Cambodian Buddhist monk a spiritual leader

BY Caitlyn Emmett, Columbia Missourian, March 29, 2010

HALLSVILLE, MO (USA) -- A haze of sunlight streams in through the trailer temple’s window, illuminating the peaceful quiet that envelops Mey Savann as he begins to close his eyes and chant.

Savann is a Cambodian Buddhist monk and the spiritual leader at the Wat Angkor Cambodian Buddhist Temple in Hallsville. He is the only Cambodian Buddhist monk who lives and practices in Missouri.

Savann immigrated to the United States from Cambodia in 2001. In October 2005, he moved to Hallsville to become the spiritual leader for the Cambodian community in mid-Missouri.

“The reason I like to reside here in Hallsville is because of spreading the religion of Buddhism, which is my main object," Savann, who only speaks Cambodian, said through a translator. "I moved from California [to Missouri] because there was no Buddhist monk who resides here.”

As a Cambodian Buddhist monk, Savann’s day-to-day activities include five main things: searching for donations, meditation, thinking about the life of Buddha, trying to figure out the life beyond ours and trying to understand what the future will hold.

Savann said he became a Buddhist in 1980 when he was just 18-years-old. He said he became a monk because “to become a monk is to represent the culture, the tradition, of the Cambodian family.”

According to Buddhist tradition, monks rely on lay people to provide them with their basic needs.

“In our community, we have maybe more than 300 or 400, but it’s throughout the state – it’s not just from Columbia," said member Phillip Path. "We have people from St. Louis, Kansas City, and other surrounding areas from here, and it’s not just Cambodian, we have many other nationalities too that become Buddhist members."

Different families within the local Cambodian community provide Savann with food on different days. “Sometimes I like all the food, but sometimes I have to watch for my health too, and so some food I cannot eat as much of,” Savann said.

Being surrounded by community is a comfort to Savann. He said he feels that being the only monk and living alone can become a bit lonely sometimes. Savann does not like to focus on the future and instead pays attention to the present, but he said he hopes that someday another monk may join him and help in his work.