Beloved Cambodian Buddhist teacher Maha Ghosananda [1929–2007], Supreme Buddhist Patriarch of Cambodia, passed away on March 12 in Northampton, Massachusetts. In the late 1970s he ministered to refugees fleeing the genocidal Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge regime. He became a prominent peace activist on the world stage, and was a revered meditation teacher.
Jack Kornfield, a gentle, loving teacher of Buddhism, tells a story of going with Maha Gosananda, a respected Cambodian monk, into the refugee camps where thousands of Cambodians had fled the terrible holocaust conducted by Pol Pot. Every family had lost children, spouses, and parents to the ravages of genocide, and their homes and temples had been destroyed. Maha Gosananda announced to the refugees that there would be a Buddhist ceremony the next day, and all who wished to come would be welcome.
Since Buddhism had been desecrated by Pol Pot, people were curious if anyone would go. The next day, over ten thousand refugees converged at the meeting place to share in the ceremony. It was an enormous gathering. Maha Gosananda sat for some time in silence on a platform in front of the crowd. Then he began chanting the invocations that begin the Buddhist ceremony, and people started weeping. They had been through so much sorrow, so much difficulty, that just to hear the sound of those familiar words again was precious.
Some wondered what Maha Gosananda would say. What could one possibly say to this group of people? What he did next, in the company of thousands of refugees, was to begin to repeat this verse from the Dhammapada, a sacred Buddhist scripture:
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