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Buddhist Monks Lecture on Peace at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa


Three Buddhist monks visited the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa (UH Manoa) in June to discuss Buddhism’s teachings of peace and compassion for all sentient beings. The Buddhist monks were Venerable Kou Sopheap and Ven. Hak Sienghai from Cambodia, and Ven. Sok Theavy, who resides in Hawai‘i.

The lecture was held at the UH Manoa Center for Southeast Asian Studies and focused on the conflict in Cambodia that occurred while the Khmer Rouge was in power.  Specifically, it examined the role Buddhism has played in the peace and reconciliation efforts that have been taking place since 1992.

The Khmer Rouge regime ruled over Cambodia from 1975–979. During that time, and the regime was responsible for one of the worst mass killings in recent history and nearly two million Cambodians were killed.

The movement was led by Pol Pot, a Marxist who wanted to de-modernize Cambodia and cleanse it of Buddhist influence. Pol Pot was impressed by the hill tribes who lived in northeastern Cambodia because they lived communally and their villages were entirely self-sufficient.

At the height of his power, Pol Pot attempted to force this agrarian lifestyle across Cambodia, setting up rural collectives, abolishing money, private property, and disallowing the practice of religion. Intellectuals were killed en masse, along with ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslims.

Dissidents were sent to detention centers, such as the infamous S-21 jail, also known as Tuol Sleng, in Phnom Penh, where men, women, and children were tortured and killed.

As a result of socio-political changes implemented by the Khmer Rouge, hundreds of thousands of people died from disease and starvation.

With this in mind, the main thrust of the lecture was that the ancient, time-tested wisdom of the Buddhist teaching can be useful in promoting non-violence and problem-solving during times of crisis.

“I believe these conversations about mindfulness and peace need to be more prevalent on campus,” said UH Manoa associate professor Sothy Eng. “Raising awareness through such discussions is important for our campus community.” (University of Hawai‘i News)

Of the three visiting monastics, Ven. Kou Sopheap was born during the Cambodian Civil war and his family was made up of peasant farmers who lived in the present-day province of Tboung Khmum. He is a professor of personal growth and development at Pannasastra University of Cambodia.

Ven. Hak Sieghai was also born in Cambodia. He is the founder and director of Buddhism for Education of Cambodia (BEC), which teaches children to feel gratitude for their parents and practice morality. Ven. Sok Theavy is the founder of Dhammika Academy and Dhammika Life Foundation.

The event organizers gave the monks a tour of the university campus prior to their lecture. Ven. Kou Sopheap, Ven. Hak Sienghai, and Ven. Sok Theavy also met with representatives from the East-West Center (EWC), a co-sponsor of the lecture event, who shared information regarding the center’s programming around Cambodian scholars and students.

The East-West Center was founded in 1960 by the US Congress to act as a resource for information, analysis, and the exchange of ideas around US policy options in the Indo-Pacific Region. The center, which has a 70,000-person alumni network and 1,100 partner organizations, is located on an 8.5-hectare campus in Honolulu. The center also has an office in Washington, DC, where it focuses on helping the US navigate a world in which the Asia-Pacific region is growing in political and socioeconomic importance.

See more

Buddhist monks inspire peace at UH Mānoa (University of Hawai‘i News)
Khmer Rouge: Cambodia’s years of brutality (BBC News)
About (The East-West Center)

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