unpredictability as a royal personality,
nonetheless remained a thorn for an entrenched ruling élite preferring a
monarch that would reign at its pleasure. In October 2004, citing
health reasons, Sihanouk cleverly played his cards in forcing the
government’s hand by again dramatically abdicating, this time in favour
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preserved, at least in principle, the independence and symbolic power of
the monarchy as an (existentially representative) institution that
serves, in effect, as a people-oriented counterbalance to a discordant
political class.43 As for the relation of the people to Buddhism, we can
note that its revival, begun cautiously during the PRK regime, was a
largely spontaneous village-based and -driven phenomenon through much of
the 1990s. Villagers accorded priority to repairing or rebuilding their
wats and, after 1988 in particular, ordaining their sons.44 Not unlike
instances after the early 1990s of micro-credit recipients donating
their loans to their wats (to the exasperation of international donor
agencies), recovery of their sacred integrative ground, coupled with the
practice of merit making, was considered more important by villagers
than material reconstruction and development needs. In spite of and in
response to the upheavals of the previous decades, traditional patterns
of social and religious interaction, if manifested in new ways or forms,
have gradually re-emerged in post-conflict Cambodia (Aschmoneit 1996;
Ledgerwood 1996; Collins, W. 1998; Ebihara 2002; Marston and Guthrie
2004).45 These patterns have since 1989 included reconstructions of the
cosmo-magical dimension of the Khmer understanding of the structure of
reality. It has, for example, rekindled the debate begun in the first
decades of the twentieth century between the modern (samay) challenge to
the ancient cosmological (boran) tradition within Cambodian Buddhism.
This has generated a tendency especially among the governing elites to
seek anointment, or boramei power, from the boran tradition, however
opaquely practised and understood (Marston 2002; Harris 2005: 221–224).
The revival of Buddhism has not come without unexpected costs, of which
the most notable has been the politicization of the Sangha. The weakness
and subservience of the Sangha hierarchy to the power structure since
1979 period has been noted. If village-based Buddhism benefited from a
relatively free rein between 1989 and 1997, there is evidence since of
the regime seeking to restrain the relative autonomy of Buddhism at the
village level. By the mid-1990s, the traditional practice of head monks
elected by the monks in individual wats re-emerged,46 and the Sangha had
begun to play an increasingly ‘decisive role’ in the society
(Bektimirova 2003: 3). But the years since the 1997 coup have seen
pressures on the wats to tow the political line, which has led to
tensions and splits within and among wats. The UN’s uninformed
insistence in 1993 on the right of monks to vote, in spite of muted
opposition voiced within the Sangha at the time (Harris 2005: 2004),
invited a climate of partisanship cum factionalism among monks within a
wat or, in the presence of strong head monks, between wats aligned with
any of the two or three largest parties. Given the large majority of
monks favoring the opposition parties (which since 1998 has increasingly
become a moot point), the CPP, whose velvet glove control of society
through the state apparatus extends to the village level, has exerted
pressure directed not only at reigning in monks but also, and more
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Tactics have included informing villagers that a vote for an opposition
party is a vote against the Buddha or, in another thinly veiled threat,
that an omniscient Buddha knows for whom one’s ballot is cast. Another
reported form of intimidation disseminated through the wats were casual
warnings that the country would again revert to civil war if the CPP
lost the election.47 Since 1998, the CPP has dexterously worked the
electoral politics machine to its advantage, winning all elections by
increasingly wide margins. It has lost only in the country’s one major
urban centre, Phnom Penh, representing 8 or 9 per cent of the
population, where a secret ballot seemed assured by a greater sense of
voter anonymity, voter sophistication, and the watchful presence of the
international community and media.

Some concluding thoughts Analysing the relationship between Cambodian
society and its governing structure through the medium of the country’s
political culture raises old questions in a new, or different, light.
Among them are: Who is to govern?; What is representative government?;
and What constitutes political authority? In reviewing Clifford Geertz’s
Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth Century Bali, political theorist
Quentin Skinner noted that the western ‘inherited tradition of
political analysis may now be serving to inhibit rather than clarify our
understanding not merely of alien cultures but also of our own’ (quoted
in Wolter 1982: 97). It is outside the scope of this essay to digress
on this issue beyond, briefly, picking up a thread in my introduction and
making reference to the phrase ‘structures of consciousness’ used
above. In the last mature decades of his work, Voegelin developed a
theory of human consciousness wherein so-called structures of
consciousness, ‘concrete consciousness of concrete persons’, are seen as
integral parts of the structure of reality, including political
reality. In his meditative essay on ‘What is Political Reality?’,
Voegelin (2002: 341–412) maintained that concrete human beings order
their existence in accordance with their consciousness, where that which
is ordered is not merely their consciousness, but their entire
existence in the world. ‘Consciousness is the experience of
participation, namely, of man’s participation in the ground of being’
(ibid.: 373). A corollary of this reality of participatory knowledge for
a theory of politics requires addressing the problem of political
organization on the basis of the entire existence of human beings in
society (ibid: 398f.). The formal systems approach of modern political
analysis denies in its reductionism the reality of what Victor Turner
and other students of ritual have demonstrated, namely, that the
sacrality of social life is what renders that life intelligible. As the
mounting evidence of anthropologists, archeologists, students of
comparative religion, and others enters the public domain, political
analysts are invited to become familiar with aspects of culture that
have been invisible to them because of their theoretical blinkers.
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since Weber, myth and religion, rendered meaningful or intelligible
through participatory ritual, are not, with the exception of parts of
the West (Europe in particular), dying epiphenomena of a coming secular
age where political legitimacy is tied to an impersonal,
rational-bureaucratic state.48 Already in the early 1950s, as Cambodia
was achieving its independence and embarking, with other post-colonial
states whose elites were trained in the metropoles, on the path of
becoming a modern nation-state, Voegelin cautioned a West and the
international institutions through which it acted in the world as
unintentionally generating disorder ‘through its sincere but naïve
endeavor of curing the evils of the world by spreading representative
institutions in the elemental sense to areas where the existential
conditions for their functioning were not given’ (Voegelin 1952: 51).49
He stated that such ‘provincialism, persistent in the face of its
consequences, is in itself an interesting problem for the scientist’ in
so far as the ‘odd policies of western democratic powers (are)
symptomatic of a massive resistance to face reality, deeply rooted in
the sentiments and opinion of the broad masses of our contemporary
Western societies’ (ibid.). In the context of an anthropological study
on the problem of communication across diversity, Becker (1979: 1)
questioned why western science approached other conceptual systems as
lacking ‘some essential ingredient of our own’, seldom if ever using
non-western conceptual systems as ‘models of the way the world really
is, as versions of wisdom. Or as correctives of pathologies in our own
system’. Comaroff (1994: 301) confirms that religion and ritual remain
crucial in the life of so-called modern nation-states in communities in
Asia and elsewhere. ‘They urge us’, she states, ‘to distrust
disenchantment, to rethink the telos of development that still informs
the models of much mainstream social science.’ If as I have sought to
demonstrate above the western liberal paradigm continues to elude
Cambodian culture and politics, it is not unreasonable to ask at this
juncture whether it is only a question of time, patience, and
persistence before a country like Cambodia can be brought, with the
encouragement and assistance of an international community that
continues to run on European time, reason, and logic to accept the
reasonableness of this model of political organization.50 Is there no
alternative but for so-called traditional and post-traditional societies
to pass through the ‘fiery brook’ of modernity and embrace its dominant
political form, liberal democracy? If the answer remains no, we are left
with the pleonast asking whether ‘it is possible to establish the
conditions for legitimate and sustainable national governance through a
period of benevolent foreign autocracy’ (Chesterman 2005: 1), whether by
a single power or the international community. Henry Kamm, who
pessimistically concluded that Cambodia ‘is past helping itself’ (1998:
251), is not alone in advocating such an unimaginative western-centric
view. If there is an alternative, one has to ask if it is possible for
Cambodians to construct a modern, or post-modern, polity that does
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culture, where the institutions of governance have legitimacy with the
people. Heine-Geldern (1956: 16) rhetorically asked the impossible in
the mid-1950s: whether there was any possibility of indigenous
moral-cosmological conceptions ‘becoming the basis of future
constructive developments’. Practically, he called for a better
‘compromise between old and new conceptions (where) the outward
expressions of the old ideas could easily be kept in tact and gradually
filled with new meaning without in the least impairing educational and
material progress’ (ibid.). Are there any international precedents?
Among the Eastern European countries since the collapse of communism,
only in Poland can we point to a Catholic communitas that is to a degree
represented in the governing structure; as such, the country has become
a thorn in a secular-liberal European Union in search of a moral
compass capable of listening to its grassroots. In North America, we find
a stronger example in the experience since the 1970s of tribes and first
peoples rebuilding institutions of their own design, frequently
bypassing the conventional treaty process established by the US
government and Canada. While this exercise in genuine nation-building
and indigenous governance has a common key in a return to culture and
tradition, and is not as a rule accompanied by a written constitution
(but reliance on the institution of a council of elders), individual
native nations have been creatively dealing with the process in ways
unique to them.51 In Africa, we have the largely (nonfundamentalist)
Muslim country of Mali, which divested itself of a vaguely
Marxist-Leninist dictator in 1990. She has since developed a fledgling
democracy whose most striking feature, apart from discretely bypassing
French tutelage, ‘is its success in drawing [an unchauvinistic]
intellectual and spiritual sustenance from an epic past, and actively
incorporating homegrown elements, such as decentralization’ (Pringle
2006: 39). These cursory examples suggest successful adaptations of the
concept of allotropism I have invoked to describe the constancy of
indigenous cultural underpinnings, or structures of consciousness,
uneasily coexisting in more or less artificial modern state structures.
In the case of Cambodia, Népote (1979: 784f.) held that a ‘harmonious
complementarity’ between the ‘indigenous-traditional’ and
‘foreign-modern’ developed in the first half of the twentieth century
under, ironically, French protection. This ostensibly healthy
allotropism was broken in mid-century, he argues, as political society
bifurcated into modernizing national elites entrusted with power and a
powerless conservative populace buffeted and manipulated by, and
ineffectually resisting, change.52 The process that led to the two forms
of post-war allotropism discussed in the essay – the Sangkum (1955–1970)
and CPP (1993-present) periods – hints at a pattern. From 1) tumult
(World War II/the anti-colonial struggle and the Khmer Rouge period) to
peace in the form of 2) liberal democracy directly or indirectly imposed
by an outside power, which is followed by 3) an authoritarian
self-correction. The elemental representation of 2, bereft of
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and lead to 3. In both instances, the self-corrections were motivated by
the disintegrative effects of a perceived Cambodian factionalism
masquerading as a multiparty system unequipped to govern based on
power-sharing arrangements, including implied acceptance of the concept
of legitimate opposition, while also cut off or alienated in palpable
ways from the basic symbols of Cambodia’s political culture.53 One
difference from the immediate post-war period is that while multiparty
democracy had a chance to unfold in the late 1940s and early 1950s
before its replacement by the personal rule of the (abdicated) monarch,
the same process was stopped in its tracks when the CPP balked at the
1993 elections results and refused to cede power, regaining undisputed
control after the 1997 coup. A more critical difference is that in place
of a perceived legitimate monarch filling the political void in 1955, a
reorganized postcommunist power elite lacking legitimate authority filled
the same void in 1997. The legerdemain of the monarch in creating a
quasi-traditional polity wrapped in modern language symbols was replaced
by the legerdemain of an ex-communist strongman wrapping himself in
legitimizing royal and religious symbols to create, in this case, a new
type of allotropic polity: a Sangkum shorn of legitimacy wherein the
monarchy, Sangha, and people have been used less to buttress national
ideology or development goals than power and its perquisites for their
own sake. While criticized by his political opponents on the left and
right and by western observers for having quashed liberal democracy
through the personalization of power, Prince Sihanouk’s version of
Cambodian allotropism nonetheless passed the test of existential
representation more than the marred parliamentary system it replaced and
the regimes that have followed. As such, the Sangkum as a model is
deserving of further study by a political science capable of coming to
grips with the ‘severe disadvantages of a political system that used
western forms without the support of any political traditions that could
easily accommodate themselves to the practices and institutions of the
West’ (Osborne 1973: 114). Such an avenue of research could map out, as
in Kershaw’s (2001: 6) study of monarchy in Southeast Asia, the
dimensions of ‘synthetic institutional asset’ and ‘authentic traditional
values’ where the latter is seen, as in this essay, both in terms of an
‘authentic reality’ experienced by the people and a ‘doctrine’
manipulated by modern elites for legitimizing purposes. I have tried to
demostrate that allotropism as a conceptual tool in the context of a
political theory where symbols in theory correspond to symbols of
reality may be one framework through which the problem of social and
political order in Cambodia can be re-examined. Such a project is likely
to reveal that for an allotropism to be workable, a political regime
and its institutions be authentically invested with that quality of
‘givenness’ that Geertz associated with primordiality (in Keyes et al.
1994: 5). In this context, the cultural gestalt of a so-called
traditional polity may also be explored, heuristically or otherwise, by a
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the problem of western (and westernizing) societies bereft of community
in the ontological sense, that is, of people participating in a system
of meaning informed by principles of order whose source lies outside
intramundane time. For individuals and communities will invariably
continue to strive, pace Max Weber, to enter that magic garden where the
relation between the world as it is culturally experienced and
politically conceived actually coincides.

Notes 1 In revising this essay, I wish to thank Ian Harris, Peter J.
Optiz, and Frank E. Reynolds for their obliging and helpful comments. 2
In a volume on ‘political legitimacy in Southeast Asia’ (Alagappa 1995),
there was apparently no-one qualified or interested in covering
Cambodia. 3 For an excellent, culturally sensitive compendium of
articles on social aspects of Buddhism and religion in Cambodia, written
by humanities scholars who began specializing on Cambodia in the 1990s,
see Marston and Guthrie 2004. 4 In a similar vein, Geertz (2000: xii),
as a critical cultural anthropologist, acknowledged a debt to
Wittgenstein’s notion of ‘ “forms of life” ’ as ‘the complex of natural
and cultural circumstances which are presupposed in . . . any particular
understanding of the world . . .’ 5 Kapferer (1988) provides related
insights on the usefulness of an ontological approach in his
understanding of the cosmic logic of Sinhalese Buddhist myths, legends,
and rites as an ontology explicating ‘the fundamental principles of a
being in the world and the orientation of such a being toward the
horizons of its experience’ (p. 79). Ontology here defined is not a
‘property of the psyche independent of history’, but a dynamic process
‘of the constitution of form or being-in-existence’ in time and space, a
conception and approach that is neither essentialist or psychologistic
(p. xix). I thank George Schöpflin for bringing this source to my
attention, and Barry Cooper for having read the first two sections of
this paper. 6 Schaar (1984: 106) maintains that contemporary social
science has even ‘failed to appreciate the precariousness of legitimate
authority in the modern states because it is largely a product of the
same phenomena it seeks to describe and therefore suffers the blindness
of the eye examining itself’. 7 I define ‘modernity’ in generally
sceptical terms, with Taylor (2004: 1), as ‘that historically
unprecedented amalgam of new practices and institutions (science,
technology, industrial production, urbanization), of new ways of living
(individualism, secularization, instrumental rationality); and new forms
of malaise (alienation, meaninglessness, a sense of impending social
dissolution).’ 8 He demonstrated, referring to the Angkorian and
pre-Angkorian eras, how the influx of Indic culture (Brahmanism,
Buddhism, Indian mores and customs) retreated into local cultural
statements, fitting one way or another into new contexts by the
‘something else’ in the local cultures responsible for the localizing
process. In architecture, the classic example of how Indic foreign
materials were absorbed and retreated into local cultural statements
are, of course, the striking temples of Angkor Wat. 9 Those specialists
are invited to skip this section of the paper (to p. 79) or correct
shortcomings of my condensed interpretation. 10 Although the cosmic city
in its Angkorian architectural manifestation assumed the square form,
the idea of the circular form of the Hindu and Buddhist cosmologies
nonetheless holds (Heine-Geldern 1956: 4, n.3).

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11 In classical Cambodia, Heine-Geldern (1956: 10) points out that the
temple and not royal place formed the centre of the capital, and thus
the Mount Meru of city and empire. In Theravada Cambodia, the royal
palace assumed this function (Népote 1990: 100–107). 12 Both Kulke
(1978), an Indologist relying on epigraphic evidence, and Pou (1998), a
Khmerologist using a socio-linguistic approach to epigraphy, question
earlier held assumptions by Coedès (1968) and others about the divine
nature of Angkorian kings. They have demonstrated that the god (S´ iva)
was lord of the universe/ cosmos, sovereign over the king, who was lord
of the earth, ‘each one responsible for the sphere he managed, in a
perfect macro-microcosmic system, thus standing as the main pillars of a
[Hindic] dharma-ruled world’ (Pou 1998: 2). 13 Harris (2005: 26–28)
urges caution in characterizing Theravada Buddhism as a grassroots
movement ‘spread through a previously neglected rural environment’. 14
Collins, S. (1998: 474), while not questioning the symbiosis between the
monarchy and Sangha implied here, questions whether the wheels of the
Buddha and cakkavattin are parallel in that it ‘misses much of the
tension and competition’ between the ‘ideological (sic) power’ of the
monastic order and the ‘political-military power’ of the kings, whose
rule was not infrequently accompanied by the use of force. 15 For a
mid-1950s description of such an informal village headman election in
Cambodia, see Zadrozny (1955: 310–311). For the cakkavattin and
Maha¯sammata as sources of ‘mimetic empowerment’, see Swearer (1995:
72–91). 16 See, passim, the Chroniques Royales du Cambodge, 3 vols,
redacted and translaed by Mak Phoeun (1981 and 1984) and Khin Sok (1988)
published by the École Française d’Extrême-Orient (Paris). 17 For the
moral ambiguity of a Buddhist ruler, enjoined to ‘renounce the world’,
to either embrace an ethic of absolute values or adopt an ethics of
reciprocity, ‘in which the assessment of violence is context-dependent
and negotiable’, see Collins, S. (1998: 419–23) and passim, ch.6. 18 cf.
Bizot (1976: Introduction). The sources of healing power, for example,
of traditional Khmer healers (kruu), who inhabit all villages and whose
power lies outside the Buddhist wat, are drawn on the one hand from
orthodox Buddhist doctrine and cosmology and, on the other, from older
Brahmanic, Vedic (including Ayurvedic healing rituals) and Tantric
influences merged into local folk customs (Eisenbruch 1992: 290, 309).
Unlike western medical practice, traditional healers are not concerned
solely with the patient or the patient’s ailment in isolation, but with
the ritual space of the community and, by extension, the three worlds of
humans, deities (above), and demons (below) that constitute the
cosmological structure of being: ‘The kruu makes no distinction between
what has to do with the patient and the what has to do with the society.
The ritual work of the kruu aims at restoring the relative order and
harmony of these two axes’ (ibid.: 312, cf. 289–90). 19 In an earlier
work, Tambiah (1970: 263) described the relationship of spirit cults to
Buddhism as ‘not simple but complex, involving opposition,
complementarity, linkage, and hierarchy.’ For a royal reconstruction of
Buddhist, Brahmanic, and local supernatural rituals in the Khmer lunar
calendar devised by the ‘renaissance’ King Ang Duong (1847–60), see Yang
(1990: 75–81); cp. Chandler (1983). 20 Ironically, while republican
France chose to retain the institutions of the monarchy and Sangha in
Cambodia and Laos, the British imperial monarchy dealt fatal blows to
the Buddhist kingships, while simultaneously endeavouring to
disestablish Buddhism, in Burma and Sri Lanka. 21 The sense of
quiescence suggested here is belied by what Népote (1984: 89–91) refers
to as administrative and other reforms undertaken taken by Khmer rulers

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22

23 24

25

26 27

28

29

from the late eighteenth century, with King Ang Eng, through the reign
of King Monivong, principally in reaction to the Siamese and Vietnamese
intrusions and the French occupation. These initiatives, which drew on a
long pattern of earlier cultural exchanges within the region, were
tantamount to a localized ‘modern redefinition of Cambodian society’ that
served to prepare the country to deal with the modern (in the western
sense) world. These dynastic reforms, including and especially those of
King Ang Duang from 1847 to 1860 as well as King Norodom in the last
twenty years of his reign, were enacted in the context of the old
symbolisms. Mention of King Norodom’s four requirements of traditional
learning, Buddhist and non-Buddhist, for service in the court, as
uttered upon rejecting a job applicant in 1895, is cited in Osborne
(1969: 242, 345 n.1). Leclère’s lengthy turn-of-the-century account of
Buddhism in Cambodia (1899a), based on informal field observations and
interviews among learned Buddhist informants, is couched in Buddhist and
non-Buddhist cosmological, including cosmogonic, language. Regarding
Khmer cosmogony, see Bizot (1980) for an explication of a Buddhist
origin myth and initiation rite. For the Brahmanic influence on Khmer
administrative law, see Leclère 1899b. For a lucid commentary of Indic
law and its animating idea, dharma, as diffused in Southeast Asia, see
Geertz (1973: 195–207). Unlike in Vietnam (and post-1993 Cambodia), the
introduction of private property into Cambodia did not lead to the
creation of a rich landholding class (cf. Delvert: 1961: 488f.).
Similarly, the introduction of the purely administrative khum did not
become a frame of reference among the people that the more
mythically-laden terms phum (village) and srok (country, district)
retain to this day. By contrast, the French succeeded in eliminating
Vietnam’s Confucian-based education system, especially in the southern
provinces of Cochin-China, by the first decade of the twentieth century.
Gour (1965: 65) states that ‘the political parties . . . did not
represent more than a surface agitation, having no rapport whatsoever
with the public opinion of the masses (who were very sensitive to
insecurity). They did not reflect in anything the profound desires of the
Khmer people with whom they were not in direct contact.’ The savvy 1946
election strategy employed, in an instrumentalist sense, by the
Democrat Party in the provinces was to recruit achars, influential lay
elders presiding over the practical affairs of Buddhist wats, ‘whose
election represented, on the part of the electors, more a traditional
social and religious reaction than a real political choice consciously
favoring the program of the Democrats’ (ibid.: n.2). The term men is a
Khmer vernacular variant of ‘Meru’. The peoples’ congresses held on the
Ground, which was also ritually used as the royal cremation site and for
ploughing the sacred furrow (cf. infra, n. 27), were a ‘theatre’ of
democratic political participation. In his pragmatic openness if not
zeal to modernize, Sihanouk, perhaps also pressured by the new governing
elite sensitive to international expectations, gradually stripped the
Sangha of its control over primary education. Through the power of his
royal anointing (apisek) of the Ground, where he places the earth in
relation with the cosmos, the king derives legitimacy in the Khmer
mentality from his power to give fertility to the soil (written
communication by François Ponchaud). Heder (2002) claims that no
election in Cambodia since 1947 had been lost by the party or power in
control of the state apparatus. He states that the French, who still
held the reins of administration in 1947 Cambodia, facilitated the
Democrat Party’s victory (p. 2). That said, there was no need for
Sihanouk to rig elections held during the Sangkum years. For accounts
highlighting nefarious aspects of Sihanouk’s character and rule, cf.
Chandler (1991) and Osborne (1994).

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30 Sihanouk maintains the relatively insignificant Khmer Rouge joined his
royalist liberation movement, not vice-versa, before gaining the
strength to co-opt it. 31 The ousted monarchy had left a force of 34,000
marginally combat ready and equipped men, about one-half the number of
registered monks and novices in 1969. By mid-1972, there were 200,000
men in arms. 32 Broad-based appeals to nationalism were ineffective as
this new credo did not extend beyond the small intellectual urban class.
‘Chauvinistic appeals to the preservation of Khmer “race” or “blood”’,
while launched by Sihanouk and fully exploited in the 1970s by coup
leader Lon Nol and the Khmer Rouge leadership, ‘failed to transcend the
educated class. The related manipulation of the image of the “hereditary
foe,” the Vietnamese, also failed to produce spontaneous action or
commitment’ (Thion 1993: 127). 33 Serge Thion, a secondary school
teacher in Cambodia in the late 1960s, was a Le Monde correspondent
‘embedded’ with the Khmer Rouge in 1972, the only western observer to
have visited a Khmer Rouge zone and survived before their victory in
1975. 34 For more on the Khmer Rouge ‘tendency to reconfigure and
reemploy Buddhist symbolism and modes of thought’ (Harris 2005: 184),
cf. ibid.: 181–89. 35 Since 1989, the number of officially registered
monks increased from some 6,000–8,000 to more than 60,000 today. There
were 65,000 monks and novices residing in 3,369 registered wats in 1969,
when the population of Cambodia was approximately seven million. The
current number of monks reside in just over 4,000 wats in a country
whose population has surpassed 14 million. Although the number of monks
today represents a decline relative to the population, it attests, given
the circumstances, to the ongoing vibrancy of Buddhism as a force in
Cambodian society. 36 A French acronym for Front Uni National pour un
Cambodge Indépendent, Neutre, Pacifique et Coopératif. 37 On election day
in Battambang’s Maung Russey district, I witnessed inside a large,
earthen floor schoolroom serving as the polling place a portly yay
(grandmother) squinting her eyes while turning a confusing election
ballot paper, utter in a clear, disarmingly perplexed voice for all to
hear, ‘Samdech niw ay nah?’ (where is the Lord Prince, that is, ‘King’
Sihanouk). That, for most Khmers, seemed to capture the election moment.
38 The Khmer Rouge withdrew from the Paris peace process in 1992 to
resume its struggle until running out of steam, including and especially
through defections of leaders to the government, by 1998, the year Pol
Pot died. 39 Lao Mong (2002), taking issue with Sihanouk’s lame
responses to pleas over the years to be a more active monarch, gives the
prerogatives and powers of the king in the constitution a more muscular
interpretation. 40 For an account of post-election mass demonstrations,
confined for the most part to Phnom Penh, led by monks and students that
turned violent in AugustSeptember 1998, see Harris (2005: 216–19). Hun
Sen the populist has been a regular feature in the Khmer media
criticizing or haranguing the government and its corrupt ways (one
source has described the regime as an ‘authoritarian kleptocracy’) in
language that may not be entirely duplicitous. 41 In 1971, a youthful
Hun Sen joined the Khmer Rouge in response to America’s saturation
bombing campaign, rising to the level of commander until his defection
to Vietnam in 1977 and return behind Vietnamese forces in January 1979
(Kiernan 1996: 370–71). He has ruled Cambodia since the early 1980s. 42
On October 4, 2003, while watching the national television channel over
steamed chicken and rice in a restaurant a few blocks from the royal
palace, I witnessed in real time the king’s swearing in after a long
political standoff of the new national

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43

44

45

46 47

48

49

assembly members. In a ritual known as bhı.k tı.k sampath (drinking the
water of the oath), traceable to the reign of Su¯ryavarman I (1002 to
1050 AD), all leading politicians including the premier, Hun Sen,
attired in chaang kben´ , a white jacket over a royal red silk kilt
passed back between the legs and tied in the small of the back, one by
one prostrated themselves before the king and then the two Buddhist
supreme patriarchs before drinking a vial of lustral water sacralized
and administered by the baku priests. Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong
administered the loyalty oath (to the ‘nation’), which the responding
parliamentarians chanted in unison. (Re the water oath, cf. Hansen 2004:
45–46) For years prior to this surprise move, the CPP had impeded
Sihanouk’s proposal for enabling legislation governing the role of the
Crown Council, the organ constitutionally responsible for electing a new
king within seven days of the death of the king. The CPP, it was
commonly known, held a majority of the votes on the Council, including
the Buddhist Mohanikay order’s Supreme Patriarch (sanghareach), Tep
Vong. Bektimirova (2003) reports that while the official number of monks
in the mid1980s was set at 6,000, there were nearly twice as many
non-registered, or illegal, monks – approximately 11,000 – most
presumably males under the legal age limit of fifty for ordination.
William Collins, a cultural anthropologist who conducted field work with a
team of Khmer researchers in Battambang and Siemreap provinces in
1996–97, reported on the distinction made by informants, principally
those with ‘high levels of Buddhist learning’, between aanaa’cak (or
roat amnaac), referring to ‘government power’, and putthea’cak, or
‘Buddha power’. The distinction is not equivalent to the western
dichotomies of church and state or even sacred and profane, but
expresses, rather, a tension between ‘an external force that tries to
organize action and to enforce obedience to rules on the one hand, and
an internal force that gives rise to conduct and promotes adherence to
principles on the other hand’ (1998: 19–20). Personal communication from
Ven. Yos Hut (2003). Apart from my limited footnotes there are no
documented studies beyond patchy press and oral accounts of these
practices; as such, the scope and intensity of systematic political
intimidation of villagers through the wat structure since 1997 remains
plausible conjecture. While working with a dozen wat communities in two
districts of Battambang province during 1992–93, in the run-up to the
UNsponsored elections, I saw no evidence of the government party or any
political party setting up shop in a wat. By contrast, two days before
the national commune elections in February 2002, I by chance encountered
at Kandal province’s Tbeng commune, some forty kilometres southeast of
Phnom Penh, a not inconspicuous CPP pre-election meeting in a wat.
Officials had assembled at least twelve local authorities (along with four
district policemen, one armed) in a building marked with a large CPP
banner within a wat compound festooned with CPP banners, bunting, and
other festive decorations. Except for a small number of children, no
villagers or monks were within sight. If the myth of the modern state, a
universal Idea that Hegel reified in end-ofhistory terms as the last
word in political organization, has since the mid-twentieth century
waned in the western consciousness, the corollary myth of a commercially
grounded liberal pluralism, and its exportability, has not. In the wake
of America’s recent Cold War victory, history, in the otherwise
thoughtful neo-Hegelian terms of Fukuyama (1992), appeared to be
reaching its final synthesis, and the Idea was ‘post-historical’ liberal
democracy, the pluralist paradigm for state building. Referring to
Southeast Asia, Heine-Geldern (1956: 16) stated that a) for the ‘vast

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50

51

52

53

mass of the common people, grown up in the old traditions, . . . the
modern ideas of democracy and [elemental] representative institutions
mean little or nothing,’ and b), in what is now a prophetic statement
for Cambodia, that ‘a sudden complete break of cultural traditions has
almost always proved disastrous to national and individual ethics and to
the whole spirit of the peoples affected.’ Ponchaud (1990), a Catholic
missionary in Cambodia since the 1960s equipped with a keen
understanding of Khmer culture, offers an example of the below-theradar
durability, if recently shaken, of Cambodian culture. In a culture where
locals ascribe to the axiom that ‘to be Khmer is to be Buddhist’, he is
good naturedly non-plussed by the fact that, after 450 years of
evangelization, the Buddhist Khmers have with very few exceptions not
taken to Christianity – unlike larger or smaller segments among the
Vietnamese, Malaysians, and Koreans and, much earlier and as a special
case, the Tagalogs. (The jury is still out on a massive campaign since
the mid-1990s by American Protestant evangelicals to Christianize the
Khmers.) Sovereignty, or genuine participatory self-rule, has been the
starting point. According to Cornell and Kalt (1998: 205), ‘[t]he trick
is to invent governments that are capable of operating effectively in the
contemporary world, but that also match people’s ideas – traditional or
not – about what is appropriate and fair.’ It deserves to be noted, as
Népote (1979: 777) does, that the calamities that beset Cambodia since
mid-century did not ‘emanate from social classes that were the most
disfavored and/or remained closest to the traditional models (small
farmers, the religious elders, holders of traditional knowledge, etc . .
.), but rather those classes that were the most “evolved” . . .’ As
part of the rapid post-World War II modernization, the modern secular
education system introduced in the 1950s and 1960s led to what Népote
(1979: 784) called ‘the creation of an increasingly important nucleus of
“detribalized” young people who no longer recognized themselves in
their cultural context, their hierarchy, and their political symbolism.’
These disoriented, disenchanted, and for the most part unemployed neak
cheh-dung (‘capable-informed ones’) became what he called the ‘social
detonators’ of Cambodian society and politics as, together with their
younger teachers and mentors (many of them French gauchists doing
alternative military service as teachers), they attached themselves with
fervour, in many cases successively, to the rebellions that overthrew
the monarchy in 1970 and the republican regime in 1975 (Osborne 1973:
72, 92; Delvert 1979: 747). Those who came of age at that time and
survived are today in their political maturity, many as leaders of the
regime or the thirty-eight other parties that ran in the 2003 election.

103

6 THE CAMBODIAN HOSPITAL FOR MONKS John Marston 1

It is not unusual to find academic reference to the Christian roots of
such modern Western conceptions as individuality or rights, or the
Weberian thesis that the historical roots of capitalism lie in the
Protestant ethic. Nevertheless, one rarely finds references to links
between religion and the institutions of Western modernity in actual
practice. This is related to the fact, explored by Casanova (1994), that
in many Western countries modernization entailed the development of a
secular sphere, with religion increasingly defined as a “private” issue.
Civil society, by this logic, is by its very nature secular, as is the
modern nation-state. To this we may contrast Chatterjee’s description
(1986) of societies responding to colonialism, where there is often a
pattern of finding in spirituality a source of identity which allowed
them, while recognizing the power of Western science and technology, to
validate their own cultures as equal to that of the colonizers. In this
context the revitalization of religion, sometimes entailing its own
“modern” transformation, can be very much part of a modernizing process,
however ambiguous that modernization may be. My essay here examines the
project of the building of a hospital for monks in Cambodia at the
moment of the country’s independence. My interest in this topic, which
grows out of more general research on Cambodian religious building
projects, is the seeming incongruity of the combination of “traditional”
and “modern” elements. It is my hope that in this juncture of the
traditional and the modern we can find something significant about the
post-colonial project in Cambodia. The monks’ hospital was the
brainchild of a jurist named Khuon Nay, who in late 1949 established
what was called in French the “Societé d’Assistance Médicale aux
Religieux Bouddhique”, whose main goal was the creation of the hospital.
Khuon Nay had in 1946 been one of the founding members of the
Democratic Party,2 one of Cambodia’s first political parties and an
important political force in the years immediately prior to
independence; the Party was a strong advocate of nationalism and
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attracted key progressive members of the French-educated Cambodia’s
elite of the time. Cambodia had been encouraged by the Japanese to
declare its independence in March 1945; although within months Japan was
defeated and the French had officially returned as a colonial authority,
its position could never be quite the same. A new constitution called
for a national assembly and the creation of political parties, thus
authorizing the existence of the new Democratic Party. Its slogan, “Use
the Elite to Serve the King and the People” (Chandler 1991: 30) perhaps
captures some of the spirit that motivated the building of the hospital.
It is also significant that the Party had strong links to the leadership
of the Buddhist Sangha and actively drew on networks of lay Buddhist
leaders. Khuon Nay played a prominent role in Cambodian politics
precisely in the period of the Democratic Party’s efflorescence, serving
as the President of the High Council from 1948 to 1950 and president of
the National Assembly from 1951 until it was dissolved by King Sihanouk
in January 1953. During this period he also, at different times, headed
various ministries. As a prominent Democrat, Khuon Nay would have been
close to Suramarit, the king’s father and an advisor to the party. His
links to the royal family were also underlined by his marriage to
Princess Sisowath Soveth, the older half-sister of Sisowath Kossamak,
Suramarit’s wife and the king’s mother. The association in support of a
monks’ hospital was created precisely at the time that Khuon Nay was
conspicuously a public person, while Cambodia was still a colony of
France and Sihanouk was still king, a time of a flurry of political
activity anticipating independence. Actual construction began in
February 1953, soon after Sihanouk had dissolved parliament, and during
the month Sihanouk left for France to lobby for independence. By the
time the hospital was completed, in 1956, the country was independent
and Sihanouk had abdicated the throne to play a more active political
role, setting up a movement called the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, which
quickly overshadowed and replaced all other parties, including the
Democrats. Sihanouk’s father Suramarit became king and the hospital was
named after his queen, Preah Kossamak Hospital. Khuon Nay, by this time
65 years old, kept heading the organization that raised funds for and
administered the hospital, and was still living nineteen years later,
when the country fell to the Khmer Rouge.3 Why was the hospital built?
In the text of a speech dated 25 January 1950, Khuon Nay gives three
reasons. The first is the most poignant. He states that he began thinking
about the hospital: because I have been struck with great sorrow, the
sorrow of being separated from younger associates4 and friends who I
loved greatly with all my heart. Illness and death came to rob me of
them, causing me to grieve and feel great anguish. I would like to be
free from the whole cycle of lifetimes full of suffering. (Khuon 1950)5
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These are ideas basic to Buddhist philosophy and ground the hospital and
Khuon Nay’s personal involvement in it in a deeply Buddhist perspective
on life. Those hearing the speech would surely have been reminded that
only eleven days earlier Ieu Koeuss, a prominent Democrat and the
President of the National Assembly, had been assassinated – a death that
echoed the death, in 1947, of Prince Sisowath Yuthewong, the founder of
the Party, both of a generation younger than Khuon Nay. As a Cambodian
political figure, Khuon Nay already had reason to be reminded of the
transience of human endeavour. The other reasons stated were also based
on Buddhist teachings. He spoke of the great merit to be gained by the
gift of medicine, citing the case of the arahant Ba¯kula Thera living at
the time of the Buddha who, because of distributing medicine in a
previous lifetime, lived 160 years completely without illness; the
speech was, after all, designed to remind contributors that their
donations would generate great merit for themselves, and an expression
of Khuon Nay’s own aspirations to merit.6 Finally, Khuon Nay stated his
fear that monks and novices receiving health care in hospitals for the
general public, where they were under a single roof with women, were in
violation of the disciplinary rules of the Patimokkha. It should be
noted that it is far from clear that a monk staying in a hospital for
the general public would always be in violation of the Patimokkha;
nevertheless, a hospital exclusively for monks would have facilitated
the maintenance of monkly routine and discipline during periods of
hospitalization. One of the advantages of the hospital was that it
included a small preah vihear (the central ritual building of a
Cambodian monastery or wat) consecrated with ritual boundary stones
(sı¯ma¯ ). This meant that the hospital and its grounds could function
officially as a wat, and that monks could legitimately stay there the
length of a rainy season retreat. It also meant that it could
legitimately be the destination of a kathin ceremony, the annual
ceremony whereby monks’ robes and other donations are brought in
procession to a wat. Khuon Nay’s 1950 speech, emphasizing Buddhist
principles, did not bring out the aspects of the hospital which were
innovative: 1) the fact that, like any modern hospital, it entailed
systematization of health care on a large scale, with the assumption
that this kind of systematization could and should be extended to the
monkhood; 2) similarly, the fact that the hospital project implicitly
affirmed that the tradition of the monkhood could and should interface
with modern technologies of medicine; 3) finally, the fact that the
hospital project was consciously national in scale. The hospital did not
fall under the purview of either of the two monastic orders, the
Mohanikay or the Thommayut, but involved the cooperation of both under
an administrative committee with the symbolic patronage of the king.
From the beginning, the project was conceived as connected to the king
and the royal family, while, to the extent that it relied on
contributions by the mass of the Cambodian population, it also had a
populist dimension. 106

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The very creation of a formal organization is significant in a society
that had only recently begun generating social groupings which fell in
the middle ground between those of the royal government and the type of
local organization which served a wat or a village. (Although a Buddhist
Association and various secular organizations were formed in the late
1930s, Cambodia never developed anything remotely comparable to the YMBA
in Burma [Edwards 1999, 2004].) Khuon Nay’s association was to this
extent part of a movement in the direction of “civil society” – although
it is significant that the organization existed “under the high
patronage of the king”, as well as the fact that its goals and principal
activities could be compared to the more ad hoc community-level groups
that are formed to organize kathin ceremonies.7 The Societé d’Assistance
Médicale aux Religieux Bouddhique was officially registered, with its
rules and regulations published in both Khmer and French. At the
inauguration of the hospital, Khuon Nay stated that its cost had
totalled 12 million riel. Of this 3.5 million had come from “the
Cambodian people”, 6.5 million had come from the government, and 2
million from foreign aid (Kambuja¯ Suriya¯ 1956a: 390). Foreign aid
included, from France, the donation of some equipment and the supply of
medical personnel, but consisted in large part of the donation of
medical equipment by the United States, eager to bring the newly
independent country into its sphere of influence (Agence Khmer Presse
1956). One of the earliest fundraising activities took place in October
1952, when two relics from India, one of the Buddha and one of the
arahant Mogallana, were brought to Cambodia, paraded through Phnom Penh
with great pomp and ceremony, and displayed for one week at the preah
vihear on the grounds of the Royal Palace. At this time, “tens and
hundreds of thousands” viewed the relic, and monks, ministers of the
government, and the general Buddhist public made offerings totalling
1,667,300 riel. Of this, 900,000 were to go towards the monks’ hospital
and 200,000 were to go towards the construction of a stupa in front of
the railway station designed to contain a Buddha relic (sakyamunichediy)
(Ja¯ Ga¯n and Un’ Sou 2000; Institute Bouddhique 2001: x, xi). Whatever
else the building of the hospital may have been, it was a very public
event, if only because Khuon Nay had sufficient public profile to make it
so. Early on the campaign to build the hospital was endorsed by the
National Assembly. Its fundraising campaigns, the beginning of
construction, and the inauguration of the hospital are recorded in Khmer
and French-language newspapers and news service reports, and the latter
in articles in the most prestigious journal of Cambodian culture of the
time, Kambuja¯ Suriya¯. As such, it coincides with a handful of other
events that focused public attention on the role of Buddhism at the
moment of independence: the establishment of a Buddhist University in
1954 (Sam 1987: 26); the publication of a 107

