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Meditation Touted for Cambodian Victims

A Cambodian Buddhist monk in the US has applied meditation to help reduce stress disorders for Cambodian-Americans traumatized by the Khmer Rouge.

At his Khemara Rangsey temple, Thach Berong, of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation’s Theravada Buddhist Community, in San Jose, Calif., says he wants to help reduce the stress and illness that can come from prolonged trauma.

Studies show that Cambodian-Americans face special mental and physical health problems resulting from their tragic experiences, especially those of them lived through the extreme brutality of the Khmer Rouge.

Health professionals and others who work with Cambodian-Americans often note that these experiences have left them with a sense of powerlessness that affects many.

“I teach them Satipatthana Sutta courses, or right mindfulness,” Thach Berong said in a recent interview. “A study of the county of Santa Clara had learned that the stress that has led to such illnesses often tends to create a health syndrome for Cambodian-Americans. The syndrome is known as post-traumatic stress disorder, a type of delayed reaction to extreme emotional stress that has been found to affect many Cambodian refugees in the United States.”

Among those who have been resettled in Western countries, a malady known as “Pol Pot syndrome” also has emerged. Pol Pot syndrome includes insomnia, difficulty in breathing, loss of appetite and pains in various parts of the body.

Almost half the adult population of Cambodian-Americans in San Jose and Long Beach, those older than 35 or 40, show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, said Om Reaksmey, a social worker of Cambodian Association of America in Long Beach.

One medical study of Cambodian refugees in Long Beach, the largest concentration of Cambodians in the United States, found that 62 percent of the adults had symptoms of PTSD, she said.

Meditation is often used in hospitals as a method of stress reduction, especially in cases of chronic or terminal illnesses, to reduce complications associated with increased stress.

At least one doctor at Stanford University, as well as other doctors from Gardner Mental Health Care clinic in San Jose, has been practicing meditation techniques with Thach Berong “to learn Buddha’s teachings,” he said.

Buddhism teaches its practitioners to understand their lives according to dharma, the laws of nature, and seeks to develop generosity and morality, he said, adding that these lessons were good for all nationalities and religions, Thach Berong said.

Roeum Long, vice president of the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, is a long-time meditator at the Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburn, Mass.

A person who practices meditation can achieve reduced tension, fear and worry, he said. He meditates at least 30 minutes each day at home, and sometimes for 15 minutes at work.

“Vipassana meditation is called the Great Teacher,” he said. “It helped me to work through understanding. The greater my understanding, the more flexible and tolerant and the more compassionate I can be. I am ready to forgive and forget. My mind becomes still and calm and my life smoothes out. I become like a perfect parent or an ideal teacher.”

Yat Nei Kchao, a worker in Fairfax County, practiced meditation at the Washington DC Buddhist Vihara. She told VOA that she understands others because she understands herself. An accomplished meditator can achieve a profound understanding of life and relate this to the world with a deep and uncritical love, she said.

“You feel love towards others because you understand them,” she said. “Meditation helped me feel calm and gave me a clear awareness about my life. When I learned compassion for myself, compassion for others was automatic.”

Christi Knox, a retiree in Richmond, Va., and a regular meditator at Bhavana Society Temple in Winchester, VA, said she has studied Buddhism in many US temples in the US, having left her Christian upbringing. She practices Buddhism’s eight precepts every day, she said.

“In 2002, I started studying Buddhism, and I really learned to meditate after the third year,” she said. “And before that, I worried about everything. I projected what was going to happen even if it did not happen. I was very stressful and agitated. And now with meditation, I realize that things are as they are, and even the worst of situations we can find the little good in them.”

The practice has reduced stress and worry, she said.

“I’m just really at peace, and I spend each day trying to do something to make somebody else’s life just a little bit happier, whether it be a good deed for them or whether just giving time and conversation, but it is always on the positive note,” she said. “So I really can’t thank Buddhism and the practices of meditation enough for what it really brought to me, which has been inner peace.”