A Comparative Study of Thai and Khmer Buddhism.
By SAMSOPHEAP PREAP
The purpose of this research is to study the interaction of Buddhism and politics in Thailand and Cambodia. The contents of this research work are based on the three important aspects, viz., Buddhism, society and politics. The overall study is divided into five chapters and each chapter is based mainly on documentary research. The results of the documentary and other research showed that Buddhism constitutes the core of traditional culture, serves as integrative forces of the societies, and provides the states with an ideological basis and political leaders with legitimacy. It has profoundly influenced the cultural, social and political development of the countries. The political leaders of Thailand and Cambodia have mobilized Buddhism and its associated values including the monkhood to assist in the achievement of their political goals. This study has therefore concentrated on the political mobilization of religion to support political ideologies and activities.
The documentary research appearing in chapter 1 and 2 deals with Buddhist teachings concerning society and politics, this research is based on Theravada Buddhist sacred books, the Tripitaka, and secondary documents, which are related to books and magazines. Chapter 1 introduces the significance, purpose and scope of the study. It also outlines the importance of religions as social and psychological forces that should be considered in the making of political, and socio-economic policy and in the problem solving process. Key words and approaches used in this chapter are explained based on examples. Much of the discussion in chapter 2 involves the Dhamma, which serves functionally as a social integrative force, social order and social control mechanism. It also describes Buddhist concept of socio-political changes, the development of society, and system of government, including ideal rulers.
The discussion appearing in chapters 3 and 4 deals with Buddhism and Political Legitimacy in Thailand and Cambodia. Chapter 3 focuses on a case study of the relationship between Buddhism and politics in Thailand. What develops from this complex interaction is a reciprocal relationship of political rulers, the Sangha, and the people. The central assumption is that Buddhism and the Sangha (the community of monks) are a facet of the society’s total culture, and as part of the socio-political structure they permeate other parts and institutions as much as they are affected by them. The study places the effects of the forces of socio-political change on Buddhism and the Sangha and their responses to changes at the center of the dynamic interactions of Buddhism and politics. The Sangha, by cooperating with political rulers and sometimes advising them, provides a symbol of morality and integrity of the state.The discussion in chapter 4 is based on Buddhism and Politics in Cambodia. To get the research work done, the researcher studied the subject carefully by using historical, anthropoligical and cutural approaches for data collection and analysis. The historical facts show that Buddhism has brought Cambodia a great civilization. Buddhism is the symbol of unity and prosperity. In the modern history of Cambodia, especially in the last half of the twentieth century Khmer Buddhism has repeatedly been mobilized to achieve the political goals of the ruling elites. The results of the research show that many Khmer leaders have attempted to use Buddhism for their own purposes and to legitimize their political control.
In the conclusion (Chapter 5&6) the researcher recapitulates the ideas put forward in earlier chapters, and discuss them further to make clear what are the critical factors in the roles, activities, and involvement of the Sangha in politics. The researcher attempts to evaluate the effects on the Sangha as a whole of their increased political engagement, and consequently the fate of Buddhism in Thailand and Cambodia. On the other hand, researcher would like to suggest that a thorough Comparative Study of Thai and Khmer Buddhism has not yet been attempted. However, it is hoped that this study will be beneficial for future research work.