Buddhist Institute pursues 100-year mission

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Buddhist Institute director Sor Sokny during a press conference organised by the cults and religion ministry. PHOTO SUPPLIED

The Buddhist Institute produces and disseminates scholarly works on the religion for which it is named and for the past century it has been a repository of knowledge for the fields of culture, religion, literature, language, traditions and customs in Cambodia.

Sor Sokny has worked at the Buddhist Institute for 19 years and has served as the director of the institute for eight years. Sokny graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Khmer Literature in 2002 from the Royal University of Phnom Penh and a Bachelor’s in accounting and finance in 2003 from the National Institute of Commerce. He then continued his education at the Faculty of Pedagogy (now the National Institute of Education) in 2003. After completing his Master’s degree in 2020, he is now pursuing a PhD in research at the International Institute of Education.

Sokny spoke with The Post about the Buddhist Institute’s role as an important repository of knowledge and public resource for researchers.

What programmes or events does the Buddhist Institute hold annually?

The annual programmes of the Buddhist Institute consist of the following main activity: Opening the doors of its libraries to readers.

We also help to strengthen the Buddhist libraries in the provinces and capitals. The institute is also a place to compile documentation on Khmer customs and is the organiser of the annual Buddhist Literature Awards (the 6th edition takes place in 2023).

It also has a role organising traditional workshops and compiling and publishing four issues per year of Kampu Sorya magazine. The institute distributes its books to pagodas, libraries and government departments, as well as providing training to priests and participating in the annual book fair.

How long have you spent working as the director of the Buddhist Institute? What books does the Buddhist Institute keep on hand for research or to reference?

I passed the exam and started working at the Buddhist Institute under the Ministry of Cults and Religions in 2003. After five years of service, I was appointed the head of the office of the Mores and Customs Commission in 2008 and then the vice-president of the Buddhist Institute in 2012.

After Khin Chamroeun, the former Buddhist Institute director, retired in 2013, I was assigned as the acting director before I was officially appointed as director of the Buddhist Institute by sub-decree 942 dated June 13, 2014.

Therefore, from 2003 to the present, it has been a long time that I have been involved in the work and leadership of the Buddhist Institute and followed the mission set forth by the Ministry of Cults and Religions in sub-decrees and related documents.

In terms of books, well, the Buddhist Institute has an entire library with thousands of documents related to Cambodian religion, culture, traditions, customs and the Khmer language. The documents include general books of Tripitaka scripture, Kampu Sorya magazines, Khmer fairy tales, manuscripts as well as multi-media items like microfilms and audio and video tapes, all of which are important tools for public research.

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A couple and their child ride past the Buddhist Institute in Tonle Bassac commune of Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmorn district. Heng Chivoan

What are the challenges faced by the Buddhist Institute?

The Buddhist Institute has long been an institution that produces and promotes works of literature, religion and customs. The Institute was officially established in 1930 as one of the three main Buddhist educational institutions formed by the French colonial era for the purpose of promoting Buddhism through research and publication as well as to prevent the influx of foreign cultural influences from neighbouring countries.

In the current Kingdom, the Buddhist Institute as an institution is not as large as it was before the civil war. The staff is not as numerous as there are only 17 staff members working here in 2022.

It is hoped that leaders at all levels will consider expanding the activities of the Buddhist Institute to promote Buddhism as well as conduct research and publish academic papers and scholarship in the fields of religion and culture.

What do you think today’s youth think about the institute?

For young people today, I can say that there is a lot of understanding of the history of the work carried out by the Buddhist Institute. The Buddhist Institute has many events livestreamed on its Facebook page, as well as a Telegram channel to communicate with the public on a regular basis. The most popular Buddhist things we do for young people are the monthly lectures, the Buddhist Literature Awards, and just making general use of the library.

What is the main purpose of the lecture programme?

The Office of the Mores and Customs Commission is responsible for organising major annual programmes and action plans to connect the Buddhist Institute with the public as a forum for sharing and gaining knowledge.

The topics to be selected for the lectures are related to culture, religion, literature, history, archaeology, inscriptions, traditions, customs and research on promoting science and social culture in order to provide opportunities to both old and new researchers at the Buddhist Institute to promote their works.

In addition to that, the Buddhist Institute selects a number of works to be published in Kampu Sorya, the oldest Khmer language magazine in the Kingdom of Cambodia, as well as encouraging the public – including researchers, students, monks and nuns – to come and read in our library.

The lecture event started in 2015 and has been running steadily since 2016, with a monthly schedule of 12 lectures per year. Before the outbreak of Covid-19, the Buddhist Institute organized it physically in person, but now due to requests from speakers and the public, we have organized it online.

The event is supported by the Ministry of Cults and Religions and Rissho Kosei Kai, a new Japanese Buddhist religious movement which helped to build the Buddhist Institute and assisted in the publication of the Tripitaka scripture, the fifth edition of the Khmer Dictionary and other documents to contribute to the restoration of Buddhism after the war and genocide.

What advice do you have for the next generation if they wish to contribute to the preservation of heritage?

Young people should come and learn more about this old national institution by reading books at the library, participating in monthly lectures on many interesting topics and participating in the annual Buddhist Literature Awards competition.

For researchers, especially young researchers, they can publish their work in Kampu Sorya magazine or participate in activities organised by the Buddhist Institute.