KHMER BUDDHIST HISTORY: A NOTEBOOK
Buddhism, under a variety of forms, existed in Southeast Asia for two thousand years or perhaps even longer. Buddhist legends say that Buddhism was originally introduced into Suvannabhumi, or the “Golden Peninsula”, by King Asoka, the great Buddhist Emperor in India, during the 3rd century BC.
For the first Thousand years, Theravada, Saravastavada and
Mahayana Buddhism co-existed throughout Southeast Asia, including the lands
of present day Cambodia. These Buddhist traditions were practiced under
the dominant Hindu religion of the region, which consisted primarily in
the worship of the God-king, Shiva, embodied in the human king. Saravastavada
Buddhism was Hinayana tradition, virtually identical with the present day
Theravada, except it was based in a Sanskrit literary tradition, rather
that Pali language tradition. The doctrinal teachings and the monastic practices
were the same as Theravada. Theravada Buddhism was present also, evidence
by Pali inscriptions from this period. Saravastavada Buddhism was the predominant
form of Buddhism in Southeast Asia from the earliest days until Mahayana
Buddhism became ascendant with the rise of the Angkor Empire from about
800 – 1200.
Mahayana Buddhism became increasingly influential until it eventually replaced Hinduism as the official state religion under King Jayavarman VII.
At the height of the Angkor Empire, after the death of King Jayavarman VII, a “Theravada Revolution” occurred, and Theravada Buddhism became ascendant as the official state religion, which it has remained for past 800 years. Buddhism coexisted with the predominant Hindu Shiva worship for about one thousand years, until Buddhist religion became officially established about one thousand years ago, first with the establishment of Mahayana Buddhism of King Jayavarman VII, and then the ascendancy of Theravada Buddhism.
Buddhism, according to legend, came to Southeast Asia as early as 300B.C. by way of missionaries dispatched by the renowned Indian Emperor Ashoka.
“Unconfirmed Singhalese sources state that Buddhism was introduced to Suvannabhumi, or the ‘Golden Peninsula’, as mainland Southeast Asia was once referred to, in the 3rd century BCE under the reign of King Asoka, the great Buddhist ruler. According to these sources, two monks, Sona and Uttara, were sent to propagate the doctrine of the Master in this region following the great council of 247BCE held in Ashoka’s capital Patalipitta, India. While this mission may be legendary, it points to a truth that Buddhism ahs been present in Southeast Asia for a long time. Various Buddhist sects and schools, including Tantrism, vied or coexisted with a dominant Brahmanism and indigenous animistic faiths for centuries before the rise of the classical Southeast Asian empires beginning in the 9th century CE. Through in part Indian merchant traders, Indian cultural influence was pervasive in this early period. In Funan (1st to 5th century CE), the first organized Khmer polity, the Khmer people embraced not only the diverse Brahmanic and Buddhist religions but also the social customs and mores of India.” [“Notes of the Rebirth of Khmer Buddhism” Radical Conservativism,]
FUNAN: 100 BC – 500 AD
Certainly there were Buddhists in Cambodia by 100BC.
In the 100BC-500AD the Kingdom of Funan in the present-day Mekong Delta established a flourishing sea-faring trade between China, Indonesia, and India. Hindu, principally Vishnu and Shiva religious practices were established in Funan.
An Indian Sanskrit inscription from 375 documents that an Indian claming descent from Scynthian line ruled as King of Funan. “He may have been responsible for establishing the worship of Surya, the sun god, who appears in many sculptures of this period. A second Indian, a Brahmin, succeeded him. Then other kings with Indian names appear in the inscription. One, Kuandinya Jayavarman (478-514) cultivated Buddhism, and sent a Buddhist mission complete with Funanese images [carved in coral] to the Emperor of China…” [The Art of Southeast Asia, Philip Dawson, p21]
[“Another early dated inscription of Kamboja (586-664) the Wat Prey Vier Sanskrit inscription is also definitely a Buddhist record, speaking of two Bhikkhus, Ratnabhanu and Ratnasimha, who were born of the same mother. That in Kamboja, Buddhism flourished already in the last half of the fifth century AD is also attested to by Chinese texts which have yielded to M Pelliot the important information that in 484 AD Jayavarman (king of Founan, who is also referred to in the inscription discovered at Ta Prom, cited above) sent the Indian monk Nagasena to present a memorial in the Chinese Imperial court which began with a panegyric of the Emperor a one of the patrons of Buddhism, in whose empire the Dharma flourished.” [Sanskrit Buddhism in Burma, Nihar-Ranjan Ray, 1936.]
