Ven. Tep Vong, Cambodian Buddhism’s Supreme Patriarch, Dies at 93


Venerable Tep Vong, the senior-most monk of Cambodia’s Buddhist community, has died at the age of 93, according to an announcement by the country’s Ministry of Cults and Religion. Ven. Tep Vong, who had been hospitalized since 6 January, was a major force in the revitalization of Buddhism after the Khmer Rouge sought to wipe out the religion in the late 1970s.


Ven. Tep Vong, whose full title was the Great Supreme Patriarch of Cambodia, Samdech Preah Akka Maha Sangharajadhipati Tep Vong, was granted the title of Great Supreme Patriarch in 2006. He played a significant role in Cambodia’s religious landscape, overseeing both the Mahanikay and Dhammayut orders of Theravada Buddhism. With approximately 97 per cent of Cambodia’s population adhering to Buddhism, his influence was widespread.

Ven. Tep Vong had maintained a close relationship with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and its leader, Hun Sen, who served as prime minister for 38 years until his resignation last year. He played a crucial role in revitalizing Buddhism in Cambodia following the devastating impact of the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975–79, which saw the attempted eradication of organized religion and resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people, including an estimated five out of every eight Buddhist monks in the country.

Ven. Tep Vong, described as “the monk with the most clerical education in post-Pol Pot Cambodia,” was the first of seven monks re-ordained under Vietnamese sponsorship after the regime’s ousting in 1979. (Keyes, et al. 60) He and the others then went on to reestablish Cambodia’s monastic sangha by ordaining other former monks, beginning in Phnom Penh and then spreading out to other provinces.

Born in 1932 in Siem Reap, Ven. Tep Vong began his journey as a monk in 1952, but was forced to disrobe during the Khmer Rouge era. He emerged as a prominent figure in Cambodia’s Buddhist monastic community, serving as a senior monk until 1991, when the Mahanikay and Dhammayut orders separated once again, and Ven. Tep Vong ascended to the position of Supreme Patriarch of the Mahanikay order.

In 2006, Ven. Tep Vong was further elevated to the esteemed title of Great Supreme Patriarch, solidifying his position as the head of both orders.


Following his passing, Ven. Tep Vong’s body will lie in state at Ounalom Pagoda in Phnom Penh, where he had long served, for public viewing before his funeral.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet paid tribute to Tep Vong Monday evening: “The passing of Ven. Tep Vong is the loss of a rare resource in Buddhism. He has left behind many achievements.” (UCA News)

Former prime minister Hun Sen, also the father of Hun Manet, had previously visited Ven. Tep Vong in hospital on 6 January. Hun Sen issued a statement saying, “My wife and I are deeply saddened.” He continued: “Your death is the loss of a great monk, the great son of the peasant who joined the national liberation movement and built pagodas to promote the revival of Buddhism.” (UCA News)

The government has declared 27 February an official day of mourning. Flags at public and private institutions will fly at half-mast across the country.


 Source: Whitaker