Dith Pran, who, after suffering horrifically, survived the Pol Pot massacres of Cambodia and whose story was told in the Killing Fields, the movie, died recently of pancreatic cancer.
Pran, who lost more than 50 members of his family in the killings and who, more than anybody else, alerted the West to the horrors there, had been translating for the NYTimes in Cambodia in the 70s. Years later, after his escape from his homeland and rescue, he became a NYTimes photographer and activist for his homeland.
Pran was raised Buddhist in a Buddhist country and was devout all his life. I once told him that I understood the word Hinayana to be unwelcome, a bit pejorative, and he corrected me vigorously. Not at all, he said. To him, to any Cambodian, Hinayana meant the pure way of the Buddha, unsullied by later developments or additions. To him, Hinayana was the best, the highest and cleanest form of Buddhism. That opened my eyes to my own point of view, to my Vajrayana chauvinism.
Pran was a very cheerful and friendly man. When other people complained like crazy about practically every aspect of work at the Times, he said: Every week, I get my paycheck and I say Thank you, Mr. Sulzberger. He laughed a bit self-mockingly when he said it — but he meant it and certainly had a perspective nobody else did.
He is quoted as saying, of his fight to survive cancer: “I want to save lives, including my own, but Cambodians believe we just rent this body. It is just a house for the spirit, and if the house is full of termites, it is time to leave.” – Barbara Elizabeth.
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