Buddhism was clearly beginning to assert itself from year 450 onward, when the Chinese explorer I-tsing, toward the close of the 7th century, wrote the celebrated Records of the Buddhist Religion, based on extensive travels in India, Sri Lanka, the Indonesian archipelago, “he found that the islands of Southeast Asia, the Mulasarvastivada-nikaya had been universally accepted, except in Malaya where there were a few being Mahayana.” [Sanskrit Buddhism in Burma, Nihar-Ranjan Ray, 1936]
There was some interaction between Funan and Indonesia and
India during these early centuries. As Funan declined in influence around
500AD, the southeast coast of Sumatra gained importance as a sea route from
China to Indonesia and India, the central power between Java, Malaysia,
and Chaya in southern Thailand.
CHENLA: 500 – 700 AD
In the year 500-700, a proto-Khmer civilization was established in Chenla near the Mekong and Sap rivers. These people spoke Mon and worshiped Shiva. The Mon-Khmer languages are connected.
The Mon people were known as Dvaravati, and were established in Central and northeast Thailand [Muang Fa Daet] and in Chang Mai. The Mon Dvaravati had embraced Theravada Buddhism from the earliest times. Many inscriptions from this early strata of Theravada Buddhism have been recovered from the ruins of the towns.
Buddhas seated in the European style, known as Palai Buddhas, have been found throughout the Dvaravati areas. Also sima stones and clay votive tablets bearing images of Buddha and inscribed in Pali and Mon script have been found widely distributed throughout the Angkor Empire, in present day Thailand, Laos, southern Vietnam.
“According to Ma Touan-Lin, a 13th century Chinese chronicler, there were ten monasteries of Buddhist monks and nuns studying the sacred texts in the 4th and 5th centuries CE [in Funan/Chenla – Cambodia]. He stated that two monks from Funan traveled to China in this period at the request of the Chinese emperor, to translate the Sanskrit Tipitika into Chinese. A passage from the History of Leang, a Chinese chronicle written in 502-556 CE, tells us that King Rudravarman sent a mission of monks to China in 535 under the direction of an Indian monk, Gunaratana. The delegation arrived in China in 546 CE, accompanied by 240 palm leaf manuscripts of Mahayana Buddhist texts. Evidence of a cult of Buddha’s relics was seen in Rudravarman’s request of the Chinese emperor for a 12 foot long relic of Buddha’s hair.” [“Notes of the Rebirth of Khmer Buddhism”, Radical Conservativism]
“Although weakened in the Chenla period, Buddhism of the Mahayana tradition survived as seen in the inscription of Sambor Prei Kuk (626CE) and those of Siem Reap dealing, for example, with the erection of a statue of Avalikotesvara (791CE). Some pre-Angkorean statuary in lower Kampuchea and Kampuchea Krom attests to the existence of Sanskrit-based Theravada Buddhism. Additionally, fragments of Pali inscriptions dating from the 5th to 7th centuries have been discovered in the lower Burmese Mon region (Prome, or Crikshetra) and most recently in Prachinburi, Thailand (Dong Si Mahapot).”
Abundant evidence exists indicating the establishment of Buddhism in Chenla during these centuries. Khmer-style Buddhas and Buddhist images are abundant from this period. Mahayana Buddhism had developed doctrines in which transcendent personages (bodhisattvas) played a major part. The bodhisattvas were living Buddhas, or people who were qualified for enlightenment but out of universal compassion decided to remain in the world to help other people escape from suffering. The bodhisattva’s spiritual states enabled them to perform all kinds of miracles, and more at will throughout the universe. The presence in Chenla of images of the bodhisattva alongside the images of Hindu deities suggests that these were more than one dynasty in the country with claims to royal sovereignty, in a situation also known in India. Some of these kings were Buddhist. In Khmer times the cult of Lokeshvara attained great importance. The bodhisattva images of Lokeshvara of Chenla existed both in stone and bronze. Their hair is done up in a carefully arranged chignon of rope-like locks, reminiscent of the long hair of Shiva images. At the front of the chignon is a small seated figure of the Buddha who is the bodhisattva’s spiritual authority.
