The controversial words from a French Catholic Priest in Cambodia, Francios Ponchaud
about Somdech Preah Maha Ghosananda and Cambodian Buddhism
with a responding to him from Bhikkhu Vodano Sophan, a Cambodian Buddhist Monk

I don’t see any advantage from the comment and answer of François Ponchaud, a French Catholic Priest in Cambodia. His sharp criticism towards Buddhist leaders of Cambodia, especially Somdech Preah Maha Ghosanada, Ghandi of Cambodia, is extremely unacceptable. Some of his opinion about Buddhism in Cambodia is relevant, but generally he doesn’t get deep into Buddhist’s heart as he is a Catholic priest missionary.

Preah Maha Ghosananda aka Ghandi of Cambodia is worldwide recognized through his serene, intellectual and compassionate attitude that this quality can be illustrated only by attainment in some level of Buddhist meditation. François looked over this profound quality from his mundane Catholic perspective and said it according his worldly experience. He regarded Somdech Maha Ghosananda as “an empty brain with no idea or stupid boy.” This is really controversial and arrogant towards a respectful Cambodian Ghandi. I can assume that this word is fatally looking down Somdech Maha Ghosananda as well as the Cambodian Buddhist community. François should be aware and meditative with his thought, speech and action. He should submit a letter to apologize all Buddhist followers if he wants to maintain religious tolerance and sharing similarity of religious interfaith dialogue with Cambodian Buddhist Sangha.

There are many words and phrases regarding the virtue and dedication of Somdech Maha Ghosananda. Many reporters and observers called Somdech as a great spiritual leader, a peace maker, a founder of pilgrimages of truth and the father of step by step march. His teaching is simple, moderate and egoless. Somdech always repeat one simple sentence:
“our journey begins today,
and every day.
Each step is a prayer,
each step is a meditation,
each step will build a bridge.”

Build a bridge, that this concept is universal truth. The teaching of Somdech had no distinction of race, gender or faith. Once Somdech said:
"We must find the courage to leave out temples
and enter the temples of human experience,
temples that are filled with suffering.
If we listen to the Buddha, Christ or Gandhi, we can do nothing else.
The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos
and the battlefields will then become our temples."

On behalf of the father of step by step march, Preah Maha Ghosananda always valued individuals as the critical origin of war and peace. His compassion is boundless, and his peace vision is to build individual’s peace capacity. He said:
“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 Community.
A Peaceful Community makes a Peaceful Nation.
And a Peaceful Nation makes a Peaceful World.
May all beings live in Happiness and Peace.”

His mantra originated in Metta Sutta or word of love that he always chanted:
With a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating love over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths...

He moved on with a simple, not complicate word to everybody, young and old, poor and rich, soldier and villagers that:
For the pure-hearted one
Having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

And he stressed repeatedly that “Hate can never be appeased by hate; hate can only be appeased by love. This is the immortal truth.”

The restlessly work Somdech Preah Maha Ghosananda has its origin from the first teaching of Buddha that:
"Go forth, and walk for the welfare of the many,
for the happiness of many,
out of compassion for the world, for the profit,
for the welfare, for the happiness of gods and mankind.
Expound the Dhamma (teachings).
Live it in its spirit and its letter."

I can also say that the teachings of Christianity allowed me to become a better Buddhist Bhikkhu monk because I have understood that any action we have done is our own responsibility. No body else can compensate or take in charge or redeem it on behalf of us. It is universal truth that when ones do good result good, ones do bad result bad. The doer must be responsible; not others or any superficial being will be responsible for it. The teaching of Buddha is middle path, the path leading to liberation. Buddha said: “Two extremes should be avoided by human beings: indulgence in sensual pleasures and addiction to self-mortification. Abandoning both these extremes the Tathagata has comprehended the Middle Path promoting sight and knowledge and tends to peace, higher wisdom, enlightenment and Nibbana.” This intensifies the tendency of present human beings’ fallacy that always extreme of indulgence in sensual pleasure or materialism and indulgence in self-modification. The peace mantra can be formulated only through the practice of middle path (in this matter Somdech Preah Maha Ghosananda termed it step by step march). Middle path is the realization of reality in our daily life, moment of change, moment of breathing. This middle path is the wheel constituting of eight essential spokes: right view, right understanding, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration and right meditation. In this matter, Francios may observe the distinctive teaching that Christianity believes in salvation come from some being outside us while Buddha said “I am the path, my teaching is the path. The path to salvation is through my teachings.” This concept may be very similar to the teaching of Jesus Christ which he is also the path.

The situation of losing moral value in Cambodia is not caused by the teaching of Buddha, but it is caused by the loosing of national law compliance.

I am appreciating to debate with Francios anytime on behalf of Somdech Preah Maha Ghosananda’s student as well as a Cambodian Buddhist monk.

Bhikkhu Vodano Sophan, April 1, 2007

Responding from François Ponchaud and Other Catholic Priests in Cambodia in Phnom Penh Post Letters

Esteem for Buddhism

Thank you for all your interesting pages of Phnom Penh Post. We read them with a lot of appreciation for your concern to inform the people and help them especially the poor, needy and the marginalized.