JOHN MARSTON

fifty-volume Khmer translation of the Buddhist scriptures (the
culmination of a project begun in 1930) (Institut Bouddhique 2001: 218),
and the building of the Sakyamunichedi in front of the railway station
to house a Buddha relic. The latter two events, in particular, occurred
in 1957, which in Cambodia was the year 2500 of the Buddhist calendar.
Since Buddhist scriptures are popularly interpreted to say that the
Buddha of the future, or the Maitreya, will arrive 5,000 years after
Gautama Buddha entered nirvana, the year 2500, as the half-way mark,
known as the Buddha Jayanti, was considered especially auspicious. This
auspiciousness was accentuated by the fact that four Theravada Buddhist
countries, including Cambodia, had recently achieved independence.
Probably the momentum of the occasion initially generated the Sixth
Buddhist Council in Rangoon, a two-year event which was timed to end on
the occasion of the Buddha Jayanti as celebrated in Burma, in 1956. Both
Sihanouk and Chuon Nath, Cambodia’s most senior monk, visited Burma at
the time of the Council. There was a sense of the dawn of a new Buddhist
era. One of the key books published on the occasion of the celebrations
in India stated, “It is believed that this anniversary will bring about
a great revival of Buddhism and universal peace throughout the world”
(Bapat 1956: 53–54). Sarkisyanz quotes a prominent Burmese editor
telling him, in 1952, that, “. . . there is some belief even here that
the 2500th anniversary of the Mahaparinibbana of the Buddha will mark a
great Revival of Buddhism and there is some feeling that the ‘Golden
Age’ for which all men long, may dawn with this” (1965: 207). This new
era was symbolized, among other things, by the fact that relics of the
Buddha that had been in British possession were being returned to
Buddhist countries, such as the one designated for the new
Sakyamunichedi. The introduction to a book published by the Cambodian
Buddhist Institute on the occasion of the 2500  celebrations even
suggested that Sihanouk fulfilled the role of the prophesied Preah Pat
Dhammik (Institut Bouddhique 2001: v).8 In each of the four newly
independent Theravada countries, the coincidence of independence and a
new Buddhist era meant the emergence of movements to involve Buddhism in
social agendas (Gombrich 1988; Sarkisyanz 1965; Stuart-Fox and Bucknell
1982). This was also true in India, where Dr Ambedkar used the occasion
of 2500  (celebrated in India in 1956) to organize the ritual
conversion to Buddhism of thousands of members of the untouchable caste.
Celebrations in Thailand included the release of political prisoners;
Reynolds notes that “the occasion also gave progressive activists and
writers an opportunity to celebrate May Day 1957 and nudge history
forward” (Reynolds 1987: 34). Earlier in the year a leftist party had
also been founded in Burma, named after the future Buddha Maitreya
(Sarkisyanz 1965: 207). The 2500  celebrations in Cambodia, focused
especially on the installation of the Buddha relic in the new
Sakyamunichedi, were organized on a 108

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grand scale, bringing together thousands of monks and lay people and
deeply capturing the imagination of the public. Unlike other relics in
Cambodia, this was not associated with a specific wat, but a central
public place in the capital of the new nation.9 The festivities were
doubtless the most massive celebration to that date of what was being
defined as the spirit of the new country, at this moment dramatically
celebrated as a Buddhist country.10 It is not surprising that, on the
agenda for visiting Buddhist dignitaries were tours of the one-year-old
monks’ hospital. The preface to a book published by the Buddhist
Institute on the occasion of the 2500  celebrations starts with a
reference to the Buddha which emphasizes his healing characteristics:
The Buddha is a vecchea kru (a doctor/teacher over doctors) in the
world. He has provided remedy: the moral philosophy which christened the
humans of the world, suffering from disease of the heart and soul (khang
pleu chitt), the defilement of desire (tanha) – and provided cure, in
accordance with his vocation, before entering nirvana. There remains
only Buddhism – as a teacher instead of the actual Buddha – up until the
present time. (Institut Bouddhique 2001: I) Later in the preface there
is an extended discussion of how events taking place in Cambodia, and
the 2500  celebrations, relate to a prophetic text, the Puttumneay,
and it is striking how this is interpreted specifically in medical
terms.11 Whoever is able to live at the halfway point of the religion
and has fulfilled the injunctions of dharma on three points – 1) by not
threatening his/her father or mother, and thus destroying the Buddha, 2)
by not stealing the possessions of others, 3) by never killing or
destroying life – this person will have great well-being, for there is
the prophecy that, in the future, a golden mountain and a mountain of
silver, crystal, bracelets of cat’s eye gems, and sourikan will arise,
and among all humans there will be no more diseases. When it is time to
die, death will come at the end of one’s life. Does this mean that, in
the near future, this will really occur in our Cambodia? Because we have
seen some of this dimly starting at the present time – namely that in
our country, the two-year projects for dike construction, both general
projects and those for the pier at the ocean-front in Kampong Som – all
could be regarded as mountains of gold and silver for all Cambodians.
One should note that all these dikes can permit Khmers to farm rice
during two seasons in one year, and that the planting of crops will
generate increases, and the production that will be born from the Khmer
earth (preah thorani) will be carried by 109

JOHN MARSTON

way of the ports of the Khmer fleet to be sold in world markets, bringing
gold and silver to Cambodia to the extent of meeting the heart’s desire
of the Cambodian people. Not only that, Khmer health organizations have
received great amounts of aid in the form of effective remedies from the
health organizations of the world, in order to do away with the
diseases of the people, and can relieve the disease which our nation has
believed cannot be cured. We see that the truth appears little by
little in sequence; one should regard it indeed as the truth. (Institut
Bouddhique 2001: vi) I have found no concrete evidence that the building
of the monks’ hospital was planned to coincide with the Buddha Jayanti,
but the implications of passages like this, and the fact that Buddha
relics were used to raised funds for it, is suggestive. What is clear is
that, at this particular historical moment, the hospital was used as
evidence that Cambodia was a Buddhist nation and a distinguished if not
even auspiciously marked member of the community of Buddhist nations. A
sermon given on the one-year anniversary of the hospital emphasizes this
point: [The association was formed] in order to build a separate
hospital for monks in a way that was appropriate to the honor of a
Buddhist country . . . And this hospital for Buddhist monks, precisely
in the form you see here, was born out of the spirit of compassion of
benefactors, both from among the monkhood and the lay community, from
the entire kingdom, demonstrating that our Cambodia has a generous heart
well-filled with dhamma in Buddhism, flowing with willingness (satthea)
to generate the signs of dhamma, such that it may be seen clearly that
it is no less than any other Buddhist country. (Pang Ka¯t’ 1957: 6) The
movement to build the monks’ hospital reflected a particular strand of
Cambodian Buddhism. Since the 1920s, there had been a major division
within the Mohanikay Order between traditionalists (the ancient or boran
tradition) and reformists. The latter were at the time called
Dhammakay, a term which emphasized the degree to which they drew on
elements from the Thommayut as well as the Mohanikay tradition; at the
present time, the reform movement is generally simply remembered as the
“modern” or samey practice (Marston 2002). The reform movement is most
commonly associated with two scholar monks, Huot Tat and Chuon Nath, who
rose to greater and greater prominence within the Cambodian monkhood
(Edwards 2004; Hansen 2004). At 110

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the time of independence, Huot Tat was the head of the Pali school and
Chuon Nath was the Mahanikay patriarch. Chuon Nath, in particular, is
enshrined in Cambodian national consciousness as the icon of the great
monk, an image that probably has less to do with awareness of his
contributions as a scholar or a reformer than the fact that his
prominence crystallized at the moment of independence. (Many wats at the
present time which consider themselves “traditionalist”, and thus
theoretically in opposition to the reforms that Chuon Nath promoted,
still display his picture prominently.) One should keep in mind that
many of the reforms promoted by Chuon Nath and Huot Tat now seem
somewhat arbitrary, and they were important not so much because they
were truly more faithful to Buddhist principles, as they claimed, or
because they were inherently “modern” in any absolute sense, as because
they came to define what at that moment was considered modern in
Cambodian Buddhism. They thereby in effect demarked categories within
Cambodian Buddhism, giving direction both to those who supported them
and those who opposed them. Sources of tension between traditionalists
and modernists had to do with the pronunciation of chants, the details
of rituals, and ways of wearing robes. More profoundly, perhaps, they
had to do with modes of instruction for monks – whether that of a
disciple at the feet of a master or students seated at desks in a modern
classroom, and the principle of whether Pali chants should be learned
by rote and recited in the original language, or, instead, there should
be systematic instruction in Pali and translation into Khmer. Reformists
were devoted to the principle that the textual tradition of the
Buddhist scriptures should provide the basis for all practice and tended
to reject texts and rituals that had no clear scriptural foundation.
They believed that, by eliminating extraneous non-scriptural elements,
one could arrive at a form of Buddhism consistent with modern science
and technology. The Buddhism of the reformists was also one that
interfaced well with colonial administrative structures – and a locus of
opposition among traditionalists was that it was associated too much
with the French. We might add that the vision of Buddhism promoted by
the modernists was one that could easily interface with the Buddhism of
other countries, some of which were undergoing similar reforms. The
prominent public events associated with Buddhism which took place near
the time of Cambodian independence were all very much projects promoted
by Chuon Nath and associated with his vision of Buddhism. This is
especially obvious in the case of the creation of the Buddhist
University and the publication of the Khmer version of the Tripitaka.
While to a Western observer, the enshrinement of a Buddha relic seems
less “modern”, it was also a project enthusiastically promoted by Chuon
Nath and was in its own way a product of his vision: in sharing the body
of the Buddha, Cambodia demonstrated that it was an integral part of
the body of international Buddhism. 111

JOHN MARSTON

I see the monks’ hospital as intimately associated with this strand of
reformist Buddhism. Chuon Nath was one of the figures closely identified
with the project from the beginning and may have been the person to
originally give the idea circulation in Cambodia. In a 1950 speech he
mentions having seen a hospital for monks in Laos and praised it upon
returning to Cambodia. The idea of a hospital for monks suggests a
vision of Buddhism consistent with science and technology and which, in
more general terms, was not afraid of innovation. It also represented a
vision of Buddhism operating on a national level and in a strong degree
consistent with the systematization of the monkhood as an institution.
It was a symbol of Cambodian Buddhism that could be represented to the
larger Buddhist world, even, perhaps, something that other Buddhist
countries could look to as a model. Khuon Nay’s emphasis that the monks’
hospital would help make the disciplinary practice of monks consistent
with Buddhist scriptures is also very typical of the reformist way of
looking at Buddhism, which gave stress to scriptural validity over
tradition. Pamphlets with the articles of incorporation of the Societé
d’Assistance Médicale aux Religieux Bouddhiques were published in 1950
and 1954, apparently for fundraising purposes. The covers of the Khmer
versions of the pamphlets had illustrations of the planned hospital. The
1950 picture, drawn before construction had actually begun, was an
idealized building in a classical European style, vaguely antiquated,
with its Greek columns in front of a box-like three-storey building with
curtained windows; a pair of monks standing in discussion in front of
the building convey an iconic, school-book quality. Perhaps the most
Cambodian element of the building is a pyramid-like pointed roof rising
above the box-like structure, pinnacled with a small turret. The 1954
picture, published when the building was actually under construction
(and during the year Cambodia achieved independence), resembles the final
building and was probably based on the architect’s drawings. The
building is bigger and more self-consciously modern in design – even,
perhaps, “heroically” modern. A flag now appears conspicuously on the
roof of the hospital. The artist no longer thought to include pictures
of monks on the grounds; the picture to that extent is less human in
scale. The religious element of the hospital is instead depicted by an
angel-like male deity (devata) in royal garb who hovers over the
hospital at the pinnacle of a rainbow. From his hands fall written Khmer
syllables which with difficulty can be seen to fit together in expressions
of blessing: “May you have no disease, no suffering, and be happy”;
“Long life, good complexion, happiness, strength . . .”12 The sequence
of the two pictures suggests that the hospital was conceived more and
more in terms of a heroic modernity; even so, that modernity was
consciously linked to spirituality. On the occasion of the inauguration
of the hospital, the Minister of Public Works, Meas Yang, made the very
measured statement that, “This 112

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handiwork, added to many other handiworks completed since the Khmer
people have achieved independence, proves clearly our value and
demonstrates once again that our country has indeed entered a new era”
(Kambuja¯ Suriya¯ 1956b: 493–494). One should not exaggerate the
modernity of the building in architectural terms. It was not in the same
category as what would be called the New Khmer Architecture, which
flourished soon after this, and was closely associated with the work of
the architect Vann Molyvann, who would combine with great sophistication
a modernist aesthetic with motifs from ancient Khmer architecture; the
hospital was a much more modest project.13 What it had in common with
the New Khmer Architecture was that it was an imposing new building in a
heretofore undeveloped part of the city, which seemed to capture the
momentum of the construction of the newly independent country. Some of
the later buildings associated with the Sihanouk period would be in the
vicinity of the hospital. A 1967 article in French, quoted by Sihanouk
in 1969, lists the hospital as one of the glorious buildings lining the
road from the airport to the centre of town. The traveler, pressed for
time, must think that this concentration of beautiful edifices is nothing
but a façade, and that it provides an imaginary view of what is inside
the wrapping paper. But that is nothing of the case, because one
observes after a short time that the whole capital reflects the same
concern for beauty and equilibrium. (Sihanouk 1969) New construction
near the airport since the 1980s means that the hospital is no longer
easily visible from the road. But one can imagine that part of the effect
of the building in the 1950s and 1960s was that of a glistening modern
building situated at some distance from the road behind well-gardened
grounds. The hospital also, obliquely, demonstrates the relation between
kingship and socio-political developments in the country. Sihanouk’s
political movement, established in 1955, was called Sangkum Reastr
Niyum, which translates roughly as “Popular Socialist Community”. From
the beginning, Sihanouk stressed the idea of a socialism existing in
interdependence with monarchy. While some might say the modernization
entailed in socialism was undermined by its link to monarchy, one might
also, more from the perspective of Sihanouk, say that what was being
worked out was a peculiarly modern permutation of monarchy. In 1965,
Sihanouk had written an editorial for the review Kambuja called “Our
Socialist Buddhism” which would be later published as a pamphlet by the
Cambodian Ministry of Information. The original article was composed a
few months after Sihanouk had broken diplomatic relations with the US,
and in part represented the gesture of declaring that Cambodia’s path
was neither that of the US or of communism, both 113

JOHN MARSTON

of which he criticized at length. The editorial was also a way of
recalling the Sangkum Reastr Niyum path of development up to that point
and framing its accomplishments in Buddhist terms. Much like Khuon Nay’s
1950 speech, it spoke of the Buddhist recognition of the universality
of human suffering and of a socialist obligation to address suffering. The
“socialist” effort to resolve the problem of suffering was very much
conceived in terms of the bounty and the generosity of the monarchy. The
editorial drew heavily on a book by Alexandra David Neel, who had
written, using strikingly militaristic images, that “Buddhism is a
school of stoic energy, of resolute perseverance and of very special
courage, the aim of which is to train ‘warriors’ to attack suffering.”14
Sihanouk wrote that: Transposed to the plan of our national politics,
such a doctrine makes of us ‘warriors,’ convinced and energetic, fighting
for our national ideology, which is, in regards to internal politics,
the fight against under-development, against social injustice, the
raising of our people’s living standard, their happiness, and their joie
de vivre in fraternity and concord. (Sihanouk 1966: 8–9) In the essay,
Sihanouk makes scattered references to Asoka as the model of Buddhist
kingship, such as when he quotes Neel that, “On the pillar which Emperor
Asoka had constructed for the edification of his subjects, one reads: ‘I
consider the well-being of all creatures as a goal for which I should
fight,” and adds his own comment: “It is the goal of the Sangkum”
(Sihanouk 1966: 19). More striking, perhaps, are two other analogies.
Sihanouk makes reference to the story of Prince Vessantara, the
immediate previous incarnation of Gautama Buddha, who embodied the
perfection of generosity to the extent that he was willing to sacrifice
all his possessions and his family. The analogy hints that Sihanouk
himself was a Vessantara figure (an idea which, taken to its logical
extremes, would also make him a bodhisattva). What he actually states is
that the Cambodian people have been generous to Sangkum Reastr Niyum
projects because of the example of Vessantara. The foreigner must come
to know that 80% of our schools and infirmaries and a large percentage of
our other accomplishments are nothing but the generosity – I should
rather say the Buddhist charity – of innumerable admirers of Vessantara.
The other analogy he draws on is the Angkorean King Jayavarman VII – a
patron of Mahayana Buddhism and the ancient Cambodian monarch most
associated with Buddhism in popular Cambodian consciousness. The model
114

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of Jayavarman VII – a world conqueror who, depicted iconically in
meditation, was also a world-renouncer – is a theme running throughout
the Sihanouk period. In addition to being Buddhist, Jayavarman VII was
also the Angkorean king most massively engaged in building projects. In
1969, Sihanouk would liken the building projects completed in the
Sangkum Reastr Niyum period to those of Jayavarman VII, calling Phnom
Penh “the new Angkor Thom” (Sihanouk 1969). In the 1965 editorial,
Sihanouk uses Jayavarman VII to explain Buddhist socialism, citing the
ancient king’s numerous temples and monuments, his thousands of
kilometres of roads and canals, and his hundreds of hospitals (Sihanouk
1966: 8; emphasis mine). What I would like to emphasize is the degree to
which the vision of a new and “modern” society was constructed to echo
the iconography of Cambodian Buddhism. In a provocative recent article
about Cambodian kingship in relation to the icon of the leper king,
Ashley Thompson (2004) argues that, since the time of Jayavarman VII
(and the inscriptions know as the Hospital Edicts), kingship, by means
of its association with Buddhahood and its metonymic extension to the
body of the population, has been associated with healing. The physical
and moral well-being of the king is intrinsically tied to the physical
and moral well-being of the kingdom. The Hospital Edicts use imagery of
war to describe the king’s conquest of suffering and disease. This
association between kingship and healing, she argues, extends to the
reign of Sihanouk. The public emphasis in the 1950s and 1960s that the
hospital projects of Jayavarman VII paralleled Sihanouk’s own projects
supports, to a degree, the thesis that this idea was operative in
Cambodian popular consciousness and adds a dimension to the “modernity”
of these projects. The monks’ hospital was completed early in the period
of the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, and we cannot assume that all the ideas in
the pamphlet on Buddhist socialism were fully developed at that time.
The hospital project did anticipate Sihanouk’s vision of socialism in
the degree to which it was presented as a combination of popular will
and royal patronage. Speeches at the inauguration credited to Sihanouk
the fact that there were government donations to the hospital and the
arrangement of foreign aid in its support. We do not know whether these
speeches reflect his active involvement in the project or simply the fact
that at the time the social body was so deeply associated with kingship
that all public projects tended to be seen as in some sense Sihanouk’s
handiwork. What we do know is that, already, at the time of the hospital
dedication, speeches depicted the building of the hospital as in the
tradition of Jayavarman VII. The representative of the Thommayut Order
stated on the occasion, “Buddhism in our country has encountered a
glorious resurgence. One can almost compare it with the glorious growth
[of Buddhism] in the era of Jayavarman VII – simply because our king is a
Buddhist of the highest 115

JOHN MARSTON

order”15 (Kambuja¯ Suriya¯ 1956: 394). The representative of the
Ministry of Religion cited a famous quotation of Jayavarman VII when he
stated: The building of this hospital for monks is an indication that it
was in accordance with the policies of the government headed by the
prince [Sihanouk], under the sovereign authority of the king and the
queen, who have continuously had the desire to eliminate illness among
monks and eliminate illness among the people – because the illness of
the people is the illness of the king. (Kambuja¯ Suriya¯ 1956)16 One
more regional hospital for monks would be built in Takeo in 1957, and an
infirmary was built on the premises of a large Phnom Penh wat, Wat
Mahamontrey, at around this time. After that, as far as I have been able
to determine, the idea seems to have lost momentum. Sihanouk would not,
in fact, be known for sponsoring the building of Buddhist temples or
schools.17 If we see the hospital as a gift to the Sangha, so much in
the Theravada tradition of generating merit, no similar pattern would
emerge. What would be more characteristic of the Sihanouk period were
“gifts” to the people. Initially, many such projects supported with
foreign aid, such as the Soviet aid towards the construction, near the
monks’ hospital, of the Soviet-Khmer Friendship Hospital; they later
represented significant civic mobilization. The monks’ hospital, and a
medical school building completed the year before near what would be the
site of the Sakyamunichedi, did anticipate the fact that there would be
much hospital construction during the period of his political power. A
US report from the late 1960s states that: . . . many of the new medical
facilities are reported to have been built largely by popular
subscription and with labor furnished by the people of the village or
district. Reports of civic participation come from official sources, and
there is corroborative evidence that people in urban areas have
contributed substantial sums toward the building of hospitals and that
villagers furnish volunteer labor in building their local infirmaries.
(Munson et al., 1968) This was part of a campaign organized by Sihanouk.
According to Martin (1991: 74), the project began in 1964, when
Cambodia was rejecting US aid. “The state supplied iron to reinforce
concrete; villagers had to supply sand and bricks and do the
construction work.” As she describes it, the programme was very
successful in terms of the sheer numbers of buildings constructed, but
had a Potemkin village quality in remoter provinces, since there was no
money for medicine or furniture. She describes how communities 116

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would borrow medicine and furniture from the capital or nearby towns for
the inauguration ceremonies, then ship them back. Certainly there was
an element of theatre to Sihanouk’s projects of “modernity”. It is
interesting that this theatre of hospital construction consciously
cultivated parallels with the reign of Jayavarman VII. In conversations
with people in Phnom Penh at the present time, I have found a widespread
belief that the monks’ hospital was built under the direct sponsorship
of the Queen, Sisowath Kossamak, for which it is named, even though I
have found no documentary evidence of her involvement. This reflects, I
believe, a tendency of popular Cambodian conception to forget
institutions of civil society as such, and to conceive of projects from
that period instead as part of a general royal mandate.18 It may also
reflect the fact that donations to the monkhood by high-ranking women
have particular cultural resonance. I have so far been able to find very
little information about the actual running of the hospital, how it was
different from other hospitals, or what impact it had on the Cambodian
monkhood. One of the current administrators of the hospital says that
before 1975 it primarily treated cases of tuberculosis or of
complications related to tuberculosis. In addition to monks, a few lay
persons received treatment in the hospital, perhaps lay ritual
specialists (achar) closely associated with Buddhist wats; they were
housed on the ground floor so they would be at a lower level than the
monks. Khuon Nay’s granddaughter recalls that his younger brother, Khuon
Kim Seng, was the principal doctor. “He lived within the premises with
the whole family in a wooden house built near a lotus pond”.19 (The pond
circled the hospital as a sort of a moat. The house was outside the
wall behind the hospital, near a small bridge connecting the hospital
grounds to the outside.) There were apparently at times some foreign
medical personnel working at the hospital. A French-language booklet
giving the internal regulations of the hospital states of the nurses
that: Their role is the same as that of nurses in other hospital
establishments, with, however, a small difference in regards to the
status of the patients. Here, in fact, it’s a question of monks who are
ill, toward whom it is necessary to comport oneself with great tact,
patience, and consideration. In a word, it is necessary to know how to
treat them with particular respect and deference, while nevertheless not
neglecting discipline and internal regulations. (Hôpital des Bonzes
1956: 4) A 1964 fundraising booklet states that the hospital received 2
million riel a year from the Cambodian government, but that this had to
be supplemented by money pledged by donors on an annual or monthly
basis, and fundraising through the selling of flowers and plants. Appeals
for funds were regularly 117

JOHN MARSTON

broadcast on holy days (thngay sel) on the national radio (Kaev Sa¯ret
1964: 6–7). In April 1975, the Khmer Rouge evacuated the population of
Phnom Penh to the countryside and in the course of the Pol Pot period,
practically all Cambodian monks were forced to disrobe. The monks’
hospital would never again be a hospital for monks per se, although it
was apparently used for medical purposes during the Pol Pot period and
would be one of the first hospitals to be put to use after the fall of
Democratic Kampuchea. In the People’s Republic of Kampuchea period, the
hospital was opened again for the general public with the name April 17
Hospital. It was not until the early 1990s that it would again be called
Preah Kossamak Hospital. Around this time one of the most senior
Cambodian monks, Ven. Oum Sum, once closely associated with Chuon Nath,
made two separate attempts to set up hospital units for monks, both
doomed to close after short period of time. When he travelled to the US
with Mohanikay patriarch Tep Vong, money donated to them was earmarked
for two projects, one of these a building for monks at the Calmette
Hospital.20 This building was constructed later that year, but soon
diverted by the hospital to other uses, although a sign still identifies
it as the monks’ unit, and a plaque acknowledges the contributions of
Cambodian-Americans.21 Ven. Oum Sum later, in 1994, organized the
construction of a small hospital/infirmary on the grounds of his own wat,
Wat Mahamontrey, under the authority of municipal health authorities.
Municipal health staff proved reluctant to work at the unremunerative
hospital for monks, and this also fell by the wayside, with the building
converted to a monks’ residence at the time of Ven. Oum Sum’s death.
These incidents perhaps demonstrate that a hospital for monks,
originally so much associated with new-found independence and the
project of modernity, cannot capture public imagination and support in
the way it could before the war. The most vivid reminder of Preah
Kossamak Hospital’s past is a miniature preah vihear that still stands
on the grounds, a stone building with Angkorean-style decorations built
on an elevated platform of land. After a period of use as warehouse in
the 1980s, it was returned to its original religious use. When I visited
it in the summer of 2003, it was being used by a small group of female
and male lay ascetics, six doun chi and four ta chi. They said they
resided in the vicinity of the wat and had for the past four years been
coming here to do meditation during the rainy season. Every other day
they receive instruction by a monk from a wat associated with Ven. Sam
Bunthoeurn, a charismatic meditation teacher who was assassinated the
previous year under circumstances that remain unclear. A portrait of
Queen Kossamak is situated conspicuously in conjunction with the
principle shrine to the Buddha, and the lay ascetics tell me that she
was the principal donor of the hospital. I was struck by the great
beauty of the small temple and the calm sense of spirituality it evoked
in relation to the hospital grounds, the 118

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larger hospital building, and the small group of women and men in
retreat. Later I learned that, among patients in the hospital, it is
still believed to have great healing power.

Conclusions The significance of the monks’ hospital lies in the fact that
it is so quintessentially a product of the period of Cambodia’s
independence and the way the project of modernity was conceived at that
time. What I would want to emphasize is the degree to which that project
of modernity was imbued with references to what might sometimes be
called Cambodia’s “pre-modern” culture: to kingship and Buddhism and the
mobilization of personal networks. Insofar as we can generalize about
Cambodian religious building projects, we can see that some of the same
concerns that inform neo-traditional religious movements I have written
about elsewhere also inform state-sanctioned projects very much labelled
as “modern”. These issues have wider relevance in that they parallel
processes that were taking place in other Theravada Buddhist countries
at the same time, especially insofar as countries newly emerging from
colonialism were redefining themselves as Buddhist countries, and in
different ways making the attempt to adopt types of reformed Buddhism
consistent with specific visions of modernity. My research suggests that
these issues were more salient in Cambodia than is acknowledged in the
standard histories of the period. In particular, I see the Buddha
Jayanti festivities in Cambodia, with their parallels with what was
happening in other Buddhist countries, as much more significant than has
generally been recognized.

Notes 1 Research for this essay was supported by a grant from the Center
for Khmer Studies with funding from the Luce Foundation. My thanks to
Michele Thompson for encouraging me to pursue this topic. 2 Personal
communication, Julio Jeldres, 6 Feb. 2004. 3 Personal communication,
Dina Nay, 10 Feb. 2004. 4 The word used here, koun chau, literally
“children and grandchildren”, could refer either to offspring or those
serving under him. 5 Unless otherwise indicated, translations are mine. 6
One reference to the long life of Ba¯kula Thera is the Ba¯kula Sutta
(M. iii. 125). See Malalasekera (1983: 261–2). 7 Edwards (1999)
indicates that many of the associations formed in Cambodia in the 1930s
had fundraising goals. She suggests that in addition to the fundraising
activities of Cambodian wats, these organizations may have drawn on the
model of Chinese self-help and fundraising associations, which probably
existed in Cambodia since the late nineteenth century. Some Chinese
fundraising was for hospitals. 8 The prophecies of the coming of a
dhammically powerful king, who will usher in an era of millennial
greatness, should be considered as separate from prophecies

119

JOHN MARSTON

9

10

11 12 13 14 15 16

17 18 19 20

21

of the coming of the Maitreya, although in practice the two concepts
sometimes blur, with the implication that Preah Pat Dhammik will lead
the way to the coming of the Maitreya. The relic was in 2003 moved to a
huge newly constructed stupa at the old capital of Oudong. Various
reasons are given for the transfer to a new location. The general
consensus was that the site in front of the railway station was not
auspicious, perhaps because of prostitution in the vicinity, and that
this may have affected Cambodia’s history since independence. The
celebrations were in May. Osborne (1994: 105) and Chandler (1991: 91–2)
describe how in July 1957 Sihanouk resigned as prime minister and went
into a retreat for two weeks at a wat on Phnom Kulen, assuming a white
robe and a shaved head and announcing his permanent withdrawal from
public life. While Osborne attributes this to Sihanouk’s “physical and
emotional exhaustion”, and both authors see the immediate precedent to
this as political wrangling within the National Assembly, the
conjunction with the Buddha Jayanti is probably more significant than
they acknowledge. Scholarly work on the Puttumneay has been done by
Smith (1989) and de Bernon (1994, 1998). My thanks to Sath Sakkarak for
helping decipher the messages in the shower of syllables. Personal
communication, Helen Grant Ross, 14 Feb. 2004. One source for
information on Vann Molyvann is Reyum (2001). Ian Harris (personal
communication, 22 Jan. 2005) suggests that David Neel may have been
influenced by the vitalistic ideas of Julius Evola. This refers to King
Suramarit. The actual quotation in the Hospital Edicts, as given by
Thompson (2004: 97) is: “The illness of the body of the people was for
him the illness of the soul – and that much more painful: for it is the
suffering of the kingdom which makes the suffering of kings, and not their
own suffering.” Personal communication, Helen Grant Ross, 14 Feb. 2004.
Nevertheless, it is clear that he participated frequently in their
ritual dedication. The idea that Queen Kossamak sponsored the building
of the hospital is also stated in Sam (1987: 9). Personal communication,
Dina Nay, 9 Feb. 2004. Because of the US trade embargo at the time, the
funds had to be sent to Cambodia via an NGO, the American Friends
Service Committee, which was licensed by the State Department for
humanitarian activities in Cambodia. I accompanied the two monks during
the Washington State segment of their visit and visited the site of the
hospital building under construction later that year. Details of the
financial arrangements were clarified for me in personal communication by
Susan Hammand of US-Indochina Reconciliation Project (12 Jan. 2004) and
Dave Elder of American Friends Service Committee (22 Jan. 2004). Guthrie
(2002: 63–4), drawing on field research by Sek Sisokhom, makes reference
to the monks’ hospital project at Calmette. Although the total picture
remains far from clear, her data do give some indication that the
decision to use the building for patients other than monks generated
controversy at the time.

120

7 BUDDHISM, POWER AND POLITICAL ORDER IN PRETWENTIETH CENTURY LAOS * Volker Grabowsky

The history of Lao Buddhism is a subject that still awaits greater
scholarly attention. Though Buddhist rites and practices in contemporary
Laos have been analysed from a historical perspective by Archaimbault
and from a social-anthropological aspect by scholars like Archaimbault
(1980), Condominas (1998), and Zago (1972), we lack a comprehensive
study of the diffusion of Theravada Buddhism in Laos and of its
relationship with the pre-colonial political order. However, as an
historian not specialised in Buddhist studies I would like to touch upon
three problems that I consider crucial to the understanding of the
political role of Buddhism in pretwentieth century Laos. First, when and
how did Buddhism become the dominant religion in Lao society? Second,
how did Buddhism influence Lao conceptions of kingship? This question is
directly related to the interrelation between the political and
religious orders in pre-colonial Laos. Third, to what extent did
Buddhist monks help legitimise and strengthen political institutions?
First of all, I have to define the geographical and cultural scope of
what we call ‘pre-colonial Laos’ since the ‘geo-body’ of modern Laos is
doubtless the product of a political discourse which dates back to the
late nineteenth century when the colonial power of France encountered
Siam. When defining ‘pre-colonial Laos’ as the region under the political
control and/or cultural influence of the Lao kingdom of Lan Sang
(1353–1707/13) and her successor states, we have to be aware that the
borders of Lan Sang had been subjected to constant changes over the
centuries and were not conceptualised in any modern sense. Moreover,
large areas in present-day northern Laos did not belong to the kingdom
of Lan Sang but had been under the influence of other Tai polities (such
as those of the Tai Lü and the Tai Yuan) and of their respective
religious traditions. On the other side, the bulk of the Khorat Plateau,
which is the nowadays northeastern Thailand, was an integral part 121

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of Lan Sang. It is this region, instead of the Lao People’s Democratic
Republic, where four fifths of the Lao speaking people are living today.

Diffusion of Buddhism in Laos According to a standard view shared by most
scholars of Lao history, Theravada Buddhism came to the Lao lands,
quite lately, in several waves: The first wave started shortly after the
founding of the Lan Sang kingdom by Fa Ngum (r. 1353–1373/74), an exiled
prince from Müang Sua (Luang Prabang), who unified the politically
fragmented Lao-inhabited areas of the middle Mekong valley with the
military support of his father-in-law, the ruler of Angkor (Phanya
Nakhòn Luang). At the request of his daughter, the Khmer king sent a
religious mission to Luang Prabang to help Buddhism take root in Lan
Sang. This mission brought monks from Cambodia and Sri Lanka along with a
complete collection of Pali texts, including the Tipitaka, and two
sacred Buddha images to the Lao capital. Thus Buddhism first entered Laos
from the South and strengthened Khmer influence on Lao culture. A second
wave of Buddhism reached Lan Sang from the North in the mid-fifteenth
century. Following a period of political turmoil, which lasted more than
one decade, King Vangbuli (r. 1442–1479/80) forged close religious and
political ties with his western neighbour Lan Na, which at that time had
developed into a major centre of Buddhist learning in Southeast Asia,
under King Tilok (r. 1441/2–1487). The ‘Lan Na school’ of Buddhism was
reinforced during Phothisarat’s reign (1520–1547/48). Phothisarat who
married a princess from Chiang Mai sent a mission to Lan Na in 1523 to
bring back copies of the entire Buddhist canon, other religious texts,
and to invite learned monks to gather at a great monastic council in
Luang Prabang. This event marked the third wave of disseminating
Buddhism, which resulted in a deep and penetrating embodiment of
Buddhism in Lao society. How accurate is this standard view in the light
of the historical evidence? 1 The only evidence suggesting a southern
origin of Lao Buddhism is the Nithan Khun Bulom (NKB), ‘The Legend of
Khun Bulom’, the earliest version of which dates back to the reign of
King Visun (r. 1501–1520), i.e. the early sixteenth century. It says
that the two senior monks dispatched by the Khmer king, Phra Pasaman and
Phra Maha Thera Cao Thep Lan˙ ka¯, founded close to the southern
section of the ancient city wall of Luang Prabang two monasteries, which
were named after their respective founders. Both monasteries are now
deserted and no archaeological evidence has been discovered to support
the assertion that Buddhism was spread to Luang Prabang via Cambodia in
the mid-fourteenth century. In a recent paper Michel Lorrillard,
representative of the École française d’Extrême-Orient at Vientiane,
stresses the ‘completely artificial nature’ of the narration in NKB
referring to the religious mission sent by the Khmer king in 1359 as it
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establishes ‘links with various similar literary traditions’ found in
the TaiLao world.1 Shrinking back from totally refuting the NKB
narrative as mere fiction, Lorrillard (2003: 9) proposes that it might
rather reflect the collective memory of a pre-Lao past of early forms of
Buddhism that had flourished in the middle Mekong valley generations
before the arrival of the first Lao immigrants. Closer attention deserves
an idea raised first by Tatsuo Hoshino (1986) and later elaborated by
Amphay Doré (1987). Hoshino argues that three or four different accounts
about the spread of Buddhism in Laos were mixed up in NKB (Hoshino
1986:147). Whereas Fa Ngum and his Khmer wife Kaeo Keng Nya promoted a
‘Lamaist’ inspired form of Buddhism that had spread to mainland
Southeast Asia during the first half of the fourteenth century under
Mongol-Chinese influence, a rival ‘Theravada Buddhist school’ was
introduced, or at least supported, by Fa Ngum’s second wife Kaeo Lòt Fa,
a princess from Ayutthaya (see Doré 1987: 678–681). Martin Stuart-Fox
speculates that it was not until Kaeo Keng Nya’s death in 1368 and the
arrival of the Siamese princess ‘that adherents of an invigorated Sri
Lankan school of Theravada Buddhism then dominant in Sukhothai and
Ayutthaya finally gained the upper hand’ (Stuart-Fox 1998: 53). Though
this hypothesis is by no means convincing, it seems that different
‘schools’ of Buddhism were contending for religious supremacy in Lan
Sang during the second half of the fourteenth century. All ‘schools’
faced an obstinate opposition from the traditional spirit (phi) cults,
the vehemence of which is testified in NKB. At the time when Fa Ngum had
returned to Luang Prabang: [. . .] all the people of Meuang La¯n Xa¯ng
worshipped [only] the Phı¯ fa¯, Phı¯ Thaen, Phı¯ Phoh, Phı¯ Mae (ie.
paternal and maternal spirits). Worse, they did not know the virtue of
Phra Buddha, Phra Dhamma, and Phra Sangha. Moreover, they like to show
off their precious stones (ie. amulets), their daring, lances and swords.
(Souneth 1996: 193) Fa Ngum’s own half-hearted support of Buddhism and
tolerance of animist practices might have contributed to the king’s
deposition and sending into exile in 1373/74. 2 Vangbuli whose reign
(1442–1479/80) marked a long period of political stability was the first
Lao king who ascended to the throne under a name of Pali origin, namely
Phanya Sainya Chakkaphat (Jaiya Cakkavattin) Phaen Phaeo. The title
cakkavattin (Skt: cakravartin) means ‘universal monarch’ and this
exhibits the ruler’s ambition to build up a powerful Buddhist kingdom.
He was an exact contemporary of King Tilok of Lan Na (r. 1441/2–1487)
and King Trailok of Ayutthaya (r. 1448–1488), whose official titles also
referred to the cakkavattin ideal of a universal Buddhist monarch.
Vangbuli probably had cultivated good relations with both neighbouring
kings who were waging a long and bitter war over the control of the
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Stuart-Fox emphasizes the political and religious ties between Lan Sang
and Ayutthaya, which were ‘particularly close’ as ‘is evident from the
lavish gifts dispatched by kings of Ayutthaya on the occasions of both
his coronation and cremation’ (Stuart-Fox 1998: 64, cf. Souneth 1996:
236–237: Sila 1964: 43, 46). Though it seems quite plausible that the
Siamese ruler paid special respect to Phanya Sainya Chakkaphat Phaen
Phaeo because he was the son of King Sam Saen Thai’s Siamese wife, Nang
Kaeo Lòt Fa, this alone is not sufficient evidence for any significant
Siamese influence on the Lao political and religious order. The ‘Lan Na
factor’, however, was much more important. In early 1449, the Tai
principality of Nan, a former ally of Sukhothai, was subdued by troops
from Chiang Mai. A subsequent Lao attempt to seize Nan from Lan Na
failed, and in border skirmishes that flared up several years later the
Lao forces lost out again. (See Wyatt and Aroonrut 1995: 81–83.)
Thereafter relations between the two kingdoms, now close neighbours,
seem to have continuously improved. The incorporation of Nan into the
Lan Na polity promoted, in the long run, manifold exchanges between Lan
Na and Lan Sang. Military support of Lan Na to repel strong Vietnamese
forces, who had invaded Lan Sang in 1478 and even temporarily occupied
her capital, was crucial for the very survival of the Lao kingdom.
Though refuted by the Lao chronicles,2 contemporary Chinese sources
confirm that the Lao Prince Cao Sai succeeded his father Sainya
Chakkaphat Phaen Phaeo, who had apparently been killed during the war,
under the name of Suvanna Banlang as King of Lan Sang (in 1480) with the
help of King Tilok of Chiang Mai.3 It was obvious that from that time
on Lan Na’s political as well as cultural influence on Laos had
intensified. The prestige of Chiang Mai did not depend on the military
factor alone; just one year before the Vietnamese invasion of Lan Sang
the eighth official Buddhist council was held at Vat Cedi Cet Yòt in
Chiang Mai with the purpose of producing a new recension of the
Tipitaka. Although doubts about the nature of this council exist (see
Swearer and Premchit 1978: 30–31) – no account is found in the Lan Na
chronicles – and we don’t know whether monks from Lan Sang had attended
it at all, it certainly contributed to the spread of the ‘Lan Na school’
of Buddhism to neighbouring countries, such as the eastern Shan region,
Sipsòng Panna, and Laos. Two of the oldest dated Buddha images, found
so far in the Lan Sang cultural area, are from the 1480s and they
resemble images from northern Thailand. An inscription at the pedestal
of a Buddha image of bronze kept at Vat Sisaket, Vientiane, dated
‘Saturday, the twelfth [waxing] day of the third month, C.S. 852, a kot
set year’ (22 January 1491), is the earliest known sample of the Lao
Dhamma script,4 the Mon-derived religious script of Lan Na which spread
in the second half of the fifteenth century throughout the ‘Greater La Na
cultural area’ (including the Lü and Khün inhabited areas east of the
Salween river). During the reign of King Visun (1501–1520), Suvanna
Banlang’s younger brother, the religious influence of Lan Na continued.
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3 Donald K. Swearer and Sommai Premchit characterize Tilok as the
monarch of Lan Na who ‘best exemplifies efforts to build a single moral
community unified on the sociological level by a common religious
institution’, a Sangha who, despite royal support for the new Sı¯hala
Nika¯ya (headquartered at Vat Pa Daeng), integrated different Buddhist
sects. Thus, the groundwork for the ‘golden age’ (Thai: yuk thòng) of
Buddhist scholarship in Lan Na during the reign of Müang Kaeo
(1495–1526) was laid. Lao rulers tried to emulate their Tai Yuan
counterparts. The famous Lan Na chronicle Jinaka¯lama¯lı¯pakaran.am .
(Jkm.), composed by Bhikkhu Ratanapañña between 1516 and 1527, reports
that in 1523 the king of Lan Na offered Visun’s son and successor,
Phothisarat (r. 1520–1548) sixty volumes of the Pali canon and other
gifts: On the full-moon day itself, he (i.e. King Müang Kaeo) made
lavish gifts of monastic requisites including pairs of fine robes of the
Elder Devaman˙ gala together with his followers and sending with him the
Tipitaka consisting of sixty volumes5 he despatched him to the King˙ of
the city of Dasalakkhakuñjara, ‘City of a Million Elephants’ (i.e.
Luang Prabang), in order to convert him. (Ratanapañña 1968: 183) What
does the phrase ‘in order to convert him’ (pasa¯da jananat kam . pesesi,
literally: ‘in order to produce faith in him’) mean? As Buddhism had
already been the religion of the state and the ruling elite for
generations, this phrase certainly does not indicate a completely new
‘conversion’. It refers rather to the introduction or re-introduction of
a new religious order to Lan Sang where Buddhist heterodoxy and
pre-Buddhist beliefs were still dominant. Could it be that King
Phothisarat introduced the orthodox Sı¯hala Nika¯ya of Vat Pa Daeng to
Lan Sang to purify and unify the Lao Sangha along the model of Chiang
Mai? Probably, he did so under the influence of his principal wife who
was a daughter of King Ket Klao of Lan Na (r. 1525–1538) (Ministry of
Education and Culture 2000: 177). In 1527, Phothisarat ordered ‘to stop
the misguided worship of Phı¯ Ya¯v, Phı¯ Heuan and Phı¯ Seua whose
shrines are in the houses of the people and the great shrine of Sob
Dong’.6 The propagation of the cult of sacred Buddha images, the
construction of monasteries under royal patronage and the donation of
land and people to support these monasteries increased under the reigns
of Phothisarat and his successor (see details in the following section).
Lorrillard observes that since 1527 the sacred Dhamma script appears on
Lao steles along with a secular script that is almost identical with
the northern Thai Fak Kham (‘Tamarind pod’) script. He arrives at the
conclusion that: [. . .] All these inscriptions, which bear a very
strong mark of northern Thai culture, are royal inscriptions
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(Phothisalalat) and Setthathirat (Setthathilat), who were the first Lao
sovereigns to appear in epigraphy during their lifetimes. It can be seen
very clearly that the Lao lands, which had already been reached by a
form of Buddhism originating in Lan Na during the fifteenth century,
experienced a second wave of Buddhism in the sixteenth century. This
later movement differed rather significantly from the first, in that it was
based both on more orthodox practice and on a more evolved textual
tradition. The introduction of the Tham script is clearly associated
with the appearance of Pali language traditions which probably had
previously been unknown. (Lorrillard 2003: 5) Though Phothisarat and his
son and successor Setthathirat (r. 1548–1571) were pious kings who took
every opportunity to demonstrate their devotion to the universal values
of Buddhism, heterodox beliefs, including the phi worships, survived;
and in times of political and social crises, even experienced a revival,
as was the case in the nineteenth century. Despite the fact that
Buddhism had taken firm roots in Lao society when the first Europeans
arrived at the court of King Suriyavongsa (r. 1633/38–1690/95) (see de
Marini 1998 and Lejosne 1993), large segments of the population in Lan
Sang, notably the indigenous ‘Kha’ peoples, still adhered to
non-Buddhist beliefs. Furthermore, the southern provinces of present-day
Laos were only peripherally, if at all, touched by Buddhism at that
time.7 Buddhism was spread with the southward migration of the
politically dominant ethnic Lao. This migration reached the areas south
of Saravan and the interior of the Khorat Plateau not earlier than the
late seventeenth century. The founding of Champassak by Lao dissidents
from Vientiane (in 1713) furthered the ‘Lao-isation’ and ‘Buddhisation’
of the South. I will discuss this subject in the last section.

