Ancient China comes to Flat Bush

By WAYNE THOMPSON, New Zealand Herald, Oct 25, 2004

Chinese New Zealanders are finding a little piece of home sprouting in a Manukau City field.

Auckland, New Zealand -- It's a cluster of buildings that hark back to old China.

As the traditional Chinese palace style of the buildings has emerged, so has the interest in the Fo Guang Shan Temple.

Buddhists from many cultures, as well as Chinese and non-Buddhists, drive through the monumental gates off Chapel Rd, Flat Bush, to check progress on the $30 million project.

The temple, a year away from completion, is becoming a tourist attraction, said Rev Miao Shi, who has come from Sydney to help establish its place in the community.

She points to the success of the Nan Tien Temple, south of Sydney, which won the New South Wales Tourism Award of Excellence within four years of opening.

At Flat Bush, more than 1000 people already come from as far away as Hamilton to worship, study and socialise.

They use the temple's dining hall during construction of the main shrine, which will include a giant statue of Buddha.

Two towers house the drum and bell to signal the time for worship.

But Rev Shi said it has not been decided whether the drum and bell will sound daily at 6am as they do at Nan Tien.

The 4ha block containing the Flat Bush temple will in 10 years' time be flanked by a planned settlement for 40,000 residents.

Rev Shi said an important part of temple life was a two-storey school block. Its six classrooms were used daily for lessons in Buddhism and meditation, Chinese as a second language, calligraphy, arithmetic, flower arrangement, craftwork, and tai chi.

A flourishing youth group is based there for sports and to do community service such as helping younger children with school homework and visiting and entertaining senior citizens of Howick.

Rev Shi said the aim was not to replace normal schools but to build understanding of cultures and let people mix.

"It's putting Buddhism practice into their daily lives," she said.

"We hope the community will treat this as their home."

Temple members take part in prayers for world peace, the Moon Festival and the annual Buddha's Day multicultural festival in Auckland City, which has drawn 20,000 people in each of the last two years.

An accommodation block is finished for monks and for devotees who will come for retreats or study.

There are plans for a seven-storey pagoda to hold the ashes of deceased members.

But the present focus is on finishing the interior of the temple buildings and tiling the roof.

About 400,000 clay tiles are needed and visitors can sign their name on the back of one in return for a $20 donation.

A further fundraising effort is preparing vegetarian meals for Sunday visitors in exchange for a donation.

Australian and overseas Buddhists have donated to the temple, which is being built by the International Buddhist Trust North Island, with the support of the lay members of Buddha's Light International Association.

The Fo Guang Shan order was founded in Taiwan in 1956 by the Venerable Master Hsing Yun.

He was impressed with the peace-loving nature of New Zealanders during a 1992 visit to 20 members and decided it was a fertile place to propagate the teachings of Buddha.

About 40,000 New Zealanders gave their religion as Buddhist in the 2001 census, compared with 28,000 in 1996 and 12,700 in 1991.

Flat Bush temple is open seven days from 9am to 5pm.