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LESSON 3360 Sun 21 Jun 2020 Free Hi Tech Radio Free Animation Clipart Online Analytical Insight Net for Discovery of Metteyya Awakened One with Awareness Universe (FOAINDMAOAU) For The Welfare, Happiness, Peace of All Sentient and Non-Sentient Beings and for them to Attain Eternal Peace as Final Goal. From KUSHINARA NIBBANA BHUMI PAGODA in 116 CLASSICAL LANGUAGES Through http://sarvajan.ambedkar.org At WHITE HOME 668, 5A main Road, 8th Cross, HAL III Stage, Prabuddha Bharat Puniya Bhumi Bengaluru Magadhi Karnataka State PRABUDDHA BHARAT DO GOOD PURIFY MIND AND ENVIRONMENT Words of the Metteyya Awakened One with Awareness from Free Online step by step creation of Virtual tour in 3D Circle-Vision 360° for Kushinara Nibbana Bhumi Pagoda COLONIAL KNOWLEDGE AND BUDDHIST EDUCATION IN BURMA
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LESSON 3360 Sun 21 Jun  2020


Hi Tech Radio Free Animation Clipart

Online Analytical Insight Net for Discovery of Metteyya Awakened One with Awareness Universe (FOAINDMAOAU)

The Welfare, Happiness, Peace of All Sentient and Non-Sentient Beings and for them to Attain Eternal Peace as Final Goal.


668, 5A main Road, 8th Cross, HAL III Stage,
Prabuddha Bharat Puniya Bhumi Bengaluru

Magadhi Karnataka State



Words of the Metteyya Awakened One with Awareness


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7,792,082,452 Current World Population - COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic Recovered: 4,732,888
Last updated: June 21, 2020, 00:10 GMT
May all be Happy, Well and Secure!
May all live Long!
May all have calm, quiet, alert, attentive and equanimity Mind with a clear understanding that Everything is Changing!

Coronavirus Cases:




7,792,741,603 Current World Population-38,353,742Net population growth this year-54,591 Net population growth today66,106,452Births this year-93,524Births today-Recovered:4,732,888 from COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic 

Government & Economics

$ 3,720,181,927 Public Healthcare expenditure today
$ 2,544,000,349 Public Education expenditure today
$ 1,156,558,526 Public Military expenditure today
37,173,920 Cars produced this year
71,141,587 Bicycles produced this year
118,059,725 Computers produced this year

Society & Media

1,264,749 New book titles published this year
117,364,197 Newspapers circulated today
164,600 TV sets sold worldwide today
1,604,411 Cellular phones sold today
$ 71,852,119 Money spent on videogames today
4,594,815,003 Internet users in the world today
64,702,091,476 Emails sent today
1,707,204 Blog posts written today
192,087,302 Tweets sent today
1,781,889,065 Google searches today


2,454,072 Forest loss this year (hectares)
3,303,844 Land lost to soil erosion this year (ha)
17,062,977,830 CO2 emissions this year (tons)
5,662,670 Desertification this year (hectares)
4,620,918 Toxic chemicals released  in the environment this year (tons)


843,892,423 Undernourished people in the world
1,694,947,025 Overweight people in the world
759,296,973 Obese people in the world
7,582 People who died of hunger today
$ 143,389,350 Money spent for obesity related diseases in the USA today
$ 46,869,938 Money spent on weight loss programs in the USA today


2,058,040,848 Water used this year (million L)
397,354 Deaths caused by water related diseases this year
800,173,743 People with no access to a safe drinking water source


115,720,851 Energy used today (MWh), of which:
98,508,122- from non-renewable sources (MWh)
17,426,551- from renewable sources (MWh)
725,112,602,016 Solar energy striking Earth today (MWh)
23,734,321 Oil pumped today (barrels)
1,505,291,102,504 Oil left (barrels)
15,698 Days to the end of oil (~43 years)
1,095,231,970,875 Natural Gas left (boe)

57,644 Days to the end of natural gas

4,315,554,282,791 Coal left (boe)

148,812 Days to the end of coal


6,125,506 Communicable disease deaths this year

229,946 Seasonal flu deaths this year
3,586,606 Deaths of children under 5 this year
20,066,621 Abortions this year
145,845 Deaths of mothers during birth this year
41,882,809 HIV/AIDS infected people
793,221 Deaths caused by HIV/AIDS this year
3,875,320 Deaths caused by cancer this year
462,836 Deaths caused by malaria this year
3,752,887,912 Cigarettes smoked today
2,358,826 Deaths caused by smoking this year
1,180,157 Deaths caused by alcohol this year
505,994 Suicides this year
$ 188,765,599,925 Money spent on illegal drugs this year
636,957 Road traffic accident fatalities this year

27,754,471Deaths this year

40,565Deaths today
COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic - Coronavirus Cases:

8,906,655- Deaths:466,253

Last updated: June 21, 2020, 00:10 GMT


May all be Happy, Well and Secure!

May all have Calm, Quiet, Alert, Attentive and Equanimity Mind with a Clear Understanding that Everything is Changing!

May all those who died attain Eternal Bliss as Final Goal and Rest in Peace
as they followed the following original words of the Buddha the Mettiyya Awakened One with awraeness :

Countries and territories without any cases of COVID-19

1. Comoros,2. North Korea,3. Yemen,4.
The Federated States of Micronesia,5. Kiribati,6. Solomon Islands,7.
The Cook Islands,8. Micronesia,9. Tong,10. The Marshall Islands
Palau,11. American Samoa,12. South Georgia,13. South Sandwich
15. Aland Islands,16.Svalbard,17. Jan
Mayen Islands,18. Latin America,19.Africa,20.British Indian Ocean
Territory,21.French Southern
Island,25. Cocos
(Keeling) Islands,26. Heard Island,27. McDonald Islands,28. Niue,29.
Norfolk Island,30. Pitcairn,31. Solomon Islands,32. Tokelau,33. United
States Minor Outlying Islands,34. Wallis and Futuna Islands,
36. Turkmenistan,37. Tuvalu,38. Vanuatu

as they are following the original words of the Buddha Metteyya Awakened One with Awareness:

Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta

1. Dasa raja dhamma, 2. kusala 3. Kuutadanta Sutta dana, 4.
priyavacana,5. artha cariya ,6. samanatmata, 7. Samyutta
Nikayaaryaor,ariyasammutidev 8. Agganna Sutta,9. Majjima Nikaya,10.
arya” or “ariy, 11.sammutideva,12. Digha Nikaya,13. Maha
Sudassana,14.Dittadhammikatthasamvattanika-dhamma ,15. Canon Sutta ,16. Pali Canon and Suttapitaka ,17. Iddhipada ,18. Lokiyadhamma and Lokuttaradhamma,19. Brahmavihàra,20. Sangahavatthu ,21. Nathakaranadhamma ,22. Saraniyadhamma ,23. Adhipateyya Dithadhammikattha,24. dukkha,25. anicca,26. anatta,27. Samsara,28. Cakkamatti Sihananda Sutta,29.Chandagati,30.Dosagati, 31. Mohagati,32.Bhayagati,33.Yoniso manasikara,34. BrahmavihàraSangaha vatthu,35. Nathakaranadhamma,
36.SaraniyadhammaAdhipateyya,37. Dithadhammikatth38.Mara,39.Law of Kamma,

40.Vasettha Sutta in Majjhima Nikaya

Ambattha Sutta in Digha Nikaya












Sigalovada Sutta

Brahmajala Sutta

Digha Nikaya (Mahaparinibbana-sutta

many greedy leaders of the countries are harrasing their downtrodden,
underprevilaged subjects by permenant curfew/ lockdown making them
unemployed followed by hunger.

Buddha Song,புத்தரின் பாடல் ,Buddham Saranam நீயே உனக்கு ஒளியாக இரு - Prakash Trichy
Zooming Tv
புத்தரின் பாடல் ,Buddha Songநீயே உனக்கு ஒளியாக இரு - Prakash Trichy
Buddham Saranam
Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed)
Buddha Song,புத்தரின் பாடல் ,Buddham Saranam நீயே உனக்கு ஒளியாக இரு - Prakash Trichy


Buddha Song,புத்தரின் பாடல் ,Buddham Saranam நீயே உனக்கு ஒளியாக இரு - Prakash Trichy

Educational reform in Burma
UK Trade & Investment (UKTI)
Burma is currently undergoing a complete overhaul of its education system which the UK is supporting through the British Council, the British Embassy and British business. This video gives an insight
Educational reform in Burma

Burma is currently undergoing a complete overhaul of its education system which the UK is supporting through the British Council, the British Embassy and Bri…




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 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
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
modern science and technology. The curriculum and language of instruction
in colonial education are signi
ficant 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, certifi-
cation, 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 par-
ticular 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
compatiblewith or hostileto ratio-
nalism, 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
refusal was motivated largely by reactions against the colonial threat to
monastic authority, autonomy and ethics. The
sanghas position on edu-
cational reforms proved to have unintended and far-reaching consequences,
and eventually gave rise to millenarian resistance movements against colo-
nial 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.

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 with-
out contradiction, scienti
fic 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 e
fforts 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 educa-
tion 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
with historical forces that would link this countrys future to mod-
ernizing innovations was motivated by the concerns of colonial administra-
tion 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 acceler-
ated the restructuring of Burmese society in the advent of modernity.

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 foun-
dations, the British followed a deliberate policy of non-involvement in the
religious a
ffairs 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 con-
ceptual 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
were not commensurate. Colliding world-views and political projects charac-
terized 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 signi
ficant 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 Mans Burdenand
educate the colonized. In this western view of enlightenment, modern man
was able to master human progress through scienti
fic rationalism. The 1854
British Dispatch on colonial education echoes these sentiments (Bagshawe
1976: 28
29). Accordingly, the governments 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 knowledgeby 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 educa-
tion 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 know-
ledge 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.

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: 32
ff). Embedded in the Burmese retreat was a fateful misapprehension
of European global trade networks and the political power protecting the
colonial enterprise. Although intermittent e
fforts 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 Elephantand 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
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
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 a

. . . 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
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 signi
ficant 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).

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 liter-
ati. 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 principlesand 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 classi
fications 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 pro-
viding basic literacy for Burmese young people. British surveys taken in the
mid-nineteenth century con
firm that monastic education was firmly estab-
lished 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
, as teaching young girls was considered beneath the holy dignity
of monks and viewed as unnecessaryby 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.

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 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
Lokan ̄ıti with its astrological focus, the Dhamman ̄ıti and Ra ̄jan ̄ıti.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 a
ffairs (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 o
ffered 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 north-
eastern 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 introduc-
tion 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
English newspaper,
The Moulmein Advertiser, began publication in 1846,
serving the commercial interests of the East India Company and its local
10 By 1852, Rangoon had emerged as the centre for printing
and publishing,
11 and by 1874, the Yadana Neipyidaw became the first news-
paper published in Burmese in Mandalay, King Mindon
s (r. 18531878)
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
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.