Lao kingship and Buddhism All the kings of Lan Sang, at least since King
Sainya Cakkhaphat Phaen Phaeo, emulated the ideal of the righteous
Buddhist monarch (dhammara¯ja) and many of them claimed to be at least
formally the status of cakkavattin or universal conqueror. However, not
all acquired the reputation to live up to that ideal. Some of those Lao
kings who are remembered and eulogized in Lao historiography because of
their outstanding political and/or religious achievements – such as
Visun, Phothisarat, Setthathirat, and Suriyavongsa – included the titles
dhammikara¯ja, dhammavam . sa, or dhammadevo in their official names. A
righteous king had to abide by the dasa ra¯jadhamma (tenfold royal
code)8 and several other moral codes as they are stipulated in the
Khamphi Pha Thammasat Luang, an ancient Lao customary law text.
Moreover, as moral principles he has to follow strictly the thirty
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Buddhist virtues,9 each to be attained in three stages of spiritual
perfection, which a Bodhisattva achieved on his way to Buddhahood. In
1566, Setthathirat built the That (Dha¯tu) Luang, ‘the great stupa’, in
Vientiane in order to reinforce the dhammara¯ja concept as the
foundation of Lao kingship. Tracing the origins of the new ritual centre
of Lan Sang back to the days of King Asoka, the NKB reports: When Phra
Jaya Jettha¯dhira¯ja Chau lived in Meuang Candaburi, [he] built the
Maha¯ Cedı¯ over the ‘Pulima Dha¯tu’ which was first built by Phraya¯
Srı¯ Dhammasaokara¯ja. Then [he] built thirty Samatingsa Pa¯ramı¯ to
surround this stupa. He gave a lot of offerings and countless [pieces of]
glassware to worship the Phra Sa¯lı¯ka Cedı¯. Indeed, when Phra Jaya
Jettha¯dhira¯ja Chau occupied the throne, [he] abided by [the
Dasara¯ja]dhamma, [and] enjoyed the friendship of Phraya¯ everywhere.
(Souneth 1996: 258) As Souneth Phothisane observes, the central spire of
the That Luang represents Mount Meru, the axis of the world in Buddhist
cosmology, but it also symbolizes the cakkavattin. The thirty smaller
surrounding stu¯ pas represent thirty tributary müang. The control over
many vassal states was one important factor to prove the king’s claim
that he did indeed possess such qualities.10 According to Lao Buddhist
theory, a king’s legitimacy was derived from a superior store of merit
that he had accumulated over many previous existences. The king had to
increase his store of merit in his present life by doing good deeds,
notably by making donations to the religious order and constructing or
repairing Buddhist monuments. Almost all Lao kings since the times of
King Visun founded monasteries or built stu¯ pas as visible
manifestations of Buddhist kingship. King (Sai) Setthathirat is a case
in point. In 1560, when the king was probably already preparing for the
transfer of the royal capital to Vientiane (accomplished in 1564), he
still ordered the construction of a splendid monastery in Luang Prabang,
situated at the confluence of the Khan and Mekong rivers: Vat Siang
Thòng Vòlavihan. Vat Siang Thòng Vòlavihan: The monastery, housing at
present more than fifty monks and novices, occupies the site at the
confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers where two na¯gas are
thought to have their residence. The two shrines dedicated to the two
na¯gas were preserved at Vat Siang Thòng until recent times. The
monastery also played an important role in royal ceremonies. A stairway
leads from the Mekong to the entrance of the monastery, and it was there
that important visitors entered the town before being received by the
king. Mosaics on the rear of the sim and surrounding buildings depict
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Sai. One mosaic also shows the magnificent flame-of-the-forest tree
(Rhinacanthus nanitus), called Ton Thòng in Lao, which is believed to
have once grown nearby and from where one part of the old name of Luang
Prabang, Siang Dong-Siang Thòng, derives. In fact, Siang Thòng comprised
the peninsula at the confluence of Mekong and Khan River. Siang Dong
(‘Town at the Dong River’) is situated in the southern section of
present-day Luang Prabang.11 Luang Prabang was to maintain her position
as ‘a place of Buddhism and of the three gems’, as Lao chronicles
emphasize, but the new capital needed also a powerful religious symbol
to lend legitimacy to the new political and ritual centre of the
kingdom. Such a symbol was That Luang which the king built after the
model of the Cedi (Cetiya) Luang of Chiang Mai. This stu¯ pa, by far the
largest one in the country, is revered to this day as one of the most
important religious symbols and as ‘the central symbol through which the
nation remembers itself’ (Evans 1998: 41).12 Furthermore, That Luang,
situated at the highest point (of Vientiane next to the National
Assembly), is the place where the That Luang festival (ngan bun that
luang) is held in November of every year. Grant Evans reports that the
That Luang festival was promoted as a national festival under the Royal
Lao Government in the 1950s, and ‘it became the time for swearing an
oath of fealty to the king at Vat Ong Tue’ (ibid.: 42), a monastery in
the centre of Vientiane founded by King Setthathirat. The sacredness of
That Luang was backed up by the popular belief that it has been built on
the site of an ancient stone pillar (sao hin) once erected by King
Asoka and containing relics of Lord Buddha. According to the Nithan
Urangkhathat, there was an old prophecy saying that the sacred stone in
Candaburı¯ (Vientiane) would one day become the site of an important
religious centre.13 By fulfilling this prophecy, Setthathirat linked his
new royal capital with the very origins of Buddhism. There are many more
cases showing that other Lao kings acted in a similar way. In 1816,
King (Cao) Anu of Vientiane, who was a Siamese vassal at that time,
initiated the work on Vat Sisaket, which is a jewel of Lao architecture.
It differed from other Lao monasteries both in style and the costs spent
on its construction. When the monastery was completed on 6 May 1824,14
King Anu ordered the engraving of a stone inscription to eulogize the
construction of the monastery and its founder. The king is here called
Phra Bun Sai Settha Thammikarat, ‘the meritorious ruler Sai Settha, the
righteous king’ (ibid.: 53). The founding of Vat Sisaket has to be seen
in the context of Cao Anu’s aspirations to regain full independence from
Siam. His attempt seven years later to unify the Lao lands under his
leadership, however, failed and ended in the almost total physical
destruction of Vientiane and the end of autonomous rule in central
Laos.15 Apart from the construction of religious monuments, Lao kings
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political legitimation by promoting the worship of sacred Buddha statues
and footprints of the Buddha (phra phutthabat). Lao chronicles, such as
the NKB and the Urangkhathat, tell us of how the Buddha left his
footprint at sacred sites in each important müang. In Lan Sang such
sites were considered the centre of their respective müang; and people
believed that stu¯ pas for relics had to be built on places tha the
Buddha had once visited. Footprints of the Buddha were designed to
override the power of sacred sites associated with pre-Buddhist spirit
cults. Due to the symbolic links established between Buddha’s footprints
and the nearby religious monuments built for housing his relics, these
sites became places of pilgrimage throughout the kingdom of Lan Sang.16
Thus, a cult of the müang centred on the worship of Buddhist relics
replaced the spirit cults and thereby legitimised the power and
territorial rights of the king. The worship of sacred Buddha statues
played likewise an important role of reinforcing Buddhist kingship. Two
of these statues are in particular regarded as the Lao royal palladia.
One statue is the Emerald Buddha (phra kaeo mòrakot). The Emerald Buddha
was a famous statue that was found in 1464 near the town of Chiang Rai
and then, twenty years later, established in a monastery under royal
patronage in Chiang Mai. First it was the palladium of the Lan Na kings,
and after Setthathirat’s accession to the throne in Chiang Mai (1546),
it became the royal symbol of two kingdoms – Lan Na and Lan Sang –
united under one rule for a short period. On his way back to Luang
Prabang (1547/48), Setthathirat took the Emerald Buddha to Luang Prabang
and established it later at Vat Hò Pha Kaeo in Vientiane. Like a
‘winner’s trophy’, the sacred statue was removed to Siam by King
Taksin’s victorious armies in 1779. It is now kept in the Thai Royal
Palace in Bangkok.17 Until today, among normal Lao citizens the loss of
this single prestigious Buddha statue arouses much stronger
nationalistic resentments against their western neighbours than it is
the case with regards to the loss of the territories on the west bank of
the Mekong River. The second statue under discussion is the famous Pha
Bang Buddha image, which became the focus of a state cult after King
Visun had moved the statue from Viang Kham (in Vientiane province),
where it had been housed since the days of King Fa Ngum (r.
1353–1373/74), to Luang Prabang. Visun built in the early years of his
reign a richly endowed temple to house the statue. The monastery was
called Vat Visun after its founder but is better known as Vat Mak Mo
(‘water melon temple’) for the shape of its stu ¯ pa.18 Worship of the
Pha Bang as the palladium of both the kingdom and its ruling dynasty
dates from that time. It was in front of the Pha Bang image that
governors and vassal rulers took oaths of allegiance to the king. Such a
ceremony is described in a ritual text entitled ‘Great sermon of
tributary rulers’ (kan suai saban luang), which probably refers to the
reign of King Visun. Among the müang of which their governors (cao
müang) had participated in that oath-taking ceremony are Champassak and
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Savannakhet) in the south, Vientiane, Loei and Dan Sai in the centre,
and Sam Nüa, Müang Phukha and the land of the Lamet in the north (Doré
1987: 733). The Pha Bang cult provided a focus for royal support of the
religious order, in return for the legitimation of the king as a
dhammara¯ja. The cult effectively reinforced the institution of Buddhist
kingship (see Stuart-Fox 1998: 72). Lao kings saw themselves and their
subjects as having definite places within a well-defined Buddhist
cosmological order. They tried to regulate their kingdom according to
the principles that they believed to be in harmony with that order. The
dasa ra¯jadhamma (Lao: thotsa latcatham) defines religious donations
(da¯na) as the first and foremost task of a king. One of the most
meritorious acts a Buddhist monarch could perform was the allocation of
land to monasteries and the donation of people to provide services of
various kinds for these monasteries. A survey of Lao inscriptions from
the Lan Sang period (c. 1353–1707/13) shows that the vast majority of
them almost exclusively deal with religious matters, notably monastic
endowments. Such royal donations, called kappana in Pali (a term Lao
inscriptions seldom use), could comprise: 1

Manpower: a b c d

2

senior abbots (thera); monks (bhikkhu) and novices (sa¯man.era); san˙
ghaga¯rı¯ (those responsible for the administration of laypersons
attached to the monastery); temple serfs (kha okat or khòi okat19).

Land: a b c

the monastery grounds (rattanakhet or phutthakhet); the area surrounding
the monastery, space of the nearby village (khamakhet); rice fields (na
canghan) of the temple serfs.20

Let us begin the discussion with the donation of land: Lao inscriptions
distinguish between the rattanakhet (P: ratanakhetta)21 and khamakhet
(P: ga¯makhetta), on the one hand, and the so-called na canghan, on the
other hand. Whereas the former were donated by both the king and
powerful high-ranking aristocrats, the donation of the latter seems to
have been limited to the privilege of the king. However, this thesis is
based on the twofold assumption that the na canghan were never donated
alone but only together with temple serfs and that the king held the
exclusive right to remit people from corvée labour and the payment of
taxes to the state (Thawat 1984: 157–158). We know from Lan Na
inscriptions that before the reign of Müang Kaeo (1495–1526), ambitious
governors donated both land and

130

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manpower to monasteries so as to accumulate religious merits and
concurrently to increase their political reputation. Later, they first
had to ask the king for permission and religious endowments were made in
the names of kings alone (Rawiwan 1982: 122). Unlike the Lan Na
inscriptions which frequently record large numbers of donated temple
serfs, sometimes comprising whole villages (see Grabowsky 2004: 56–58)
and even their names being mentioned, the Lan Sang inscriptions place
particular emphasis on the size of the endowed lands, while the donation
of manpower is more implicitly mentioned by prohibitions to use the
khòi okat (as well as the crops from the na canghan) for purposes other
than religious. Potential violators were intimidated by curses such as
the following one which appears in the final lines of an inscription
engraved on the pedestal of a Buddha image of bronze (kept at the
National Museum, Khòn Kaen): If someone is full of greed and comes to
violate22 this royal edict, this person will be on fire in hell23 for
four lifetimes. Don’t be ambitious and insolent. Don’t be daring and
violate the stipulations of the royal edict.24 The status of khòi okat
was hereditary; the obligations a temple serf had to fulfil were also
valid for his or her descendants.25 Lao customary law Khosarat
stipulates that khòi okat who had abandoned their duties and placed
themselves illegally under the protection of a nobleman in another
locality would have to be sent back to their original monastery, as soon
as their new master had found out their real identity.26 No person of
high rank had the right to use khòi okat for his own service. In the
inscription No. 2 of Vat Daen Müang (Phon Phisai district, Nòng Khai
province), dated 1535, it is stated that ‘[concerning] the plantations
and rice-fields of the country (ban-müang), the betel nuts, the coconut
and sugar plantations, and the serfs (khòi) who [are employed] by the
monastery and the monks, a man called Mui and Lung Phanya Can have
dripped water [expressing the wish] that all those who take [the fruits
of the land and the serfs] away for the [benefit] of the cao (king) and
the khun (nobles) have to return them. Don’t let them perform corvée
labour’ (Thawat 1984: 238). This text obviously refers to a previous
donation to the same monastery made in 1530.27 It ought to be stressed
that both the Buddhist Sangha and the king took advantages of endowments
to important monasteries. Though neither in Lan Na nor in Lan Sang the
Sangha seemed to have been a big landowner, as was the case in Sri
Lanka, the endowments certainly enhanced its reputation. The king on the
other hand secured an effective means to increase his religious prestige
as well as his political influence beyond the region close to the
capital. Through this means he profited from the monopoly of religious
foundations that he, de facto, held.28 The king succeeded in
consolidating his role as thammikarat, and at the same time in weakening
potential rivals because the 131

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loss of workforce to the monasteries could mean for the regional rulers a
serious decrease in their demographic basis. The king imposed a network
of loyal religious institutions on a system of potential centrifugal
forces. A rare description of the donation of temple serfs is given by
the Genoan priest Father Giovanni Maria Leria who had stayed in Laos for
several years in the 1640s, i.e. during the early part of King
Suriyavongsa’s long reign. His memories were later recorded by Giovanni
Filippo de Marini, another Genoan priest with experiences in the Far
East: [The king] always pays them (i.e., the monks) the greatest honor
possible. Indeed, as soon as he observes a monk he greets him first by
raising his right hand, which is the signal of respect and civility most
used in this country. He makes slaves of his vassals and destines them
to the service of their temples in payment for the tribute that they owe
him. Sometimes he has evacuated villages and entire quarters in favor
of monks and obliged those who lived there to maintain and supply the
monasteries in their area, which these poor unfortunates accept with
reluctance and by coercion as they have then to deal with insatiable
people whom one can never fully please, insolent in their demands and
importunate when they receive what is given to them and authoritarian in
the orders they prescribe, so that those who know them well, would
rather become slaves and serve others than to depend on the monks while
not losing their freedom. (de Marini 1998: 64) This statement is, of
course, full of prejudices the Catholic priests held against Buddhism,
and especially against the Buddhist clergy. It is doubtful whether
living conditions for the temple serfs were really so unbearable that
they preferred anything else rather than working for the monks. On the
contrary, there is evidence showing that temple serfs, in general, were
very proud of their special status,29 which, however, did not always
prevent them from being recruited in the military service,30 as it could
be argued that fighting against a foreign invading force contributed to
the defence of Buddhism (see Thawat 1984: 152). Another aspect related
to the donations of land and manpower to monasteries is of an economic
nature. The Thai historian Dhida Saraya sees a close connection between
religious donations and the expansion of settlements in the region of
today’s Thailand. Noting that the endowments, known as kappana (or
kalpana), were ‘associated with both Hinduism and Buddhism’, she argues
that the rulers of Dva¯ravatı¯ and Lopburi, later also the ruler of
Sukhothai, had attempted to expand their territories into previously
mostly unpopulated new land by means of donating land and labourers to
Buddhist monasteries.31 In Lan Sang, as in Lan Na, new religious centres
and the supporting villages received from the monarchs often generous
material 132

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advantages, which gave them a quasi-model character. Thereby they could
attract more settlers so as to reclaim additional land for cultivation
in the region and to establish additional villages. In this way, the
newly developed regions prospered. Since in general the king as ‘ruler
of the land’ (phracao phaendin) possessed the privileges of such a
donation, the founding of monasteries, the expansion of settlements, and
the consolidation of the royal sphere of influence developed hand in
hand with one another. It is unknown when exactly the tradition of royal
endowments of monasteries in Laos began. The earliest evidence found is
mentioned in an inscription dated 1530, i.e. in the reign of
Phothisarat (1520–1548). From the rather incomplete corpus of Lao
inscriptions, we can conclude that most royal donations occurred during
the reigns of Setthathirat (1548–1571) and Suriyavongsa (1638–1695). In
the early eighteenth century, this tradition was apparently interrupted,
probably due to the political instability, which prevailed after the
division of the Lan Sang kingdom into three separate entities and the
decline of royal authority as a result of it. There is a hiatus of
almost one century until a short-lived revival of monastic endowments
under the reign of Cao Anu (r. 1804–1829). The last epigraphic record is
from 1811, when the ruler of Vientiane donated land and temple serfs to
the Vat Hò Pha Kaeo (Si Chiang Mai district, Nòng Khai).32 From then
on, the Lao lands on both banks of the Mekong River became increasingly
exposed to Siamese influence, politically as well as culturally, and the
institution of an independent Lao kingship – with the partial exception
of Luang Prabang – ceased to exist.

The relationship between the religious and the political order As
mentioned above, the Lao Sangha had many privileges from the monarchy,
which in return was legitimized by a supportive Sangha. The relationship
between the religious and the political orders was in fact based on
mutual benefits. Going back to the reign of Sainya Cakkaphat Phaen Phaeo
(1442–1479/80), we can observe that the king of Lan Sang reinforced the
religious legitimation of his rule by appointing new abbots in two
prominent monasteries of Luang Prabang. The two abbots were given
exalted titles, such as dhammasena¯ and san˙ ghasena¯ (Hoshino 1986:
195). The influence of the Sangha increased steadily. After the
withdrawal of the Vietnamese invasion forces in 1479, the reconstruction
of the destroyed country was discussed jointly by the king’s ministers
and monks from five important monasteries in Luang Prabang (Souneth 1996:
233–234). On several occasions the Supreme Patriarch played a crucial
role in nominating new kings. This happened, for example, in 1591, when a
delegation of senior monks led by the Supreme Patriarch33 went to Pegu
to ask the Burmese king, as Lan Sang was a Burmese vassal state at that
time, to appoint Pha Nò Müang (Nò Kaeo Kuman) as the new ruler of
Vientiane (Souneth 1996: 276). Both in lending support to a pretender to
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the Buddhist clergy was able to gain political power as well. A case in
point is the political upheaval following King Suriyavongsa’s death. In
this crisis a senior monk called Pha Khu Phon Samek took up a prominent
position. Who was this monk? How did it happen that he could play a very
important role in Lao politics at a turning point in the country’s
history? Apart from oral histories, various versions of the Champassak
Chronicle provide rather similar accounts of Pha Khu Phon Samek’s role
as one of the founders of the kingdom of Champassak in 1713.34 He was
born around 1631 in Yasothòn (northeastern Thailand), an area where, at
that time, ethnic Lao lived in close neighbourhood with
Mon-Khmer-speaking indigenous peoples. A legend that associates him with
the founding of Phnom Penh at a later stage of his life might hint at
his non-Lao, possibly Khmer, ethnic background. As a novice he impressed
a senior monk in the capital with his outstanding intelligence and
amazing capacity to memorize whole volumes of sacred scripts. The
novice’s fame spread throughout the kingdom and caught the attention of
King Suriyavongsa, who supported his later monastic career. Entering the
monkhood first at Vat Phon Samek (near Vientiane), the young monk was
soon given the prestigious title ‘Pha Khu’ and thus received his popular
name. Pha Khu Phon Samek combined a strict observation of the Buddhist
moral precepts and a profound knowledge of the religious scripts, which
he learned perfectly by heart, with the alleged possession of
supernatural powers. This might have explained the charisma he reputedly
possessed. In the early 1690s, Pha Khu Phon Samek was the most popular
and widely revered monk in Laos. The only surviving Lao manuscript of
the Champassak Chronicle reports: By observing moral commandments and
monastic discipline, Than Phakhu reached the levels of the [six]
aphinnya35 [and] the eight atthasammabat;36 he possessed abundant merits
(puñña) and perfections (pa¯ramı¯); he was able to accomplish
everything he wished. All people revered him. About his spittle, which
was left in a spittoon, or even his urine and faeces, [people also] said
that they smelled good. Known under the name of Pha Khu Phon Samek a
number of people called him Pha Khu Achom Hòm (literally, ‘the learned
monk whose faeces smell’). He was praised under different names by
different people. The King of Vientiane wished to become an attendant [of
Pha Khu Phon Samek].37 In 1695, King Suriyavongsa passed away without
leaving an heir. Phanya Müang Can,38 the highest-ranking minister,
seized the throne and paved the way for a long period of political
turmoil in Lan Sang. The Lao chronicles are contradictory and
inconsistent on the events during the two decades following
Suriyavongsa’s death as Lorrillard has demonstrated (Lorrillard 1995:
215–224). If we follow the historiographical tradition of the South, it
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appears that Phanya Müang Can’s downfall, only six months after he had
usurped royal power, was brought about by a lack of popular support and
opposition from influential figures of the Buddhist clergy. Pha Khu Phon
Samek is given credit for lending tacit support to the usurper’s
opponents. To avoid a direct confrontation with Phanya Müang Can, the
charismatic abbot of Vat Phon Samek led 3,000 of his followers, among
them Princess Sumangkhala, who was one of Suriyavongsa’s daughters and
pregnant at the time, out of the capital to the south. ‘Wherever, they
stopped on his way downstream’, says the That Phanom Chronicle (Nithan
Urangkhathat), ‘great numbers of devotees volunteered to join them on
their journey’ (Preuss 1976: 66). At That Phanom (Nakhòn Phanom) the
monk and his followers stopped to repair the ancient and most sacred
reliquary; through this meritorious act the dissidents linked their
uncertain political future with the perceived glorious Buddhist past of
the country. The refugees finally reached the region of Champassak where
they settled down with the permission of the town’s female non-Lao
governor Nang Phaen. The Champassak Chronicle says that this governor, a
devout Buddhist, asked Pha Khu Phon Samek to take over the
administration of Champassak in order to facilitate Buddhism throughout
her entire territory. The monk did not refuse and thus gained control of
both secular and religious affairs.39 After a certain period of time, in
1713, Princess Sumangkhala’s son was crowned as King of Champassak
under the royal name Cao Sòi Sisamut Phutthangkun. At least parts of the
founding story of Champassak appear fictitious. In particular, the story
of the two female rulers – Nang Phaen and her mother Nang Phao –
preceding Sòi Sisamut’s reign seems sheer legendary, as Archaimbault
(1961: 530–536) has testified. It may, however, reflect the ‘hybrid’
origin of Champassak, namely as a polity where Lao Buddhist settlers
from the North intermingled with a strong pre-Buddhist Mon-Khmer
substratum. Should we interpret Pha Khu Phon Samek as a symbol for a
long-term cultural process in today’s southern Laos which may have
started some time in the late seventeenth century, and after one or two
generations had transformed this formerly predominantly non-Lao and
non-Buddhist region into a constituent part of the Buddhist Tai-Lao
world? As a direct descendant of King Suriyavongsa, who was the last
fully recognized ruler of Lan Sang, Sòi Sisamut linked Champassak with
the rest of the Lao world. Thus, the kingdom of Champassak could
repudiate the image of a ‘renegade province’ and claim to be one of the
three successor states of Lan Sang, on a par with Vientiane and Luang
Prabang. Royal lineage alone, however, was not sufficient to consolidate
political power in the South. The young king needed the charismatic monk
Pha Khu Phon Samek to reinforce his moral standing. In the town of
Champassak, the capital, Sòi Sisamut built Vat Luang Mai, ‘the new
main/royal monastery’. This monastery was the symbol of Buddhist
kingship focusing on the concepts of righteous king (dhammara¯ja) and
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On close reading, the Champassak Chronicle reveals the importance
attached to Pha Khu Phon Samek for the religious legitimation of secular
power and for defining the territorial extent of the kingdom. The
chronicle describes how the monk led his many followers to seek a
suitable place for settlement and finally established a new müang.
Together with his disciples, he prayed for auspicious signs, which would
show the Lao migrants the land of their destiny. All these episodes
render strong support to the legitimation of kingship. Furthermore, Pha
Khu Phon Samek had a reputation for possessing supernatural powers that
could make him even invisible.40 As was discussed above, sacred Buddha
images were used to legitimate royal power. Pha Kaeo Phalik, a beautiful
Buddha image made of pure crystal, was found by two brothers of ‘Kha’,
i.e. non-Lao, origin. They took the image as the effigy of a small human
being. This shows that their community was still untouched by Buddhism.
The Pha Kaeo Phalik image was later enshrined in a stu¯ pa in the town
of Champassak. This happened still during the reign of Sòi Sisamut.
Thereafter, the Pha Kaeo Phalik was revered as a state palladium, the
symbol of prosperity of Champassak.41 Even though the ‘Kha’ were the
indigenous people of southern Laos, they often migrated to other places.
They moved because of their special connection with the local spirits. A
number of the ‘Kha’ population from Ban Sompòi Nanyòn, where the
Crystal Buddha had been discovered, left their home village and settled
next to the city of Champassak as they were needed by King Sòi Sisamut
to serve as serfs of the Crystal Buddha (kha pha phalik).42 Furthermore,
they were also required when sacrificial ceremonies or traditional
festivals were held.43 Traditionally, a monastery was not only the
residence of Buddhist monks and novices, but was also a centre of
education. Learned men who sometimes took over the position of village
headman used to be former monks or novices, in other words
Buddhist-educated men. Therefore, the founding of monasteries by a king
increased his religious merits and thus was an indicator for the
legitimacy of royal rule. By donating parts of their property to the
Sangha, the kings would expect that the people considered them as
generous and benevolent. Thus the people would respect and praise such
righteous monarchs. The Champassak Chronicle (Vat Citsavang version)
does not fail to mention that Sòi Sisamut (r. 1713–1737) built at least
two monasteries for Buddhist monks.44 One of his later successors, Cao
Kham Suk (r. 1863–1900), who was already a Siamese vassal, founded the
monastery of Vat Nyuttithammathalalam.45 All these activities ought to
be considered as fulfilments of the duties of a ruler relying on Buddhism
for political legitimacy.

Concluding remarks Theravada Buddhism came to Laos later than in any
other country of mainland Southeast Asia. Contrary to the assertion of
traditional Lao 136

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historiography it was not the Cambodian influence of the mid-fourteenth
century that had a decisive impact on the diffusion of Buddhism in Lao
society. It was probably not earlier than the mid-fifteenth century,
starting with the reign of Sainya Cakkhaphat Phaen Phaeo (r.
1442–1479/80), that Theravada Buddhism became the dominant religion of
Laos, at least among the ruling Lao elite. The most influential Buddhist
wave reached the Lao kingdom of Lan Sang via Lan Na. The cultural,
religious, and political relations between the two kingdoms intensified
in the sixteenth century; and after the incorporation of Lan Na into the
Burmese sphere of power, Lan Sang even became the heir of Lan Na’s
erstwhile flourishing Buddhist culture. In the Lao lands the new religion
spread with the southward migration of the Lao people and reached the
interior of the Khorat Plateau and today’s southern Laos only by the
late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Lao kings took the
concepts of righteous king (dhammara¯ja) and universal ruler
(cakkavattin) seriously. As in neighbouring Lan Na, but unlike
Ayutthaya, royal donations of land and manpower to monasteries were
widespread in Lan Sang. Such religious endowments demonstrated that a
monarch lived up to the expectations of Buddhist kingship. The Buddhist
Sangha thus held a privileged position in traditional Lao society and
was in times of political crises even able to intervene in the secular
realm. Lao customary law texts, such as the Kotmai Khosarat, were
inspired by the rules of monastic discipline (vinaya). Thus, the monks’
advice would have been appreciated in the decision of law cases. The
borders between the secular, political sphere (a¯n.a¯cakra), and the
religious order (buddhacakra) were more fluid than it is the case
today.46 What has not been discussed in this essay but deserves special
attention is the transformation of the religious order during the period
of Siamese domination (i.e. since 1778/79). We can deduce that the
gradual loss of political sovereignty and, more decisively, the social
disruptions following the destruction of Vientiane (in 1828/29) had
precipitated the decline of royal control of the Buddhist order.47 The
millenarian revolts that shook Laos in that period are certainly
associated with these fundamental changes.48 This, however, would have
to be discussed separately.

Notes *

I am grateful to Foon Ming Liew for helping me to polish up my English
and giving me her comments on the draft version of this essay. My thanks
are also extended to Bounleuth Sengsoulin for allowing me to make
extensive use of his MA thesis on the Champassak Chronicle, Citsavang
Version. I also would like to thank Michel Lorrillard for his acute
remarks on my essay and providing me with some of his unpublished work
on the history of Lao Buddhism. However, the responsibilities for the
statements contained in this essay remain with the author. 1 Lorrillard
(2003: 2). In fact, the mention of a huge entourage, including
astrologers and craftsmen, accompanying the monks and Brahmins from
Angkor to

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2 3

4

5

6

Luang Prabang, resembles the Mon Princess Ca¯madevı¯’s procession from
Lavo to Hariphunchai, where she founded a Buddhist kingdom in the eighth
century, according to a Lan Na chronicle of the fifteenth century.
According to the NKB (Souneth 1996: 234–235), King Phaen Phaeo abdicated
in favour of his son, who alone expelled the Vietnamese. The Mingshi
Gao (‘Draft of the History of the Ming Dynasty’) (chapter 189, p. 34a)
reports. ‘In the year Chenghua 17, [6th month, renzi] (1481), Li Hao (r.
1459–1497), [the King of] Annam, commanded 90,000 barbarian soldiers
(man bing), constructed three routes through the mountains, and marched
his troops to conquer Ailao (the Lao people) and then proceeded to the
territory of Laowo (Laos), killed the father, the Pacification
Commissioner, Dao Banya of Lanzhang (Cao Phanya of Lan Sang), [and his]
two sons, three persons [in all]. The youngest son, Paya Sai (Phanya Sai
or Cao Sai), turned to Babai (Lan Na) for support. The Pacification
Commissioner [of Babai], Dao Lanna (Cao Lan Na, i.e., Tilok), dispatched
troops to escort [Phanya Sai] to Jingkan (Chiang Kham).’ (Mingshi Gao
[Draft of the History of the Ming Dynasty], edited by Wang Hongxu, Wan
Sitong et al., completed in 1723 (repr. 1973, 5 vols, Tokyo; 1985, 7
vols, Taipei.)) Quoted after the translation of Liew n.d.: 100. The
claim laid by the Royal Chronicle of Ayutthaya that the Siamese king
(personally?) ‘granted that Phraya Sai Khao be anointed as the King of
Lan Chang’ does not appear credible. Quoted from Cushing (2000: 17). The
Luang Prasoert version (‘Phraratcha phongsawadan krung si ayutthaya
chabap luang prasoet’ [The Royal Chronicle of Ayutthaya, Luang Prasoet
Version] 1963. In Prachum phongsawadan [Collected Chronicles], Part 1,
Vol. 1, pp. 141–171. Bangkok: Khurusapha: 138) says : ‘In the year
[cula]sakkarat 842, the year of the rat (B.E. 2120), the king of Lan
Chang (Sang) passed away and Phaya Sai Khao was enthroned as the new
King of Lan Chang.’ See Hoshino (1986: 216). The inscription is
published in Gagneux (1975: 81–83). Michel Lorrillard argues that the
inscription was dated according to the Chiang Mai calendar (which differs
by exactly two lunar months) because the script was clearly ‘Tham Yuan’
and the Buddha image thus of Chiang Mai provenance. Lorrillard proposes
24 November 1490 as the corresponding date of the Julian calendar
(Lorrillard, personal communication, 29 April 2004). Moreover, this day
was a ruang rao day mentioned on line five of the inscription. (Note that
rao is only barely legible whereas we have a lacuna for ruang.)
However, 24 November 1490 falls on a Wednesday, not a Saturday (wan sao)
as the inscription clearly states on line 3. From my point of view, the
‘Tham Yuan’ style of the inscription does not necessary imply that the
Buddha image was originally produced in Lan Na. A dating according to
the Lao calendar is only contradicted by the fact that 22 January 1491
was a kot san day, but the following day – 23 January 1491 – was indeed a
ruang rao day. This slight deviation may be attributed to a calculation
error of the scribe. N. A. Jayawickrama, the translator and editor of
the English-language version, comments: ‘There is no such division of
the Tipitaka and the phrase can equally be translated as “with sixty
volumes (treatises) and˙ the Tipitaka. See Ratanapañña ˙ (1968: 183, fn.
3). NKB, Souneth (1996: 249). Cf. Piyachat Sinthusa-at (1997) Sangkhom
lan chang tangtae plai phutthasattawat thi 21 thüng ton phutthasattawat
thi 23 [The society of Lan Sang since the end of the twenty-first until
the beginning of the twenty-third Buddhist century]. MA thesis,
Thammasat University: 77. Lieberman (2003: 259) observes that ‘[a]s late
as the second quarter of the 15th century a king of Chiang Mai, to the
scandal of monastic chroniclers, revered

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7

8

9 10 11

12 13

14

shamans while sacrificing cattle to the spirits of trees, rocks, and
mounds.’ As to epigraphic evidence for Photisarat’s edict see, for
example, the inscription no. 2 of Vat Daen Müang (Lorrillard 1995:
365–367). The Chronicle of Attapü (Phongsavadan Müang Attapü) claims
that the ‘Kha’ peoples in the south got closer contact with the Lao
civilization in the early 1570s when King Setthathirat retreated to the
south in the face of a Burmese attack on Vientiane. Legend says that
Setthathirat disappeared in Attapü but did not die as he was rescued by
the local Kha tribes who accepted him as their leader. Setthathirat
remained immortal in the eyes of his people. They were waiting for him,
like the Germans in the Medieval Age were waiting for Kaiser Barbarossa
to return and establish a new empire. In 1579, a native from Attapü
claimed that he was the reincarnation of King Setthathirat. As a man who
claimed to possess magical power (phu wiset), he gathered many
followers whom he sent to conquer Vientiane (see Phongsavadan Müang
Attapü [The Attapue Chronicle]. Composed by Maha Butdi Sakdavong, 
2491, 20 December 1949, transliterated from Lao Buhan into modern Lao
script by Volker Grabowsky, October 1997). The Khamphi Pha Thammasat
Luang defines the tenfold royal code as follows: ‘1. da¯na – making
donations; 2. sı¯la – abiding by the five or eight religious precepts; 3.
parica¯ga – giving up of [one’s own] belongings, elephants, horses,
clothes, gold and silver, and donating it to the sena-amat (i.e.,
high-ranking officials) and close friends; 4. a¯java ()
– rectitude; 5. maddava – gentleness to elderly people; 6. ak{k}odha –
freedom from wrath; 7. avihim . sa – refraining from harassing the
population; 8. khanti – having patience; 9. sacca – sticking to the
truth and not accepting lies; 10. avirodha – no violation of ancient
royal customs, rules and traditions. See Aroonrut Wichienkeeo et al.
(1986) Khamphi phra thammasat buran (kotmai kao khòng lao) [Phra
Thammasat Buhan: An ancient Lao law text]. Bangkok; Samlit Buasisawat
(transcr.) (1993) Khamphi thammasat luang: kotmai buhan lao [Thammasat
Luang: A Lao customary law text]. Vientiane. Cf. Ministry of Information
and Culture 2000: 177. The ‘ten Buddhist virtues’ are da¯na [donation],
sı¯la [religious precept], nekkhamma [renunciation], pañña [wisdom],
viriya [courage], khanti [patience], sacca [honesty], adhittha¯na
[praying], metta¯ [mercy] and upekkha [equanimity]. ˙ See ˙ibid.:
385–386. As to the construction and the meaning of That Luang, see
Lorrillard (2004), the so far most detailed and authoritative study on
this subject. Pha One Kaeo Sitthivong and Volker Grabowsky,
‘Comprehensive List of Monasteries in Luang Prabang’, in Berger (2000).
This account is based on oral traditions. Lorrillard points out that no
original Lao source mentions the construction of Vat Siang Thòng in
1560. That Luang is visible as a central symbol on the Lao national
emblem as well as on present-day Lao bank notes. See Kham Campakaeomani
(1994) ‘Phrathat luang wiang can’ [The great stupa of Vientiane]. In
Phrathat cedi wat samkhan lae phrakhru yòt kaeo phonsamek [Important
stupas-monasteries and Phrakhru Yòt Kaeo Phonsamek], pp. 1–13. Chiang
Mai: Social Research Institute, Chiang Mai University: 2. The
construction works had started already five years earlier, and the first
date mentioned in the inscription of Vat Sisaket, 4 March 1819, probably
marks the beginning of the works. See Lorrillard (2002: 4). As to the
dates mentioned in the stone inscription on the founding of the
monastery, cf. Can Inthuphilat (1994) ‘Phra khru phonsamek rü yakhru khi
hòm’ [Phrakhru Phonsamek or Yakhru Khi Hòm]. In Phrathat cedi-wat
samkhan lae phrakhru yòt kaeo phonsamek [Important stupas-monasteries
and Phrakhru Yòt Kaeo Phonsamek], pp. 85–99. Chiang Mai: Social Research
Institute, Chiang Mai University.

