The Buddhist Institute was an initiative of King Sisovat in 1921, when he inaugurated the royal library, Khemra Bannalai which subsequently changed its name to Preah Raj Bannalai in 1925. Then in 1930, King Monivong established the Buddhist Institute. The responsibilities of the Institute were not only research into Cambodian literature, language and Buddhism, but also publication and education.
In 1954 King Norodom Sihanouk linked the Buddhist Institute with Preah Sihanouk Raj Buddhist University. Major outputs for the Institute over the years have included:
- Kambuja Soriya: This magazine was established in 1926 and is still being published today. It features articles on culture, tradition, and religion, together with news from the Institute.
- The Tripitaka Scripture: The Tripitaka Commission was founded in 1929, with its main task to translate Buddhist scripture from Pali into Khmer. This was achieved in 1961 with the publication of the last of 110 volumes. Since then, the Tripitaka Commission has published commentaries and other titles relating to Buddhist scripture.
- Khmer Legends have been collected and published by Mores and Customs Commission, consisting of 9 volumes of tales. The first three books include tales of problems and their solution. Volumes 4, 5, and 6 illustrate tales relating to the history and geography of various localities. Volume 7 tells of the beginnings of animals and trees. Volume 8 tells of guardian spirits. Volume 9 tells of Cambodian traditions.
- Khmer dictionary, a major achievement and a reference source for Khmer literature researchers across the whole country. The first edition was prepared by His Eminence CHOUN NATH, Supreme Patriarch of Mahanikaya order and published in 1938.
- Currently, many documents are being collected to rebuild the Buddhist Institute’s collection, for the benefit of researchers locally. Research is also continuing on key Khmer culture issues, both historical, such as folk tales, or colonisation and contemporary subjects (Buddhism in the 21st century, or HIV/AIDS, for example)
Directors of the Buddhist Institute from its foundation
Miss Suzanne Karpelès, director from 1930-1941, previously in charge of the Preah Raj Bannalai.
- Mr Pierre Dupont, director from 1941-1946, and from 1946-1950 under French administration.
- Mr Mang Burey, director from 1950-1967
- Mr Leang Hap An, director in 1967-1973
- Mr Ouk Samon, director in 1973-1975
- 1975-1979 the Buddhist Institute was closed by the Pol Pot regime
- 1979-1992 remained closed
- Mr Om Khem, director from 1992-1999
- Mr Nguon Van Chanthy, director from 1999-Present