Maha Ghosananda

Supreme Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism
Spiritual Head of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists

Maha Ghosananda

Maha Ghosananda, 68, is a Supreme Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism and a well-known Buddhist leader worldwide. In particular, he has played a major role in various nonviolent activities to promote reconciliation among the Cambodian people following the nation's civil strife, offering support to refugees and encouraging the rebuilding of the nation. His warm personality and great compassion have won him accolades as "Cambodia's Gandhi," "a Living Treasure," and "the Living Truth."

Cambodia achieved independence from French colonial rule in 1953. In 1970, a coup took place after which the monarchy was replaced by a pro-American democratic government, but there was no end to the internal strife, and in 1976, Pol Pot established Democratic Kampuchea. That government pursued extreme communist policies, moving people from urban centers to the countryside for forced labor. Those other than farmers were severely persecuted, and it is said that more than two million Cambodians, including the country's leading intellectuals, died of illness or starvation or were executed during the three years and eight months of the Pol Pot regime. Cambodian Buddhism was especially hard hit, with the country's 3,600 temples totally shut down, and many members of what had once been a 60,000-strong Buddhist clergy persecuted and slain. Only 3,000 names were listed again as members of the priesthood after the Pol Pot regime collapsed in 1979.

Maha Ghosananda is one of those few remaining Buddhist clergy. When civil war broke out in Cambodia he was in southern Thailand engaged in the discipline of meditation and escaped the worst of the turmoil. Regrettably, however, most of his family in Cambodia was slain by the Pol Pot forces. Confronted by the tragedy that was engulfing his country, Maha Ghosananda threw himself with vigor into the nonviolent peace movement, doing all he could for his fellow Cambodians. He established temples in all of the Cambodian refugee camps on the Cambodia-Thailand border, including Sakeo and Khao-ee-dang, and traveled from camp to camp to preach. The sight of Ghosananda in his saffron robes stirred the Cambodian refugees to tears. Their weeping is said to have echoed throughout the refugee camps.

After the signing of the 1991 peace accord, Maha Ghosananda led the first of the Dhammayietra Walks for Peace and Reconciliation in emulation of Shakyamuni, who led his disciples to places of strife and warfare while practicing meditation and preaching detachment from suffering and the way to peace. When a procession led by Maha Ghosananda passed through villages, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people are said to have followed it. Through these Walks, Maha Ghosananda became a bridge of peace, bringing together people who had been separated by war, and wiped away their fears with his call for peace. He has continued to promote nonviolent means, not only for peace, but also for solutions to a wide range of peace-threatening issues such as deforestation and the use of land mines.

Maha Ghosananda has had a profound influence upon movements for peace around the globe through his advisory role in such NGOs as the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), and the Ponleu Khmer, the citizens' advisory council to the Cambodian Constitutional Assembly. He has been a leader in interreligious communication, as evidenced by his attendance at the sixth World Conference on Religion and Peace held in Italy in 1994.

Maha Ghosananda opens one of his many writings with the following verse:

The suffering of Cambodia has been deep.
From this suffering comes Great Compassion.
Great Compassion makes a Peaceful Heart.
A Peaceful Heart makes a Peaceful Person.
A Peaceful Person makes a Peaceful Family.
A Peaceful Family makes a Peaceful Community.
A Peaceful Community makes a Peaceful Nation.
And a Peaceful Nation makes a Peaceful World.
May all beings live in Happiness and Peace.

Maha Ghosananda offers his unlimited compassion to all people, whether friend or foe. In both spirit and deed, he has shown the way to a fundamental resolution of regional and ethnic strife around the world.

A Brief Biographical Sketch
of Samdech Preah Maha Ghosananda
"The Gandhi of Cambodia"

  • 1929: Born in Takeo Province in south central Cambodia.

  • 1943: Initiated into the Cambodian Buddhist Order.

  • 1953: Entered Nalanda University in Bihar State, India.

  • 1956: Attended the Sixth Sangha Council of Buddhism (2500 BE) at Kaba Aye Pagoda in Rangoon, Burma, as member of the
  • Cambodian delegation under its former Sangha Raja, Chuon Nath.

  • 1957: Studied with contemporary masters of Buddhism in Mahayana and Theravada traditions in Japan and Cambodia.

  • 1969: Received doctoral degree from Nalanda University, title Maha Ghosananda bestowed. He also entered the hermitage of Thai meditation master Venerable Achaan Dhammadaro.

  • 1978: Met first influx of Cambodian refugees entering Sakeo camp following expulsion of Khmer Rouge regime from power.
  • Distributed tracts to the refugees, reminding them of the Buddha's words: "Hatred can never be appeased by hatred, hatred can only be appeased by love."

  • 1978: Established temples in refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodia border.

  • 1980: Represented Khmer nation-in-exile as consultant to the UN Economic and Social Council.
  • Co-founded Inter-religious Mission for Peace. Launched ecumenical initiatives, world days of prayer for "Peace in Cambodia and the Whole World."

  • 1981: Founded Buddhist temples in Cambodia and Cambodian resettlement communities in North America, Europe and Australia; currently oversees temples, establishes cultural and educational programs, sponsors meditations for peace, sponsors training programs for human rights advocacy and development of nonviolent conflict resolution.

  • 1983: Met with His Holiness Pope John Paul II in Rome to discuss religious basis for world peace before planned meeting in Assisi.

  • 1986: Invited by Pope to participate in Day of Prayer for Peace with world religious leaders in Assisi (now an annual event always attended by Maha Ghosananda).

  • 1988: Led contingents of Buddhist monks to U.N.-sponsored Cambodian peace negotiations, proposing a compromise and reminding national leaders that "Peace is our common goal."
  • Elected as Supreme Patriarch of Buddhism in Cambodia.