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15 Accidentally, Vat Sisaket was the only major religious building that
escaped the Siamese pillage of 1828. 16 See, for example, Buddha’s
footprints at Luang Prabang (Phusi), Vientiane (Phon San), and That
Soeng Sum (Sakon Nakhòn, northeastern Thailand). 17 According to one
legend, in 1464 lightning struck at a figure of a Buddha made of gypsum
in a pagoda in Chiang Mai. The figure broke and a sitting Buddha made
from one whole piece of jade came to light. The Emerald Buddha first
found its home in Chiang Rai and from 1486 onwards in Chiang Mai. Since
then it was a sort of palladium, a function, which it also served after
1548 in Laos until the Siamese, suppressing the uprising of Cao Anu
(1828), brought it to Bangkok, where today it is still placed in Wat
Phra Kaeo in front of the royal palace. On the history of the Emerald
Buddha until it was brought to Luang Prabang see, for example, Tamnan
pha müang kaeo [The Chronicle of Pha (Müang) Kaeo]. Vat Si Sai Mun,
tambon Nòng Còm, amphoe San Sai, Chiang Mai, SRI 80.047.05.019–019, 25
ff°. The title of this manuscript from Vat Si Sai Mun (San Sai, Chiang
Mai) is a bit misleading as it is not about the reign of King Müang Kaeo
(r. 1495–1526) but concerns the ‘journey’ of the Emerald Buddha image
(pha kaeo). 18 The Pha Bang (Pra Bang) is said to have originated from
Sri Lanka from where it came to Cambodia. The Khmer king gave that
golden image portraying Lord Buddha standing with both arms raised
forward at the elbows, palms facing outward, to Fa Ngum, his son-in-law,
in order to promote Buddhism in the newly founded Lao kingdom of Lan
Sang. The precious Buddha image, only 50 centimetres tall, was
worshipped as a state palladium and should later give the royal capital
of Siang Dong-Siang Thòng its new name under which it is still known:
Luang Prabang, ‘Royal [City] of the Pha Bang’. The Pha Bang image was
transferred several times during the last centuries reflecting the
vagaries of Lao history: Vientiane (1563), Thonburi (1778), Bangkok
(1781), Vientiane (1782), Bangkok (1828), and finally back to Luang
Prabang (1867). 19 Also known as kha phra yomsong or lek vat. 20 Adapted
from Thawat Punnothok (1984) Silacarük isan samai thai-lao: süksa thang
dan akkharawitthaya lae prawattisat [Northeastern Thai inscriptions of
the Thai-Lao period: Epigraphical and historical studies of the
Northeast]. Bangkok: Thammasat University Press: 153–154. 21 In several
Lao inscriptions also called khet phra rattanatrai. 22 Mang, literally
‘to destroy, to annihilate’. 23 Abai (P: apa¯ya), literally ‘places,
states or conditions of suffering’. It refers to one of four rebirths
where there is no hope of progress or of escape. 24 Thawat (1984: 364).
The inscription is dated ‘the seventh day of the waxing moon of the
second month in the year C.S. 1155’ (Wednesday, 8 January 1794). 25 See
Thawat Punnothok (1999) ‘Kha okat phrathat phanom’ [The temple serfs of
Phrathat Phanom]. In: Saranukrom watthanatham phak isan [Encyclopedia of
Thai Culture: The northeastern region], Vol. 2, pp. 488–492. Bangkok.
The monastery containing the stu ¯ pa of That Phanom, one of the most
important religious monuments of Lan Sang, had up to 3,000 temple serfs.
See Preuss (1976: 58). 26 See Saowani Phannaphop (1996). Süksa wikhrò
kotmai khosarat nai thana thi pen ekkasan thang prawattisat [An
analytical study of the Khosarat law as an historical document]. MA
thesis, Sinakharinwirot University: 54, 433. 27 See Inscription No. 1 of
Vat Daen Müang, in Thawat (1984: 230–235). Compare similar prohibitions
in numerous other inscriptions. 28 Lao inscriptions mention very few
exceptions. An important one is the donation of Mae Cao Kham Haeng to
Vat Saensukhi-aram (Vientiane province) made in

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29

30 31

32

33 34

35

36 37 38 39 40

1603. See inscription G 3/34 N° 108 dated ‘seventh day of the waning
moon of the tenth month, C.S. 973’, i.e. Wednesday, 28 September 1611
(Gagneux 1975: 191–192). Thawat Punnothok (1999) mentions the so-called
Bun Sia Kha Hua, a meritmaking ceremony performed until the present day
on the eighth day of the third month (Lao calendar) of every year by the
descendants of a village whose ancestors had been temple serfs of Vat
That Phanom (Nakhòn Phanom province). The obligations of the temple
serfs had ended more than two centuries ago when Siamese rule spread to
the Khorat Plateau. See, for example, the inscription of Vat Si
Suphana-aram (Nòng Khai), dated Tuesday, 4 March 1567. Thawat (1984:
261–264). See Dhida (1982: 155–158). Dhida (ibid.: 157–158) emphasizes
‘that there was a basic belief concerning land and territorial spirits
regardless of religion, which made people donate primarily as a means of
gaining merit. This notion corresponds with Paul Mus’s idea about the
belief in the relationship of land and territorial spirits that played
an important role in the expansion of the chief’s authority and rights
to land. This basic idea spread among the peoples and left some traces
in the practice of donating land to religion.’ This inscription, dated
‘Wednesday, the second day of the waning moon of the fifth month in the
sanga year (i.e. year of the horse), CS. 1172 [10 April 1811], is
published in Thawat (1984: 381–392). Eade (1996: 129–130) argues
convincingly that Thawat misread the digit ‘5’ as a ‘4’ as this would
change the corresponding Western date to 11 March 1811, which is a
Monday. Called Maha San˙ ghara¯ja Cao Khu Hong Kham, which means
literally, ‘Supreme Patriarch, teacher in the golden hall’. Pha Khu Phon
Samek’s life is discussed in the Champassak Chronicle, Citsavang
version, ff° 4/1/1–15/1/2. Cf. Bounleuth (2004: 18–37). A well-written
synthesis of the various accounts of Pha Khu Phon Samek in the
Champassak Chronicle and orally transmitted traditions is Can
Inthuphilat (1994) ‘Phra khru phonsamek rü yakhru khi hòm’ [Phrakhru
Phonsamek or Yakhru Khi Hòm]. In Phrathat cediwat samkhan lae phrakhru
yòt kaeo phonsamek [Important stupas-monasteries and Phrakhru Yòt Kaeo
Phonsamek], pp. 85–99. Chiang Mai: Social Research Institute, Chiang Mai
University. One finds a short biography of the monk in the That Phanom
Chronicle (Nithan Urangkhathat) where he is credited with the
respiration of the sacred stu¯ pa of That Phanom, notably its spire. See
Preuss (1976: 65–67). For other accounts of Pha Khu Phon Samek’s life,
see Phraratcha Prichayanmuni (1970) Theraprawat [Biography of senior
monks]. Nakhòn Phanom: Cao Khana Nakhòn Phanom: 1–20; and Toem
Wiphakphotcanakit (1987) Prawattisat isan [A history of the Northeast].
Bangkok: Thammasat University Press: 34–47. Very deep knowledges: 1)
supernatural power; 2) all-hearing ability; 3) extrasensory perception,
reading the mind of another; 4) ability to remember previous
incarnations; 5) clairvoyance, all-seeing ability; 6) ability to
eliminate evil thoughts or emotions, cessation of desire. Attainment in
the practice of Buddhist meditation. Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang
version, ff° 5/1/4–5/2/2. (Bounleuth 2004: 20–21). In the various
versions of the Champassak Chronicle called Phanya Müang Saen.
Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 10/2/3–11/1/1.
(Bounleuth 2004: 29–30). ‘Than Phakhu then was praying [for his safety]
“With the power of the good deeds (des´a pa¯ramı¯) being performed in
the past existences, [I] would help human

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41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48

beings (panna sat) to avoid danger. [I] prayed to the Gods (thepphacao)
for protecting people in this time.” Then, Than Phakhu could
conveniently lead [his] families [of laity] to escape from danger. See
Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 8/1/1–8/1/2. (Bounleuth
2004: 32). Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff°
16/1/2–16/2/4. (Bounleuth 2004: 39–40). For details, see Champassak
Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 17/1/1. (Bounleuth 2004: 40). For
details, see Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 12/1/4.
(Bounleuth 2004: 32). For details, see Champassak Chronicle, Vat
Citsavang version, ff° 11/1/2, 11/1/3 and 15/2/1. (Bounleuth 2004: 30,
37–38). Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 41/1/3–41/2/1.
(Bounleuth 2004: 79–80). Piyachat (1997: 79) even proposes that
‘Buddhism [. . .] received a role to support the secular realm
(a¯n.a¯cakra) to a large extent until it appeared as if the buddhacakra
and the a¯n.a¯cakra were inseparably linked with each other’. Bechert
(1967: 268) mentions that equally disrupting were the raids of the
Chinese (‘Hò’) marauders in 1872/73 and 1887. As to a discussion of the
millenarian revolts, notably the uprising of Cao Hua Sa Kiat Ngong
(1817–1819) and the so-called ‘Holy Men uprisings’ (kabot phu mi bun) of
1901/02, in the Lao lands since the late eighteenth century see, e.g.,
Nonglak Limsiri (1981) Khwam samkhan khòng kabot hua müang isan ph.s.
2325–2445 [The importance of the uprisings in the northeastern region,
 1782–1902]. MA thesis, Bangkok: Silapakorn University; and Toem
(1987: 491–516).

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8 PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE IN BUDDHIST PROPHETIC LITERATURE OF THE LAO Peter Koret

Whereas the topic that is most prominently treated in prophetic
literature of the nineteenth through twentieth centuries is not
surprisingly the future, a study of its content reveals that in that
future the authors are very much talking about the present, and that
that present is very much given meaning by their preoccupation with the
past. Prophetic literature, therefore, can serve as an important source
of information in the construction of both a cultural and intellectual
history of Lao-speaking people, and more generally a study of the effect
of modernization on traditional Theravada Buddhist cultures in Southeast
Asia. In our approach to prophetic literature, we will examine
prophetic works in the context of a) the literary tradition out of which
they originated, and b) the historical circumstances under which they
were composed, out of which arose the specific set of concerns that
literary expression was made use of to address. We will examine both
prophetic literature from the nineteenth through early twentieth
centuries, which anticipated modernization and its consequences, and
prophetic works from the mid-twentieth century onwards, in which the
consequences that were anticipated in earlier works very much dictate
the concerns that a traditional style of writing is made use of to
express.

Part One: Prophetic works of the nineteenth through early twentieth
centuries In contemporary studies of traditional culture in Southeast
Asia (both by westerners and Southeast Asians), the perspective of the
writers – and the style that is made use of in the presentation of that
perspective – is very much a product of the modernization of which they
write. One important aspect of prophetic works is that in contrast and
in counter-balance to modern studies of the past, prophetic works can be
understood as ‘studies’ of the 143

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future as seen from the perspective of the past by literary composers
whose very duty was to preserve that past from the threat of that
future. Buddhist prophetic literature of the nineteenth through early
twentieth centuries presents a picture of the world based upon the
belief in a Buddhist era of five thousand years following the
enlightenment of the Buddha. As time grows increasingly distant from the
appearance of a Buddha on earth, Buddhist teachings gradually
deteriorate, throwing the world into a state of great turmoil. Prophecy
of the decline of Buddhism is not original to the Lao, but can be traced
back to the Tripitaka. Indeed, one of the most ˙ popular works of Lao
Buddhist prophecy, Khwam Fan Phanya Patsen (The Dreams of Phanya
Patsen), is based upon a canonical Ja¯taka tale. Prophetic works of
literature depicting the decline of Buddhism are also widespread among
neighbouring Southeast Asian groups, including, for example, the Tai
Yuan (i.e. people of Lan Na), the Thai, the Khmer, etc.1 Similar to the
use of the framework of canonical Ja¯taka tales in the composition of
traditional Lao literature, the conventions of Buddhist prophecy were
adapted by the Lao and came to take on a variety of traits reflective of
Lao society in their adaptation. Literary and historical context to
prophetic literature In order to make sense of Lao works of Buddhist
prophecy, we first need to understand the sense that they make in the
context in which they were created, i.e. as a form of literature.
Whatever unique characteristics they may possess within their own
category, that category only exists as part of the larger literary
tradition, in the context of which it was meaningful. Traditional
literature provided the composers with a pre-existing framework of
conventions with which to record their thoughts in writing, and the
audience with a familiar ‘vocabulary of expression’ with which such
thoughts could be understood and appreciated. It was very much this
literary background, both in the conventions of literary expression and
the social context in which such expression was customarily presented to
an audience, that gave the literature its power as a means of
communication. Both the similarities and differences between traditional
and prophetic works of Lao literature need to be understood in the
context of the social and historical environments that led to their
creation.2 From the fourteenth through late seventeenth centuries, Lan
Sang was a powerful and prosperous kingdom that united Lao and other
groups under a single rule. Similar to other Southeast Asian kingdoms
during the same period, Theravada Buddhism played an important political
as well as religious role as an institution. The power of the temple
was at times comparable to that of the monarchy, which was dependent
upon religious legitimization in its governing. The significance of
literature in Lan Sang largely rested upon its efficiency as a medium
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Literature in Lan Sang owes its origins to two primary sources: a) the
cultural influence of the neighbouring kingdom of Lan Na, from which the
Lao borrowed many of their stories, conventions in the telling and
performance of the stories, and the scripts in which the stories were
recorded, and b) a tradition of regional oral poetry and story-telling
that has predated and continues to exist to the present day side-by-side
with the written tradition. One of the most important literary imports
from Lan Na was the specific relationship between literature and the
temple, and the precise ways in which the literature defined its
religious identity. On one level, a fundamental objective of literature
in Lan Sang was to teach Buddhist practices that were expected to be
followed by laymen, such as the observance of the Five Precepts, support
of the temple, etc. On another level, the responsibility of literary
works was the maintenance and preservation of the ‘world’ from one
generation to the next, which included, for example, conventions to be
followed in everyday life, performance of the monthly rites (known as
Hit Sip Saung – ‘Annual cycle of events that are mandated by custom’),
which were necessary to avert disaster and assure the prosperity of the
community, a prescribed code of interaction between people and groups of
people based upon established social hierarchies, an understanding of
man’s place (and his proper duties) within the world in which he lived,
etc. None of these teachings in any way contradicted the notion of
literature as a religious tradition, for the conventions were not
legitimized and given value within a modern nationalist framework as
being part of a precious and secular ‘Lao heritage’, but rather through
the way in which they were traceable back to the ‘religious’ realm of
the past in which they were sanctified by the Buddha, the Lord Indra, and
various Tai deities. In the late seventeeth century, Lan Sang split
into three smaller states as a result of internal rivalry among its
nobility. The lack of unity within the kingdom, and the weakened
conditions that it engendered, were to ultimately prove fatal to the Lan
Sang royalty and their aspirations for power in the region. The bitter
conflict between the kingdoms that formerly comprised Lan Sang was
ultimately to be exploited by the kingdom of Siam, which desired to
extend its influence, while at the same time fearful of the assistance
that independent Lao kingdoms might provide to their enemies, the
Burmese. Vientiane was invaded and sacked by the Siamese in the early
1820s after a war between Siam and Vientiane that was to have disastrous
consequences for the Lao. Following the defeat of Vientiane, the
Siamese significantly increased their control of the region, and
implemented deportations of an unprecedented scale in which people were
forcibly settled in Northeast and Central Thailand. Despite Siamese
expansion, however, prior to the late nineteenth century Siamese control
was largely exercised indirectly through local elites who continued to
rule following traditional Lao administrative practices. At the same
time, Siamese culture did not make great inroads into the region. All of
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French colonial expansion. The territory that comprised contemporary
Laos was annexed by the French at the end of the nineteenth century.
Fearful of further expansion by the French and British, King
Chulalongkorn radically reformed the administration of outlying regions
of the country. In Northeast Thailand, the local elite were replaced by
administrators and administrative practices brought in from Bangkok, and
vigorous attempts were made to instil in its inhabitants a Siamese
identity. Such change, however, did not go uncontested. In the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millenarian movements spread
throughout the region, which can be interpreted as a result of both the
social and cultural upheavals in the region, and the exploitation of
those upheavals by members of local elites whose interests were directly
threatened by the process of change. During this period, literature in
the traditional mould continued to be produced and performed. Indeed,
there is even evidence to suggest that the majority of literary works in
the Lao language that have come down to us were produced during the
nineteenth century.3 At the same time, however, from the late nineteenth
century onwards, the unsettled conditions of the period also provided
the impetus for the creation of a type of literature that was very
different from previous works. The literature of prophecy can be
understood as a reflection of and reaction to the social and political
turmoil of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which brought about
new demands in the preservation of the ‘world’ that was a traditional
subject of literature. In traditional literature, not only was the
preservation of traditional society a primary objective in its
composition, the very preservation of those traditions was, in and of
itself, undertaken in a traditional manner. The conventional nature of
the style that was made use of in literature was not only considered
practical as a result of its proven track record (i.e. it had worked in
the past), but also legitimized as a part of the past that it attempted
to preserve. In contrast, as a result of the radical changes in society,
composers were forced to recognize that traditional approaches could no
longer successfully achieve their desired ends. As a result of the late
stage of the Buddhist era, the authors commonly declare that a) new
diseases have arisen that have never before been seen, and b) old types
of medicine have grown ineffective in the treatment of the very same
diseases that they had once cured.4 Prophetic works composed during this
period are widespread in Laospeaking regions, and can be found
throughout northern, central, and southern Laos, and Northeast Thailand.
In my own research I have uncovered a total of roughly twenty works,
which are by no means exhaustive. Whereas the majority of Lao literary
works are composed in poetic form, the great majority of prophetic works
are recorded in a prose form known as Nitsay, a writing genre in which
Pali texts are (or supposedly are) translated into Lao.5 In previous
writings, the sole reference that I have found to this type of
literature is in relationship to its connection with the above-mentioned
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millenarian movements and the political objectives of its instigators.
It is important, however, to emphasize that whereas some of the works
were indeed made use of (and perhaps specifically created) by such
movements, and the identity of their composers shared certain
similarities with what we know about figures within these movements, the
category of works in general can be understood less as being
deliberately orchestrated by certain groups or individuals than as the
outcome of the cultural environment under which such movements were to
arise. The logic of prophetic works of Lao literature In our analysis of
the ‘logic’ of prophetic works of literature as a response to the
threat of modernization on traditional culture, this essay will
investigate prophetic literature in comparison with traditional
literature through a discussion of a) the construction of a religious
identity, b) claims of sacred origin, c) types of religious teachings
and karmic enforcement, d) the prescribed handling of the texts, and
finally, e) their social and political commentary. The construction of
religious identity in literature Similar to traditional literature, the
legitimacy of an author’s message in a work of prophetic literature is
dependent upon claims to the sacred nature of its origins. In order to
understand how such claims are justified, we must first consider the
construction of religious identity in traditional works of literature.6
Regardless of its patronage by the temple, the majority of traditional
literature is not scriptural in origin. Individual stories frequently
bear close similarities to tales within the oral story-telling
tradition, and it is not uncommon to find that the element of religious
teaching within a given work is relatively minimal, and even subservient
to the role of the story as romance and entertainment. However,
regardless of either the origins and/or content of individual tales,
written literature is perceived by its audience as a source of religious
authority. The religious identity of literature is established both
through conventions in the composition of individual works, and the
existence of that individual work within the larger tradition. The
religious quality that is attached to literature, much of which was
inherent in the tradition in Lan Na prior to its introduction into Lan
Sang, is a product of both the social context of its usage and the
nature of the literary medium itself. As a result of the central role of
the temple in the patronage of the literature, there are a number of
factors in the recording, storage, and performance of traditional
literature that serve to establish its religious credentials, including:

The script in which literature is recorded; There are two types of
scripts, the Tham (literally, dhamma) script, which is intended for the
recording 147

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of religious works, and the Lao script, which is made use of for topic
matter that is more worldly in nature. In actuality, however, in many
cases the use of a given script denotes less the content of a given text
than its social use. Works in Tham are typically stored and performed
inside the temple, whereas writings recorded in Lao are kept and
performed in private homes. In the case of poetry, on the other hand,
identical works can be recorded in both scripts and made use of either
in the context of religious sermons or entertainment. The re-recording
of a poem from Lao into Tham can be referred to as ‘ordaining a book’.
In prose works, however, which are generally composed in a form known as
Nitsay (which shall be discussed in greater detail later in this
section), the restrictions are greater, and they can only be recorded in
Tham and are usually stored inside of the temple. Performers and
performance; works recorded in the Tham script are typically performed
within the temple by monks and novices. They are performed as a part of
religious sermons, and events within the annual cycle known as Hit Sip
Saung, which often have their own specific religious significance. Place
of storage; literary works in Tham are generally stored in the temple
inside of a library known as Hau Trai (‘Room of the Tripitaka ˙
Scriptures’), in which writings are not differentiated as being of
scriptural or non-scriptural origin. (When works in Tham are
occasionally found in private homes, they tend to be placed upon altars
where sacred objects, such as Buddha images, are stored.) Skills
prerequisite to the creation, preservation, and consumption of
literature; the major skills involved in the literary process are
learned at the temple, including, for example, literacy, methods of
transcription, chanting styles, etc. The central role of kamma in the
literary process; both the promise of positive kamma and the threat of
negative kamma serve as major motivational factors behind the creation
of literature, the donation of materials required for its creation, its
performance, and participation as a part of its audience.

As can be seen in many of the above points, the religious perception of
the literature is based upon the patronage of the Buddhist temple, and
the opportunities that the written medium allows for its control of
literary production and consumption. In addition, the religious
perception of literature is also a result of the limitations of the same
medium, and obstacles in the distribution of literature that effectively
prevent an individual from gaining a broad or thorough understanding of
the tradition. Obstacles in gaining a thorough knowledge of literature
include, for example, a) the time-intensive method of its circulation,
in which the transcription of even a single manuscript can take months
to complete, b) the impossibility of establishing the 148

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authorship of individual works and the date of their composition, c)
difficulties in communications, which renders impossible any overview of
the literary tradition as a whole, etc.7 These types of limitations have
contributed to the Lao perception that literature was of mythical
proportions and beyond the mastery of a single individual. It is perhaps
not surprising that the religious identity of literature and the
mythical proportions of the tradition came to be exploited for the
benefit of those who were knowledgeable (or perceived to be
knowledgeable) in that tradition, and invested the works with an
authority that was directly translatable into power. For this reason,
access to literary works was not only limited by the nature of its
medium and poor communications, but also intentionally restricted by
both the temple, where the majority of the works were stored, and
private owners of individual manuscripts. An understanding of the
religious identity of traditional literature provides an important
foundation from which to approach the study of prophetic works of
literature. As predictions of the future, a crucial concern of such
writing (to which composers devoted much of their text) was the
establishment of its authority as religious discourse. We can observe
that they made use of many of the identical conventions as conventional
literature in their achievement of that objective. It is important to
note the degree of flexibility in the construction of literary works as
religious texts, as clearly illustrated in the use of the Tham script in
the ‘ordination’ of a work of literature based upon intended social
usage rather than actual content. This type of flexibility was
instrumental in the legitimization of prophetic works. Based upon
available evidence, prophetic works of literature were primarily stored
in private homes rather than the temple.8 Whereas it would not perhaps
have strictly been forbidden to keep such works in a temple, the type of
social commentary contained in their content, and particularly the
direct criticism of the state of the monkhood, meant that it would have
been highly unfeasible for them to have been performed by monks or even
during the type of communal occasions when literary works were
customarily read. Regardless of such restrictions, however, it is
significant that their authors insisted on composing the great majority
of prophetic literature in the form of Nitsay prose, which can only be
recorded in the religious Tham script that is generally intended to be
performed by monks in a temple. Claims of unique origins In general,
individual works of traditional literature do not devote a lot of space
or effort to the repetition of specific claims of sacred origin, which are
pretty well established through the conventions described in the
previous sections. In addition, claims to unique origins of individual
works are not attempted, as they would contradict the very foundation
from which such works claim their authority – as part of a larger
tradition. 149

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In contrast, a primary characteristic of prophetic works of literature
is the great emphasis on the sacred origins of a work, and the
uniqueness of those origins, which is repeatedly stated throughout the
text. Prophetic works are attributed to either the Buddha (in one
example the Buddha together with the Future Buddha, Phra Maitreya),
Indra, or a combination of both. In Pheun Meuang Krung, for example, the
Buddha journeys to Southeast ¯ nanda, which is put into writing Asia
and makes a prophecy to his disciple A by Lord Indra, whereas in Kala
Nap Meu Suay, the Buddha prophesies in answer to a deity who asks him
about the state of Buddhism after the Buddha’s own enlightenment. In
Tamnan Hin Taek (Chronicle of the Broken Rock), the Buddha preaches to
Phra Maitreya in response to the concerns of a sacred hermit, and the
text is subsequently attributed to both the present and future Buddha.
In Kham Saun Phraya In (The Teachings of Lord Indra), Fa Samang Kham,
and Nangseu Tok Jak Meuang In (Writing That Has Fallen From the Land of
Indra), the words are held to be specifically composed by Indra. In
traditional Lao literature, we have already observed the use of the
written medium as a means through which to establish the sacred quality
of the content. This characteristic is especially developed in works of
prophetic literature in order to establish their unique origins. In
Tamnan Hin Taek, for example, the work is uncovered by a farmer when he
goes to his fields and discovers that a bolt of lightening has struck a
great boulder, revealing writing that is miraculously inscribed on its
inside. He is unable to make sense of the writing, which is later
interpreted by a noble of high-ranking position, who states: ‘The
content is truly profound. . . . The writing on that stone is not
composed by ordinary human beings. . . . It is likely that it has been
inscribed and brought down by deities, and encountered by us as a result
of our great merit’ (Niyom Suphawit 1989: 4). In Pheun Meuang Krung and
Fa Samang Kham, the manuscript is described as being brought down by
Indra in a golden container. The significance of the medium in the
establishment of the miraculous nature of the texts can be seen in the
fact that it serves as the title of some of the works, such as Tamnan
Hin Taek (‘Chronicle of the Broken Rock’ i.e. where the writing is
inscribed), and Nangseu Tok Jak Meuang In (‘Writing That Has Fallen From
the Land of Indra’). Note that the word ‘nangseu’ (‘writing’ or ‘book’)
is not commonly used in the title of literary works. Whereas composers
of prophetic literature make use of traditional conventions in the
construction of their sacred identity, the extent to which they attempt
to establish their unique and powerful origin indicates that in
comparison to traditional literature there is a greater sense of
insecurity concerning the level of acceptability of such works among
their intended audience. Whereas the reasons behind this insecurity will
be discussed at greater length later in this essay, it is sufficient to
say that in the construction of what are essentially ‘underground’
religious works that are largely performed exclusively outside of the
temple, there is a need to authenticate 150

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the content in a manner that would not be necessary for works composed
directly under religious patronage. Types of specific teachings and
karmic enforcement In terms of instructions as to how an audience is
specifically told to act, traditional and prophetic works of literature
are in many ways remarkably similar, reflective of the popular practice
of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. Audiences are repeatedly exhorted to a)
follow the Five Precepts, b) pay respect to the Triple Gems, c) give
support to the monkhood, etc. At the same time, people are taught
established codes of behaviour in the interaction between different
individuals and groups of people in society (such as relationships
between children/parents, students/teachers, subjects/rulers, etc.),
which are all placed within the context of Buddhism. Whereas there is
great similarity in the nature of their basic teaching, there is also a
major difference between traditional and prophetic works of literature in
the way in which such teaching is taught. On a fundamental level, both
forms of literature place their teaching within the larger framework of
kamma, through which the audience will be rewarded and/or punished in
terms of the level of their conformance to the wishes of their authors.
The exact use of kamma, however, differs considerably between the two
groups of works. In traditional literature, proper patterns of behaviour
are largely taught indirectly through the stories that are told. It is
also not uncommon for an author to insert an occasional remark directly
aimed at the audience in which they are told to observe the Five
Precepts, support the temple, etc., for which they will reap the
positive consequences of their kamma. In prophetic works, the use of
kamma differs in a) the great frequency of direct demands upon the
behaviour of the audience, and b) the consistently intimidating nature
of the threat of karmic punishment by which it is enforced. In prophetic
works, large portions of the texts are devoted to the depiction of
various types of human suffering in the immediate and not so immediate
future, such as war, starvation, separation of families, the abandonment
of entire villages, etc., which doubtlessly reflect the social
circumstances of the time of their composition. In addition, however,
the author appears to dwell on the morbid details of the punishments, as
in ‘if you sit you will die, if you lay down you will die, you will
cough up blood and die, you will die from a variety of diseases, you
will have head aches, blurry eyes, animals will kill, eat, and bite
you’,9 ‘you will die by scorpion bites, tiger bites, centipede bites,
snake bites’,10 etc. The authors state consistently that the only way in
which such suffering can be avoided is to act in conformance with the
morality set forth in the text. On one level, there is a definite
connection between the claims of the unique, and uniquely powerful,
origin of the texts, and the power that is made use of to coerce the
audience into acquiescence to their demands. 151

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The increased role of coercive power in prophetic literature is
illustrated in a shift in emphasis from the Buddha to the Lord Indra. In
traditional Lao literature, the Lord Indra is primarily made use of as a
deity of great power who intervenes in our world on behalf of the
Buddha and the Buddhist religion. Whereas he is clearly subservient to
the Buddha, he is also seen as a representation of sheer power in a
manner that would be impossible to be attributed to the Buddha, a
characteristic that is evident in traditional literature, and
particularly comes to the foreground in prophetic works.11 Whereas a
composer would hesitate to present a picture of the Buddha as a great
destructive force wreaking havoc on mankind, Indra – as a symbol of
power in the service of the greater good – is portrayed in works of
prophetic literature as committing (or ordering) deadly attacks on
thousands or millions of humans who are labelled as sinners. It is in
this role as an enforcer and powerful agent of righteous anger that
Indra becomes such an important figure in (and frequently the attributed
author of) prophetic literature, in which he is the central actor, and
the Buddha is relegated to the background as the necessary justification
behind his violent actions. Indra, for example, as the author of the
widespread prophetic work Kham Saun Phraya In, warns his audience: ‘If
you do not follow the customary conventions, I personally will smash
your head into seven pieces with a heavy piece of metal’, a statement
that would be difficult to place into the mouth of an enlightened being.
In Tamnan Hin Taek the Lord Indra recognizes that human beings have
grown immoral, and no longer act in accordance with the Buddha’s
teachings. He therefore devises a strategy to resolve the situation,
which involves ordering his subordinates to kill sinners, consisting of
the majority of mankind. Similar to the relationship between the Buddha
and the Lord Indra is the relationship between the Man of Merit
(sometimes stated to be Phra Maitreya), and the various non-human
entities such as guardian deities (rakkha) and local spirits (phi). In
Pheun Meuang Krung for example, the arrival of the Meritorious One and
the dawning of a new age on earth is preceded by the arrival of vast
numbers of these creatures, who appear on earth in order to destroy the
multitudes of immoral humans who are not fit to take part in such an age.
Despite the emphasis on righteous and extreme violence, however, on
certain occasions, the authors feel the need to legitimize it in the
context of Buddhist teaching. In Tamnan Hin Taek, Chatulok is sent down
to earth by the Lord Indra for the express purpose of ‘taking all
sinners’. When he is asked by the very same Lord Indra why so many
people have died, his answer is: “No one caused their deaths. It is the
result of their own kamma’ (Niyom Suphawit 1989: 8) . In a similar
fashion, when, in Pheun Meuang Krung, the Buddha is asked by a disciple
why enlightened beings do not save mankind from the disasters that
befall them, his answer is that it is impossible as a result of the
immorality of the humans, who cannot escape their kamma. For all the
horrendous display of power by the authors of prophetic works 152

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of literature, the precarious nature of that power is clearly
illustrated by the extent of the effort they find it necessary to exert
merely in order to compel their audience to believe in their words, a
belief that the authors of traditional literature would have simply
taken for granted. If the audience accepts the contents of prophetic
works as the truth, they will escape a variety of dangers described in
the authors’ prophecies, they will see the Future Buddha or Man of
Merit, etc. To the contrary, if they do not, they will cough up blood
and die, all members of the household will die, they will never see the
Man of Merit, etc. In Tamnan Hin Taek, for example, the author writes:
‘There once was a person who did not believe in these sacred teachings .
. . He said: “I do not believe . . .” Not long after he said this all
three members of his household died. None were left. For that reason,
everyone should believe’ (ibid.: 9). In addition to coercing an audience
into accepting the truth of their writings, the authors of prophetic
works of literature also provide an equal amount of incentive in order
to ensure their writings’ wide distribution. The audience is instructed
both to keep prophetic works of literature in their homes and distribute
them to others. They are warned that phi will travel to each house to
destroy sinners, sparing only those households that have prophetic works
in their possession. If, however, one is to keep prophetic literature
to oneself and make no attempt to circulate its content, the inevitable
result will be ‘great trouble’ and ultimately ‘death’. This type of
negative reinforcement is not commonly found in traditional works of
literature. The prescribed handling of the text We have observed that
kamma provides a fundamental motivational factor in the promotion of all
aspects of the literary cycle, including the creation, preservation,
performance, and consumption of literary works. The transcription,
donation of materials necessary to the transcription, performance,
participation as an audience, etc. all have very specific amounts of
kamma (and specified rewards) to serve as incentive towards the
continuation of the tradition. In addition, manuscripts not uncommonly
describe the respectful manner in which they must be treated as a result
of their sacred origins. In certain stories, for example, the audience
is told that the texts must be coated with gold, held at a proper
height, formally shown respect with an offering of flowers and incense,
not performed on certain occasions, etc.12 Specific instructions
regarding the treatment of prophetic manuscripts do not substantially
differ from those of other types of literature. However, there is a
greater emphasis that is placed on the importance of the respectful
treatment of manuscripts as a whole, which fits in with the general
thesis that their authors are more insecure concerning the acceptance of
their writings among their intended audience. Whereas in traditional
literature instruction concerning the treatment of manuscripts generally
occurs exclusively at 153

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the end (or at times beginning) of a text, in prophetic writings similar
instructions occur consistently throughout. In addition, there is also a
greater extent to which the threat of bad kamma is stated in
relationship to the improper treatment of the manuscript, which is equal
to, if not exceeding, threats for failure to follow the Five Precepts,
the Triple Gems, etc.13 Social and political commentary contained in
literary works In our examination of social and political commentary in
prophetic works of literature, we first need to address a question that
becomes apparent from the previous sections: if the major objective of
their composers is simply to ask an audience to follow patterns of
behaviour that have commonly been taught in works of literature and
religious sermons for centuries, why do they feel the need to make so
much effort both to a) establish the unique and powerful origins of their
works as a source of religious authority, and b) intimidate through
such a persistent threat of such extreme forms of punishment? In
answering this question, we must take into account a distinction between
the context in which such teaching is presented in traditional and
prophetic works of literature, and the extra meaning that it thereby
comes to take on in the latter type. In traditional literature, the
basic teachings (such as the following of the precepts, etc.) are
presented as if normal practice that is logically followed by people in
the ‘world’, a ‘world’ that literature is made use of to preserve.
People who fail to follow such practices are exceptions rather than the
norm, and their behaviour is eventually corrected (through their death
or otherwise), and the norm preserved. The ‘world’ of prophetic
literature, however, is a ‘world’ that has very much changed, in which
failure to act in accordance with traditional conventions has become the
norm. As a result, exhortations for people to follow basic teachings,
such as the observance of the Five Precepts, etc., take on a social
significance as a condemnation not only of individuals but also an
abnormal world, in which ‘normal’ and ‘logical’ practices are no longer
observed.14 This extra meaning can be seen in the fact that such
teachings are by and large expressed a) negatively as threats and
admonishments rather than more neutrally, as is generally the case in
traditional literature, and b) within the larger context of social
and/or political statements concerning society as a whole. Commentary of
this nature in prophetic works is expressed as very specific criticism
directed at the actions of three different groups of people: a) political
authorities (including kings, nobles, and government officials), b) the
Buddhist temple, and c) the general population. Social and political
commentary is not unique to prophetic works, but also exists within the
content of traditional literary works. It is common, for example, to find
stories that depict an evil king, who as a result of his misdeeds is
eventually driven from his throne. In this type of story (as
illustrated, for example, by Thao Kamphra Kai Kiaew, Suphrom Mokkha, 154

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etc.), however, the conclusion ultimately serves to reaffirm the
legitimacy of the institution, which through the law of kamma possesses a
selfcorrecting mechanism to protect it from abuse. It is far less
common to find criticism of the monkhood (which as far as I know consists
of nothing more than humorous depictions of mischievous novices).15
This should not be surprising considering the central role that the
temple plays in literary production. In contrast to traditional
literature, both the specific types of criticism that are contained in
prophetic literature and their objectives are considerably different in
nature. Rather than providing an example of the corruption of an
individual within an institution and its ultimate ‘correction’,
prophetic works portray the state of the institutions themselves as
being corrupt, and lacking a self-correcting mechanism (at least in the
foreseeable future), in which such corruption can properly be addressed.
Indeed, as repeatedly stated throughout the works, the decline of the
institutions is a normal (if regrettable) state of affairs, as a result
of the late stage of the Buddhist era, as affirmed by none other than the
Buddha himself. In order to understand the logic of social and political
commentary that is the subject of prophetic works of literature, let us
briefly consider the criticism of political authorities and the Buddhist
temple that is contained in their content. A commonly found criticism
of political authorities is that the monarchy, nobles, and government
officials have no legitimacy in their rule as a result of the fact that
the government of Siam has appointed commoners to administrative
positions that customarily should be filled by those of noble blood. In
Pheun Meuang Krung, for example, the suffering of the Lao and other
groups under Siamese domination is declared inevitable, as the Siamese
royalty have been descended from common stock since the fall of
Ayutthaya. Prophetic works also condemn specific actions of kings and
government officials, the barbarity of which is often blamed on their low
birth. Examples include corruption, favouring rich people in legal
cases, excessive taxation, and extortion of money from poor villagers.
Criticism of the low birth of high officials is also typically expressed
through the use of symbolism, including, for example, ‘wolves becoming
royal lions’, ‘evil people riding beautiful elephants’, ‘golden swans
bowing down to black crows’, etc.16 In its criticism of religious
institutions, prophetic literature frequently portrays monks as being
lazy, having no interest in Buddhist studies, and failing to observe
rules of monastic discipline. In addition, they are condemned for greed,
and their desire to engage in commercial pursuits. In Kham Saun Phanya
In, the author declares that monks nowadays are similar to ‘rotten fish
wrapped up in banana leaves’. In the context of this type of social
commentary, it may be tempting to approach prophetic literature from a
modern perspective as a form of secular writing in which the primary
significance of religious expression is in the legitimacy that it confers
on political incitement aimed at contesting the 155

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powers that be. To the contrary, however, in the context of the society
in which the works were originally composed, it is less appropriate to
consider the use of religious commentary as a means through which to
express a political message than to understand the use of political
commentary as part of a larger message that is essentially religious in
nature. Whereas the criticism of worldly institutions is in one sense
political, its cause, meaning, and ultimate solution is envisioned
entirely within the religious context of a traditional Lao world-view.
In analysing the religious dimension of social commentary in prophetic
works of literature, let us return again to our previous observation
that in works devoted to the future, it is significant to find such a
preoccupation with the past. A primary objective of prophetic works is
an aggressive insistence in the continued authority of that past, the
relevance of which is not in spite of the changes of the present but
precisely because of them. One major importance of the past is its role
as a vehicle through which meaning is given to the seemingly meaningless
turmoil that engulfed Laos and Northeastern Thailand in the nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries. As such, psychologically, it provides an
important source of reassurance to people who are uprooted, whether
physically through war and political instability, or mentally as a
result of the insecurity of the times. Buddhist prophecy has a lot to
say about the abnormal state of the present; it was not necessary to go
outside the framework of Lao traditional culture to be given sense and
meaning. As the nature of the changes were clearly against the interests
of the people who produced the literature, it is not surprising that
there is no ambiguity in the meaning of the change according Buddhist
prophecy. It is ‘immoral’, ‘abnormal’, and ‘evil’, and yet at the same
time part of the natural course of events, which will in the end (if in a
time frame that may well be beyond the life of the composers and their
audience) only serve to reaffirm the authority of the past. After all,
whereas on a superficial level it may appear that the Lao are powerless
against the Siamese and/or French authorities, ultimately these
foreigners have been created by – and are forced to act in accordance to
– Lao traditional culture, a culture that dictates their present
appearance, judges their actions as immoral, and eventually will see
them destroyed, together with the Lao people who are foolish and
ill-advised enough to support them. A second important role of the past
in prophetic literature is as a compass that dictates the way in which
people must navigate through the uncertainty of the present. The present
and future depicted in prophetic texts is a world of great danger,
filled with suffering and death. It is only through the conformance to the
traditional cultural practices of the past (as represented by the
observance of the Five Precepts, respect of one’s elders, etc.) that one
can circumvent the types of dangers that are so heavily advertised in
the texts. Never is there a suggestion that the suffering that is brought
about by the social change of the period (inclusive of government
oppression, war, etc.) 156

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can be overcome through a solution that is either political or military
in nature. Rather, the only solution is moral, which requires a
restoration of the moral and orderly ‘world’ of the past. Whereas one
cannot deny the pessimist perspective of such writings (which is
reflective both of the times in which they were written and the
conventions of Buddhist prophecy), it is noteworthy that many of the
prophecies do in fact end with a restoration of order either a) with the
arrival of Phra Maitreya in the distant future, or b) a Man of Great
Merit (occasionally also referred to as Phra Maitreya), who will appear
within the lifetime of the audience. An individual’s ability to escape
the turmoil of the present is largely determined by his or her ability
to come into contact with the Man of Merit in this lifetime or Phra
Maitreya in a future one, which can only be achieved through the
conformance of one’s behaviour to traditional convention, through which
positive kamma will be generated to spare one from punishment. In
addition to its preoccupation with the past, a further illustration of
the religious dimension of social commentary in prophetic works can be
seen by the fact that the majority of criticism is directed neither at
political nor religious authorities, but rather the general public.
Whereas the improper deeds of the government and the temple result in
the suffering of the common people, it is ultimately their own weak
morality that is the cause of their punishment. As stated consistently
by the composers of such works, human suffering in the late stage of the
Buddhist era is the result of the failure of the public to act in
accordance with the ‘compass’ of tradition, whether that suffering is to
be inflicted by non-human entities or government agencies. In many ways,
prophetic writing can be interpreted as a tradition of underground
religious literature in Lao society, rooted in two seeming
contradictions: a) the essence through which it makes sense of the world
and legitimizes that sense is religious in nature, and yet it appears
to have been excluded from public performance inside of the temple, and
b) a major motivation in its composition is the preservation of the
major institutions of society, and yet according to its authors, such a
conservative goal can only be achieved through radical change. Such
contradictions, however, do not represent a major shift in the
world-view of its composers or their concept of literature and what it
was intended to accomplish in society, but rather the state of the
times, in which the preservation of the traditional world was no longer
synonymous with the upholding of the status quo.17

