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(Originally published in Abe Wade Ata (Ed.) "Religion and Ethnic Identity - An Australian Study" Vol.3, 1990, Richmond, Vic., Spectrum Press.)


In the year 563 B.C., on the border of modern day Nepal and India, a prince was born to a ruler of a minor kingdom, the Sakyan. His name was Siddhartha Gotama and, at the age of thirty five, he attained, after six years of struggle and through his own insight, full enlightenment or Buddhahood. The term 'Buddha' is not a name for a god or an incarnation of a god, despite Hindu claims to the contrary, but is a title for one who has realised through good conduct, mental cultivation and wisdom the cause of life's vicissitudes and the way to overcome them. Buddhism is, perhaps, unique amongst the world's religions in that it does not place reliance for salvation on some external power, such as a god or even a Buddha, but places the responsibility for life's frustrations squarely on the individual. The Buddha said:

By oneself, indeed, is evil done;
By oneself is one defiled.
By oneself is evil left undone;
By oneself, indeed, is one purified.
Purity and impurity depend on oneself.
No one purifies another
. (1.)

His teaching can be summarised as:

Not to do any evil,
To cultivate good,
To purify one's mind,
This is the Teaching of the Buddhas.


Today, Buddhism is almost extinct in India, the land of its birth. It fell victim to the Arab (Muslim) invaders, led by Muhammad Kasim, in 712 A.D.

'His soldiers slaughtered a large number of 'samanis' (sramanas) who 'shaved their heads and beards'.---- Toward the end of the 8th century the Arabs swooped down upon the prosperous monasteries of Gujarat and destroyed the Buddhist University at Valabhi on the sea coast.' (3.)

However, during the reign, in India, of Asoka (273 - 276 B.C.) Buddhism spread outside India to Sri Lanka and, possibly, Burma (Myanmar)*. It was later adopted by Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. These countries constitute the stronghold of the Theravada or the orthodox school of Buddhism. Another major school, the Mahayana or reformed school, which had its roots in India in the fifth century B.C. spread to China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam, during the early centuries of the current era. An offspring of the Mahayana school, the Vajrayana or Tantric school took root in Tibet in the seventh century and later spread to Mongolia, parts of China and currently has pockets of followers in Korea (Chingak and Chongji sects) and Japan (Shingon sect).

*' According to the tradition preserved in the Ceylonese Chronicles, two Buddhist Monks, named Sona and Uttara, were sent by Emporer Asoka to preach Buddhism in Suvarna-bhumi, which is generally identified with Burma. There is, however, no reliable evidence to show that Sona and Uttara were actually sent as missionaries by Asoka, and the location of Suvarna-bhumi is also not beyond dispute. For, while some identify it with Burma, others place it in Siam or take it to denote, broadly the whole of Indo-China. Barring the story of Uttara and Sona there is no other evidence that Buddhism flourished in Burma before the fifth century A.D.' (4.)


The essential teachings of the Buddha are accepted as pivotal to all schools of Buddhism, however, they differ mainly on the emphasis that they place on certain aspects of the teaching and in their interpretation of the rules (Vinaya) governing the conduct of the clergy (Sangha). The Theravada school claims to adhere strictly to the original teachings of the Buddha as contained in the Pali cannon (scriptures) and it emphasises the goal of personal salvation (Arahant ideal) for the individual follower. The Sangha of the Theravada is expected to observe to the letter the 227 rules laid down in the Vinaya, which includes eating only prior to midday and refraining from handling money. Four of these 227 rules, if broken, entail expulsion of the transgressor from the monastic order. They are: killing a human being, sexual intercourse, stealing and falsely claiming supernormal powers.

The Mahayana school is less rigid in its interpretation of the Teachings and emphasises the importance of the follower's becoming a Buddha for the salvation of all living beings (Bodhisattva ideal). The Sangha observes strict vegetarianism (unlike the Theravada where vegetarianism is optional) but eat in the evening. This change of eating rules became necessary when the Teaching spread to colder climates. The post-midday meals are regarded as medicine. The rule prohibiting the handling of money has been seen by the Mahayana Sangha as impractical in today's world, and it has been reinterpreted as not amassing wealth, whilst a transgression of the celibacy rule entails only demotion in some sects of the Mahayana. Other Mahayana sects, notably in Korea and Japan, admit married priests.

The Vajrayana school is essentially the same in its interpretation of the Teachings as the Mahayana but it stresses the importance of the K Iacceptance of a personal Guru (teacher) who initiates his followers into the, so-called, secret teachings (Tantra). Neither the Theravada nor the mainstream Mahayana schools accept that there are such things as 'secret teachings' in Buddhism. The Gelugpa sect of the Vajrayana is the only Tibetan sect that insists on the celibacy of its clergy.


Apart from the traditional Koorie (Aboriginal) religion, which has existed on Australian soil for at least 40,000 years, it is suggested, by some anthropologists, that Buddhism may have been the earliest non-indigenous religion to reach our shores. Between 1405 and 1433, the Chinese Ming Emporers sent an armada of sixty two large ships under the command of Cheng Ho, to explore the south. Evidence exists that several ships of this armada landed on the Aru islands, 480 kilometres north of Arnhem Land, but whether they set foot on the mainland is not confirmed. Professor A.P.Elkin seems convinced that certain Koorie practices such as the belief in reincarnation, psychic phenomena and mental cultivation can only be explained in the light of early contacts with the Orient. Unfortunately, no hard evidence exists to support his hypothesis.(5.)

