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Engaged Buddhism Special Report: Ven. Pomnyun Sunim Inaugurates Female Dormitory for Buddhist University in Cambodia

Images courtesy of Jungto Society

The revered Korean Dharma master and socially engaged Buddhist activist Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (법륜스님) on 4 July inaugurated a newly constructed female dormitory at Preah Sihaknouk Raja Buddhist University, Battambang Branch (SBUBB) in northwestern Cambodia.

The Buddhist humanitarian relief organization JTS Korea, founded by Ven. Pomnyun Sunim, has been supporting the construction of this dormitory with technical guidance and construction expertise, as well as US$150,000 in funding. The outcome of this focused application of compassion and commitment to empowering women from underprivileged communities is long-awaited and much-needed accommodation for female students attending SBUBB from rural areas. 

Buddhism is the official religion of Cambodia, with 97.1 per cent of the population of 17 million people following Theravada Buddhism, according to data for 2019. Figures from the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs indicate that there are 59,516 Buddhist monks and 4,755 monasteries in Cambodia.

The inauguration ceremony for the new four-floor building was attended by SBUBB chancellor and initiator of the project, the socially engaged Buddhist monk and scholar Ven. Dr. Vy Sovechea, who was accompanied by a cohort of SBUBB students, as well as representatives from the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB). Also present were the Catholic Bishop of Battambang, the vice governor of Battambang along with several government officials, and members of the monastic sangha, alongside volunteer members of JTS Korea and Jungto Society the international Buddhist community founded by Ven. Pomnyun Sunim.

Ven. Pomnyun Sunim established the humanitarian relief organization Join Together Society (JTS) as an expression of the compassion of engaged Buddhism, and based on the principle that helping others is the best way to enrich one’s own life. Charged with bringing hope, empowerment, and self-reliance to underprivileged communities in developing countries, JTS is run and manned by unpaid volunteers, who ensure that all donations benefit marginalized communities. JTS carries out relief work in countries suffering from humanitarian disasters, and has engaged in humanitarian projects in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. The relief organization has also earned Special Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Addressing the assembled dignitaries for this auspicious occasion, Ven. Dr. Vy Sovechea, shared some powerful words on the theme of service, hope, and gratitude:

Today is a very, very special day in the life of Preah Sihaknouk Raja Buddhist University, Battambang Branch (SBUBB).

It is a day of dedication and commitment. It is a day of hope and joy. It is a day of thanksgiving and gratitude. It is a day that says people can change; albeit, slowly, step by step, for the betterment of us all.

We are here to dedicate the opening of a dormitory that will provide a place of room and board, a space for friendship and companionship for 64 members of our school community. 

Ten years ago, only a quarter of SBUBB’s student body was women. By 2019, that number would increase to 42 per cent. Today, 71 per cent of the students attending SBUBB are women. The vast majority of them come from the countryside.

There are many reasons for the changing demographics of an institution, initially established in Phnom Penh in 1954, primarily for the education and formation of a Buddhist clergy.

Today, we celebrate that change by promoting the higher education of the young women in our midst.

Gender discrimination, prejudice, and a lack of equal opportunities for women go back as far as the time of the Lord Buddha (and before). We are still living out this collective karma, “this sad tradition’” in our lifetimes.

The ongoing development and progress of SBUBB, thus far, could not have happened without the wisdom, compassion, and generosity of many, those both near and afar.

We are both humbled and honored by the presence of one of the primary gift-givers being here with us today. The Most Venerable Master Pomnyun Sunim is the Founder of Jungto Society and Chairperson of the Join Together Society (JTS) of Korea. Ours is a friendship going back many years.

The most Venerable Sunim’s support extends far beyond the financial resources that JTS has most kindly and most generously made available to us; allowing us to complete the construction of this dormitory much sooner than originally planned.

Venerable Sunim’s life is one lived in the footsteps of the Buddha. His life is a practice through service. His is a wisdom preached to free the human spirit. His is a pilgrimage of life walked with the light step of simplicity and humility. His is a guiding light of what it means to be a true human being. We all bow to the Buddha in him with grateful hearts.

Now I would like to say a word to my dear younger sisters here, who will find a home in this dwelling place today and in years to come.

I, too, am a child of a family from the countryside. Born into war, growing up in poverty, becoming a monk as Buddhism offered me a pathway out of my suffering, indeed taught me how to live my life.

It was an educational opportunity not available to my own three blood sisters at that time.