Part Two: Lao prophetic works of literature from the mid-twentieth
century onwards By the mid-twentieth century, the Lao culture of
Northeast Thailand, and to a lesser extent Laos, had changed radically
from a half a century earlier. This type of change is aptly illustrated
in the interpretation of the Lao and 157

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Northeast Thai of their own literary tradition from this period onwards.
Typically, in the transformation in the social use of traditional Lao
literature, one initially finds an attempt to maintain the relevance of
literature through the use of older literary forms in the communication
of modern concerns, and subsequently the use of older works of
literature as cultural artefacts that are used to represent the past in a
way that is meaningful to the present.18 One finds a similar pattern in
the twentieth century use of prophetic literature. In this section, we
will consider three examples of the modern use of prophetic literature,
including a) the composition of Panha Tamnai Lok (Riddles of Buddhist
Prophecy), in Northeast Thailand in the mid-twentieth century, b)
interpretations of Kala Nap Meu Suay, a prophetic work of literature
from the nineteenth or early twentieth century, and c) the
interpretation of Kala Nap Meu Suay and its adaptation in the
song-writing of a political band of the 1970s from Northeast Thailand
known as Caravan. Panha Thamnai Lok (Riddles of Buddhist Prophecy)
Ironically, the very centres of modernization that were so rapidly to
destroy traditional literature were also to play an important role in
its preservation. However, the circumstances of that preservation were
inevitably to have a profound effect on how literature was to be
preserved – and changed in the process. By the mid-twentieth century,
the continued survival of traditional literature in Northeast Thailand
was dependent to a large degree not upon the Buddhist temple in rural
communities, but rather printing houses, mostly run by Chinese in the
larger towns. These presses helped to maintain the relevance of
literature through a) cheap mass production made possible by the
introduction and spread of printing technology, and b) their
transcription in the Thai script (but not language), as newer
generations of Lao speakers were no longer educated in the scripts in
which traditional literature had been recorded. Whereas these printed
works could be made use of in temples, by and large they served as
entertainment to be read individually or performed together with music.
Panha Tamnai Lok (Riddles of World Prophecy), by A. Kawiwong, is a work
of prophecy that was published in 1959 by a small publishing house in
Khon Khaen, Northeast Thailand.19 Panha Tamnai Lok is written in the
form of Buddhist prophecy. It is composed as a series of inter-related
riddles, ambiguous in nature, each of which is answered at length to
explain the state of our world in the future. The style of the work is
reminiscent of the well-known prophetic work Khwam Fan Phanya Patsen
(The Dreams of Phanya Patsen), upon which the work is likely to have
been based.20 In addition to its style, there are a number of basic
aspects of the work that show the influence of traditional Buddhist
prophecy, including, for example: a) the claims to the sacred origin of
the riddles that comprise its context, which are stated to have been
formulated by 158

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Shiva, b) the negative assessment of the future, which includes both
criticism of the general population (in a similar manner to the
prophetic works of at least half a century earlier) and political
institutions, and c) statements concerning the role of Phra Maitreya in
the alleviation of the abnormal state of the world. At the same time,
however, there are also a number of important aspects to this work that
indicate that the intention of the author is not to make sense of social
change through a traditional Buddhist worldview, but rather simply to
make use of that world-view as a conventional means with which to
construct a statement that is essentially political in nature. As a
result, one can observe serious tensions, and ultimately contradictions,
between the political message that the author intends to convey to his
audience and the religious framework that is made use of in its
presentation. The shift in the use of prophetic literature from the past
can be seen in a number of statements that clearly illustrate that the
author does not share the traditional religious view of the world from
which early works of prophecy were generated and given meaning. As a
major objective of earlier prophetic works was to find meaning in social
change, Panha Tamnai Lok, in its introduction is somewhat similarly
claimed by its author to be of interest to its audience as an
explanation of why revolutions are a common occurrence throughout the
world. However, whereas works of prophecy through the early twentieth
century legitimize their prophecy through the sanctity of their
religious origins, the primary means through which the author of Panha
Tamnai Lok provides justification for his composition to a new generation
that has been educated in secular government schooling is with the
writings of H. G. Wells, as explained in its introduction. As the Thai
increasingly turned to the west rather than the temple for guidance, the
foreboding state of the world depicted in works of western fiction
rather than scriptural sources provided important evidence that the
destructive state of the world and its future should be accepted as a
universal and universally recognized phenomenon. The shift in the
world-view of the author is illustrated rather dramatically in his
refutation of two of the fundamental principles of prophetic literature:
a) the assertion that the abnormal state of the world is the result of
the late stage of the Buddhist era, and b) the belief in the coming of
Phra Maitreya, and the hope for salvation. First, the author declares
that the world has always been in the same miserable state and always
will be up until the time of its final destruction. Second, in a manner
somewhat surprising for a work of Buddhist prophecy, in the beginning of
the work, in the interpretation of the first riddle, the author appears
to make fun of people’s belief in the coming of the Future Buddha, as
follows: Riddle Number One: “Oh Stork, Why do you not make noise?” Reply
of the Stork: “Because the fish do not come out” 159

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In the author’s explanation, he writes: ‘. . . the reason that the stork
does not make noise, people are waiting for Phra Maitreya, the Man of
Great Merit, to come down. Everybody is waiting for the Man of Merit to
come to help. They can wait forever and they will never see him.’ The
above two statements are noteworthy not only in their disagreement with
the very principles which form the foundations of prophetic literature,
but also the fact that each is contradicted in the passage by which it
is immediately followed. After stating that the world will always be in
the same degraded state until the final day of its destruction, the
author briefly describes the dawning of a new and better age heralded in
by the arrival of Phra Maitreya. In a similar fashion, after he warns
people that they will never see Phra Maitreya, no matter how long they
wait, he once again describes the future arrival of Phra Maitreya on
earth. In each of these two instances (which are the only references to
Phra Maitreya in the entire text), we can observe that the author has no
desire either to convey the message that the suffering of mankind is the
result of the late stage of the Buddhist era, or that it is redeemable
through a religious solution. He appears obliged to make his prophetic
work conclude in the way that prophetic works are supposed to conclude,
but at the same time is not willing to have his work retain the meaning
that is ultimately inherent in that conclusion. Perhaps not surprisingly
for a composition that is stated to explain the reason behind
‘revolutions throughout the world’, it appears to be the opinion of the
author that only a fool would believe in a mystical solution to a
problem that is essentially political in nature. The political
orientation of the author is clearly observable in the interpretation of
individual riddles, of which eight out of a total of twelve are
explained as an indictment of political institutions, whereas the other
four serve as descriptions of the general immorality of the population.
The political criticism that is contained in the work is essentially no
different than that addressed by social critics in Bangkok during this
period (many of whom at this point of history would have been in Lat Yao
prison), other than in the style of its presentation. The government is
accused of being corrupt, outwardly speaking of its desire to develop
the country but in actual fact using its resources to enrich itself.
Through excessive taxation and other means, it is said to extort money
out of a public that is already desperately poor. The soldiers are
declared to have too much power, and yet the public, fearful of
punishment, is afraid to speak. Two further examples illustrate the use
of prophetic imagery in the expression of a modern political message: 1.
Riddle Number Five: “Oh Owner of the Cows, why do you not free your
animals (to graze)?” Reply of the Owner of the Cows: “I have an upset
stomach” According to the interpretation, the owner of the cow,
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government of Thailand, does not allow its people to have freedom. The
government claims that it is ruling over the entire country in a new and
civilized fashion known as democracy. In a democracy, when the public
agrees (with a specific policy) they give their opinion and act in
accordance with that opinion. This is what they have announced to the
public. But afterwards their declarations did not turn out to be true.
We, the Thai public, are truly fed up, and yet if anyone makes a brave
and frank statement concerning our frustration, death will be the only
result. The officials carefully observe those who are brave enough to
speak. They are then able to tie them up and kill them. (Panha Tamnai
Lok: 10–11) 2. Riddle Number Eleven: “Oh Frogs, Why do you cry so?”
Reply of the Frogs: “We cry because we are being chased by a snake”
According to the interpretation, the frogs, symbolizing the people of
Thailand, are in great turmoil, because the ‘snake’ (i.e. the Thai
government) suppresses and extorts money from them. According to the
author, Each administration is the same. We, the public, are the ones
that put them in power because we wish to be able to rely upon them to
help us when we are destitute . . . However, the moment they are in
power they forget all about the public. They do not turn to look at our
tears. We cannot depend upon them. The new administration is absolutely
no different. (Panha Tamnai Lok: 16) What is remarkable about the
political criticism that is contained in Panha Tamnai Lok is less the
style of the criticism (which is after all based upon traditional
conventions in the expression of worldly affairs) or its content (which
arguably is a fairly straightforward assessment of Thai political
dictatorships of the 1950s) than the very fact that it was published and
circulated in such a climate. Were similar sentiment to be expressed in
other forms, such as political commentary in the columns of a
newspaper, or even short stories or novels, they would not have seen the
light of print, and it is not improbable that their authors would serve
some time in prison. However, as a result of its publication in small
regional publishing houses in the Lao language in the form of Buddhist
prophecy composed in poetry, it was easier for such writing to escape
detection. Ironically, however, the very form that served to hide the
literature from hostile authorities was also of use in providing it with
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Thai would have been receptive to modern styles of writing composed in
the Thai language, there was a large audience of works composed in
traditional forms in the Lao language, as testified by the success of
regional publishing houses during this period. Second, in contrast to
modern prose, traditional poetry such as prophetic works was not read
silently by individuals, but rather the subject of public performance.
Kala Nap Meu Suay One of the few works of prophetic literature that is
composed in poetic form, this has been the subject of a variety of
interpretations in Northeast Thailand and Laos. Among works of prophetic
literature, it is one of the most open to creative interpretation, as
it consists of a sequence of ambiguous imagery depicting the world in
disarray, with little in the way of specific commentary.21 In one
interpretation, imagery of the poem serves as propaganda in support of
the communist revolution in Laos. The imagery is analysed as a depiction
of the corrupt state of Laos under the Royal Lao Government, and its
rectification through revolution. Interestingly, the version of this
interpretation that I have access to is in Phaya, a publication by
Bunkeut Phimawonmethakun, the Chair of the Cultural Council of the
province of Khon Kaen in Thailand, published by a small press in the
province in 1996. The pro-communist sentiments of the interpretation
(not to mention the communist terminology used in its expression) is
probably explainable less in terms of the subversive tendencies of the
Chair of the Khon Kaen Cultural Council than his predilection for
plagiarism.22 Here imagery that was originally composed as a symbolic
description of the chaotic state of Lao and Northeast Thai society in
the nineteenth century is converted into a condemnation of the state of
Laos under the Royal Lao Government. For example, the poem reads: Frogs
cried out, intending to read verse Poisonous snakes and sea serpents
grow fearful According to the interpretation, in the ‘rotten’ society of
pre-communist Laos, immoral people have great power, and people of
morality grow fearful.23 In this type of society, the obstacles to
revolution are considerable, as can be seen in the interpretation of the
following image: The jackals howl at the elephant; How funny! According
to the interpreters, the capitalists and imperialists, who are a small
minority of the nation’s population, will threaten and throw up
obstacles in the face of the masses in order to prevent any substantial
change in society.24 162

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The success of the revolution is assured, however, as can be seen in the
following lines: The earthworm will know how to fly in the sky; Great
boulders will rise above the water and float According to the
interpreters, ‘the great masses, which consist of laborers, farmers, and
the poor, who have been oppressed by the capitalists and imperialists,
will be freed from their oppression, and rise up to build a new
scientific society in which everyone will have equal dignity as human
beings’.25 A second interpretation is presented in the work Kala Nap Meu
Suay by Sawing Bunjeum, published in a small printing house in Ubon
province, Northeast Thailand, that is owned by the author. Sawing’s book
is a transcription of several related poems, the content of which are
explained in an extensive series of footnotes. It is worthy of note that
the footnotes to Kala Nap Meu Suay frequently occupy more space within a
given page than the text of the poem itself. Similar to the previous
interpretation of the verse, Sawing’s commentary appears to be more the
expression of the author’s dissatisfaction with the state of
contemporary society than a key to an understanding of the verse. The
creative interpretative style can be seen in the following examples: 1.
Wise men fill up the great rivers, until (their water) is lacking and
dried According to the interpreter, ‘There are people with doctorate
degrees all over. But the public gets no knowledge out of them at all’
(Sawing Bunjeum n.d.: 128). 2. The mortar will distance itself from the
paddy, with which it has become bored The bamboo basket filled with
weaving shuttles will grow bored of women’s dresses and the spinning
wheel According to the interpretation, ‘people will turn their back on
their own culture’ (ibid., 130) 3. Small chickens cry, asking to drink
the milk of the crow Puppies will cry, asking to drink the milk of the
tiger The interpreter writes: ‘Villagers will ask for money from people
who are campaigning for positions as government representatives, who
will swallow them whole as chickens are eaten by crows and puppies are
devoured by tigers’ (ibid. 131). 163

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The specific interpretation of imagery within Kala Nap Meu Suay by Sawing
Bunjeum and his understanding of the world is the product of a cultural
and political environment that is quite far removed from the period of
time in which prophetic works originated. At the same time, however, it
would be difficult to deny that there is a similarity between Sawing and
the authors and audiences of the works that he interprets in the way
that they both manipulate ambiguous imagery in the presentation of a
critical assessment of the status quo. Similar to the people who are
likely to have authored Buddhist prophecy in earlier times, Sawing is a
man who spent many years in the monkhood and received a high level of
religious education. On one level, considering the type of criticism
that the author is fond of expressing concerning both the government and
the state of the monkhood, is it not a little ironic that: (a) funding
for the book was made possible through the help of an abbot of the
Thammayut sect who is the administrative head of the tenth religious
district in Northeast Thailand; and (b) an introduction to the work,
praising the author, was written by a civil servant of high rank who in
the past had arranged for the author to further his religious studies in
India? As in earlier times, therefore, the social commentary of Sawing
Bunjeum is given a certain degree of legitimacy and authority through
the religious context of its expression and the religious credentials of
its author. Caravan The band Caravan was formed in the early 1970s by a
group of people from Northeast Thailand to create left-wing political
music, and was influential as part of the student movement that led to
the overthrow of the dictatorial government of Thailand in 1973, and
later as members of the underground Communist Party of Thailand. As the
poorest region of the country, Northeast Thailand came to be emblematic
of political and economic injustice in Thailand. The political message
of the music of Caravan, therefore, was not only in the words that they
wrote, but also their self-conscious identification with the region from
which they originated. In the construction of their identity, Caravan
made use of regional language (Lao and Khmer), composed songs in
regional musical forms as performed on regional instruments, and adapted
passages from regional literature, including the prophetic work Kala
Nap Meu Suay. A small passage from the poem is included as part of their
song Pla Nauy Kin Pla Yai (Little Fish Eats Big Fish), as follows: The
amazing shrimp join together and eat the giant catfish The small ‘siw’
fish swallow the crocodiles, that flee to hide in rock fissures According
to an explanation of the song’s content in a book of music produced by
the band, the above verse was originally composed by a Northeastern 164

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Thai poet during the time of the millenarian uprisings.26 ‘The revolt of
the masses (against their oppressors)’, write the authors of the book,
‘is comparable to the small fish (in this poem, which must necessarily
rise up in rebellion) as long as the fearful giant catfish and crocodiles
are to act in a wild manner, comparable to the criminals who govern our
country.’27 In the context of the actual poem, however (together with
similar imagery by which it is both preceded and followed), the above
imagery is more likely an expression of criticism of the topsy-turvy
state of the world in which people lacking in noble descent are allowed
to take part in the governing of their country, which goes against all
established tradition.28 In conclusion, a comparative study of modern
and pre-modern works of Lao prophetic literature illustrates the
historical, cultural, and literary dimensions of the ‘meaning’ of the
future as prophesied in the past. On one level, this article is intended
to show the richness of the body of Lao prophetic literature (which in
itself is a part of a greater inter-related mainland Southeast Asian
tradition) as a source that is highly valuable in its potential to
deepen our understanding of the region. On a larger level, Lao prophetic
literature is only one piece in a much larger puzzle, and it is hoped
that one day the great wealth of literary documents in existence will be
collected and play their proper role in the construction of a broader
cultural history of Laos and Northeast Thailand.

Notes 1 A comparative study of these traditions (and particularly that
of Lanna) would shed valuable light on the Lao tradition. One important
work of prophetic literature found in Laos, Kham Saun Phraya In, makes
several references to geographical locations and historical (or
mythical?) figures of Lan Na, and is likely to be of Tai Yuan origin. 2
The brief description of Lao religious literature in the context of the
history of the kingdom of Lan Sang and its aftermath that follows is
summarized from Koret (1994). 3 See the appendix to Koret (1994). 4 We
can observe this type of sentiment also in the related work Leup Phasun –
‘The extinguishing of the sun (light)’ (a poem probably composed in the
mid-nineteenth century which has much in common with prophetic works),
in which the author deliberately writes in a unique style that is
disorienting to its audience. He presents himself (seemingly
self-depreciatingly) as a religious teacher who has strayed from the
proper Vinaya discipline in his conduct, while at the same time saying
that he has a ‘reason’ for doing so. 5 Note that among the Lao, Buddhist
prophecy is not unique to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but
has also been a topic addressed in literary works that are probably far
earlier in their date of origin. Works of Lao prophetic literature of
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can be considered to belong to
one specific category, however, because they each share a number of
similar characteristics that are not commonly found in other works,
including, for example, the use of

165

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6

7 8 9 10 11

12 13 14

15 16

17

18 19 20

Buddhist prophecy as a) the primary subject matter of the texts, and b) a
means towards a similar objective, i.e. as a type of expression through
which to come to terms with the social and political turmoil of the
time of their composition. In addition, writings within this category
make use of a variety of similar conventions ranging from the type of
origins that are claimed by their authors to the use of a specific set of
imagery and phrasing. The extent of such similarity indicates that in
many cases individual texts were composed by people who were familiar
with other works within the same tradition. For more detailed
discussion, see Peter Koret ‘Why Love Poetry is Sold in Shops Selling
Religious Paraphernalia: Religion and Romance in the Literary Traditions
of the Lao’ – unpublished paper delivered at National University of
Singapore Conference on Laos, January 2004. A more complete discussion
of this type of limitation in the understanding of literature can be
found in Koret (1999). Based upon personal research. Kham Saun Phanya
In, p: 7. Tamnan Hin Taek. In the context of traditional literature,
this can also be seen in comparisons of the Lan Na and Lan Sang versions
of Thao Khatthanam. In the Lan Na versions, the hero, who is a model of
righteous behaviour, is described as the bodhisattva, and his father is
the father of the Buddha, whereas in Lao versions, in which his power
and romantic appeal takes precedence over his position as a religious
role model, his father is the Lord Indra. The latter prohibition
frequently refers to the performance of literature after childbirth,
which, although popular, can be considered improper. Often there is a
connection made between the two, and lack of respect given to the
manuscript is specifically stated to be the result of its offence to
Buddhism. This does not mean to imply that on a day-to-day basis people
were any less observant of Buddhist teachings than they had been in the
past. However, this type of religious admonition was central to the
framework in which the chaotic state of the world and the era was given
meaning. Note that oral literature goes much further in this regard.
Quoted from Phon Phanao Temple Research Center (1968) Kala Nap Meu Suay
(Vientiane: Phon Phanao Temple); Phon Phanao Temple Research Center
(1968) Kap Kham Saun Phra Muni (Vientiane: Phon Phanao Temple [also
published as Ariyanuwat, Dr Phra]) Kap Phra Muni (1990) (Maha Sarakham:
Apichat Publishing House); and Kap Vithun Bantit (Versified Teachings of
the Wise Man, Vithun) in Phra Ariyanuwat (1990) Kap Phra Muni (Maha
Sarakham: Mahachai Temple). To the contrary, the aim was to return to
the status quo of the past. Note that limitations in the performance of
prophetic works of literature do not in any way mean to imply that the
temple was not actively involved in their production. Similar to what we
know about influential figures in the millenarian movements during this
period, the composers of prophetic works of literature were likely to
have either been monks, or men who had achieved a religious education at
the temple, as is evident by the type of knowledge that is displayed in
their composition. This topic is described in greater detail in Koret
(1999). Note that the date is that of the specific publication of the
work, and its original composition could be years or even decades
earlier. Typical of literature, there is no statement by A. Kawiwong to
indicate that he either wrote the work or copied it from a manuscript.
In any case, whether or not

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21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

the riddles are of older origin, their interpretation is clearly the
work of A. Kawiwong. A study of this poem – and specifically why it is
composed in poetry rather than prose – would be the profitable subject of
a paper in and of itself. The author does include a number of Lao books
in his bibliography. The most likely candidate to be the source of
origin is Kham Phanya Phasit Lae Kham Tong Toey by Duangchan
Vannabuppha, published in Luang Prabang in 1991. p. 234. p. 243. p. 244.
When I asked the author of the song about the historical circumstances
of its original creator, he informed me that he was uncertain of any
specific details. Tamnan Kharawan (Chronicle of Caravan) by Khana Phu Jat
Ngan Sip Saung Phi (Kharawan: 308–309). In addition, the same band also
composed a song, Seung Isan, in criticism of the American military
presence in Northeast Thailand during the Vietnam War in imitation of a
major prophetic work of literature, Kap Phra Muni. The song was written
in the same poetic form as the prophetic work, with a similar use of
phrasing, in which original criticism of Siamese administrators in the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was rehashed in attacks on the
Thai Government of the 1970s.

167

9 IN DEFENCE OF THE NATION The cult of Nang Thoranee in northeast Thailand Elizabeth Guthrie

This essay stems from my research into the cult and history of the
Buddhist earth deity, known in Thailand as Mae or Nang Thoranee,
“mother” or “lady earth”. This deity is a minor character in the story
of the Enlightenment. The story of how she witnesses for the Bodhisattva
against Ma¯ra the Evil One by wringing a deluge of water from her long
hair can be found in a life of the Buddha called the Pathamasambodhi
known throughout ˙ mainland Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Thailand, Laos,
Burma and Sipsong 1 Panna). In general, earth deities are symbols of
fertility, and their cults are concerned with the production of
bountiful crops, rain, wealth and childbirth. However, while the
Buddhist earth deity is associated with the life-giving elements of the
soil and the water, she is also an aggressive deity, able to protect the
bodhisattva and the site of enlightenment from evil forces. This essay
will explore her contemporary cult in northeastern Thailand, where she
is believed to have the power to defend the Thai nation and its
inhabitants, as well as Buddhism, from external threats and invaders.
Over the past few decades there has been a proliferation of
“nationalist” religious cults in South and Southeast Asia that seem to
come into being in response to political and social change. Some of
these cults are addressed to new deities such as the pan-Indian cult to
the goddess Santosı¯ Ma¯ that first appeared when a movie about the
goddess was released˙ in 1975.2 The Thai cult to Ra¯ma V (also known as
Chulalongkorn, r. 1868–1910), expressed by the worship of photographs,
amulets and statues of this popular monarch, has flourished among
urbanized middle-class Thais since the 1997–8 collapse of the Thai
economy.3 The monkey god Hanuma¯n has a venerable lineage that can be
traced back many centuries, but his cult took on new life after the
Ra¯ma¯yan.a appeared in serialized form on Indian television in 1987–8.4
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Babb (Babb and Wadley 1995) and others have argued that the media
(print, movies, television) have standardized and disseminated a limited
number of key religious symbols and images throughout South Asia,
creating a shared national identity that transcends traditional cultural
and social boundaries5 and fostering a “democratic devotionalism, a
populist piety, of extraordinary proportions in the present age”. This
media-nourished piety is not dependent upon particular temples,
geographical location, or religious specialists; busy devotees are able
to devise their own rituals and calendars of worship, and their temples
are “non-sectarian, one-stop, full-service”. If new deities such as
Santosı¯ Ma¯ or Ra¯ma V have emerged in response to the changing needs
of Asia’s˙ urbanized societies, how do we understand the modern cults to
ancient deities, such as those addressed to Hanuma¯n and Nang Thoranee?
In a provocative article on the political use of the Ra¯ma¯yan.a in
India, Pollock described how the character of the cult to Ra¯ma changed
over the centuries, and has been used to express a “theology of politics
and a symbology of otherness”. Pollock noted that, although the story
of Ra¯ma is ancient, the cults to Ra¯ma did not flourish until the
twelfth to fourteenth centuries, when much of India was under the
control of the Sultanate and Hinduism was under threat. Pollock argued
that the Ra¯ma¯yan.a was promoted by the Hindu elites as a “privileged
instrument for encoding or interpreting the political realities of the
twelfth to fourteenth centuries”. The Ra¯ma¯yan.a was chosen over the
many other martial epics available because of its “demonization of the
Other . . . those who stand outside this theologically sanctioned
polity” (Pollock 1993: 281). Pollock concluded his article by positing a
relationship between the political semiotics expressed in the
Ra¯ma¯yan.a in medieval India and the contemporary cults to Ra¯ma that
encourage sectarian violence against Indian Muslims (ibid., 261).6 Like
the Ra¯ma¯yan.a, the episode in the story of the Buddha’s Enlightenment
when Ma¯ra is defeated, the ma¯ravijaya, has served as a political
vehicle for the Buddhist nations of mainland Southeast Asia for
centuries. In a Thai chronicle describing King Naresuan’s famous victory
over the Burmese Upara¯ja¯ in 1593, for example, the Burmese ruler is
represented as Ma¯ra and Naresuan as the Bodhisattva (Chutintaranond
1992: 92). A memoir written in the early nineteenth century by Princess
Narintharathewi compared the victory of Ra¯ma I over the then-reigning
King Taksin to the Bodhisattva’s defeat of Ma¯ra.7 Murals of the
ma¯ravijaya from the Ayutthayan Period often depict the hordes of Ma¯ra
as the rapacious Europeans who were vying with each other to colonize
Thailand along with neighbouring Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao.8 More
recently, artist Panya Vijinithanasarn painted a ma¯ravijaya in Wat
Buddhapadipa in Wimbledon that includes Margaret Thatcher and Ronald
Reagan in Ma¯ra’s army, and arms the Evil One with nuclear warheads.
Nang Thoranee’s role in the ma¯ravijaya as the aggressive deity who puts
the army of ma¯ra-s to flight with a deluge of water from her long hair,
in combination with her association with the soil, and the 169

ELIZABETH GUTHRIE

site of enlightenment, qualify her to express a “theology of politics
and a symbology of otherness” in Theravada Buddhist Thailand. The
northeast – Isaan – is one of Thailand’s poorest and least developed
regions; its people are known for their independence and determination
in the face of hardship caused by poor soil and inadequate water
supplies. Bangkok’s political control has often been precarious in the
region. Since the time of General Sarit Thanarat, who held power in
Thailand from September 1957 until his death December 1963, Thailand’s
leaders have tried to stabilize the region through development,
instituting national projects such as dams to improve agriculture, the
establishment of Khon Kaen University, and a teaching hospital. Private
businessmen have been encouraged to locate industrial plants in the
province to counteract the region’s chronic unemployment. Khon Kaen
City, the capital of the province, was built in 1965 at the instigation
of General Sarit Thanarat. This large city was carefully designed by
city planners and has a modern water treatment plant, an adequate
electrical supply, and, as its proud residents point out, few traffic jams
as the streets are wide, and laid out on a grid. Like all Thai cities,
the centre of Khon Kaen City (and by extension, the province of Khon
Kaen) is marked by a lak muang, the traditional Thai City Pillar.9 The
lak muang is located on top of a small hill at what is essentially the
crossroads of the city on the main road into Khon Kaen City, Klang Muang
Road. The lak muang has the usual shrine built around it, and has an
attendant who maintains the site and assists devotees who come to make
offerings. Nang Thoranee’s shrine is adjacent to the lak muang. It is
located on a site where a natural spring emerged from the ground at the
foot of the hill where the lak muang is situated. A statue-fountain of
the beautiful earth deity kneeling and wringing water from her long hair
is the focal point of the shrine. This statue-fountain was commissioned
by the former Governor of Khon Kaen, Chamnan Pocchana, and designed by a
well-known local artist named Maha¯ Surakhom. The statue was built from
cast cement on a metal armature at a site at the back of the nearby
Town Hall. The cost of construction, 150,000 baht, was met by donations
rather than civic funds. On 4 September 1981 the completed statue was
inaugurated at a ceremony held at the Town Hall, and then transported by
truck to its present location adjacent to the lak muang. After the
statue was positioned, water from the natural spring was piped to her
hair to spill into a basin in front of the shrine. The official
installation ceremony of the statue on the site took place on 5
September 1981. The Mae Thoranee shrine has been renovated by her
devotees many times since it was first consecrated. It is presently
surrounded by a high fence, and entrance to the shrine is through a big
gate decorated with Taoist symbols and the names of donors. The
enclosure also contains shrines to the phi (local spirits), the seven
stations of the Buddha,10 and various other items of statuary, including
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offerings. The statue-fountain of the earth deity is painted gold and
red, an effect that is “Chinese” rather than “Thai”. In addition to the
statuefountain, there is also a subsidiary statue of Nang Thoranee. Both
the statuefountain and the smaller statue receive a cult. Devotees may
bring their own offerings with them, but a complete range of offerings is
available for sale at a stall on the site: garlands of marigolds,
candles, betel leaves, areca nuts and incense. The subsidiary image is
regularly “made up” with cosmetics, and both images are “dressed” in
lengths of fabric and adorned with costume jewellery. There are several
dedicatory inscriptions at the site, commemorating the original
construction of the fountain in 1981, and subsequent renovations and
improvements to the site (such as the electrification of the shrine in
1987). A red plastic plaque set in front of the main image has been
inscribed in gold with the Thoranee Ga¯tha¯.11 The Thoranee shrine in
Khon Kaen bears a strong resemblance to similar shrines elsewhere in
Thailand. This similarity is intentional: when Governor Chamnan
commissioned the statue, he asked the artist to use a Thoranee shrine
located in Bangkok on the northeast corner of the Sanam Luang, at the
intersection of Rajadamnouern and Rajini Roads at the foot of the
Phipoplila Bridge as a model. In addition to being located in the heart
of Ratanakosin Island, near the Royal Palace, the site of this shrine is
adjacent to Bangkok’s City Pillar shrine. Devotees purchase the
traditional offerings of candles, incense, marigolds and scarves from a
nearby stall for Thoranee, and they pray to her for good fortune or
recite the Thoranee Ga¯tha¯ inscribed on a plaque on the base of the
statue.12 They drink the water that streams from the statue’s hair into a
basin in front of the statue and catch the water in bottles to take
away. In addition to preventing sickness, the water from Thoranee’s hair
is believed to prevent traffic accidents when sprinkled on cars. The
Bangkok Thoranee statue-fountain was commissioned in 1913 by the Queen
Mother Samdech Phra Sri Patcharindhara Boromarajinatha, also known as
Saovapha, to commemorate the occasion of her fiftieth birthday. The
queen, who was born in 1863, and died in 1919, was the favourite wife of
King Ra¯ma V, and the mother of Ra¯ma VI and Ra¯ma VII.13 Saovapha
enlisted her sons and brothers-in-law to design and construct the
statuefountain, and donated 16,437 baht from her personal funds to pay
for the cost of construction. Archives preserve a letter from the Queen
to the Minister of Defence of Bangkok, General Phraya Yamara¯ja¯,
containing her instructions for the consecration ceremonies on the
twenty-seventh day of the ninth month of December (1917): Tomorrow I
will make merit on my birthday by voluntarily performing a meritorious
act. I have donated my own wealth to have the statue of Nang Phra
Thoranee, who is the remedy for disease, cast and established at the
foot of the Phan Phipoplila. The statue is now ready to be consecrated,
and I ask that the merit for the fountain be reassigned for 171

ELIZABETH GUTHRIE

the sake of all sentient beings, to be a gift for the public good, to
assuage thirst, to heal sickness, to alleviate heat and to increase
health according to the great solicitude of the triple gems . . . . –
signed Saovapha14 Saovapha’s concern for the health of the public, and
their access to pure drinking water, refers to the fact that at up until
that time most Bangkok residents took their water directly from the
Chao Phaya River, resulting in illness and death from water-borne
diseases, especially in plague years.15 In 1909, a year before his
death, King Chulalongkorn had ordered the construction of Bangkok’s first
water treatment plant, which was completed on 4 November 1914 (Van Beek
1995: 164). The plant provided the pure drinking water that flowed from
the pipe in Thoranee’s hair. In this region, where one of the ancient
epithets of the earth deity in both Thailand and Cambodia is mca¯s’ tik
dı¯, “lord of earth and water”,16 oaths of fealty are consecrated by the
pouring and drinking of sacred water, and the control and provision of
water is a primary responsibility of the ruler of the land. This
confluence of earth, water and government in Saovapha’s Thoranee shrine
is further reflected in the use of the earth goddess’s image for the
logos of the water departments of the municipalities of Bangkok. A
similar logo of Thoranee was adopted by the Thai Democratic Party (Thai
Pak Prachatipat) for the Party’s seal when it was established on 6 April
1946. This logo has symbolized the Party through many election
campaigns, and is recognized throughout Thailand. A special programme
commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Thai Democratic Party
broadcast on national television in the late 1990s explained why the
image of the earth deity was chosen. When Seni and Kukrit Pramoj and the
other founding members of the Party were drafting the Party’s
constitution in Pramoj’s law office on Rajadamnoeurn St, they realized
they needed a logo for the new party. They looked out the window for
inspiration and saw Saovapha’s Thoranee fountain on the Sanam Luang. It
was decided that this image, which emphasized the importance of earth
and water for Thailand, together with the Pali motto saccam eva
amatavaca, “truth is indeed the undying word” symbolized the values of
the Party.17 As the Secretary of the Democratic Party wrote in his
autobiography: It was agreed that the symbol for the Thai Democratic
Party would be the figure of Nang Thoranee squeezing out her hair, a
figure that has the meaning of cool shade, abundance and the happiness
that emanates from the earth. (Sotthisankra¯m 1984: 94) These ideas
about a benevolent earth deity, the restorative powers of water and the
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Party and in Queen Saovapha’s dedication were important symbols for Thai
politics during the first decades of the twentieth century. During the
second half of the twentieth century, as Thailand became embroiled in
the Second World War, and then the war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia,
the earth deity’s wrathful nature became more important for Thailand’s
political symbology. Although Thailand was never colonized, during the
Second World War the power of the Thai monarchy was at a low ebb, the
country was occupied by foreign invaders, and Bangkok was bombed. During
this period, the Thoranee shrine was not maintained, and it became
dilapidated and spoiled. Thieves vandalized the statue and stole the
water pipes, and the water in the fountain dried up. In 1957, when
General Sarit Thanarat took over leadership of the country, he ordered
that the Thoranee statue be renovated. The worn paint was scraped off the
statue and it was re-gilded; water pipes were reconnected to the water
supply and the fountain flowed like before. Electricity was installed in
the statue to illuminate and beautify the interior of the shrine at
night. The surrounding area was landscaped, trees and a decorative hedge
were planted, footpaths and fountains of gushing water were built in a
circle surrounding the statue.18 Since Sarit Thanarat renovated the
fountain on the Sanam Luang, there has been a close relationship between
Thoranee and the Thai political right: the concern for national
security as the conflict in the Vietnam War escalated and spread
throughout Southeast Asia. Alarmed by the destruction of the sangha in
Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge, the Thai Sangha formed an alliance with the
Thai Military, and left-wing political groups (including the Thai
Democratic Party) were accused of being communists. The politics of this
period are too complex to discuss in detail here, but because of its
strategic location between the Royal Palace, Thammasat University, Wat
Maha¯tha¯t (the headquarters of the right-wing monk Bhikkhu
Kitthiwuttho) and the Democracy Monument, Nang Thoranee witnessed many
scenes of political protest. In 1973, 1976, and again during the
military coup in 1991, fierce battles between right-wing activists, the
military, and student protesters were fought in front of the statue
fountain on the Sanam Luang. In the political discourse of this era,
Nang Thoranee was depicted as the ferocious defender of Thai Buddhist
nationalism, and communists and student activists were condemned as
tmil., the forces of Ma¯ra (Kitthiwuttho 1976; see also Morrell and
Samudavanija 1981). There are other Thoranee statue-fountains in
Thailand (and in Laos and Cambodia, but that is another story) (Guthrie
2004). These images do not exist in a vacuum; like the Thoranee shrine
on the Sanam Luang, they were commissioned and maintained by devotees
who hold specific beliefs about their meaning. One of the links between
Thailand’s Thoranee statue-fountains is the political discourse that
they enabled, particularly throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 173

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During this time, mainland Southeast Asia was a battleground of
conflicting ideologies of western-style democracy and communism. Thailand
was a country under siege, from the outside and within, and Thailand’s
continued existence as an independent nation seemed to be at risk.
Despite the Thai military’s long-standing commitment to the United
States’ war in Southeast Asia, many Thai people disapproved of American
policies and resented the presence of US military bases on Thai soil.
Thai society was torn by a series of coups and student uprisings,
culminating in the failed student uprising of 1976. When the Thai
military returned to political power in 1976, students and intellectuals
fled Bangkok, some to continue their struggle for democracy in the
maquis, while others joined forces with the Thai Communist Party. The
refugees from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam who poured over Thailand’s
borders further threatened Bangkok’s control over its border regions.
After 1979, when the Khmer Rouge had been ousted from Phnom Penh by
invading Vietnamese troops, they waged guerrilla warfare against the
Vietnamese invaders from inside Thai territory. Thai villagers were
caught up in the conflict, their fields and property damaged, and
civilians killed, and thousands of Thai soldiers were mobilized to
secure Thailand’s borders. Khon Kaen province grew increasingly unstable
during this period, and by 1979, villages in the province were known to
be sii chomphuu: “communist”. In addition to sending soldiers to
maintain political control, the military government appointed Chamnan
Pocchana, a conservative and capable administrator and protégé of
General Sarit Thanarat, to be governor of Khon Kaen province; he held
this post until 1983. Chamnan’s task was to quell the insurgency and
maintain stability by reasserting Bangkok’s control over the region.
During his first year as governor of Khon Kaen, Chamnan commissioned two
public monuments: one was a cast-bronze statue of General Sarit
Thanarat, “the father of the people during disturbed times”, erected in
Khon Kaen City’s new bus station; and the second was the statuefountain
of Thoranee. In an interview, the former governor, now retired in
Bangkok, stated that he commissioned the statue-fountain in order to
create a peaceful landscape in the middle of Khon Kaen, to provide water
to the people, and alleviate heat. While the shrine is certainly a
beautiful spot in the centre of town, with its bright colours,
landscaping and fountain of water, many people in Khon Kaen have
explained that Nang Thoranee has the power to defend the province of
Khon Kaen from invaders as well as protecting her devotees from
misfortune. In fact, she is so powerful that shortly after the
installation of the statue-fountain in 1980, the communists and their
sympathizers disappeared from the northeast without any fighting. The
first time I visited Khon Kaen’s Thoranee shrine was during Thai New
Year, 14 April 1998. I remember that day well: it was about 40 degrees
centigrade, the shrine’s atmosphere was thick with incense and vibrant
with 174

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the sound of prayers as a procession of devotees arrived to lay their
offerings of candles, incense, and wreaths of yellow marigolds in front
of the main image and at the subsidiary shrines on the site. The
interest in Thoranee was in part due to the fact that it was Thai New
Year, Songkran, a time when people visit such religious sites, but also
because of a new threat to the Thai nation: the colonization of the Thai
economy by foreign investors and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
On 2 July 1997, Thailand’s booming overheated economy had collapsed,
and on 20 August 1997 the government had been forced to accept a “rescue
package” of US $17.2 billion from the IMF. This loan stemmed the
free-fall of the Thai baht and restored financial stability to the
country, but also committed Thailand to harsh economic reforms imposed
by the IMF. By New Year 1998, many Thai people in Khon Kaen were
suffering severe hardship as jobs and homes disappeared and businesses
collapsed; once again, they turned to Nang Thoranee to protect them from
an uncertain future at the hands of the IMF. A series of articles in
the newspaper Siam Rath reported that, although Thailand was bankrupt
and foreign countries were trying to take over its economy, there was
gold in the ground in Lopburi. This gold is usually hidden, can only be
used in times of great need, and can only be used for the whole nation,
not for individual wealth. Soon, Thoranee will open up the gold mine,
pay the country’s debts and make Thailand rich again so the country will
not be a slave to foreigners. During the height of Thailand’s financial
crisis, a Thai-Chinese millionaire named Sia Chaleurn whose sausage
factory was based in Khon Kaen established a company named The Thoranee
Asset Mining Company to search for Thoranee’s gold mine in Lopburi,
located on land owned by the military.19 Sia Chaleurn had heard about
the gold mine when Thoranee spoke to him through a medium named Ratana
Maruphikat. The medium Ratana, who began being possessed by Thoranee
when the economic crisis began, wrote a popular book called A Message
from the Spoiled Earth. In this book, she explained that she had been
asked to broadcast the news to the Thai nation that Phra Mae Thoranee
will come back to get rid of bad people and clean and renew the country
and to invite Phra Sri Ariya [Maitreya] to become the fifth Buddha. Now
the world will be a happy and peaceful and plentiful place with good
relationships, kindness, human rights, harmony and equality.
(Marutphitakasa 1999) On 15 November 1997 the Thai Democratic Party
headed by Chuan Leekpai, was elected to bring the country out of the
financial crisis (Sharma 2002). During Chuan Leekpai’s term of office
(1997–2001) the symbol of Thoranee was again thrust into the public
consciousness. The Thai Democrat 175

ELIZABETH GUTHRIE

Party Headquarters located on 67 Set Siri Road, near the Railway Station
in Bangkok, was renovated and a new shrine to Thoranee was built. The
Party’s web page (www.democrat.or.th) was illustrated with a pulsating
blue graphic representation of Thoranee, and during the election
campaign Party members wore caps and jackets decorated with badges of
Thoranee wringing out her hair. Despite the Democratic Party’s
reputation for honesty and financial prudence, the government quickly
became unpopular as the stringent economy measures imposed by the IMF
caused unemployment to rise and wages to fall. There was much social
distress as people lost their homes and livelihoods, businesses failed,
and Thai banks were sold to foreign financial institutions. The press was
full of criticisms of Chuan Leekpai and his Party for failing to
protect Thailand from foreign investors, and for allowing the IMF free
reign in the Thai economy. Thoranee appeared on the cover of the current
affairs periodical Madichon.20 Like all political cartoons, there are
many subtexts; relevant for this paragraph is the suggestion that Chuan
Leekpai, depicted here dressed up like Thoranee, has prostituted himself
and Thailand to the IMF.21 Other articles in the press complained that
the government was betraying both Thoranee and the motto of the Party:
saccam eva amatavaca: Unfortunately this party doesn’t seem to react or
even keep their motto. They have her only for the badge on people’s
shirt or jacket- so where is the meaning? and Every single inch of the
land belongs to Phra Mae Thoranee, the one who this party respects. So
Chuan Leekpai, don’t keep quitting, don’t just sit and watch. Whether
Phra Mae Thoranee assists or not depends on your decisions, Chuan
Leekpai: Phra Mae Thoranee must be encouraged to rescue the nation.22 On
15 December 2002, I visited the shrine again. The shrine seemed rundown
and the atmosphere was depressing, with only a few devotees in
evidence. Thoranee’s red and gold paint had become shabby, the grounds
were unkempt, the water in the fountain’s basin was stagnant, and the
shrines to the phi had disappeared. I spoke with three women who came to
worship Thoranee, lighting candles and incense and arranging flowers on
her statue. The first woman told me she was a second-hand dealer from out
of town. She had heard that Thoranee can give good luck and had dropped
by to see the shrine and ask Thoranee for help with her business. Next,
I asked an elderly woman and her middle-aged daughter why they had come
to the shrine. The daughter told me she and her mother had come from
the 176

I N D E F E N C E O F T H E N AT I O N

neighbouring province of Korat to sponsor a traditional dance ceremony
in front of the City Pillar, which is adjacent to the Thoranee shrine,
for her mother’s health. While the primary focus of their visit was the
City Pillar, they decided to also pay their respects to Thoranee and ask
for her blessings. The fact that the few devotees at the shrine were
from out of town and the run-down state of the grounds suggested that
all was not well with the cult to Thoranee in Khon Kaen City. Further
research revealed that for several years the medium in charge of the
shrine, Manop, had been embroiled in a legal battle with the
municipality of Khon Kaen. I was fortunate to be able to hear both sides
of the controversy, from Manop, and from an informant familiar with the
city’s court case. The medium Manop lives in a comfortable, modern
house in a quiet neighbourhood on the outskirts of Khon Kaen city. Signs
on the exterior of his house advertise Manop’s name, telephone number
and profession (“Medium to Phra Mae Thoranee”). Manop is middle-aged and
has a young wife (the caretaker I saw working at the shrine in 1998)
and a child. He told me that before he became a medium for Nang
Thoranee, his name was Naran Ning, and he worked as a reporter. One
large room in his house is set up as a shrine. It is a hodge-podge of
images and statues of various deities, including (but not exclusively)
Thoranee, and ritual paraphernalia (conches, drums, bells, tridents,
etc.). Much of his paraphernalia was donated by grateful clients. Manop
also displays photographs of himself in the company of politicians. My
interview with Manop confirmed much of the information about the Thoranee
shrine, but from a different perspective. For example, he told me that
in 1980, the governor’s wife, Chanda, visited and asked him how to make
Khon Kaen peaceful again. Manop suggested that she tell the governor to
build a shrine to Thoranee in the middle of the city, so Thoranee could
drive away the communists and bring peace to the province. Soon after
the statue was installed, the communists disappeared from the region
without any fighting. After this proof of Manop’s abilities, the
governor’s wife invited Manop to come and take care of the shrine as its
official medium, but at first he refused. After several requests he
accepted the job, and has been the official medium for Thoranee since
1981. He has a legal contract with the city that gives him the right to
rent the site of the shrine. He paid 10,000 baht for the contract, and
pays a monthly rent of 1,500 baht for the shrine, and an annual payment
of 1,700 baht for insurance. Manop was keen to emphasize that he does
not misuse any of the donations given to the shrine. He explained that
he has many enemies, people jealous of his financial and professional
success as Nang Thoranee’s medium. As a result of their criticisms, the
city now wants to break his lease. For several years, Manop has been
embroiled in a legal battle with the city to retain his hold on the
contract. 177

ELIZABETH GUTHRIE

I was able to hear the other side of the story from an informant close
to City Hall. My informant explained that over the past few years, the
Thoranee shrine had become spoiled, and the pool of water flowing from
her hair had become stagnant. The main reason for the changes was the
construction of the new Mittaphap highway into Khon Kaen City. Ever
since the new highway was built, and the City Pillar displaced from its
position as the centre of the city, the natural spring that supplied the
water to Thoranee’s hair has dried up, indicating that she is no longer
present at the site. Another reason is that Nang Thoranee has abandoned
the site. This happened during the financial crisis, a time when much
money flowed into the shrine. During this time, the medium Manop was
believed to have misused some of the donations for his personal
enrichment. At the same time, the medium became involved with a young
woman and now has a young child (while mediums can be married, and have
children, their relationships with the deities who possess them are
based on their ability to keep the precepts while they are acting as
mediums). In an attempt to resolve this problem, the mayor of the city
has proposed a plan to move the City Pillar to a new site at the new
centre of the city. Thoranee’s shrine will also be moved so it is once
again adjacent to the City Pillar. The plans for the new shrines have
been drawn up, but there is popular opposition to the move. In
conclusion, the ancient Buddhist earth deity is a multivalent and
flexible political symbol, able to readjust to the left or right as
circumstances dictate. When she is needed to chase away communists, she
obliges; when she is needed to save Thailand from takeover by foreign
financial interests, she is called into action. In addition to this
“theology of politics”, Thoranee’s cult has a special significance for
Thailand’s northeast. Since the time of its establishment in 1980, the
Thoranee shrine in Khon Kaen City has been used to express a “symbology
of otherness”, identifying this isolated and underdeveloped region with
the rest of the nation, and helping its governors to forge a united Thai
Buddhist front against all invaders, be they communist or foreign
multinationals. And finally, the cult of Thoranee reflects the political
and economic realities of Thailand’s changing society. As the old
crossroads are shifted, and Thai Isaan transforms itself into a modern
industrial and educational centre, the earth deity provides an essential
and stabilizing link between the rapidly changing boundaries of the
present and a timeless Buddhist past.

