‘Gandhi of Cambodia’ Maha Ghosananda Dies

Maha Ghosananda, a monk who played a key role in rebuilding Buddhism after the Khmer Rouge era and who was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, has died in the US, officials and news reports said Wednesday.

Maha Ghosananda, who was dubbed the “Ghandi of Cambodia” by the Western media, was in his 80s at the time of his death in Mas­sachusetts on Monday, according to the Associated Press.

Tirelessly campaigning for peace during the civil war, he is widely known for his peace marches across Cambodia in the turbulent early 1990s.

After living in exile from 1975 to 1979, he visited refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border in the late 1970s, distributing tracts and later establishing temples for Buddhists expelled by the Khmer Rouge. By some accounts, refugees openly wept upon his arrival.

“We must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience,” Liz Bernstein, then-director of the Cen­ter for Peace and Recon­ci­li­a­tion in Phnom Penh, recalled him saying in 1994.

In April that year, a march he was leading to Pailin municipality came under heavy fire when marchers became caught between government and Khmer Rouge crossfire. According to one news report, two marchers were killed.

Born in 1924 in Takeo province, Maha Ghosananda studied in Cambodia, Thailand and India, and was initiated and received as a Buddhist monk in 1943, according to historian Raoul Jennar.

He moved to the US in the late 1980s at the invitation of a Bud­dhist order that sought to eliminate wea­pons.

Sinthay Neb, a 36-year-old who helped organize walks with Maha Ghosananda, on Wednesday recal­led his philosophy as being “the more we walk, the more we can reduce our fears.”

Maha Ghosananda united people at times of strife when they were most alienated from one another, Sinthay Neb said. Um Sarouen, a 69-year-old nun living at Wat Sampeou Meas—a temple established by Maha Ghosanan­da in Phnom Penh—said she remembers him as a friendly monk.

“We miss him,” she said. “We made a room for him to stay here and believe he wanted to stay in Cambodia and die in Cambodia.”

 

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