  • 1989: Granted honoray doctorate of humanitarian service at Providence College, Providence, RI, USA.

  • Received the title Samdech Preah from King Sihanouk in Phnom Penh. Popularly known as Samdech Song Santipeap (the leaders of Religion for Peace) in Cambodia.
  • Led the First Dhammayietra-Walk for Peace and Reconciliation for one month through northern Cambodia just prior to full implementation of United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).
  • "Step by Step: Meditations on Wisdom and Compassion" by Maha Ghosananda was published by Parallax Press, USA (since translated and published in Khmer, Thai, Spanish and Portuguese).
  • Awarded 1992 Rafto Foundation Prize for Human Rights, Bergen, Norway.

  • Led Second Dhammayietra through area of civil war before first Cambodian elections, encouraging citizens to overcome fear of political violence and intimidation and exerice their right to vote.
  • Named honorary leader of Ponleu Khmer, citizens' advisory council to the Cambodian Constitutional Assembly. Ponleu Khmer presents proposals for the protection of human rights and for nonviolent resolution of the continuing Cambodian conflict.
  • Invited to attend the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago.

  • Asked to bless the opening ceremony of the Interfaith Pilgrimage for Peace and Life at Auschwitz, Poland.
  • Led Third Dhammayietra through the most heavily war-torn western province of Cambodia. The walk was caught in crossfire between government and rebel forces and two peace walkers were killed. Proclaiming "this violence is indeed the reason we walk," Maha Ghosananda led the Dhammayietra to its completion.
  • Led contingent of highest-ranking monks to peace negotiations held under the auspices of King Sihanouk in Pyongyang, North Korea and to a second round of negotiations later in Phnom Penh.
  • Led interreligious delegation to peace negotiations in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to help seek an end to that country's long-standing civil war.
  • Nominated for 1994 Nobel Prize for Peace by US Senator Claiborne Pell, Chairman of US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

  • Nominated for a second time by Sen. Pell and an anonymous Nobel laureate for the 1995 Nobel Prize for Peace.
  • January: Dedicated Disabled Persons' Center, Phnom Penh.
  • February: INEB conference, ashram, Nakhon, Nayok, Thailand.
  • March: International Women's Day, Phnom Penh/Battambang.
  • March: Buddhist Teachers' Meeting (Asian-Western) Dharamsala, India.
  • April: International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture, Atami, Japan.
  • International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture, Windsor Castle, UK.
  • May: Cambodian Engaged Buddhist Nuns and Laywomen, conference in Takmau.
  • May-June: Led Fourth Dhammayietra for Peace and Reconciliation in Cambodia, walking from the Thai border to the Vietnamese border. Continued calls for peace negotiations and educating public about the ongoing dangers from land mines and unexploded ordinance in Cambodia.
  • September: Preparatory meeting for a Peace Council, UK.
  • Led International Peace Day Ceremonies, during Cambodian Festival of the Dead, for a ban on land mines.
  • October : Attended UN Review Conference on the Convention on Conventional Weapons to present the suffering of ordinary people due to land mines and plea for a total ban on them.
  • Toured Italy at invitation of the Italian Campaign to Ban land mines.
  • November: Founding meeting of the Peace Council at Windsor castle, UK.
  • The Peace Council includes several Nobel laureates and high representatives of all major world religions.

  • Nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace for third year in a row. Nominated in 1996 by American friends service Committee (1967 Nobel Prize recipients).
  • February: Led Ban Mines Week parade in Phnom Penh for a ban on land mines.
  • April: Attended UN Review Conference on Conventional Weapons, Geneva, to plea for a total ban on land mines.
  • May-June: Led the Fifth Dhammayietra for Peace and Reconciliation in Cambodia, focusing on deforestation and the link between the military, illegal logging and the on going civil war. Drew a link between healthy forests and the life of the Buddhist order. Members of Peace Council join the walk.
  • July: Invited to represent Theravada Buddhist lineage at Gethsemane Encounter, a Christian-Buddhist Monastic Dialogue at Gethsemane, Abbey, USA.
  • September: Met with opressed Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and Buddhist Sangha in Burma.
  • October: Delegates, State of the World Forum in San Francisco, California, USA November Met with Bishop Ruiz and members of Zapatistas in Chaipas, Mexico, as a member of the Peace Council.
  • December: Met with members of Khmer Rouge to arrange a route for the 1997 Walk for Peace and Reconciliation in Cambodia.
  • Patron of conference on Buddhism and Peace in Battambang, Cambodia, which was organized by Buddhism for Development group and was attended by representatives of different militant factions.

  • Nominated by a former Nobel laureate (anonymous) for the Nobel Prize for Peace for a fourth time.
  • March-April: Led the Sixth Dhammayietra through areas of Cambodia which were, until a few months before, under the total control of the Khmer Rouge. The people in the areas through which the walk passed witnessed the first freely organized event in their lives. Walk successfully concluded at the Angkor period ruins of Bantey Chammar.
  • May: Invited by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to co-lead an ecumenical service for Tibet at the national Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
  • June: As a Patron of the organization, he attended the International Network of Engaged Buddhists conference in Kanchanaburi province, Thailand, which brought together Buddhist social activists from throughout Asia and around the world.
  • Visited Halockhani refugee camp on the Burma-Thai border at the invitation of the New Monk Relief Committee.
  • August: After the coup d'etat in July he led the first mass event calling for an end to the use of violence in Cambodian power struggles.
  • In Sri Lanka, where he received an award for peacemaking from the Sarvodaya organization.

    Maha Ghosananda

    Copyright 2004 © by Netzwerk engagierter Buddhisten
    [Stand: Mai 2004/ Oktober 1997]