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
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 inte-
grate modern subjects, including arithmetic and geography, into the existing
monastic curriculum. His proposal o
ffered financial incentives to Buddhist
monasteries to compensate monastic teachers, to employ government-certi
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 Anglo-
Indian 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 educa-
tion department was established by the local government and a plan for
building a public education system was inaugurated. By 1871,
five years after
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:

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.

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 ampli
fied after the annexation of Upper Burma in

Following the British annexation, the Taungdaw Sayadaw was the monas-
tic 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 o
ffice was left vacant until 1903, when the British
firmed 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
objections to Phayre
s attempt to deliver a modern secular education through
existing monastery schools centred on what would have amounted to a colo-
nial rede
finition 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 pres-
ence in the monastery of government-certi
fied 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,
fically 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
fied 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 Public Instruction indicated his willingness to assume a neutral position on
this issue, a
ffirming 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 grantsand salarywas 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 unsuitableand
concluded by stressing that:

Special rules should be framed for the guidance of monastic schools,
and the indigenous curriculum should be adopted with such modi
cations as are necessitated by circumstances. In other words,
such subjects should be taught as are consistent with the tenets of

(Taw Sein Ko 1913b: 268 emphasis added)

The sanghas response to Phayres 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.

The British saw the lack of Buddhist collaboration as undermining the
colonial project to educate a new class of civil servants. Christian mis-
sionary and government-funded schools soon attracted talented, ambitious
youths for whom instruction in English and western knowledge provided
new opportunities and life-ways. With pro
fitable opportunities in the econ-
omy and in colonial administration a
fforded by a modern education, mis-
sionary and government schools soon recruited bright and ambitious young

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 educa-
tion created economic, cultural and intellectual divisions between British
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 con
fined to monastic education. The British conquest of Upper
Burma was devastating to traditional life-ways and to social, cultural, polit-
ical 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 Manda-
lay 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 trans-
formed into a British military garrison, Fort Du
fferin, and Rangoon, the
mercantile centre of Lower Burma, now assumed still greater political and
economic importance. Though diminished in its in
fluence and cultural vital-
ity, the institution of Buddhism, as embodied by the
sangha, nevertheless
emerged as the only traditional institution to survive colonization.

The thathanabains 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 perspec-
tive of a traditional
sangha, practical, applied and vocational subjects tradi-
tionally had been taught in the informal contexts within the worldly realm.
Technical and practical education therefore did not fall with its educational

The patriarchal decision indicates more than a Buddhist rejection of secu-
lar 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--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 colo-
nialism, secular power and knowledge. It located early Burmese anti-colonial
resistance movements within a pre-modern Buddhist context. Increasingly,
sangha as an institution and monks as political actors became focal
points of anti-colonial resistance around which Burmese national identity
was a
ffirmed and articulated through millennial movements and other forms
for neo-traditional Buddhism.

The thathanabains fateful refusal of Phayres proposal undermined monas-
tic 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
lay teachers.22 Mendelson comments that the sanghas retreat from modern
education transformed Burmese Buddhist practice and gave rise to new lay

The loss of the educational role, formerly the exclusive role of the
monk, has had profound e
ffects upon the Sanghas 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 speci
fically Buddhist nature of the traditional learning pro-
cess 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 di
fference . . .

(Mendelson 1975: 161)

Colonial education and the rise of nationalism

The Young Mens Buddhist Association (YMBA) was that kind of lay organi-
zation 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 welfare-
oriented 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 de
fine 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 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 con
fined 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
fficiently taught, as the teaching of Burmese literacy and literature was
located in monastic education. Yet, the educational and cultural decline of
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
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 (Bec
1995: 40) and advocated the prohibition of intoxicants, including liquor and

The YMBA undertook many initiatives on education (pyinnya) to pro-
mote a modern educational system that incorporated instruction in Burmese
and in the fundamentals of Buddhism. Concerned about the pervasive
fluence 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 A
ffairs 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
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 signi
ficant modern
conjunctures of colonial and Buddhist education from which a spectrum of
nationalist movements would develop.


Dr. Swamy speech at DharmaWiki - its objectives, purpose and why it is essential.
Dr. Swamy speech at DharmaWiki - its objectives, purpose and why it…
Dr. Swamy explains why it was essential to establish DharmaWiki. The impact of Macaulay, Mueller and others who twisted the narrative to make “brown sahibs” …

Educating westerners: the scientific discourse about

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, rational and scientific
discourse was the primary lens through which orientalists and western con-
verts 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 scientificdiscourse that appealed to
western audiences. Their e
fforts 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, classi
fication and enumeration of Buddhist
doctrines, texts and histories, this rationalist discourse con
firmed their goal of
fining 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 a
ffinity between Buddhist phil-
osophy and western intellectual inquiry and seemed to imply an unquali
ffirmation 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 Secretary-
General of U Nu
s Buddha Sasana Council, addressed a Conference on
Religion in the Age of Science
in Star Island, New Hampshire, in the follow-
ing way:

Scientific knowledge has shown itself not only negative towards
dogmatic and
revealedreligion, but positively hostile to it . . . In the
case of Buddhism, however, all the modern scienti
fic 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 (18711932) 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 ori-
ginal canonical texts, encompassed scienti
fic discoveries, past and future, in
the way a philosophy of science foreshadowed scienti
fic discoveries. In support
of his contention, Shwe Zan Aung pointed to shared comparative and ana-
lytical 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
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 scienti
fic 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.


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This video explains in detail about Buddhist education system. It’s Nature, characteristics, curriculum and methods of teaching.

This video explains in detail about Buddhist education system. It’s Nature, characteristics, curriculum and methods of teaching.

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 nine-
teenth century portended lasting e
ffects 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 indepen-
dence 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
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 o
ffice, and to control
the public in
fluence of the sangha. However, U Nus government was coming
under increasing pressure from the
sangha to institute Buddhism as a state
religion. Following lengthy and complex negotiations, a constitutional amend-
ment was passed to adopt Buddhism as the state religion in August 1961. As
the State Religion Act de
fined 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
acceptance of educational rights for non-Buddhist minorities. Although the
government supported Buddhist education in public schools, monastic
leaders refused to accept policy provisions for non-Buddhist minorities that
would have entitled them to o
ffer 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
had again emerged as pivotal forces in the project of nation-building, subject
formation and modernization.

The collapse of U Nus 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, intensi
fied Burmas 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 inter-
national 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 educa-
tion, they argue, has disastrous e
ffects on basic human rights, including politi-
cal 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 e
ffort to compensate for the states restrictions to education.


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
fies categorical distinctions that contrast religious values in education with modern knowledge and secular rationalism and, instead, focuses our atten-
tion 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 there-
fore must focus on the cultural and political contexts and audiences at spe-
fic 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
ffered 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 con-
tend that the modern nation state represents a continuation of the colonial
project (Abeyesekara 2002; Scott 1999). Similar arguments can be made con-
cerning the moral authority of the modern Burmese state that appeals to
neo-traditional Buddhist ritual to legitimate a military elite in power, particu-
larly 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 con-
temporary 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.


  1. 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. 2  See Myint-U (2001) and also Cohen (1996), Furnivall (1943), and Moscotti (1974).

  3. 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. 4  Rives (1999: 106). Bishop Calchi, Vicar of Ava and Pegu and Bigandets predeces-
    sor, began to compile a
    first Burmese dictionary that later provided Judson with

    the foundation for his own dictionary work.

  5. 5  Ono Toru (1981: 108) reports that a British survey taken in 1869 counted nearly 3,500 monastic schools in Lower Burma alone, with nearly 16,000 resident monks and almost 28,000 lay (male) students enrolled.

  1. 6  See Ono Toru (1981: 1089). Sein Ko (1913b) reports some concern among the

    British about the restricted access and lack of quality education for Burmese girls.

  2. 7  Mendelson (1975: 367) lists Buddhist texts used for study at each of the progres-
    sive levels of monastic examination, beginning with basic
    vinaya rules and pro-
    gressing to include studies of Pali grammar and selected canonical texts from each
    of the three baskets, including the Abhidhamma.

  3. 8  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. (19791985).

  4. 9  Royal Orders of Burma, AD 15981885, Part Nine AD 18531885, Than Tun
    (ed.) Kyoto: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, 1989: XX.

  5. 10  Becˇka (1995: 166) states that the Maulmain (sic) Chronicle commenced publication
    in 1836.

  6. 11  According to Cuttriss (1960: 45, 47), the Rangoon Chronicle commenced publica-
    tion in 1853 and was renamed the
    Rangoon Times, a bi-weekly paper, in 1858.

  7. 12  See Becˇka (1995: 166). An English gloss would be The Mandalay Citizen, referring to the citys classical name, Yatanaboun.

  8. 13  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).

  9. 14  Mendelson (1975: 158) writes that in 18671868, only 41 monastic schools
    were using the new textbooks, and only 91 students nominally studying them. In
    18681869 . . . 170 books were distributed and 82 pupils were studying them.

  10. 15  Sir Arthur Phayre (18121885) resided in Burma from 1834 onwards. He was
    Chief Commissioner from 1862 to 1867 and headed several missions to Mandalay
    between 1862 and 1866.

  11. 16  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.

  12. 17  Report on Public Instruction in Burma, 18911892, Resolution, pp. 910; Upper
    Burma, pp. 12; 24; 35
    36; 4344 and 4850.

  13. 18  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 a
    ffinity to mathematical calculations employed in astrology and related
    Indian forms of knowledge, should be especially objectionable to the Buddhist

    A plausible explanation may be its application to geography and colonial land-
    surveying techniques. Modern conceptions of geography were in clear contradic-
    tion 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.

Astrological signs also informed military formations in battle. Given such radical
divergence from received ways of conceptualizing universal order, it is not sur-
prising that Buddhist monks would object to the teaching of modern geography
and drawing techniques, such as those used in land surveys.

  1. 19  Taw Sein Ko (1913b: 263268) 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.

  2. 20  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 di
    fferent 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).

  3. 21  See Cady, (1958: 179), where he writes concerning all of Burma: In 18911892,
    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 19171918. Lay schools were obviously taking

  4. 22  Taw Sein Kos discussion (1913b: 249253) 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.

  5. 23  This was brought on in considerable measure by the rush towards the economic
    fits 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 scienti
    fic subjects
    into education, particularly geography and mathematics.

  6. 24  Among them can be listed the Young Mens 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.

  7. 25  See Journal of the Burma Research Society, 8(2): 99106 (1918).

  8. 26  As student strikes primarily revolve around issues of secular education, they have been largely left out of this discussion.

