For the past two weeks the Cambodian people have been celebrating the festival of P’Chum Ben, or the festival of the dead, during which they return to their homes to fulfil their traditional obligation to appease the ghosts of their ancestors who have been roaming different pagodas in search of food offered by their living relatives. According to Buddhist beliefs, the lives that we live after death, are predicated by the actions that we took when we were living. Minor infractions would be punished with small punishments, such as being an unattractive ghost or having a small mouth. With a small mouth, it is hard to eat. Other, more severe, punishments could include being crippled or having no mouth at all.
The people visit the pagodas offering food and attempting to please the gods by fully following the pancasila, or the Five Precepts, that they repeatedly chant during the ceremonies.
To refrain from destroying living creatures
To refrain from taking that which is not given
To refrain from sexual misconduct
To refrain from incorrect speech
To refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs that lead to carelessness
In theory, Cambodians believe they will have a peaceful and harmonious society if they can only follow the Five Buddhist Precepts that are the basis of the rule of law. However, the number of educated monks in Cambodia is small; many were murdered by the Khmer Rouge, which ruled the country from 1975-1979.The regime destroyed Buddhist institutions and tried to erase the religion from the Khmer consciousness.
Today, while most Khmer consider themselves to be Theravada Buddhist, religion still plays only a small role in most people’s lives. As a result, most of society lives with little understanding of moral values, individual worth and dignity, compassion and responsibility. The Five Precepts teach people that their suffering is a result of failure to keep a moral standard that is impossible to meet and all they can do is learn to live with their lot. It is a society in which little hope is offered and peace is very unlikely.