ENGAGED BUDDHISM / CAMBODIA
Somdet Phra Maha Ghosananda (1929-)
Lineage Theravada, Cambodian.
Buddhist University, Phnom Penh – graduate.
Buddhist University, Battambang – advanced studies.
Somdet Phra Sangha Raja Chuon Noth.
[who was Supreme Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism at the time]
Nalanda University, India – doctorate.
Zen Japanese – Nichiren School Nipponzan, Myohoji Sect founder Nichidatsu Fujii.
Theravada – Thai forest tradition: Ven. Achaan Dhammadaro.
A Biographical Sketch of Somdet Phra Maha Ghosananda “The Gandhi of Cambodia”
• 1929 Born Takeo Province, south central Cambodia.
• 1943 Initiated into Cambodian Buddhist Order.
• 1953 Studied at Nalanda University in Bihar State, India.
• 1956 Attended 6th Sangha Council of Buddhism.
• 1957 Studied with contemporary masters of Buddhism in Mahayana and Theravada traditions.
• 1969 Received doctoral degree from Nalanda University, title “Maha Ghosanada” bestowed.
Entered hermitage of Thai meditation master Venerable Achaan Dhammadaro.
• 1978 Met first influx of Cambodian refugees entering Sakeo camp following expulsion of Khmer Rouge regime from power. Distributed tracts to the refugees, reminding them of Buddha’s words: “Hatred can never be appeased by hatred, hatred can only be appeased by love.”
• 1978- Established temples in refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodia border.
• 1980 Represented Khmer nation-in-exile as consultant to the UN Economic and Social Council.
Co-founded Inter-religious Mission for Peace. Launched ecumenical initiatives, world days of prayer for “Peace in Cambodia and the Whole World.”
• 1981 Founded Buddhist temples in Cambodia and Cambodian resettlement communities in North America, Europe and Australia; currently oversees temples, establishes cultural and educational programs, sponsors meditations for peace, sponsors training programs for human rights advocacy and development of nonviolent conflict resolution.
• 1983 Met with His Holiness Pope John Paul II in Rome to discuss religious basis for world peace before planned meeting in Assisi.
• 1986 Invited by Pope to participate in Day of Prayer for Peace with world religious leaders in Assisi (now an annual event always attended by Maha Ghosananda).
• 1988-1991 Led contingents of Buddhist monks to U.N. – sponsored Cambodian peace negotiations, proposing a compromise and reminding national leaders that “Peace is our common goal.”
• 1988 Elected a Supreme Patriarch of Buddhism in Cambodia.
1989 Granted honorary doctorate of humanitarian service at Providence College, Providence, RI, USA.
• 1992 Received the title Somdet Phra from King Sihanouk in Phnom Penh. Popularly known as Samdech Song Santipeap (the leaders of Religion for Peace) in Cambodia.
Led the First Dhammayietra-Walk for Peace and Reconciliation for one month through northern Cambodia just prior to full implementation of United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).
“Step by Step: Meditations on Wisdom and Compassion” by Maha Ghosananda was published by Parallax Press, USA (since translated and published in Khmer, Thai, Spanish and Portuguese).
Awarded 1992 Rafto Foundation Prize for Human Rights, Bergen, Norway.
• 1993 Led Second Dhammayietra through area of civil war before first Cambodian elections, encouraging citizens to overcome fear of political violence and intimidation and exerice their right to vote.
Named honorary leader of Ponleu Khmer, citizens’ advisory council to the Cambodian Constitutional Assembly. Ponleu Khmer presents proposals for the protection of human rights and for nonviolent resolution of the continuing Cambodian conflict.
Invited to attend the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago.
• 1994 Asked to bless the opening ceremony of the Interfaith Pilgrimage for Peace and Life at Auschwitz, Poland.
Led Third Dhammayietra through the most heavily war-torn western province of Cambodia. The walk was caught in crossfire between government and rebel forces and two peace walkers were killed. Proclaiming “this violence is indeed the reason we walk,” Maha Ghosanada led the Dhammayietra to its completion.
Led contingent of highest-ranking monks to peace negotiations held under the auspices of King Sihanouk in Pyongyang, North Korea and to a second round of negotiations later in Phnom Penh.
Led interreligious delegation to peace negotiations in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to help seek an end to that country’s long-standing civil war. Nominated for 1994 Nobel Prize for Peace by US Senator Claiborne Pell, Chairman of US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
– 1995 Nominated for a second time by Sen. Pell and an anonymous Nobel laureate for 1995 Nobel Peace Prize.
– January: Dedicated Disabled Persons’ Center, Phnom Penh.
– February: INEB conference, ashram, Nakhon, Nayok, Thailand.
– March: International Women’s Day, Phnom Penh/Battambang.
– March: Buddhist Teachers’ Meeting (Asian-Western) Dharamsala, India.
– April: International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture, Atami, Japan.
International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture, Windsor Castle, UK.