In 1882, a ship called the "Devonshire" arrived in Mackay, Queensland, where two hundred and seventy five Sri Lankans were landed. Two days later, another two hundred and twenty five Sri Lankans disembarked at Burnett, to be met by an angry group of 'Anti-Coolie Leaguers' who pelted stones at them. This violence was met with retaliation by the Sri Lankans who drew knives to protect themselves. This racist encounter later came to be known as the 'Battle of Burnett'.(6.) A certain Bastion Appo is recorded as having sworn an oath on a 'Buddhist Bible' when bringing assault charges against an Australian in a Mackay Court in 1885. This 'Buddhist Bible' is thought to have been a Buddhist textbook which the Sri Lankans had brought with them. (7.)

During the 1890's, almost five hundred Sri Lankans, mainly pearlers, settled on Thursday Island and established the first Buddhist temple in Australia. It is thought to have occupied the site where the post office now stands. All that remains to remind us of this Buddhist community are two Bodhi trees (Ficus religiosa) descendents of the original tree under which the Buddha sat, when he attained Enlightenment, more than 2,500 years ago. Despite his minor flirtation with Buddhism, it was Alfred Deakin who introduced the Immigration Restriction Bill in 1901 which was the forerunner of the notorious White Australia Policy. (8.) This heralded the decline of Buddhism in Australia for the next fifty years.

It was not until the early 1950's, inspired by the visit of the American born Buddhist nun, Dhammadinna, that the Buddhist Society of New South Wales was formed under the Presidency of Leo Berkeley, a Dutch born Sydney businessman. This society is the oldest Buddhist organisation extant in Australia. Its membership was and still is comprised mainly of people of Anglo-European ethnic background.

In November, 1960, a lineage holder in the Chinese Cha'an (Zen) sect arrived in Sydney, where he stayed until the end of 1971. He was the famous master Hsuan Hua. (9.) He gained the impression that there were no Buddhists among the local Chinese community as he was largely ignored and, was, at one stage, on the verge of starvation due to the lack of support. At the end of 1961, he left for California, where, with the support of his many followers he established a monastic centre known as the 'City of Ten Thousand Buddhas'.

It was not until the 1970's and 1980's that true ethnic Buddhism made its appearance and became firmly established in New South Wales.


The Burmese

In 1987, Sydney's small Burmese community rented a cottage at North Parramatta to serve as a temporary Buddhist Vihara (monk's residence and place of worship) as the first step towards establishing a permanent Burmese temple in the Sydney area. The Abbot, Venerable Sayadaw U Zagarabhivamsa, took up residence there in January, 1988. He is a highly respected teacher and scholar, being formerly a professor at Nalanda Buddhist Institute in India. In 1989, larger premises were purchased by the Burmese Buddhist Society at Merrylands, also in the Parramatta district from where it currently conducts its activities. Many of the local Burmese community are middle class professionals, some of Chinese ethnic background, who were expelled by Ne Win during one of his purges of non-ethnic Burmese.

The Chinese

On January 23rd, 1972, Eric Liao, a Chinese businessman, formed the Chinese Buddhist Society of Australia. Initially, he invited Venerable Somaloka to conduct services in a garage adjacent to his home. With the assistance of Bill Jong, another businessman, he acquired more central and suitable premises in Dixon Street, in Sydney's Chinatown district. This newly established temple in Dixon Street was later named "Prajna Temple". A tragic fire destroyed the premises on November 14th, 1985. All that remained after the fire was the statues of Sakyamuni Buddha, Kwan Yin Bodhisattva, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva and approximately one thousand books, including the Tripitaka (Buddhist cannonical literature). The abbot of the temple, Venerable Sik Chee Ming, and his supporters later re-established the temple at Hornsby, a northern Sydney suburb. In 1989, premises in Dixon Street, vacated by the Chinese See Yup Society, were acquired and the central Chinese community, again, has a place of worship.

The form of Mahayana Buddhism followed by most Chinese and, indeed, the Vietnamese, is a fusion of Cha'an (Zen) and Pure Land (Messianic Buddhism). As Paul Croucher (10) observes:

'The elemental Chinese religion is, of course, a kind of nature polytheism, onto which aspects of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism have been grafted. The Chinese brought with them a syncretic blend of beliefs and practices in which the demarcations were ill-defined and the influence of Buddhism only mild. As in China, those who identified themselves with Buddhism probably amounted to no more than one per cent of the population. Most were content to wear 'a Confucian crown, a Taoist robe, and Buddhist sandals', and when pressed had some difficulty in describing the religion they practised.'

