During the dark period of civil war, a Cambodian monk led a campaign for peace in his nation. For years, the venerable Maha Ghosananda contributed to the cause of peace, and he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize four times. He died on March 12, 2007, and his passing will be marked in an upcoming second anniversary.
Monks and laymen alike will honor the life of Maha Ghosananda across the United States, with an official second-year funeral ceremony to be held at Trai Ratanaram, a community center for Cambodian monks in North Chelmsford, Mass., March 12 through March 15.
“They changed a new robe for him, and bought a new golden coffin to permanently store his body,” said venerable monk Sao Khon, chairman of the Ratanaram pagoda. Laypeople are busy in their communities preparing to honor him, he said.
In years past, Sao Khon said, he traveled with Maha Ghosananda to the World Peace Council, for the cause of peace in Israel, Palestine, the West Bank, Saudi Arabia and other countries. At the UN, they distributed a book advocating peace.
“The honorable Ghosananda was a Cambodian hero monk when our Cambodia was at war,” Sao Khon said. “Using Buddhist dharma, he brought Khmer suffering the world’s attention.”
Maha Ghosananda was born in a very poor family in Daun Keo village, Takeo province, in 1929. He entered the monkhood in 1943 and was one of supreme patriarch Chuon Nath’s students and a member of delegation led by supreme patriarch Chuon Nath to participate in the 6th International Buddhist Monk Congress to celebrate the 2, 500th anniversary of Lord Buddha's Parinibanna, in 1956 in Rangoon, Burma’s capital.
He studied at Nalanda University in India and received a doctorate in philosophy in Buddhism in 1969. In 1980, he established an inter-religious organization called Mission for Peace. In 1981 he led the Khmer community to build Buddhist pagodas in Cambodia, the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. He led 16 Dhamayatras, walks for peace, in Cambodia, advocating nonviolence within society and human rights.
His fellow monks remember him well.
Venerable monk Treung Ky Chantha, a representative of the Kampuchea Krom monks in the US, told VOA Khmer Maha Ghosananda had preached “truthfulness, forbearance and gratitude” in his efforts to bring peace to Cambodia.
“He always paid attention to helping Cambodian society, within and outside the country,” Treung Ky Chantha said. “He devoted his whole life to his nation and religion. In particular, he always led Dhamayatra [peace marches] in Cambodia, as well as in other places in the world to pray for peace, happiness and prosperity. Although he passed away, his name and reputation are still alive to be a good role model for all Cambodian people.”
Maha Ghosananda contributed to social development through Buddhism. He led the first Dhamayatra in the northern part of Cambodia in 1992, as UNTAC helped prepare the first democratic election in Cambodian history.
Venerable monk Nhem Kim Teng, abbot of Prey Thlork pagaoda, in Svay Rieng province, is currently doing his doctoral studies in Buddhism at Delhi University in India.
“Honorable Maha Ghosananda participated in Dhamayatras in India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and other countries at war,” Nhem Kim Teng said. “He was recognized throughout the world as a person dedicated to the quest of peace not only in Cambodia, but across the world. People knew his name as a Cambodian hero monk who actively advocated peace through Buddhism.”
Venerable monk Chhuon Chhoeun, of Damnak pagoda, Siem Reap province, said that in 1993 and 1998 Maha Ghosananda led Dhamayatra from his pagoda, with 2,000 Buddhist novices, monks, and nuns throughout Siem Reap town.
“The Dhamayatra led by honorable Maha Ghosananda from Damnak pagoda in 1993 was not in the fighting areas because conflicting factions in our country were already united,” he said. “Before, his Dhamayatra went to fighting areas, such as Samlot, where the Khmer Rouge were positioned.”
Men Maya, a Buddhist follower at Dhamikaram pagoda in Rhode Island, met with Maha Ghosananda in 1983. She, like many others, was devoted to him, seeing him again in 2006 and staying with him until the end.
“I served him for five months and a half until his last day,” she said.