– May: Cambodian Engaged Buddhist Nuns and Laywomen, conference in Takmau.
– May-June: Led Fourth Dhammayietra for Peace and Reconciliation in Cambodia, walking from the Thai border to the Vietnamese border. Continued calls for peace negotiations and educating public about the ongoing dangers from land mines and Unexploded ordinance in Cambodia.
– September: Preparatory meeting for a Peace Council, UK. Led International Peace Day Ceremonies, during Cambodian Festival of the Dead, for a ban on land mines.
– October: Attended UN Review Conference on the Convention on Conventional Weapons to present the suffering of ordinary people due to land mines and plea for a total ban on them. Toured Italy at invitation of the Italian Campaign to Ban land mines.
– November: Founding meeting of the Peace Council at Windsor castle, UK. The Peace Council includes several Nobel laureates and high representatives of all major world religions.
– 1996 Nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace for third year in a row. Nominated in 1996 by American friends service Committee (1967 Nobel Prize recipients).
– February: Led Ban Mines Week parade in Phnom Penh for a ban on land mines.
– April: Attended UN Review Conference on Conventional Weapons, Geneva, to plea for a total ban on land mines.
– May-June: Led the Fifth Dhammayietra for Peace and Reconciliation in Cambodia, focusing on deforestation and the link between the military, illegal logging and the on going civil war. Drew a link between healthy forests and the life of the Buddhist order. Members of Peace Council join the walk.
– July: Invited to represent Theravada Buddhist lineage at Gesthemane Encounter, a Christian-Buddhist Monastic Dialogue at Gesthemane, Abbey, USA.
– September: Met with opressed Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and Buddhist Sangha in Burma October Delegates, State of the World Forum in San Francisco, California, USA November Met with Bishop Ruiz and members of Zapatistas in Chaipas, Mexico, as a member of the Peace Council.
– December: Met with members of Khmer Rouge to arrange a route for the 1997 Walk for Peace and Reconciliation in Cambodia. Was Patron of conference on Buddhism and Peace in Battambang, Cambodia, which was organized by Buddhism for Development group and was attended by representatives of different militant factions.
– 1997 Nominated by a former Nobel laureate (anonymous) for the Nobel Prize for Peace for a fourth time.
– March-April: Led the Sixth Dhammayietra through areas of Cambodia which were, until a few months before, under the total control of the Khmer Rouge. The people in the areas through which the walk passed witnessed the first freely organized event in their lives. Walk successfully concluded at the Angkor period ruins of Bantey Chammar.
– May: Invited by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to co-lead an ecumenical service for Tibet at the national Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
– June: As a Patron of the organization, he attended the International Network of Engaged Buddhists conference in Kanchanaburi province, Thailand, which brought together Buddhist social activists from throughout Asia and around the world. Visited Halockhani refugee camp on the Burma-Thai border at the invitation of the New Monk Relief Committee.
– August: After the coup d’etat in July he led the first mass event calling for an end to the use of violence in Cambodian power struggles. He later traveled to Sri Lanka, where he received an award for peacemaking from the Sarvodaya organization.
Comment: Currently Supreme Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism. Since 1978, Maha Ghosananda worked tirelessly for Buddhism and for human rights. He has established temples, partaken in UN delegations and attended religious conferences. Also, participant in peace negotiations, founder of cultural programs and anti land mine campaigner. Samdech Preah is famous for visiting Cambodian refugee camps at times of great danger and for leading “Dhammayietra” peace walks through the war-torn country. A 4x Nobel nominee, he is recipient of many honours, fluent in 15 languages and strong supporter of women’s Buddhism.
Particular Teachings: Has no official students: his method of teaching is to interact informally with everyone who approaches him. Uses no syllabus, speaks from the heart.
Wat Sampeou Meas is the main temple, but although Samdech has established over 50 temples, he has no connections with any of them. For famous man, he is notoriously hard to get hold of. A constant traveller, even his disciples do not know where he is much of the time. Interested persons may try following:
Ven. Maha Ghosananda
c/o Mr. ONG Vuthy
Coordinator, The Dhammayietra Center, for Peace and Non-violence
Phnom Penn, CAMBODIA
Fax: (855 23) 36-4205
• International Network of Engaged Buddhist (INEB) Website: http://inebnetwork.org/
INEB is under the patronage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Venerable Somdet Phra Maha Ghosananda, and Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh. Founded in 1987, INEB is the first international network that links together engaged Buddhists worldwide. INEB deals with alternative education and spiritual training, gender issues, human rights, ecology, alternative concepts of development, and activism. Primarily a Buddhist network, INEB encompasses interfaith elements.
By Somdet Phra Maha Ghosananda:
Step by Step: Meditations on Wisdom and Compassion
Parallax Press, USA
also in Khmer, Thai, Spanish and Portuguese.
By western students referring to their experiences at teachers temples:
An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics, by Peter Harvey.
By students in teachers lineage:
Action Dharma, eds. Queen, Keown & Prebish, has chapter on Maha Ghosananda.