However, in your last issue dated March 23-April 5, 2007, we, the Catholic Church in Cambodia, are worried about the interview published on page 2 titled "God's paratrooper fires shots." This article expresses negative ideas about Buddhist leaders. We regret any hurt feelings and misunderstandings this article could have caused.

We would like to affirm our profound respect and desire to have good relationships with the venerable leaders of Buddhism. We assure our great esteem towards Buddhism, the national religion of Cambodia.

Bishops Emile Destombes, Apostolic Vicar of Phnom Penh
Kike Figareddo, Antonysamy Susairaj and all members of

Catholic Church in Cambodia

Stupefied and saddened

Returning from the province, it is with stupefaction and much sadness that I read the article "God's paratrooper fires shots" (PPPost, March 23). I feel humiliated and deeply wounded, because this article reflects absolutely neither my thoughts, nor my words.

I ask to the high religious dignitaries who could have been offended by the remarks attributed to me, and likewise to all the people "of good will" who believe in the spiritual values for the construction of a better world and who could have been hurt by this article, to really accept benevolently my most sincere and profound apologies. I feel so fraternally in solidarity with the Buddhist clergy, of which I share a certain number of views and practices, not to feel myself offended.

Here is my version of the facts:

Mr. Charles McDermid, through his Cambodian interpreter, asked me to grant him an interview on the impact of Buddhism in the present Khmer society. Never it was mentioned of a personal interview to be distributed as such, but of an article, like the Phnom Penh Post is used to publish, and to which I sometimes contributed in the past. I accepted, thinking of thus being able to help to better understand the Khmer society at the sides of which I have walked for 41 years. We spoke in English, a language that I know very little, and of which I ignore all the nuances. Often I did not understand the questions, and undoubtedly the author of the article did not understand all my answers. He wrote his article afterwards, asked himself his own questions to which he answered by including bits of our conversation. This way of working is dishonest, because it can only deform my thoughts, on such a delicate topic.

This mister should have observed the most elementary principle of the journalistic deontology (at least in the French way), consisting in making read again an interview by its author before publication, especially an interview of such an aggressive virulence that I deplore. He did not do it, so my stupor and consternation, at the reading of this article which I estimate defamatory and offensive for many of my Buddhist friend monks.

With regard to Samdech Akéa Bandet Moha Sang Tep Vong, I spoke to him lengthily of its regretted predecessors: Samdech Chuon Nath, Samdech Préah Samdech Sangkréach Huot That, Préah Vannarat, Préah Khieu Choum, Préah Pankhat, etc. who were then the intellectual guides of my youth. I explained to him that all the religious dignitaries had been killed by the Khmer Rouge, and that it was a considerable loss, because much time was needed to train monks. I also explained to him the reasons which pushed the government of the RPK to place Samdech at the head of the Buddhist clergy in 1979, in a precise political context, and reported the comments of a person in charge in the cultural ministry that McDermid attributes to me wrongly. May Samdech please excuse me.

It is the same for Samdech Bou Kry, who is a friend of long time. I have evoked old memories at the time when he was in Créteil, and also at the time of one conversation on the radio and in various pagodas of France.

It does not belong to me, a foreigner, and of another religious tradition, to judge these venerable monks who live Buddhism from the inside. The difficulty of interreligious dialogue is not due to the persons, but to the cultural and philosophical universes so distant that are ours. The only dialogue which seems possible to me is that of the Christian who let himself be influenced deeply by Buddhism, and of the Buddhist who let himself be influenced by Christianity and who tries to dialogue inside of himself. But that the author did not retain.

It is true that I voiced a somewhat discording tone in the concert of praises concerning the venerable Samdech Préah Moha Gosananda, called Moha Yao, the Cambodian Gandhi. I knew him in 1983 in his American residence of Hanover Street, Providence (RI). I voiced some reservations on his attitude at the time of our audience with Jean Paul II in Rome in 1985, but I leave the whole paternity to the author of the article for the qualifications, several times repeated, by which he qualifies this venerated monk, and of whom I respect the memory, like many Cambodians.

I do not see, on the other hand, why using my personal history of a conscript of the French Republic, against my liking, to do a shock article, of which I ignore the deep motivations. The hazards of my personal life of yesteryear, once again that I did not choose, have no direct links with my spiritual commitment to the Khmer people that I try to serve the best I can, even if I do it sometimes awkwardly.

In ending, I renew my most sincere and deepest apologies to the religious dignitaries who could have felt offended by the odious words attributed to me, but that
I deny. I feel as much offended as themselves.

François Ponchaud

Chers tous,

Je loue le courage du Père Ponchaud de vouloir s'attaquer aux USA sur ce dossier khmer mais je déplore, par contre, très profondément ses déclarations virulentes à l'encontre de la mémoire de Samdech Preah Maha Ghosananda considéré par le peuple khmer avec le clergé bouddhique en tête comme un Mahatma ou un saint. J'en ai été, à la suite de la publication de cet article ci-dessous par le Phnom Penh Post, tenu informé par Email par le vénérable S.S.(USA) auquel j'ai fait part de mes sentiments ci-dessous :

"I feel very sad that Father Ponchaud has gone beyond the limit of the decency by uttering this sharpest criticism against the late Samdech Preah MahaGhosananda at this very moment all the khmer people are mourning his passing away. I am afraid that such an assertion would not contribute to the good comprehensiveness between both religious communities..."

