Lotus Buds Sangha, Sydney, AustraliaContact: Khanh and Dan Le Van 43 Osprey Drive Illawong, NSW 2234 Australia Tel: (61) 2-9543-7823 Fax: (61) 2- 9541-1271
I n late 1986, Thay was invited by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship to lead retreats in Australia. During his visit in Sydney, the Vietnamese community had a rare opportunity to enjoy mindfulness practice with him. During that five-day retreat, many of us tasted true peace and joy for the first time. The practices Thay offered were like beautiful fresh air gently blowing over our community, and he also chose the name of our Sangha. He mentioned that there was Plum Village in France and Maple Village in Canada, but that the name "Eucalyptus Village" did not sound right in Vietnamese. He invited us to think of another name. At that time, some of us did not have any idea about building a Sangha or forming a practice centre. One day Mai and Nguyen visited Thay while he was giving a retreat south of Sydney. They were invited to have lunch with him, followed by a walking meditation. Returning from the walk, he told them, with a beautiful soft smile, that he had found a name for our Sangha: Lang Sen Bup or Lotus Buds Village. He explained that every time we joined our palms together to greet one another, a lotus would be there. Since there would be many of us together, there would be many lotuses. Mai and Nguyen bowed deeply to show their gratitude.
After Thay left Australia, a number of us who had been to the retreat decided to continue the practice. We met once a month and each family hosted events for the next year. We were touched when we received a parcel from Thay containing a mokyu and a big bell.
During the initial stage of searching 'for a suitable place, Thay paid a brief visit to the land. We spent eight months looking at various places and finally settled on the first piece of land we had inspected with Thay. Lotus Buds acquired three pieces of adjoining land with a total of 100 acres about 170 km northwest of Sydney. It has beautiful big rocks, old trees, birds, kangaroos, foxes, rabbits, and many other wild animals. We took walks to the top of the mountain to watch the sunsets, feeling as though we were also sitting at the Gridhrakuta Mountain in India.
In early 1989, with a small budget, we started to build a meditation hall. Thay seemed to know through past experience that if one were to start with big plans and cling to a dream place, one might never have the opportunity to put the Dharma into practice. We remembered his advice: "You can start with a shed as a temporary meditation hall." The hall was the former Phap Baa Temple, recycled with the help of many friends, children, and Tony Coote, an architect from the Sydney Zen Centre. Feelings of togetherness during the hard labour time brought us closer. and it was a period of great joy and peace. We continued regular sitting meditation early in the morning and at night throughout our construction period. We rejoiced at the simple but adequate facilities of the land, using only rain water, gas, and candles or kerosene lamps for everyday activities. For the quarterly retreats, we camped outside. Since there are no sleeping accommodations, we also hold retreats elsewhere for non-members. The place is simple and yet has witnessed several precepts transmissions ceremonies.
Although Thay has not been able to visit Australia since 1986, we feel blessed to have had monks and nuns from Plum Village lead retreats during the past six years, and to hear tapes from Plum Village which strengthen our practice. In 1988 we had two Tiep Hien members. Now there are 19 of us, including two Dharma teachers.
Lotus Buds continues to hold monthly Days of Mindfulness. Since 1992, more Australians have been coming, inspiring us to revise our programme for participants from both cultures. We practice sitting, walking, and eating together but split into two streams for the Dharma talks and discuss ions. We fee l blessed and happy to have two young Australian children currently practicing regularly with the Sangha. As parents, we feel deep gratitude to Thay for being so interested in young people's activities and for encouraging open communication within families and teaching reconciliation techniques. We also have regular sutra study nights in Vietnamese and English in different suburban areas. We recite th Mindfulness Trainings monthly, rotating among members' homes in Sydney. Quarterly retreats are held on the Lotus Buds land . Dharma teacher Khanh Le Van, backed up by Dan and Lam, teaches meditation weekly at the Buddhist Library downtown. During the last two years, a few brothers and sisters of the German, English, and Italian Sanghas have joined us for meditation while visiting Sydney.
Some of us feel the need to have our own centre in the city, but until conditions are more favourable, we continue to practice happily as is. We also raise funds for the rejuvenation program in Vietnam, work with destitute young people. and distribute Thay 's books and tapes throughout Australia. For the past year, we have enjoyed transcribing and editing Thay's Dhmma talks.
If you plan to travel Down Under, you are most welcome to contact us. Even though thousands of kilometers separate us, we are close in spirit.