  9. 27  See, for instance, the Burma Human Rights Year Book 20022003: Rights to Education and Health, Human Right Documentation Unit, NCGUB

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    Economic and Political Weekly
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    Ambedkar gave a speech titled “Buddha or Karl Marx” at the Fourth Conference of the Buddhist World Fellowship in 1956, where he compared Marx, the architect of a political ideology, alongside Buddha, a religious figure; seemingly two incommensurable figures at the outset.
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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);
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 a
ffected 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
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 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 chrys-
alis 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 exist-
ence 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 o
– ‘Nation, Religion, King’ – of the modern Cambodian polity
that emerged after World War II. In this essay, I use a deconstructed read-
ing of this triune symbolism,
first articulated in the mainland Theravada
countries by the Sandhurst-educated Thai King Wachirawut (1910
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
fluenced 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


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Cambodia Politics
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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 polit-
ical catastrophes that have beset the country, is due only in small part to
Cambodia having been sealed for decades from independent scholarly
2 A more cogent reason is intractability. Political scientists have as a 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 method-
ologies, 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
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 discip-
lines are organized around certain
a priori principles rather than the content-
area 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
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 aprioris-
tic concept stipulating juridical content, invariably in the form of western
constitutionalism, a more adequate theory of the state is one whose
atic 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 onto-
logical 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 spirit, or form or foundation are more critical to understanding political society than any isolated examination of doctrines such as sover-
eignty, 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 insist-
ing on the importance of mastering non-western sources and acquiring a
wider-ranging comparative knowledge. For how else can we appreciate
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
reasonon 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 routin-
ized 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 di
fferentiated, 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 di
fferentiation 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 corres-
ponds to Weber
s notion of rational-legal authority. The problem with elem-
ental representation is its con
finement 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 com-
munity substance, or society. A human society here is not merely an external
observable fact to be studied and treated like natural phenomena but, rather,
cosmion of meaningthat is illuminated from within by its own self-
interpretation 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
science, through which a given society interprets the meaning of its existence.
A key criterion for legitimate political order is one where this social articula-
tion 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 representa-
tion. His third level of di
fferentiation raises the notion of political society as
also being a representative of something beyond itself, namely of a trans-
cendent 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. Cos-
mological representation is the self-understanding of society as the represen-
tative 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. Coed
s, Mus) were independently confirming Voegelins 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 re
flecting 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 trans-
cendent 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 di
fferentiated 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.

Allotropismas a condition of post-traditional
Cambodian politics

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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 political society
in what may be described as allotropicform, that is, having a variety of new
features or physical properties though essentially unchanged in form or sub-
7 Etymologically, allotropiccomes 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. Syn-
cretism refers to mixing and blending various conceptual systems on a basis
of tenets that are considered common to all, an attempt at sinking di
to e
ffect 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 life-
world (
Lebenswelt). A better tool for clarifying how indigenous, or local,
cultures in Southeast Asia responded to foreign cultural materials has been
(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 in
fluences may remain peripheral to the culture.While
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.
The classical political system was organized in a mandala form of concentric
circles around an
axis mundi represented by Mount Meru, the cosmic moun-
tain 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 identi
fied 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
(devara ̄ja) was considered an incarnation of a god, usually S ́iva, or a des-
cendant 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
fication 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
stateby providing for the redemption of human-
ity. It sought to transcend the inequality of an attenuated caste-based system
by evoking the concept of a quasi-egalitarian
communityin the symbol of
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
re 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 moor-
ings, but derived from the mythological Buddhist and possibly pre-Aryan
Indian cosmological theory of the
cakkavattin, or the wheel-turning, world-
pacifying universal monarch. The
dhamma, or law of nature, was a universal doctrine symbolized by the sacred wheel, or cakka. In Buddhist cosmology,
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 relation-
ship 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).

This source of political authority in Theravada societies derived not only
from the
cakkvatti ideal, but also very likely from the Maha ̄sammata,
Great Electprinciple 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 struc-
tures 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 e
ffected through the medium of socially prominent villagers and
elders associated with the monastery (
wat), mimicking, as it were, the elec-
tion 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 o
ffences, his
judicial and legislative powers were henceforth [i.e post-Angkor] far from
being absolute
(Gour 1965: 25). The quasi-autonomous royal princes govern-
ing 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 corv
e 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 ful
filling their obliga-
tions to their king, who, prior to France
s introduction of private property in
first decades of the twentieth century, ownedthe 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 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
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 guardian-
ship 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 mem-
bers 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 powerand political
authority from the perspective of the higher, scripture-based religious tradi-
tions 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 use-
fulness in seeing
both politicsand 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 king-
ship in Southeast Asia and Voegelin
s more general view of cosmological
empires are also con
fined to historical civilizational structures tied to the
bookreligions. To this must be included the something elsealluded
to by Wolters (cf.
supra, n.8), namely the dimension of the indigenous folk base that not only represents a pre-existing example of cosmological struc-
tures of consciousness, but also the local stem, as it were, onto which foreign
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 cul-
ture. 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 indigen-
ous form, it is concerned primarily with individual potency, protective bless-
ing, 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
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
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-ificationof religion and the Thai-ificationof 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 doc-
trine 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 character-
istic 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
human flourishing, the invoking or placating of divinities and powers for
prosperity, health, long life, and fertility, or, inversely, protection from dis-
ease, dearth, sterility, and premature death
not to mention the invoking of
propitiatory spirits to help de
flect 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
general existence in this life and the next, the folk religion (gave) reasons for
and means of coping with or warding off the more immediate and inci-
dental, yet nonetheless pressing, problems and fortunes of one
s present
If the highly demanding life of the ascetic virtuosu as the para-
digmatic 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 commen-
tators (not to mention Buddhist literalists) have described and often dismissed
or ignored as local
superstitionsis a field that remains open for further
study and interpretation. Mulder (1996: 20), for one, claims that the powerful
saksit represents the core element, or cosmic energy, that fuses
and articulates
the great traditions of Theravada Buddhism and Indic the-
ory of state with the ordinary practice of life and the mentality that animates
. He points to this powerful yet morally exemplary core as physically repre-
sented 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 de
fiance of the laws of
merit-demerit and of karma but within their limits and
with the grainof
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 embodi-
ments of the collective aspirations and fantasies of heavenly grandeur . . .
(thereby) providing the masses with an awe-inspiring vision of cosmic mani-
festation on earth as well as providing the rulers with an ideal paradigm to
follow in their actions
(ibid.: 487).

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 signa-
tures, or
spiritual form, of pre-modern Cambodian political society. This
home-grown conception not only did not abruptly end in 1945 but, if chal-
lenged and transformed, is still with us as a major factor in the equation of
what constitutes Cambodian political culture. As things go, recent scholar-
ship has only begun the task of an empathetic clari
fication 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

Brief History of Modern Cambodia (1970-1993)

Masaya Shida
172 subscribers
A very brief video to explain about Cambodia history from 1970-1993.
Apologies for any mistakes.
*edit* Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh on April 1975, not May.

Brief History of Modern Cambodia (1970-1993)
A very brief video to explain about Cambodia history from 1970-1993. Apologies for any mistakes. *edit* Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh on April 1975, not May.

This integrated, socially embedded political universe began to fray under the
weight of the ninety-year French protectorate, during which time the cultural
seeds for a modern nation-state were planted by a handful of Khmers
equipped with western secular educations (N
pote 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
(Osborne 1997: 52) inhabited alike by kings, courtiers, monks, mer-
chants, 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 speci
fic 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.

The French accomplished more with Norodoms successors, kings Sisowath
1927) and Monivong (192741), 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 e
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 states taxing authority
and administrative reach to the grassroots level.
22 Among more culturally
sensitive reforms was the upgrading, rather than the supplanting, of Cam-
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
Khmer elites evinced little interest in entering this new world. The French
were obliged through World War II to depend mainly on Vietnamese to
ff the middle and lower echelons ostate administration. Nonetheless,
under the separate in
fluences of the cole franaise dExtrme 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, grad-
ually assumed authority with French support in urban centers (principally
Phnom Penh) and became committed to purging Buddhism of its mytho-
accretionsin 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 insigni
ficant 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 Bud-
dhist 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 o
ff 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 Institutes
program curtailed. Pro-Japanese during the war, Thanh
fled to Tokyo from
where he helped form, with King Sihanouk, a Tokyo-backed royal govern-
ment 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 polit-
ics through 1975.

If Siams modernizing elites, more copious and prudent, were able to
usher in western reforms over a period stretching several generations, Cam-
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 mediat-
ing, 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 (Peoples Socialist Community) between
1955 and 1970, and the post-communist regime functioning under a restored
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 (Peoples 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 estab-
lish 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 (
wing of the main Mohanikay Buddhist sect, and supporters of the militant
nationalist Issarak movement. Its emblem was an elephant
s head with three
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 reform-
minded King Sihanouk, this new elite initiated a reform process that quickly
tipped the Cambodian political balance in favor of a French-modeled par-
liamentary 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 mon-
archy. The constitution was anchored in the individual rights doctrine of
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
powers were to be
exercised in the manner established by the present con-
, creating an ambiguous separation between essential power as
embodied in the king and the exercise of those powers. The constitution,
which was e
ffectively a pact negotiated between the twenty-three-year-old
king and cautiously republican-minded representatives of the Democrat
Party, had the legislature become the de
fining power organ of the new regime
(Gour 1955: 49).

The equivocal nature of the new constitutional monarchy led, ineluctably, to a political standoff between a government run by an artificial political
grouping endowed with formal power but little or no legitimacy and a legit-
imate 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 pre-
ponderant 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
fficial 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 con
flicts; and
economic impotence or stagnation
(Philippe Devilliers in his preface to
Preschez 1961: vii). The necessarily messy nature of democracy notwith-
standing, there was, to state the obvious, little
in Cambodias previous
experience to prepare it for the sudden introduction of an alien political
(Osborne 1973: 45).

By 1955, the king, who was reaching his political maturity and seeking to
distance himself from French tutelage after having successfully negotiated
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 sys-
tem. He created a form of semi-direct rule through a
community of national
, a supra-party royalist movement to which he appended the modern
word symbols
Peoples Socialist Community(Sangkum Reastr Niyum).
Arguing the time had come for him to turn his attention from the independ-
ence 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 inter-
ests 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. Candi-
dates 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, Sihanouks
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 monarchs, direct contacts with the people, whether in the
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.

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 con
flating it with the language of national unity, pro-
gress, 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 Sangkums] organization is devoted to the formation of a
cadre of volunteers constituted for common action, disinter-
ested and with solidarity, in order to realize the Union of the
children of the Khmer Fatherland (
Patrie), a union comprom-
ised by the proliferation of Political Parties, as well as of the
birth in Cambodia of a true egalitarian and Socialist Democracy,
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

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 Sover-
eignty, the National Powers to enable the direct, and simul-
taneous, exercise at the
Khum, Kht (provincial) and Prats
(national) levels in conformity with the spirit of the Constitution
and the arrangements foreseen by the Project of Reforms
bestowed and conceived for the People by Preah Bat Samdech

(Sihanouk 1955: 23; 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 a
ffirmation 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
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: 25058). Although both Premier
U Nu in Burma and President Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka were also propa-
gating ideas of Buddhist socialism from the mid-1950s, Sihanouk appeared
to be less in
fluenced by these latter-day dhammara ̄jas than by pragmatic pol-
itics. 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 justi
fication for his policy of neutrality, peaceful coexistence, and
the independence and territorial integrity of the country (Zago 1975: 111
Harris 2005: 144f.).

