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How Buddhism Was Reinstated as the Official Religion

[Editor's note: This is the second in a series of stories highlighting the life of revered monk Maha Ghosananda, who died in a Massachusetts hospital March 12. Ghosananda was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his efforts to rebuild Cambodian Buddhism after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.]

After peace talks in Jakarta in 1989, Maha Ghosananda and his fellow monks saw a change in the official attitude towards Buddhism.

Religion had been all but eradicated by the Khmer Rouge, who had been ousted in 1979 but replaced with the regime of a communist Vietnam. Many Cambodians are deeply Buddhist, but the country remained without an official religion.

After the peace talks, where Maha Ghosananda and fellow monks sat with King Norodom Sihanouk to bless the peace delegates, Prime Minister Hun Sen seemed to change his stance on religion, venerable monk Natha Pandito Rithipol told VOA recently.

His position softened, and he began announcing Buddhism as the state religion, as it had been before. Young men were allowed to join the pagodas and to become "bhikkhu," or full fledged monks, after the age of 21.