This is an interview I did at the Cambodian Therevada Temple where I was briefly a monk, and recounted with rather poor response on a different forum over two years ago. The interview is with one of the senior Lay leaders at the temple who was a monk for 10 years in Cambodia, and attended A Buddhist College/school in Cambodia. It was an attempt to cover the basic elements of Buddhism as presented to beginners from A Cambodian Thervada perspective; Thank you
A VISIT TO THE CAMBODIAN BUDDHIST TEMPLE
Today was an exciting day, I got up early and around ten drove to the local Therevada Cambodian Temple in Loma Linda, California USA. We have almost the largest concentration of refugee immigrants from Cambodia and Vietnam in the USA and at the temple things go on much the same way they do in Asia, white people like me are real rarity and there has been very little "westernization" of the Buddha's message. The monk who speaks good english was away so I talked for 1 1/2 hrs to an old friend who was one of the elders at the temple, attending almost every day and very knowledgeable on the Buddha as he had been a monk for ten years back in Cambodia, before starting a family.
The first thing I did was go over some facts about Buddhism, ideas I had been almost ridiculed for on the other forum such as Buddha's being an advocate of vegetarianism, but Ill leave that for the bottom of this post. I questioned him on the most basic teachings of Buddhism, how important were the precepts etc. To the best of my recollection this is what he said in more broken english than mine;
"The most important, central teaching of the Buddha is Love, Love for those around us, and Love for everyone, then compassion for everyone" He went over and over this teaching, it was obvious he considers it much more important than following the rules like the precepts, I asked him about how important it was to follow the precepts, he thought very important; He really scoffed when I brought of the idea People calling themselves buddhist who weren't bothering to keep the precepts, he thought that was bad. In his opinion he said"the most important precept is number 5, no drugs and alcohol, drunks are more likely to kill and break the other precepts, understanding the religion requires a clear mind and you can't get a clear mind when you are using drugs and alcohol", Remember I was asking him which precepts were the most important to the beginner or buddhist young person.
He agreed wholeheartedly that buddhism promoted a simple life, not addicted to a lot of things , and that it was fairly conservative religion, not a lot of partying etc, although in southeast asian tradition they often have fairly festive "parties" or religious events at the temple, with lots of people, live bands, dancing and free food. I talked to him about being single and he mentioned"its better to be a monk all your life, having a wife and family makes it harder to be a good person because it splits your time. It's good that you're single, that's like being a monk, its easier to grow in the religion that way"
We talked at length about reincarnation and the soul. These Therevada people definetly believe in past lives, future lives and reincarnation and the soul, but he told me the soul dies with the body, its the Spirit that was before and reincarnates and always will be. I asked him about Bodhissatvas, people who reincarnate back on earth repeatedly to help mankind, he definetly agreed with this teaching but had not heard the term Bodhisattva or I was pronouncing it wrong or something. I asked him about buddha nature, is everyone born with a small buddha nature that can grow and grow even into being a full buddha, and that anyone can do that, he wholeheartadly agreed, though once again the term buddha nature was of course something different in his language.
On vegetarianism he said basically what I have recounted before"the Buddha himself was a vegetarian, but he didnt say everyone has to be one, but he definetly indicated it was better to be vegetarian, in my country we have meditation schools that are very strict and they are all vegetarian, also in Vietnam and China the Buddhist temples are almost all vegetarian. It's very bad to kill animals, but we are allowed to buy meat killed by some one else and eat it, but this is not ideal,I would never kill any animal even a chicken or a fish, the ideal of the Buddha is be vegetarian, animals are just as good as people, anything that breathes deserves to be treated well especially animals, the Buddha came not just for people but for the animals as well, the Buddha came for every living creature(sentient being) to benefit them all" Please believe me this is my best recollection of a conversation this morning with a venerated temple elder, not my own thought or words, as I've already put my thoughts in writing; I'll leave it at that.
Lastly the issue of Lying, is it OK to lie to prevent a greater crime, he just didnt know one way or the other but agreed lying to prevent killing seemed right, but he didnt know what the scripture said, he had been a monk many years ago starting in his teens and he is approaching 70 now.Thats all for now, thank you for your time. sincerely Lyndon John
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John