This thesis has three objectives, which are to study the structure and function of Buddhism in Cambodia, to study the survival and development of Buddhism in Cambodia in the post- Khmer Rouge regime (up to 2000 CE), and to examine findings from the research that can be used to promote Cambodian Buddhism in the future.
The research indicates that there are two Buddhist Orders in Cambodia; the Mohanikay and the Thommayut. The Supreme Patriarch holds the highest position in the Cambodian Buddhist community, and a group of high ranking monks (Rajagana) who form an inner cabinet act as a bridge between the Supreme Patriarch and the chief provincial monks, the head district monks, and the chief temple monks. Buddhism, under the constitution, is the national religion of Cambodia, and 95 percent of the population is Buddhist. The majority of Cambodians identify themselves as Theravada Buddhists. It is not uncommon to hear Khmer people suggest that being Khmer means being Buddhist.
The research suggests that the process of recovery of organized Buddhism in Cambodia that took place in the years that followed the darkness of the Pol Pot years was a slow and gradual one. The sluggish pace of Buddhism’s reemergence was partly due to ideological manipulation by the new Vietnamese-backed government. The Buddhist system that reappeared in Cambodia in 1980, following the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, was not the same as that of pre-war period. The new PRK government set age restrictions on ordination, prohibiting men less than 50 years of age from becoming monks. Buddhist activities in Cambodia did not undergo significant revitalization until the ordination age restrictions were removed in 1989, and the numbers of monks and novices increased dramatically in that year. The next steps in the restoration and the development of public order occurred after the election in 1993, when democracy was restored and the country’s name changed back to the Kingdom of Cambodia. Under the co-prime ministers Hun Sen and Prince Ranaridh, the government, in order to bolster its popular appeal, stepped up its support for Buddhism and further removed religious restrictions. These moves clearly contributed to the revitalization of various Buddhist activities in the country. Saṅgha education gradually opened again, and by 2000 C.E., the number of monks had increased, and religious activities were once again freely allowed.
Another research finding is that communism and the intervention of foreign powers resulted in political turmoil that had an adverse effect on Buddhism in Cambodia. The Communist world, with its political idealism, was hostile to religion, and the Khmer Rouge set out to destroy Buddhism in Cambodia. In fact, the political changes that the Khmer Rouge put in place affected every aspect of Cambodian life; those changes were inextricably linked to society, economy, and education. The 10 years-long civil war that that followed the political upheavals of the Khmer Rouge and related severe economic hardship significantly slowed down the reemergence of the Buddhism. Furthermore, the communist and democratic regimes that followed the Khmer Rouge sought to stifle the influence of Buddhism.