Let’s Change


Sambath Meas


The world would have turned into a better place if we used our thinking minds. Millions of lives in Cambodia would have been saved, the country would have been prosperous, and Cambodians would have lived in peace and harmony.

For nearly 600 years, we Cambodians have missed our great opportunity to extend  and maintain Cambodia’s success as one of the greatest nations in Asia—the Khmer Empire. The infighting among Khmer people as well as repeated foreign interference and invasions have been the main reasons for the Empire’s downfall, but the majority of our faults and weaknesses were due to our collective mindset that has been predominated by negative emotions. Most Cambodians have been using our emotional mind rather than our thinking mind.

What are the emotional mind and thinking mind?

In the words of the Buddha, “Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with impure mind a person speaks or acts, suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox. Mind precedes all mental states. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts, happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.”

If you ask, nearly all Cambodians will say that they are Buddhists. Most of them have heard and learned the above Buddha’s teaching and many other Buddhist principles; but, very few understand them well, especially with reference to the word, mind.

Although most people think that their brain does everything including controlling their thought, behavior and speech, Buddha taught us that there were three specific activities or three parts of mental experiences that our brain does: the Process of Perception known as Vinnana, what we perceive through our senses of organs (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch); the Affective Process called Citta, our mood and temperament (our mental reaction to pleasant and unpleasant feelings) and the Cognitive Process known as Mano, our cognition and conception (categorized interpretation of our perception).

Our brains, according to most scientists and philosophers, have evolved over millions of years into three main layers: the Brain Stem (survival brain), Limbic System (emotional brain) and Cerebral Cortex (the Learning Brain). Human beings and animals possess the same first two brain layers, but humans possess the newest brain layer called the Cerebral Cortex—the learning brain. The emotional mind doesn’t think. Only the thinking mind does. All emotions, the pleasant and unpleasant feelings, are processed in the emotional mind by the limbic system and the intellectual and rational thoughts are processed in the thinking mind by the cerebral cortex. The emotional mind is responsible for the suffering of animals and human beings.

During the past 587 years Cambodians have suffered from repeated internal warfare mostly resulting from  fear, hatred, anger, jealousy, revenge and superstition, etc., all of which are destructive emotions encouraged to be removed from our mind by Buddha’s principles. As the result, the Cambodian population has been reduced drastically. Cambodia’s territory has shrunk to a tiny country, and it was nearly wiped off of the world map. By 1975, the population of Cambodia was about seven million, and after the killing fields or the communist regime of Pol Pot, nearly three million were killed and starved to death.

Since 1431, peace never lasted long enough for Cambodia to develop —mentally, socially, or economically. We have been taught that our warlike tendencies are genetic and that Cambodians are great fighters. We are war-conscious rather than peace-conscious. This means that peace has not been instilled in our subconscious or in our thought. Our negative emotions rule our words and actions. Most Cambodians use profanities and curses, and insult their fellow men and women or family members when they are angry or disturbed. Verbal and physical abuses within Cambodian families are very common and are seemingly acceptable in our society. Violence from within—stemming from our emotional mind—has produced fighting among ourselves and created opportunities for outsiders to take advantage of our disunity. We have been on the same path for many centuries and we need to change.

Cambodians need to change from within and reverse our negative mental attitude. We must understand that to succeed, we must use our thinking minds—the minds in which our ancestors employed during the Angkor era.

We can become successful again by applying what many of us have already learned through Buddha’s teachings.  The majority of Cambodians are Buddhists and are very familiar with Buddha’s principles. Many of us claim we practice such principles as our ways of living. But we need to dig deeper into Buddha’s laws, especially the basic principles stating that we must, “do good, avoid evil, and purify the mind.”

One of the Buddhist scriptures states, “Emotions dominate the world, emotions create distress; emotion is that one thing, to which all are spellbound.” To purify our mind means we must control our emotions first. We need to keep them under our control all the time, maintain our positive mental attitude, and calm them so that they don’t disturb our thinking mind.

The vision of the Buddha was to teach the people how to overcome the emotional mind and to develop the thinking mind. To do so, we need to recognize the root cause of our emotions. According to the Buddha’s principles, the three basic negative emotions consist of these three evil root causes: Lobha, lust; Dosa, hatred; and Moha, delusion. Although Cambodian people are Buddhists, we have much to learn in order to effectively practice Buddhist principles. Our history tells us that we need to change our course or to bring about “the paradigm shift.”

What is a paradigm shift? Paradigm means the way that we, Cambodians, have looked at ourselves, life, and the world. Changing of the paradigm requires all of us to learn and understand the fundamental concepts of Buddha’s teachings and practice them as a part of our daily life. We must awaken from the dreams of our negative past that has brought us to our knees, such as during our recent history of Pol Pot’s atrocities. We have been thinking unwholesome thoughts and it is time for us to learn how to think right.

