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Brisbane Buddhist Pilgrimage

Miffi Maxmillion, November 1999

We started with prayers in the gompa at 8 am. After a bit of background about the centre, some initial instructions, our convoy of five cars we was on our way.

Our first stop was the Quang Am temple, just behind the Breaky Creek pub. The first Buddhist temple in Queensland, built in 1880. To our surprise, one of our own group effortlessly rattled off it's history for us! It's a triad temple (no, not that sort!); Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian. The Vietnamese monk spoke Cantonese, and lucky for us another of our group, Kim Teng, did an on-the-spot translation for us. We received an explanation on the Heart of Wisdom Sutra, and with some help we repeated it in Cantonese.

This very warm, gentle and enthusiastic monk explained how we must recite from the heart otherwise it is meaningless. He explained how our heart is like a glass of water, with rubbish in it, but the rubbish can settle, and then we can have clear, not tepid, water.

We visited the Loden centre, a Tibetan centre in East Brisbane. They also reside in a large old Queenslander, and we had tea with them under their very tall bodhi tree. The Queensland Zen Centre welcomed us with peach tea and a koan. Kwan Myong Sunim, a Canadian nun for 20 years, effortlessly composed a koan for us out of our own conversation - the sign of a true master.

She first asked me what I thought a pilgrimage was. When I answered "steps towards enlightenment, or homage to the Buddha" she then asked which was it. One person answered "homage to the Buddha" to which she replied "in that case I would get my big Zen stick out, and give you a whack, you are attached to form." Someone else said, "well then, it's homage to the Buddha". She replied, "in that case, I would get my other big Zen stick out and give you a whack, because that is attachment to emptiness." We laughed (about the stick), and she smilingly said "I'm not joking". We laughed some more, at which one of her students said she really wasn't joking!

So again she asked "what is the meaning of pilgrimage?" Then she stood up, clasped her hands together and walked quietly across the gompa floor...

Next stop was the enormous Chung Tian Temple in Priestdale, a compound the size of a city block with impeccable feng-shui. Their main meditation hall has many thousands of images of Chenrezig, in Bodhisattva form, Tibetan 4-armed aspect and an enormous seated thousand-armed gold Quang Ying with sixteen main arms, instead of the eight that we recognise. Even the chandelier is surrounded by hundreds of Bodhisattva Chenrezigs.

The Reverend, as the nuns and abbess are called, asked us how long we had been meditating (a very embarrassing question!). She explained that they also use a big stick, but they give you a little tap first to warn you what's coming. One of our group flinched, and she said "do you think I do this because I want to hurt you?" She continued "No, its my duty. Instead of blissing out in meditation, which I'd like very much, it is my duty to be of service to you here. Perhaps. What do you think?" She then gave us all om mani padme hum souvenirs, including some for Geshe-la.

Then, after lunch, on to Amitabha Buddha's Light. They definitely ‘have the technology'! Ven. Woo Sheng, the smiling monk who welcomed us, showed us around an array of rooms and libraries with an increasingly awesome display of technology. We ended up in the on-line lecture hall where, behind an imposing mat black and rubber video camera the size of a small TV, he opened a magic door in the wall to reveal the inside workings of a computer link-up able to send the Dharma live on-line to millions around the world!

They have a bookcase with the complete Tripitaka. The monk told us that if you are really good you can get your writing included in there. He said he didn't mean us -someone like the Dalai Lama yes- us no! Obviously, their main focus is education; all their literature is free.

The monk gave us books, CDs and T-shirts. Then he merrily cracked some death jokes (I kid you not!) along the lines of, "you think sick, you end up in hospital; you think depressed and sick, and next week we go to your funeral" and with that and a gentle chuckle he saw us to the door.

At the Phap Quang Temple in Durak, we arrived as a Vietnamese monk was giving a class to around thirty grey robed ladies of indeterminate age. He invited us in and explained that they would continue doing what they were doing, and we could do what we do, and not worry about them.

As we said our prayers, basking in the rich resonances of the Heart Sutra in the echoing hall, they all seemed to wander out of the gompa, and just as we were finishing they all seemed to wander back in! We asked to take a photo and gathered around the table the monk was seated at, all of us facing the grey robed class. Then the monk invited everybody up, and we became surrounded by a sea of gently twittering Vietnamese grandmothers, smiling as we towered over them, and all fifty of us had our photo taken!

Just down the road is the Phat Da temple, smaller and in a much poorer area. But the locals have the comfort of a huge Quang Ying Statue, smiling benignly at them from the temple grounds. We were welcomed by a Vietnamese nun, Ven. Metta, who looked about twenty years old. When we asked about how she became a nun she told us she was ordained in 1970 and lived as a Theravadin nun in Thailand for sixteen years, then in Bangkok for three, and then came to Australia. As there are only Mahayana Vietnamese in Australia, she came to live and teach at this temple. So, now she is both Mahayana and Hinayana. She explained to us how we are all Dharma brothers and sisters. She told us how she had met His Holiness the Dalai Lama twice, giving herself, and us, goose bumps. There was a photo of our very own Geshe Tashi Tsering on the wall (when he blessed and consecrated their land) along with photos of His Holiness, Geshe Legden, Geshe Loden and other lamas.

Lastly we arrived at Linh Son nunnery, where we consumed a never ending stream of steaming hot vegetarian buns at the feet of a 20 foot Buddha with a multi-coloured neon halo. It felt uncannily like a version of the last supper, or first supper, like we were part of an age-old practice of breaking bread (or buns) with pilgrims. On this very special day, it seemed the Buddha had indeed descended from Tushita to share our hot sticky meal with us.

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