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Monk Offers Thoughts on Modern Buddhism

Venerable Nhem Kim Teng recently traveled to the US from India to chant at the second-year funeral ceremony of the revered monk Maha Ghosananda. Nhem Kim Teng, who is studying for a PhD in Buddhism, traveled to Lowell, Mass., to pay his respects to Maha Ghosanada, the man whom he had accompanied on numerous peace marches in the past.

Accompanied by several monks, he also traveled to Washington DC, saying in a recent studio interview that Buddhism retained an important role in social development, education, environmentalism and morality.

Maha Ghosananda was a revered figure in Cambodia’s peace movements over the decades, and his 2007 death was felt throughout the country’s political and religious landscapes.

Nhem Kim Teng said that while he was helping Maha Ghosananda for the Thoamayeatra peace march, he formed an NGO called Sonte Sena, which “gathered volunteer monks and laymen to educate the public on the importance of a good environment, particularly the preservation of the forest, the planting of trees and the preservation of biodiversity.”

He decided to deck the trees in robes, something he learned from Cambodia’s history.

“In the old days, they respected big trees as powerful trees,” he said. “They robed them and chanted sermons to give spirit to the trees.”

Nhem Kim Teng and his group did the same, sermonizing to the spirits of trees “as if we put a man through the monkhood.”

On education, Nhem Kim Teng said more than 60 monks have now gone to learn Buddhism in India, with four studying at New Dehli University. He himself is at work on his dissertation.

Nhem Kim Teng said Buddhism plays very important roles. Pagodas not only give shelter to poor students from rural areas, but they offer a place to learn, as well.

“Buddhism has five main principles of good deeds: to avoid killing and robbing others, avoid telling lies, avoid alcohol and drug abuse,” he said.

Nhem Kim Teng appealed for laymen to carefully consider belief in so-called magic monks, some of whom make money to prepare themselves to quit the monkhood and get married. Having too much money, some monks abuse Buddhist principles, such as having sex, drinking or debauchery.

“Well, there are some such practices; we cannot deny it,” he said. “Believers shouldn’t encourage such practices of magic for individual benefit. They should change the direction of their offers, for the education of monks, for common profits, or public infrastructure.”

Nhem Kim Teng also worried that the division of monks along political lines could weaken Buddhism.

“Monks must stayed neutral and stay off political lines, like the king, so that Buddhism can continue to earn respect from all sides,” he said. “Monks must shift from too much expression of political views to focus on their views on education and social development.”