The Buddhist Boom
When Australia’s immigration restrictions were lifted in the 1970s the number of Buddhists in Victoria rose dramatically to 9474 in 1981 and to 42,349 by 1991, and Buddhism became Australia’s fastest growing religion mainly as a result of immigration from Asia (Adam & Hughes 1996: 40-41). Buddhism also gained increasing popularity among Australians in the counter-culture years of the 1960s and 1970s and processes of globalisation enabled further travel between Australia and Asia at the end of the 20th Century (Croucher 1989: 82-85, 89)
The first Buddhist temple in Australia, the Australian Buddhist Vihara, was established in Katoomba by Venerable R. Somaloka in 1973. Somaloka is a Singhalese monk who had been invited to Australia by Charles Knight and who had arrived in 1971 (Croucher 1989: 79-81).
Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche were the first Tibetan monks and teachers to visit Australia in 1973. They held many subsequent public talks and retreats in numerous locations and Lama Zopa Rinpoche continues to travel to and teach in Australia on a regular basis. Their organisation, the Federation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT) went on to establish Centres in many Australian states and internationally and Australians still visit their main Center, Kopan Monastery in Nepal, for annual retreats. Melbournian Dr Nick Ribush and his partner Marie Obst, now Yeshe Khadro, first met the Lamas in Nepal. They encouraged their friends to attend the Kopan retreats and invited the Lamas to Australia. Together with Kathy and Tom Vichta, they donated land for Chenrezig Institute, the first Tibetan Buddhist retreat Centre to be built in Australia. Tara House was founded in Melbourne not long after in 1976 by Uldis Balodis. It moved from houses in Kew to St Kilda until the community purchased an old Catholic school in East Brighton in 1987, which became Tara Institute. Atisha Centre, an FPMT Centre, was founded in 1981, near Bendigo, Victoria on land donated by Ian Green. The Thubten Shedrup Ling Monastery, adjacent to Atisha Centre was established in 1995 by Venerable Thubten Gyatso, and the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion, modeled on the Great Stupa of Gyantse in Tibet, is also being built on this site. Geshe Thubten Lodan was the first resident teacher at Chenrezig Institute who also later established his own Centres in East Melbourne and Brisbane, before purchasing a property in 1988 to build a Tibetan Buddhist Temple in Yuroke (Croucher 1989: 90, 92-93, 102, 112-113; Vasi 20116: 65-69, 80).
The Karmapa, head of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, sent Chentse Rinpoche to Australia in 1979, and Kagyu Centres’s were established in Melbourne and Sydney soon after. Traleg Kyabjon Rinpoche headed Melbourne’s Kagyu E-Vam Buddhist Institute (Croucher 1989: 114) from 1982 until his death in 2012. The Institute was first set up in houses in Kew, Hawthorn and Carlton, before the community purchased its current premises in North Carlton 1991. They also established the Maitripa Contemplative Centre for retreats in Healesville (Vasi 2006: 72).
The Thai forest tradition is also very popular in Australia. Phra Khantipalo, was born in London and lived in Thailand as a monk from 1963-1973. He arrived in Australia in 1973, and was shortly followed by Phra Chao Khun Parayattikavee. Phra Khantipalo and Ilse Ledermann, who was later ordained as Ayya Khema, led retreats in Northern NSW and Queensland and Phra Khantipalo also gave regular teachings at the BSV. Phra Khantipalo assisted with setting up the first Thai Temple in Australia, Wat Buddharangsee in Stanmore in 1975. Ledermann also donated funds to purchase land for a retreat centre in 1978 at Wiseman’s Ferry, which was named Wat Buddha Dhamma. Wat Rattanapredeepa was founded in Adelaide in 1985 and Wat Dhamarangsee in Forest Hill in 1986. Wat Dhamarangsee was among the first Buddhist Temples to be established in Melbourne. Building commenced on a second NSW Temple in Campbelltown, on the outskirts of Sydney in 1987. These Temples were originally, and are still are frequented by Thais, Laotians, Cambodians, Burmese, and Australians (Croucher 1989: 90-91, 99, 106; Vasi 2006: 56).