Many Buddhist statues from 500 on were created in Cambodia.
These indigenous Khmer images included both sitting Buddhas, and the standing
with bent leg walking-Buddha. “There is one Buddha head, supposed
to be the earliest, from Ran lok which is often said to recall the style
of 3rd century Buddhas of Amarvati, on India’s Southeast coast. It
is this resemblance which authorizes the assumption of its early date. There
is indeed resemblance; but there are also marked differences. For this Ran
lok head is a distinctively Cambodian work, with the marks of the sophisticated
Cambodian style.” [The Art of Southeast Asia, Philip Rawson]
“A number of inscriptions and temple foundations are ascribed to King Bhavavarman III who ruled before 639 to after 656. It seems that, although the King’s patron deity was probably Shiva, the religion of Mahayana Buddhism suddenly spread in the kingdom. A number of Mahayana images were made in a distinctive style, which was centered in Prei Kmeng, and was probably contemporary with that of Sombor, continuing during the Prasat Andet and Kampong Preah epoch. The most characteristic images of this Mahayana group are the bodhisattva and images of one type of Bodhisattva in particular, known as Lokeshvara, “Lord of the World.” It is more than likely that such images represented a Buddhist form of royal pattern. When a Hindu king would derive his royal authority form a Hindu deity, a king who was Buddhist would find it difficult to derive similar authority from the Buddha himself, who was a humble mendicant.” [The Art of Southeast Asia, Philip Rawson]
One of the earliest inscriptions of the ancient kingdom of Founan discovered at the monument of Ta Prohm in the province of Bali, dated about 625, states, among other things, that Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are in a flourishing condition; “and through the purpose of the inscription is not clear it can be surmised that it recorded the foundation of a Buddhist monastery. This inscription studied along with other early inscriptions of Kamboja, particularly with the Visnuite inscription of Prince Gunavarman, found among the ruins of the monuments of Prasat Pram Loven on the hill of Thap-musi, reveals the interesting fact that in contemporary Kamboja as in Borneo, Brahmanism and Buddhism existed side by side.”
The transition from Hindu god-king to Mahayana Buddha-king was probably imperceptible gradual and imperceptible. The cult of Shiva and Vishnu gradually blended and morphed into the cult of the Bodhisattva. The prevailing cult of Bhahmanism was Vishnu. Shivism was the dominant form of Hinduism in Angkor in the earlier period of the 9th and 10th centuries. Vishnuism became dominant in the 11th century. The image of Buddha of Tuol Prah Theat, standing straight legged, Khmer art, imitates the dignity of a Hindu god. This indicates the blending of Buddhist and Hindu imagery prevalent in Cambodia at this time.
What caused the ascendancy of Mahayana Buddhism throughout Southeast Asia at this time? I think it was the ascendancy of the Silendra dynasty, which arose to power in central Java. These may have been Khmer royalty who escaped the Funan Empire as it disintegrated. Both Funan and Silendra are known as “kings of the mountain”. These are the folks who built Borbudur in central Java in the 8th and 9th centuries. In other words, the Khmer royalty of Chenla may have migrated to Sumatra as their kingdoms disintegrated, bringing with them the Hindu-influenced Mahayana Buddhist world view. Mahayana Buddhism was greatly enhanced and intensified in the Silendra dynasty, which had close ties to the Mahayana Buddhist Pala Dynasty of Bengal. Both the Pala and Silendra dynasties were greatly influenced by the Mahayana Buddhist learning, Nalanda University, the vortex of Buddhist learning at the time. The Nalanda University in northern India radiated enormous influence throughout the world, under the patronage of the Pala kings.
