Buddhist monks complain of lack of alms amid sluggish economy

Financial woes are keeping many Cambodians from visiting pagodas.
By RFA Khmer
2023.10.13
Buddhist monks complain of lack of alms amid sluggish economy Buddhist monks perform a ceremony to mark Pchum Ben, Cambodia’s festival of the dead, in Kampong Tralach district in central Kampong Chhnang province, October 2023.
RFA screenshot

A celebration marking the end of Buddhist Lent won’t be very cheerful for some Cambodian monks who say they have received few food offerings amid a sluggish economy.

Traditionally, people prepare food for the monks and offer them alms, believing that their kind deeds are a way of paying their respects to their deceased ancestors.

But this year, the monks in Kampong Tralach district in central Kampong Chhnang province say they have not received any offerings from residents during the 15-day Pchum Ben festival marking the end of Vassa, Buddhist Lent.

Apparently, ordinary people are struggling economically, and some have left the area for better-paying jobs in neighboring Thailand.

“We are facing difficulties in supporting the monks. We have 13 monks, but we don't have money to support them,” said Neang Eth, abbot of Samrong Raingsy.

Many villages stand nearly empty. Two pagodas in particular — Wat Samrong Raingsy, or Wat Chas, in Ta Ches commune, Kampong Talach district and Wat Sovannkiri Potikaram or Phnom Teap, in Cheung Kreav commune, Rolea Bier district – are unusually quiet.

Earlier this week, the pagoda’s 13 monks held a ceremony, but only 10 local residents attended it. The pagoda is not holding any events between Oct. 12 and 14, so the monks won’t have any food or money. 

Neang Eth said he fears that people will lose their enthusiasm for the traditional religious festival because of their economic woes. 

The five monks who inhabit the Sovannkiri Potikaram Pagoda are also feeling the pain. 

Only a few locals have come to the pagoda, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the nearest village, for this year’s event, said Abbot Moul Sai. Monks at the pagoda have not received enough food since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Cambodia in 2020. They have enough on most days only to eat lunch, but there are other times when they go without meals for days, he said.

“We asked for food from houses, but the villagers said they could not schedule times to come to the pagoda,” Moul Sai said.

Sar Leang, provincial department head for Cambodia's Ministry of Cult and Religious Affairs, said his office has no solution to solve food shortages in the pagodas but will visit the monks to study the situation. 

Koet Saray, president of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association and a former Buddhist monk, said food shortages for monks are occurring everywhere in the country because not many people are visiting them during the religious festival. 

“Monks are relying on people to offer food and clothes, so when people don’t even have the money to spend in their daily lives, how can they give food to the monks?” he asked. 

Meanwhile, monks in Kampong Chhnang province have urged officials to support the villagers and reduce poverty so they will have the budget to participate in traditional religious ceremonies. 

Translated by Yun Samean for RFA Khmer. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

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