Rocky road to enlightenment

By Alison White, News Shopper, July 4, 2006

Buddhists in Gravesham had seen their dreams for a temple "smashed" by vandals. But now a new self-funded temple is close to completion after help from volunteers. ALISON WHITE finds out more.

Gravesham, UK -- Gravesham's Buddhist community has seen its fair share of disappointment. Attempts to establish a permanent temple have been blighted by vandalism and deliberate fires.

Arsonists struck at a building Buddhists were trying to convert into a temple in Colyer Road, Northfleet, three times last year.

The building became a target for vandals who smashed windows, stripped wooden panelling from the outside of the cottage and threw stones at a Buddhist monk.

After two months of relentless arson and criminal damage the last straw came when the front wall of the building was ripped away.

Buddhists were keen to find a permanent home, as Kent does not have a temple, so devotees either met in temporary accommodation or travelled to Wimbledon.

But now the 250 devotees have a new temple after agreeing to rent the Rose Street Community Centre in Rose Street, Northfleet, for the next 10 years.

The temple will form a permanent home for a Buddhist monk from Thailand.

Buddhism focuses on personal spiritual development and gaining an insight into the nature of life. The faith does not follow a God.

Meditation is used by Buddhists to separate themselves from thoughts and feelings to become fully aware.

Chairman of the Buddhists in Gravesham, Harry Smith, believes the rocky ride to establishing a temple happened for a reason.

He said building a temple is a great honour for Buddhists as it is the best way of earning merit in their next life.

Many volunteers, both Buddhists and people from other faiths, have donated time and equipment to the temple, which was completely self-funded.

Among the donations made was £1,600 for carpet, £1,000 for three months' rent and an offer of free plumbing, said Mr Smith.

Inside the temple is the monk's accommodation, who will live behind an image of a Buddha. He will have a large space for prayer, offices and an area for meditation.

Mr Smith, who is currently mayor of Gravesham, says once the building is finished it will be open all the time operating a "open-door policy" to the community.

An official opening is planned with the Thailand ambassador and officials from the Thailand Embassy invited along.

Buddhists in Gravesham are hoping enough money can be raised to buy the temple as a permanent home. Lead nurse Mr Smith said: "Hopefully it will work very well.

"We had our dreams smashed and we tried to start again and it looks like we have managed it. "It has happened for a purpose."

The 53-year-old says the key to religious harmony in Gravesham is people accepting other religions' differences. He said: "At the end of the day following a religion is the same for everybody.

"Buddhism really is a very peaceful philosophy."

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