It would be remiss to interpret Sihanouks appeals to tradition as a purely
ficial 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
1966: 6). That Sihanouk
s appeals to tradition were not purely instrumental-
ist in the machiavellian sense is suggested by his acts of piety and patronage
of Buddhism. Unlike his three predecessors, he ordained as a monk for short
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 (
lyce) 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 de
floration of virgin soil prior to the rainy season.

Prince Sihanouk succeeded through much of the Sangkum period in
absorbing and outmaneuvering the political parties, including through elec-
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 undo-
ing. 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 Indo-
China 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)

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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
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
(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 force that led to the most savage onslaught ever launched against a peasantry, in this case by the republican Lon Nol forces and its
sponsors (Thion 1993: 43).
33 The scenario a) of a navepeasantry 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 na
vely 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
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
LHomme revolt: 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 signi
fied 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
parasiticalclass and the greatest single obstacle to
building their utopian society, were eliminated through forced disrobing
and/or death by execution, starvation, and disease.

Following Vietnams overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime in January
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 rehabi-
litation and reconstruction e
fforts well through the 1980s (Lschmann 1991;
Yang Sam 1987: 86
87; personal communication from Yi Thon, who travelled
with PRK authorities to many provinces in 1979
80). As the Vietnamese-
installed 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 restor-
ation 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: 190200).

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 usu-
fruct rights to people cultivating land and transformed the collective labor
production solidarity groups (
krom samaki) into more traditional mutual aid solidarity groups (Frings 1994: 5152). 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 internation-
ally supervised elections, engaged in increasingly numerous ceremonial pub-
lic 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 Kings) 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 com-
plete control of a foreign state in order to create,
ex nihilo, what amounted to
a new social contract for its citizens
(Lize 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 FUNCINPEC
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.

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 coali-
tion 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 of
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
(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 constitu-
tions, 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 Zaslo
ff 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
s principal role as head of state was to serve as a symbol of unity
and the continuity of the nation (Article 8) .

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 Cambodia-
fatigued 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 gov-
ernment 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 tended
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
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 de
fining 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 Sens 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 ̄ram ̄ı), which as a Buddhist technical term means mastery, suprem-
, 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 conscious-
ness is not con
fined to modern politicians seeking to appropriate royal pre-
rogatives. Ritual aspects of the Khmer court, together with their o
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 Tonl
Sap river reverses its flow, thereby symbolically
liberating the waters of the Tonl
Sap and the nagas (serpents) whose benevo-
lence 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 solidi
fied its image as the sole purveyor of legit-
imate power in a kingdom that does not lightly su
ffer 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
lite 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 dramat-
ically abdicating, this time in favour of his son, Sihamoni. This manoeuvre
preserved, at least in principle, the independence and symbolic power of the
monarchy as an (existentially representative) institution that serves, in e
as a people-oriented counterbalance to a discordant political class.

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 exasper-
ation 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, trad-
itional patterns of social and religious interaction, if manifested in new ways
or forms, have gradually re-emerged in post-con
flict 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 gen-
erated a tendency especially among the governing elites to seek anointment,
boramei power, from the boran tradition, however opaquely practised and
understood (Marston 2002; Harris 2005: 221

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 bene
fited 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
wats re-emerged,46 and the Sangha had begun to play an increas-
decisive rolein 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 UNs 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
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 importantly, delivering villagers
votes at election time.

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

Cambodia - Latest on situation
Cambodia - Latest on situation
T/I: 10:03:08 There were signs in Cambodia on Thursday (17/7) that the nomination of Foreign Minister Ung Huot as the new first premier could ease the crisis…

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 di
fferent, light. Among them are: Who is to govern?;
What is representative government?; and What constitutes political authority?
In reviewing Cli
fford Geertzs Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth Cen-
tury 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, brie
fly, picking up a thread in my introduction and making
reference to the phrase
structures of consciousnessused above. In the last
mature decades of his work, Voegelin developed a theory of human con-
sciousness wherein so-called structures of consciousness,
concrete con-
sciousness of concrete persons
, are seen as integral parts of the structure of
reality, including political reality. In his meditative essay on
What is Political
, Voegelin (2002: 341412) 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
Consciousness is the experience of participation, namely, of mans
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 mod-
ern 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. Moreover, as things have turned out in the century
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.

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
ve 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
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 lack-
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) con
firms 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 encour-
agement 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 brookof
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
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

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 justice to its political
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 concep-
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
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 rebuild-
ing 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 com-
mon key in a return to culture and tradition, and is not as a rule accom-
panied 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 (non-
fundamentalist) Muslim country of Mali, which divested itself of a vaguely
Marxist-Leninist dictator in 1990. She has since developed a
fledgling dem-
ocracy whose most striking feature, apart from discretely bypassing French
is its success in drawing [an unchauvinistic] intellectual and spirit-
ual 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 cul-
tural underpinnings, or structures of consciousness, uneasily coexisting in
more or less arti
ficial modern state structures. In the case of Cambodia,
pote (1979: 784f.) held that a harmonious complementaritybetween the
indigenous-traditionaland foreign-moderndeveloped 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 bu
ffeted and manipulated by, and ineffect-
ually resisting, change.
52 The process that led to the two forms of post-war
allotropism discussed in the essay
the Sangkum (19551970) 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 existential representation, was bound to fail
and lead to 3. In both instances, the self-corrections were motivated by the
disintegrative e
ffects 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 o
ff or alienated in palpable ways from the basic
symbols of Cambodia
s political culture.

One difference from the immediate post-war period is that while multi-
party 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 di
fference is that in place of a perceived
legitimate monarch
filling the political void in 1955, a reorganized post-
communist 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
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 person-
alization 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 assetand authentic traditional values
where the latter is seen, as in this essay, both in terms of an authentic
experienced by the people and a doctrinemanipulated 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
givennessthat 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 political science concerned with
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,
Max Weber, to enter that magic garden where the relation between the world
as it is culturally experienced and politically conceived actually coincides.


  1. 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. 2  In a volume on political legitimacy in Southeast Asia(Alagappa 1995), there was
    apparently no-one quali
    fied or interested in covering Cambodia.

  3. 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. 4  In a similar vein, Geertz (2000: xii), as a critical cultural anthropologist, acknow-
    ledged 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. 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
    (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
    in time and space, a conception and approach that is neither
    essentialist or psychologistic (p. xix). I thank George Sch
    pflin for bringing this
    source to my attention, and Barry Cooper for having read the
    first two sections of
    this paper.

  6. 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
    ffers the blindness of the eye examining itself.

  7. 7  I define modernityin 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 (indi-
    vidualism, secularization, instrumental rationality); and new forms of malaise
    (alienation, meaninglessness, a sense of impending social dissolution).

  8. 8  He demonstrated, referring to the Angkorian and pre-Angkorian eras, how the
    flux 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 elsein 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. 9  Those specialists are invited to skip this section of the paper (to p. 79) or correct
    shortcomings of my condensed interpretation.

  10. 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).

  1. 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
    pote 1990: 100107).

  2. 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 Coed
    s (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).

  3. 13  Harris (2005: 2628) urges caution in characterizing Theravada Buddhism as a
    grassroots movement
    spread through a previously neglected rural environment.

  4. 14  Collins, S. (1998: 474), while not questioning the symbiosis between the monarchy
    Sangha implied here, questions whether the wheels of the Buddha and cakka-
    are parallel in that it misses much of the tension and competitionbetween
    ideological (sic) powerof the monastic order and the political-military
    of the kings, whose rule was not infrequently accompanied by the use of

  5. 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: 7291).

  6. 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
    aise dExtrme-Orient (Paris).

  7. 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.

  8. 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 (includ-
    ing Ayurvedic healing rituals) and Tantric in
    fluences 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 cosmo-
    logical 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

  9. 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
    King Ang Duong (184760), see Yang (1990: 7581); cp. Chandler (1983).

  10. 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.

  11. 21  The sense of quiescence suggested here is belied by what Npote (1984: 8991)
    refers to as administrative and other reforms undertaken taken by Khmer rulers
    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
    finition of Cambodian societythat 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 symbol-
    isms. 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). Lecl
    res 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 in
    fluence on Khmer administra-
    tive law, see Lecl
    re 1899b. For a lucid commentary of Indic law and its animating
    dharma, as diffused in Southeast Asia, see Geertz (1973: 195207).

  1. 22  Unlike in Vietnam (and post-1993 Cambodia), the introduction of private prop-
    erty 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 myth-
    ically-laden terms
    phum (village) and srok (country, district) retain to this day.

  2. 23  By contrast, the French succeeded in eliminating Vietnams Confucian-based edu-
    cation system, especially in the southern provinces of Cochin-China, by the
    decade of the twentieth century.

  3. 24  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 re
    flect 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 presid-
    ing over the practical a
    ffairs 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).

  4. 25  The term men is a Khmer vernacular variant of Meru. The peoplescongresses
    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 theatreof democratic
    political participation.

  5. 26  In his pragmatic openness if not zeal to modernize, Sihanouk, perhaps also pres-
    sured by the new governing elite sensitive to international expectations, gradually
    stripped the
    Sangha of its control over primary education.

  6. 27  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
    ois Ponchaud).

  7. 28  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
    s victory (p. 2). That said, there was no need for Sihanouk to rig elections
    held during the
    Sangkum years.

  8. 29  For accounts highlighting nefarious aspects of Sihanouks character and rule,
    cf. Chandler (1991) and Osborne (1994).

  1. 30  Sihanouk maintains the relatively insignificant Khmer Rouge joined his royalist
    liberation movement, not
    vice-versa, before gaining the strength to co-opt it.

  2. 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.

  3. 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
    raceor 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
    hereditary foe,the Vietnamese, also failed to produce spontaneous action or
    (Thion 1993: 127).

  4. 33  Serge Thion, a secondary school teacher in Cambodia in the late 1960s, was a
    Le Monde correspondent embeddedwith the Khmer Rouge in 1972, the only
    western observer to have visited a Khmer Rouge zone and survived before their
    victory in 1975.

  5. 34  For more on the Khmer Rouge tendency to reconfigure and reemploy Buddhist
    symbolism and modes of thought
    (Harris 2005: 184), cf. ibid.: 18189.

  6. 35  Since 1989, the number of officially registered monks increased from some
    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
    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.

  7. 36  A French acronym for Front Uni National pour un Cambodge Indpendent,
    Neutre, Paci
    fique et Coopratif.

  8. 37  On election day in Battambangs Maung Russey district, I witnessed inside a large,
    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,
    KingSihanouk). That, for most Khmers, seemed to capture
    the election moment.

  9. 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.

  10. 39  Lao Mong (2002), taking issue with Sihanouks 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.

  11. 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 August-
    September 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
    ) in language that may not be entirely duplicitous.

  12. 41  In 1971, a youthful Hun Sen joined the Khmer Rouge in response to Americas
    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.

