Of Monks and Robes

Khmer monks at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

While on the road in Cambodia, I was amazed at how the monks I saw wear different colors and hues of robes, I started to have questions on my mind but I remained observant and perhaps, reflective too. Cambodia’s Buddhism belongs to the Theravada sect, which is more dominant in Southeast Asia. Theravada is often called the “Southern School” of all Buddhism sect and more than 100 million adherents follow this school worldwide. Compared to other Buddhism tenets, Theravada encourages monks to interact and study, walk around cities and do experiences that contributes to their gained insights of the world and Buddhism as opposed to sheer blind faith in religion.

Theravada’s tenets are taken from Tripitaka, the Sanskrit word for “Three basket”. Among these, the oldest, still being used, tenets are called the Pali Canon. There are three sections of the Tripitaka namely: Vinaya-tipaka which contains instructions and rules of communal life for monks and nuns; second is the Sutra-pitaka which contains instructions and sermons of the Buddha and lastly, Abhidharma-pitaka which contains the interpretations and analyses of the Buddha’s teachings and concepts.

Khmer Monks taking photos at the stairs of the Royal Palace

Khmer Monk posing at a Wat in Phnom Penh

Theravada by using the Pali Canon espouses the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism namely:

  • The Truth of Suffering (Dukkha)
  • The Truth of the cause of Suffering (Samudaya)
  • The Truth of the end of Suffering (Nirhodha)
  • The Truth of the path that frees us from Suffering (Magga)

Anyhow, going back to the Monks’ robe and colors, it symbolizes hierarchy in the faith.  The Sanghati robes are worn when it is of extreme coldness and Monks needed to protect themselves from the cold. Sanghatis too are wrapped around bodies of the Monks to protect them from the cold wind and the temperature. This is what you commonly see near Angkor Wat. If one critically looks at the design of the Monks’ robe, it has a ricefield design, copied from the lush greeneries of Cambodia which are the rice paddies. This design came from the pleadings of Buddha to his cousin and attendant named Ananda to sew a robe after the pattern of a rice paddy. Afterwhich, this has been followed by all Buddhist all over the world.

A Khmer Monk reads at the Wat in Phnom Penh

What I saw in Cambodia’s Monks are what I understand about their faith and the practices of it. I am reflecting on the manner by which they exercise their faith amidst the threat of globalized culture. I saw monks taking photos, enjoying the culture heritage of Cambodia, saw them riding motorcycles and saw them read in Wats. This is the very essence of their faith and I am more than ever, blessed to understand it.

Monks riding motorcycle in Phnom Penh

 

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Categories: Cambodia, Phnom Penh | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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