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 Ghosananda, 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 Ghosananda 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 Ghosananda 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 Ghosananda 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:

Hatred never ceases by hatred;
But by love alone is healed.
This is an ancient and eternal law.

Over and over Maha Ghosananda chanted this verse. These were people who had as much cause to hate as anyone on earth. Yet as he sat there, repeating this verse over and over, one by one, thousands of voices joined together in unison: “Hatred never ceases by hatred; but by love alone is healed. This is an ancient and eternal law.” Out of the mouths of people who had been wounded, oppressed, made homeless, aggrieved, and crushed by the pain of war, came a prayer proclaiming the ancient truth about love, a truth that was greater than all the sorrows they had seen and felt.

–Wayne Muller

From Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantage of a Painful Childhood, © 1992 by Wayne Muller. Reprinted with permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.,