During your time in Cambodia you will see many statues of Buddha, but not all Buddha statues are considered to be Buddha. So how does a statue of Buddha become a real Buddha?
In the many different versions of Buddha’s story, there is alignment on the three significant things that represent Buddha and his religion. They are the Buddha statue, Dammar (Buddha’s lessons), and Songar (the monks who reach enlightenment). As the Buddha said in his lifetime, "All Buddhism’s followers will pay their respect to these, like they pay their respect to me now."
This is also the reason why Cambodian pay respect three times when they are in temple. First, they pay respect to Buddha by paying respect to Buddha’s statue. Second, they pay respect to Dammar, or all the words of Buddha (Buddha’s lesson). Lastly, they pay respect to Songar, which refers to all monks, those in the past, present, and in the future, who reach enlightenment.
In Cambodia, there is a ceremony called Bon Apisek Preah (coronation of Buddha statue). This is performed before they can put a Buddha statue in the temple. The monks celebrate by reenacting the story of the day Buddha reached enlightenment. The ceremony takes all night, from the evening of the first day through till the next morning.
Buddha’s Enlightenment Story
Before Buddha reached enlightenment, his name was Sothotha Kodoma. It was seven days before Sothotha reached enlightenment. On the first day, he was offered homemade food from a lady, named Sojeata. She cooked her best dishes for him. On the day that he reached enlightenment, he got eight bushels of grass from a guy, named Soutayak Pream. He laid down the grass to sit and meditated.
While he was meditating, a throne appeared from the ground to carry him. The king of cycle of life appeared to try and stop Buddha from reaching enlightenment. He had three girls dress up beautifully and dance in front of Buddha. They tried to use their beauty to distract Buddha from his meditation. When they failed, their youth and beauty disappeared.
Seeing this, the king ordered his soldiers to defeat Buddha, but it was not successful. They attacked Buddha, but the weapons that they used could not hurt Buddha. The weapons all turned into flowers. There was a goddess, named Neang Konghing who appeared to help Buddha. She stroked her hair to create a flood that swept the soldiers away.
The King became angry and used all his power to defeat Buddha. He sent storms, lightening, thunder, and rain to stop Buddha from reaching enlightenment, but Buddha was protected by his love, compassion, kindness, and all his sacrifice in his past life. The King failed and disappeared. The next morning, Buddha opened his eyes, and he had six different colors shining form his body. He had reached enlightenment.
The Rituals Surrounding Buddha Statues
First, people bring the statue of the Buddha into the temple. The first ceremony is called Meakthu Bayas. It involves the food that was cooked specially for Buddha before he reached enlightenment. Four girls perform the story of the food that Neang Sojeata cooked for Buddha. They cook special, traditional food for the Buddha statue that comes close to what people ate in the past - sticky rice with sweet potatoes, coconut juice, honey and milk. After they make the food, the girls bring it as an offering to the Buddha statue. Each girl brings a different thing - water, basket, a leaves package and Meakthu Bayas.
After the offering is completed, the monks move on to a ceremony called P’chanh Mara (Mara defeated). Mara refers to the king of circle of life, birth, aging and death. Three other girls are selected to represent the daughters of Mara who came to disturbed Buddha while he was reaching enlightenment. The girls dress up and dance in front of the Buddha statue. After a while, they put a white cloth on their heads, pretending to be an old lady as they walk away from the statue – representing the Buddha’s defeat of Mara’s daughters and their transformation from beautiful girls to old women.
Immediately after the girls leave, three other men come shouting with weapons to the statue. They represent Mara and his armies. While they are attempting to destroy the statue, a girl comes to protect Buddha statue. She sprays water on the men who then pretend to disappear forever like Mara’s soldiers after the flood.
At dawn, the people celebrate the last ceremony called open the eyes. Old people from the village chant together with the monks until sunrise. After sunrise, people bring Buddha statue to put on the throne that has already been prepared in that temple. Once the statue is on its throne, that statue is Buddha. People will respect him like real Buddha.
Keep in mind that all Buddha statues are respected. The story above is just to add more information about Buddha statue in Cambodia.
You can visit a real Buddha statue and more during our Ride in the Countryside bicycle tour.