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Movable Peace: Engaging the Transnational in Cambodia’s Dhammayietra

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The Dhammayietra is an annual peace walk in Cambodia that originated at the historic repatriation of refugees in the Thai border camps at the U.N.-monitored transition to democracy in 1992. It situates itself within the discourse and practice of “socially engaged Buddhism” that has gained visibility in Asia and American Buddhism during the last two decades. As Cambodia’s particular form of socially engaged Buddhism is marked by refugee return, I will argue that the Dhammayietra’s revival of Buddhism in postsocialist Cambodia is only possible because of its transnational formation. Represented as a quintessential Khmer Buddhist response to Cambodia’s entrenched conflicts, the networks forged beyond the border of Cambodia have been instrumental in fashioning the face of the Dhammayietra. Though it forges its discursive identity vis a vis the “local” space of the nation, this local space is mobile. Maha Ghosananda’s instruction to move “step by step” toward peace reappropriates dangerous mobility—the massive relocations during the Khmer Rouge era, refugee flight, the danger of treading on land fed with mines—and turns walking into a religious act. It is this discursive “move” that loosens the Dhammayietra’s ties to the nation and allows it to slip across political and religious borders and ally itself with a diverse network of interfaith peace groups that are its transnational public forum.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Global Studies, St. Lawrence University [email protected]

Publication date: March 1, 2002

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