Wat Soriyaram, located in Battambang province’s Moung Russey district, is one of several pagodas that ordains hundreds of young Cambodians each year. The ordination ceremony will coincide with the celebration of Visak Bochea.
This year, the pagoda scheduled a one-week ordination programme for 200 young men and women, with the primary aim of fostering closer connections between the younger generation and Buddhism.
The programme commenced with the shaving of the men’s hair on April 28, after which the newly ordained monks will study the dharma, or Buddhist discipline, until the conclusion of the programme on May 5.
Fifteen-year-old Chork Pon from Kor village, in the same district as the pagoda, told The Post why he had made the decision to become a monk.
“I only completed sixth grade at school and thought I had lost interest in further studies, but I have also found myself dreaming of joining the pagoda. I did not know how to pursue my dream, until I heard about the ordination programme. I signed up immediately,” he said.
“I aspire to follow the Buddhist way and connect my life with it. In addition, becoming a monk will demonstrate my gratitude towards my parents. If I take the path of monkhood, I will permanently remain a monk,” he concluded.
Kreng Narin, a 34-year-old man from the district, remained at school until eighth grade, and later trained as glazier.
“I have never gained a sense of satisfaction from working with glass, and have always desired to become a monk,” he said.
“I do not have a wife, so I do not have many things to worry about. I desire nothing more than to become a monk and establish a deeper connection with Buddhism,” he added.
Venerable Viriya Visal Tuy Sokhim, the pagoda chief monk, told The Post that this was the 11th year that the pagoda had carried out the event. He said that prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, he ordained between 500 to 1,000 young individuals annually.
Sokhim explained that Buddhists, both domestic and foreign, had provided financial support, meaning such large numbers were easily possible.
“The programme was suspended during the pandemic and resumed in 2022, but with far fewer contributions from our supporters. The main purpose of the ordination event is to help impoverished rural families who may not be able to ordain their children. Prior to the onset of Covid-19, we received enough support to ordain many new monks, but we have seen a notable decrease in support,” he said.
“I understand that financial support has waned due to the economic effects of the pandemic,” he added.
The chief monk said that generally, of the people who were ordained each year, about 40 per cent would leave the monkhood after the seven day course, with remaining 60 per cent of attendees becoming permanent monks.
“These individuals are then sent to other pagodas, after being verified and witnessed by the village-commune or district authorities, following which they are officially recognised as fully legal monks,” he added.
“Some of them have gone on to pursue higher education and earned Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees through ordination. Others have become chief monks at various pagodas. Some have even travelled as far afield as France or the US,” he continued.
He explained that this year’s ordination programme was coordinated with local authorities.
“Individuals wishing to be ordained will need to possess valid identification documents, such as ID cards, birth certificates, or family books. Adhering to these requirements ensures that they will be officially recognised by the law when they leave,” he said.
While all expenses during the programme will be covered by Wat Soriyaram, any family members who wish to contribute to the pagoda are welcome to do so out of their own generosity, though this is not mandatory.
“What I have observed is that their ordainment is often an expression of gratitude towards their parents. They believe that this act of reverence would be highly beneficial and have numerous merits. Additionally, after being ordained for seven days, they expected a transformation of their mindset, among other things, which will help them become better versions of themselves,” he added.
He suggested that while observing the youth during their ordination, he noted that several of them appeared to perceive the pagoda or the monks as distant because they did not fully comprehend their ways. However, once they became monks themselves, they began to appreciate the monks and develop a fondness for them.
“For instance, in the vicinity of Wat Soriyaram, individuals who had never visited the pagoda before have fallen in love with it. Every holy day, they gather to clean the pagoda’s compound, and whenever the pagoda hosts celebrations or events, they readily lend their support. In addition, the pagoda provides free training in various professional skills for young people such as traditional dance, video editing, photography, and others, with teachers hired from Phnom Penh,” explained the head monk.
Ministry of Cults and Religion spokesman Seng Somony told The Post that the ordination ceremony consisted of two key aspects. The first was related to the Khmer tradition, while the second coincided with Visak Bochea Day – a significant day which marks the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. Therefore, Cambodian people want their children to gain a deeper understanding of this significant event.
“As per Buddhist tradition, children who are eligible for ordination are expected to follow the instructions of the monks and express their desire to be ordained. These individuals are subsequently ordained and taught the dharma. These ceremonies are not conducted in every pagoda in the country,” he said.
“In the past, there may have been between 3,000 and 4,000 ordained people at some pagodas across the country. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a significant decrease in the number of ordinations, with very few still taking place,” he concluded.