Buddhist monks from Wat Mai Buddhavongs have found peace in Gisborne South’s countryside where they plan to spread their roots.
The Lao Buddhist Society of Victoria has applied to build a Buddhist wat (temple) at 125 McGeorge Road where three resident monks are already settling into life in the Macedon Ranges.
Venerable Phuthixay Phuthibandith said the group purchased the Gisborne South property in the Rural Living Zone two years ago in search of a peaceful countryside location with a receptive community.
“Our hearts are open to the community and we hope to open the door to the community,” he said.
“We are very lucky. We have good neighbours. It’s a beautiful place. The weather makes our hearts excited and hum.”
Ven. Khamsy Chanthasone said Gisborne offered fresh air and brought them closer to nature in a beautiful peaceful setting.
Wat Mai Buddhavongs was established in St Albans in 2002, and in recent years sought to build in Rockbank where the group had purchased land but left the area when the application was unsuccessful. Its beginning also saw a trying road but the group has since grown to have 150 members.
Wat Mai Buddhavongs was initiated by Manivanh Chanla who had to challenge patriarchal views within the group which, because of her gender, resisted her role as the initiator of a major project.
Her objective was to bring services closer to outlying communities in need, such as at times of death, in-house ceremonies and in caring for the elderly and the sick.
Now that the group has found peace in Gisborne South, it is looking to the next steps of establishing a temple and assembly hall to allow for worship and meetings for those interested in Buddhism and Buddhist culture.
The complex would include three buildings that are essential to a wat: a sim or ordination hall (main prayer room), a sala (assembly hall) and a kuti (living quarters for the monks).
The site would host an Alms Giving Ceremony which is one of the most sacred Lao traditions that dates back to the 14th century. It is a food offering and dedication of merits ceremony that would be held monthly with 70 to 120 participants.
Other proposed activities include traditional Vessantara Festival and Buddhist New Year celebrations in March and April that would attract up to 200 participants.
Daily food offerings would take place from 10am to 1pm with up to seven attendees during the week and up to 15 attendees on Saturday. Weekly meditation sessions (Dhamma) would also take place for up to 15 participants.
Beyond traditional services the Wat Mai Buddhavongs Lao Buddhist Society of Victoria also aims to sponsor Buddhist monks from Laos, or overseas, to increase the number of monks on site to four or five in the future.
The group would carry out this work as a registered religious worker sponsor with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
The 2016 Census recorded Buddhism as one of the most prominent non-Christian religions in Australia with 563,674 followers (2.4 per cent). There was a seven per cent growth in Buddhism since the 2011 Census.
Within the Macedon Ranges, Buddhism makes 0.6 per cent of religion with the highest being Christianity (51.4 per cent).
Concerns raised over traffic, noise, views
Despite a warm welcome for the arrival of Buddhist monks in Gisborne South some local residents have raised concerns associated with a pending application for a Buddhist temple and place of assembly.
Macedon Ranges Shire Council says it will investigate the level of activity currently taking place at the 125 McGeorge Road property following neighbour concerns that religious assembly had already begun.
Macedon Ranges Shire Council has received 18 submissions with a majority opposed to the development including concerns ranging from increased traffic movement and noise, to the scale, height and visual appearance of the proposed buildings.
Town planner Deb Dunn has been engaged to represent a local resident objecting to the development and has requested council investigate the current level of activity taking place at the site.
“My first concern is the use of the site now. The (Wat Mai Buddhavongs) website and facebook page confirm the site is active,” she said.
Ms Dunn said she was also concerned that the plans prepared by Bill Jacobs were missing two dams, a waterway, a vehicle crossover, a bus stop, a shed and contour lines and should not have been accepted.
“I’ve already met with council to address these matters and I’m awaiting a response. I’d like to think this application can be assessed on merit rather than religious or racial grounds but it hasn’t started well,” Ms Dunn said.
Three resident monks now live on site and people have been visiting the property to make offerings of food and supplies which is a strong part of Lao tradition.
Macedon Ranges Shire Council’s director of planning and environment Angela Hughes said council would investigate if the level of activity taking place at the site was appropriate under its Rural Living Zoning and determine a place of assembly permit may be required.
“The bringing of food to another person or persons does not in itself mean the site is being used as a place of assembly,” Ms Hughes said.
“A place of assembly does not include a person using their own land for private/non-commercial social activities associated with using their land for a dwelling, such as hosting a barbecue, party or informal gathering.”
Council officers will assess the planning merit of submissions received as part of its usual consideration process prior to making any recommendation on the application.
Any interested person can contact the council to discuss the application up until the time council makes a decision on the planning permit application.