February 12, 1889
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
|Died|| June 26, 1999 |
(aged 110 years, 134 days)
Stockton, California, U.S.
|Known for||First Cambodian American Buddhist monk|
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Samdach Vira Dharmawara Bellong Mahathera (February 12, 1889 – June 26, 1999), also known simply as Bhante Dharmawara, was a Cambodian-born Theravada monk and teacher who died at the age of 110.
Bellong Mahathera was born on February 12, 1889 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to a wealthy and illustrious family.
He was well educated and became a lawyer, judge and district governor before he began studying Buddhism and became a monk in his 30s. Bhante practised in the Forest Tradition in Thailand before travelling through Burma to India, where he spent much of his life. He studied natural healing and became well known for his healing abilities, in recognition of which he was given the land on which to found The Asoka Mission in New Delhi by Jawarharalal Nehru, first Prime Minister of Independent India.
He returned to Cambodia to visit in 1952 and established a connection to Norodom Sihanouk, then still king. In 1955 he accompanied Sihanouk to the Bandung Conference in Indonesia.
He first visited the U.S. in late 1955 and early 1956 when he was invited by the US Information Agency to attend a conference on education. In California, the yoga teacher Indra Devi introduced him to wine critic Robert Lawrence Balzer, who was already interested in Asian religions. With Dharmawara´s invitation, Balzer traveled to Cambodia and sojourned for two weeks in the temple where Dharmawara was staying, later writing about it in the book Beyond Conflict.
He was fluent in many languages and travelled to teach meditation and healing to groups in many countries. Starting in 1973, he taught meditation, particularly on colour, every year to the students at John G. Bennett's Academy for Continuous Education in Sherborne, Gloucestershire.An extended meditation course he taught at the Asoka Mission from October 1974 to March 1975 is described in the book Leaving Lucifer.
Later, Bhante moved permanently to the United States and worked to help settle the thousands of refugees who fled there from the war in Cambodia. He founded the first Cambodian Buddhist temple in America in the area of Washington, D.C. and later Wat Dharawararama in Stockton, California.
In 1989, following a shooting in which five schoolchildren were killed at a Stockton school, there was national press coverage when he went to the school to perform a ritual cleansing of the site.
He died on June 26, 1999, aged 110 and his ashes have been interred in a memorial at Asoka Mission in Delhi where a celebration of his life is held every year on his birthday, February 12.