History: Buddhism in Australia: Wellbeing, Belonging, and Social Engagement

Some news. I’ve been invited to be an advisor for Anna Halafoff’s Buddhism in Australia project. This is a longstanding research interest of hers, to document and create a broad-based history. Here’s the project summary:

This research project aims to undertake the first nation-wide, comprehensive study of Buddhism in Australia, from the 19th century to the present day, to provide new knowledge of this previously under-researched religion in Australia. In doing so, it also aims to decentre studies of Buddhism in Western societies from Europe and North America. It will employ mixed methods, including digital oral history interviews (30 persons), cultural heritage case studies, and the first large-scale survey of Australian Buddhists. The findings of this study will be disseminated in academic outputs, scholarly and community events, and in a digital mapping educational resource. The project has five objectives, to:

And here are the main researchers:

  • Juewei Shi, Buddhist Studies & Chinese Buddhism, Nan Tien Institute
  • Anna Halafoff, Sociology, Deakin University
  • Kim Lam, Alfred Deakin Institute, Deakin University
  • Cristina Rocha, Anthropology and Buddhist Studies, Western Sydney University
  • Sue Smith, Education and Buddhist Studies, Charles Darwin University

I think there are far more Buddhists that may have been suspected or captured by the census.

Some very recent examples:

Someone who was a former colleague, when I remarked that her house has quite a few sculptures and statues of the Buddha - she said she has always been fascinated with Buddhism, and after some questioning her knowledge of Buddhism was very extensive.

Someone who I cycle with semi regularly, when he asked me what I have been doing recently, and after I replied I have been studying the suttas in Pali, he then disclosed his father became a Buddhist later in his life and became a much calmer man.

Another cyclist, after asking me the same question, said that he was agnostic but he closely identified with Buddhism.

None of the above are migrants coming from Buddhist countries. As far as I know, they were born here, and are from families that have settled in Australia several generations ago.

I am conceited enough to claim I converted my father to Buddhism, after many years of being an atheist. As a young child, I was exposed to Buddhism and enthusiastically described the key tenets to him, and he acknowledged that it opened his perspective. Like me, he retired early and spent most of the latter part of his life as a spiritual seeker. He ended up reading the Bible, the Koran and Bhagavadgita and for a while even practised tantricism. Again, I am conceited enough to believe he attained final understanding and liberation shortly before he died. Even the doctor commented that for a man who knew he was about to die, he was unusually calm and serene, accepting his fate, and was lucid right till the end.