T HE Supreme Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhists is not someone who gets easily excited
about such a thing as a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.
"I'm used to this already," Samdech Preah Maha Ghosananda says.
"I have been nominated before, in 1994 and 1995. I have become accustomed to
this. First there is the honeymoon, but when you stay together many times, then there
is no honeymoon anymore," he says with a smile.
He had no idea that the American Friends Service Committee had put his name forward
this year till a letter arrived from them telling him what they'd done.
If he wins the prize this time - and the $1 million laureate's purse - "we will
organize this temple beautifully... and help with the handicapped people."
"Maybe I [will] give some [money] to the King, and to the Nation to help the
suffering and poor people, and to Buddhism to help us print the books," he says,
invoking the three Cambodian principles of Nation, Religion, King.
And no, of course he was never disappointed about being overlooked for previous Nobel
"In Buddhism we have contentment," he explains very patiently. "[The
lack of] this is one of the 16 causes of unhappiness... we teach that we should be
content with what we have, and that maybe [what we have] is enough."
Ghosanada, 72, first became internationally prominent during the late-70s and throughout
the 1980s working among refugees in the Thai border camps.
It was there that the last vestiges of Buddhism - a religion stripped away by the
Khmer Rouge - were in danger of being finally lost.
Ghosananda offered refugees a third choice - that of "loving kindness and compassion"
- between fighting and "Westernization". "Westernization"
was a term coined to describe how many refugees began embracing Western ideals, including
Christianity, in the belief that would give them preferential repatriation and help.
Ghosananda quickly became known as the "Prince of Peace."
"The Thais wanted to help... they were afraid that if the communists came Thailand
would lose their religion like Cambodia [had]," Ghosananda says.
He was invited to become the Khmer translator for Thailand's Supreme Patriarch, and
lived in his temple.
Many Christian religions were introduced by Western aid workers "but we all
helped together, and prayed together... even in the communist [-run] camps because
the people there are all Buddhist," he says.
Though the Khmer Rouge "did not believe" in Buddhism, and used the temples
as "animal houses", he says "the ordinary people believed. Buddhism
is in their blood."
Now many thousands of Khmer Rouge soldiers are defecting - or, as he says, "returning
The Royal Government regularly broadcasts Buddhist principles on radio, such as those
advocating no punishment "just like the Buddha helping the bandit to become
a monk and therefore releasing the bandit from previous karma," he says.
When asked what role Buddhist leaders should have in Cambodia's reconciliation, he
says: "[Khmer Rouge] soldiers are Buddhist, their mothers and fathers and family
are all Buddhist.
"We have talked with [the Khmer Rouge] everywhere. In China, Indonesia, France,
at the United Nations."
"I learnt at Pali high school of the four kinds of books to make peace. First,
we make friendship. Then as we stay together there is friction, we become enemies
and fight. Then there is discussion, and in the end there is peace".
The Government uses the phrase "Nation, Religion, King" as its basic principles,
he says. "Without these three things Cambodia will always be fighting".
He arranges a pint glass half-full of tea on top of three other glasses, and explains
how the pint represents a peaceful Cambodia that would fall and break if just one
of the base glasses - Nation, Religion, King - is taken away.
The Government is "very clever, very intelligent," he says.
It has attracted Khmer Rouge defectors with the promise of no punishment, but has
also used "repulsion, to push those who are not following them," he says.
In the end, he says, he is confident there will be peace in Cambodia with "mindfulness"
- that is the Buddhist teaching of knowing, shaping and freeing the mind.
Ghosananda explains that "during the Lon Nol regime we became US. During Pol
Pot we became Chinese, and during the time of the Vietnamese and Russians we became
Vietnamese and Russian. Now we become Cambodian again."
It is a growing thing, he says. Even during the UNTAC transition "there was
much fighting. Now, three years later, things are becoming better and better every
This is not true just of Cambodia, but in the rest of the world where communism "has
no opportunity" anymore, he says.
"Cambodia is influenced by the situation of the world... which is not favorable
to the Khmer Rouge.
"Before the Thais helped the Khmer Rouge, now they have stopped. Before China
was their main partner, but they also stop... they have their own problems,"
he says, mentioning Taiwan.
Reconciliation depends on the three pillars of Buddha: stop fighting, make peace,
and purify the mind, he says.
The Khmer Rouge "are our own Nation... they are like us, but they follow something
else so they fight with us."
But now, as many return, "they become our brothers again."
Fighting comes from "a dirty mind... a hateful, greedy, ignorant mind. When
someone becomes free of these, there will be peace," he says.
When asked whether the continued fighting could be blamed on one side or the other,
Ghosananda says: "No, we do not blame. We try to ask always what are the goals
and conditions of [the] fighting, what are the goals and conditions of peace?
"Don't struggle with people, with men. Struggle with the goals and conditions
that make men fight each other".
Ghosananda believes that on both sides of armed conflict there are men "inflamed
by hatred, greed and ignorance".
Buddhist teachers can work toward peace with men and women who are prepared to turn
to the "light," he says. "Even stubborn [people] sometimes learn softness
if they know the truth of the Dharma of the Buddha," he says.
Stressing his belief that Cambodia is slowly becoming a peaceful nation, Ghosananda
says: "If you have fighting you have suffering, if you have peace you have happiness.