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Maha Ghosananda

The Making of a Monk: Cambodia's Maha Ghosananda

[Adapted from introductions by Jack Kornfield, Dith Pran, and Jane Sharada Mahoney and Philip Edmonds to Maha Ghosananda's Step by Step: Meditations on Wisdom and Compassion (Parallax Press, Berkeley, California, 1992) Reprinted with permission.]

Maha Ghosananda,
Cambodia's Gandhi,
preaching in Battambang.

Samdech Preah Maha Ghosananda, supreme leader of Cambodian Buddhism, represents to many the essence of sweet generosity and unstoppable courage of heart. Just to be in his presence, to experience his smile and the infectious loving kindness that flows from him is healing to the spirit.

He moves easily between many worlds: as a forest monk, as a father figure for Cambodian children, as a translator and scholar of fifteen languages, as a meditation master for Western students, as a peacemaker at the United Nations, and as one of the living treasures of Cambodia, leading the Khmer refugee communities around the world. Almost alone at first, he worked to restore Cambodian Buddhism after the holocaust of the Pol Pot years: training new monks and nuns, rebuilding temples.

In all these situations, his heart has been unfalteringly compassionate and joyful, and he emanates the teachings of simplicity and love. He would and has offered the robes off his back and the food in his bowl to anyone who needs them.

The Venerable Maha Ghosananda was born in 1929 in the fertile plains of the Mekong Delta, into a farming clan in a small village of Takeo Province, Cambodia. At the age of eight, he began serving as temple boy in his village wat. The monks were impressed by his keen interest in monastic life, and they offered him much encouragement. When he was fourteen, Ghosananda asked for his parents' blessing to become a monk, and it was granted.

After graduating from the Buddhist University in Phnom Penh, Maha Ghosananda took up advanced studies at the Buddhist University of Battambang. He then left the country to complete his doctoral program at Nalanda University in Bihar, India, where he passed his Pali exams and received the title "Maha" before reaching the age of thirty. His monastic name, Maha Ghosananda, means "Great Joyful Proclaimer."

To complement his university training, the monk visited Buddhist centers throughout Asia, studying with some of Buddhism's greatest contemporary masters. In Rajgir, India, Ghosananda became a student of the Japanese monk Nichidatsu Fujii, founder of the Nipponzan Myohoji sect devoted to world peace. It was from Master Fujii, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, that Ghosananda received his training in the skills of peace and nonviolence. He also received training from the late Samdech Prah Sangha Raja Chuon Noth, the Supreme Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism. To be accepted as a student of the patriarch was an honor and testimony to young Ghosananda's spiritual progress. Through his extensive travels and studies, Maha Ghosananda became fluent in Hindi, Bengali, Sanskrit, Pali, Sinhalese, Burmese, Vietnamese, Laotian, Thai, Japanese, French, English, German, and several Chinese dialects.

In 1965, at the age of thirty-six, Maha Ghosananda left Cambodia and journeyed to the isolated forests of southern Thailand, where he became a disciple of the noted meditation master, Achaan Dhammadaro. Maha Ghosananda had been in the monastery just four years when the United States began bombing his country, and a full-scale ground war broke out the next year. "They told us, 'Do not let Cambodia's suffering imprint on your minds. Do not let it disturb your concentration.' Still," he says, "we cried for Cambodia every day."

But he remained in his Thai forest retreat for nine more years, as the war and then holocaust in Cambodia raged. Practicing mindful meditation, Ghosananda's inner peace grew, and he waited and prayed for a chance to help his people.

The dusty road to Sakeo was teeming with war-torn refugees. Under the scorching sun, streams of men and women, elders and children - bodies thin and broken, eyes sunken, faces baked and cracked from heat and exposure - wove their way along the dry, red earth. They staggered from exhaustion and wept from thirst, moving slowly and haltingly.

It was 1978. These were the survivors of the killing fields, fleeing the horrors of war, forced labor, genocide, and religious repression in Cambodia. Behind them were the bones of loved ones, the ashes of cities and villages, rice fields and temples. Ahead, just over the border with Thailand, were refugee camps and hope for survival.

Fifty miles away, on a steep, winding pass, an ancient bus creaked its way down the mountain. Maha Ghosananda was perched cross-legged on a hard seat with his head bowed, his eyes closed, and his saffron robe draping gracefully to the floor. Overflowing with compassion, Maha Ghosananda was making his way toward Sakeo Camp. One of just a few Cambodian monks who had not perished under the Khmer Rouge, he traveled alone, arriving at Sakeo's gates three days after the first refugees.

Passing through the checkpoint, Ghosananda walked slowly toward the center of the camp, and as he did so the gloom that had enveloped the camp instantly turned to excitement. Refugees rushed to gaze at his saffron robe, the long-forbidden symbol of Buddhist devotion. Many peered from a safe distance, overwhelmed with anxious memories of the years of Khmer Rouge rule, when to express such devotion was to invite torture or death.

Ghosananda reached into his cloth shoulder bag and pulled out a handful of tattered pamphlets-copies of the Metta Sutta, the Buddha's words of compassion and forgiveness for the oppressor. He offered one to each refugee within reach, bowing his head in the traditional gesture of respect.

In that moment, great suffering and great love merged. Centuries of Buddhist practice rushed into the consciousness of the refugees. Waves of survivors fell to their knees and prostrated, weeping, their cries
reverberating throughout the camp. Many say that the Dharma, which had slept gently in their hearts as the Bodhi tree burned, was reawakened that day.

Since that first visit to Sakeo, Maha Ghosananda has worked tirelessly for peace and for the rebuilding of Cambodia. It is a task that he has had to begin again and again, as the successive attempts to bring stability to that long-suffering country have collapsed or fallen victim to factionalism, incompetence, or the greed of corrupt leaders. Following the example of the Buddha, all of Ghosananda's efforts have been permeated with loving kindness, the force that he believes is powerful enough to "overcome the world."

content stolen from http://www.peacecouncil.org/rpcfal98.html#anchor2613929 for the betterment of mankind. :-)

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