News at Tipitaka Network
Monk revered from Lowell to Cambodia
By Lisa Panora, The Boston Globe, Sunday, April 8, 2007
Samdech Maha Ghosananda's vision of peace and survival stretched beyond the borders of his homeland and into communities throughout New England.
Ghosananda, an architect of the revival of Buddhism in Cambodia and a spiritual leader whose influence was felt throughout this area, especially in Lowell, died March 12 at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. He was in his late 70s or early 80s.
He had been living with Buddist monks in Leverett and Providence.
Often regarded as Cambodia's Gandhi, Ghosananda was one of the few senior monks to survive Pol Pot's bloody four-year regime. After losing his entire family, including 16 siblings, Ghosananda emerged as a reformer who sought to revitalize the Cambodian refugee population through compassion and forgiveness. He established more than 50 Buddhist temples in North America and Europe. Several of them are in New England, including the Triratanaram Temple in North Chelmsford, where his funeral service was to be held this weekend.
"He had a strong sense of balance and harmony. He was a symbol of peace and inspiration to the Cambodian community in Lowell," said the Venerable Natha-Pandito Rithipol of the Triratanaram Temple.
Ghosananda was born, probably in the 1920s, in Takeo Province, Cambodia, where he served as the local temple boy. Under the guidance of former supreme patriarch Samdech Prah Sangha Raja Chuon Noth, Ghosananda became a Buddhist monk as a teenager. He earned a doctorate in Buddhist studies from Nalanda Buddhist University in Bihar, India, where he later taught. Nichidatsu Fujii, founder of the Japanese Buddhist sect Nipponzan Myohoji, introduced him to the practices of nonviolent activism. In 1965 he studied contemplative social engagement under Bhikkhu Buddhadasa. To conclude his retreat, he studied meditation with Ajahn Dhammadaro and acquired fluency in more than 10 languages.
He lived in exile during Pol Pot's reign, which denounced Buddhism and caused the deaths of all but 3,000 of Cambodia's 60,000 Buddhist monks . Returning in 1978 after the fall of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, Ghosananda invoked Buddha's teaching that "hatred can never be appeased by hatred; . . . it can only be appeased by love," to help Cambodians reclaim their lives. With the support of community activists and international bodies such as the United Nations, Ghosananda initiated several humanitarian aid programs essential to Cambodia's restoration. He taught meditation and formed peace walks, such as the Dhammayietra, which continues in Cambodia today. He was a personal friend to the Dalai Lama and Pope John Paul II.
Recognizing the importance of Cambodian communities throughout the world, Ghosananda forged his dreams of peace into an international effort. He moved to the United States in the late 1980s at the invitation of a Buddhist order in Leverett. In 1988 Cambodia's monks elected him their supreme patriarch.
For the past two decades, Ghosananda was active in the Lowell Cambodian community, which is one of the largest in the country. He led the first Southeast Asia Water Festival in the United States, which took place in Lowell in 1997. He was a frequent visitor to Lowell, where he led meditation and prayer sessions at local temples. He named the Buddhist temple in North Chelmsford, as well as many others in New England.
Those who knew him praised his devotion to Cambodian unity in Massachusetts.
"He was a familiar face to many and a strong leader in our community. He had a great presence and sought peace wherever he went," said Rithipol.
Ghosananda was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize and was awarded the 1998 Niwano Peace Prize in Japan and the 1992 Rafto Human Rights Award in Norway. He demonstrated his strong advocacy for love, peace, and forgiveness through his own nonviolent example and through his motto: "Our journey for peace begins today and every day. Each step is a prayer, each step is a meditation, each step will build a bridge."
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