Venerable Chi Kwang Sunim, a student of Phra Khantipalo’s who later studied and ordained in the Korean Zen tradition, returned to Australia in the late 1998 and established her first Centre in Victoria near Daylesford. This property was sold and another purchased in Emerald in 2002. This site also proved unsuitable and instead a property in Kinglake was chosen, where her current Seon (Zen) Centre was established in 2003 (Vasi 2006: 40-41).
The famous American Zen teacher Robert Aitken began visiting Australia annually in 1979 teaching at various Zen Centres in capital cities including Melbourne. Aitken also made a great impact on Australia and inspired many Australians to study and practice Zen Buddhism (Croucher 1989: 118-120).
During the 1970s, hundreds of young Australians travelled to India to undertake Vipassana meditation courses with the Indian teacher S. N. Goenka, who had studied in Burma with U Ba Khin. Goenka first conducted retreats in Australia in 1980 and his Vipassana Foundation centres have since been established throughout Australia (Croucher 1989: 109).
The first Vietnamese Buddhist societies were formed around the same time in Melbourne and Brisbane in 1978 and in Sydney in 1979. The first Vietnamese Buddhist monk to arrive in Australia, Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue, lived at Tara House in 1980 and founded the Vietnamese Buddhist Federation of Australia in 1981 (Croucher 1989: 102). The Melbourne Vietnamese community established the first Quang Minh Temple in Sunshine in 1986. In the early 1990s the community acquired land in Braybrooke and built their first Temple in 1994 (Vasi 2006: 32). A much larger Temple has more recently been constructed on this site under the direction of its current Abbott Venerable Thich Phuoc Tan. Another Vietnamese Temple, the Quang Duc Temple, was founded in 1990 in a house in Broadmeadows. The community and Abbott Venerable Thich Tam Phuong purchased a former primary school in Fawkner in 1997 and the Temple was opened in 2003 (Vasi 2006: 28-29).
Inter-faith dialogue, in particular Christian interest in Buddhism, began in Australia in the 1970s with Melbourne Quaker’s and Catholics playing an active role (Croucher 1989: 110). The Dalai Lama first visited Australia in 1982 and has since visited and taught in Australia on numerous occasions drawing large audiences (Croucher 1989: 115). Thich Nhat Hahn also returned to Australian shores in 1986 (Croucher 1989: 103).
Many more temples have also been established in Victoria and in other Australian states since the 1980s of various Asian Buddhist traditions. Communities building these Temples have often been met with difficulties, of a similar nature to those experienced during the Gold Rush period. They have often faced strong opposition from neighbours and been involved in challenging negotiations with local councils (Croucher 1989: 104-105). More research needs to be conducted on these Temples and Centres, that is beyond the scope of the first stage of this research project. When we obtain more funding we hope be able to continue this project and update this website accordingly.
Given the growing diversity of Buddhism in Victoria (BCV), Gabrielle Lafitte, a Tibetan Buddhist first initiated the formation of the Buddhist Council of Victoria in 1985. However, these plans weren’t actualized immediately. The BCV was actually formed in 1995, by Tibetan Buddhists and community workers Brian Ashen and Robin Rankin, in consultation and in partnership with other ethnic and Western Buddhist communities in Victoria (Vasi 2006: 84-89).
In 1996 the number of Buddhists in Victoria increased to 62, 898, and by 2001 there were 111, 664. According to the Buddhist Council of Victoria there were 45 Buddhist Centres in Victoria in 1996 and 96 in 2001 (Vasi 2006: 14, 17). This number has been steadily growing ever since and in the last 2011 Census there were 168, 636 Buddhists in Victoria, the second highest religious group after Christianity.
Adam, E. & Hughes, P.J. (1996) The Buddhists in Australia. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Croucher, P. (1989) The History of Buddhism in Australia 1848-1988. Kensington: New South Wales University Press.
Vasi, S. (2006) Profile and Contribution of Buddhists in Australia: A Study into Selected Buddhist Communities in Victoria. Melbourne: Buddhist Council of Australia.