“The Bengal University of Nalanda in Megadha (now
Behar) was the theological center of Mahayana Buddhism under the protection
of the Pala Dynasty [750-1060]. Shivaist (specifically Pashupata) interpretations
of Buddhism, tinged with Tantrik mysticism (that may have revived portions
of pre-Aryan northeastern Indian cults) were worked out in Megadha and then
were exported throughout insular and peninsular Southeast Asia, particularly
to Java. Yashovarman I, who ruled form the vicinity of Roluous in the late
ninth century, seems to have been a Shivaist Buddhist influenced by Nalanda
syncretism. His successors (notably Jayavarman IV) dedicated themselves
to Vishnu and Brahma, as well as to Shiva, with whom they continued to be
identified by hereditary families of priests. Rajendravarman II studied
Buddhism intensely.” [Angkor Life, Stephen O Murray]
Srivijaya, capital of Sumatra, became an empire of neighboring
islands in the Malayasian-Indonesian archipelago around 675-700. The inscriptions
from this time document that Mahayana Buddhism was emerging as a dominant
social force. By 750 Srivijaya extended its influence to Java and other
surrounding islands. An inscription here in Java records the erection of
three brick temples dedicated to Sakyamuni Buddha, Padmapani and Vajrapani
in 775. The earliest inscription from Java is also a Mahayana Sanskrit document,
the Kalasan inscription dated 778, which records a dedication of a temple
to Tara, by the king of Srivijaya. This temple of Kalsan still stands today
near the Barabudur.
A Sailendra dynasty copper-plate inscription from 875-900 says Balaputradeva of the Sailendra dynasty granted some villages for the upkeep of Nalanda University, revealing the devotion of the Mahayana Buddhist kings. The Sailendra dynasty also built the fantastic Mahayana Buddhist temple Barabudur in Java about this same time. This may have been the inspiration for the later fabulous Angkor building projects in Cambodia. The celebrated Bengali Buddhist monk, Atisha (980-1053) visited the city of Srivijaya, the capital of the Sailendra dynasty Sumatra, center of Mahayana Buddhism. The zeal of the Silendra’s for Mahayana Buddhism of Nalanda radiated its influence throughout the neighboring countries. This influence apparently spread at least until the eleventh centuries, explaining Jayavarman VII’s embrace of this form of Mahayana Buddhism, and launching the tremendous building projects of Angkor, in imitation of the tremendous efforts of Barabudur.
This rising Mahayana influence eclipsed the other Hinayana (Theravada and Saravastavada) forms of Buddhism that had flourished in Southeast Asia for the past 800 years. This new, intensified, robust Mahayana Buddhism was then reintroduced into Cambodia, with the rise of the Angkor Empire, under the patronage of the Silendra Dynasty of Java, who was probably themselves Khmer. Theravada Buddhism continued to exist throughout Cambodia and Southeast Asia, primarily as a forest tradition, practiced by hermits and anchorites in rural settings.
In Cambodia, an inscription from 782 refers to the dedication
of a temple to Bodhisattva Manjusre (Manjugosa).
Images of Maitreya are also found.
King Jayavarman II (802-869) is the first real Khmer king of the Angkor Empire. He proclaimed himself God-king and began to establish the capital of Angkor (Rolous) near present day Angkor. Jayavarman, as a young man had visited Java-Sumatra and for some years lived and studied in the Mahayana Buddhist empire. He returned to Cambodia to proclaim himself god king (devaraja), according to Khmer traditions, clearly identifying himself with Shiva. Even though he maintained the ancient Hindu traditions of Cambodia, he was increasingly friendly to Mahayana Buddhist influence.
In Indian Cultural Influences in Cambodia, B R Chatterji
said that the Sailendras of Srivijaya-Sumatra, towards the end of the eight
and the beginning to the ninth centuries, exercised some sort of suzerainty
over Cambodia as a vassal state.
When King Jayavarman II returned in Cambodia, he built three capitals in secession: Hariharalaya, Amarendrapura, and Mahendraparvata. Amarendrapura, identified with Banteai Chmar, has been found to be essentially a Mahayana city presided over by Avalokitesvara.
“The founder of Angkor-period dynasty, Jayavarman II had spent many years in the ardently Mahayana Buddhist kingdom Zabeg (the Arab name for a Kingdom of the Southern Sea, including Java, Sumatra, and much of the Malay peninsula). In the late-eighth century a Zabeg maharaj had sent a fleet for the head of a young Khmer (Zhenla) king who had rashly spoken of wishing the Zabeg maharaj decapitated. It is unclear whether Jayavarman II was in Java at the time, or soon there after the Zabeg maharaj had demonstrated his greater claim to being divinely powerful ( and just: he did not despoil the kingdom but had its kings’ head removed, embalmed, and returned to Zenla for the new king to remember). It is fairly certain that the Zabeg maharaj approved the Khmer council’s choice of a new king. It is also fairly certain that Jayavarman II moved inland at least partly form knowing how easily the Zabeg fleet had captured the Zhenla capital and taken away his predecessors head.”