Although a small number of the Chinese Buddhist community in Sydney is very devout, the greater number is quite pragmatic regarding religion and regard it as solely of use in rites of passage.A monk who eschews non- Buddhist practices amongst his congregation is Venerable Tsang Hui, who arrived in Australia from Taiwan in 1977. In 1979, from a rented house in Redfern, an inner city suburb, he established the Hwa Tsang Monastery. Being a qualified school teacher as well as a Buddhist monk, he employed the 'skillful means' of attracting young people to the Monastery by conducting classes in academic subjects. The monastery later moved to Greenacre, where regular religious services were conducted and later to a second location at Homebush, where a new monastery has been built. In addition to conducting religious observances, the monastery continues to attract many high school students to its daily classes in Buddhism, chemistry, Chinese language, English, general science, physics and mathematics. Due to these special classes, many of the students gained places at Sydney's universities and have later graduated to the professions. As an outcome of these Buddhist students attending the universities, joined by overseas students studying in Australia, university Buddhist societies were formed in the early eighties. The first student society was the University of New South Wales Buddhist Society, also known as UNIBUDS, which was founded, in 1981, with Venerable Tsang Hui's support. It was followed a year later by the formation of the Sydney University Buddhist Society.The proposed development for the recently opened Hwa Tsang Monastery at Homebush, in the Strathfield Municipality, created a furore among some of the older Australian residents of the district. Although figures are not available for the Strathfield Municipality alone, the 1986 Commonwealth Census reveals that in the Inner West Region of Sydney, of which the Strathfield Municipality forms a part, 10,513 residents are of Asian ethnic background - a not insignificant number. (11) An intensive letterboxing campaign under the names of H.J.Heath and Marie Heath J.P. (next door neighbors of Ven.Tsang Hui) stated:

If this type of development is allowed in A2 Class residential area your street may be next, or even the back garden next door. The value of your home, your most valuable asset will be eroded. What some people or organisations would like to put in our garden suburb!!! It WAS called "Oasis in the West" in our Council's Centenary year JUST three years ago!!! I know that most of us have worked all our adult life to own a place of our own to relax in, in the evening of our life. Not to be faced with a fight to maintain our peace and tranquility and protect our landscape and view, and the sight of native birds feeding in our garden and nestled in the many trees, that would be affected by this proposed development. Please act now, you have only until 4 p.m. Friday 19th August, to protest in writing. You may view the plan and model as suggested in the letter (from the Council), but your own intelligence will paint in your mind's eye this hideous development to a back garden landscape. (12)

The Strathfield Municipal Council, noted as one of the most conservative councils in Sydney, despite receiving 890 individual letters and a petition contaning 840 signatures supporting the application and a petition, organised by the Heaths, containing 273 signatures opposing it, unanimously rejected the Monastery's development application, so an appeal was lodged with the Land and Environment Court of N.S.W.. Venerable Tsang Hui stressed that should the Buddhist community accede to the Council's decision without putting up a fight, the door would be open to all other Councils to reject development applications for religious premises from the minor religions. Mr.Justice Cripps of the N.S.W. Land and Environment Court ruled, on June the first, 1989, in favour of the Monastery's development application. He stated in his judgement:

It became plain that the intensity of the opposition to the subject development was, in some instances, influenced by the circumstance that the religious institution was a Buddhist monastery. All residents were at pains to volunteer that their views were not "racist" and I accept their assessment of their objections. The question of what does or does not qualify as "racism" was not explored in the proceedings but because the word was bandied about during the course of the hearing, I feel bound to express my opinion that I do not think any objector is a "racist" just because he or she objects to a Buddhist temple functioning next door or in the near vicinity. It was stated explicitly by some and was implicit in the evidence of others that the opposition would not have been so intense had a comparable Christian establishment been proposed. By way of illustration, none of the residents seems to be duly concerned about the activities of the Lutheran church (nearly opposite).

It is made clear by the evidence, there is a need for the monastery in the sense that there are many people who wish to congregate as Buddhists. The subject land is zoned residential but churches and educational establishments are permissible in residential areas. There are many churches in residential areas in Sydney, some of which have functions and undertake activities more intrusive than the subject proposal. It is, of course, not possible to speculate on the attitude Mr. and Mrs.Heath will have to the development if it proceeds. I am, however, confident that most other people who have expressed hostility to the concept will, with the passage of time, accept the monastery in the same way they presently accept the Lutheran church. (13.)

Reluctant to accept the umpire's decision, the Heath's formed an organisation called 'Strathfield Overdevelopment Saviours (S.O.S.)' which enlisted the support of the local State Member of Parliament, Paul Zammit, who possibly saw political mileage in siding with racists. He requested the Council to seek further legal advice in the hope that an appeal could be lodged against the judgement. In a letter to the Town Clerk, he wrote:

I therefore respectfully request Council to urgently call an extra-ordinary Council meeting to discuss this matter in the hope that a second legal opinion be obtained with the full knowledge of certain inconsistencies and possible moral turpitude that have come to light. Should Council decide to proceed to hold this meeting I strongly urge that S.O.S., on behalf of the residents, attend this meeting. (14.)

A copy of this letter was circulated to the local residents. When Ven.Tsang Hui's solicitor queried Zammit regarding his allegation of I'moral turpitude', he suggested that he suspected that the signatures on the Monastery's petition were faked. He withdrew this comment after it was suggested that a defamation action could result unless he did. The Town Clerk wrote to the N.S.W. Minister for Local Government and Planning, Mr.Hay, requesting that he overturn the Court's decision. The Minister replied:

I have noted the Council's views on the development, however, the council has presented its case to the Land and Environment Court and I have no power to overrule decisions of the court. It is therefore inappropriate for me to meet with the council to discuss the issues. Should the council wish to pursue the proposal further within the court, it should seek further legal advice. (15.)