Ensuite, j'ai donné mon appui moral à l'intention du vénérable S.S. d'écrire au PPP afin de défendre l'honneur de la mémoire du saint homme. Voici l'extrait de ma réponse à son Email :

"I completely agree with your legitimate idea to write back to the PPP about this undevised verbal aggression against the posthumous person of Samdech Preah MahaGhosananda and I fully support your Venerable in your noble efforts to rectify this insult to the memory of our late Samdech. As you've correctly put on, "He is not appropriate to say like that and he is not a man among religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue leaders." There must be a complete tolerance between religions since everyone proceeds towards the same source. Emperor Açoka of India took the same stand regarding the practice of religions in this ancient empire.One religion does not afford to sit on another to progress itself. Mutual respect between religions is a criteria for the development of all."

Après l'intervention du vénérable et peut-être d'autres membres du clergé bouddhique, une mise au point a été publiée par le PPP venant du Père Ponchaud lui-même et des dirigeants catholiques du Cambodge. Voici les principaux extraits :

"I myself feel profoundly relieved and I would hope so from the Buddhist Community following the publication of the regrets and apologies in the columns of the PPP, edition of April 6 to April 19, 2007 presented respectively by the leaders of the Catholic Church in Cambodia and by Father Ponchaud himself.

1 - Bishop Emile Destombes, Apostilic Vivar of Phnom Penh, Kike Figareddo, Antonysamy Susairaj and all members of Catholic Church in Cambodia wrote, I quote : "This article expresses negative ideas about Buddhist leaders. We regret any hurt feelings and misunderstandings this article could have caused... We would like to affirm our profound respect and desire to have good relationship with the venerable leaders of Buddhism. We assure our great esteem towards Buddhism, the national religion of Cambodia."

2- Father Ponchaud who confesses his sadness for having caused offense to the Buddhist Clergy in Cambodia and outside Cambodia, wrote, I quote : " I ask to the high religious dignitaries who could have been offended by the remarks attributed to me, and likewise to all the people "of good will" who believe in th spiritual values for the construction of a better world and who could have been hurt by this article, to really accept benevolently my most sincerte and profound apologies... I renew my most sincere and deepest apologies to the religious dignitaries who could have felt offended by this odious words attributed to me, but that I deny. I feel as much offended as themselves."

A mon avis, l'affaire est maintenant close.

Fraternellement vôtre,

Dear Devoted Ubasok,

I make my time too busy to those things. I cannot see from my eyes, but see them from my sight. I am busy with study, but to complete something for fair and peace, I have to take time with it. I will try the best!

However, only one me is not enough. All Cambodians who have sight should overwhelmingly patrol this. I got message back from PPP's editor saying Francios expressed sorry about what he said seem quite so offensive. PPP will publish Francios's letter. I am looking forward to see that letter.

I also write to Lowell Sun about its controversial headline, the writer responded to me with unresponsible action by saying that only editor has rights to put such headline. I also send more message to LS's editor, but not yet received the response.

Thank you very much Ubasok for your patriotic endeavor to reply me such a powerful message; and I admire your endurance effort for the sake of Cambodia.

Yours in Dhamma
Bhikkhu Sophan

On 4/4/07, Siphal MEY <> wrote:

Very respected Venerable S. Sophan,

Please your Venerable accept here my very sincere and profound gratitude for having been so kind to forward to me the book on the extraordinary life of late Samdech Preah MahaGhosananda and your own outstanding reply to Father Ponchaud's virulent assertions against his memory.

Be your Venerable sure that I'am going to read this special book about Samdech Preah MahaGhosananda with special attention and interest and with my very profound respect. Through your Venerable, I wish to extend my very respectful homage, appreciation and admiration to Venerable Santi for having written this book of high interest for all the Buddhist Community.

On the other hand, I would like to say that I enormously appreciate your timely and very objective reply to Father Ponchaud. The argument based on Samdech Preah MahaGhosananda's teachings and on Buddha's tecahings you've used in your reply is wonderful.and very persuasive. I feel personally honoured by your noble and just stand in favour of the memory of late Samdech Preah MahaGhosananda in this subject and by your well argued reply to his offender. I am convinced that your Venerable honours the Khmer Buddhist Community inside and outside the country by your patriotic and buddhist stand before this unacceptable assertions of Father Ponchaud against the memory of our late commonly venerated deceased.

With my very respectful homage and admiration to you,







Note: Few current news above have been updated in this page in order to inscribe the remembrance the day of our loss the Extraordinary Master, Maha Ghosananda, Gandhi of Cambodia. His whole life has dedicated for peace, compassion, non-violence and step by step practice for peace development of human beings.



Last Updated: March 30, 2007
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