“Jayavarman II had a Brahman priest consecrate his miraculous lingam on the highest mountain-top of Phnom Kulen (northeast of Angkor) as Prameshvara .ie the Supreme Lord, and ratify his capital as being Mahendra, the appropriate place for Shiva to reside. In turn, Jayavarman II made the family of Sivakaivalya the perpetual hereditary chief priest and royal chaplain….” [Angkor Life, Stephen O Murray]
The priests were court functionaries who helped chose and approve the new king. A new king would seek the approbation of the priests to divinize and legitimize his reign. The Theravada Sangha serves a similar purpose in Thailand, and modern Cambodia.
Tantra in Cambodia
This form of Buddhism was similar to Tibetan Buddhism of the Buddhist monks of Magadha and Bengal during the Pala dynasty:
“…the prevalence of Tantrayana in Java, Sumatra and Kamboja, a fact now definitely established by modern researches into the character of Mahayana Buddhism and Sivaism in these parts of the Indian Orient. Already in Kamboja inscription of the ninth century there is definite evidence of the teaching of Tantric texts at the court of Jayavarman II. In a Kamboja record of the 11th century there is a reference to the “Tantras of the Paramis”; and images of Hevajra, definitely a tantric divinity, have been recovered form amidst the ruins of Angkor Thom. [A Hevajra image was also found in Sumatra]. A number of Kamboja inscriptions refer to several kings who were initiated into the Great Secret (Vrah Guhya) by their Brahmanical gurus; the Saiva records make obvious records to Tantric doctrines that had crept into Sivaism.”
“But it was in Java and Sumatra that Tantrayana seems to have attained greater importance. There Mahayana Buddhism and the cult of Siva, both deeply imbued with tantric influences, are to be seen often blending with one another during this period. The Sang hyang Kamahayanikan, consisting of Sanskrit versus explained by an Old Javanese commentary, professed to teach the Mahayana and Mantrayana….”
Tantrayana blended Sivaism with Mahayana Buddhism. According to Nepalese accounts from this period, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are emanations of the Dhyani-Buddha Vairocana. The Kawa poem, the Nagarakretagama show that Kretanagara, the ruler of Singasari, was given to tantric practices: “A statue of this king has been found in a cremation ground which is a certain proof of his profession of Tantric doctrine; [it states that the king] had gone through the ten ceremonies of purification and the eight processes of initiation and that the carried out with scrupulous care the five makaras ‘free from all sensuality.’ The inscription engraved on the pedestal of his statue in the robes of a monk records that after his initiation on the cremation ground, he was supposed to be identified with Akshobya….”
The presence and influence of Buddhism continued to grow under successive kings. In 877-889, Indravarman I creates a unified Khmer Empire and begins the great irrigation systems that gave rise to the authentic Angkor Empire.
In 889-910, King Yosavarman succeeded Indravarman I and reigned for about ten years. He built several temples according to Mahayana Buddhist specifications, representing Mount Meru, the mythical Buddhist axis of the world. The largest of these temples is Phnom Kandal or “Central Mountain” which lies near the heart of the Angkor complex. He also built temples to Shiva, Vishnu and Buddha. Buddhism was having significant and growing influence at this time.
King Rajendravarman II (944-968) “studied Buddhism intensely. Although he decided to remain a Shivaist, he appointed a Buddhist, Kavindrarimathana, chief minister. Kavindrarimathana built shrines to Buddha and Shiva. Jayavarman V (son of Rajendravarman) also remained a devotee of Shiva. He, too, permitted his own chief minister, Kirtipandita, to foster Mahayana Buddhist learning and divination.” [Angkor Life, Stephen O Murray]
King Jayavarman V (968-1001), was a Shivast, but very strong patron of Buddhism, which exerted increasing influence on the royal court of Angkor.
Surayvarman I (1002-1050), the next successor after Jayavarman V, was a patron of Buddhism. His is probably the most outstanding Buddhist King except only Jayavarman VII.