The Council's 'further legal advice' was that there were no grounds for an appeal. Many councils and citizens of Australia still seem slow or resistant to accepting the policy of multi- culturalism. This causes much hurt, not to mention expense, in our new citizens and causes them to feel that one law applies to old Australians whilst the new have a constant battle for the acceptance of their lifestyles and culture.

The Hwa Tsang Monastery is not alone in facing trials and tribulations with Councils and local residents. The Taiwan based Fo Kwang Shan organisation, is currently constructing a huge multi-million dollar complex on a ten hectare site at Wollongong, south of Sydney. After a minor battle with the Wollongong City Council over its increasing the originally agreed price for the land, (16.) a bitter newspaper debate ensued in the 'Letters to the Editor' collumn. Fortunately, they had the support of the then Lord Mayor, Alderman Frank Arkell, who was also the local State Member of Parliament, so they are currently proceeding with the project which will comprise three prayer halls, two meditation halls, twenty classrooms, a dining hall for 500 people as well as sleeping quarters. Fo Kwang Shan also maintains centres in Hong Kong and in Los Angeles. This latter centre was the venue for the 16th Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in 1988, the first time that it was held outside Asia.

Another ethnic Chinese religious group, whose members are mainly refugees from the Indo-Chinese countries, has constructed a temple at Bonnyrigg, west of Sydney, which is one of the largest in Australia. This is the Confucianist, Buddhist cum Taoist lay organisation, the Australian-Chinese Buddhist Society. Future plans involve the construction of a school for the young and a retirement village for the elderly. This temple is one of the few serving the Indo-Chinese community which is completely privately funded.

The Khmer (Cambodians)

Resulting from the genocide wrought on the Cambodian people by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge henchmen and the consequent invasion and occupation of Cambodia by the armed forces of the Peoples Republic of Vietnam, many refugees fled to the freedom of Thailand. These people, who, under the fanatical policies of the Khmer Rouge, were forced to labour for sixteen hours a day with little food, had lost all of their possessions. Many of their relatives and friends, especially the educated, the professionals and the monks, had been slaughtered. They looked to the compassionate J Hcountries of the 'West' for resettlement so that they could resume what was left of their shattered lives. Australia accepted many of these industrious people and the various Governments provided some assistance in their resettlement. Buddhism is central to the lifestyle of the Khmer people and their fondest wish, after their arrival in Australia was to have a Buddhist monk to minister to their spiritual and social needs. Due to the genocide, very few monks survived to satisfy this need. In the mid 1980's, the Venerable Long Sakkhone, a Cambodian Buddhist monk arrived to take up residence in Sydney. The community rented a rather run-down cottage in Fairfield, a Western suburb of Sydney, to serve as a temporary monk's residence and temple. The then Minister for Housing in the N.S.W. Government, the Hon.Frank Walker, later arranged for the lease of a tract of land adjacent to a large shopping Plaza at Bonnyrigg to the Khmer Community of N.S.W. for the purpose of constructing a community centre and temple. Construction of the first stage of this Cambodian centre, comprising a community hall, office and amenities block as well as a monk's residence has already been completed and was officially opened by the Premier of N.S.W., the Hon.Nick Greiner on Saturday the 10th of February, 1990. The temple building, itself, being large, complex and expensive will have to wait for another day. The Khmer community is divided politically, with some supporting Prince Norodom Sihanouk (FUNCINPEC), others Son San (KPNLF), whilst a small number support the Vietnamese 'puppet' government of Hun Sen, however, they are united in their devotion to Theravadin Buddhism and, irrespective of how poor their circumstances in their new countryp, they F Dgenerously support the temple and the religion generally. One would imagine that, in the light of the horrific experiences suffered by the Khmer community prior to their arrival in Australia, psychosis would be prevalent. Such is not the case, however. The Khmer people attribute this to their devotion to the teachings of the Buddha and are thus accepting of change, sorrow and their karmic circumstances.

