Spiritual Blessings to the People
Keeping with the traditions of Theravada Buddhism, most Cambodian men spend some time during the course of their lifetime as a monk. From the age of 16 a boy is considered ready although much younger boys can also join the monk-hood.
I witnessed a mass ordainment of about 500 monks in Siem Reap in May 2014. The Head Monk of the beautiful pagoda Wat Damnak and Harvard educated Venerable Somnieng, wanted to revive Cambodian traditional cultural practices. He said it was time to infuse life and soul back into the country which has lost a whole generation of its people during the Khmer Rouge era. He also wished to include the many foreigners who come to Temple Town as Siem Reap is also called to visit the famous temples of Angkor Wat, to be a part of the the spiritual ceremony.
Candles and lanterns were lit along the streets where all of us bystanders had lined up on the route that the largest ever procession of monks walked through. It was a hypnotic sight to see a slow flowing river of saffron orange. The monks were as young as the age of 5 to perhaps 65 and I remember being surprised at the age range. I tried to study their faces to gauge what they might be thinking about their new ascetic life. At the end after we had all completed a silent meditation together, I noticed many of the younger monks using their smartphones to take selfies.
The Venerable Somnieng wanted to take the 'spiritual blessings to the people'.
I consider myself truly blessed to have been able to live in Cambodia. I am so very grateful to my mother for convincing me when I was getting cold feet that it's an adventure I needed to embark on. It was to be a 3 month stint which turned into 3 years.
I'm thankful for the warmth, humour and gentle nature of the Cambodian people. From the very first day I arrived, I had kids cycling up next to me to say hello or young adults thanking me for being a volunteer adding to the development of their country.
I've thought many times over these past years about the vagaries of life for the citizens of an impoverished or developing country. Their dreams can, in the absence of exceptional good fortune, stay simply that. A vision rather than reality. People with the desire, the ambition or talent don't necessarily get the chance to fulfil their potential. A Cambodian person couldn't just show up in Australia and with ease get a visa, a job and be highly regarded and rewarded, live comfortably and beyond what locals have access to, afford to travel and be enveloped into the warmth of many accepting friendships despite vast cultural differences.
Yet for me the opposite is true. Having an Australian passport means that I can do all this and more. I can create, dream, convert into reality anything that I envisage. The limitations if any are of my own making. I wanted to change countries and have a more rewarding cultural and professional life. I was able to achieve it.
In the past 3 years I have been privileged to step into a wonderful world first in Siem Reap and later in Phnom Penh that's offered me a wide range of local and international ideas, has been full of exploratory conversations, showered me with the abundance of love, laughter, delicious shared meals, diverse landscapes and travel.
I have felt consistently, meaningfully and soulfully connected to others around me and felt so buoyant and optimistic that I'm sure I've doubled in size on the inside. I have been through personal growth that's been transformational.
Thank you Cambodia with all my heart.
Blessed am I.