Notes 1 A transliteration and a translation of the relevant stanzas of
the ma¯ravijaya from the critical edition of the Pathamasambodhi (Cœdès
and Filliozat 2001: 150) ˙ follow. Translations are mine unless
otherwise noted. Tada¯ Vasundhara¯ vanita¯ bodhisattassa
sambha¯ra¯nubha¯vena atta¯nam . sandha¯re˙˙ tum asakkontı¯ pathavitalato
utthahitva¯ itthisa¯maññata¯ya bodhisattassa pu ¯ rato ˙ ˙˙

178

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tthatva¯ “ta¯ta maha¯purisa aham . tava sambha¯ram . ja¯na¯mi tava
dakkhin.odakena ˙mama kesa¯ alliyanti ida¯ni parivattayissa¯mi” ti
vadantı¯ viya ta¯vad eva attano kese parivattitva¯ visajjesi. Tassa¯
kesato yatha¯ gan.godakam . sotam pavattati. Yatha¯ha pasa¯retva¯
maha¯vı¯ro cakkalakkhan.arañjitam . . Era¯van.asadison.d.am .
pava¯l.an.kurasadisa Vasundhara¯vanitam . tam . dassesi sa¯kyapun.gavo
sandha¯retum . asakkontı¯ pala¯yim . su. Girimekhalapa¯da¯ pana
pakkhalitva¯ ya¯va sa¯garantam . pavisanti chattadhajaca¯ma¯radı¯ni
obhaggavibhagga¯ni pa¯ta¯ni ahesum .. Acchariyam . disva¯ ma¯ro
savimhayabahulo. Yatha¯ha pa¯ramı¯ta¯nubha¯vena ma¯rasena¯ para¯jita¯.
Nikkhantudakadha¯ra¯hi sakkhikese hi ta¯vade disodisam . pala¯yanti
vidham . setva¯ asesato ti Then the Earth, unable to withstand the
accumulation (of perfections) of the bodhisatta emerged from the earth’s
surface in the likeness of a woman and stood in front of the
bodhisatta. “Dear Great Man, I know that you have fulfilled your
obligations, my hair is overflowing with your donative libations and I
will wring it out.” Speaking as if she were animate, she grasped her
hair and twisted. The water collected in her hair fell down flowing like
the Ganges River. Thus he said: Having extended my hand marked with the
signs of the wheel, resembling the horn of Era¯vana, like a ram made of
coral the Great Man, the Bull of the S´ akyas touched the Earth. Unable
to resist his appeal, she rose up before him in the form of a woman, and
twisted her hair, from which flowed a flood like the Ganges River. The
army of Ma¯ra was not able to withstand the flood, and was routed. The
feet of Girimekhala¯ slipped and he fell into the ocean. The parasols,
standards and fly-whisks broke and fell. Seeing this disaster, Ma¯ra was
filled with astonishment. Thus he spoke: ‘The power of the perfections of
the bodhisatta prevailed over the army of Ma¯ra, and the torrents of
water pouring from the hair of his witness have completely dispersed
them and sent them flying in all directions.’ 2 McKean (1996: 250–280)
and Hawley and Wulff (1996: 1–28). Bha¯rat Ma¯ta¯ and Santosı¯ Ma¯, like
all Indian goddesses, can be understood as a manifestation of ˙ Goddess,
however before the movie’s release, few Indians had ever heard the
Great of Santosı¯ Ma¯; the cult to the deity Santosı¯ Ma¯ was created in
the 1980s as a ˙ ˙ parties. political vehicle by militant Hindu
nationalist 3 Ra¯ma V is associated with ensuring Thailand’s
independence from European colonialism during the nineteenth century;
today his devotees (mainly urban, middle-class Thais) ask for good
fortune, prosperity and for the protection of Thailand’s national and
economic sovereignty. In Bangkok on Tuesdays and public holidays,
thousands of devotees come to make offerings in front of an equestrian
statue of the king opposite Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall; by early evening
the surroundings are carpeted with masses of pink blossoms and candles. 4
Babb (1995: 14) writes that Ramanand Sagar’s serialization of the
Ra¯ma¯yan.a for Indian television was a “watershed” in the history of
the epic. 5 Babb and Wadley (1995: 16–17 and 37); Lutgendorf (1994:
244). 6 In this article Pollock refers specifically to events such as the
pilgrimage by the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party to Ayodhya¯ in
1990 and the destruction of the mosque built at Ra¯ma’s birthplace by
Hindu militants in 1992, events accompanied by bloody sectarian riots
across India. 7 Passage cited and translated by Jory (1996: 97). 8 See,
for example, Ringis (1990: plates 15–16). 9 Quaritch Wales (1931:
302–3). The City Pillars, or lak muang, are also called

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ELIZABETH GUTHRIE

inthakila \inthakin\. These pillars are located in the centre of the
city or muang, and receive a cult: the usual offerings of candles,
incense and flowers but also traditional dance performances accompanied
by live music. 10 The Buddha’s activities around Bodhgaya for seven
weeks following the Enlightenment – (1) defeating Ma¯ra whilst
meditating under the bodhi tree; (2) steadfast gazing; (3) meditating on
the jewelled walkway; (4) meditating in the jewelled house; (5)
meditating under the goatherd’s tree and rejecting the daughters of
Ma¯ra; (6) meditating in the coils of the snake king Mucalinda; and (7)
the encounter with the merchants whilst meditating under the
ra¯ja¯yatana tree – are described in the Life of the Buddha called the
Nida¯naka¯tha¯. Buddhist iconography popular in Burma and Thailand
commemorates the seven weeks with the “seven stations”, a set of seven
images or shrines (Stadtner 1991). 11 The ga¯tha¯ reads: Tassa¯ kesato
yatha¯ gad.godakam . sotam . pavattati. Yatha¯ha pasa¯retva¯ maha¯vtro
cakkalakkhan.arañjitam .. ˙ Era¯van.asadiso n.d.am .
pava¯l.ad.kurasadisam .. Vasundhara¯vanitam . tam . dassesi
sa¯kyapud.gavo Sandha¯retum . asakkontt pala¯yim . su. ˙ pakkhalitva¯
ya¯va sa¯garantam pavisanti chatGirimekhalapa¯da¯ pana .
tadhajaca¯ma¯radtni obhaggavibhagga¯ni pa¯ta¯ni ahesum . . Acchariyam .
disva¯ ma¯ro ˙ savimhayabahulo. Yatha¯ha pa¯ramtta¯nubha¯vena ma¯rasena¯
para¯jita¯ ˙ ¯ra¯hi sakkhikese hi ta¯vad Nikkhantudakadha Disodisam .
pala¯yanti vidham . setva¯ asesato ti. 12 This ga¯tha¯ reads: tassa¯
bhassito yaka¯ ganga¯ sotam . pavattanti ma¯rasena¯ patithathantu osaka
gomato palayim . su parimanubha¯vena ma¯rasena¯ parajita disodisam .
pala¯yanti vidam . seti assato – la la – sa¯dhu

13 14

15 16 17 18

These Thoranee Ga¯tha¯-s are “spells” or prayers recited by devotees.
They are abbreviated and contain many misspellings and grammatical
errors (for example, yaka¯ for yatha¯ above), but they have a close
relationship to the text of the ma¯ravijaya of the Pathamasambodhi.
Smith (1947).˙Smith became the Queen’s personal physician after the
death of the King until her death, and his book is in part a biography
of Saovapha from his perspective. Oudumaphra (1984: 454–455). In this
dedication Saovapha documents her meritorious deeds, asks for the merit
to be shared among all sentient beings, and refers to the pouring of
water as a “truth act” or “truth vow”. For the latter, see Burlingame
(1917). Smith (1947) described the devastation wrought in Bangkok by
water-borne disease. Bauer (1992). The Khmer ca¯s, mca¯s’, amca¯s’ and
Thai cau, meaning “master”, “elder”, “old one”, appear to have been
borrowed from old Mon. Sam . yutta Nika¯ya 452- 5.1.189. Phak Kruang, 21
August 1999.

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19 Sia Chaloeurn’s main business is a sausage manufacturing company
based in Khon Kaen that exports food all over Asia. 20 Madichon, 31
August 1999. 21 Many thanks to Louis Gabaude, EFEO Chiang Mai, for
explaining this cartoon to me. 22 Madichon, 27 September 1999,
translation K. Aphaivong.

181

10 KING, SANGHA AND BRAHMANS Ideology, ritual and power in pre-modern Siam Peter Skilling *

I Ritual: hybridity and complexity This essay explores inscriptions, the
Three Seals Law Code, chronicles, royal eulogies,1 and other primary
sources in an attempt to understand some of the conceptions and
idealizations of kingship and religion and the intricacies of ritual
relations from the Ayutthaya to the early Ratanakosin period. I include
brahmans because I do not believe that the Buddhism of Siam (or that of
the region) can be studied in isolation, without taking into account the
social and ideological ecologies within which it and other knowledge
and ritual systems have functioned. If Buddhism was the dominant
discourse in the ideological hierarchy, it was not the only one, and the
brahmanical discourse should not be ignored. Brahmans played, and to a
degree still play, a significant role in the state rituals of successive
Siamese kingdoms. They presided over their own brahmanical rites and
participated in ceremonies with Buddhist monks. In both cases they
received offerings, and otherwise they – or the deities they cared for –
received land grants with attendant privileges. The importance of ritual
and ritual status to the social and political orders is self-evident,
even if it is not fully understood. Ritual was essential to the
political functioning of the states that evolved within and beyond the
boundaries of modern Thailand. We might describe these polities as
‘ritual states’ rather than as ‘theatre states’. Ritual in the sense of
spectacle, of public performance, shares many features with theatre –
stage, props, costume, rehearsed actions and speech – but the
resemblance does not go far beyond that. Is it adequate to conceive of
politics simply in terms of explicit exercise of power, of trade or
market forces? Ritual itself is a product and an expression 182

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of power, and most if not all political entities (and perhaps most if
not all human organizations) indulge in ritual performance – the ritual
state is not, after all, a Siamese, South-East Asian, or even South
Asian invention. And given the significant role of ritual in state
economies and regional and trans-regional diplomacy, it cannot be
dismissed as pre-modern extravagance or despotic caprice. The annual
outlay on royal finances was enormous. Classes of artisans and
functionaries depended for their livelihood on ritual. Ritual needs
influenced trade, since certain ritual paraphernalia – for example the
ca¯mara, the whisk fashioned from the tail of the yak – had to be
imported over long distances. Religieux were enlisted to protect the
state and promote prosperity and well-being. A distinctive feature of
Siamese religion is the hybridism of its rituals.2 The complexities of
ritual life demonstrate the inadequacy of describing pre-modern Siam as
‘Theravadin’, or, even more so, of conceiving of Theravada as a ‘state
religion’. As far as I know, the term ‘Therava¯da’ does not occur in
chronicles or inscriptions from the early Ayutthaya period on, and the
idea of ‘state religion’ is alien to the region of the period. In this
chapter I reserve the term ‘Theravada’ for the monastic lineage – the
aggregate or series of lineages, changing with time and place, that
emanate or claim to emanate from the Maha¯viha¯ra tradition of Ceylon.
These monastic lineages did not, in fact, generally choose to identify
themselves as ‘Theravadin’ or even, much of the time, ‘Maha¯viha¯rin’.
Rather, they used specific terms that changed as new lineages were
introduced over the centuries. They described themselves as belonging to
the Sı¯hala-vamsa ˙ (the lineage from Ceylon), to the Lan˙ ka¯-vamsa
(the lineage from Lanka), ˙ or to the Ra¯mañña-vamsa (the lineage of the
Mon country), and so on. ‘Sı¯hala-bhikkhu’ did not˙ necessarily refer
to a monk from Ceylon – in texts like the Pali chronicle Jinaka¯lama¯lı¯
it means ‘monastic [ordained within] the Ceylonese lineage’. Monks
might belong to the ‘town-dwellers’ (ga¯ma-va¯sı¯) or ‘forest-dwellers’
(araññava¯sı¯). Medhamkara Maha¯thera, who in the four˙ teenth century
composed the learned cosmological text Lokadı¯pakasa¯ra at
Muttima-nagara (modern Martaban) in the Mon country, is described in the
colophon as ‘an ornament of the lineage of renowned great elders
belonging to the forest-dwellers of the Island of Ceylon’.3 In the late
1680s at Ayutthaya, Simon de La Loubère (1642–1729), ‘Envoy
Extraordinary’ to the court of King Narai (r. 1656–1688), observed that
‘There are two sorts of talapoins at Siam, as in all the rest of the
Indies. Some do live in the woods, and others in the cities.’4 In
northern Siam monks might belong to the lineage of Wat Suan Dok or Wat
Pa Daeng. At the time the Jinaka¯lama¯linı¯ was compiled, that is, in
the first three decades of the sixteenth century, there were three
lineages in the northern Siam: the Nagarava¯sı¯, the Pupphava¯sı¯, and
the Sı¯hal.abhikkhus, i.e. the city-dwellers, the Suan Dok monks, and
the Wat Pa¯ Daeng monks.5 In the South, in the central Malay peninsula,
there were four ordination 183

PETER SKILLING

lineages called the ‘four ka¯ ’. ‘Ka¯ ’ being an abbreviation of ‘Lan˙
ka¯’, we may describe them as the ‘four Lan˙ ka¯ lineages’:6 Ka¯ kaew
Ka¯ ra¯m Ka¯ ja¯ta Ka¯ doem

Pa¯ Kaew (Vanaratana) lineage Ra¯mañña lineage Pa¯ Daeng lineage (?) Former lineage

This classification of lineages evolved at an uncertain date, certainly
in the Ayutthaya period. It was centred in Nakhon Si Thammarat, and
spread to neighbouring states like Chaiya and Phatthalung. The ‘Register
of Royal Officers in Muang Nakhon Si Thammarat’, a document issued in
Lesser S´ aka Era 1172 ( 1811), during the Second Reign,7 lists four
officials with a rank of 200 sakdina¯ who supervised the corvée labourers
who bore the palanquins for the royally ranked monks (ra¯jagan.a)
belonging to the ‘four ka¯ ’.8 If Theravada monasticism is to have a
history, we must pay attention to the development and self-conception of
these lineages. The fact that the lineages have evolved from the
Theravada of Sri Lanka – or more distantly from the Thera lineage at the
time of the Thera/Maha¯sa¯mghika split that ˙ not prevent us took place
in Northern India in the third century  – should from studying their
individual and regional evolutions. Further, we should ask to what
degree it is appropriate to indiscriminately apply the term ‘Theravada’ –
the name of a monastic lineage with a trans-regional history of over
two thousand years – to religion, art, or architecture. Does the use of
the term level differences, and confound the singularities of history?
Does it set up an ideal and ahistorical ‘religion’, against which the
actual becomes a deviant, and even degenerate, ‘other’? Does it evoke
the trope of decline? Does it lull us into the complacency of thinking
that we understand something when we do not? These questions need to be
addressed, and for the present I prefer to use the term sparingly and
cautiously. Complex hybridity and samana-chi-phra¯ m The complex and
hybrid nature of Siamese religion is reflected in the Thai phrase
samana-chi-phra¯m (saman.a-jı¯-bra¯hman.a), which may be analysed into
‘mendicants, renunciants, and brahmans’. We may compare it with the
phrase ubiquitous in the Pali canon, saman.a¯ va¯ bra¯hman.a¯ va¯,
‘religieux or brahmans’ – in both cases the compounds have a
comprehensive sense of ‘religieux of all stripes’.9 And this is
important: for the most part there is no abstraction in terms of
‘religion’, ‘creed’, or ‘faith’ – distinctions are recognized, rather,
in terms of ritual and function. Insofar as I make such distinctions in
this chapter, they are provisional shorthands, and not discrete or
exclusive systems. 184

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A ruler has relations with specific deities, and supports the
samana-chiphra¯m as appropriate throughout the ritual year. King Ra¯ma
I, founder of the Chakri dynasty, consciously forged an ideology that
drew on the past – Ayutthaya and Thonburi – and suited current
circumstances. He was not only devoted to the S´ a¯sana¯, but was also
well versed in the scriptures. He expressed his ideals in a celebrated
verse:10 I will devote heart and mind To exalt and elevate the holy
Buddha S´ a¯sana¯. I will ensure the safety of the entire realm And
protect the people and the nobles. In the preamble to his version of the
Ra¯makian, Ra¯ma I expresses his ideals at length in ra¯y verse.11
Ra¯ma I’s first ‘Edict on the San˙ gha’ states that the King:12 . . .
compassionately sought out means to enable monks (saman.a), brahmans,
ministers (sena¯patı¯), and populace (praja¯-ra¯stra), all ˙ ˙ human of
them, to realize the three felicities (sampatti) [those of the world, of
the heavens, and of nirva¯n.a], and to escape from the sufferings of the
four realms of loss and from the terrors of cyclic existence
(catura¯pa¯yadukkha lae san˙ sa¯rabhaiya). This is the duty of the king
in Thai documents: to care for samana-chı¯phra¯m, or religious
specialists as a whole, for the ministers and nobles, for the populace,
and to support and defend Buddhism. The monarch – the supreme supporter
(upathambhaka) of the Buddha S´ a¯sana¯ 13 – must ensure that the
populace lives at ease and in peace (yu¯ yen pen suk). The hybridity of
religious personnel and objects of worship in Sukhothai is evident from
Inscription 4 from Wat Pa Mamuang, in Khmer, composed in Greater S´ aka
Era 1269 ( 1349), during the reign of King Lithai (Maha¯dharmara¯ja
I).14 The epigraph records, inter alia, the setting up of an image of
I¯s´vara,15 as well as of Visn.u, in a temple.16 It refers to ‘ascetics,
brahmans, penitents, and religieux’,˙17 and perpetual offerings to all
tapasvi and brahmans.18 The juxtaposition of brahmanical and Buddhist
signifiers and the joint participation in rituals is common. Perhaps the
earliest record of this is in the Wat Maheyong inscription from Nakhon
Si Thammarat.19 The fragmentary Sanskrit text, in characters dating
between the seventh and the ninth centuries, records donations of
buildings and materials to Buddhist monks (both as a community and
individually), and of food to the community of the twice-born, the
brahmans (dvija-gan.a). The court used Buddhist and brahmanical
cosmological, mythological, calendrical systems, as appropriate to
circumstances. The perennially popular 185

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story of Ra¯ma, called Thai the ‘Glory of Ra¯ma’ (Ra¯makı¯rti), was
expressed in poetry and performance – in court and local versions, in
dance and in several varieties of shadow puppetry. The epic was depicted
in mural painting, for example in the galleries of the ‘Emerald Buddha’
temple, and in stone relief carvings, set in the perimeter wall of the
uposatha hall of Wat Pho (Wat Phra Chetuphon) in Bangkok.20 Rites invoke
a pantheon of deities, Buddhist, brahmanical, ancestral, and local.
Inscription 45 – a pact between Sukhothai and Nan dated 1393 – invokes
the powers of local and ancestral spirits, and of deities according to
both brahmanical and Pali systems of classification.21 Oaths like the
Ayutthaya-period Lilit ongka¯n chaeng nam invoke cosmopolitan hosts of
deities. In the Ratanakosin period, in 2530 (1807), in a royal ritual
the san ˙ gha offered water charged by Buddhist chanting (nam phra
phutthamon); then the brahmans offered blessing water from conch shells
(nam sang asiarawat phak) after which they blew conches in celebration
(jayaman˙ gala).22 The hybrid nature of Siamese ritual is seen in
language, ceremonial materials, rites, and participants.23 Pali is
paramount if not predominant. Not only do the monks recite Paritta and
other texts in Pali, as to be expected, but the brahmans also recite
formulas in Pali – or a thoroughly hybrid Pali-Sanskrit-Thai.24 The
shared ritual language is a hybrid of Thai, Pali, Sanskrit, and Khmer.
Even when a text may appear to be in Pali, it may be written in Thai
syntax and verse (see Prapod op. cit.). In written documents different
scripts are used for different purposes. Thai-language text is written in
Khom-Thai or Thai script, or, for example in a paper accordion
manuscript of the Ongka¯n chaeng nam, in a South Indian Grantha script
adapted for Thai.25 Pali is written in the Khom script, as are the
formulae inscribed on talismans and magic diagrams. Manuals may be
written in Thai script, but with the embedded Pali in Khom script.26 I
prefer to avoid the term ‘syncretism’, with its implications of
adulteration of an imagined ‘pure’ religion. Even if ‘syncretism’ is
acceptable as a descriptive term, it is not an accurate model or
teleology. ‘Hybridism’ is a creative and selective use of diverse forms,
an expression of ideologies in which the boundaries are fluid, if they
exist at all. How did this hybridism develop, how does it function, how
and why does it change? How different is it in different regions and
societies – the North, the Centre, the South, or among the Mon, the Lao,
the Khmer? At present we understand this very little at all, and much
more research into original sources is needed, accompanied by constant
assessment of our assumptions and categories. An intriguing document for
the study of ‘religion’ is an inscription from Kamphaeng Phet dated
Greater S´ aka Era 1432 ( 2053 =  1510).27 The epigraph, inscribed
on the base of a large bronze image of a standing I¯s´vara, records the
meritorious deeds of Chao Phraya Dharma¯s´okara¯ja, ruler of Kamphaeng
Phet and descendant of Sukhothai royalty. The inscription states in part
that: 186

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Chao Phraya Dharma¯s´okara¯ja set up this Lord I¯s´vara to protect
four-footed and two-footed creatures in Muang Kamphaeng Phet and to help
exalt the religions (sa¯san.a¯) – the Buddha-sa¯sana, the ˙ – to not
let them lose ˙ Saiyasa¯sana, and the Debakarrma their ˙ lustre and to
make them as one. Here three categories are explicitly mentioned – but,
apparently, given equal weight – Buddhasa¯sana¯, Saiyas´a¯sana, and
Debakarrma. Cœdès explained ‘Saiyas´a¯sana’ as Pali˙ Seyyasa¯sana,˙
‘littéralement “la religion excellente”, . . . ˙ une désignation
courante de la religion bra¯hmanique’,28 and translated ‘Debakarrma’ as
‘le culte des divinités’.29 Although the precise meanings may not be
clear, it seems safe to say that the categories were functional and
non-exclusive, and did not refer to ‘religions’ in the modern sense.30

II Figures of the king All beings rely on the ksatriya, who builds
pa¯ramı¯ and by nature has ˙ samana and bra¯hmana, the citizens, to be
compassion and leads . . established in virtue. King Ra¯ma I31 State
ideologies centred in the person of the king. The king was a
Maha¯dhammika-ra¯ja¯dhira¯ja – a ‘Great, Righteous, Superior King of
Kings’. In Inscription 3, dated 1357, King Lithai of Sukhothai is
consecrated as S´ rı¯ Suriyavamsa Maha¯dharmara¯ja¯dhira¯ja.32 In
Inscription 5, he is described ˙ as S´ rı¯ Suriyavam sa Ra¯ma
Maha¯dharmara¯ja¯dhira¯ja.33 In Inscription 4, the ˙ Khmer version of
the preceding, he receives the same title, prefixed by the Khmer title
‘Phra ba¯t kamrateng añ’.34 In addition, the king could be a
bodhisattva, a Buddha, a cakravartin, or a deity. Royal titles reveal
the intricate conceptions of kingship:35 Somdet phra chao
ra¯ma¯dhipatı¯ndra s´rı¯ surindra paramacakrabartisara
pavaradhammika-maha¯ra¯ja¯dhira¯ja-ja¯ti-hariharin-indra-tejojaiyamahaisuriya-savarrya¯deba¯dideba-tribhu
¯ vana¯rtha-paramapa¯da-pabitra phra buddhi chao yu hua.36 Phra pa¯da
somdet phra chao eka¯dadharatha-is´ara37-paramana¯rtha˙ paramapabitra
phra buddhi chao yu hua phu song
das´abidhara¯jadharrma-anantasambha¯ra¯tireka-eka-an ˙ ga-suriyavan˙
savis´uddhi˙ paramabuddha¯n˙ ku¯ ra-paramapabitra.38 Phra s´rı¯
sarrbejña somdet phra ra¯ma¯dhipatı¯
sindara-parama-maha¯cakrabartis´vara-ra¯ja¯dhira¯ja-ra¯mes´vara-dharmikara¯ja-tejo-jayaparama-deba¯dideba-trı¯bhu¯
vana¯dhipes´ra-lokajestha-vis´uddhi˙˙ 187

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makuta-buddha¯n˙ ku¯ ra paramacakrabartis´vara-dharmikara¯ja¯dhira¯ja an
˙ 39 prasert. The long titles – often in ra¯y metre – invoke idealized
images of the ruler, as warrior and powerful spiritual and temporal
leader, using Thai, brahmanical and Buddhist figures. They rarely include
other qualities – kings as poets, dramatists, or merchants.40 Given the
orality of contemporary culture and the belief in the power of
language, the titles were potent condensations of the royal person. King
as bodhisattva King Ra¯ma I referred to people making merit as a
support for attainment of the level of a Buddha (phra buddha-bhu¯ ma),
the level of a Paccekabuddha (pacceka-bhu¯ ma), or the level of an Arhat
(arahata-bhu¯ ma).41 These, in hierarchically descending order, are the
three goals open to one who wishes to practise Buddhism.42 The king
perfects the bodhisambha¯ra, often used in expressions of taking refuge
in the compassion of the king. Literally, the term means ‘requisites of
awakening’, and refers to two requisites, merit (puñña) and wisdom
(ña¯n.a). King Lithai of Sukhothai announced his aspiration to
Buddhahood publicly in inscriptions. In Inscription 4, he ‘aspires to
become a Buddha in order to lead all beings out of the Three worlds’
(traibhava). In Inscription 5, he aspires to lead all beings out of the
suffering of cyclic existence (san˙ sa¯radukkha). Inscription 6 – stanzas
composed in Pali by Maha¯sa¯mi San˙ ghara¯ja in praise of Lithai –
compares the king’s perfection of giving (da¯napa¯ramı¯) to that of
Vessantara, his perfection of wisdom (pañña¯pa¯ramı¯) to that of
Mahosatha, and his perfection of moral conduct (sı¯lapa¯ramı¯) to that
of Sı¯lavara¯ja.43 Here ja¯taka literature and ideology intersect – the
ja¯taka stories are presented as ideals, as role-models for kings, and
kings incorporate ja¯takas into their public image. Widely disseminated
through the media of the sermon and the painted image, the ja¯takas had a
deep and enduring social role. Kings of Ayutthaya also adhered to the
bodhisattva ideal. The preamble to a law dated  1433 ( 1976) states
that ‘His Highness has set his heart on the performance of the
perfection of giving (da¯napa¯ramı¯) with the aspiration (pra¯thana¯)
for realization of awakening (bodhiña¯n.a), to lead all beings to ˙
freedom from the fears of cyclic existence and the suffering of the
woeful realms’.44 In the ‘Palatine Laws’ (kot monthianba¯n) princes of
the highest rank – those whose mother is an Agramahesı¯ – are called ‘no
phuttha¯ngkun’, ‘sprouts (Thai no) of the sprout (Pa¯li an˙ kura) of
the Buddha’, that is, children of a bodhisattva.45 Boromara¯ja IV (r.
1529–1533) was also known as No Buddha¯n˙ kura. The ‘Eulogy of the Glory
of King Pra¯sa¯t Thong’ identifies Pra¯sa¯t Thong 188

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(r. 1629–1656) not only as a bodhisattva, but with a specific bodhisattva
among the ten future Buddhas starting with Metteyya of the Maha¯viha¯ra
tradition.46 It states that in a former life Pra¯sa¯t Thong was the
elephant of the Pa¯rileyyaka forest (kuñjara pa¯ lı¯ laiyak). This
elephant devotedly looked after the Blessed One for three months, when,
in the tenth year after his awakening, he sought out the solitude of the
jungle rather than endure the quarrelling of the monks of Kosambi (see
Malalasekera 1983, vol. II: 191–192). The elephant is destined to be the
tenth future Buddha named Suman˙ gala.47 The Royal Chronicle of
Thonburi, ‘Phan Chanthanuma¯t edition’ (composed during the First Reign,
that is, during the time of Ra¯ma I), opens with the statement that in
 2309, before the fall of Ayutthaya,48 The miraculous King [Taksin]
who counted among the sprouts of a Buddha (no buddha¯n˙ ku¯ ra chao)
realized in his wisdom that Krung S´ rı¯ Ayutthaya was in danger because
the ruler of the country and the people were unrighteous. He therefore
exerted with the strength of compassion (kamlang karun.a¯) towards
monks, brahmans, and teachers (saman.abra¯hman.a¯ca¯rya), [fearing that]
the excellent Buddha S´ a¯sana¯ would decline and disappear. He
therefore assembled his followers and troops of soldiers, Thai and
Chinese, about one thousand in number, well-armed with all types of
weapons, accompanied by high officers . . . and went to camp at Wat
Phichai which was an auspicious and powerful site (man˙
gala-maha¯stha¯na). By force of the radiance (tejas) of his paramount
requisites of awakening (paramabodhisambha¯ra), the deities who guard
and protect the Holy Buddha S´ a¯sana¯ shouted out in approval
(sa¯dhuka¯ra) and caused rain to fall as an auspicious indication of
great victory (maha¯bijaya-r.ksa) as ˙ the army set forth from Wat
Phichai . . . the Burmese were unable to withstand his perfections
(pa¯ramı¯) and retreated. Before he came to the throne, the future King
Taksin had already aspired to Buddhahood. The Royal Chronicle of
Thonburi relates the story as follows:49 Wednesday, eighth of the waxing
moon of the third month. [King Taksin] went to pay homage (namaska¯ra)
to the Buddha image (phra patima¯kara) at Wat Klang Wat Doi Khao Kaew.
He asked the resi˙ monks, ‘Do you lords remember: when this layman still
lived at dent Ban Rahaeng, he lifted a glass bell above his head, and
made a resolution of truth (satya¯dhistha¯na) to test his perfection
(phra ˙ pa¯ramı¯): ‘If in future I will ˙really succeed in realizing the
holy, paramount consecration of the wisdom of full awakening (phra
parama¯bhiseka-sambodhiña¯n.a), when I strike this bell may it break
only at the ˙knob, that I may make from it a glass cetiyatha¯na to hold ˙
189

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paramount physical relics (phra parama-sa¯rı¯rikadha¯tu).’ After making
the vow, I struck the bell, and it broke only at the knob. This was seen
firsthand as a marvel. The monks responded that this was true in
accordance with the royal statement. After he took the throne to reign
in Thonburi (r. 1767–1782), Taksin is described as a bodhisattva in the
‘Praises offered by the San˙ gha to Somdet Phra Chao Krung Thonburi’,
dated Lesser S´ aka Era 1141 (1779):50 The King (phra maha¯krah.satra)
is the mainstay of the lineage of ˙ Majesty will have Ayodya¯nagara
[i.e. sprouts of Buddhahood. His Thonburi] made as delightful as the
Ta¯vatimsa heaven. His majesty is Phya Tham Lert Lok . . . He will gain
˙omniscience (phra sabbaññutaña¯n.a) . . . His Majesty accomplishes the
ten perfections . . . [these are listed] . . . Without fail he
constantly offers the four requisites to the bhikkhu-san ˙ gha who
possess the virtues of ethical conduct.51 Two of the decrees (phra
ra¯jakamnot) issued by King Ra¯ma I of Ratanakosin in Lesser S´ aka Era
1144 ( 1782), the first year of his reign, show that he aspired to
Buddhahood as soon as he took the throne. The preamble to Decree No. 36
states that the king has the royal aspiration to seek the realization of
awakening at the level of a Buddha (ra¯japranidha¯napra¯thana¯ phra
buddhabhu¯ ma-bodhiña¯n.a)’.52 Decree No. 35 states that the king
‘practices the pa¯ramı¯ in order to realize the supreme consecration of
the realization of perfect awakening’ (parama¯bhiseka-sambodhiña¯n.a).53
˙ The opening of King Ra¯ma I’s Ra¯makian elaborates the author’s 54
aspirations: The Somdet Paramount Righteous King (paramadharmikara¯ja)
Has taken birth below [in the human world], just like Phra Na¯ra¯yan.a.
He has greatly expanded [the kingdom’s] boundaries And built glorious
things, bright, bejeweled, and beautiful. He treasures the lofty
aspiration In his heart imbued with profound wisdom As he cultivates
[the path of a bodhisattva] predominant in faith (s´raddha¯dhaik) With
omniscience (sarvajña) as his goal. He cuts off miserliness (macchariya)
completely And breaks the wheel of cyclic existence He leads the way
across the flood to the security of peace (yogaksema, i.e. Nirva¯n.a)
Lovingly˙favouring and rescuing people bound by fetters (sam . yojana).
190

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To the poverty-stricken He freely dispenses his wealth Never tiring of
spending, of exchanging money for merit (pun.ya). Here King Ra¯ma I is
described as a bodhisattva ‘predominant in faith’,55 one of the three
types of bodhisattva postulated in Maha¯viha¯ra tradition – saddha¯dika,
pañña¯dhika, and viriya¯dhika (see Skilling 2002). In his San˙
gı¯tiyavan ˙ s´a, a Pali chronicle composed in the First Reign, Somdet
Phra Phonnarat describes both King Ra¯ma I and his younger brother, the
Wang Na¯ or Upara¯ja (1743–1803), as bodhisattvas, the elder as
saddha¯dhika, the younger as pañña¯dhika:56 tada¯ ayojjhanagarapubbe dve
ra¯ja¯no buddha¯n˙ ku¯ ra¯ bodhisatta¯ maha¯puñña¯pa¯ramisannicita¯
bha¯taro saddha¯dhika¯ pañña¯dhika¯ sabbaññutaña¯n.abhipatthita¯
vasanta¯. . . . Previously, at that time there dwelled in the city of
Ayojjha two kings, sprouts of future Buddhas, bodhisattvas, who had
accumulated great merit and perfections (pa¯ramı¯), predominant in
faith, predominant in wisdom, aspiring to the wisdom of omniscience. . .
. atha tesam . dvinnam . saddha¯dhiko hiri-ottappasampanno
brahmaviha¯rajutindharo sı¯la¯digun.a¯dhiko jetha¯dhira¯ja¯ divase
divase mac˙ chasakun.a¯dike satte mocetva¯ atidukkaram .
sudha¯bhojana¯ha¯ram . attano adhiva¯setva¯ bhikkhusan˙ ghassa san˙
gı¯tika¯le tampi ada¯si atidukkaram . Of the two, the elder king,
predominant in faith, endowed with a sense of shame and with conscience,
resplendent in the [four] brahmaviha¯ra, exceptionally endowed with the
virtues of morality, etc., every day having set free fish, birds, and
other living creatures, having himself respectfully presented pure food
to the community of monks, he presented it at the time of the san˙
gı¯ti. katthapan.n.a¯ha¯rikañ ca dhaññatan.d.ulakotanañ ca katva¯ sayam .
pac˙˙ ¯ ka¯yabalena kusalacetana¯visesena ˙ ca¯petva pañña¯dhiko
atikusalo mahiddhiko maha¯puñño tatha¯vidho sı¯la¯digun.asampanno
buddha¯n˙ ku¯ ro sabbaññutaña¯n.a¯bhipatthano anuja¯dhira¯ja¯ ca tesam .
tañ ˙˙ ca aññam maha ¯da ¯nam ada ¯si. . . Having brought firewood and
leaves, and having pounded the grains to husk the rice, having cooked it
himself with his own physical strength and with a rare determination,
the younger king, predominant in wisdom, exceptionally talented,
extremely meritorious, a sprout of the Buddha endowed with virtues of
morality, etc. like 191