The Koreans

During the past 600 years, Buddhism has undergone turmoil in Korea. Cha'an (Zen) Buddhism was introduced from China in 372 A.D. and fused with the indigeonous Shamanism. (17.) The Choson kings, who ruled from 1392 until Japan annexed Korea in 1910, favoured Neo-Confucianism and ruthlessly suppressed Buddhism, forcing it out of the cities and towns and confining the temples to the remote mountains. During the Japanese occupation, Buddhism again gained favour but the celibate monks were forced to marry. Following liberation in 1945, the main sect, Chogye, re-instituted celibacy for its clergy whilst several of the minor sects persisted with married priests. Following the Korean war, Korea came under American influence and an influx of Christian missionaries, especially of the aggressive fundamentalist variety, invaded Korea. What was formerly a Buddhist stronghold, now sees half of its population following Christianity. The results of this turmultuous period in Korean history has, to a significant degree, manifested itself amongst the Korean Buddhist migrants in Australia. Early in the 1980's, the Korean Dharmakaya Society was formed at Summer Hill, a western suburb of Sydney. In 1984, a monk, Venerable Jin Sang Sunim, arrived from Korea and premises were leased at Earlwood to serve as a residence and temporary temple, known originally as Hong Boep Sa and later renamed Dharma Sa. Venerable Jin Sang left Australia early in 1985 and was replaced by Venerable Jang San Sunim, who arrived on the first of April, 1985. An uneasy relationship developed between the monk and the Committee of the temple. By October, the dissent had become so untenable that the Venerable Jang San was forced to leave the temple, together with those members of the congregation who remained loyal to him. By December, 1985, a new Korean temple, Bul Kwang Sa, was established at Summer Hill with Venerable Jang San as its Abbot. His visa expired early in 1986 and he returned to Korea. After returning to Australia in January, 1988, as a permanent resident, he resumed his duties of ministry to the spiritual needs of the Korean community at the Bul Kwang Temple. The Committee of the Korean Dharmakaya Society later sponsored a Bhikshuni (female monk), Venerable Jung O Sunim, in October, 1986, to take over as resident spiritual teacher. Again, conflict arose between Jung O Sunim and the temple committee and she was dismissed in September, 1988. Many of her supporters severed their connection with the Korean Dharmakaya Society and established yet another temple, Kwan Eum Sa, at Belmore, an inner Western suburb, with Ven.Jung O Sunim as its presiding abbot. Yet another Bhikshuni, Venerable Ja Young Sunim, arrived in 1989 to serve the needs of the Korean Dharmakaya Society. The Society has since vacated its Earlwood premises and established itself at Campsie, Sydney's main centre of Korean migrants. Meanwhile, trouble arose at the Bul Kwang Temple at Summer Hill. An assistant monk, Venerable Dok Jong Sunim had joined Venerable Jang San. The President felt that, as he and the committee were meeting the expenses of the temple, the monks should confine their activities to performing ceremonies and all major decisions should be vested in the committee. The situation became so tense that Venerable Jang San formed the opinion that the temple was serving more as a Korean social club, providing a venue for Koreans to meet and discuss issues back home. He felt that they had no real interest in practising Buddhism so he returned to Korea in mid 1989, leaving Venerable Dok Jong to conduct the religious ceremonies. Soon afterwards Venerable Dok Jong Sunim also departed, leaving the Bul Kwang Temple without any monks to serve the congregation. Many people in the Korean Buddhist community feel a deep sense of shame over the turbulent history of Korean Buddhism in Australia. Moves have been initiated by the new committee of the Dharma Sa Temple (Korean Dharmakaya Society) to unite the three temples and to resolve the past differences which have been so damaging to the progress of Korean Buddhism in Australia. With a spirit of goodwill the Korean community is striving for reconciliation and, hopefully, they will leave in the past what belongs in the past and will firmly establish the Korean Buddhist tradition in their new home. Won Buddhism, a fairly recent evangelical sect from Korea, is currently establishing itself in Sydney. A nun from this order arrived in 1990. Won Buddhism is a fusion of Son (Zen) and Confucianism and has, as its object of worship, a circle, symbolising the Void which 'contains everything and is perfect' (7), rather than the traditional Buddha Image. Won Buddhism is celebrating the centenary of the birth of its founder, the Venerable Master Sotaesan, in 1991.

The Lao

Lao society is inseparable from Buddhism - they have been Buddhist for nearly a thousand years. 95% of the country are rice farmers and rural life revolved around the village Wat (temple) where the monk acted as teacher, doctor and spiritual adviser. Throughout the feudal and colonial periods, the Sangha - the order of monks - remained the main institution in the country. The monks were held in tremendous esteem as moral and spiritual arbiters as well as the most learned of the community. (19.)

In 1975, the Pathet Lao defeated the army of the royalist Buddhist monarchy and many Lao people fled from the communist tyranny across the Thai border. Many have since settled in Australia. The community divided into two factions - one supporting the former monarchy and the other, feeling dominated by the educated middle class, wishing to follow an independent path. In the mid eighties, the Lao refugees welcomed the arrival of their first monks to serve the spiritual needs of their community. The Lao Community Advancement Co-operative, the pro-monarchist group, purchased a two storied premises at Cabramatta West, known as Wat Prayort Keo Dhammananaram, to serve as a temporary residence for their monks and a meeting place for religious observances. They were later granted, by the N.S.W. Government, the lease on some land at Bonnyrigg for the purpose of, eventually, establishing a temple and community centre. The Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony was held on Sunday, 20th of August, 1989 and construction is scheduled to commence early in 1990. For many years the independent Lao Association of N.S.W., rented premises on the Hume Highway at Cabramatta as a temple and residence for their Abbot, Ven.Thongsoun Phantha-Oudom and their monks. The temple, known as Wat Buddhalavarn later became independent from the Lao Association and the Abbot was appointed as President. Early in 1988, a cottage was purchased to serve as a temporary Vihara (residence and temple) until land for a temple could be acquired. Moves were made in 1988 to unite the two Lao temples but, although the monks from both temples strongly supported it, suspicions about the motives for the merger still lingered amongst the laity, especially those from Wat Buddhalavarn, and such a conjunction now seems more remote than ever. The occasional combined ceremonies, that occured before the attempted merger, have now completely ceased.


