Buddhism’s impacts in Cambodian ethics

“Environmental ethics addresses how man ought to live in harmony with his environment”. Buddhism’s understanding of nature actually shares common beliefs in recognizing nature. With a long history coexistence of this country and Buddhism, Cambodian daily life must traditionally convey their bonding with the environment as sacred and ethical dimensions in certain ways. Stone carvings in the ancient temples and inscriptions prove the Cambodian regard towards the nature as their mother. However, due to the recent rapid population growth leading to increasing need and greed, they are losing their perspectives by using extensively natural resources, especially timber, rubber, and fish.

Theravada buddhism, which is not affected by Hindu rituals or the divinity of kings, is the current form in Cambodia. Phorst’s study has pointed out three essential views of Buddhist perspectives:

Buddhist believe that human beings should learn the lesson of a bee collecting pollen from a flower. Monkhood teaches “Four Habitual Practices” that are worth applying into environmental conservation and preservation: “to wander around for alms; to wear simple, used clothes; to live at the bases of trees; and to use natural medicines”. Their ethics oppose the notion of unlimited desires and the concepts of materialism and consumerism.

Buddhist sanctify trees and regards the preservation of forest through rituals like tree ordination as a way to purify their minds. Their gratitude towards the plant world can be expressed by their method of protecting trees: “wrapping a saffron robe around the trunks to signify the sacredness of all trees.

According to Buddha, all beings have their values and should be relieved from fear and pain. There is no hierarchy order that diminishes animal rights.

With 95% of population following the faith of Buddhism, Cambodia can sustain their wealth accumulation to bring its citizens out of poverty as well as protect the environment if they are conductive to Buddhist beliefs. There is hope to develop potential strategies for sustainable development in this cultural-rich country.

Chandler, D. P. (1991). The land and people of Cambodia. HarperCollins Publishers.
Phorst, C. (2012). An Implementation of Buddhist Environmental Ethics for Sustainable Development in Cambodia. Prajna Vihara, 13(1-2).


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