Century-old cave monastery Gets Evicted by Cement Company

The Buddhist Channel, 8 September 2023

IPOH, Perak -- One of the last 12 remaining limestone hills in the Kinta Valley National Geopark, Gunung Kanthan, is surrounded by abundant greenery that shelters endangered species of flora and fauna like bent-toed geckos, snow-white orchids and tiny snails.

The Dhamma Sakyamuni Monastery (Caves Monastery) in Gunung Kanthan, Perak provide a conducive environment for meditation that cannot be found anywhere else

However, the uniqueness of this hill, estimated to be around five million years old, lies in the Dhamma Sakyamuni Caves Monastery. Nestled within the karst formation inside the caves, this century-old monastery accommodates about 15 monks and serves as a place for prayer and meditation.

The cave monastery's existence faces jeopardy as cement manufacturer Associated Pan Malaysia Cement (APMC) has successfully appealed to remove a century-old Buddhist monastery situated on Gunung Kanthan land in Perak.

Over time, approximately 80% of Gunung Kanthan has been cleared due to quarry activities. "What remains of the hill is a small part, which is zones C and D, where the monastery and the endangered species of flora and fauna are located respectively," said monastery abbot Dr. Chiong Sai Tin.

The Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) reports the discovery of three critically endangered new species of flora—Gymnostachyum kanthanense (Acanthaceae), Meiogyne kanthanensis (Annonaceae), and Vatica kanthanensis (Dipterocarpaceae)—in Gunung Kanthan.

Chiong also noted that the monastery did not encounter eviction issues with previous companies involved in quarry activities near the hill. "Unfortunately, when the current company took over in 2019, the eviction notice was issued in 2020."

He stressed the significance of discretion from both the government and the company, emphasizing that this matter pertains not only to national heritage but also to global Buddhist heritage.

Monastery's Origins

The monastery's origins trace back to Great Master Lao Shi Fu, one of the Thudong (Ascetic) monks from Thailand who explored the mountains and caves of northern Malaya for meditation retreats in the last century. Chiong shared that Great Master Lao had a vision of this monastery during deep meditation and founded it as a place of rest and meditation.

The monastery comprises two main shrine halls—the upper cave, serving as living quarters and a meditation space for monks, and the lower cave, open to devotees for prayers and chanting.

As Great Master Lao established the monastery, it attracted monks from various countries for meditation, leading the local community to discover the monks and the spiritual benefits of meditation. Some devotees even became monks themselves.

The monastery is also home to a unique grand golden Buddha statue embedded in the upper cave. Initially, a small golden Buddha image was built due to limited devotees, but as their numbers grew by 2000, Great Master Lao guided the monks in constructing a larger and grander golden Buddha image, taking six months to complete.

This Buddha image features a distinct sitting posture with both palms resting on the knees, representing the perfect meditative stage of the enlightened and compassionate Buddha, making it unique in the world of Buddha images.

Cave Monastery loses Appeal

The Court of Appeal recently rejected the monastery's application for a stay of execution, accepting the company's argument that they were entitled to possession as registered owners. This case had commenced in January last year when the company sought a High Court order in Ipoh for the eviction of squatters from Lot No. 46497 in Hulu Kinta, where Gunung Kanthan is situated.

The company claimed a lease on a 146.4-hectare land plot for quarrying purposes. The monastery's management contested the application, asserting that the company could only occupy a small portion as the monks had resided there for over a century.

They also argued that the company had suppressed material evidence by not disclosing the monastery's occupation to the court. The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment of the judicial commissioner, ruling in favor of APMC. Nahendran Navaratnam represented APMC, while Chan Kok Keong represented the monastery.

More information: https://www.saveourmonastery.com/index.php/walking-the-ancient-path-of-wisdom/

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