Samdech Preah Sangkareach Choun Nath
A BUDDHIST patriarch who committed himself to helping the poor was commemorated last
weekend with a three-day seminar that looked at his teachings and life.
Samdech Preah Sangkareach Choun Nath died 30 years ago, but his example and message
are still revered in Cambodia.
The seminar, sponsored by the Buddhist Institute, the Ministry of Cults and Religion
and the Documentation Center for Khmer Civilization, comprised a photo exhibition,
displays and performances aimed at carrying on his teachings and speeches.
The Minister of the Council of Ministers, Sok An, made a speech endorsing the establishment
of a Samdech Choun Nath foundation.
"I wish to express my admiration and I would like to support the creation of
a Samdech Choun Nath Foundation for Culture of Peace and I also wish this mission
to be as highly successful as the name of Samdech Choun Nath," he said.
"In the name of the Prime Minister of the Royal Government and for myself I
would like to ask Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen to find ways to make available
actions for our young people like Samdech Sangkareach Choun Nath created with the
Samdech Choun Nath was ordained in Pur Preuk pagoda in Kum Reang commune, Kang Pisey
district, in Kampong Speu province, in 1902.
Two years later he went to Ounalom pagoda in Phnom Penh and a short time later he
was appointed senior monk in Kanak Mohanikai.
In 1922-1923, Samdech Choun Nath and a fellow monk, Huot Tath, were sent to study
Pali, Sanskrit and stone inscriptions in Hanoi under the guidance of French teachers.
Samdech Choun Nath was a scholar fluent in Thai, Lao, French, English and Vietnamese
as well as his native Khmer.
He rose swiftly through the monastic hierarchy and was appointed to the highest rank
in 1950 as a head of Mohanikai sect. In 1963, he was appointed as a supreme head
of all monks in the country by Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
Samdech Choun Nath had his life fully dedicated to Buddhism, culture and peace and
must be a reference for all Cambodians, according to the Organizing Committee President,
Nouth Narang, who spoke at the closing ceremony.
Narang continued by saying that the actions of Samdech Choun Nath and the way he
undertook them were Cambodia's common heritage and should be a guide to everyone
regardless of their position in society, so that the culture of peace becomes tangible.
Samdech Choun Nath abandoned his life for Buddhism, culture and peace. He was raised
respecting the Buddhist morality strictly, especially respect for all human life.
"I hope that through the way of Samdech Choun Nath, our Khmer people will be
brought into the Buddhist way and cooperate with each other in order to rebuild the
culture of peace for this whole country," said Nouth Narang.
Samdech Choun Nath was 86 when he died on 25 September 1969 after he suffered three
days of illness.
There were rumors at the time that Samdech Choun Nath was assassinated because he
had made a serious mistake in his Buddhist teachings; others said he was killed because
of his anti-communist stance.
However his personal secretary, Mey Yam, said the rumors were untrue. He said he
was with him continually in his last days and no-one tried to harm him.
Instead Mey Yam believes hard work and tireless research simply wore out the elderly
He said Samdech Choun Nath was an ordinary monk who always helped Cambodian poor
people, especially the sick.
Yam said Samdech Choun Nath used the coconut husk (srakay doung) for his mat, and
a locally made sheet.
"I bought the modern materials for him but he always said there was no need,"
Samdech Choun Nath used whatever money he was given to provide medicines and equipment
for hospitals throughout the country.
"Samdech always asked me how much money I had. [And would reply] "'You
keep only 10,000 riels; if more than this you take it to buy medicine to take to
hospitals'," Yam said.
He added that Samdech Preah Sangkareach Choun Nath told him that he would not be
reborn with God but rather he would return to help Cambodian poor people.