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those [of his elder brother], aspiring for the wisdom of omniscience,
gave to them and others great offerings. King Ra¯ma II is described as a
bodhisattva in a khlong dan poem, a eulogy composed by Phraya¯ Trang,
who compares the king to Is´vara, Indra, and Brahma¯, to a bodhisattva,
and to Maitreya.57 An elaborate description of the qualities of King
Ra¯ma III (r. 1824–1851) is given in a royal order dated Lesser S´ aka
Era 1186 ( 1824), the first year of his reign:58 He is a lord paramount
righteous king of kings (somdet paramadharrmika-ra¯ja¯dhira¯ja chao),
an upholder of the ten royal virtues, devoted with endless energy to
great awakening (anantaviriyaya¯maha¯bodha¯bhirata), endowed with
ultimate great perfections (paramartha-maha¯pa¯ramı¯), endowed with the
pure royal patience and wisdom (phra ra¯jakhantı¯-prı¯ja¯ña¯n.avisuddhi)
. . . He maintains the four san˙ ghahavatthu according to ancient royal
custom. His royal heart firmly delights in the accumulation of merit
(kus´ala) to foster, support, and protect the excellent Buddha S´
a¯sana¯ (pavara-buddhas´a¯sana¯), to cause it to endure, flourish, and
shine for a full five thousand years. He possesses excellent royal love
and compassion (pavara-ra¯ja-metta¯-karun.a¯) for the world of sentient
beings (sattvaloka), and intends to foster and protect the land (phaen
din), to allow all monks, religieux, and brahmans
(saman.a-chiy-bra¯haman.a), commoners, citizens, and servitors of the
dust of his holy feet (phrai fa¯ ana¯praja¯ra¯stra lae kha¯ tu ¯ n
la-ong thulı¯ phra ba¯t) to live at ease ˙ ˙ in every place within the
boundaries of the realm and in happiness (khet-khop-khandha-sema¯). King
as Buddha Epithets of the Buddha were regularly used in titles given to
kings. These include ‘Phra Sisanphet’, which is from Sarvajña,
‘Omniscient’ and ‘Somdet Phra Buddha Chao Yu Hua’, ‘Mighty Holy Buddha
Lord above [my] head’.59 The latter is frequent in reference to a
reigning monarch, or in direct address. Phra Boromatrailokanath (r.
1448–1488) is Paramatrailokana¯tha, ‘Paramount Saviour of the Triple
World’. Kings were posthumously called Phra Phuttha Chao Luang. Their
death was described as a ‘nirva¯n.a’. There do not seem to be any
ancient tracts that attempt to explain the concept, or modern
investigations of, how, when, or where it arose. The victorious king
mirrors the Buddha; the victorious Buddha mirrors the king. Images of
the ‘adorned’ or ‘crowned’ Buddha (phra phuttharu¯ p song khruang) were
produced in large numbers in Ayutthaya and Bangkok. In some cases they
were explicitly identified with kings, as for example the 192

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images of King Ra¯ma I and King Ra¯ma II set up by King Ra¯ma III, which
today grace the main altar complex of the ‘Emerald Buddha’ in Wat Phra
Kaew in Bangkok.60 These are standing crowned Buddhas in ornate and
delicate royal attire, all gilded. The names assigned to the two Buddha
images by King Ra¯ma III are also the posthumous names of the kings used
to this day (with a slight modification to the name of King Ra¯ma II
instituted by King Ra¯ma IV): Phra ba¯t somdet phra buddha yot fa¯
cul.a¯lok (Ra¯ma I) Phra ba¯t somdet phra buddha loet la¯ nabha¯laya
(Ra¯ma II).61 The conception of the Buddha in Siam is bound up with
ideas of victory (jaya), glory (s´rı¯), radiance (tejas), and of merit
(puñña), wisdom (pañña¯), and perfection (pa¯ramı¯). Impartial,
universally compassionate, the Buddha is the source of blessings and
protection. A popular verse expresses this conception of the Buddha:
maha¯ka¯run.iko na¯tho attha¯ya (hita¯ya, sukha¯ya) sabbapa¯n.inam . pu¯
retva¯ pa¯ramı¯ sabba¯ patto sambodhim . uttamam .. The greatly
compassionate saviour For the sake (benefit, and happiness) of all
breathing things Fulfilled all the perfections and realized ultimate full
awakening. The Jinapañjara-ga¯tha¯ opens by invoking the fact that
Buddhas have vanquished Ma¯ra: jaya¯sana¯gata¯ buddha¯ jetva¯ ma¯ram .
sava¯hanam . , ‘seated on the victory throne, the Buddhas, having
defeated Ma¯ra and his [elephant-] mount’. The Jayaman˙ gala-ga¯tha¯
invokes eight victories of the Buddha to bring victory, success, and
good things. Each stanza ends with the refrain tam ˙ gala¯ni, sada¯
sotthı¯ bhavantu te – ‘by that . tejasa¯ bhavantu te jayaman radiance
may there be for you victory and blessings, may there always be
well-being for you’. These qualities parallel the qualities of kingship,
as is stressed in texts such as the Vidita-ja¯taka. The king as
bodhisattva accumulates merit and wisdom, the requisites of awakening
(bodhisambha¯ra). He cultivates the perfections, and at the same time he
is fit to rule owing to the merit and perfection that he has already
accumulated. King as cakravartin The ideal cakravartin with his seven
treasures is described at length in the Traibhu¯ mikatha¯, a
cosmological treatise composed by King Lithai (r. 1346/ 7–1368/74?) when
he was Upara¯ja at Si Sajjana¯laya, an important city in the Sukhothai
complex.62 The term occurs once in Sukhothai epigraphy, but not 193

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as a title.63 In contrast, it is frequent in Ayutthaya documents,
including law books, literature, and inscriptions, in which kings are
described as ‘Paramamaha¯cakravartin’ or ‘Culacakravartin’. One king
bore the name Maha¯chakkapat, that is, Maha¯cakravarti (r. 1548–1569).
One of the common royal titles is Somdet ‘Phra Paramara¯ja¯dhira¯ja’.
This and titles like Jaiyara¯ja¯dhira¯ja (r. 1534–1537) or
Mahindra¯dhira¯ja (brief reign in 1569) express sovereignty and victory.
Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Ratanakosin kings belong to the Su¯ryavamsa, ˙
the ‘Solar Lineage’. The king is a hero, his virility demonstrated by
his large harem and many children. His exploits are praised in poems,
and he is identified with Ra¯ma, the great ksatriya warrior of the
Ra¯makı¯rti. A king should possess the five types of ˙ regalia – the
kakudhara¯jabhan.d.a.64 The regalia includes the ‘glorious victory
sword’ (khan jayas´rı¯), or the phra saeng. Phokhun Pha¯ Muang of
Sukhothai (circa mid-thirteenth century) was given a khan jayas´rı¯ by
the king of Muang S´ rı¯ Sodharapura, that is Angkor Thom.65 King Lithai
received regalia (the crown and the white sunshade) and victory sword,
as mentioned in Inscriptions 4 and 5 from Sukhothai.66 The discovery of
white elephants during a king’s reign are important signifiers of his
power, since it is his merit that attracts them.67 In the late
nineteenth century, King Ra¯ma V (Chulalongkorn, r. 1868– 1910)
instituted the practice of presenting a royal sword, the phra saeng
ra¯jasastra¯, to the then administrative units, the monthon. When the
administrative system changed, the swords were presented to the
provinces (changwat). Exquisitely fashioned, with bejewelled gold
handles and sheaths, the swords were kept in the monthon or provincial
treasuries. When the king visited a province to remain for at least one
night, the sword would be taken out and presented to him by the governor
in a public ceremony conducted upon his arrival.68 The custom is
followed today. King Bhumibol Adulyadej initiated a new custom, that of
bestowing a Buddha image named Phra Buddhanavara¯japabitra to each
province. These were presented by the king himself to twenty-one
provinces between 2510 and 2528 ( 1967–1985),69 and by his appointed
representative Crown Prince Maha¯ Vajiralongkorn to thirty-one provinces
between 2532 and 2533 ( 1989–1990). At present all seventy-six
provinces have received a Phra Buddhanavara¯japabitra image. King as a
deity The king is Ra¯ma, his capital Ayodhya¯. The first king of
Ayutthaya was ‘Ra¯ma the Lord’ (Ra¯ma¯dhipati, r. 1351–1369), and
Ra¯ma¯dhipati remained an epithet of kings throughout the Ayutthaya and
early Bangkok periods. The second king was Ra¯mesuan (Ra¯mes´vara, r.
1369–1395, with a brief interruption in 1388); his successor was
Ra¯mara¯ja¯ (r. 1395–1409). The king is Indra, as in the name
Indrara¯ja¯ (Indrara¯ja¯ I, r. 1409–1424; Indrara¯ja¯ II, 194

K I N G, S A N G H A A N D B R A H M A N S

r. 1488–1491). The king is Na¯ra¯yan.a, as seen in the name Somdet Phra
Narai (r. 1656–1688). The special vocabulary used for referring to
royalty (ra¯jas´abda) expresses the divinity of kings. The birth of a
king is a descent or entry into the world (pha¯n phibhob). The death is a
return to heaven (suwannakhot = svarggata). The buildings, pavilions,
gates, and gardens in the palace bear names that evoke the pleasures of
the paradises of Indian and Buddhist mythology and the powers of the
cakravartin. Royal policy The ideals of royal policy are prescribed in a
variety of texts. The classical sources were the Tripitaka and the
commentarial and ancillary Pali literature ˙ ¯ra Theravada. Especially
important was the Ja¯taka, of Sri Lankan Maha¯viha with its ideologies
of bodhisattva and pa¯ramı¯. The ideal code of conduct was the ‘ten
duties of a king’, the dasabidha-ra¯jadhamma. When a king was seen as a
bodhisattva, his conduct was interpreted in the light of the requisites
(sambha¯ra) and the ten perfections (dasa-pa¯ramı¯). Normative texts
included nı¯ti literature such as Ra¯janı¯ti, one version of which was
translated into Thai in 1805 ( 2348), that is, during the First Reign,
from a ‘Pa¯li version from Pagan’.70 Texts on strategy such as Pichai
sonkhra¯m (Bijaiya-sam . gra¯ma, ‘[Manual for achieving victory] in
war’) and the Pu ¯ m ra¯jadharma attribute the various troop formations
to the sage Ka¯mandakı¯, author of the Nı¯tisa¯ra. The Maha¯dibbamanta
and other hybrid chants were recited when the troops set out for the
battlefield. Diplomacy was governed by strategy and by a desire to
promote the ´ a¯sana¯. Images of the Buddha might be sent to tributary
states (pades´ara¯ja), S and images and palladia might be brought back
to the capital from defeated neighbours, as in the case of the Emerald
Buddha. In certain periods, such as the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, the court saw itself as the centre ´ a¯sana¯, with a duty to
spread and foster it in other countries. of the S Thus monks were sent
to Sri Lanka to revive the higher ordination, as were scriptures and
other items. The ten royal virtues The ten royal virtues
(dasabidha-ra¯jadhamma) do not seem to be known in the Buddhist
literature of India. Indian Buddhist texts use another, older list, the
ten wholesome paths of action (kus´alakarmapatha) as their norm. The ten
karmapatha – also known in Pali – are, however, ethical guidelines for
all, not only for kings. The history of the ten royal virtues remains to
be investigated. Where was the list drawn up – in South India, in Sri
Lanka, or in South-East Asia? The ten are mentioned in the Ja¯taka,71
usually in the phrase dasa ra¯jadhamme akopetva¯ dhammena rajjan
ka¯resi, where they are 195

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also listed.72 The ten ra¯jadhamma are mentioned in a Polonnaruwa
inscription of King Vijayaba¯hu I near the end of his reign, that is in
the early twelfth century.73 Reference is made to the ten royal virtues
in inscriptions from Sukhothai, such as the Nakhon Chum inscription from
Kamphaeng Phet, which attributes the ten virtues to King Lithai,74 or
Inscription 5 from Sukhothai.75 The Traibhu¯ mi phra ruang also
discusses the ten. The Ayutthaya poem Lilit yuan pai states that King
Boromatrailokana¯th (Paramatrailokana¯tha, r. 1448–1488) possessed the
ten qualities. In his poem Lilit taleng pai, Somdet Phra Maha¯saman.a
Chao Krom Phra Parama¯nujita Jinavarorasa (1790–1853) praises King
Naresuan (Nares´vara, r. 1590–1605) for the same reason.76 In eulogies
of kings the possession of the ten becomes a standard trope.

. III The institution of the sangha The institution of the monastic
order, the san˙ gha, was open to most, if not all, males, at least in
theory. Entry into the san˙ gha opened the opportunity to climb the
social ladder. Monks who succeeded in the educational system could be
appointed to royal monastic rank (phra rajagan˙ a) and rise – according
to ability and ambition – through the hierarchy (Wyatt 1994). In
Ayutthaya and Ratanakosin, some high-ranking monks came from humble
backgrounds. In Ratanakosin the position of San˙ ghara¯ja – ‘King of the
San˙ gha’, head of the monastic order – was occupied by commoners in
some cases, in others by members of the royal family.77 Monastics were
included in the sakdina¯ system.78 The Three Seals Law Code lists the
social rank (sakdina¯) of religieux:79 A sa¯man.era who knows the Dharma
is equal to 300 na¯; A sa¯man.era who does not know the Dharma is equal
to 200 na¯; A bhiksu who knows the Dharma is equal to 600 na¯; ˙ u who
does not know the Dharma is equal to 400 na¯; A bhiks A phra˙ khru who
knows the Dharma is equal to 2400 na¯; A phra khru who does not know the
Dharma is equal to 1000 na¯; A brahman who knows the arts and crafts
(s´ilpas´a¯stra) is equal to 400 na¯; A tayom brahman is equal to 200
na¯; A white-robed ascetic (ta pa khao) who knows the Dharma is equal to
200 na¯; A white-robed ascetic who does not know the Dharma is equal to
100 na¯. Monks received offerings from the king, such as monastic
requisites, ceremonial fans, and palanquins, in accordance with their
rank or scholastic attainments. Monks of a certain rank received a
regular royal stipend 196

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(nityabhat). Every year after the completion of the rains-retreat, the
king visited royal monasteries to offer robes to the monks. A royal
kathina, ˙ whether by land or by water, was an opulent display of royal
munificence, occupying much of the state apparatus, a grand affair which
inspired poems like the ‘Lilit on the Royal Kathin Procession’ (Lilit
krabuan hae phra kathin byu¯ haya¯tra¯), composed by Prince
Parama¯nujitajinorasa (1790–1853) in praise of a procession in the reign
of King Ra¯ma III.80 Equally grand was the annual (at least in theory)
pilgrimage to Phra Phutthabat (Buddhapa¯da), the shrine of the footprint
of the Buddha in Saraburi province (see Skilling 2005). Powerful kings
were able to keep the san˙ gha in check – the model of As´oka was always
to hand. La Loubère noted that just before he arrived in Siam the king
had diminished the ranks of the san˙ gha – ‘these privileged persons’ –
by holding examinations to test their knowledge of the Pali language and
scriptures. As a result, he had ‘reduced several thousands to the
secular condition, because they had not been found learned enough’
(Loubère 1986: 115). In Lesser S´ aka Era 1135 ( 1773) King Taksin of
Thonburi issued a ‘Decree on the Training in Ethics (sı¯lasikkha¯)’,
which gave the text of the monastic code (Pa¯timokkha) in Thai. Each of
the 227 rules was followed by a brief statement of the result of
breaking it. For example, the first four rules, the pa¯ra¯jika, which
entail expulsion from the order, are followed by ‘one who breaks [the
rule] falls to the Hell of Unremitting Torment (Avı¯cinaraka)’. The
decree concludes with the statement: These are the 227 training rules
(sikkha¯pada): let a monk of good family (saman.a-kulaputra) who does
not know the commentaries (atthakatha¯) or the canon (pa¯lı¯) study them
until they are bright and ˙˙ in his mind (khandha-santa¯na), and then
ordain and practice clear according to this order in every respect. Not
long afterwards, King Ra¯ma I was dissatisfied with the state of the
monastic order. Starting in the first year of his reign (1782) he issued a
series of ten edicts, the Kot phra song, to reform the conduct of the
monks.81 According to the Three Seals Law Code, monks of rank could act
as witnesses in legal cases. In several instances we have contemporary
records showing that high-ranking monks were witnesses and guarantors of
treaties, such as the pact of mutual assistance between Sukhothai and
Nan dated 27 February, 1393.82 The titles of two out of the (probably)
four monks who participated are preserved: Somdet Phra Maha¯thera San˙
ghara¯ja Rattan.avan˙ s´a¯ca¯rya Phra Maha¯thera Dharrmasena¯pati.

197

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Monks also acted as witness in the treaty of 1560 between King
Jayajetth˙˙ a¯dhira¯ja (1548–1571) of Candapurı¯ (Laos) and King
Maha¯cakrabarti (1548–1569) of Ayodhya¯, recorded in a bilingual
(Lao/Tham: Thai/Khom) inscription dated 1563.83 A cetiya called Phra
Dha¯tu S´ rı¯ Song Rak was erected at Muang Dan Sai (Loei) to
commemorate the alliance. This is worthy of note: cetiya were not only
built to enshrine relics. They were also built to commemorate events
such as an alliance or a military victory. The Jesuit Marcel Le Blanc
(1653–1693), who visited Siam in the 1680s, wrote that during the reign
of King Narai (1656–1688) ‘the Talapoins or priests of the idols
constitute a third estate in the kingdom’ (Le Blanc 2003: 10). He
observed that the members of the san˙ gha ‘always take the place of
honour, and the great mandarins bow before them, and when they go to the
palace, the princesses and ladies of the seraglio spread, out of
respect, under the feet of these Talapoins the cloth they wrap around
their neck. By their solidarity and the credit they command, they are
the most formidable faction in the kingdom’ (ibid.: 11). Le Blanc
describes the explicit role of monks in Petchra¯ja’s coup.84

IV Brahmans The Ksatriya does not flourish without the Brahmin, and the
Brahmin does˙ not prosper without the Ksatriya; but when Brahmin and
Ksatriya are united, they prosper˙ here and in the hereafter. ˙ Manu 85
Early evidence – Chinese reports, inscriptions, icons, and structural
remains – attest to the presence of brahmans and Brahmanism in
South-East Asia, including Siam – above all in the old centres of power
and trade in the Malay peninsula, but also in central states like
Dva¯ravatı¯, Sri Thep, and Muang Phra Rot. Ayutthaya Brahmanism is often
traced to Cambodia, to the Khmer court of Angkor, but this strikes me
as an oversimplification of a long historical process.86 Evidence of
brahmanical practice is plentiful in the Chao Phraya valley, and
brahmans must have been important agents in the societies of the region
from the earliest period. There are numerous lin˙ ga, images of Visn.u,
images of Su¯rya, and brick towers (pra¯ng) and stone and ˙ brick
foundations. It is plausible to suggest that the brahmanism of early
Ayutthaya developed from that of the earlier states of the Chao Phraya
valley, bearing in mind that social groups are never static, and that
the brahman community and court practices would have undergone regular
replenishment, from India, Angkor, or elsewhere, and would have been
regularly reinvented and adapted. We have seen above that rulers at
Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet set up costly images of brahmanical
deities, and that at Sukhothai there was a deva¯laya, a building to
house the images. The Khmer-language inscription 198

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from Wat Pa Mamuang (Inscription 4) referred to above records royal
endowments to the deva¯laya. Other centres of power – Ayutthaya,
Phetchburi, Phatthalung, and Nakhon Si Thammarat – had brahmanical
shrines, which came to be called bot phra¯m.87 Phetchburi, Nakhon Si
Thammarat, and Bangkok had ‘giant swings’ for the performance of the
annual Triyampawa¯y ritual, when I¯s´vara descended to earth for a week
at the beginning of the new year.88 During the festival, with the
ensuing Tripawa¯y festival in which Na¯ra¯yan.a descended to earth,
there were elaborate rites, with music and dance, including ram saneng,
arts that are now, unfortunately, lost. Brahman families (traku¯ l)
lived in Nakhon Si Thammarat,89 Phatthalung,90 and Chaiya91 in the
South, and in at least Phetchburi and Ayutthaya (and later Ratanakosin)
in the Centre. Their religious and social role was determined by birth –
in that sense, they were a caste, though references to the system of
four varn.a in Siamese records seem to be the imposition of an
abstraction rather than a social reality. The ritual position was
transmitted patrilineally: only male brahmans had ritual functions, but
only chosen sons were trained or ordained to become brahmans. That is,
every male born into a Brahman family did not become a ritual
specialist. That brahmans were essential to the functioning of the state
is seen from the fact that when King Ra¯ma I established Bangkok he
established a brahmanical shrine complex in the heart of the capital, in
imitation of the bot phra¯m at the former capital. This, the
‘Devastha¯na’, remains a functioning institution to this day. Griswold
and Prasert note that the courts of SouthEast Asian rulers had brahmans
‘to advise on statecraft, law and technical matters; to regulate the
calendar and cast horoscopes; to manage the Swinging Festival, the First
Ploughing, and rites for the control of wind and rain; to perform
ceremonies; and to discharge a host of other tasks.’92 Brahmans are
essential to the coronation – at which, for example, they present the
regalia to the king – and to many of the ‘royal ceremonies of the twelve
months’. Some of the duties and privileges of the brahmans are
stipulated in the collection of documents published under the title
‘History of the Brahmans of Nakhon Si Thammarat’.93 The first document
lists twenty ‘auspicious ceremonies’ (man˙ galabidhı¯) to be performed
by brahmans alone, followed by five ceremonies to be performed together
with the monks.94 In Ayutthaya and in early Ratanakosin, important roles
of the brahmans included the performance of ritual
(bidhı¯karma/phithikam) – which they shared with the san˙ gha and with
members of the court such as the Krom a¯lak – and the judging of legal
cases (tat sin khadı¯). ‘Khun Chai Aya’ (Khun jaiya-a¯ña¯ maha¯visuddhi
prı¯cha¯-a¯ca¯rya) was an important position in the legal system until
the Fifth Reign, when the position itself was retained but no longer
occupied by a brahman. The code on civil hierarchy lists the sakdina¯
for the brahmans, starting with Maha¯ra¯jaguru with 10,000.95 The
personnel devoted to rites are listed with their ranks in the ‘Register
of Royal Officers in Muang Nakhon Si Thammarat’, a document issued in 199

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Lesser S´ aka Era 1172 ( 1811), during the Second Reign. One section
gives the titles of the officials in charge of brahmanical ceremonies and
institutions. The institutional functions included supervision of the
ritual swing (ching cha¯), of brahmanical temples (devastha¯na) and of
the ho phra, along with their servants or kha¯ phra.96 Most of the
officials had a rank of two hundred sakdina¯. Separate officials were in
charge of the rituals and images of Phra Isuan (I¯s´vara, also called
Phra Sayumbhu¯vana¯th) and Phra Narai (Na¯ra¯yan.a), each of whom had
his own shrine. The ‘History of the Brahmans of Nakhon Si Thammarat’
describes royal land-grants made to maintain the images of deities
(deva¯ru ¯ p). Grants of households and land were made to images of Phra
Na¯ra¯yan.a and Phra Is´vara. The land and produce was administered by
appointed brahmans of rank, and the inhabitants – the brahman families –
enjoyed privileges like freedom from taxation and from interference by
government officials.97 High-ranking brahmans had special funeral rites,
detailed in the ‘History’. After cremation, the relics (dha¯tu) of a
brahman of the first rank were to be placed in a pot and carried in
procession – to the music of wind instruments, drums, gongs, singing,
hand-bells, horns, and conch-shells – to a body of flowing water. The
leader of the procession should raise the relics above his head, stand
in the middle of the water, and send them to the place of god.98 The
practice of granting land, including villages with their inhabitants and
products, to brahmans and monasteries began in India, and was
introduced to South-East Asia at an early date.99 Early inscriptions in
the region concern such grants, and it is likely that grants made to
brahmans in Ayutthaya represented a continuity of pre-Ayutthaya
practice. No Sukhothai grants to brahmans are preserved, but we have
seen that there were brahmanical temples. The practice of granting land
to religious institutions, such as monasteries, temples, cetiya, or
images, Buddhist and brahmanical – the kalpana¯ system – had an enormous
effect on the economy, since the grants removed both land and people
from the obligations of tax and corvée service. The legal – and hence
social – status of brahmans may be gauged from the Three Seals Law Code,
in which they figure prominently, in terms of crimes they might
themselves commit, of crimes committed towards them, and of their duties
and privileges in state ritual. For example, the ‘Law on Disputes’ lays
down severe punishments for those who physically abuse religious figures
and teachers:100 If someone gets into an argument with and beats,
curses, slashes, or stabs a samana, brahmana, or bud.d.ha¯ca¯riya, or
his or her own father, mother, or grandfathers and grandmothers,
wounding them heavily with iron bars: have him flogged thirty times (3
yok), paraded on land for three days and in a boat for three days, have
the fingers of both hands amputated and have him floated on a raft for the
public to see. 200

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If he beats any of them heavily with a club and wounds them, have him
flogged thirty times, paraded on land for three days and in a boat for
three days, have the fingers of the right hand amputated and have him
floated on a raft. If he beats any of them heavily with his hands, have
his ten fingernails pulled out, have him imprisoned for six months,
raised on a tripod for three days, and flogged with a leather lash thirty
times. His chest should be tattooed with the statement ‘I beat my
father, I beat my mother’. If he beats them with a stick but not
heavily, have his ten fingernails pulled out, have him imprisoned for six
months, raised on a tripod for three days, and flogged with a leather
lash thirty times. If he beats them with his hands but not heavily, have
the five nails of one hand pulled out, have him jailed for three months,
and flogged with a leather lash twenty-five times. If they die he should
be executed. Literary roles The role of brahmans in literature gives
them a permanent place in the Buddhist imagination, which cannot do
without them. According to Maha¯viha¯ra texts, in their final human lives
Buddhas-to-be are born only in brahman or ksatriya families. Brahmans
˙inhabit the ja¯takas in general, including those composed in Siam. The
most famous – or infamous – literary brahman is Ju¯jaka, whose
immortality is assured not by his good deeds, but by his role in the
Maha¯ja¯ti or Vessantara-ja¯taka, a tale told and retold in sermon,
enacted in ritual, and depicted in mural and cloth painting. Ju¯jaka has
a life of his own, and may be supplicated for wealth or success through
images or yantra. A bronze image consecrated in 2001 ( 2544) at Wat
Thalung Thong has on the base the mantra ‘om . siddhi siddhi ju¯ jako
sva¯ha¯h.’. Another well-known brahman is Don.a, who was appointed to
distribute the relics of the Buddha after the Maha¯parinirva¯n.a and the
cremation. Don.a’s distribution of the relics is depicted in mural
paintings of the life of the Buddha. It is traditionally believed that
Ayutthaya brahmans composed several classics of Thai literature, for
example Cinta¯man.i, the manual of Thai writing, language, and prosody,
composed, according to a colophon, by Phra Maha¯ra¯jakhru¯
Hora¯dhipati.101 He also is held to have composed ‘Sua Kho’, based on a
ja¯taka, and the ‘Eulogy of the Glory of King Pra¯sa¯t Thong’.102 But
these attributions of authorship have been contested, and unless further
evidence comes to light, the question must be left open. The role of
brahmans in education included acting as tutors for princes. Experts in
astronomy and astrology (horas´a¯stra), brahmans controlled the
calendar.103 201

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V Conclusions In this chapter, I have examined the ideals of kingship
and of two powerful social institutions, the monastic order (san˙ gha)
and the brahmans.104 The ideals are hybrid, distinctively Thai, set in a
complex cosmology.105 The texts that support this hybridism include
ja¯takas, nı¯ti, law books, and ritual manuals. Ritual languages have
included Thai, Khmer, Sanskrit, and Pali, and in some cases Tamil and
Mon. South-East Asian law books (dharmas´a¯stra) and chants for
Brahmanical ceremonies cite verses or passages in Pali: that is, Pali
becomes the classical legal and ceremonial language of the region.
Traditions overlap, and replenish each other. Our sources are
multivocal. I have not expected to find, let alone construct, a single
definition of kingship, or of the relations between ruler, san˙ gha, and
brahmans. The relation between kingship and religion is too often
portrayed in terms of ‘legitimation’. I find the concept of legitimation
to be unsatisfactory – it simplifies a complex of social and conceptual
forces, and in the end explains little. King, san˙ gha, and brahmans
were partners in a complex organism of state protection and state
welfare Buddhism. Nira¯t Nong Khai, a poem composed by Luang
Phatphongphakdı¯ (Tim Sukhaya¯ng, 1847–1915, written when he was Khun
Phipit Phakdee), paints a vivid picture of the rites conducted before
the troops set out to fight the ‘Chinese Ho’ in Laos in 1875, during the
Fifth Reign:106 At three in the afternoon, as the auspicious moment
nears, Hubbub erupts as commoners and nobles get ready to leave. When
Somdet Chao Phraya¯ hurries up The Chao Khun comes out to greet him with
a bow.107 All together the monk and brahman astrologers Sat scattered
in groups and rows in great numbers. Officials set up a line of
bench-seats For the aspersing of the water, a beautiful dais. The
commander of the troops pays respect to the Somdet And then goes to the
dais at the head of the field. He asperses water charged with
Buddhamantra to bring success in war Then stands and tramples a wooden
effigy of the enemy. The monks, representatives of the Buddha’s lineage
Chant ‘jayanto’108 together in chorus Victory gongs resound and
reverberate Brahman astrologers rattle two-faced drums Phra Khru Hora
gives victory blessings to empower the troops Senior brahmans blow
conch-shells The Chao Phraya¯-s advance together

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And the nobles sit together in numbers Uttering blessings to bring
success. Monks and brahmans received royal titles and ranks in the
sakdina¯ system. In times of war, brahmans and monks both blessed the
armies. Before the troops went to war, a ‘khlo¯ n tawa¯n’ or ceremonial
‘gateway to the jungle’ was erected.109 Two brahmans sat on it and
aspersed the troops with holy water.110 According to the ‘Register of
Royal Officers in Muang Nakhon Si Thammara¯t’ ( 1811), the brahmans in
this position in Nakhon Si Thammara¯t, each with two hundred sakdina¯,
bore the titles Khun Ña¯n.asambhu¯v and Khun Ves´anubhaktra.111 A
brahman with the title Khun Jaiyaba¯rmı¯, with the same rank, was in
charge of erecting the khlo¯ ng thawa¯n. Monks blessed the armies by
reciting the Maha¯dibbamanta, itself a hybrid text par excellence, that
evokes all possible deities without any discrimination.112 Strategists
consulted Phichai Songkhra¯m manuals to prepare troop formations. Nobles
participated in the ideology of merit and status, extending their
patronage to the repair and building of temples, and then offering the
temple to the king, who would grant it ‘royal temple’ status (thawa¯y
pen phra a¯ra¯ma luang). Did brahmans also endow temples? This is not
clear, although there are traditions that they did so, which need to be
investigated further. Elite patronage extended into tributary or subject
states: Chao Phraya¯ Bodin Decha¯, for example, left a record of his
renovations of temples in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (Bernon 2003). Chao
Phraya¯ Bodin Decha¯ (Sing Singhaseni, 1777–1849) was the leading
general in the wars of King Ra¯ma III’s reign. In the inscription, which
dates to Lesser S´ aka Era 1201 ( 1840), he relates that after the
seizure of Phnom Penh the religious foundations were damaged and ruined,
and he used his private funds to repair ‘viha¯ra, uposatha halls,
Buddha images, stu¯ pas, and cetiyas’. Furthermore, when he did this he
aspired to become a Buddha, and nothing less. The economic role of
ritual was great. Inscriptions, royal chronicles, and royal orders often
give detailed inventories of the expenses, and it should be possible
for an economic historian to estimate, at least roughly, the amount of
exchequer dedicated to state ritual. An early itemization of royal
expenditures is seen in the Khmer-language inscription from Wat Pa
Mamuang in Sukhothai. King Ra¯ma I transported Buddha images from
Sukhothai and from the old capital in large numbers, and had them
restored and gilded. Some were huge, such as S´ rı¯ S´ a¯kyamuni, the
image which he enshrined in Wat Suthat. During the reign of King Ra¯ma
III, Ratanakosin was a flourishing power; new trading relations were
formed, and economic and social change was rapid. Ra¯ma III built three
new temples, restored fifty temples, and sponsored Buddha images and
Tipitakas. He built gates and ˙ fortifications, boats and cannon.113 The
aspiration to Buddhahood of the kings of Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, 203

PETER SKILLING

Thonburi, and Ratanakosin was publicly proclaimed, in inscriptions,
edicts, decrees, chronicles, and poems, and in their very names, titles,
and epithets. That they were bodhisattvas was part of their image.
There does not seem to be any treatise that attempts to explain the
practice. Was there any explicit ritual, or was the aspiration simply
made on the occasion of issuing edicts or dedicating merits? It is
interesting that the bodhisattva kings are identified with one or other
of the three types of bodhisattva described in Maha¯viha¯ra tradition,
as in King Ra¯ma I’s preamble to his Ra¯makian, or in Somdet Phra
Phonnarat’s San ˙ gı¯tiyavan˙ s´a, both composed in the First Reign. Not
only kings, but also other members of the royal family, were
bodhisattvas by birth, as ‘sprouts of the Buddha’. This concept,
‘bodhisattvahood by birth’, merits study. It strikes me as unique to
South-East Asia. Are there parallels in Sri Lanka, or elsewhere? In the
First Reign, the Upara¯ja, the king’s brother, was publicly described as
a bodhisattva, and in the Third Reign one of the leading nobles, the
commander of the Thai armies Chao Phraya¯ Bodin Decha¯, describes
himself emphatically as a bodhisattva in an inscription set up in the
conquered city of Phnom Penh. The bodhisattva ideal had a strong
following, not only among the nobility: high-ranking and ordinary
monastics also recorded the aspiration, for example in colophons and
inscriptions.114 Much more research on the role of brahmans is needed.
The Three Seals Law Code suggests that in early to mid-Ayutthaya they
were powerful and privileged, a unique group whose status came with
birth. What happened to brahmans with the fall of Ayutthaya is not
clear, and I have not found any evidence for their status in the
Thonburi period – a period, after all, of turbulent reconstruction and
ideological confusion. Were there brahmanical shrines in Thonburi? Were
brahmanical rites performed? Did King Taksin support the brahmans? Such
questions await answers. The brahmanical texts and rites we know today
are for the most part subordinated to Buddhism. This raises the
question: when did the brahmans become Buddhist, or begin to situate
their rituals within a Buddhist frame? Did this process begin in
Ayutthaya? Or did it start during the reign of King Ra¯ma I?115 The
Ratanakosin reconstruction of King Ra¯ma I was a reinvention of
Ayutthaya society and reformulation of state ideals. King Ra¯ma I was
deeply committed to Buddhism, and his edicts show clearly that he wanted
to ensure that in rites and ceremonies Buddhism came first. This trend
was continued, to a greater degree, by King Ra¯ma IV, who refashioned
rituals and introduced Buddhist rites to supplement or replace
brahmanical ceremonies. But this period is beyond the range of this
essay.

A note on sources This essay presents, for the most part, original Thai sources in my own translations. 204

K I N G, S A N G H A A N D B R A H M A N S

The Three Seals Law Code For the Three Seals Law Code, I have used the
five-volume Khurusapha edition, cited by section title, volume, and page:
Kotma¯y tra¯ sa¯m duang, Bangkok: Ongka¯n kha¯ khong khurusapha¯, 2537
[1994]. (The long title, from the original edition by Robert Lingat, is
Pramuan kotma¯y rajaka¯n tı¯ 1 chulasakara¯j 1166 phim ta¯m chabap luang
tra¯ 3 duang). A useful aide is Ishii Yoneo et al., The Computer
Concordance to the Law of the Three Seals (5 vols, Bangkok: Amarin
Publications, 1990). Inscriptions The first two volumes of the corpus of
Siamese inscriptions were bilingual, in Thai and in French, compiled by
George Cœdès: Recueil des inscriptions du Siam I, Inscriptions de
Sukhodaya (Bangkok: Bangok Times Press/ Bibliothèque Nationale
Vajiraña¯n.a, Service Archéologique, 1924). The volume contains an
introduction on the epigraphy of Siam, the inscriptions of Sukhothai,
and a list of the inscriptions of Siam, and romanized texts with
translation of inscriptions I to XV. Recueil des inscriptions du Siam
II, Inscriptions de Dva¯ravatı¯, de Çrı¯vijaya et de La˘ vo (Bangkok:
Bangok Times Press/Institut Royal, Service Archéologique,  2472 (1929
)). The volume contains an introduction on Dva¯ravatı¯, Grahi,
Ta¯mbralin˙ ga, and La˘vo, and romanized texts with translations of
Inscriptions XVI to XXIX. A revised second edition was reprinted, in
reduced format, by the Fine Arts Department in 2504 [1961]. The most
valuable source in English remains Prasert Na Nagara and A. B. Griswold,
Epigraphic and Historical Studies (Bangkok: The Historical Society,
1992), referred to herein as EHS. This is a collection of studies
originally published in the Journal of the Siam Society between July
1968 and July 1979. Reference is made to the study number (EHS 1, EHS 2,
etc.) followed by page number of the text with location in the
inscription by face and line, then page number of the translation. For
concordances of the study numbers with the original publication in the
Journal of the Siam Society, see J. C. Eade, The Thai Historical Record:
A Computer Analysis (Tokyo: The Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies
for UNESCO, the Toyo Bunko, 1996), p. xv, or Piriya Krairiksh, Charuk
pho khun ra¯m khamhaeng: wannakhadı¯ prawatisa¯t ka¯n muang haeng krung
sya¯m (Bangkok: Matichon 2547 [2004]), pp. 293–296. For a bibliography
of Sukhothai inscriptions (in Thai), see ibid., pp. 298–303; for
summaries with bibliographical references (in Thai) see ibid., pp.
315–360. EHS and Piriya’s Charuk are reprints: it is regrettable that
little work on the inscriptions of Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, or Bangkok has
appeared since in European languages. Useful for the study of Sukhothai
inscriptions is Ishii Yoneo et al., A

205

PETER SKILLING

Glossarial Index of the Sukhothai Inscriptions (Bangkok: Amarin
Publications, 1989). Chronicles A new edition of the ‘Corpus of
Chronicles’ (Prachum phongsa¯wada¯n) has been undertaken in celebration
of the fiftieth anniversary, or golden jubilee, of His Majesty King
Bhumibol Adulyadej’s accession to the throne in 1996 ( 2539): Prachum
phongsa¯wada¯n chabap ka¯ñcana¯bhiseka (Bangkok: The Fine Arts
Department, 2542 [1999]–), vols 1–10 plus one˙ index volume (2544
[2001], for vols 1–5) published as of 2548 (2005). For the most part,
the chronicles have been edited anew, and some new texts have been
added. Foreign language access to the rich chronicle materials is
limited. For a synoptic translation of the chronicles of Ayutthaya, see
Richard D. Cushman (tr.), David K. Wyatt (ed.), The Royal Chronicles of
Ayutthaya (Bangkok: The Siam Society, 2000), a stupendous
accomplishment. For Chao Phraya¯ Thiphakorawong’s chronicles of the
First and Fourth Reigns, see the wellannotated and thoroughly indexed
translations published by the Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies,
Tokyo: Thadeus and Chadin Flood (tr.), The Dynastic Chronicles, Bangkok
Era, the First Reign (vol. 1, 1978); Chadin Flood, The Dynastic
Chronicles, Bangkok Era, the First Reign (vol. 2, 1990); Thadeus and
Chadin (Kanjanavanit) Flood, The Dynastic Chronicles, Bangkok Era, the
Fourth Reign (5 vols, 1965–1974).116 I have benefited from the
well-researched and thoroughly annotated work by Saichon Satya¯nurak,
‘Buddhism and Political Thought during the Reign of King Ra¯ma I’
(Phutthasa¯sana¯ kap naew khit ta¯ng ka¯n muang nai ra¯jasamai phra ba¯t
somdet phra phuttha yot fa¯ chula¯loka (po. so. 2325– 2352), Bangkok:
Matichon, 2546 [2003]). Saichon’s exemplary study cites not only
published works like the Three Seals Law Code, but also unpublished
archival sources. Another useful work is Preecha Changkhwanyun,
Thammarat–Thammara¯ja¯ (Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University Press, 2542
[1999]). One of the most important sources to appear is the
‘Encyclopædia of Thai Culture’, published in Bangkok in 1999 ( 2542)
in four sets, one for each region: Sa¯ra¯nukrom wathanatham thai pha¯k
tai: The South: 18 volumes; Sa¯ra¯nukrom wathanatham thai pha¯k kla¯ng:
The Centre, 15 volumes; Sa¯ra¯nukrom wathanatham thai pha¯k nua: The
North, 15 volumes; Sa¯ra¯nukrom wathanatham thai pha¯k isa¯n: The
North-East, 15 volumes. Another important publication is Tamra 12 duan
khat tae samut khun thipmontian chao wang wai (Bangkok: 2545).

206

K I N G, S A N G H A A N D B R A H M A N S

European-language literature I do not generally refer to
European-language secondary literature, which in any case is limited.
Mention may be made of the pioneering works of H. G. Quaritch Wales,
especially: Siamese State Ceremonies: Their History and Function with
Supplementary Notes (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1992: reprint of
Siamese State Ceremonies, first published in 1931, and Supplementary
Notes on Siamese State Ceremonies, first published in 1971); Ancient
South-East Asian Warfare (London: Bernard Quaritch Ltd, 1952); Ancient
Siamese Government and Administration (London: Bernard Quaritch Ltd,
1934, repr. New York: Paragon Book Reprint Corp., 1965). Wales’
pioneering work must be used with caution as there are numerous
mistakes, misunderstandings, and mistranslations. Classical studies
include: Yoneo Ishii, translated by Peter Hawkes, Sangha, State, and
Society: Thai Buddhism in History (Honolulu: The University of Hawaii
Press, 1986: Monographs of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto
University, English-language Series, No. 15); Craig James Reynolds, The
Buddhist Monkhood in Nineteenth Century Thailand, a thesis presented to
the Faculty of the Graduate School of Cornell University for the Degree
of Doctor of Philosophy, December 1972; Trevor Ling, Buddhism,
Imperialism and War: Burma and Thailand in Modern History (London:
George Allen and Unwin, 1979).

