Putting the World of Religion Above Your Own World

People give so much to religion…

A few days ago now, we arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia by minivan after a six hour-reckless ride. For our group at that time, Phnom Penh was not the ideal place to be but it was a necessary stop along the way back to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

With a lack of ideas and only a couple of suggestions from the guide book we decided to wander around the city in search of cheap food and entertainment. We walked over to Wat Phnom, a highly recommended Buddhist temple in the middle of a park on an island surrounded by flying cars.

After paying “$1 for foreigners, “walking up about thirty steep stairs and taking off our shoes, we walked inside.

The temple on top of the hill was small but vibrated with color. Vibrating from one mural filled wall to the next. Not a spec on the wall was empty. Designs danced from corner to corner. The piled statues glistened as people kneeled before them in prayer. The amount of effort put into building even this small holy-structure was unmeasurable.

Rumor has it this landmark, dating back to 1373, was discovered and designed by a wealthy widow, Daun Penh. Inside a Koki Tree, on the river, Penh found four small bronze Buddha statues. To honor her finds she built a shrine on top of an artificial hill, with help from the local village people. That shrine grew over the years into the delicate, colorful, holy-place it is today.

After driving through Cambodia and Vietnam I have seen a little of how much the people put into religion. Each house, restaurant and shop has a small shrine. The shrine is a place to pray and give offerings such as coffee and fruit every morning and evening. The temple shines above the slums, with fluorescent towers reaching high up into the sky while brown, tin-roof huts act as homes below.

It’s not only in Southeast Asia but all over the world that I am beginning to recognize how much people dedicate to religion, whatever religion that may be. From human sacrifices dating all the way back to the Aztec tribes to the deaths resulting from over 100 years given to the building of Angkor Wat. The most incredible buildings in the world such as Hagia Sophia, the Vatican, Taj Mahal and the entire city of Mecca are all religious. These structures are engineered with intelligence and grace because they were not just for the people but something they felt was greater, deserving of the best.

While these building stand proud and tall I can’t help but notice the trash on the streets below them in Cambodia. Men toss plastic bags across the street so that they won’t be in front of their own home. Kids kick cans and woman toss garbage over their shoulders onto the floor. It’s hard for me to understand how they could be comfortable with keeping their own world so dirty when they are capable of creating so much beauty. Every morning households offer soft drinks and food to the Buddhist statue in their kitchen, store, backyard, or place of work. If everyone spent an equal amount of time picking up the garbage from below their feet, the streets could glisten with color as well.

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One thought on “Putting the World of Religion Above Your Own World

  1. Hello,

    We met in Phnom Penh, same hostel.

    Nice blog. Personally, I like teaching people a phrase or two that adds to their skills, making them more employable and perhaps even increasing their self esteem instead of dropping money into donation boxes that only buys more stuff for shrines without helping feed someone.

    Religion has its own place, but this is more practical.

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