Cambodia is a strong Buddhist country where the teachings of Buddha are rooted very deeply into the heart of the people. There are two celebrations that really influence the Cambodian heart: Khmer New Year and Pchum Ben. In this article I will explain the faith and expectations of Pchum Ben and expose the influence of this celebration.
The Cambodian people believe that some dead people receive punishment for their sins and burn in hell. They know that hell is very far from living people; the souls and spirits in hell cannot see the sun; they have no clothes to wear, no food to eat. So those souls and spirits really need food and sacrifices from their relatives, especially during Pchum Ben day. They believe that Pchum Ben is the period when those spirits receive offerings from their living relatives and perhaps gain some relief. They also believe Pchum Ben is the time when the “gates of hell” are supposed to open, letting dead persons come to the living land to receive food from their relatives. Therefore their relatives consecrate food and other offerings to them. Everyone goes to the pagoda because they don’t want the spirits of dead family members to come to seek offerings at the pagodas in vain. They believe that those wondering spirits will go to look in seven different pagodas, and if those spirits cannot find their living relatives’ offering in any of those pagodas, they will curse them, because they cannot eat food offered by other people. Therefore most Cambodians regularly join in this festival for the sake of their ancestors.
Pchum Ben has influenced people through their ancestor’s faith and doctrine. The faith of a Buddhist is not just to worship Buddha alone; they worship their dead ancestor’s spirit even more. According to Buddha’s teaching, man must depend on himself to escape from the guilt of sin by doing many good works for their own salvation. They believe that people can go to hell if their children or grandchildren fail to offer sacrifices to their dead ancestors. They believe that these sacrifices not only help their dead ancestors, but also they can get a blessing and save their own life from hell. They believe that they will have a good life in the next life. Therefore each family teaches their children to do “good” works by worshiping and making some sacrifices to their dead ancestors. Every year and season they always make some celebrations with the monks for the dead people in their family. The children were born with this environment and situation. They have seen this with their eyes and lived with this practice in their daily life. There is no human way to change them, but with the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ I pray that change will happen. So at last, please pray for us in Cambodia that God will change the hearts of people by giving them a new faith. Pray also for the growing of Christian schools in Cambodia. I believe that only Christian education can change this country to be a Christian country.
Mr. Touch Am