Did you know that karma is technically pronounced like the word comma? I had no idea of this until we were talking about karma with one of our friends. Phanet laughed at me when I said I thought it was karma (car-muh); he said “when it’s an English word then you can correct me, but it’s not so say it right”, ha! Well, ok then!
Regardless of how it’s pronounced, I’ve been learning a lot about the Cambodian culture and how the belief of karma influences it. It’s actually very confusing to me, but I’m trying my best to understand. Cambodia is a nation that is deeply religious and traditional, meaning that even if Cambodians don’t technically believe or follow Buddha wholeheartedly, most still refer to themselves as Buddhist and partake in the rituals because it’s the basis of the culture. I’m sure that our Cambodian friends here are tired of me asking questions about all of the statues, because I truly long to understand this nation that has such deeply entrenched religious rituals.
On any given day, you will see people lighting incense and offering gifts to alters. You will walk into a business and see alters, ride in a tuk tuk that has flowers hanging that are blessed by monks, and even buy a smoothie from a cart that has a tiny buddha and incense offering. To my understanding, incense is burnt as a way to honor Buddha and to burn the negative qualities and thoughts away; the aroma from the incense is then said to increase positivity in the atmosphere around the offering. Buddhists believe that suffering stems from desiring and longing after things that are earthly, so living in the current moment is the best because desires and dreams for the future are not necessarily a good thing. Suffering (desire and ambition) must be eliminated in order to become enlightened.
I’m currently reading a short book called The Lotus and The Cross; it’s a book about Jesus and Buddha having a conversation with a woman that has sinned tremendously. Buddha says he can’t help her because she has brought punishment on herself due to her actions, and Jesus offers grace and restoration. I saw this play out when we visited the K-TV last week. One of our friends and translators began to describe that Jesus could cleanse sins and take away punishment; the women we were sitting with couldn’t comprehend this, because they have been taught that karma is what happens in life. If you do bad then you receive bad, and if you do good then you receive good. The karma that you have accumulated in past lives and this life, determines your next lot in life. Hard to wrap your mind around, isn’t it? It’s definitely made me re-think throwing around the word “karma” or “what goes around comes around” as a saying.
I’m still learning and hope to gain a better understanding; at this point, I’ve known that there are alters, incense, monks, and pagodas, but did not know the reasoning or belief behind all of those things. I think it’s essential to understand the core of a culture, which is why I’m trying to learn more.
Here are some pictures of the statues around the country. I only took two of them personally, the others are from the Internet simply because it’s a little hard to pull over on a tuk tuk or moto to take a picture. I’m posting these so you are able to understand the spiritual climate in which we are living. There is currently a Buddhist holiday happening; rice is thrown to the spirits of ancestors so they do not come back to haunt them and people also go back to their home village to celebrate. Still learning more about this also. If you have any insight into any of this, or I’m wrong about something, feel free to tell me because I’m genuinely seeking out what all of these things mean so I know how to best have conversations.
(This is outside of a hotel; the snakes represent protection of buddha’s head while he meditated)
(This is on the ground level of our apartment complex; business owners believe it will bring blessing)