Theravada Buddhism is once-again the state religion of Cambodia. Why? What is the significance and political impact of this? Even though certified guides profess Theravada, the ancient Angkor Empire was not in fact Theravadin, but a healthy syncretism of Upanishadic philosophy (Hindu) and a particular Mahayana awareness (Avalokitesvara). The significance and political impact of this is important for the future of Cambodia?
Over the years, whenever Thailand conquered the Khmer, they would impose Theravada upon the people. When they regain self-governance, the Cambodian tribes reverted back to their natural religions.
Whenever a new religious regime came to rule, devotees of the ruling party would throw out the old gods, desecrate their spaces and faces, usurp the old and re-occupy the holiest places with their own—as is evident at this time in Angkor Wat and everywhere one cares to look. Nevertheless, throughout, Cambodian tribes and Khmer have held fast to their ancient spirituality—a spirituality of beauty, peace and sacred sensuality, which stands in stark contrast to what happens in Theravadin Wats and Pagodas.
APSARA - not a mainstream Therevada teaching, yet inseperable to Cambodian life
How do they do it—mix the two? And what then, is the spirituality of the Khmer people?
These are not easy questions to answer, because culture is culture and is infrequently explainable in simple terms. However, we can observe. And that is what we do on this tour. We go around to observe different things that happen in the daily lives of Khmer people. We meet with locals, in the villages, pagodas, temples and their homes—and we learn as we observe.
It is a most fascinating experience, and a very long day for those interested in either culture or spirituality. My guess is, it must be morbidly boring (if not frightening) for people who are not very interested to see what happens behind the scenes in Khmer lives, to meet real people in their own context, and to eat with locals in villages.
Spirit House - not a Buddhist teaching, yet mainstream in Cambodia
Neak Ta - Powerful spiritual beings who live in rocks and natural places. Regarded as more powerful than politicians.
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