As Buddhists across Cambodia celebrate Pchum Ben, a group of people living with disabilities have taken to chanting the Parabhava Sutta, which loosely translates as “the causes of downfall”. They hope that their chanting will educate and inspire young people to be aware of the 12 downfalls in Buddhism.
They believe that accepting the wisdom of the Buddha will contribute to the preservation of Buddhism.
Noun Sok, a visually disabled man who coordinates the chanting, said he and his team of eight are known as “Ker”, and have produced 12 videos, each of which details one of the downfalls.
It is common to hear this chanting during the Pchum Ben season, especially in the early hours of the morning between 3:30 and 4am. Although it is very early, this time slot gets the attention of listeners and encourages them to consider the meaning of the chants, said Sok.
“This chant can be used in other Buddhist ceremony such as Bon Pachai Buon and Kathen, but all too often people don’t think they have the time to listen to the dharma. This is why many scholars suggest that the chant be recited during Pchum Ben, as many Buddhists visit pagodas very early in the morning to throw Bay Ben [balls of rice traditionally offered to ghosts at dawn]. This is one time that nearly everyone comes together to listen,” he said.
Cambodian Buddhists are observing Pchum Ben for 15 days, which falls between September 11 and 25 this year, the first 14 of which are enumerated as the 1st-through-14th Kan Ben Days, where families typically gather at pagodas, bringing food and other offerings for monks.
The main festivities will take place over the three days from September 24-26, starting on the 14th Kan Ben Day and including an additional day after the primary day of “great offering”, or Ben Thom, on September 25 which coincides with the new moon. The full 16-day holiday is dedicated in memory of ancestors and is an occasion for families to get together.
Sok emphasised that he wanted to help young people gain a better understanding of this dharma – and others, too.
“We do not expect to hold the total attention of young people. When children are studying at school, they don’t always listen to what the teacher has to say,” he added.
However, he did not despair, believing that it is better to start doing something rather than simply doing nothing.
Vin Vichet, the group leader, said that understanding the 12 downfalls was important for young people, not just the elderly.
“If young people want to make positive contributions to society in the future, they should avoid these things. For example, gambling, alcohol or other things that contradict the law and the dharma,” he said.
Vichet, also visually disabled, said his group wants to warn young people not to embrace foreign culture if it meant neglecting their own. They should pay more attention to Buddhism, as it is the state religion that Cambodian’s have long obeyed.
For Vichet, the chant provides a life lesson that everyone, young and old, should learn from.
“People often fail to realise that small harmful things can be happening all around us – whether it is laziness or gambling. They are small, seemingly insignificant things, but could easily destroy our lives before we realise it. Please bear in mind that small things can become big problems all too easily,” he said.
He wanted to see this chant being widely disseminated, not just at pagodas, because he believes its meaning has particular significance to the current youth.
Nhep Tat, a monk from Wat Ounalom, insisted that anyone, whether monks or laypeople, could chant the Parabhava Sutta as long as they could read.
“I believe that young people understand the Parabhava Sutta very clearly, as it is easy to understand. It is also very simple to relate it to the harmful things we sometimes do in our daily lives,” he said.