A World Tribune Article
I was born into the Cambodian royal family, the great-great granddaughter of a king. At 16, I was given in marriage to the late king’s son. That was the end of my childhood, and the beginning of my life as a mother and wife.
By 1975, 16 years later, I was busy managing a large household of five children and many servants – I paid little attention to politics. That spring, I took my three oldest children – ages 13, 14 and 15 – to France to get them settled in school.
But within weeks, almost everything I knew was destroyed. The Khmer Rouge, a radical Communist group, overthrew the Cambodian government. My mother escaped, but my father and husband, I learned years later, were executed in the infamous Killing Fields (sites in Cambodia where a massive number of people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge, which controlled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. An estimated 2 million, in a nation of about 8 million, were killed during this time through a combination of executions, starvation and forced labor).
Suddenly, to be a member of the royal family in Cambodia meant being a target, vilified and blamed for all Cambodia’s ills. Members of my family were arrested, tortured and executed.
My worst nightmare was that I had no idea where to find my two youngest sons, ages 2 and 9. I had left them with their nanny, and now I was completely cut off. The only thing I knew for certain was that I could not go home.
I applied to immigrate to the United States and, in August, I moved with my three oldest children to Southern California. We knew no one, had no money, and although I was fluent in French, I spoke almost no English. I had to work to support my family, but with little education. I could only find minimum-wage jobs. I was homesick, frightened, and ill-prepared to be a single mother alone in a foreign country. At age 32, I was learning to cook and clean, and even how to shop for groceries as I built a new life for my family. I constantly wrote letters, searching for my youngest sons, but I heard only horror stories about the cruelties that ravaged my home country. I had little hope that they survived, and I became acutely aware of how much all my fellow Cambodians had suffered and lost.
Then, in 1984, I was introduced to Nam-myoho-renge-kyo through a client at work. I understood very little – there was no information written in Khmer then – but everything about it felt right. Others encouraged me to “just chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,” and I did, with all my heart.
Barely two months later, I received unbelievable news – my youngest sons had escaped the Killing Fields. Within a month, I was at a refugee camp in Thailand. Emotions overflowed – joy, trepidation, relief, pain, gratitude, amazement and, yes, even guilt.
The older one remembered me. He was then 16, although his face was creased like that of an old man, and he had clearly suffered from severe malnutrition. My youngest son did not know me at all. Their nanny had cared for them like an adoptive mother, along with her own two grandchildren. Eventually, I brought them all to the United Stated.
Chanting was the only thing that kept me on solid footing to be the best parent I could in these difficult circumstances. As SGI President Ikeda says, “As long as you have love and compassion, you will find the wisdom to make this [raising children] work” (My Dear Friends in America, second edition, p.246).
The concept of karma was familiar to me, but for the first time, I was learning that I could change my karma. I did not have to be a victim of my environment. I shared this Buddhism with everyone around me. I don’t know exactly how many began their own Buddhist practice as a result, but definitely more than 100.
With each person I talked to about Nichiren Buddhism, I gained confidence about myself, my family and our future. Slowly our lives improved. I went to college, received a master’s degree in family counseling and built a successful career.
In the 1990’s, I suffered a retina detachment in my left eye and lost much of my vision. Once again, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and studying The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin and President Ikeda’s encouragement reminded me that I was not limited by my circumstances. President Ikeda writes: “A person who has strong and invincible faith to the very end has triumphed… If those with faith had every advantage from the start, people would never know the power of Buddhism. That is why we have chosen to be born amid troubled circumstances, to show others what it means to do human revolution” (Discussions on Youth, new edition, pp. 396-97).
In 1998, after I retired as a family counselor, I moved back to Cambodia for the first time. I chanted to the Gohonzon to see Cambodia united and peaceful. This time, I did not want to be known as a princess but as someone who could make a difference for her homeland.
That year, Cambodia’s second democratic elections were held, and I became a part of this important effort. Within the year, I was elected to Congress and worked there for the next decade. I was appointed deputy chair of the commission on women, standing up for women’s rights and children’s welfare.
In 2008, I retired for the last time and returned to Southern California, which is home to the largest Cambodian population outside of Southeast Asia. I continue to do my best to contribute to the happiness of all Cambodians.
One way I am doing that is by working with the language committee responsible for translating President Ikeda’s guidance into Khmer for the encouragement of all Cambodians.
We lost so much as a nation and as a people. It remains my dream, my mission and my prayer to see Cambodia completely peaceful again. That’s what being royal means to me now.