Wat Buddha Dhamma, a Buddhist monastery in the Australian bush, about 3–4 hours from Sydney, is on fire! It has been founded in the 1970s with participation of Ayya Khema (before she became a nun) and is now used by Bhikkhus. The monks have been safely evacuated, but the monastery has some really unique buildings that may be lost…
The Wat website now has first? update regarding the fire. http://www.wbd.org.au/category/news/
Most important bit “the community of monks and lay people have evacuated before the fire encroached upon the monastery.”
Good that no-one is hurt .
The fires have been awful… and continue on, as summer has just begun…
I went into a short retreat knowing that a fire was burning in the National Park. Thankfully the community update was to hand when we came out. Everybody safe again. This fire destroyed more than the previous one (2002) did, but again the local ‘Firies’ saved the important buildings. Such gratitude for their efforts.
Surely there will be many donations offered to help the monastery start the clear-up and resume normal operations once it is safe for them to return. Details are here: http://www.wbd.org.au/support/financial/
The fire, now dubbed a ‘mega-fire’ continues burning and there are fears it will join up with a similar fire further along the Sydney periphery. … Meanwhile clouds of smoke and ash are rolling over our cities and air quality is being described as ‘hazardous’.
Here are some photos from the day after the 2002 fire subsided. The only lost buildings then were the old schoolroom (used for storage) and a makeshift toilet.
Thanks for sharing the pictures and the news.
I have been to Wat Buddha Dhamma for two months in 2016, and I found it a very special place. The atmosphere in the forest is—I can’t describe how, but I found it really very special. The Dhamma hall is simply such an amazing building; other interesting buildings in the monks’ area I didn’t get to see. Later when in Western Australia I talked to the son of the main responsible builder of the Dhamma hall; he had been a young man at the time and had helped his father with the building work. He said people didn’t believe this hall would stand because of the most special construction of the roof. But still after 40 or so years it still stands, and hopefully will survive this fire!
I lived there for six months during 2001 when it was being cared for by a lay community. I was told (among other scraps of oral history) that the beautiful curved beams were possible because his father was a boat builder and basically constructed an upside down boat. How lovely for you to meet his son.
Yes, he is a lovely man and is helping very much at Dhammasara nuns’ monastery. That’s where I met him.
Pictures from 2016.
Update: The monks have returned, the main buildings stand, and they’ll be seeking volunteers to help with the cleanup on upcoming weekends.
I felt very surprised to read that the monks & other residents had taken refuge at Santi Forest (bhikkhuni) Monastery, and felt a wave of emotion on seeing a photo of them seated in the shrine room so familar to me. It bodes wonderfully well for future friendship, mutual respect and connection.
While residing at Santi some years ago, I was told that I couldn’t find any reference on Wat Buddha Dhamma’s website to their founder, Ayya Khema (who established it 41 years ago), because long ago a conservative branch of monks had taken over and tried to erase memory of the history, due to aversion towards bhikkhunis. Maybe it turns out that this story simply wasn’t correct - or maybe it once was true but is changing. Nice.
There is still no mention of Ayya Khema on WBD’s ‘About’ page. I was very happy also to know that the monks found refuge at Santi during the fire. It is vey nice to know that there was this contact between the two well-practicing groups of monastics.
Fyi, here is an overview of the WBD History Project 1978- 2008. You will read how there was an attempt to bring traditional Dhamma and western life together, and that for complicated reasons this vision didn’t work out.
The current group of Forest Tradition sangha came to the Wat formally in 2008, led by Ajahn Kemavaro. He had been trained with the Forest Tradition in Thailand and then spent time in Perth at Bodhinanya with Ajahn Brahm before seeking permission from AB to go to WBD. For the first few months WBD was associated closely with Bodhinanya and AB.
The bhikkhuni ordination at Bodhinanya in 2009 was a game-changer however.
After the ordination Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth and the consequent disassociation of Bodhinyana from the root monasteries in Thailand, Ajahn K’s fledgling monastery could not remain affiliated with both. He returned from the big meeting in Thailand that discussed this very sad. He called a meeting of all the women at WBD that day and told us that it had been a difficult decision, that he hoped we would understand, but that he felt that to follow AB would be too difficult in the light of the gratitude he felt to the Sangha that had trained him in Thailand. So Bodhhinyana is no long affiliated with the Forest Sangha and WBD is (listing here). Soon after that AK invited Ajahn Dtun to be spiritual director to WBD.
The following is from the Sydney Insight Meditators’ history page:
Insight Meditation in Australia
Two prominent figures in the early development of Insight Meditation in Australia were Ilse Lederman (nee Kussel, 1923 - 1997, later Ayya Khemma) and Phra Khantipalo. Ilse Lederman organised the first ten day retreats in Queensland in the mid-1970s and brought overseas teachers to lead those retreats. She became a founder of Wat Buddha Dhamma (WBD), just north of Sydney with Phra Khantipalo in 1978. She later took robes, became known as Ayya Khemma, wrote a number well-received books on practice, including Being Nobody, Going Nowhere: Meditations on the Buddhist Path, and taught worldwide. In her later years she was based at Buddha Haus in Munich.
Phra Khantipalo (1932 - ) led one of the earliest or the earliest IM retreat in Northern NSW in the mid 1970s. He is a Pali scholar, has written numerous articles on Buddhism, became the founding abbot of Wat Buddha Dhamma, later disrobed and used a variation of his birth name Lawrence Khantipalo Mills and then still later re-ordained in the Vietnamese Mahayana tradition under the name Mihn Ah.
Ilse Lederman and Phra Khantipalo were central to the foundation of Wat Buddha Dhamma. The Wat was in the bush surrounded by Dharug National Park, less than two hours’ drive north of Sydney, and it became a thriving Insight Meditation related practice community. While it was formally a Wat (a Buddhist temple), it embraced western values and approaches very different to the Theravada norm. This was not to last.
Ayya Khema’s autobiography I Give You My Life has a chapter about how they found the property and (if my memory is right) it was purchased with money from her divorce settlement!
Edited to reorder scrambled paragraphs.
Dear @Gillian I seem to remember that you were resident for some time at WBD, as the above quote would also suggest.
The link to the history project is very interesting,but even the link on that page only leads to a slightly extended synopsis - do you know if the full document is available somewhere?
This is wonderful, lets hope that the ‘political’ divisions and sad seperations brought about through the bhikkhuni ordinations become well healed over time.
I only found this page today, and I don’t know what the group is up to. It seems to have onward pointing links tho.
The Insight Meditators page used to hold a lot more detail, but it was tinged with so much regret that I am glad they took it down.
I have a lot of the oral history in my head, but - as we all know - my memory isn’t accurate!!!
Apologies for adding to your burdens - but it would be very valuable to have a record
Here is a copy of the expanded synopsis. Makes for interesting reading. It is quite inspiring that the ‘yet-to-be-ordained’ Ayya Khema financed the purchase of the land from her divorce settlement.
Agree, I was there about 1991 and think the special attribute is due to the untouched condition, prehistoric harmonies are intact. Plants like the Gymea Lily (shown in the photos) have evolved in response to the specific environment. I moved from there to Bodhinyana and a bush fire went through that monastery, but all the buildings were brick.