  13. 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 assembly members. In a ritual known as bhı.k t.ık 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

  1. 43  For years prior to this surprise move, the CPP had impeded Sihanouks proposal
    for enabling legislation governing the role of the Crown Council, the organ consti-
    tutionally 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.

  2. 44  Bektimirova (2003) reports that while the official number of monks in the mid-
    1980s was set at 6,000, there were nearly twice as many non-registered, or illegal,
    approximately 11,000 most presumably males under the legal age limit
    fifty for ordination.

  3. 45  William Collins, a cultural anthropologist who conducted field work with a team
    of Khmer researchers in Battambang and Siemreap provinces in 1996
    reported on the distinction made by informants, principally those with
    levels of Buddhist learning
    , between aanaacak (or roat amnaac), referring to
    government power, and puttheacak, 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
    (1998: 1920).

  4. 46  Personal communication from Ven. Yos Hut (2003).

  5. 47  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 UN-
    sponsored 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.

  6. 48  If the myth of the modern state, a universal Idea that Hegel reified in end-of-
    history 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 Ameri-
    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-historicalliberal democracy, the pluralist paradigm for state

  7. 49  Referring to Southeast Asia, Heine-Geldern (1956: 16) stated that a) for the vast 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 a

  1. 50  Ponchaud (1990), a Catholic missionary in Cambodia since the 1960s equipped
    with a keen understanding of Khmer culture, o
    ffers an example of the below-the-
    radar 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
    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.)

  2. 51  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 e
    ffectively in the contemporary world, but that also
    match people
    s ideas traditional or not about what is appropriate and fair.

  3. 52  It deserves to be noted, as Npote (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. . .

  4. 53  As part of the rapid post-World War II modernization, the modern secular educa-
    tion system introduced in the 1950s and 1960s led to what N
    pote (1979: 784)
    the creation of an increasingly important nucleus of detribalizedyoung
    people who no longer recognized themselves in their cultural context, their hier-
    archy, 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 detonatorsof Cambodian society and politics as, together with
    their younger teachers and mentors (many of them French
    gauchists doing alter-
    native 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.



John Marston 

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. Never-
theless, one rarely
finds references to links between religion and the institu-
tions 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
fined as a privateissue. Civil society, by this logic, is by its very nature
secular, as is the modern nation-state. To this we may contrast Chatterjee
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
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
traditionaland modernelements. 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 monkshospital was the brainchild of a jurist named Khuon Nay,
who in late 1949 established what was called in French the
ance M
dicale aux Religieux Bouddhique, whose main goal was the cre-
ation of the hospital. Khuon Nay had in 1946 been one of the founding
members of the Democratic Party,
2 one of Cambodias first political parties
and an important political force in the years immediately prior to independ-
ence; the Party was a strong advocate of nationalism and independence, and
attracted key progressive members of the French-educated Cambodias 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 o
fficially 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 signi
ficant 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 efflor-
escence, 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 di
fferent 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 kings mother.

The association in support of a monkshospital 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.

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 associates
4 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 su

(Khuon 1950)

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 with-
out 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

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; never-
theless, a hospital exclusively for monks would have facilitated the mainten-
ance 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 (
s ̄ıma ̄). This meant that the hospital and its
grounds could function o
fficially 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 Nays 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 a
ffirmed 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.

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 organ-
ization 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 cere-
7 The SocietdAssistance Mdicale aux Religieux Bouddhique was
fficially 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
, 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
fluence (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 thousandsviewed
the relic, and monks, ministers of the government, and the general Buddhist
public made o
fferings totalling 1,667,300 riel. Of this, 900,000 were to go
towards the monks
hospital and 200,000 were to go towards the construc-
tion of a stupa in front of the railway station designed to contain a Buddha
relic (
sakyamunichediy) (Ja ̄ Ga ̄n and UnSou 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 su
fficient 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 construc-
tion, 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 estab-
lishment of a Buddhist University in 1954 (Sam 1987: 26); the publication of a
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 espe-
cially 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: 5354). 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 Agefor 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 ful
filled the role of the prophesied Preah Pat Dhammik
(Institut Bouddhique 2001: v).

In each of the four newly independent Theravada countries, the coincidence
of independence and a new Buddhist era meant the emergence of move-
ments 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
(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 installa-
tion of the Buddha relic in the new Sakyamunichedi, were organized on a
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 speci
fic 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 de
fined 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

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 chris-
tened the humans of the world, su
ffering 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
. 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
filled the injunctions of dharma on three points 1) by not threat-
ening his/her father or mother, and thus destroying the Buddha, 2)
by not stealing the possessions of others, 3) by never killing or des-
troying 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
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 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
s desire of the Cambodian people.

Not only that, Khmer health organizations have received great
amounts of aid in the form of e
ffective 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 monkshospital
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 bene-
factors, 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 ̄t1957: 6)

The movement to build the monkshospital 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
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
modernor 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 promin-
ence within the Cambodian monkhood (Edwards 2004; Hansen 2004). At
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 contribu-
tions 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 con-
sider 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
modernin any absolute
sense, as because they came to
define what at that moment was considered
modern in Cambodian Buddhism. They thereby in e
ffect demarked cate-
gories 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
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 tradi-
tionalists 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 pro-
moted 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

I see the monkshospital 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 origin-
ally 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 oper-
ating on a national level and in a strong degree consistent with the system-
atization of the monkhood as an institution. It was a symbol of Cambodian
Buddhism that could be represented to the larger Buddhist world, even, per-
haps, something that other Buddhist countries could look to as a model.
Khuon Nay
s emphasis that the monkshospital would help make the discip-
linary 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 SocietdAssistance
dicale 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 con-
struction (and during the year Cambodia achieved independence), resembles
final building and was probably based on the architects drawings. The
building is bigger and more self-consciously modern in design
even, per-
heroicallymodern. 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 di
can be seen to
fit together in expressions of blessing: May you have no
disease, no su
ffering, and be happy; Long life, good complexion, happi-
ness, strength . . .
12 The sequence of the two pictures suggests that the hos-
pital 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 handiwork, added to many other handiworks completed since the Khmer
people have achieved independence, proves clearly our value and demon-
strates once again that our country has indeed entered a new era
(Kambuja ̄
Suriya ̄ 1956b: 493494).

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 edi
fices is nothing but a faade, 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 re
flects 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
ffect 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

The hospital also, obliquely, demonstrates the relation between kingship
and socio-political developments in the country. Sihanouk
s political move-
ment, 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 under-
mined 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
Kambuja called Our Socialist Buddhismwhich 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 dip-
lomatic relations with the US, and in part represented the gesture of declar-
ing that Cambodia
s path was neither that of the US or of communism, both 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 Nays 1950 speech, it spoke of the Buddhist recognition
of the universality of human su
ffering and of a socialist obligation to
address su
ffering. The socialisteffort to resolve the problem of suffering
was very much conceived in terms of the bounty and the generosity of the

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
warriorsto 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
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: 89)

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 edi
fication of his subjects,
one reads:
I consider the well-being of all creatures as a goal for which I
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 sacri
fice 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
firmaries 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
of Jayavarman VII a world conqueror who, depicted iconically in medita-
tion, 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
new Angkor Thom
(Sihanouk 1969). In the 1965 editorial, Sihanouk uses
Jayavarman VII to explain Buddhist socialism, citing the ancient king
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
modernsociety 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
modernityof these

The monkshospital 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 pre-
sented as a combination of popular will and royal patronage. Speeches at the
inauguration credited to Sihanouk the fact that there were government dona-
tions to the hospital and the arrangement of foreign aid in its support. We
do not know whether these speeches re
flect his active involvement in the pro-
ject or simply the fact that at the time the social body was so deeply associ-
ated with kingship that all public projects tended to be seen as in some sense
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 order (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 in
firmary 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
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
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 signi
ficant civic
mobilization. The monks
hospital, and a medical school building com-
pleted 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 o
fficial sources, and there is corroborative evidence that people
in urban areas have contributed substantial sums toward the build-
ing of hospitals and that villagers furnish volunteer labor in building
their local in

(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 pro-
gramme was very successful in terms of the sheer numbers of buildings con-
structed, but had a Potemkin village quality in remoter provinces, since there
was no money for medicine or furniture. She describes how communities
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
flects, 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 di
fferent from other hospitals, or what
impact it had on the Cambodian monkhood. One of the current adminis-
trators 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 establish-
ments, with, however, a small di
fference 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.

(Hpital 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 broadcast on holy days (thngay sel) on the national radio (Kaev Sa ̄ret
1964: 6

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
hospitals to be put to use after the fall of Democratic Kampuchea.

In the Peoples 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 identi
fies it as the monksunit, and a plaque acknowledges
the contributions of Cambodian-Americans.
21 Ven. Oum Sum later, in
1994, organized the construction of a small hospital/in
firmary on the
grounds of his own
wat, Wat Mahamontrey, under the authority of muni-
cipal health authorities. Municipal health sta
ff 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 Sums
death. These incidents perhaps demonstrate that a hospital for monks, ori-
ginally 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 Hospitals past is a mini-
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
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.


The significance of the monkshospital lies in the fact that it is so quintes-
sentially 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-moderncul-
ture: 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 pro-
jects very much labelled as

These issues have wider relevance in that they parallel processes that were
taking place in other Theravada Buddhist countries at the same time, espe-
cially insofar as countries newly emerging from colonialism were rede
themselves as Buddhist countries, and in di
fferent ways making the attempt
to adopt types of reformed Buddhism consistent with speci
fic 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 paral-
lels with what was happening in other Buddhist countries, as much more
ficant than has generally been recognized.


  1. 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. 2  Personal communication, Julio Jeldres, 6 Feb. 2004.

  3. 3  Personal communication, Dina Nay, 10 Feb. 2004.

  4. 4  The word used here, koun chau, literally children and grandchildren, could refer

    either to offspring or those serving under him.

  5. 5  Unless otherwise indicated, translations are mine.

  6. 6  One reference to the long life of Ba ̄kula Thera is the Ba ̄kula Sutta (M. iii. 125).

    See Malalasekera (1983: 2612).

  7. 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

  8. 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
    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.

  1. 9  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 auspi-
    cious, perhaps because of prostitution in the vicinity, and that this may have
    ffected Cambodias history since independence.

  2. 10  The celebrations were in May. Osborne (1994: 105) and Chandler (1991: 912)
    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
    ficant than they acknowledge.

  3. 11  Scholarly work on the Puttumneay has been done by Smith (1989) and de Bernon
    (1994, 1998).

  4. 12  My thanks to Sath Sakkarak for helping decipher the messages in the shower of

  5. 13  Personal communication, Helen Grant Ross, 14 Feb. 2004. One source for infor-
    mation on Vann Molyvann is Reyum (2001).

  6. 14  Ian Harris (personal communication, 22 Jan. 2005) suggests that David Neel may
    have been in
    fluenced by the vitalistic ideas of Julius Evola.

  7. 15  This refers to King Suramarit.

