History of Buddhism in Cambodia - Angkor Kingdom

Angkor Kingdom

The transition from Hindu god-king to Mahayana Buddha-king was probably gradual and imperceptible. The prevailing Vaishnavite and Shaivite faith traditions gave way to the worship of the Gautama Buddha and the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.

King Jayavarman II (802-869) is the first real Khmer king of the Angkor Empire. He proclaimed himself god-king and began to establish the capital of Angkor (Rolous) near present day Angkor Wat.

The Buddhist Sailendra kingdom exercised suzerainty over Cambodia as a vassal state during the end of the eighth and the beginning of the ninth centuries. As a result, Jayavarman, as a young man, had lived in the court of Java and had visited Sumatra. When he returned to Cambodia, he proclaimed himself a god-king (deva-raja) according to Khmer traditions, identifying himself with Shiva. Nevertheless, he was increasingly friendly to and supportive of Mahayana Buddhist influence throughout his kingdom.

When King Jayavarman II returned to Cambodia from Java, he built three capitals in succession: Hariharalaya, Amarendrapura, and Mahendraparvata. One of these, Amarendrapura, identified with Banteai Chmar, was a Mahayana Buddhist city presided over by Avalokitesvara, the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion.

Mahayana Buddhism therefore became increasingly established in his empire. The form of Mahayana Buddhism that was propagated in the Srivijaya lands was similar to the Pala Dynasty Buddhism of Bengal, and of the Nalanda University in northern India.

"The Bengal University of Nalanda in Megadha (now Behar) was the theological center of Mahayana Buddhism under the protection of the Pala Dynasty . Shivaist interpretations of Buddhism, tinged with Tantric mysticism (that may have revived portions of pre-Aryan northeastern Indian faith traditions) were worked out in Megadha and then were exported throughout insular and peninsular Southeast Asia, particularly to Java. Yashovarman I (889-910), who ruled from the vicinity of Rolous in the late ninth century, seems to have been a Shivite Buddhist influenced by Nalanda syncretism. His successors (notably Jayavarman IV) dedicated themselves to Vishnu and Brahma, as well as to Shiva, with whom they continued to be identified by hereditary families of priests. Rajendravarman II studied Buddhism intensely."

The Sailendra dynasty also built the fantastic Mahayana Buddhist temple Borobudur (750-850) in Java. Borobudur appears to have been the inspiration for the later fabulous Angkor building projects in Cambodia, particularly Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.

The primary form of Buddhism practiced in Cambodia during Angkor times was Mahayana Buddhism, strongly influenced with Tantric tendencies.

"The prevalence of Tantrayana in Java, Sumatra and Kamboja, a fact now definitely established by modern researches into the character of Mahayana Buddhism and Sivaism in these parts of the Indian Orient. Already in Kamboja inscription of the 9th century there is definite evidence of the teaching of Tantric texts at the court of Jayavarman II. In a Kamboja record of the 11th century there is a reference to the 'Tantras of the Paramis'; and images of Hevajra, definitely a tantric divinity, have been recovered from amidst the ruins of Angkor Thom. A number of Kamboja inscriptions refer to several kings who were initiated into the Great Secret (Vrah Guhya) by their Brahmanical gurus; the Saiva records make obvious records to Tantric doctrines that had crept into Sivaism."

"But it was in Java and Sumatra that Tantrayana seems to have attained greater importance. There Mahayana Buddhism and Shaivism, both deeply imbued with tantric influences, are to be seen often blending with one another during this period. The Sang Hyang Kamahayanikan, consisting of Sanskrit versus explained by an Old Javanese commentary, professed to teach the Mahayana and Mantrayana."

The presence and growing influence of Buddhism continued as the Angkor empire increased in power. King Yosavarman built many Buddhist temples in 887-889, representing the mandala of Mount Meru, the mythical axis of the world. The largest of these temples is Phnom Kandal or "Central Mountain" which lies near the heart of the Angkor complex.

King Rajendravarman II (944-968) "studied Buddhism intensely. Although he decided to remain a Shivaist, he appointed a Buddhist, Kavindrarimathana, chief minister. Kavindrarimathana built shrines to Buddha and Shiva. Jayavarman V (son of Rajendravarman) also remained a devote of Shiva. He, too, permitted his own chief minister, Kirtipandita, to foster Mahayana Buddhist learning and divination."

Read more about this topic:  History Of Buddhism In Cambodia

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