June, 1985 saw the arrival of Venerable Mahinda, who had a long association with both the Buddhist Missionary Society (B.M.S.) in Kuala Lumpur and the Singapore Buddhist Mission, on a one month missionary lecture tour of the eastern States of Australia. Whilst here, he realised the fertile ground ready for cultivating the Dhamma (the Buddha's teaching). An application was lodged, prior to his return to Malaysia, for his permanent residence visa. This was granted and he returned in July, 1986.

He was appointed Bikkhu (monk) in Charge of the Hock Cheng See Buddhist Vihara at Ambarvale, a suburb of Campbelltown, south of Sydney. This Vihara had previously been purchased by some monks from Malacca, Malaysia and the trustees had invited Ven.Mahinda to use it as his residence. It was in August, 1986, that Venerable Mahinda suggested that an Australian Buddhist Mission could be set up on similar lines to the B.M.S. and the Singapore Buddhist Mission. During its formative years the Mission has organised several meditation retreats, Buddhist Youth Camps with participants from several ethnic groups including Australian born, Burmese, Cambodian, Malaysians, Sri Lankans and Vietnamese. The aim of the camps was not only to plant the seeds of Dhamma so that future Bodhi trees might grow but to promote mutual understanding and friendship among the diverse groups who make up our multi-cultural Australian community. In 1989, the Mission sponsored the two year visit to Australia of Ven.Acharn Yantra, a famous Thai meditation master and, in 1990, is sponsoring the visit of a senior Sri Lankan monk to minister to Sydney's small Sri Lankan community. The Mission's main aim is to complement rather than to duplicate the activities already being so ably performed by the other Buddhist organisations.

The Sri Lankans

On the 9th of May, 1971, Venerable Ratmalane Somaloka, a Sri Lankan born monk, arrived in Sydney to become the first permanent resident member of the Buddhist Sangha in Australia. He ministered mainly to Buddhists of European ethnic origin. In May, 1973, the Australian Buddhist Vihara was opened at Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. This was the first Buddhist temple in New South Wales and the culmination of a dream of Venerable Somaloka and his devotees. Despite the optimism which greeted the founding of Australia's first Buddhist Vihara, since then, all has not been a bed of roses. A sign on the gate of the Vihara, "Private Property", is a significant indicator of its policies. Despite the Sri Lankan origins of Venerable Somaloka, the local Sri Lankan Buddhist community was discouraged from visiting the Vihara. It was only after the arrival of Venerable Pemananda, another monk from Sri Lanka, who was invited to assist in the activities of the Vihara, that the Sri Lankan community was granted limited access. The Bhikkhu (monk) who followed Ven.Pemananda's stay, Ven.Suganananda, was most unimpressed with the exclusiveness of the Vihara's policies and threatened to leave unless visitors were granted freer access. Some Blue Mountain's residents who wished to study the Dhamma (the Buddha's teachings) and to practice meditation claim that they were actively discouraged from attending the Vihara. As the result of an alleged breach of a major Vinaya rule by Somaloka, many of the original supporters have since withdrawn from its activities. Currently, the majority of Sri Lankan Buddhists, who follow the Theravadin school, attend the Thai temple or the Australian Buddhist Mission.

The Thais

In 1975, a magnificent Victorian house, now known as Wat Buddharangsee, was purchased in the inner city suburb of Stanmore. The opening ceremony, on Vesak Day, 25th of May, 1975, was performed by His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, in the presence of His Highness Ven.Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, the Buddhist Patriarch and ten visiting Bhikkhus (monks) from Thailand. Although Wat Buddharangsee is essentially a Thai monastery, Ven.Phra Khru Sukumaphirak, the abbot, has ensured that it serve the needs of the Lao, Khmer, Malaysian and Sri Lankan communities as well as a significant group of Anglo- Europeans who regularly attend the nightly meditation sessions. Wat Buddharangsee has proved to be one of the most popular Buddhist meeting places, in the true spirit of multiculturalism, in the Sydney area. Such has been its success, that it has rapidly become too small to adequately serve its large congregation so, a large tract of land was purchased at Leumeah, south of Sydney, where a traditional Thai-style forest monastery, Wat Pa Buddharangsee, was opened in May, 1988. The Stanmore premises has been retained to serve the needs of the inner city Buddhist community.

The Tibetans

Sydney's Tibetan community, numbering less than twenty, must constitute, perhaps, the smallest of the ethnic groups, yet, Tibetan Buddhist organisations make up one third of the many Buddhist organisations in Sydney. Tibetan Buddhism attracts many followers of Anglo-European background. Many of the local Tibetans were formerly Buddhist monks either in Tibet or in India following the Chinese occupation so they are often called upon to serve as teachers or translators for visiting lamas. Many of the Anglo-European followers have joined with the Tibetan community in protests at the Chinese genocide and persecution of the Tibetan clergy. The Tibetans are saddened and disappointed with the Australian Government's neglect of the plight of their country, prefering not to offend the Beijing regime lest it affect our trade. They have a strong supporter in the N.S.W. Attorney General, John Dowd, however, who has often bravely spoken out about the complacency, of both the Liberal and Labour Parties, about the Tibetan situation.