  8. 16  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 su
    ffering of the kingdom which makes the
    ffering of kings, and not their own suffering.

  9. 17  Personal communication, Helen Grant Ross, 14 Feb. 2004. Nevertheless, it is clear
    that he participated frequently in their ritual dedication.

  10. 18  The idea that Queen Kossamak sponsored the building of the hospital is also
    stated in Sam (1987: 9).

  11. 19  Personal communication, Dina Nay, 9 Feb. 2004.

  12. 20  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 communi-
    cation by Susan Hammand of US-Indochina Reconciliation Project (12 Jan. 2004)
    and Dave Elder of American Friends Service Committee (22 Jan. 2004).

  13. 21  Guthrie (2002: 634), 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.



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 di
ffusion 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 pre-
twentieth century Laos. First, when and how did Buddhism become the
dominant religion in Lao society? Second, how did Buddhism in
fluence 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

First of all, I have to define the geographical and cultural scope of what
we call
pre-colonial Laossince the geo-bodyof 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 de
pre-colonial Laosas the region under the political control and/or cultural
fluence of the Lao kingdom of Lan Sang (13531707/13) 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 in
fluence of
other Tai polities (such as those of the Tai L
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
of Lan Sang. It is this region, instead of the Lao Peoples 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:
first wave started shortly after the founding of the Lan Sang kingdom
by Fa Ngum (r. 1353
1373/74), an exiled prince from Mang Sua (Luang
Prabang), who uni
fied 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 Nakh
n 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
entered Laos from the South and strengthened Khmer in
fluence 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 schoolof Buddhism
was reinforced during Phothisarat
s reign (15201547/48). 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

1 The only evidence suggesting a southern origin of Lao Buddhism is
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
cole franaise dExtrme-Orient at
Vientiane, stresses the
completely artificial natureof the narration in NKB
referring to the religious mission sent by the Khmer king in 1359 as it
establishes links with various similar literary traditionsfound in the Tai-
Lao 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 Dor
(1987). Hoshino argues that
three or four di
fferent 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
Lamaistinspired form of Buddhism that
had spread to mainland Southeast Asia during the
first half of the four-
teenth century under Mongol-Chinese in
fluence, a rival Theravada Buddhist
was introduced, or at least supported, by Fa Ngums second wife
Kaeo L
t Fa, a princess from Ayutthaya (see Dor1987: 678681). 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
finally gained the upper hand(Stuart-Fox 1998: 53). Though this
hypothesis is by no means convincing, it seems that di
fferent schoolsof
Buddhism were contending for religious supremacy in Lan Sang during the
second half of the fourteenth century. All
schoolsfaced an obstinate oppos-
ition 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 o
ff their
precious stones (
ie. amulets), their daring, lances and swords.

(Souneth 1996: 193)

Fa Ngums 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 (14421479/80) 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 monarchand
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 Sukhothai-Si Satchanalai region.

Stuart-Fox emphasizes the political and religious ties between Lan Sang and
Ayutthaya, which were
particularly closeas 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: 236237: 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 Lt Fa, this alone is not
fficient evidence for any significant Siamese influence on the Lao political
and religious order. The
Lan Na factor, however, was much more import-
ant. 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
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 cap-
ital, 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.

It was obvious that from that time on Lan Nas political as well as cultural
fluence 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 o
fficial Buddhist council was held at Vat Cedi Cet Yt 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 cer-
tainly contributed to the spread of the
Lan Na schoolof Buddhism to
neighbouring countries, such as the eastern Shan region, Sips
ng 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 sam-
ple 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 Land Khn inhabited areas east
of the Salween river). During the reign of King Visun (1501
1520), Suvanna
s younger brother, the religious influence of Lan Na continued.

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 uni
fied on the sociological level by a common religious institu-
, a Sangha who, despite royal support for the new Sı ̄hala Nika ̄ya (head-
quartered at Vat Pa Daeng), integrated di
fferent Buddhist sects. Thus, the
groundwork for the
golden age(Thai: yuk thng) of Buddhist scholarship in
Lan Na during the reign of M
ang Kaeo (14951526) was laid. Lao rulers
tried to emulate their Tai Yuan counterparts. The famous Lan Na chronicle
Jinaka ̄lama ̄l ̄ıpakaran.am. (Jkm.), composed by Bhikkhu Ratanapañña
between 1516 and 1527, reports that in 1523 the king of Lan Na o
s son and successor, Phothisarat (r. 15201548) sixty volumes of the
Pali canon and other gifts:

On the full-moon day itself, he (i.e. King Mang 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 Dasalakkhakujara, City of a Million

Elephants(i.e. Luang Prabang), in order to convert him.
ñña 1968: 183)

What does the phrase in order to convert him(pasa ̄da jananat kam. pesesi,
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 S
ı ̄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 in
fluence of his princi-
pal wife who was a daughter of King Ket Klao of Lan Na (r. 1525
(Ministry of Education and Culture 2000: 177). In 1527, Phothisarat ordered
to stop the misguided worship of Phı ̄ Ya ̄v, Ph ̄ı Heuan and Phı ̄ Seua whose
shrines are in the houses of the people and the great shrine of Sob Dong
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 (
) script. He arrives at the conclusion that:

[. . .] All these inscriptions, which bear a very strong mark of north-
ern Thai culture, are royal inscriptions commissioned by Phothisarat
(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 di
ffered 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. 15481571)
were pious kings who took every opportunity to demonstrate their devotion
to the universal values of Buddhism, heterodox beliefs, including the
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
Khapeoples, still adhered to non-Buddhist beliefs.
Furthermore, the southern provinces of present-day Laos were only periph-
erally, 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-isationand Buddhisationof 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
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
such as Visun, Phothisarat, Setthathirat, and Suriyavongsa
included the titles dhammikara ̄ja, dhammavam. sa, or dhammadevo in their
fficial 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. More-
over, as moral principles he has to follow strictly the thirty
pa ̄ram ̄ı, i.e. the ten Buddhist virtues, each to be attained in three stages of spiritual perfection,
which a Bodhisattva achieved on his way to Buddhahood. In 1566, Set-
thathirat built the That (Dha
̄tu) Luang, the great stupa, in Vientiane in
order to reinforce the
dhammara ̄ja concept as the foundation of Lao king-
ship. 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 ̄ tuwhich was first built
by Phraya
̄ Srı ̄ Dhammasaokara ̄ja. Then [he] built thirty Samatingsa
̄ramı ̄ to surround this stupa. He gave a lot of offerings and count-
less [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 ̄

(Souneth 1996: 258)

As Souneth Phothisane observes, the central spire of the That Luang repre-
sents 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
mang. 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 kings 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
st ̄upas 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
fluence of the Khan and Mekong rivers: Vat Siang Thng Vlavihan.

Vat Siang Thng Vlavihan: The monastery, housing at present more
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
were preserved at Vat Siang Th
ng 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 scenes from Ja
̄taka stories and the famous classical epos Sin Sai. One mosaic also shows the magnificent flame-of-the-forest tree
Rhinacanthus nanitus), called Ton Thng 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 Th
ng, derives. In fact, Siang
ng 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.

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
, there was an old prophecy saying that the sacred stone in
ı ̄ (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 di
ffered 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
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.

Apart from the construction of religious monuments, Lao kings gained 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
mang. In Lan Sang such sites were considered
the centre of their respective
mang; 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
s footprints and the nearby religious monuments built for housing
his relics, these sites became places of pilgrimage throughout the king-
dom of Lan Sang.
16 Thus, a cult of the mang 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 (
kaeo m
rakot). 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
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 H
Pha Kaeo in Vientiane. Like a winners
, the sacred statue was removed to Siam by King Taksins 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 st ̄upa.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
mang of which their governors (cao mang) had participated in that
oath-taking ceremony are Champassak and Si Khotab
ng (present-day Savannakhet) in the south, Vientiane, Loei and Dan Sai in the centre, and
Sam N
a, Mang Phukha and the land of the Lamet in the north (Dor
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 e
ffectively 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-de
fined Buddhist cosmological order. They tried to regulate
their kingdom according to the principles that they believed to be in har-
mony 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. 1  Manpower:

    1. a  senior abbots (thera);

    2. b  monks (bhikkhu) and novices (sa ̄man.era);

    3. c  sa ̇nghaga ̄r ̄ı (those responsible for the administration of laypersons

      attached to the monastery);

    4. d  temple serfs (kha okat or khi okat19).

  2. 2  Land:

    1. a  the monastery grounds (rattanakhet or phutthakhet);

    2. b  the area surrounding the monastery, space of the nearby village


    3. c  rice fields (na canghan) of the temple serfs.

    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 corv
    e labour and the payment of taxes to the state (Thawat
    1984: 157
    158). We know from Lan Na inscriptions that before the reign of
    ang Kaeo (14951526), ambitious governors donated both land and manpower to monasteries so as to accumulate religious merits and concur-
    rently 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 men-
    tioned by prohibitions to use the
    khi 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
    lines of an inscription engraved on the pedestal of a Buddha image of bronze
    (kept at the National Museum, Kh
    n 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. Dont be ambitious
and insolent. Don
t be daring and violate the stipulations of the
royal edict.

The status of khi okat was hereditary; the obligations a temple serf had
to ful
fil were also valid for his or her descendants.25 Lao customary law
Khosarat stipulates that khi 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
khi okat for his own service. In the inscription No. 2 of
Vat Daen M
ang (Phon Phisai district, Nng Khai province), dated 1535, it
is stated that
[concerning] the plantations and rice-fields of the country
ban-mang), the betel nuts, the coconut and sugar plantations, and the serfs
khi) 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 [bene
fit] of
cao (king) and the khun (nobles) have to return them. Dont let them
perform corv
e labour(Thawat 1984: 238). This text obviously refers to a
previous donation to the same monastery made in 1530.

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 e
ffective means to increase his religious
prestige as well as his political in
fluence beyond the region close to the capital.
Through this means he pro
fited 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 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 memo-
ries 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 con-
trary, 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 monas-
teries 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
31 In Lan Sang, as in Lan Na, new religious centres and the
supporting villages received from the monarchs often generous material
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
) possessed the privileges of such a donation, the founding of
monasteries, the expansion of settlements, and the consolidation of the royal
sphere of in
fluence developed hand in hand with one another.