King Surayvarman I was a Tamil-Malay (Srivijaya) “usurper”
to the throne, who claimed legitimate succession to the throne through his
Khmer mother. His father was king of the Buddhist kingdom of Tambralingam
on the Malay peninsula. He publicly venerated Shiva or Rama, but was officially
a Mahayana Buddhist king.
A strong proponent of Mahayana Buddhism, he nevertheless did not interfere with the growing prominence and dissemination of Theravada Buddhism during his reign. “Indeed, inscriptions indicate he sought wisdom from wise Mahayanists and Hinayanists and at least somewhat disestablished the Sivakaivalya family’s hereditary claims to being chief priests (purohitar). Suryavarman’s posthumous title of Nirvanapada, ‘the king who has gone to Nirvana’ is the strongest (though not incontrovertible) evidence that he was a Buddhist.” [Angkor Life, Stephen Murray]
King Udayadityavarman II (1050-1065), was the successor to Suryvarman I. Udayadityavarman II “restored Shivaism (and especially how own Shiva-lingam of gold in the Baphuon) though he did not restore the Brahmin priests, the Sivakivalya clan, as the court chaplains.
King Dharanindravarman II (1152—1160), appears to be a devout Buddhist King. He was father of the greatest of all Khmer Buddhist kings, Jayavarman VII.
In 1177, the Chams sacked Angkor, creating a sense of trauma and crisis throughout the Angkor Empire by attacking and looting the capital.
King Jayavarman VII (1181-1219), ascends to the throne in the sense of crisis that had descended on the Khmer empire. Jayavarman VII studied the doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism, rather than Theravada. His Mahayana faith was the source of his attempt to be a Dharma-king, a bodhisattva, through service and merit making, to liberate himself and his kingdom. Why did he officially establish himself as a Buddhist king, turning his back on the old Hindu deities? Perhaps he and his people had become disillusioned with the Hindu gods, because of their failure to protect the Angkor Empire from being sacked by their enemies, the Cham. Jayavarman VII may have rejected Hinduism because the Cham sacked Angkor, and he may have thought that Shiva failed the Khmer people. The Cham themselves were Hindu, and he may have felt an instinctive revulsion or disgust for the religion of his enemies. He had practiced Buddhism for a long time, and naturally began to accentuate the Mahayana Buddhist aspect of the tantric god-king religion that had long held sway in Khmer dynasties. He withdrew his devotion from the old gods, and began to identify more openly with the Buddhist traditions. His regime marked a clear dividing line with the Hindu past.
Before 1200, art in the temples mostly portrayed scenes from the Hindu pantheon such as Vishnu reclining on a lotus leaf, or the churning of the primeval sea of milk of primal creation. After 1200, scenes from the Buddhist Jatakas, and life of the Buddha, along with scenes of the Ramayana began to appear as standard motif.
Jayavarman VII was elderly, perhaps 60, when he became king. He worked feverishly to accomplish his works in saving the Khmer people and establishing a Buddhist empire, in a race against time.
Jayavarman VII was a “bodhisattva king,” a Buddha-king, something like the Dalai Lama. “He was considered to be a living Buddha, or bodhisattva, turning back from the brink of enlightenment to redeem his people (a new concept in itself) from suffering. By redeeming others in this way, it was thought, a king redeemed himself.” [A History of Cambodia Chandler]
He had a sincere earnest belief of his destiny as a bodhisattva whose path in life was to deliver his people from suffering. The people were objects of his compassion, an audience for his merit-making, his redemption. Images of Jayavarman portray him in the ascetic seated meditation posture with a serene, enlightened expression.
He built numerous public works to serve the people, including, water works, hospitals, temples, hospices for travelers, far beyond any other Cambodian king. Chandler calls him the “most otherworldly of Cambodia’s kings.” Inscriptions say he “suffered from the maladies of his subjects more than from his own; for it is the public griefs that make a king’s grief, and not his own.” Another inscription reads: “Filled with a deep sympathy for the good of the world, the king swore this oath; ‘All beings who are plunged in the ocean of existence, may I draw then out by virtue of this good work. And may the kings of Cambodia who come after me, attached to goodness…attain with their wives, dignitaries and friends, the place of deliverance where there is no more illness.” One sign of the change underway was the building of many monastic buildings, including monasteries (vihara) and libraries. Whereas in former times, all effort had been focused on building the massive temple-mount of the devaraja, now more resources were invested into building monastic residence. There was a shift away from the cult of the king to the cult of the Sangha, which was more “earthly”, in direct contact with the people.
