Obituary of Venerable Long Sakhone, Abbot of Wat Khemarangsaram, Bonnyrigg

Born 5 August 1942 in Cambodia died 31 October 2021 in Cambodia

 

The Venerable Long Sakhone, abbot of Wat Khemarangsaram in Bonnyrigg, passed away on 31 October in Cambodia, aged 79. He had faithfully served the community in Sydney for 36 years and was the longest serving Cambodian Buddhist monk in Australia. 

 

Long Sakhone was born on 5 August 1942 in Kampong Chhnang, the fourth of six sons of Long Sok and his wife Tep Yan. As a child, he was studious and listened to the advice of his parents and elders. His family were farmers, and his father tilled the rice fields.

 

He was first ordained in 1957 as a novice monk but left after three years to help his family. In 1961, he decided his true vocation lay in Buddhism and was ordained again as a monk, this time with a higher ranking. He remained a monk from then on, a further sixty years.  He continued to study and in 1968, was awarded a bachelor’s degree in Buddhist studies.

 

When civil war broke out in Cambodia in 1970, the Khmer Rouge waged guerrilla warfare in the area near his temple. In 1974 the Khmer Rouge accused him of collaborating with the enemy and started to search for him.  A former teacher helped him to hide in a stupa, and he escaped at 4 am under cover of darkness and eluded capture by moving between temples.

 

When the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975, they forbade religious practice and destroyed or desecrated Buddhist temples. Many older monks were executed, while younger monks were forced to defrock and work in the fields. 

 

Venerable Sakhone managed to escape to the Thai-Cambodian border, where the resistance had set up camps. Through his escape, Venerable Sakhone was one of only a handful of Cambodian monks who managed to continue as a practicing Buddhist monk.

 

Venerable Sakhone joined a temple in Aranyaprathet in Thailand in 1977. When refugees started to flood across the border after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, he travelled around the border camps, offering spiritual support and help with practical needs, with donations of food and money. As a monk fluent in Thai, he was respected and could move safely from camp to camp.

 

Cambodian refugees started to settle in western Sydney from 1979 onwards. As the community grew, one of the needs of refugees grieving for the loss of family and friends was for spiritual support. They applied for permission to sponsor a monk to Sydney.  A search was undertaken, more difficult because of the destruction of religion in Cambodia and the scarcity of monks.

 

Venerable Sakhone, who was known for his work on the border, agreed to come to Australia. He arrived on 12 May 1985.  The community were then using a rented fibro house in Fairfield as a temple, with the help of a nun and elders. His arrival meant that regular worship could be established. He visited people at home to comfort the sick and to carry out blessing ceremonies. 

 

The Khmer Community of NSW petitioned the government for a grant of land to build a temple and cultural centre. In 1988 they were given the lease of land in Bonnyrigg and fund raising started in earnest. The first building in the complex, a hall used for worship, was opened on 10 February 1990. In 1998, the Preah Vihear, was built. 

 

Venerable Long Sakhone visited Cambodia in 2020. When travel restrictions were introduced, he was able to return home. He had been in indifferent health for some years and went to stay in a temple in Kampong Chhnang near his family home where he died on 31 October 2021. His funeral was attended by monks and family in Cambodia with ceremonies held also in Bonnyrigg. His ashes are to be interred in the stupa at Wat Khemarangsaram. 

 

Monks from other temples came to Bonnyrigg to join in the ceremonies in the week following his death. Cambodian temples in Rossmore and Canley Vale took part in evening prayers on 2 November. Monks from Thai and Lao temples and some old friends who had known the Venerable Sakhone since his arrival in Australia attended the temple on Friday 5 November. The Buddhist Council sent representatives on the seventh and final day of the ceremonies.

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