Between now and the third World Buddhist Summit scheduled to be held in Cambodia in 2002, religious leaders will be seeking to unify and strengthen the faith both globally and within Cambodia.
The second world gathering, held two weeks ago in Thailand’s Nakhon Pathon province, welcomed Buddhist leaders from 14 Asian and European countries, along with US and Australian representatives. Topics included education, world peace and social welfare, but much of the discussion centered on developing unity within Buddhism.
The Theravada sect is popular in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Sri Lanka and Burma. Cambodian Buddhists are divided into two groups: the Maha Nikaya and the Dhammayutt. The latter group is generally considered to follow stricter practices.
“Despite differences between sects, all the spiritual leaders and the entire conference want all Buddhists to stay under the umbrella of Lord Buddha,” said Ang Limheng, a monk and close aide to Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong of the Cambodian Maha Nikaya sect.
He said Buddhism needs to stand as a “stronger force” and at the same time show the world what a peaceful religion it is.
Both Tep Vong and Supreme Patriarch Bour Kry of the Cambodian Dhammayutt sect delivered papers calling for more respect for Buddhist teachings.
“Only the noble advice and teachings of Lord Buddha can lead us to peace of mind and peace in the world,” wrote Bour Kry.
Neither Cambodian religious leader emphasized the challenges Buddhism faces within society. In recent weeks there have been a rash of defrockings in Thailand in the wake of sex scandals and other misdeeds. Cambodian Buddhist leaders came under fire recently from the government, which accused them of lacking leadership.
Uong Sophirith, deputy director of administration for the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs, said Cambodian Buddhism needs to be strengthened through more comprehensive education, but said there was not enough money for such programs.
He complained that television was devoting less air time to Buddhism than in the past. “On local channels, people can see the activities of monk leaders and other Buddhism ceremonies,” Uong Sophirith said. “That is just information. But it is not education.”
Summit members agreed, and announced Cambodia should receive priority assistance from other Buddhist countries.
Uong Sophirith said Cambodian Buddhism would benefit greatly from the 2002 conference, which is scheduled to coincide with King Norodom Sihanouk’s 80th birthday. Nearly 3,000 Buddhists attended the conference in Thailand, including 1,000 from Japan.