Today, you are being given that opportunity. Take it! Seize the moment! Accept the challenge! Work hard! Assume the responsibility! Your family, our country, and our world so needs women of knowledge, women of wisdom, women who practice through service. So we, too, like the good people of JTS, may be of benefit in service to others, at home and abroad, in the days ahead.

With that, I, as President of Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University, Battambang Branch (SBUBB) do duly proclaim this 4 July 2024 to be “A Day of Hope” and a lifetime of gratitude for those who have made this hope possible.

Thank you all very, very much.

Ven. Dr. Vy Sovechea’s heartfelt words were warmly received by all those in attendance, who responded with rapturous applause. It was then the turn of Ven. Pomnyun Sunim to share his thoughts and insights on this special occasion:

The Chancellor of the Battambang Branch, Ven. Dr. Vy Sovechea, just gave a very touching speech. It was so moving that I have nothing to add!

May hope like today arise in your lives too!

I visited here last spring. Over the years, many monks from Southeast Asia have visited Korea through the INEB Study Tour and come to Jungto Society. I thought I should go and see for myself what they are doing where they live, so I visited various places in Southeast Asia last year. I visited the Royal University of Buddhism in Battambang because the Chancellor and other monks here had visited Jungto Society in Korea. While talking with the Chancellor, I heard that the number of female students enrolling is increasing, and that most of the female students come up from rural areas and live on their own, but living expenses are high, so a dormitory is urgently needed.

JTS is not an organization that supports higher education, but one that supports elementary education. The founding philosophy of JTS is that all children in this world should learn at the right time. Thirty years ago, I established JTS and have been active until now with the thought that if there is a place where children cannot receive education, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or country, I should consider it my business and provide educational opportunities.

But the Chancellor said that they had bought the land and now hoped to build a dormitory. I asked if the fundraising for the construction was complete. The Chancellor said they had only bought the land. He added that people donate to build temples, but they don’t donate well to build dormitories. I immediately understood because it’s the same in Korea. And the Chancellor said that even if people want to donate, they are reluctant to do so because they are not sure if the building will be completed. So I said, “JTS will build the first floor first, and when people see the building going up, won’t they donate?”

Also, it is still difficult for women in Southeast Asia to receive higher education. This is also for the benefit of women in Southeast Asia, so I readily agreed. This is how the construction started. JTS provided limited support, but the Chancellor has built a very good building. 

Above all, I thank all those who participated in this work with large and small donations. This building was not built with the support of just one person, but was built together from the combined efforts of many people.

I think the best way for you students to repay the kindness of all these people is to study diligently while living here. I hope this becomes an opportunity for hope like today to arise in your lives too. Once again, I thank the Chancellor and all those who have accomplished such a great thing with the small donation from JTS!

After another round of enthusiastic applause, SBUBB students expressed their gratitude for the new path to education that had been opened to them. This was followed by congratulatory speeches from the vice governor of Battambang, and the chancellor of the Royal University of Buddhism, who presented a plaque of appreciation to Ven. Pomnyun Sunim before the official ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the dormitory.

Writing in a commemorative book to mark the occasion, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim left the memorable inscription: “I hope this women’s dormitory will greatly help improve women’s rights, and I hope that all will take refuge in the Dharma and attain enlightenment.”

Ven. Pomnyun Sunim is a widely revered Korean Dharma teacher, author, and social activist. He has founded numerous organizations, initiatives, and projects across the world, among them: JTS Korea, an international humanitarian relief organization working to eradicate poverty and hunger; Jungto Society, a volunteer-based community founded on the Buddha’s teachings and dedicated to addressing modern social issues that lead to suffering; Ecobuddha, an organization focused on environmental ethics and sustainable living based on the teachings of the Buddha; and Good Friends, which promotes reconciliation and cooperation between the North and South Korea, and provides humanitarian aid to North Koreans. Ven. Pomnyun Sunim also works closely with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB).

In October 2020, the Niwano Peace Foundation in Japan presented the 37th Niwano Peace Prize to Ven. Pomnyun Sunim in recognition of his international humanitarian work, intensive environmental and social activism, and his tireless efforts to build trust and goodwill between communities of different faiths and cultures, toward the goal of world peace.*

Buddhist Monk Ven. Pomnyun Sunim Awarded the 37th Niwano Peace Prize (BDG)

See more

Jungto Society
JTS Korea
JTS America
Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University
Vy Sovechea (Facebook)
International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB)

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Engaged Buddhism: JTS Korea Distributes Emergency Flood Relief in Cambodia
Buddhist Monks, Volunteers Offer Relief Amid Floods, Pandemic Risk in Cambodia

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