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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - "Prince of Peace" in line again for Nobel

"Prince of Peace" in line again for Nobel

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

Peace Prizes.

"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.



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