Buddhist excommunication


bbbb Cambodian monks refusing alms outside the Justice Ministry in Phnom Penh, December 2014. (Siv Channa, Cambodia Daily, 19 December 2014)

It’s called patam nikkujjana kamma, literally “overturning the bowl”. It signifies that the monks will not accept alms – in this case, from the officials of the Ministry of Justice, which had imprisoned activists and monks. It’s the Buddhist version of excommunication.

I suppose it can be used against individuals and ordinary people, but I’ve only ever heard of governments being excommunicated. The consequences can be dire, on both sides. The excommunicated one (in this case the Minister of Justice was being specifically targeted) is denied the chance to earn merit, which means that his chances in the next life are substantially reduced, and his “luck” in this will quickly turn from good to bad.

The monks are taking a risk with upturning their bowls. The Cambodian government has sent monks to jail for it, and the Burmese military shot monks in 2007 when they refused to accept alms from the families of government officials, soldiers and senior members of the military junta.


Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images – from Will Reforms End Myanmar Monks’ Spiritual Strike? by Anthony Kuhn, NPR, June 29, 2012.

In the absence of democracy, the monkhood represents the only organised opposition to government, and its ultimate sanction is excommunication.

Vox pop and expat life


The Telegraph, 2 September 2015 – Paul Ferber and confiscated illegal fishing gear about to be destroyed

The comments!


…the comments!

Former British policeman is battling to save Cambodia’s coastline

(Hope the link works now)

Monks behaving badly


Phnom Penh Post photo

“Monks Behaving Badly” is the title of this article from the Post. It’s a general investigation of the state of monkish morals, and what happens when monks go bad. It says (or rather, an interviewee says) that Cambodians respect the robe rather than the person wearing it. True not only in Cambodia but throughout Southeast Asia so far as I know. The robe is the token of a decision to earn merit, it doesn’t imply that the owner is a man of merit.

It mentions a recent case of four monks arrested for drinking and dancing with girls in a karaoke bar. That infringes two cardinal rules, maybe three – against drink, music, and touching women (I’m assuming they were touching). The penalty as laid down in the rules of the monkhood is disrobing (getting tossed pout of the monastery). It then discusses the question of who can discipline monks, and especially whether the police can disrobe them. The official answer is no, the unofficial answer is yes. It comes down to what type of offense the monk has committed – if it’s a moral one, the abbot disrobes him. The police can investigate monks who break criminal laws, like this monk who raped a British tourist (the article is a catalog  of monks raping women and girls, many of them foreigners). Officially the abbot does the disrobing, but it seems to be the police. In real life there’s a huge grey area involving monks who get into social activism – here’s an article from the Cambodia Daily about some monks who were arrested and defrocked for carrying a flag – a political offense, not a moral one.

The Playground

The PlaygroundABOUT

Kindle single, $1.99. (Kindle Singles are short pieces of non-fiction – journalism, really, the kind that used to appear in the better newspapers way back and then went out of fashion for some reason).

The author is Terrence McCoy – “Terrence M. McCoy is the Gordon Grey Fellow of International Journalism at Columbia University. He contributes frequently to the Atlantic, Washington Monthly, and Salon, and is currently a staff writer for Village Voice Media at the New Times in Miami. He served in the United States Peace Corps in Cambodia between 2009 and 2011.” And speaks Khmer. See also a good You Tube video here. And while we’re not quite on the subject, I dare you to read this and not feel afraid.


We’ve heard of China’s buying sprees. That it’s plowed billions of dollars into some of the poorest nations in the world. But the story we don’t know is what this money means for the people there. In Cambodia, the cost has been devastating. More than 700,000 people have lost their homes — others their lives — while China buys the former killing fields for resorts, hotels, and exclusive residences. And as this country of genocide descends into another era of chaos and violence, some whisper it’s the second coming of Pol Pot. 
But one woman has fought back. In this fast-paced narrative, Terrence McCoy follows Vanny Tep’s quest to save Cambodia from China’s money. Leading a small, fiery group of women, Vanny has sparked a grassroots movement from one of the most daunting slums in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Her battles are against the Cambodian government, Chinese companies, and a male-dominated society. Powerful and profound, “The Playground” takes us across Cambodia to discover the true meaning of a global Chinatown.


Let me say up front that I found the author’s style a bit irritating at first. It’s self-consciously Fine Writing in that way they teach in journalism schools – “Cicadas called rae buzzed like thousands of pencil sharpeners…” Wouldn’t “cicadas buzzed like pencil sharpeners” have done?

But McCoy has a good story to tell. In the first few pages he’s off to visit a remote coastal settlement in Koh Kong called, informally, China Town. Why China Town? The road – the dirt track – to China Town is guarded by the Cambodian army: why are the soldiers here instead of pointing their AKs at the Thais or the Vietnamese on the borders? And why is McCoy’s moto driver passing him off as a French tourist?

There’s a beach. There are Chinese engineers. There are five star hotels under construction, golf courses and villas and tourists in the offing, the smell of money in the air. And poverty and land-grabbing and the threat of violence. Terminal violence, the kind that leaves no traces.

My advice to Mr McCoy, at this point, is to read more Hemingway. When you have a story that sells itself, you don’t have to spice it up with adjectives.

There’s a longish section dealing with the general picture of the Chinese presence in Southeast Asia, and it comes down to this: China outspends America and asks no questions and attaches no strings. Even Australia, though it hosts US bases, knows that China is its largest trading partner. And though everyone can see this elephant, nobody knows quite how big it is or what it plans to do next. And while China attaches no conditions to its investment in terms of human rights, there are very definite expectations of what the recipients will do when required.

The hero of this story is Vanny Tep, once a fashion model, now a political activist. I won’t tell any more, as The Playground is pretty short anyway.


Highly recommended, despite the chasing after style. This is one of the major social evils of Cambodia today, and the more light it sees, the better.