Buddhism in a Dark AgeCambodian Monks under Pol Pot

Buddhism in a Dark AgeCambodian Monks under Pol Pot

Ian Harris

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780824835613

Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press


This study of the fate of Buddhism during the communist period in Cambodia puts a human face on a dark period in Cambodia's history. It is the first sustained analysis of the widely held assumption that the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot had a centralized plan to liquidate the entire monastic order. The book offers a view that attempts to move beyond the horrific monastic death toll and fully evaluate the damage to the Buddhist saṅgha under Democratic Kampuchea. Evidence exists to suggest that Khmer Rouge leaders were determined to hunt down senior members of the pre-1975 ecclesiastical hierarchy, but other factors also worked against the Buddhist order. This book outlines a three-phase process in the Khmer Rouge treatment of Buddhism: bureaucratic interference and obstruction, explicit harassment, and finally the elimination of the obdurate and those close to the previous Lon Nol regime. The establishment of a separate revolutionary form of saṅgha administration constituted the bureaucratic phase. The harassment of monks was partially due to the uprooting of the traditional monastic economy in which lay people were discouraged from feeding economically unproductive monks. Younger members of the order were disrobed and forced into marriage or military service. The final act was the execution of those monks and senior ecclesiastics who resisted. It was difficult for institutional Buddhism to survive the conditions encountered during the decade under study here. The book concludes with a discussion of the slow re-establishment and official supervision of the Buddhist order during the People's Republic of Kampuchea period.