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Monk who rebuilt Buddhism in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia, dies

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. --Maha Ghosananda, a monk who played a key role in rebuilding Buddhism in Cambodia after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, has died.

Ghosananda, who lived in Leverett and Providence, R.I., died Monday at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, hospital spokeswoman Christina Trinchero said. Trinchero did not know the cause of death or his age.

Non Nget, a senior Buddhist patriarch in Cambodia who has known Ghosananda since childhood, said he was 81.

In Cambodia, the country marked the passing of a "resilient advocate for peace" who had "made a lot sacrifices for the sake of happiness and peace," said Chhorn Iem, Cambodia's deputy minister for religious affairs.

The Cambodian monk lived in exile between 1975 and 1979, when the Khmer Rouge denounced Buddhism and caused the deaths of nearly 2 million people through starvation, disease, overwork and execution.

Ghosananda was one of the first monks to return to Cambodia and train new Buddhist leaders after Pol Pot's regime was toppled by the Vietnamese in 1979.

"He did everything he could to restore Buddhism to Cambodia," Jim Perkins, pastor of the Leverett Congregational Church and a friend of the religious leader, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Ghosananda was elected a Supreme Cambodian Buddhist Patriarch by fellow Buddhist monks in 1988 for restoring Buddhism in the war-torn country.

During the 1990s, he lead the Dhamma Yatra movement to rebuild religious life in Cambodia.

In 1994, he led a peace march to the northwestern town of Pailin, still a Khmer Rouge stronghold at the time. Three Cambodians taking part in the march, including a Buddhist monk and a nun, were killed in the crossfire between government soldiers and Khmer Rouge rebels but Ghosananda escaped unharmed.

In 1997, after the Khmer Rouge fighters in Pailin laid down their arms and rejoined the government, he successfully led another pilgrimage for peace to Pailin. This time, the marchers were warmly welcome by residents and former rebels of the Khmer Rouge, which had executed monks and destroyed Buddhist temples during the regime's reign of terror.

He moved to western Massachusetts in the late 1980s at the invitation of the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist order in Leverett, which seeks a complete elimination of weapons. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times in the mid-1990s.

He split his time between the Buddhist temples in Leverett and Providence, Perkins said.

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