New hub for Canberra's burgeoning Buddhist community

by Emma Kelly, Canberra Times, February 11, 2014

Canberra, Australia -- One of Canberra’s largest residents will be housed in a striking new hub that will cater for the territory’s growing Buddhist population.

The Buddhist Society of the ACT hopes to open the doors of a new 8.5-metre-high ordination hall in Narrabundah before the middle of the year.

The society’s giant Buddha will become the centrepiece of the $414,600 facility, with the hall to be built around the golden statue at the Goyder Street site.

The gold statue currently sits on a brick platform on what was a Buddhist garden outside the existing facility.

The hall has been designed as an accessible Buddhist community hub for Canberra’s inner south but will draw followers from across the ACT.

Plans for the building have been under way since about 2006 and include a separate toilet block at the rear of the site, 50 parking spaces including two disabled spaces, and a 5000-litre water tank.

Gold-coloured terracotta tiles, a roof ornament, long columns and a covered outdoor area will complete the prominent facility.

A development application for the project has been lodged with the ACT Planning and Land Authority.

The society hoped to see construction work start between late March and early April and expected the shell of the building to be completed within 16 weeks.

Public officer Thane Kyaw-Myint said members and their families had outgrown the current hall, which includes the presiding monk’s residence.

During large open days, which commemorated significant occasions such as the beginning of Buddhist Lent, crowds stretched well outside the door.

“[The current building] is not that large. A lot of people stand outside and listen to the ceremony using a speaker. The monk, for the sake of the community, will have two services, one in the morning and one in the afternoon,” Dr Myint said. “The registered number of members is about 200 but when you include families the total community is about 600 to 700 strong ... from across Canberra.”

Canberra’s growing Buddhist population made up 2.6per cent of the territory’s religious affiliations in 2011, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics census figures.

The figure is part of a national rise is non-Christian religions since 2001.

The Buddhist Society of the ACT is from the Theyrayeda sect of Buddhism, not the Mahayalia sect. The Theyrayeda sect has different beliefs about enlightenment and draws most followers from Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia rather than China, Tibet and Nepal.

Although a zoning hiccup had delayed work, Dr Kywa-Myint said the development appeared to be back on track in an area home to a number of community facilities including other places of worship.

He said the ordination hall’s uses would include meditation, religious discourse and ceremonial performances, and cater to a growing demand for religious schooling as more and more children of Buddhist families were born in Canberra.

The current site also includes extra portable rooms, kuti, which were donated by members and are used for individual meditation.

Dr Kywa-Myint said the hall would be open throughout the day, as the current facilities are, to enable prayer. They would close at night to prevent vandalism.