The Vietnamese

At the end of 1979, a group of Vietnamese refugees met at a restaurant in Glebe, an inner city suburb, and formed the Vietnamese Buddhist Society of N.S.W. The first religious ceremonies organised by the Society were held at the Thai temple, Wat Buddharangsee, at Stanmore. Premises at Lakemba, a western suburb, were later leased by the Society, to serve as a temporary temple, prior to the arrival of their monk, Venerable Thich Bao Lac. Problems with the local council and racism from the local residents forced the Society to seek Government assistance to find a more suitable place and to establish a more permanent place of worship. Land at Bonnyrigg, an outer western suburb, was leased to the Society by the Housing Commission of N.S.W.. Today, on this land stands the first, purpose built, Buddhist temple in metropolitan Sydney, the Phap Bao Temple. A large statue of the Bodhisattva Kwan Yin forms a dominating landmark at the entrance to the temple. Actually, the first Vietnamese monk to arrive in Australia was the senior teacher, Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue, who set foot on our soil in 1980. In 1981, he formed the Vietnamese Buddhist Federation of Australia, which currently has branch temples in all Australian States with the exception of Tasmania, which has very few Vietnamese refugees. At its Biennial Conference in 1987, the name of the Federation was changed to the United Vietnamese Buddhist Congregations of Australia. He established the Phuoc Hue Temple in a large garage at the rear of a cottage in Fairfield, which served as a monk's residence. Again, racism and the local council's insensitivity to the needs of the refugee communities, forced the Vietnamese Buddhist Federation to seek Government assistance in finding a suitable place for a temple to serve the spiritual needs of Sydney's large Vietnamese Buddhist community. The then Premier of N.S.W., the Hon.Barrie Unsworth, responded by making available an unused school premises at Wetherill Park, an outer western suburb. The foundation stone for the new Phuoc Hue Temple was laid by him in October, 1987. A splendid temple premises, which will be a major showpiece of Sydney, is currently under construction on this former school land. The Vietnamese community is divided politically, hence the two temples. The Phap Bao Temple was established by Vietnamese who were in Australia, as students or diplomats prior to the 1975 fall of Saigon. The Phuoc Hue Temple serves the 'boat people', who view those, who didn't personally experience Communist oppression, with suspicion. They claim that many of the people from the Phap Bao Temple are not vigorous enough in their opposition to the current government in Vietnam. Both F Dtemples support a youth movement called "The Young Buddhist Family" which is similar to and affiliated with the Boy Scout Movement.

The Administrative Structure

Traditionally, Buddhist temples are autonomous, although, in 1902, Thailand instituted the Buddhist Order Act, which brought the Sangha under its own bureaucratic control. Laos and Cambodia followed suit (20). An attempt was made, in Sydney, in 1988, to institute a Sangha Council as an advisory and administrative body, but due to the diversity of Buddhist traditions with differing Sangha rules and few of the monks having a common language, it became unworkable and was eventually disbanded. As previously mentioned, the Vietnamese Buddhists in Australia have established the United Vietnamese Congregations of Australia as an umbrella body. With few exceptions, the Vietnamese temples in all States of Australia are affiliated with this body which meets biennialy to elect its council, The Buddhist Council of N.S.W. was established in 1985 to service the needs of the local Buddhist organisations. During its relatively short history, the Council had gained the respect and support, not only of the members of the Buddhist community, but especially that of both the Commonwealth and State Governments. The Council provided assistance and advice to the Buddhist community generally, but the bulk of its work involved support to the special needs of the ethnic Buddhist communities. Council was the co-ordinating body for the organisation and resource supply for the teaching of Dharma to Buddhist students in N.S.W. State Schools. Combined Vesak celebrations (Buddha's Birthday) were organised each year, bringing together, in a greater spirit of understanding, the many traditions that comprise the Sydney Buddhist community. The Council maintained liason with various Government Departments and acted as a lobby group to promote the rights and interests of all Buddhists. Although it boasted a membership of twenty three organisations, at it Annual General Meeting in 1989, it was unable to gain a quorum and its operations were temporarily suspended, however, at a well attended meeting called in September, 1990 to consider the future of the Council, a new committee was elected and a revised constitution ratified. A feature of the re-established Council is a Sangha Committee to act as a consultative and advisory body. A national body, the Buddhist Federation of Australia, was formed in 1952, but it has failed to gain the support of the majority of Australia's Buddhist organisations, having only seventeen member organisations in the whole of Australia in 1989. Its bi-ennial conference, due to be held in January, 1989, had not been held by the time of writing this paper - nearly two years after its due date.