It is unknown when exactly the tradition of royal endowments of monas-
teries in Laos began. The earliest evidence found is mentioned in an inscrip-
tion 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 dona-
tions occurred during the reigns of Setthathirat (1548
1571) and Suriyavongsa
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 H
Pha Kaeo (Si Chiang
Mai district, N
ng Khai).32 From then on, the Lao lands on both banks of the
Mekong River became increasingly exposed to Siamese in
fluence, politically
as well as culturally, and the institution of an independent Lao kingship
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 relation-
ship between the religious and the political orders was in fact based on
mutual bene
fits. Going back to the reign of Sainya Cakkaphat Phaen Phaeo
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 occa-
sions 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 Patriarch
33 went to Pegu to ask the Burmese king, as Lan
Sang was a Burmese vassal state at that time, to appoint Pha N
Kaeo Kuman) as the new ruler of Vientiane (Souneth 1996: 276). Both
in lending support to a pretender to the throne and in rescinding its backing,
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 impor-
tant 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 Yasoth
n (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 monas-
tic career. Entering the monkhood
first at Vat Phon Samek (near Vientiane),
the young monk was soon given the prestigious title
Pha Khuand thus
received his popular name. Pha Khu Phon Samek combined a strict observa-
tion of the Buddhist moral precepts and a profound knowledge of the
religious scripts, which he learned perfectly by heart, with the alleged posses-
sion 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 per-
fections (
pa ̄ram ̄ı); he was able to accomplish everything he wished.
All people revered him. About his spittle, which was left in a spit-
toon, 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 H
m (literally, the
learned monk whose faeces smell
). He was praised under different
names by di
fferent people. The King of Vientiane wished to become
an attendant [of Pha Khu Phon Samek].

In 1695, King Suriyavongsa passed away without leaving an heir. Phanya
ang 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 appears that Phanya Mang Cans downfall, only six months after he had
usurped royal power, was brought about by a lack of popular support and
opposition from in
fluential 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 M
ang 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 (Nakhn 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 a
ffairs.39 After
a certain period of time, in 1713, Princess Sumangkhala
s son was crowned
as King of Champassak under the royal name Cao S
i 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 Si Sisamuts reign seems sheer legendary, as
Archaimbault (1961: 530
536) has testified. It may, however, reflect the
hybridorigin 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 recog-
nized ruler of Lan Sang, S
i Sisamut linked Champassak with the rest of
the Lao world. Thus, the kingdom of Champassak could repudiate the image
of a
renegade provinceand 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 su
fficient 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, S
i 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 universal ruler (cakkavattin).

On close reading, the Champassak Chronicle reveals the importance
attached to Pha Khu Phon Samek for the religious legitimation of secular
power and for de
fining 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 mang. 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.

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 e
ffigy of a small human being. This shows that their community was still
untouched by Buddhism. The Pha Kaeo Phalik image was later enshrined in
st ̄upa in the town of Champassak. This happened still during the reign of Si
Sisamut. Thereafter, the Pha Kaeo Phalik was revered as a state palladium,
the symbol of prosperity of Champassak.

Even though the Khawere the indigenous people of southern Laos, they
often migrated to other places. They moved because of their special connec-
tion with the local spirits. A number of the
Khapopulation from Ban
i Nanyn, 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 S
i Sisamut to serve as serfs of the Crystal Buddha (kha pha pha-
).42 Furthermore, they were also required when sacrificial ceremonies or
traditional festivals were held.

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 monas-
teries 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 benevo-
lent. Thus the people would respect and praise such righteous monarchs. The
Champassak Chronicle (Vat Citsavang version) does not fail to mention that
i Sisamut (r. 17131737) built at least two monasteries for Buddhist monks.44
One of his later successors, Cao Kham Suk (r. 18631900), who was already
a Siamese vassal, founded the monastery of Vat Nyuttithammathalalam.
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


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.
Lorrillard (2003: 2). In fact, the mention of a huge entourage, including astro-
logers and craftsmen, accompanying the monks and Brahmins from Angkor to
historiography it was not the Cambodian influence of the mid-fourteenth
century that had a decisive impact on the di
ffusion 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 in
fluential Buddhist wave reached the Lao
kingdom of Lan Sang via Lan Na. The cultural, religious, and political rela-
tions between the two kingdoms intensi
fied 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
southern Laos only by the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Lao kings took the concepts of righteous king (dhammara ̄ja) and univer-
sal 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 monksadvice 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.

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 politi-
cal 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.

Luang Prabang, resembles the Mon Princess Ca ̄madev ̄ı’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.

  1. 2  According to the NKB (Souneth 1996: 234235), King Phaen Phaeo abdicated in
    favour of his son, who alone expelled the Vietnamese.

  2. 3  The Mingshi Gao (Draft of the History of the Ming Dynasty) (chapter 189, p. 34a)
    In the year Chenghua 17, [6th month, renzi] (1481), Li Hao (r. 14591497),
    [the King of] Annam, commanded 90,000 barbarian soldiers (
    man bing), con-
    structed 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 Paci
    fication 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
    fication Commissioner [of Babai], Dao Lanna (Cao Lan Na, i.e., Tilok), dis-
    patched 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
    granted that Phraya Sai Khao be anointed as the King of Lan
    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. 141171.
    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.

  3. 4  See Hoshino (1986: 216). The inscription is published in Gagneux (1975: 8183).
    Michel Lorrillard argues that the inscription was dated according to the Chiang
    Mai calendar (which di
    ffers by exactly two lunar months) because the script was
    Tham Yuanand 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 Yuanstyle 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.

  4. 5  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 tangtae plai phutthasattawat thi 21 thng 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

(1968: 183, fn. 3).
6 NKB, Souneth (1996: 249). Cf. Piyachat Sinthusa-at (1997)
Sangkhom lan chang 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 M
ang (Lorrillard 1995: 365367).

  1. 7  The Chronicle of Attap(Phongsavadan Mang Attap) 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 Attap
    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 Attap
    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 Mang Attap[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).

  2. 8  The Khamphi Pha Thammasat Luang defines the tenfold royal code as follows:
    1. da ̄na making donations; 2. s ̄ıla abiding by the five or eight religious pre-
    cepts; 3.
    parica ̄ga giving up of [ones 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 (<ajjava>) 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 tham-
    masat buran
    (kotmai kao khng 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.

  3. 9  The ten Buddhist virtuesare da ̄na [donation], s ̄ıla [religious precept], nekkhamma [renunciation], pañña [wisdom], viriya [courage], khanti [patience], sacca [honesty], adhittha ̄na [praying], metta ̄ [mercy] and upekkha [equanimity].
    ̇ ̇

  1. 10  See ibid.: 385386. As to the construction and the meaning of That Luang, see
    Lorrillard (2004), the so far most detailed and authoritative study on this subject.

  2. 11  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 Th
    ng in 1560.

  1. 12  That Luang is visible as a central symbol on the Lao national emblem as well as on
    present-day Lao bank notes.

  2. 13  See Kham Campakaeomani (1994) Phrathat luang wiang can[The great stupa
    of Vientiane]. In
    Phrathat cedi wat samkhan lae phrakhru yt kaeo phonsamek
    [Important stupas-monasteries and Phrakhru Yt Kaeo Phonsamek], pp. 113.
    Chiang Mai: Social Research Institute, Chiang Mai University: 2.

  3. 14  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 ryakhru khi hm[Phrakhru Phonsamek or Yakhru Khi
    m]. In Phrathat cedi-wat samkhan lae phrakhru yt kaeo phonsamek [Important
    stupas-monasteries and Phrakhru Y
    t Kaeo Phonsamek], pp. 8599. Chiang Mai:
    Social Research Institute, Chiang Mai University.

  1. 15  Accidentally, Vat Sisaket was the only major religious building that escaped the
    Siamese pillage of 1828.

  2. 16  See, for example, Buddhas footprints at Luang Prabang (Phusi), Vientiane (Phon
    San), and That Soeng Sum (Sakon Nakh
    n, northeastern Thailand).

  3. 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
    Tamnan pha mang kaeo [The Chronicle of Pha (Mang) Kaeo]. Vat Si Sai
    tambon Nng Cm, amphoe San Sai, Chiang Mai, SRI,
    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 M
    ang Kaeo (r. 14951526) but
    concerns the
    journeyof the Emerald Buddha image (pha kaeo).

  4. 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 out-
    ward, 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 centi-
    metres tall, was worshipped as a state palladium and should later give the royal
    capital of Siang Dong-Siang Th
    ng its new name under which it is still known:
    Luang Prabang,
    Royal [City] of the Pha Bang. The Pha Bang image was trans-
    ferred several times during the last centuries re
    flecting the vagaries of Lao history:
    Vientiane (1563), Thonburi (1778), Bangkok (1781), Vientiane (1782), Bangkok
    (1828), and
    finally back to Luang Prabang (1867).

  5. 19  Also known as kha phra yomsong or lek vat.

  6. 20  Adapted from Thawat Punnothok (1984) Silacark isan samai thai-lao: sksa 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

  7. 21  In several Lao inscriptions also called khet phra rattanatrai.

  8. 22  Mang, literally to destroy, to annihilate.

  9. 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.

  10. 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).

  11. 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. 488492. Bangkok.

    The monastery containing the
    st ̄upa of That Phanom, one of the most
    important religious monuments of Lan Sang, had up to 3,000 temple serfs. See

    Preuss (1976: 58).

  12. 26  See Saowani Phannaphop (1996). Sksa wikhrkotmai 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.

  13. 27  See Inscription No. 1 of Vat Daen Mang, in Thawat (1984: 230235). Compare similar prohibitions in numerous other inscriptions.

  14. 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 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:

  1. 29  Thawat Punnothok (1999) mentions the so-called Bun Sia Kha Hua, a merit-
    making 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 ances-
    tors had been temple serfs of Vat That Phanom (Nakh
    n Phanom province).
    The obligations of the temple serfs had ended more than two centuries ago when
    Siamese rule spread to the Khorat Plateau.

  2. 30  See, for example, the inscription of Vat Si Suphana-aram (Nng Khai), dated
    Tuesday, 4 March 1567. Thawat (1984: 261

  3. 31  See Dhida (1982: 155158). Dhida (ibid.: 157158) 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 corres-
    ponds 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
    authority and rights to land. This basic idea spread among the peoples and left
    some traces in the practice of donating land to religion.

  4. 32  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: 129130) argues convincingly
    that Thawat misread the digit
    5as a 4as this would change the corresponding
    Western date to 11 March 1811, which is a Monday.

  5. 33  Called Maha San ̇ghara ̄ja Cao Khu Hong Kham, which means literally, Supreme
    Patriarch, teacher in the golden hall

  6. 34  Pha Khu Phon Sameks life is discussed in the Champassak Chronicle, Citsavang
    ff° 4/1/115/1/2. Cf. Bounleuth (2004: 1837). 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 r
    yakhru khi hm[Phrakhru Phonsamek or Yakhru Khi Hm]. In Phrathat cedi-
    wat samkhan lae phrakhru y
    t kaeo phonsamek [Important stupas-monasteries
    and Phrakhru Y
    t Kaeo Phonsamek], pp. 8599. Chiang Mai: Social Research
    Institute, Chiang Mai University.

    One finds a short biography of the monk in the That Phanom Chronicle (Nithan
    ) where he is credited with the respiration of the sacred st ̄upa of
    That Phanom, notably its spire. See Preuss (1976: 65

    For other accounts of Pha Khu Phon Sameks life, see Phraratcha Prichayan-
    muni (1970)
    Theraprawat [Biography of senior monks]. Nakhn Phanom: Cao
    Khana Nakh
    n Phanom: 120; and Toem Wiphakphotcanakit (1987) Prawattisat
    [A history of the Northeast]. Bangkok: Thammasat University Press: 3447.

