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Folk Buddhism of Cambodia and Southeast Asia
Cambodia is a small Southeast Asian nation located between Thailand on the West & Northwest, Laos on the Northeast, Vietnam on the East and Southeast, and the Gulf of Thailand to the South. In recent times it is best known for a horrific civil war, but in ancient times it was the land of the Angkor Civilization which dominated most of Southeast Asia from the 10th to the 15th century c.e. Among the grand features of this awesome civilization are The Angkor Thom complex of Temples and Palaces, with Angkor Wat (a buddhist temple) the most celebrated of all. At one time the carefully crafted hindu turned buddhist temple was named among the seven man-made wonders of the ancient world.
The Cambodian people are apart of the Mon-Khmer ethnic group, now referred to as Khmer (pronounced k'my with the "r" sound silent). Today, they refer to themselves as Buddhists; in fact they say to be Khmer is to be buddhist and there is no other option. But, at closer look, the Cambodian people are not simply buddhists; rather, they are what some call folk buddhists because their religion is a hybrid mix of three religious types: animism, hinduism, and buddhism.
Tiamong - Cambodian Scarecrow
Animism is ancestor and spirit worship. Long before travelers from India arrived to share their religious practices with the Khmer people, the Khmer peoples offered sacrifices to their ancestors and other spirits or angels. They believe if they do not offer sacrifices to the spirits, then they will be haunted and their business endeavors whether farming or mercantile will not prosper
Khmer Classical Dancing
Hinduism (or Brahmanism as referred to in Cambodia) is a complex religion with a pantheon of gods led by the Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. They believe that every living being is an extension of the universe and one consciousness. The goal of life is to cease from all desire and leave the never ending cycle of birth and rebirth and thus reach a state by which a person evaporates to become one with the cosmos.
Buddhism is a hindu hybrid. Like Hinduism (Brahmanism), the goal of Buddhism is to escape the continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. However, the tenets of Buddhism are more practical and down to earth. It teaches right living which leads to a better life overall. It is oriented towards the physical world rather than the spirit world. Theravada Buddhism is a more conservative form holding to the teachings of Siddharta Gautama but not elevating him to god-like or savior status. Theravada Buddhism is the pre-dominate form of the ancient eastern religion practiced in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia.
Neak Ta - Guardian Spirits of Cambodia
Folk Buddhism is an amalgamation of animism, Hinduism, and Buddhism with a greater emphasis on the animist practices or ancestor/spirit worship. In Cambodia, Chinese religions also play a part in the local religious mix of the Khmer people.