Buddhists and Australian Society

According to the 1986 Commonwealth Census (21), 80,387 people in Australia, of whom 35,114 resident in New South Wales, listed their religion as Buddhist. This showed an a significant increase since 1981 when 35,073 Buddhists were listed for Australia. As the question pertaining to religion was the only non-compulsory question on the form, the actual numbers could be considerably greater. Many ethnic Buddhists believe, quite wrongly, that Australia is a Christian country and to indicate a deviation from the norm could be disadvantageous. Although the Christians are numerically the major religious grouping in Australia and carry the highest profile, Australia is a secular society and has no state religion. There is also a bias against Buddhists in the general Australian population as indicated in a recent Government survey which showed that Buddhists were second only to Muslims as Australia's least popular religious group. It should be noted that Asians, the majority of whom are Buddhists, are fairly recent arrivals in, what may be considered, significant numbers. They have replaced the Greeks, Italians and 'Balts' as the whipping boys for Australia's ills. McAllister and Moore conclude that:

There must always be a group that is marginalised, against which frustration could be vented. This, of course, implies that the removal of one 'out' group will merely witness its replacement by another group in a continuous cycle. (21.)

This prejudice has been amply demonstrated earlier in this article by the problems encountered by the Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhist groups, especially at local government level.


Buddhism is, traditionally, non-proselytising and has always advocated respect for the teachings and the followers of other faiths, however, it seems opportune for Buddhists to, at least, inform the Australian public of the teachings of the Buddha. This would, to some degree, overcome the suspicion and prejudice and would demonstrate that Buddhists pose no threat to Australia's cultural values but rather have a significant contribution to make to its enhancement. Due to the unique meeting of various Buddhist schools of thought and ethnic traditions in Australia, the Buddhist community, itself, must become aware of the differences so that a spirit of mutual respect and co-operation can operate. May I conclude with the words of the former Premier of New South Wales, Barrie Unsworth, spoken at a State reception for the Buddhist community in 1987:

Yours is an ancient philosophy that has had a beneficial influence on the development of the world. As a movement for peace, moderation and tolerance, you have always been and remain contemporary. That is why you are most welcome in New South Wales, as fellow citizens and as seekers and teachers of truth. As followers of his Path, you bring to your new life in New South Wales that same spirit of tolerance, gentleness and kindness that has continued through more than two and a half thousand years of your culture. That spirit is entirely complementary to the path of multiculturalism that I see as the future of this State.


1. Buddha, The Dhammapada, P.149, verse 165. Buddhist Missionary Society, Kuala Lumpur, 1978.

2. Buddha, The Dhammapada, P.165, verse 183. Buddhist Missionary Society, Kuala Lumpur, 1978.

3. Joshi, Lal Mani The Monastic Contribution to Buddhist Art and Architecture, in Bechert, H. and Gombrich, R. (Eds.) The World of Buddhism, P.97. Thames and Hudson, London, 1984.

4. Majumdar, R.C. in Bapat, P.V. (Ed.) 2500 Years of Buddhism PP.86,87. Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, New Delhi, 1956.

5. Croucher, Paul A History of Buddhism in Australia - 1848-1988 PP.1,2. New South Wales University Press, Kensington, 1989.

6. Croucher, Paul A History of Buddhism in Australia - 1848-1988 P.5. New South Wales University Press, Kensington, 1989.

7. de Jong, Klaas A Short Account of the Spread of Southern Buddhism in Australia and Queensland in Particular P.2. Dhammadinna House, Wacol, 1982.

8. Croucher, Paul A History of Buddhism in Australia - 1848-1988 P.11. New South Wales University Press, Kensington, 1989.

9. Croucher, Paul A History of Buddhism in Australia - 1848-1988 PP.68,69. New South Wales University Press, Kensington, 1989.

10. Croucher, Paul A History of Buddhism in Australia - 1848-1988 P.2. New South Wales University Press, Kensington, 1989.

11. Census Applications. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 1986 Census extracted and compiled for the NSW Department of Housing and the Ethnic Affairs Commission of NSW. Sydney, 1988.

12. H.J. and Marie Heath. Urgent Notice to Strathfield Residents. Circular distributed in August, 1988.

13. Cripps, J.S. Judgement - Tsang hui v Council of the Municipality of Strathfield. Land and Environment Court of New South Wales, Sydney, 1989.

14. Zammit, Paul. Letter to the Town Clerk, Strathfield Municipal Council - SUBJECT: Proposed Buddhist Complex. Circular distributed in August, 1989.

15. Buddhists Perplexed Over Extension Drama in The Western Suburbs Courier Vol.105, No.35, P.6, Wednesday, September 6, 1989.

16. Jamrozik, Wanda $25m Buddhist Centre Falters Over $200,000 in The Sydney Morning Herald, P.3, Monday, May 8, 1989.

17. Eui-hyun, Venerable Korean Buddhism, PP.12, 18, 19. , Korean Buddhist Chogye Order, Seoul, 1988.

18. Sotaesan, Venerable Master The Scripture of Won Buddhism P.8. Won Kwang Publishing Co., Iri, 1988.

19. Davidsons, John Paul (Producer) Hearts and Minds Asia 10 Years After the Vietnam War. Film from BBC, London, 1985.

20. Bunnag, Jane The Way of the Monk and the Way of the World, in Bechert, H. and Gombrich, R. (Eds.) The World of Buddhism, P.161. Thames and Hudson, London, 1984.

21. McAllister, Ian and Moore, Rhonda Ethnic Prejudice in Australian Society: Patterns, Intensity and Explanations. Office of Multicultural Affairs, Canberra, 1989.