The Preah Khan was example of Jayavarman VIIs building projects. An 1191 inscription at the temple documents the residence of a community of 97,840 people associated with the monastery. The central Buddhist sanctuary contained a beautiful statue of Lokesvara, the bodhisattva, sculpted in the image of Jayavarman’sVII father. Today, a stupa stands there. Shrines dedicated to Vishnu and Shiva are also in the Buddhist temple, showing Jayavarman VII’s continued inclusiveness in supporting Hindu tradition. “Preah Khan housed a portrait statue of Jayavarman VII father, Dharanindravarman, with the traits of Lokesvara, the deity expressive of the compassionate aspect of the Buddha. The symbolism is relentlessly appropriate, for in Mahayana Buddhist thinking the marriage of wisdom (pranja) and compassion (karuna) gave birth to enlightenment, which is to say, the Buddha himself, the enlightened one.”[?] The Preah Khan, Ta Prohn and Bayon are representative of this layout. The Bayon, with the faces looking out in the four cardinal directions, represents the Buddha himself: Jayavarman VII.
Jayavarman VII also built the temple Ta Prahm to honor his
parents in 1186. His mother was worshiped there as Pranjaparimita, the Goddess
of Wisdom, the mother of the Buddhas. The temple also contained many shrines,
including an image of his Kru (guru). The resident monks of the temple were
Buddhist, Shivite and Vishnuite.
He considered his city, Angkor Thom, and this temple, The Bayon, to be his “bride”. An inscription says “the town of Yosadharapura, decorated with powder and jewels, burning with desire, the daughter of a good family…who married by the king in the course of a festival that lacked nothing, under the spreading dais of his protection.”
The object of the marriage, the inscription goes on to say, was the “procreation of happiness throughout the universe” – a worthy objective for a Buddha-king.
The building projects commissioned by the Buddha king were
redolent with tantric Buddhist symbolism. The word “bayon” means
“ancestor yantra” – yantra is a magical, geometric mandala
shape. The central image of the of the temple was a Buddha, a portrait of
Jayavarman VII himself, sheltered by an enormeous hooded snake.
The haunting faces of the Bayon, looking into the four directions, crowned with a blooming lotus, represent the four Brhamaviharas – love of a Buddha: Loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity looking over the Angkor Empire, and the universe. The trinity of Avilokitshvara, Pranjaparimita and Buddha was central to his thinking and manifest in the projects he commissioned in his lifetime
He constructed the Bayon at Angkor Thom, and established the
rising influence of Mahayana Buddhism, after thoroughly defeating the threat
of the Champa.
“By the mid-tenth century, the temple mountains each king built to house the lingam representing his potency were becoming mausoleums after his death. Each new king who reigned long enough to build a temple mountain had his lingam installed in it. After his death his ashes or corpse was deposited there, which his spirit lived on in the image of a god.” “In writing about Borobodur (the Javanese Angkor) Paul Mus explained that the temple-mountain was less a magnificent shelter for eh dead than an architectural body, where the magic soul lived on – shifting from a human body to a stone body. The Mahayanist Buddhism of Jayavarman VII permitted such personal cults. Such self-glorification was anathema to the Theravada Buddhism of post-Angkor Cambodia.]
“Villages were assigned responsibility to provide for the maintenance of temples (not only of reigning kings and their dead ancestors, but of some living men of signal eminence too). Multitudes of Khmer peasants ‘contributed’. Ta Prohm had 3,140 villages with 79,000 individuals working to support it; Preah Khan had 5,324 villages and nearly a hundred thousand persons in its service.” [Angkor Life, Stephen Murray]
The peasants and the public rarely or never saw or entered the temples they supported, along with the huge colleges of priests.
“Most scholars considered that the cult of the god-king was quite removed from everyday life. Devaraja was probably a burden without being felt to be much of an inspiration or blessing to those producing the rice surplus that made a religious elite and royal temple building possible. Surely the king inspired awe….” [Angkor Life, Stephen Murray]
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