A note on dates and transliteration Dates are given in S´ akara¯ja and
Buddhist Era, as appropriate. The Christian Era () is added in square
brackets to bibliographical references. Regnal dates are from David K.
Wyatt, Thailand: A Short History (2nd edn, Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books:
2003, pp. 309–313). For a newly annotated version of ‘Athiba¯y rajaka¯n
khrang krung kao’, Prince Damrong Rajanubhab’s list of the kings of
Ayutthaya first published in Prachum phonsa¯wada¯n Part 5, 2460 [1917],
see Prachum phongsa¯wada¯n chabap ka¯ñcana¯bhiseka (Bangkok: The Fine
Arts Department, 2542 [1999]), vol. 1, pp. 355–366.˙ Transliteration
follows the simplified Royal Institute system (Romanization Guide for
Thai Script, Bangkok [1968] 1982), with the modification that for long
vowels I use the standard Indic diacritics (a¯, ¯ı, u¯ ). Pa¯li or
Sanskrit words are given as cited in the source, without
standardization, for example san˙ ghaha-vatthu instead of san˙
gaha-vatthu. In citations I retain the transliteration of the work
quoted, for example ‘Sukhodaya’ for ‘Sukhothai’, ‘Is´vara’ for
‘I¯s´vara’, niti for nı¯ti, and so on. For modern place names I follow
Praka¯t samnak na¯yok rathamontri lae praka¯t ra¯jabanditayasatha¯n
ruang kamnot chu thawı¯p prathet muang luang maha¯samut thale lae ko lae
ruang ka¯n khian chu changwat khet amphoe lae king amphoe (Second
Impression, Bangkok: The Royal Institute, 2524 [1981]).

207

PETER SKILLING

Notes *

1 2 3 4

5

6

7 8 9

10 11 12

I am grateful to Santi Pakdeekham for his many suggestions regarding
sources for the ideas presented in this essay. The texts translated here
are not easy, often employing old words not found in the lexicons (and,
if poetry in general defies translation, Thai poetry with its complex
rhymes and its emphasis on sonance and alliteration, is especially
defiant). My translations are provisional attempts to convey certain
meanings. This is not the place to grapple with the semantic subtleties,
which I have had to gloss over. The genre of royal eulogies is attested
in the inscriptions of Sukhothai, and continues to the present day. See
Yuphorn Saengtaksin, Wannakhadı¯ yo phra kiat (Bangkok: Onka¯n kha¯
khong khurusapha¯, 2537 [1994]). I use the trope of hybridity in a
linguistic rather than a genetic sense. See e.g. Crystal (1999: 151),
‘hybrid: a word composed of elements from different languages’. Hybrid
rituals draw on different languages and practices. sı¯haladı¯pe
araññava¯sinanam . pasattha-maha¯thera¯nam . vam . sa¯lam . ka¯rabhu¯
ta, cited in Prasert and Griswold (1992: 535). Prasert and Griswold’s
work is henceforth referred to as EHS. La Loubère (1986: 114).
‘Talapoin’, derived from Mon, entered European languages from Pegu, and
from the sixteenth century onwards was a common term for ‘Buddhist
monk’. See Yule and Burnell (1903, repr. 1984: 890–891), Lewis (1991:
230b). For the Mon forms see Shorto (1971: 172), s.v. trala’, trila’,
etc. Penth (1994: 171). See also Saeng Manavidura (1978: xliv–xlv). Both
Penth and Saeng use the term ‘sect’, which is, however, inappropriate.
These were monastic ordination lineages within the greater lineage of
Maha¯viha¯ra Theriya. They did not have lay members, and did not
disagree on doctrine – only on monastic procedures. Prince Damrong
Rajanubhab, Tamna¯n gan.a san ˙ gha (Bangkok, 2466 [1923]), pp. 39–41;
Sutthiwong Phongphaibu¯n, ‘Ka¯ 4 fa¯y: khana song’, in Sa¯ra¯nukrom
wathanatham thai pha¯k tai (Bangkok, 2542 [1999]), vol. 1, pp. 286–288.
See also Chaiwut Piyakun, ‘Kalapana¯ Wat Khian Ba¯ng Kaew’, Sa¯ra¯nukrom
wathanatham thai pha¯k tai (Bangkok, 2542 [1999]), vol. 1, pp. 283–285;
Gesick (1995). The identity of Ka¯ ja¯ta is not certain. Prince Damrong
interpreted it as a lineage of monks from Lanka itself (taking ja¯ta as
ja¯ti). If we take ja¯ta in the sense of ‘red’, the name suggests the
Pa¯ Daeng lineage – which would place Vanaratta (Pa¯ Daeng) and
Vanaratana (Pa¯ Kaew) side by side in Ayutthaya-period Nakhon. Tamniap
kha¯ ra¯jaka¯n muang nakhon si thammara¯j in Prachum phongsa¯wada¯n
chabap ka¯ñcana¯bhiseka, vol. 5 (Bangkok: The Fine Arts Department, 2542
˙ [1999]), p. 163. For sakdina¯, see below. Cp. the inclusive phrase
satva tangla¯y muan ying cha¯y s´raman.a bra¯hman.a¯ (here the text is
broken) in an inscription ‘in which King Ra¯mara¯ja of Ayudhya¯
promulgates a law in the vassal kingdom of Sukhodaya in 1397’: EHS 4
(text) p. 116, Face I, line 11, (tr.) p. 126. Prachum phleng ya¯o chabap
ho samut haeng cha¯t (Bangkok: Khlang Witthaya¯, 2507 [1964]), p. 15.
Phra ba¯t somdet phra phuttha yot fa¯ chula¯lok maha¯ra¯j, Bot lakhon
ruang ra¯makian (Bangkok: The Fine Arts Department, 2540 [1997]:
Wannakam samai ratanakosin, muat banterngkhadı¯), vol. 1, pp. 1–2. An
excerpt is translated below. Kot phra song 1, in Three Seals Law Code 4:
166.

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K I N G, S A N G H A A N D B R A H M A N S

13

14 15 16 17 18

19 20

21 22 23 24

25

26 27 28

agra-maha¯-sa¯sanu¯ pathambhaka phra buddhasa¯sana¯: Saichon
Satya¯nurak, Phutthasa¯sana¯ kap naew khit ta¯ng ka¯n muang nai
ra¯jasamai phra ba¯t somdet phra phuttha yot fa¯ chula¯lok (po so
2325–2352) (Bangkok: Matichon, 2546 [2003]), p. 230, citing the Three
Seals Law Code. Cœdès (1924: 93) (henceforth referred to as Cœdès,
Recueil I); EHS 11 Part I, Section 5, (text): 486, Face I, lines 52–53
(tr.): 491. ru¯ p phra is´vara: line 50. pratistha¯ phra mahes´vararu ¯ p
visn.uru¯ p . . . deva¯layamaha¯ksetra: lines 52–54. ˙ ˙ a bra¯hmana
tapasvi yati: ˙ line 42. ˙ s´raman . . tapasvi bra¯hman.a phong pu¯ ja¯
nitya: line 54. The translation of tapasvi as ‘penitent’ is not
satisfactory. The term occurs with some frequency in the epigraphy of
the region – for example in Inscription 19 – and requires further study.
For a stylistic study of brahmanical images from Sukhothai, see
Subhadradis Diskul (1990). Cœdès (1929: 34–36). Henceforth referred to
as Cœdès, Recueil II. See Niyada Laosoonthorn, Sila¯chamlak ruang
ra¯makian wat phra chetuphon mangkhala¯ra¯m/The Ramakien Bas-reliefs at
Wat Phra Chetuphon (Bangkok: Mu¯lanithi Thun Phra Phuttha Yot Fa¯ nai
Phra Boromara¯ju¯pathamb, 2539 [1996]). See also Inscription 64, the Nan
version of the pact. The two versions are edited, translated, and
discussed in EHS 3, pp. 67–107. Saichon, Putthasa¯sana¯, p. 103. See
Prapod Assavavirulhakarn (2003). For an earlier study of a text
belonging to the same family, see Jaini (1965). Note that Jaini’s title
is misleading, since the text is more probably from Siam. For some
hybrid texts from Phatthalung, see Chaiwut Phiyaku¯n, Ka¯n pariwat
wannakam thong thin pha¯k tai praphet nangsu but ruang tamra¯ phra¯m
muang phathalung (Songkhla: Satha¯ban thaksinkhadı¯ suksa¯
Maha¯withaya¯lai Thaksin, 2543 [2000]). See the manuscript illustrated
in Phochana¯nukrom sap wannakhadı¯ thai samai ayutthaya¯ lilit ongka¯n
chaeng nam chabap ra¯jabandithayasatha¯n (Bangkok: The Royal Institute,
2540 [1997]), pp. 10–11. ‘Khom’ is a script that evolved from the Khmer
script to be used for writing Pa¯li and Thai in Siam. Hybrid language is
also used in Khmer religion. Saveros Pou has called this ‘Khmero-Pa¯li’
(Pou 1991: 13–28). Inscription 13, in EHS 14, pp. 625–640, with four
figures. Recueil I, p. 159, n. 1. That is, Cœdès derives the term from
Sanskrit s´reyas, ‘excellent’, ‘superior’. As far as I know, the term
s´reya-s´a¯sana¯ does not exist in Indian literature – to begin with,
s´a¯sana¯ is not usually used in the sense of religion – and the term
seyya-sa¯sana¯ is not known in Pali literature, at least that of Sri
Lanka. The Khamphaeng Phet inscription – one of the earliest, if not the
earliest, surviving occurrence of the term – uses sa¯sana as the final
member of ˙ ¯sana¯, as an independent the compounds. It also uses
s´a¯sana¯, spelled sa . ˙ word. In the compounds ‘Buddha-sa¯sana’ and˙
‘Saiya-sa¯sana’, -sa¯sana ˙ ˙ would, however, be pronounced sa¯t, and
thus be a homophon, in ˙Thai pronunciation, of s´a¯stra. In later cases,
s´a¯stra, often spelled sa¯tra, is commonly used. ´ aivaIt has been
suggested that the term s´reya-s´a¯stra may derive from S s´a¯stra, or
that it derives from seyya in the sense of lying down, horizontal,
perhaps with reference to tiraccha¯na-vijja¯. I am not convinced by
either explanation. Further research into the early occurrences and
evolution of the term is needed. The ‘History of the Brahmans of Nakhon
Si Thammarat’, in the last section, apparently written in Lesser S´ aka
Era 1096 ( 1734–35), uses the term

209

PETER SKILLING

29 30

31 32 33 34 35

36 37 38 39 40

‘saiyas´a¯tra’ twice for brahmanical rites: Tamna¯n phra¯m muang nakhon
si thammara¯j ([Bangkok]: Rong phim Sophon Phiphatanakorn, 2473[1930]),
p. 45. At the end of his Ra¯makian, Ra¯ma I states that ‘this royal
composition, Ra¯makian, has been written following brahmanical legend
(niya¯y saiy): it does not have any profound substance (kaen sa¯n) – I
have [written it] with the aim to celebrate and worship [the Buddha]’:
Phra ba¯t somdet phra phuttha yot fa¯ chula¯lok maha¯ra¯j, Bot lakhon
ruang ra¯makian (Bangkok: The Fine Arts Department, 2540 [1997]):
Wannakam samai ratanakosin, muat banterngkhadı¯, vol. 4, p. 582. The
passage shows that by Lesser S´ aka Era 1159 ( 1797), when the work
was concluded, the short form ‘saiy’ was in use. One should not take
Ra¯ma I’s statement as a devaluation of Brahmanism: at the end of Unarut
he makes a parallel remark, this time calling his source an ‘ancient
tale’: ‘the royal composition Unarut does not have any profound
substance (kaen sa¯n); I have composed it after an ancient tale (ruang
bora¯n), to celebrate the city’: Bot lakhon ruang unarut: phra
ra¯janiphon nai phra ba¯t somdet phra phuttha yot fa¯ chula¯lok
maha¯ra¯j (Bangkok: The Fine Arts Department, 2545 [2002]), p. 449. Two
of the sketchbooks of brahmanical deities use saiyasa¯tra or
s´aiya¯s´a¯stra in their titles: Phra samut ru¯ p phra saiyasa¯tr and
Tamra¯ pha¯p thevaru¯ p saiya¯s´a¯stra (Tamra¯ pha¯p thevaru ¯ p, pp.
95, 179). Another sense of the term is magic or sorcery. The study of
this term, and of other indigenous terms for Brahmanism and Buddhism,
not only in South-East Asia but in general, is a desideratum. For Sri
Lanka, see Carter (1993: 9–25). ‘Debakarma’ (devakarma) seems to be
connected with elephant training: see Tamra¯ pha¯p thevaru¯ p, pp. 28,
53, 101, 102, 191, 192, where Gan.es´a is represented in two forms –
standing and seated – as ‘Phra Devakarrma’. In early modern usage, S´
reyas´a¯sana came to be used in contrast with Buddhas´a¯sana¯, for
example in Prince Damrong Rajanubhap, ‘Tamna¯n ka¯n ken taha¯n thai’,
originally published in 2464 [1914], reprinted in Prachum phongsa¯wada¯n
chabap ka¯ñcana¯bhiseka, vol. 5 (Bangkok: The Fine Arts Department,
2542 ˙ The term is used in modern polemics, as in an article by [1999]),
pp. 211, 233. Sulak Sivarak, ‘Phut kap saiy nai sangkhom thai’
[Buddhism and ritual in Thai society] (Silpawatthanatham/Art and
Culture, vol. 15, no. 7, May 1994, pp. 76–91) or an ensuing book by the
same, Phut kap saiy nai sangkhom thai (Bangkok: Khana Kammaka¯n Sa¯sana¯
Puea Ka¯n Phathana¯/Satha¯ban Santipracha¯tham, 2538 [1995]). From the
Three Seals Law Code, Phra ra¯jakamnot mai, Section 36, cited in
Saichon, Phutthas´a¯sana¯, p. 230. EHS 11 Part I, Section 2 (text), p.
441, Face I, line 7 (tr.), p. 449. EHS 11 Part I, Section 6 (text), p.
502, Face I, lines 13–14 (tr.), p. 508. EHS 11 Part I, Section 5 (text),
p. 486, Face I, lines 12–13 (tr.), p. 490. For a newly annotated
version of ‘Athiba¯y rajaka¯n khrang krung kao’, Prince Damrong
Rajanubhab’s list of the kings of Ayutthaya first published in Prachum
phonsa¯wada¯n Part 5, 2460 [1917], see Prachum phonsa¯wada¯n chabap
ka¯ñcana¯bhiseka (Bangkok: The Fine Arts Department, 2542 [1999]), vol.
1, pp. 355–366. ˙ of kings used in the Three Seals Law Code are analysed
in Vickery (1984). Titles Phra aiyaka¯ra a¯jña¯ luang,  1895 [
1352], in Three Seals Law Code, 4: 2–3. Read -eka¯da¯saratha-ı¯s´vara-.
Phra aiyaka¯ra luang,  1976 [ 1433], Section 13, in Three Seals Law
Code, 4: 17. Wat Cul.a¯man.ı¯ Inscription of Phra Paramatrailokana¯tha,
 2223 ( 1680). ‘The kings of Ayutthaya . . . were considered in
ritual to be avatars of Hindu deities such as Vishnu or Indra. But to
the Europeans who came to Siam in the

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41 42

43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51

52 53 54 55 56

57 58 59 60

seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the ruler of Ayutthaya was the
principal trader in the Kingdom, and thus a formidable competitor as
well as trading partner’: Dhiravat na Pombejra (1998: 67). John
Crawfurd, sent as British envoy to Bangkok in 1822, noted this for
Ratanakosin: ‘The King of Siam is both a monopolist and a trader’ – see
Crawfurd (1987: 380). Three Seals Law Code, Phra rajakamnot mai, Section
13, 5: 243. The spelling ‘bhu¯ ma’ for Pa¯li-Sanskrit ‘bhu¯ mi’ is a
Thai hybrid form. These goals were common to all Buddhist schools in
ancient India, and reference to them should not be construed, as is too
often the case, as ‘Maha¯ya¯na influence’. Maha¯ya¯na ideology evolved
from the reinterpretation of the three goals, and not vice versa. For
the bodhisattva in Maha¯viha¯ra tradition see, e.g., Bhikkhu Bodhi
(1978), or Rahula’s classical essay, ‘The Bodhisattva Ideal in
Therava¯da and Maha¯ya¯na’, in Rahula (1978: 71–77). EHS 11, Part I,
Section 7 (text), p. 515, Face I, lines 4–7 (tr.), p. 517. Phra
aiyaka¯ra a¯jña¯ luang, Section 13, in Three Seals Law Code, 4: 17. The
Pa¯li term buddhan˙ kura is used as a synonym of bodhisattva in
classical texts from Ceylon. Kham chan sansern phra kiat somdet phra
phuttha chao luang pra¯sa¯t thong (Bangkok: The Fine Arts Department,
2543 [2000]), pp. 49–56. For his story, see H. Saddhatissa (1975:
chapter X). Phra ra¯japhongsa¯wada¯n krung thonburı¯ chabap phan
chanthanuma¯t, in Prachum phongsa¯wada¯n chabap ka¯ñcana¯bhiseka, vol. 3
(Bangkok: The Fine Arts Depart˙ ment, 2542 [1999]), p. 475. Phra
ra¯japhongsa¯wada¯n krung thonburı¯ chabap phan chantanuma¯t, p. 505.
Saichon, Phutthas´a¯sana¯, p. 211. For the politics and culture of
Thonburi, see Nidhi Iaewsiwong, Ka¯n muang thai samai phra chao krung
thonburı¯ (Bangkok: Matichon Press, 4th printing, 2539 [1996]). For
early Ratanakosin, see the same author’s Pa¯k kai lae bai rua: wa¯ duai
ka¯n suksa¯ prawatisa¯t–wannakam ton ratanakosin (2nd printing, Bangkok:
Phraew Samnak Phim, 2538 [1995]). Three Seals Law Code, 5: 326. Three
Seals Law Code, 5: 321. Phra ba¯t somdet phra phuttha yot fa¯ chula¯lok
maha¯ra¯j, Bot lakhon ruang ra¯makian (Bangkok: The Fine Arts
Department, 2540 [1997] Wannakam samai ratanakosin, muat banterngkhadı¯,
vol. 1, p. 1). Bot lakhon ruang ra¯makian, p. 1, line 10. The Thai form
here is s´raddha¯dhaika (pron. sattha¯tuk), for Pa¯li saddha¯dhika.
San˙ gı¯tiyavan ˙ s´a (Bangkok: The Fine Arts Department, 2544 [2001]:
Wannakam samai ratanakosin, vol. 3), pp. 248, 262. For the Wang Na¯, see
S. Phla¯y Noi, Wang na¯ phraya¯ sua: phra pavarara¯ja prawat somdet
phra boworara¯j chao maha¯surasingana¯t krom phra ra¯jawang bowon nai
rajaka¯n tı¯ 1 (3rd printing, revised, Bangkok: Silpawatthanatham, 2545
[2002]) and Phra kiartikhun somdet phra bowarara¯ja¯ chao
maha¯surasinghana¯t (bunma¯) (Bangkok: Mu¯lanithi
Maha¯surasinghana¯t/Wat Maha¯tha¯tyuwara¯jarangarit, 2538 [1995]).
Wannakam phraya¯ trang (Bangkok: The Fine Arts Department, 2547 [2004]),
pp. 248–258. Chotmaihet rajaka¯n tı¯ 3, vol. 3 (Bangkok:
Sahaprachaphanit, 2530 [1987]), pp. 26–27. The forms ‘buddha’ (in Thai
pronunciation phuttha) and ‘buddhi’ (in Thai pronunciation phutthi) are
used interchangeably in our documents. At this time there was no custom
of making statues or portraits of living monarchs.

211

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61 62

63 64

65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78

79 80 81

The consecutive names Ra¯ma I, II, etc. were assigned retrospectively in
1916, during the Sixth Reign. See Phochana¯nukrom sap wannakhadı¯ thai
samai sukhothai traibhu¯ mikatha¯ chabap ra¯jabandithayasatha¯n
(Bangkok: The Royal Institute, 2544 [2001]), pp. 88–125; Cœdès and
Archaimbault (1973: 86–111); Reynolds and Reynolds (1982: 135–172).
Inscription 8, in EHS 11, Part II, Section 10 (text), p. 555, Face I,
line 13 (tr.), pp. 560–561. The five kakudhabhan.d.a have been defined and
illustrated with a line drawing in the ‘Royal Institute Dictionary’
(Phochana¯nukrom chabap ra¯jabanditayasatha¯n) from the first edition
published in  2493 [ 1950] to the current edition published in 2546
[2003]. Inscription 2 in EHS 10 (text), p. 363, Face I, line 33, khann
jayasrı¯ (tr.), p. 381. For Inscription 4, see EHS 11, Part I, Section 5
(text), p. 486, Face I, line 11, makuta . . . khan jayas´rı¯y
svetachatra (tr.), p. 490. For inscription 5, see EHS ˙ I, Section 6,
(text), p. 502, Face I, lines 10–11, [ja]yas´rı¯ (tr.), p. 508. 11, Part
Cf. the phrase ‘dai cha¯ng phuek ma¯ su¯ phra ba¯ramı¯’. See Phra saeng
ra¯jasastra¯ pracham muang (Bangkok: The Fine Arts Department, 2539
[1996]). In 2525 (1982) Queen Sirikit stood in for His Majesty, in 2585
(1985) Crown Prince Maha¯ Vajiralongkorn did so. Ra¯janitisa¯stra khong
bra¯hman. anantaña¯n.a lae bra¯hman.a gan.amissaka (Bangkok: 2463
[1920], ‘Ba¯n phanaek chabap luang khian nai rajaka¯n tı¯ 3’, plae phra
ra¯janiti cha¯k phra pa¯l.¯ı bhuka¯m thawa¯y. Ja¯taka (PTS edition) I
260, 399; II 400; III 320; V 119, 378. Ja¯taka (PTS edition) III 274.
Epigraphia Indica XVIII, p. 338. EHS 11 Part I, Section 2 (text), p.
446, Face II, line 26 (tr.), p. 462. dasabiddha-ra¯jadharma: EHS 11,
Part I, Section 6 (text), p. 502, Face I, line 15 (tr.), p. 508. For
references, see Prakong Nimmanhemindh, ‘Totsabidhara¯jadharrma’, in
Sa¯ra¯nukrom watthanatham thai pha¯k kla¯ng, vol. 6, pp. 2448–50. The
concept and role of the office of ‘san˙ ghara¯ja’ changed radically in the
late nineteenth century. Ayutthaya society was graded in terms of rice
fields (na¯), although whether fields were ever actually allocated, or
whether na¯ was simply a measure, remains a subject of debate. For a
concise analysis of sakdina¯ and other indicators of status, see Akin
Rabibhadana (1975: 93–124). See Reynolds (1987: 152), ‘[T]he term
[sakdina¯] refers to positions in a socio-political hierarchy
underpinned by economic relations. The positions were differentiated by
amounts of land allocated, e.g., from 100,000 units for the
highest-ranking prince, to 10,000 units for a noble, and down to 25
units for a commoner and 5 for a slave.’ By the middle of the twentieth
century, sakdina¯ was used in some circles as a translation of
‘feudalism’; as a result, the term has its own history in modern Thai
historiography and polemics. Na taha¯n hua muang, Three Seals Law Code I
§ 27. Somdet Phra Maha¯samana Chao Krom Phra Parama¯nujitajinorasa,
Lilit krabuan phayuhaya¯tra¯ ta¯ng cholama¯k lae sathalama¯k (Bangkok:
Rong Phim Borisat Sahathammik, 2539 [1996]). See Three Seals Law Code,
vol. 4, pp. 229–257. ‘Kot’ is from Pa¯li katika¯, a technical term for a
Vinaya offence, and presumably related to the Pa¯li˙ terms

212

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82 83 84

85 86

87 88 89

90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103

katika¯ and kathika¯va(t)ta, the latter used in Ceylon for royal decrees
on san˙ gha ˙ ˙ affairs. See Ratnapala (1971: 6–16), Introduction.
Inscription 45, EHS 3, pp. 67–107. EHS 24, pp. 788–803. Le Blanc, pp. 20
foll. This was a volatile period, and at least some factions in the
cosmopolitan city had attempted to convert King Narai to Islam (leading
to the Makassar revolt) or to Catholicism. See Hutchinson (1968), or
Wyatt (1984: 101–104). na¯brahma ksatramr.dhnoti na¯ksatram . brahma
vardhate, brahma ksatram . ca ˙ ˙ ˙ sam . pr.ktam iha ca¯mutra vardhate:
Olivelle (2005: (9)322). In some cases the role of brahmanism is
caricatured by ‘Sukhothai romanticism’, which portrays Sukhothai as a
sort of open society of the Thai, and Ayutthaya as an absolutist state
in which the ‘true Thai’ values were distorted by brahmanical
superstitions and Khmer despotism. ‘Bot’, abbreviated from Uposatha
‘hall’, came to be used for religious buildings such as churches, which
are bot khrit. The complex series of rites was last performed in  2477
( 1934). See Sutthiwong Phongpaibun, ‘Tamna¯n phra¯m muang nakhon si
thammarat’, in Sa¯ra¯nukrom wathanatham thai pha¯k tai, vol. 6, pp.
2670–71; Pricha Nunsuk, ‘Sa¯sana¯ phra¯m nai pha¯k tai’, in Sa¯ra¯nukrom
wathanatham thai pha¯k tai, vol. 15, pp. 7347–7372. For a note on the
surviving brahmanical structures in Nakhon Si Thammarat, see Munro-Hay
(2001: 301–307). See ‘Phra¯m muang phattalung’, in Sa¯ra¯nukrom
wathanatham thai pha¯k tai, vol. 11, pp. 5262–69. See ‘Phra¯m muang
chaiya, trakun’, in Sa¯ra¯nukrom wathanatham thai pha¯k tai, vol. 11,
pp. 5260–62. EHS 14, p. 631. For a summary of the contents of this
‘exceedingly curious work’, see Wyatt (1975: 52–56). Tamna¯n phra¯m
muang nakhon si thammara¯t (Bangkok: Rong Phim Sophon Phiphatanakorn,
2473 [1930]), p. 20. Phra aiya¯ka¯ra tamnaeng na¯ phonlaruan, Section
19, in The Three Seals Law Code 1: 265 foll. Tamniap kha¯ ra¯jaka¯n
muang nakhon si thammara¯t in Prachum phongsa¯wada¯n chabap
ka¯ñcana¯bhiseka, vol. 5 (Bangkok: The Fine Arts Department, 2542 ˙
[1999]), pp. 161–162. Tamna¯n phra¯m muang nakhon si thammara¯t, pp.
12–14. ‘History of the Brahmans of Nakhon Si Thammara¯t’, p. 22. The
literature on the subject for India is immense. For grants in Orissa,
see Singh (1993). For the evolution from grants to individuals to grants
to temples in medieval Andhra, see Talbot (2001: 88). Phra a¯ya¯ka¯n
laksana wiwa¯t, Section 32, in Three Seals Law Code (3: 199).
Bud.d.ha¯ca¯riya is vr.ddha¯ca¯rya, senior teacher. For Maha¯ra¯jakhru¯,
see Kham chan sansern phra kiat somdet phra phuttha chao luang prasa¯t
thong (Bangkok: The Fine Arts Department, 2543 [2000]), Introduction.
Bangkok: The Fine Arts Department, 2543 [2000]. Another important
literary figure, well beyond the range of this already inflated article,
is the rishi. Whatever the origins of the concept, for our period the
vocation is very much a part of the Thai religious imagination. Many of
the rishis of Thai tamna¯n geography, including that of the
Ca¯madevı¯vam . sa, probably have Mon or Lua ancestors, but even this
ancestry is mixed with the ‘isi’ of Pali texts

213

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104

105

106 107

108 109

110 111 112

113

and the ‘r.sı¯’ of brahmanical texts. For a dedication of a Buddha image
by a ˙ in Mon, in the cave Tham Rusi as Khao Ngu¯, Ra¯jaburi province,
rishi inscribed see Cœdès, Recueil II, p. 19: puñ vrah . r.si s´rı¯
sama¯dhigupta. See also ˙ Shorto (1971: 320), ‘risi’. These were not the
only pressure groups in pre-modern society – there were mandarins and
nobles (khun na¯ng), merchants and manufacturers, farmers and gatherers,
etc. The groups discussed here are those who manufactured and enacted
ideology and ritual. For the most part, our sources are elite documents –
inscriptions, laws, decrees, courtly literature. There are few
documents for study of grassroots ritual in the period in question – but
the study should certainly be attempted. One omission in studies of the
political imagination in Siam is the role of China and the Chinese.
Given the presence of Chinese in the region for over a millennium, and
the weight of trade and political links, it is hard to imagine that
Chinese conceptions of power and hierarchy did not affect Thai
ideologies. They certainly did come into play in the Siamese court’s
self-representation to the Chinese court through embassies or ‘tribute’.
But did they not function closer to home? We must also ask whether
court ceremonial adopted anything from Persia or contemporary courts of
India. Luang Phatphongphakdı¯ (Tim Sukhaya¯ng), Nira¯t Nong Khai
(Bangkok: Thai Wathana Phanich, 2541 [1998]), p. 3. ‘Chao Phraya¯’ is
Somdet Chao Phraya¯ Boroma Maha Si Suriyawong (Chuang Bunnag,
1808–1883). ‘Chao Khun’ is Chao Phraya¯ Mahinthornsakdamrong (Peng
Phenkun), commander of the First Army and of one of the two armies sent
to suppress the Ho. ‘Jayanto’ is a popular chant beginning jayanto
bodhiya¯ mu¯ le, sa¯kiya¯nam . nandivad.d.hano. See Phochana¯nukrom
chabap ra¯jabanditayasatha¯n pho. so. 2542 (Bangkok: Nanmi Publishing,
2546 [2003]), p. 209a: ‘Khlo¯ n thawa¯n: a gate to the jungle (pratu¯
pa¯), a jungle gate which is made according to brahmanical lore (tamra¯
phra¯m), decorated with layers of leaves, through which soldiers depart
when going to war. Two brahmans sit on high platforms, one on either
side of the gate, to sprinkle water charged by devamantra, for the
success and blessings (jayaman˙ gala) of the departing troops.’ Khlo¯ n
is from Khmer, thawa¯n is Sanskrit dva¯ra. In his Nira¯t ta¯ din daeng,
King Ra¯ma I refers to passing the khlo¯ n thawa¯n on his way to fight
the Burmese (Klon phleng ya¯o nira¯t ruang rop phama¯ tı¯ ta¯ din daeng
phleng ya¯o rop phama¯ tı¯ nakhon si thammara¯j lae phleng ya¯o ruang
tı¯ phama¯, Bangkok: Siam Press Management Ltd, 2547 [2004]), p. 29.
Khlo¯ n thawa¯n is also the door to the palace, and the female troops
who guard it. The ‘History of the Brahmans of Nakhon Si Thammara¯t’
includes ‘khlo¯ n thawa¯n boek phrai’ among the twenty rites to be
performed by brahmans: Tamna¯n phra¯m muang nakhon si thammara¯j, p. 20.
Tamniap kha¯ ra¯jaka¯n muang nakhon si thammara¯t, in Prachum
phongsa¯wada¯n chabap ka¯ñcana¯bhiseka, vol. 5 (Bangkok: The Fine Arts
Department, 2542 ˙ nga¯n thava¯y nam sang tam kho¯ l thawa¯n. [1999]),
p. 162, phanak According to the Tamniap kha¯ ra¯jaka¯n, op. cit.,
immediately following the two brahmans just mentioned, a brahman with
the title Khun Phanavek had the duty to read the ‘Bijaya-ya¯tra¯’
(phanak nga¯n a¯n phichai ya¯tra¯). Can this be connected with the
recitation of Maha¯dibbamanta? See Tamna¯n watthu satha¯n ta¯ng ta¯ng
seung phra ba¯t somdet phra nang klao chao yu¯ hua song satha¯pana¯
(first published 2472 [1929]; 6th printing, for the cremation of Nai
Chamnian Nakhonprasa¯t, Bangkok: 2514 [1971]); Santi Leksukhum,

214

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Chitrakam thai samai rajaka¯n tı¯ 3: khwa¯m khit plian, ka¯n sadaeng ok
ko plian ta¯m (Bangkok: Muang Boran, 2548 [2005]; Sa¯ra¯nukrom phra ba¯t
somdet phra nang klao chao yu ¯ hua rajaka¯n tı¯ 3, vol. 1 (Bangkok: Mu
¯ lanithi chalerm phra kiat phra ba¯t somdet phra nang klao chao yu ¯
hua, 2545 [2002]). 114 The ‘bodhisattva monks’ of pre-modern Siam
require a separate study. 115 One of the best early ethnographic notes
available is not on the brahmans of Siam, but on those of Cambodia: see
Moura (1883: 213–219). For Siam, see Crawfurd (1987: 149–153). An
interesting account of the court brahmans at Phnom Penh in the early
1920s is given by Prince Damrong Rajanubhab in his Nira¯t Nakhon Wat
(originally published 2467 [ 1924]). For Cambodia into the post-Khmer
Rouge period, see also de Bernon (1997: 33–58). 116 See, e.g., vol. 5,
p. 33, ‘Religion, 1. Brahmanism in Siam’.

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233

INDEX

Aggañña sutta 28, 33–4, 78 Alaungpaya, King 2, 37 allotropism 75–6, 96
Ambedkar, Dr. 108 Ang Duang 71, 88, 92 animal sciences
(tiraccha¯navijja¯) 4, 17, 18 Asoka Maurya 78–9, 87, 114, 127, 128, 197
Aung San Suu Kyi 67

Dhammakay 110 dhammara¯ja 54, 77, 79, 87, 126, 127, 130, 135, 137
Dhammathat 26f Dhammayuttika Nika¯ya (Thommayut) 15, 18, 83, 106, 110,
115 donations 130, 182f 188 Durkheim, Émile 2, 3

Badon, King 34, 37, 38, 40 Bagyidaw, King 34, 35, 56 Bigandet, Bishop
12, 58 Bodawphaya, King 5, 53, 56 Brahmans 184, 198f 201, 202 Buddha
Jayanti 108, 110, 119 Buddha relics 107–8, 111, 128 Buddhist Institute,
Phnom Penh 108

Fa Ngum 122, 123. 129 FUNCINPEC 90, 92 Furnivall, J.S. 27

Emerald Buddha 129, 186

Gethin, Rupert 29 golden age motif 108

cakkavattin 77–8, 123, 127, 135, 137, 193f Cambodian People’s Party
(CPP) 90, 91, 93, 94, 96, 97 Caravan 164–5 Cedi Luang, Chiang Mai 128
Champassak Chronicle 134, 135, 136 Chulalongkorn, King (Ra¯ma V) 12–13,
14, 146, 168, 172, 184 Chuon Nath 108, 110–11 Crystal Buddha 136
dasara¯jadhamma 7, 9, 50 n.23, 77, 126, 130, 195–6 David Neel, Alexandra
114 Democratic Kampuchea 6, 71, 118 Democratic Party (Cambodia) 6, 104,
105

Hit Sip Saung 145, 148 Hun Sen 91 Huot Tath 110–11 Indra 150, 152
International Monetary Fund (IMF) 175–6 Janaka¯bhivamsa, Ashin 17, 18f
24 n.3 ˙ 87, 114–17 Jayavarman VII Jinaka¯lama¯lı¯ 125, 183 kathin 106,
197 Khmer Republic 71 Khmer Rouge 71, 88–9, 90, 96, 118 Khom script 186
Khon Kaen 8, 158, 162, 170f 178 Khuon Nay 6, 104f 112, 114, 117

235

INDEX

royal donations (kappana) 130, 132

Kinwun Mingyi 32, 42, 49 Kitthiwuttho, Bhikkhu 173

Sainya Cakkhaphat Phaen Phaeo, King 7, 123, 124, 126, 133, 137 sakdina¯
system 9, 184, 196 saksit 3, 80, 81, 92 Sangha Act, 1940 15 Sangkum
Reastr Niyum 83, 85, 86, 96, 97, 105, 113, 114, 115 Sasana University 14
Setthathilat, King 126, 127, 128, 133 Shwe Zan Aung 5, 65 Sı¯hala
Nika¯ya 125 Sihamoni, King 92 Sihanouk, King 71, 83, 84, 86–7, 88, 90,
92, 97, 105, 113, 114, 115, 116 Sisowath Kossamak, Queen 105, 117, 118,
120 Sisowath, King 82 Sixth Buddhist Council 20, 108 Son Ngoc Thanh 83
Son Sann 90–1 Suriyavongsa, King 126, 132, 134, 135 Suvanna Banlang,
King 124

lak muang 170, 177, 178 Lithai, King 187, 188, 193, 194 Lokes´vara 97
Lon Nol 89 Maha¯ Nika¯ya 18, 84, 106, 110 Mahachulalongkorn University
20 Mahamakut Teacher College 15, 20 Maha¯sammata 2, 28, 33, 35, 38, 47,
78 Maitreya 2, 108, 119 n.8, 150, 152, 157, 159, 160, 189 Ma¯ra 8, 169,
173, 193 Marks, Rev. Dr. John 12, 31, 56 Meas Yang 112 Meru 76, 127
Mindon, King 4–5, 12, 38, 39, 41–2, 47, 58 Mongkut, King (Ra¯ma IV) 12,
83 Monivong, King 82 Ña¯n.issara, Ashin 22 Nak Tham 15, 23 Nang Thoranee
8, 168f Ne Win, General 14, 20, 22, 67 Nitsay 146, 148 Norodom, King 82
Oudong 92 Oum Sum 118 Pathamasambodhi 168 ˙ Parian 15, 23 People’s
Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) 71, 89, 93, 118 Phayre, Sir Arthur 31,
59–61, 62 Pol Pot 6 Pra¯sa¯t Thong, King 188 Prayutto, Phra Prayud 10,
19, 21 prophecy 7 prophetic writings 109, 143–64 ra¯jadhamma 27f
Ra¯jathat 26f Ra¯ma I, King 185, 188, 189, 190, 191, 193, 194, 199, 203,
204 Ra¯ma II, King 192, 193 Ra¯ma III, King 197, 203 Ra¯makian 185–6,
194, 204 Ra¯maya¯n.a 168–9

Taksin, King 189–90, 197 Taw Sein Ko 52, 57 Tep Vong 102 n.42, 118 Tham
script 147–8, 149 Thammasat University 173 Thanarat, General Sarit 170,
173, 174 That Luang, Vientiane 127, 128 Thibaw, King 12, 62 Thittila,
Ashin 18 Three Seals Law Code 182, 196, 200, 204, 205 Tilok, King 122,
123, 124 Trailok, King 123 U Chan Htoon 65 U Hpo Hlaing 4–5, 27, 40–8,
49 U Htin Fatt 43, 45, 49 U Kyaw Htun 4–5, 27–40, 48, 49 Vajiravud,
Prince 12–13, 15, 72 Vangbuli, King 122. 123 Vann Molyvann 113
Vessantara 28, 114 Vicittasa¯ra¯bhivamsa, Ashin 22 vinaya 3, 19, 137 ˙
Visun, King 122, 124, 126, 127, 129

236

INDEX

Voegelin, Eric 6, 73–5, 79, 94–5 Wat Boronives 12–13, 21 Wat Mahathat 21 Weber, Max 1, 44, 45, 74–5, 98

World Buddhist University, Rangoon 20, 22 Young Men’s Buddhist Association 5, 53, 63–4, 107

237


Buddha Quotes on the Mind

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” -Buddha



“All wrong-doing arises because of mind. If mind is transformed can wrong-doing remain?”


“It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.”


“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”


“There is nothing so disobedient as an undisciplined mind, and there is nothing so obedient as a disciplined mind.”


“Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts.”


“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”

“To understand everything is to forgive everything.” -Buddha

“Wear your ego like a loose fitting garment.”
“People with opinions just go around bothering one another.”

“Speak or act with an impure mind and trouble will follow you.”





“In the sky, there is no distinction of east
and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then
believe them to be true.”
“The secret of health for both mind and body
is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate
troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly. ”
“To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear”
“There is nothing more dreadful than the
habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that
disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a
thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills. ”


Buddha Quotes on Wisdom

“If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem cannot be solved worrying will do you no good.”
“Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely.”

“In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?” -Buddha

“A man is not called wise because he talks
and talks again; but is he peaceful, loving and fearless then he is in
truth called wise.”
“Even as a solid rock is unshaken by the wind, so are the wise unshaken by praise or blame.”
“It is better to travel well than to arrive.”

“Pain is certain, suffering is optional.” -Buddha

“A dog is not considered a good dog because
he is a good barker. A man is not considered a good man because he is a
good talker.”
“Remembering a wrong is like carrying a burden on the mind.”
“Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.”
“Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.”
“Nothing is permanent.”
“A jug fills drop by drop.”
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot
coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who
gets burned.”

Inspirational Buddha Quotes

“One moment can change a day, one day can change a life and one life can change the world.” -Buddha

“There isn’t enough darkness in all the world to snuff out the light of one little candle.”
“Imagine that every person in the world is
enlightened but you. They are all your teachers, each doing just the
right things to help you.”

“If you are facing in the right direction, all you need to do is keep on walking.” -Buddha

“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.”
“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.”
“Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.”
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
“If anything is worth doing, do it with all your heart.”
“On life’s journey faith is nourishment,
virtuous deeds are a shelter, wisdom is the light by day and right
mindfulness is the protection by night. If a man lives a pure life,
nothing can destroy him.”

Buddha Quotes on Happiness

“Thousands of candles can be lit from a
single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.
Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

“Happiness will never come to those who fail to appreciate what they already have.” -Buddha

“There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.”
“It is ridiculous to think that somebody else can make you happy or unhappy.”
“Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are. It solely relies on what you think.”
“A disciplined mind brings happiness.”

“When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.” -Buddha

“Happiness is not having a lot. Happiness is giving a lot.”
“Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

Buddha Quotes on Love

“He who loves 50 people has 50 woes; he who loves no one has no woes.”
“Hatred does not cease through hatred at any time. Hatred ceases through love. This is an unalterable law.”

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” -Buddha

“You can search throughout the entire
universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection
than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You
yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love
and affection.”
“True love is born from understanding.”
“If you truly loved yourself, you could never hurt another.”


Peace and joy for all



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