Utica monk: Dalai Lama inspiration for area's refugees

By CHINKI SINHA, The Observer-Dispatch, Apr 20, 2008

UTICA, NY (USA) -- The Dalai Lama did not choose a life in exile, but Buddhist monk Chamreun Khorl opted to live in a foreign country to serve about 75 refugee families that resettled in Utica after fleeing Cambodia in the 1970s.

Khorl said those families and much of the region's refugee population will be able to draw inspiration from the visit this week by the high-ranking Tibetan monk, who has been exiled from his native Tibet and has lived in India ever since.

The Dalai Lama's compassion in the face of adversity will help the area's refugees as they adjust to their new lives in the United States, said Khorl, who is not attending Tuesday's event at Colgate University.

“It will also raise awareness about Buddhism here,” Khorl said through interpreter Sokhom Teng, another Cambodian monk.

The Dalai Lama is not a spiritual leader for the Cambodians, but Khorl identifies with the Tibetan monk's struggles to reclaim his homeland. That fight, he said, is justified.

“We have the same rules. We have one goal at the end,” he said about the Mahayana form of Buddhism that's practiced in Tibet, China and Central Asia. “All religions have the same goal … to let society be prosperous, peaceful.”

The Cambodians practice Theravada Buddhism, which draws its scriptural inspiration from the earliest surviving records of Buddha's teachings.

For decades, the Dalai Lama has asked China for autonomy for Tibet and has expressed his concern over the excesses of the regime on Tibetans.

In Tibet, countless monasteries have been destroyed. Recently, many Tibetans monks took to the streets in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, to protest the Chinese rule in Tibet.

This fight demonstrates the heart of the religion of Buddhism, Khorl said.

“It's Dharma,” he said, referring to the teachings of Buddha, who denounced social injustice.

Since 2003, Khorl has lived in a temple in Utica where he has recreated a homeland of sorts for the local Cambodians.

Like the Dalai Lama, Khorl zealously works toward preserving their culture in an alien land. He eats both of his meals before noon, as monks are required to do, he said.

And just like the Dalai Lama, Khorl never shed his monk's habit, even in the dreariest of winters here.

“They need me here,” he said. “Buddhism is important for Cambodian people. It is very deep.”