The Pali language, instrumental in preserving Buddhist teachings, is deeply intertwined with the Khmer language and culture. Ven. Dr. Hor Hong, a monk and scholar, has dedicated his life to the study of Pali and its connection to Khmer society. For those from low-income families in Cambodia, becoming a monk is often the only path to an education. This is the remarkable story of Hong’s journey from humble beginnings to becoming a Pali scholar and his mission to revive Pali studies in Cambodia.
At the young age of nine, Hong moved to the village monastery in 1994 and became a novice in 1997. Growing up in a poor family and facing his parents’ divorce, he chose the monastic life to continue his education without worrying about food and basic necessities.
In 1999, Hong moved to Changkran Ta Prohm Steung Meanchey Monastery in Phnom Penh, where he completed Buddhist primary school in 2003. His determination to further his education led him to take motor taxis from his temple to Svay Pope Monastery, home to Samdech Preah Sangaraja Bour Kry Buddhist School. In 2008, he completed high school and went on to receive his B.A. in Pali from Preah Sihanoukraja Buddhist University (SBU) in 2012.
Hong’s determination and passion led him to Sri Lanka, where he received a scholarship to study at Buddhist and Pali University. He completed an M.A. in Buddhist Studies in 2015, followed by another M.A. in Pali from the University of Peradeniya in 2016. In 2021, Hong received his doctorate in Pali from the University of Kelaniya, with a dissertation titled “An Analytical Study on Pali Studies in Cambodia.”
Ven. Dr. Hor Hong’s story is an inspiring example of how the power of education and dedication can transform lives. As one of only three Cambodian Buddhist monks with a doctoral degree in Pali, he has become a symbol of hope for others seeking to learn and preserve this vital language. Despite challenges, Ven. Dr. Hor Hong remains steadfast in his commitment to promoting Pali language education.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in Pali education, with more students enrolling in courses and pursuing higher education in the language. This shift is, in part, due to the efforts of individuals like Ven. Dr. Hor Hong, who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the Pali language remains relevant and accessible to future generations. Scholarships and financial support from organizations like the MJQ Foundation have also played a significant role in providing opportunities for monks to further their education in Pali and other related fields.
Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Religions, along with various stakeholders, are now recognizing the importance of supporting Pali language education and are working to create fair entrance examinations for Pali teachers. This renewed focus on Pali education signifies a positive shift in the country’s commitment to preserving its cultural heritage and ensuring that the Pali language remains a vital part of Cambodian society.
The Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University (SBU), Cambodia’s oldest Buddhist institute, is dedicated to preserving the sacred Pali language of Theravada Buddhism. Deputy Rector Yorn Seng Yeat highlights the importance of education in Buddhism and laments the difficulty of securing financial support for Pali students, as donors often prefer funding statues and ornaments. SBU aims to attract donors for scholarships and maintain the Kingdom’s knowledge of Pali amid declining student numbers. Established in 1954, SBU has 1,993 students across three branches, majoring in subjects like Philosophy of Buddhism, Pali, and English literature.
The resurgence of the Pali language in Cambodia is a testament to the dedication and determination of individuals like Ven. Dr. Hor Hong. Through their efforts, future generations will continue to have access to the rich teachings of Buddhism and the deep connection between Pali and the Khmer language. With continued support and encouragement, the Pali language will thrive and maintain its significance in Cambodian culture for years to come.