  7. 35  Very deep knowledges: 1) supernatural power; 2) all-hearing ability; 3) extra-
    sensory 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.

  8. 36  Attainment in the practice of Buddhist meditation.

  9. 37  Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 5/1/45/2/2. (Bounleuth 2004:


  10. 38  In the various versions of the Champassak Chronicle called Phanya Mang Saen.

  11. 39  Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 10/2/311/1/1. (Bounleuth 2004 2930).

  12. 40  Than Phakhu then was praying [for his safety] With the power of the good deeds (des ́a pa ̄ram ̄ı) being performed in the past existences, [I] would help human beings (panna sat) to avoid danger. [I] prayed to the Gods (thepphacao) for pro-
    tecting people in this time.
    Then, Than Phakhu could conveniently lead [his]
    families [of laity] to escape from danger. See
    Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang
    ff° 8/1/18/1/2. (Bounleuth 2004: 32).

  1. 41  Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 16/1/216/2/4. (Bounleuth 2004:

  2. 42  For details, see Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 17/1/1.
    (Bounleuth 2004: 40).

  3. 43  For details, see Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 12/1/4.
    (Bounleuth 2004: 32).

  4. 44  For details, see Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 11/1/2, 11/1/3
    and 15/2/1. (Bounleuth 2004: 30, 37

  5. 45  Champassak Chronicle, Vat Citsavang version, ff° 41/1/341/2/1. (Bounleuth 2004:

  6. 46  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.

  7. 47  Bechert (1967: 268) mentions that equally disrupting were the raids of the Chinese
    Hò’) marauders in 1872/73 and 1887.

  8. 48  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 khng kabot hua mang isan ph.s. 23252445 [The
    importance of the uprisings in the northeastern region,
     17821902]. MA thesis,
    Bangkok: Silapakorn University; and Toem (1987: 491



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 e
ffect 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 speci
fic 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 antici-
pated modernization and its consequences, and prophetic works from the
mid-twentieth century onwards, in which the consequences that were antici-
pated 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 mod-
ern studies of the past, prophetic works can be understood as
studiesof the 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 re
flective of Lao society in their

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 audi-
ence with a familiar
vocabulary of expressionwith which such thoughts
could be understood and appreciated. It was very much this literary back-
ground, 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 insti-
tution. The power of the temple was at times comparable to that of the
monarchy, which was dependent upon religious legitimization in its govern-
ing. The signi
ficance of literature in Lan Sang largely rested upon its efficiency
as a medium through which the temple could communicate its teachings.

Literature in Lan Sang owes its origins to two primary sources: a) the cul-
tural in
fluence 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 speci
relationship between literature and the temple, and the precise ways in which
the literature de
fined 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
one generation to the next, which included, for example, conventions to be
followed in everyday life, performance of the monthly rites (known as
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
, but rather through the way in which they were traceable back to
religiousrealm 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 con
flict between the kingdoms that formerly comprised
Lan Sang was ultimately to be exploited by the kingdom of Siam, which
desired to extend its in
fluence, 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 signi
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 this was to drastically change, however, with the threat of
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 di
fferent from previous works. The literature of prophecy can be
understood as a re
flection of and reaction to the social and political tur-
moil of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which brought about new
demands in the preservation of the
worldthat was a traditional subject
of literature. In traditional literature, not only was the preservation of tradi-
tional 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 ine
ffective in the treatment of the very same diseases that they had
once cured.

Prophetic works composed during this period are widespread in Lao-
speaking regions, and can be found throughout northern, central, and south-
ern 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.
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
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 speci
fically 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 logicof prophetic works of literature as a response
to the threat of modernization on traditional culture, this essay will investi-
gate 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

The construction of religious identity in literature

Similar to traditional literature, the legitimacy of an authors 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 justi
fied, we must first
consider the construction of religious identity in traditional works of litera-
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 exist-
ence 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 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
(which shall be discussed in greater detail later in this section), the restric-
tions 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 signi

  • 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


  • 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
    kamma and the threat of negative kamma serve as major moti-
    vational 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 pro-
    duction 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 e
    ffectively 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 manu-
    script can take months to complete, b) the impossibility of establishing the
    Scriptures), in which writings are not differentiated as being of scrip-
    tural 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.)
    authorship of individual works and the date of their composition, c) difficul-
    ties 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 bene
    fit 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

An understanding of the religious identity of traditional literature pro-
vides an important foundation from which to approach the study of proph-
etic works of literature. As predictions of the future, a crucial concern of
such writing (to which composers devoted much of their text) was the estab-
lishment 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
ordinationof 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 per-
haps 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 signi
ficant that their authors
insisted on composing the great majority of prophetic literature in the form
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 e
ffort 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.

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
Asia and makes a prophecy to his disciple A
̄ nanda, which is put into writing
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
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 pre-
sent and future Buddha. In
Kham Saun Phraya In (The Teachings of Lord
Fa Samang Kham, and Nangseu Tok Jak Meuang In (Writing That
Has Fallen From the Land of Indra), the words are held to be speci
composed by Indra.

In traditional Lao literature, we have already observed the use of the writ-
ten 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 writ-
ing 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 signi
ficance 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(writingor book) is not commonly used in the title of
literary works. Whereas composers of prophetic literature make use of tradi-
tional 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 insecur-
ity 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 su
fficient to say that in the construc-
tion of what are essentially
undergroundreligious works that are largely
performed exclusively outside of the temple, there is a need to authenticate
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, re
flective 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 inter-
action between di
fferent 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 di
fference 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 frame-
work of
kamma, through which the audience will be rewarded and/or pun-
ished 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 consis-
tently 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 su
ffering in the immediate and not
so immediate future, such as war, starvation, separation of families, the
abandonment of entire villages, etc., which doubtlessly re
flect 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
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 consist-
ently that the only way in which such su
ffering can be avoided is to act in
conformance with the morality set forth in the text. On one level, there is a
finite 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.

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 litera-
ture, 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 litera-
ture 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 justi
fication 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 per-
sonally will smash your head into seven pieces with a heavy piece of metal
a statement that would be di
fficult 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
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

For all the horrendous display of power by the authors of prophetic works of literature, the precarious nature of that power is clearly illustrated by the
extent of the e
ffort 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 dan-
gers 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:
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 distribu-
tion. 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 proph-
etic literature to oneself and make no attempt to circulate its content, the
inevitable result will be
great troubleand ultimately death. This type
of negative reinforcement is not commonly found in traditional works of

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 tran-
scription, donation of materials necessary to the transcription, performance,
participation as an audience, etc. all have very speci
fic 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 o
ffering of
flowers and incense, not performed on certain occasions, etc.12 Specific
instructions regarding the treatment of prophetic manuscripts do not sub-
stantially di
ffer 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
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.

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 e
ffort 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 worldthat 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
worldof prophetic
literature, however, is a
worldthat 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 signi
ficance as a
condemnation not only of individuals but also an abnormal world, in which
normaland logicalpractices 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 speci
fic criticism
directed at the actions of three di
fferent groups of people: a) political author-
ities (including kings, nobles, and government o
fficials), 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, etc.), however, the conclusion ultimately serves to reaffirm the legitimacy
of the institution, which through the law of
kamma possesses a self-
correcting mechanism to protect it from abuse. It is far less common to
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

In contrast to traditional literature, both the specific types of criticism that
are contained in prophetic literature and their objectives are considerably
fferent 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 a
ffairs, as a result of the late stage of the Buddhist era,
as a
ffirmed 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 brie
fly 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 o
fficials 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 speci
fic actions of kings and
government o
fficials, 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 o
fficials 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
, 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.
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 signi
ficance of religious expression is in the
legitimacy that it confers on political incitement aimed at contesting the
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 criti-
cism 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 signi
ficant 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, psycho-
logically, 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
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 rea
ffirm the authority
of the past. After all, whereas on a super
ficial 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 con-
formance 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 su
ffering that is brought about by the
social change of the period (inclusive of government oppression, war, etc.)
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
worldof the past. Whereas one cannot deny the
pessimist perspective of such writings (which is re
flective 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
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 su
ffering of the com-
mon 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 su
ffering in the late stage of the Buddhist era is the result of the
failure of the public to act in accordance with the
compassof tradition,
whether that su
ffering is to be inflicted by non-human entities or government

In many ways, prophetic writing can be interpreted as a tradition of
underground religious literature in Lao society, rooted in two seeming con-
tradictions: 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.

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
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.
One finds a similar pattern in the twentieth century use of prophetic litera-
ture. 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 inter-
pretation 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 e
ffect 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 transcrip-
tion in the Thai script (but not language), as newer generations of Lao
speakers were no longer educated in the scripts in which traditional litera-
ture had been recorded. Whereas these printed works could be made use
of in temples, by and large they served as entertainment to be read individu-
ally or performed together with music.
Panha Tamnai Lok (Riddles of
World Prophecy), by A. Kawiwong, is a work of prophecy that was pub-
lished in 1959 by a small publishing house in Khon Khaen, Northeast

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 in
fluence 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
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 world-
view, 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 contra-
dictions, between the political message that the author intends to convey
to his audience and the religious framework that is made use of in its

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
, 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
first riddle, the author appears to make fun of peoples 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

In the authors 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 su
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 surpris-
ingly for a composition that is stated to explain the reason behind
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 inter-
pretation 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 polit-
ical criticism that is contained in the work is essentially no di
fferent 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, out-
wardly 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, representative of the 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 speci
fic policy) they give their opinion and act in accord-
ance 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 o
fficials carefully observe those
who are brave enough to speak. They are then able to tie them up
and kill them.

(Panha Tamnai Lok: 1011)
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 di

(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 a
ffairs) or its content
(which arguably is a fairly straightforward assessment of Thai political dicta-
torships 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 improb-
able 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 a wide circulation. First, whereas a small minority of Northeastern
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 testi
fied 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 ambigu-
ous imagery depicting the world in disarray, with little in the way of speci

In one interpretation, imagery of the poem serves as propaganda in sup-
port 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 recti
fication 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 origin-
ally composed as a symbolic description of the chaotic state of Lao and
Northeast Thai society in the nineteenth century is converted into a con-
demnation 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 rottensociety of pre-communist
Laos, immoral people have great power, and people of morality grow fear-
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.

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

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
fic society in which everyone will have equal dignity as human beings.

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 tran-
scription 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
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,
s commentary appears to be more the expression of the authors
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

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
s dresses and the spinning wheel

According to the interpretation, people will turn their back on their own
(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
(ibid. 131).

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 di
fficult 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 assess-
ment 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.


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 in
fluential 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, North-
east 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 identi
with the region from which they originated. In the construction of their
identity, Caravan made use of regional language (Lao and Khmer), com-
posed 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
siwfish swallow the crocodiles, that flee to hide in rock

According to an explanation of the songs content in a book of music pro-
duced by the band, the above verse was originally composed by a Northeastern
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 cat
fish and crocodiles are to act in a
wild manner, comparable