Librarians in Robes: The Monks of Wat Muniransyarama

By Huff, Michael | American Libraries, June-July 1998 | Go to article overview

Librarians in Robes: The Monks of Wat Muniransyarama


Huff, Michael, American Libraries


IN VIETNAM'S MEKONG DELTA, MONKS PRESERVE TRADITIONAL KHMER CULTURE AND PROMOTE LITERACY

Once, very far away and very long ago, a powerful king from the West met a wise monk from the East. To test the monk's wisdom, the king posed many difficult questions: Why do good people sometimes suffer while evil people sometimes prosper? How can we know what truth is? How can there be rebirth without an eternal soul ? He asked many such questions. To each, the monk answered with brilliance and serenity. After their talk, the king left his throne and joined the monk in teaching the Middle Way.

This conversation of 2,000 years ago between the Bactrian King Menander and the Buddhist monk Nagasena was recorded in the Milindapanha, or The Questions of King Milinda. Today, this classic text of Theravada Buddhist literature is yearly brought to life in the ethnic Khmer villages of Vietnam's Mekong Delta. During the New Year celebration in April, one monk from a local temple will take the role of Menander, another that of Nagasena, and the two will recreate parts of the discourse for the Khmer community.

Within this traditional culture the monks are the spiritual leaders of their society, and as such they take on many roles. Storytelling is but one of the many responsibilities of these ochre-robed men. Others include teaching the Khmer writing system to the community's children and young adults, preserving manuscripts in their monasteries, and collecting Khmer language print materials. As scholars, the monks have been given cause to reflect on the state of intellectual freedom in the recent political milieu of Southeast Asia. And finally, the digital information revolution has excited the curiosity of some of the monks, who recognize its potential promise. Insofar as they act as the information providers for their community, Khmer monks share many of the same duties and concerns held by the library profession around the globe.

Since October 1997, I have had the opportunity to explore a part of the world of international librarianship in the homeland of the ethnic Khmer. Working as an ALA Library Fellow at Can Tho University, in the heart of the Mekong Delta, I have been assisting my Vietnamese colleagues in designing and implementing a library automation system and network, tasks that are much the same as my responsibilities at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in Fredericksburg, Virginia. What expertise I have had to offer to the Vietnamese librarians has been enthusiastically received, and in return I have come to know as friends some of the most gracious and courageous people I have ever met in my life. The experience has been nothing short of extraordinary.

The richness of this adventure grew even greater when I became acquainted with the Khmer monks of Wat Muniransyarama, the Temple of Intelligent Light. Since I became their next-door neighbor in downtown Can Tho, I have since spent many evenings in their company, sipping tea and learning about the Khmer way of life. Some of the monks and many of the Khmer students who attend the university study and speak English. Given their eagerness to improve their listening and speaking skills, I am never without opportunity to engage them in conversation. Through my talks with the monks and the laity and through my observations of their roles, I have been given much to reflect on regarding service to one's community.

The ethnic Khmer are the indigenous people of the Mekong Delta and Cambodia. Estimates of their population in Vietnam vary from between 1 to 3 million. Though the Vietnamese did not begin settling in this region until the 17th century, there are some Khmer settlements that have been continuously occupied since at least the 11th. An agricultural society, the Khmer are known for being skillful rice farmers.

At the center of all Khmer communities is the wat, both temple and monastery of Theravada Buddhism. By supporting the wat's monks, the laity contribute to the making and sharing of communal merit; the monastery in turn serves the community, in part by serving as a center of learning. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Librarians in Robes: The Monks of Wat Muniransyarama
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.