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Brief History of Buddhism in the Kingdom of Cambodia


ashoka_lion_capitalIn the year of 238 B.C (before Christ), Emperor Asoka King sent two learned Bhikkhu monks named Sona Thera and Utara Thera to propagate Buddhism in Suwanaphumi or Southeast Asia of present time. From that time Buddhism has flourished through out the land of Suwanaphumi or golden land. We are able to trace back through various ancient kingdoms such as Funan Kingdom (first state of present Cambodia) had been claimed about the advantage of Buddhism in this capital city. Among the kings of Funan dynasty, Kaundinya Jayavarman (478-514 AD) sent a missionary to China under the leadership of a Buddhist monk named Nagasena from India. During the reign of the same Chinese emperor, two learned Khmer monks named Sanghapala Thera and Mantra Thera of Funan went to China. At this early years of the sixth century AD, the two learned Cambodian Bhikkhu monks taught Buddhism and meditation to the emperor of China. Bhikkhu Sanghapala had translated an important Buddhist scripture Vimutti Magga(the Way of Freedom) which it is believed older than Visutthi Magga (the Way of Purity) written by Buddhagosacara. Now this Chinese manuscript has been translated into different language by many Buddhist countries.

King Rudravarman (514-539 AD) is said to have claimed that in his country there was a long Hair Relic of Lord Buddha for his people to worship. The Tharavada with Sanskrit language flourished in Funan in the fifth and earlier part of the sixth centuries AD. Around seventh century AD, the popular usage of Pali language in southern region manifested the strong appearance of Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia.
The great emperor, Yasovarman (889-900 AD) established a Saugatasrama and elaborated regulations for the guidance of this asrama or hermitage, at the time, Buddhism, Brahmanism (both Visnuism and Vaisnavism) flourished in Cambodia. During the reign of Jayavarman V (968-1001 AD), the successor of Rajendravarman II, Mahayana Buddhism importantly advanced. The king supported Buddhist practices and invoked the three forms of existence of the Buddha. In this way, up to the tenth century AD, Mahayana Buddhism became substantially prominent.

Pramakramabahu I, the king of Sri Lanka, is said to have sent a princess as a bride probably for Jayavarman VII, son of Dharnindravarman II (1150-1160 jaya1AD), who was the crown prince. King Jayavarman VII (1181-1220 AD) was a devout Buddhist and received posthumous title of Mahaparamasaugata. The king patronized Mahayana Buddhism, his records expressed beautifully the typical Buddhist view of life, particularly the conduct of charity and compassion towards the whole universe. Taprohm Inscription of his reign informed that there were 798 temples and 102 hospitals in the whole kingdom, and all of them were patronized by the king. One of the monks who returned to Burma with Capata Bhikkhu was Tamalinda Mahathera, who is believed the son of the Cambodian Emperor Jayavarman VII. Under the influx of Sihala School Buddhism; his administrative prestige retreated, his temporal power crumbled away, and the god-king cult was weakened. Theravada Buddhism had become the predominant school of the people of Angkor at the end of Jayavarman VII ‘s reign.

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