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Monk Brings Practices, Compassion to US

Venerable Somnieng Hoeurn, a Cambodian Buddhist monk, offers meditation practice for those who have some meditation experience.

The techniques focus on providing new awareness of the mind and body as one consciousness focused in the present moment.

Somnieng Hoeurn is the president of the "Life and Hope Association" in Siem Reap province, which partially pays for student transportation and meals and supplements the salaries of government teachers.

Somnieng Hoeurn's association is funded by foreign aid programs in the United States, Australia and Germany.

He is now in the US for a two-year program to study management and to teach meditation.

Last year Somnieng Hoeurn had a four-month tour, including a number of conferences. He visited schools and had teaching assignments in China and the US.

While in the US, he visited the states of Hawaii, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, and Iowa.

Somnieng Hoeurn, now 28, entered pagoda life at age 15. He was born into a very poor family in Cambodia. His stepfather drank, gambled and beat him.

"Life as a Buddhist monk is not easy," Somnieng Hoeurn said. "There are 227 rules monks must follow. Buddhist monks must rely on the generosity of others for everything, even food. I was determined to learn and to speak Pali and Khmer. By age 20, I had become the second deputy head of monks."

Somnieng Hoeurn took some courses at a university in Cambodia while he waited for a visa into the US.

As a monk he found himself in demand, preaching and helping people celebrate ceremonies.

He helped children hampered by poverty go to school.

One day in 2005, an American dentist, Dr. Jon Ryder, who came to Damnak Temple in Siem Reap to learn more about Buddhism met Somnieng Hoeurn, an English-speaking monk.

They became friends after Ryder underwent a three-day meditation under Somnieng Hoeurn.

"Dr. Ryder started a plan to bring me to America for an exchange of ideas and culture," Somnieng Hoeurn said.

Somnieng Hoeurn now teaches an introductory course in meditative techniques at St. Ambrose University in Iowa, and he also teaches meditation classes in his home in Davenport, every Monday and Wednesday evening.

Having been offered a scholarship by the university president Ed Rogalski, Somnieng Hoeurn came to learn English and Management at St. Ambrose University, to become a better leader for the nearly 400 children that he and his fellow monks feed, teach and love like parents in his "Life and Hope Association."

Most of the types of meditation start with practicing awareness of respiration and mind concentration.

Concentration is a help to a step leading to a higher goal: the purification of mind, eradication of all mental defilements and negativities within. Practitioners seek liberation from misery.

"Meditation is a way of self-transformation through self-observation," Somnieng Hoeurn said. "The mind and body are always connected and can be experienced directly by physical sensations. It was discovered by Buddha more than 2500 years ago and taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills."