King Norodom Sihanouk called for unity and a return to Buddhist values as he presided Tuesday over the opening of the 10th Sangha Assembly, the conference of Buddhist leaders.
He urged Cambodians to adopt Buddhist principles, “giving up all hatred, envy and violence.”
The ceremony, held at the Chaktomuk Theater, was attended by more than 500 monks, lay people, politicians and diplomats, as well as a contingent of Cambodian Islamic leaders.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and Senate President Chea Sim, who were expected to attend, did not.
The King thanked the Islamic leaders for showing the world that Cambodia does not suffer from the kind of religious strife seen in countries such as Afghanistan, where Islamic radicals destroyed Buddhist statues.
“Good solidarity today!” said the King, thanking the Islamic contingent with a bow, palms pressed together. “Your presence here shows the international community we unite very well to support all our religions to work for our nation.”
Cambodian Buddhism has developed since emerging from the “dark and bitter times” of the Khmer Rouge, he said.
The conference is led by the country’s two top patriarchs: Bou Kry, who heads the Thammayuth sect, and Tep Vong, head of the Mohanikay sect. For three days, participants discuss what has been accomplished in the past year and what should be done in the future.
Chea Savoeun, minister of Cults and Religious Affairs, said this year’s gathering will focus on strengthening Buddhist practices and education, and improving pagoda management.
He said Buddhism has made remarkable progress since the Khmer Rouge all but destroyed the nation’s religious institutions.
Since Buddhist education resumed in 1989, he said, religious institutions have built 398 primary schools with 590 classrooms, teaching 11,597 monks and novices; 12 high schools, teaching 1,879 monks and novices; and one institute, with 278 monks studying in seven classrooms.
The conference is funded by a $10,000 donation from the King; $500 each from the National Assembly and Senate, and $250 from Chea Sim.