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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia remembers the Great Joyful Proclaimer

Cambodia remembers the Great Joyful Proclaimer

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Cambodia's legendary Buddhist peacemaker, Samdech Preah Maha Ghosananda, whose Sanskrit

name means The Great Joyful Proclaimer, died on March 13 in a hospital in North Hampton,

Massachusetts, from complications following a stroke. He was 81.

Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong enters Wat Sampoev Meas to attend the memorial ceremony for Nobel Peace Prize nominee Maha Ghosananda who died in the United States on March 13. Obituary.

At a ceremony held on March 18 at Wat Sampeov Meas, four-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee

Ghosananda was remembered for his courage, holiness, wisdom and warmth. He had, in

the words of former assistant Heng Mony Chenda, "an eternal smile."

Speaking in reverential tones, religious and civil society leaders in attendance

recalled Ghosananda's charisma and honesty with high praise - and the deep respect

reserved for only the most august. Patti Curran, who met Ghosananda in 1993, described

him as "a man of lovingkindness and a pure heart."

Others described his devotion to peace and an otherworldly capacity for forgiveness

- even against the Khmer Rouge regime that killed his entire family.

"I do not question that loving one's oppressor may be the most difficult thing

to achieve, but it is the law of the universe that hatred and revenge is a self-perpetuating

cycle," Ghosananda once wrote. "Reconciliation does not mean we surrender

the wisdom of our rights and conditions. Wisdom and compassion must walk together.

Without one, you are walking on one leg.

Arlys Herem, who first marched with Ghosananda in 1991 as an NGO volunteer, said

she will never forget "his warmth, his smile, his peace." His actions inspired

a generation of activists.

"We have lost a great Buddhist name; we've lost our Gandhi," said Kek Galabru,

founder and president of rights group Licadho at the ceremony. "He had a great

heart, and presence. He had no negative thoughts. He taught that when there is no

hatred, there is hope. He always said that with peace and joy and love we would survive.

He was one who brought us hope when there was none."

Ghosananda, who was said to be fluent in 15 languages, became famous in the earlly

1980s for his work in Cambodian refugee camps, establishing temples for the Cambodian

diaspora and for his later Dhammayietra peace walks through war-torn country.

"He's an Arhant, which I'd compare to a saint," said Mony Chenda, now director

of Buddhism for Development. "We started working together in 1987 in the refugee

camps along the Thai border. The first thing he did in the camps was save Cambodian

refugees from the Thai authorities and police. I saw him plead with soldiers not

to be so hard on Cambodians. He told the people not to lose hope, and to some day

return to Cambodia."

Ghosananda was lauded at the memorial ceremony in speeches and funerary chants by

Great Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong, Cambodia's top Buddhist leader, and Supreme Patriarch

Bou Kri, head of the Dhamyuth Order.

"Maha Ghossanda is the one peace activist that we really have in Cambodia -

all Cambodian citizens, have heard Maha Ghosananda's advice about peace," said

Chhorn Eam, secretary of state at the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs, on

March 21. "He taught that when our mind is at peace, our family is also at peace;

when our family is peaceful, our society is peaceful; and when our society is at

peace, our nation is at peace."

But despite praise from top Buddhsit clergy, Ghosananda generally worked outside

of Cambodia and rarely stayed in his homeland for long periods. Religious analysts

told the Post that he was not instrumental in rebuilding Buddhism inside Cambodia

after the Khmer Rouge, as this was handled by the Vietnamese-installed government

of the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK).

"He was an international man," Mony Chenda said. "He was borderless.

His philosophy was borderless and his love and compassion were borderless. He looked

at enemies and friends as the same thing. All he talked about was peace. He's really

not been well-observed in Cambodia."

Still, his teachings, peace marches - and his book Step by Step: Meditations on Wisdom

and Compassion - have gained him a polytheistic following. He met Pope John Paul

II, the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi and the former leaders of the Khmer Rouge.

"We are very sorry about the death of Maha Ghosananda because he was very intellectual

and he found peace not only for Cambodia, but all over the world - the world acknowledged

his achievements," said So Sarith, director of Wat Lanka's Lon Nget Buddhist

high school. "He [was] a top monk. Very famous. We should take him as the example,

he knows a lot of dharma especially peace dharma, and he has given his whole life

to Buddhism."

A press statement released by the Son Sann Foundation following Ghosananda's death

described the Dhammayietra as "one of the landmarks in Cambodia history."

The statement called Ghosananda "the pride of the Cambodian people, upholding

what is right and just to do, the light of hope shining out in the dark hours of

Cambodian history."

According to Mony Chenda, Ghosananda was a free monk who never spoke about politics.

"He was not a leader," Mony Chenda said. "He never asked anyone to

follow him."

But so many did - step by step.

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