Even in the Monkhood, Vows Can Be Broken

battambang province – Some men choose to enter the monkhood to repent for their spiritual transgressions. A few must leave to pay for their earthly crimes.

Toy Savuth, 49, just became a monk last month. Sitting in front of the Wat Keroum pagoda atop Phnom Sampov hill in Battambang province Sunday, covered in tattoos from the year he spent as a government soldier in 1984, he said he had temporarily separated from his wife in order to don his saffron robes.

“I have done many bad deeds,” he said while chain-smoking “Ele­phant” brand cigarettes. “When I was a civilian, I killed many fish and frogs to survive. I’m worried that if I am reincarnated as a frog, I will also be killed,” he said.

Last Tuesday, another monk at the same pagoda, Phorn Sophoan, left Phnom Sampov in handcuffs.

Charged with the robbery and rape of a British tourist who had been touring the region’s many caves, Phorn Sophoan, 17, was defrocked, then arrested.

“He said he is sorry he committed the crimes,” said Adhoc investigator Krouch Chanpov, who spoke to Phorn Sophoan on Thursday. “He said that he could not stop his mind.”

Banan district police chief Beauth Sambo called on religious officials to better investigate prospective monks before ordaining them.

Phorn Sophoan, he said, had been ejected from the monastic orders once before, at a pagoda in nearby O’Chheuteal commune.

“He stole things from another monk and was defrocked,” Beauth Sambo said Monday. “He ran away, and then was ordained at the pagoda of Phnom Sampov.”

In Cambodia, most Buddhist monks don’t take their vows for life.

The shortest stints in the monkhood usually occur only during fu­neral ceremonies, social commentator Chea Vannath said Monday. But in Cambodia, it’s common for men to enter the monkhood from a few days to a few years.

In the past, Chea Vannath said, parents hoped their daughters would marry former monks, not least because monks were more likely to be well educated.

Over the years, she added, the monkhood has lost some of its prestige. But men of all ages still take the vows, seeking education, spiritual merit, or refuge from grueling poverty.

Nuon Nget, supreme patriarch of the Mohanikaya sect, said that provincial monk chiefs are responsible for stopping defrocked monks from re-entering the monkhood, but he admitted that errant monks are difficult to keep out.

“There needs to be a law,” he said. “I don’t know what to do.”

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