Mohanikay Buddhist sect Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong has been elevated to the rare status of Great Supreme Patriarch, likely placing him in charge of Cambodia’s second, monarchy-affiliated Dhammayuth sect, Tep Vong’s cabinet chief said.
The last time both Buddhists sects, which differ slightly in monastic practice, were united under one head was 150 years ago under Great Supreme Patriarch Nil Teang, scholars said.
As a consequence of the government appointment earlier this month, Tep Vong, who is known for his links to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP, will now likely give direction to Dhammayuth Supreme Patriarch Bou Kry.
Bou Kry is the longtime spiritual mentor of King Norodom Sihamoni, and the Dhammayuth is the sect more closely identified with Cambodian royalty.
“Samdech Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong has earned the same title as Nil Teang, so it would be best if Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong represents Cambodia alone,” Chhoeng Bunchea, cabinet chief to Tep Vong, said Wednesday.
Bou Kry declined to discuss Tep Vong’s promotion and the uniting of the different sects, which King Sihamoni signed off on.
“Regarding this issue, I don’t understand and I don’t know,” Bou Kry said. Of the nearly 4,000 pagodas in Cambodia, about 150 follow the Dhammayuth path, which teaches, among other things, that monks must go barefoot when seeking alms, he said.
Of the 60,000 monks in Cambodia, only a few thousand follow Dhammayuth, including some at Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum and Wat Popey, he said.
Retired King Norodom Sihanouk requested the return of the Dhammayuth sect in 1993, after it was abolished by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. The sect was not permitted under the Hanoi-backed government in Phnom Penh of the 1980s, in which Tep Vong once held a senior government position.
On Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen will announce that Wat Botum Chief Abbot Non Nget will be appointed Mohanikay’s supreme patriarch to replace Tep Vong, Chhoeng Bunchea said.
Buddhist scholar Chin Channa said that any proposal to put the Dhammayuth sect under the Mohanikay sect is “not appropriate.”
“If this happened, it must have been politically made only to undermine and downgrade the Dhammayuth and put it under the influence of the CPP,” he said. “[They] wanted to take over Dhammayuth for a long time but the time was not right, but right now the royalists are declining so it is time.”
He added that Tep Vong is a highly political figure. In 1981, Tep Vong was vice-president of the National Assembly.
Former Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker and Buddhist scholar Khem Veasna said that power struggles would disrupt the spirit of Buddhism.
“The best way to maintain peace as it is today is to please keep it the same,” he said.
Under the Constitution, both the leaders of the Mohanikay and of the Dhammayuth sects are members of the Throne Council, which selects the King.
Tep Vong could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
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