We can change the paradigm by applying the Buddha’s principles. If “emotions dominate the world, emotions create distress; emotion  is  that  one  thing,  to  which  all  are spellbound.” Cambodians have been spellbound for many centuries with all types of negative emotions.

Buddha spent many years of his life seeking to discover the root causes of human sufferings and failures and toward helping people succeed, live in harmony, and in peace. The three Evil root causes must be understood and controlled by learning the basic principles of Buddha’s Dharma: the four Noble Truths, and by practicing the Supernormal Eightfold Way also known as the Noble Eightfold Path.

“There is suffering” is the First Noble Truth, the truth that cannot be denied that as long as we live, we do struggle to survive  and to become successful. The  Second Noble Truth is there is are causes or origins of suffering. In order for us to stop our suffering we must know its origin. Buddha pointed out that our emotions known as Citta (the emotional mind) are the origin of all suffering. The Third Noble Truth is that there is an end to suffering and we can cure this disease and lead our better life by using the Fourth Noble Truth, Supernormal Eightfold Way, as the solution.

Venerable Dr. Punnaji, a well-known Buddhist monk and teacher from Sri Lanka translates this “medicine” as the Supernormal Eightfold Way which includes Harmonious Perspective, Harmonious Orientation, Harmonious Speech Harmonious Action, Harmonious Lifestyle, Harmonious Exercise, Harmonious Attention and Harmonious Equilibrium.

There are three steps to practice the Supernormal Eightfold Way. The three steps are: Sila, Samadhi, and Panna. Sila involve practicing certain principles to correct our behavior; Samadhi is learning how to calm our emotions to stop the disturbance of the mind; and Panna is gaining insights into the reality of life.

Sila is the first part, and includes Harmonious Perspective, Harmonious Orientation, Harmonious Speech, Harmonious Action, and Harmonious Lifestyle.

First, we must practice Sila, for example the Five Precepts (refrain from killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and intoxicating drinks and drugs), to control our emotions and to discipline our behaviors.

Harmonious Perspective is the principle by which we must look at all things from different angles. Once we do, we can understand the reality of life, operated by natural laws, which decree that everything in the world is unstable, unsatisfactory, and impersonal. If everything is unstable, it is always unsatisfactory or unpleasant and we cannot hold on to it. The above Truths are called in Pali terms, Anijja (instability), Dhukha (unsatisfactory), and Anatta (impersonality). Once we comprehend the reality of life then we can help stop the disturbance to the mind. But our emotions or Citta don’t like these Truths. They work against the reality of life by personalizing the impersonal—things that we cannot control and which come and go. We can understand the reality of life only by using the thinking mind because emotional mind cannot think.

The second fold, Harmonious Orientation, is also known as Right Intention. Once we gain perspective on the reality of life and know full well that Cambodian people have been travelling the wrong direction for many centuries, we must change. First, we must start making the U-Turn from within, with the intention to go in the right direction. After we make the decision to change, we must take physical actions, which is to redirect our life with the Harmonious Speech by speaking in the right way, Harmonious Action by acting in the right way, and Harmonious Life Style by living in the right way.

This will lead us in the right direction toward success, toward better living. But that will not happen unless we apply Harmonious Exercise—the action that will bring us where we want to be. Harmonious Exercise is the action part. The purpose of this practice is to stop our emotional reactions. How do we apply this?

First, we need to prevent the reactions by guarding the senses, which is not to react negatively to what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. If we give rise to our emotional mind then it will continue to react. Secondly, if any reactions still occur, we need to eliminate these reactions or throw them out from our thoughts. Then finally, we need to become aware of what happens to our body, how our body feels, how the emotions are aroused and how they influence our thoughts. The practice of introspection must be done at all times. If we practice this properly, we will be able to gain freedom from our suffering, from our failure in life, because we can control our emotions or the Emotional Mind and allow our Thinking Mind to work.

Personal success depends on the quality of  our individual thoughts. The success of a nation is the result of individual achievement. Once our “thinking mind” operates freely from emotional reactions or disturbance ruled by “the emotional mind,” we are able to use this part of the mind to think right. “Thinking right” will produce positive thoughts and results. Every time our negative emotions are aroused, we can control them by practicing the Buddha’s principles. More than 90 percent of Cambodians respect the teachings of Buddhism. All we need is to practice it correctly. When we do, we will have mental, physical as well as intellectual resources to make Cambodia great, to guide our people to live a better life and to help Cambodia become peaceful and as a successful nation again.

Let’s change!