w o l l o n g o n g ... nan tien temple
Nan Tien Temple, Berkely (near Wollongong) ---- On a recent trip back home to Australia I convinced my parents to take me down to the NSW South Coast, where I spent some time as a little kid. On the first day of the whole trip (mid March, 2007) we scootered down the scenic coastal hill roads of North Wollongong, did a driveby of our old bank home at 1a Market Street in the heart of the city, and passed the steelworks. My mother (you can see her next to the shishi lion thing on the left) was interested in visiting one of growing number of typically Asian institutions springing up in Australia these days -- the Nan Tien Temple on Berkeley Rd, Berkeley. My mother has never been to Asia (update: she is planning to visit Vietnam with me next month, August 2008! We will be staying at the best beach resort in the country!), but this complex probably gave her a good taste of Asian life. My Dad on the other hand wasn't in the mood for it, and spent the morning sulking in the car. I guess the Illawarra just isn't his idea of a holiday haven! Maybe it brought back unpleasant memories. For many other folk, however, Nan Tien has become a haven from the stresses of modern life, and even a full scale retreat. Meaning "paradise in the south", Nan Tien is described as a place where devotees and visitors can experience humanistic Buddhism. It features all the standard Buddhist cliches: a lotus pond a hell of a lot cleaner and more beautiful than the great lotus pond in Ueno, Tokyo, Japan, a main shrine packed with five Big Buddhas (representing Confidence, Longevity, Wisdom, Inner Beauty and Calmness), and 10,000 Small Buddhas, a Great Compassion Hall, an 8-storey pagoda, an auditorium seating 330 souls, a conference room and a pilgrims lodge for pilgrims wishing to lodge here.
The pilgrim's lodge is located in a detached building overlooking the aforementioned better than Ueno Park in Japan spacious clean Lotus Pond. There are 100 suites on three levels. Rooms are said to be configured to accommodate singles, families and groups (including business groups). Guests are naturally welcomed to take part in temple activities such as morning and evening chant sessions, meditation and tai chi, etc.
Weekend retreats are held at the temple complex which cover the basics of Asian civilisation such as tai chi, tea ceremonies, vegetarian cooking, meditation, calligraphy, Chinese painting and knotting. Participants can experience the power and atmosphere of the drum and bell ceremonies and the enlightening rhythm of chanting in the temple.
As is typical in Chinese temples, there are plenty of gods and deities honoured. One god who gets a jersey at the Nan Tien Temple is the deity known as Skanda (see the photo left). From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "Skanda is a name of a deity that is popular amongst practicing Hindus and Buddhists. Skanda is a Hindu deity also known as Kartikeya and Murugan. Skanda (Buddhism) a popular Deva or even Bodhisattva popular amongst Chinese Buddhism. The name is also represented by Murugan and Ceyon in Tamil. Murugan is one of the famous hindu god and very popular in Tamil Nadu. There are six legendary bases (Aaru Padai Veedu) for Murugan. They are Pazhamudhircholai, Pazhani, Swamimalai, Thiruchendur, Thiruparankunram and Thiruthani.
"In Sri Lanka major temples like Kataragama (Kadirgamam), Nallur (Jaffna), Thondaman Aru and Peradeniya (Kandy) are devoted to him.
"In Australia Sydney Murugan temple in Parramatta (Mays Hill) is a major Hindu temple for all Australian Hindus."
Interestingly enough I noticed a few Indians wandering around the grounds of Nan Tien Temple near Wollongong, amongst all the Chinese and Australians. This place attracts visitors from all over the world. For an independent photo guide to Nan Tien created by one visitor, click here.
For a review of the food served at the Nan Tien Pilgrims Lodge, click here.
The Age newspaper in Australia had this to report about the whole Nan Tien experience: "Nan Tien Temple is run by nuns from the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order. Founded by Chinese-born, Taiwan-based Grand Master Hsing Yun, the order has built temples around the world.
"Nan Tien opened in 1995 and is visible from the southern freeway. I've often wondered at its exotic splendour in a light industrial setting but never had time to stop. Now we take the turn-off to Port Kembla and pass hulking slag heaps, coal trains, warehouses and factories before driving through the temple's ornate front gate.
"The accommodation at Pilgrim Lodge is classic hotel/motel style -- pastel bedspreads, blond wood fittings, plastic covered chairs, hygiene strip on the toilet. Our room has a TV with remote, which doesn't seem very meditative, and a severe sign in the bathroom about steam problems. 'If the fire detector sets off because of your ignorance you will be responsible for the penalty from the fire brigade.'
"The retreat starts officially when we all don baggy grey uniforms bearing 'Silence' badges. The Rev You, our designated nun, is cheery but strict. She lays down the rules -- don't be late, don't eat too much, don't take too long in the shower -- and makes sure our shoes are lined up evenly outside the meditation room. 'We do things very neatly and precisely at the temple,' she says. 'It's a bit like the army but for 24 hours I think you can do it.'"
Wollongong is home to one of the regional offices of the Australian Academy of Tai Chi and Qigong, established by Grandmaster Gary Khor in 1976. According to the Academy, over 100,000 students have since passed through our doors, discovering the delights and benefits of Tai Chi, Qigong and other associated arts. The Academy's focus was, and still is, on the teaching of Tai Chi from a health and relaxation perspective suitable for the average person. (So many Tai Chi schools have since followed the same approach that this concept now seems common-place).
"The Academy is not resting there. Special programs based on traditional Chinese exercises are being produced for those with asthma, arthritis, osteoporosis, low mobility and other conditions; more books are in production, new networks of instructors are being established, as are web based services..."
According to the World Buddhist Directory, Nan Tien is just one of a number of Buddhist retreats and meditation centres in New South Wales state. Going from A to Z we have:
Bodhi Tree Forest Monastery and Retreat Centre: 78 Bentley Road, Tullerah, NSW 2480.
Bodhikusuma Buddhist and Meditation Center: Lvl 2, 203 - 209 Thomas Street,Haymarket, NSW 2000.
Buddhist Association of Shinnyo-En: 231 Longueville Road, Lane Cove, NSW 2066.
Cham Shan Temple of Australia: 85 Freemans Drive, Morisset, NSW 2264.
Dzogchen Community of Namgyalgar: PO Box 14 Central Tilba, NSW 2546.
Fo Guang Shan Temple: 1/304 Forest Rd, Hurstville, NSW 2220.
Khedrubje Kadampa Buddhist Centre: The Grove, 165 Willoughby Rd, Wamberal, NSW 2260. Phone: (02) 4385 2609. Email: email@example.com. Facebook: Facebook page here. Twitter: Twitter page here.
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