The Australian Sangha Association was established in 2005 in Sydney to provide support, create a dialogue and for members to learn about each other and other monks and nunsof all Buddhist traditions in Australia. There are currently 150 monks and nuns of Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions in Australia who are members of the Association (the Association is calling for many other monks and nuns to join). Since then, annual conferences are held to share past achievements and discuss upcoming activities.
This year's 16th Annual Meeting was held on 10 March, 2020 at the Phap Bao Temple, Sydney, NSW, chaired by Venerable BomHyonSunim. The ASA expressed their appreciation towards Phap Bao Temple for their kind acceptance and warm hospitality in hosting the event at such short notice. The Conference was originally meant to be held at Nan Tien Temple, Wollongong; however, due to the COVID-19 situation, the ASA had to move the venue to Phap Bao Temple, Sydney. Despite the very short notice, the organisers, Venerable Thich Pho Huan, Venerable Thich Nu Giac Anh and the volunteers at Phap Bao Temple had diligently and generously organised the venue from the conference hall to the delicious food offering for breakfast and lunch to the Sangha and ASA representatives.
The AGM & Conference commenced at 8:00am with a short welcoming by the Acting Abbess of the Phap Bao Temple, Venerable Thich Nu Giac Anh, followed by a congratulatory message by Venerable Thich Bao Lac to the ASA Sangha members for patiently and consistently maintaining the ASA even after 16 years of its establishment to provide mutual support to each other despite each member coming from various Buddhist traditions across Australia.
Following the welcoming and congratulatory messages, the conference commenced with presentations and panel discussions on the key topics as per the below:
Professor Frank Deane, School of Psychology, Wollongong University
ADF CHAPLAINCY (Army, Navy & Airforce): DG Chaplain (Army) Darren Jaensch
Tina Ng,Metta Legal, Sydney
Ven. BomHyonSunim,Therimettarama, Sydney
BhanteSujato,Lokanta Vihara, Sydney
Advanced Care Plan Update
Siddharta's Intent Australia, Melbourne.
During this conference, Ven.Mettaji talked about issues relating to mental illness, especially among young people. He shared statistics and interesting stories. Frighteningly, the number of suicides among young people is increasing! He mentioned about therather disturbing "game" among young people of trying to commit suicide worse than the person before them! Fortunately, he shared about a Centre called Headspace founded in 2006, for people aged 12-25, which now has 45 branches across Australia. This is a one-stop-shop for young people to seek help with issues such as physical and mental illness, sexual health, family quarrels, bullying at schools, etc. Click here for more information: http://headspace.org.au/
Today, the ASA introduced a new member called Alliance for Buddhist Ethics. Although only established in June 2019, it now has 500 members worldwide (and are calling for more people to join the alliance). Dr. Jack Wicks, on behalf of the organization, shared the issues surrounding how someone who considers themselves to be a “Buddhist monk” has mentally, physically and even sexually abusedtheir new students (those new to the Dharma). Therefore, Dr. Wicks has connected with so many Sangha members around the world to write anOath Against Harm in the Practice of the Dharma to show how the Buddhist community around the world condemns these types of behaviour.
As a Buddhist, of course, we condemn the abusive behaviours outlined above, but currently, there is no place where monks and nuns from different Buddhist traditions can be sworn together to take an oath against the harms in the practice of the Dharmain a pronounced manner. Ven.AjahnBrahmproposed the ASA to accept the oath that Dr. Wicks shared with ASA members during this conference. One of the oaths is: “In the practice of the Dharma, I hold the student-teacher relationship to be a sacred connection which prioritises the spiritual development, maturation, and well-being of the student”.Visit this site for more information: https://allianceforbuddhistethics.com/
Before lunch, Venerable Thich Quang Ba shared about the late Most Venerable
Thich Quang Do, a man who has made great efforts to fightfor human rights, democracy for Vietnam and especially for the right to restore the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, and who has been nominated many times around the world to receive the Peace Prize. Venerable Thich Quang Ba spoke briefly about the biography of Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, he was very well-known around the worldand many mourned His passing. Venerable Thich Quang Ba proposed ASA to issue a joint statement to honor the merit of the late Most Venerable Thich Quang Do. The ASA agreed to issue the Letter of Pursuit of Merit to the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do and his biography on their website.
One of the guests invited to the afternoon session to presentat theConference wasthe Director General of Chaplaincy Army Navy Airforce, Mr. Darren Jaensch. He shared that currently in the Chaplain, there are no Buddhist monks, nuns or laypeople. Therefore, his aim was tocall upon the ASA members to see if they could reach out to theirBuddhist community to see if anyone was open to supporting soldiers, sailors, pilots and their family members to overcome mental, physical and spiritual issues. There are some requirements to fulfil such as holding a relevant Bachelor’s degree or evidence showing an intention to complete a relevant Bachelor’s degree; agreement to wear the military’s uniform at all times, and being open to receiving basic military training etc. For more information, click here: https://www.airforce.gov.au/our-people/our-culture/chaplains/chaplaincy
In the second half of the meeting, the ASA members broke out into a few smaller groups to discuss the topics as outlined above. In the Conflict Resolution panel, Mrs Tina Ng, Principal Lawyer of Metta Legal, was invited as a lay person to share how she has helped all types of people to resolve conflicts and some of the strategies she has adopted to help them. One of the surprising and even shocking things that she shared (not advertised on her company website), is that one of the groups of people whom she has been asked to be the mediator for is Buddhist monks and nuns! Believe it or not, monks and nuns also need conflict resolution help! For more information about Metta Legal, click here: https://www.mettalegal.com/
There were many other excellent presentations; however, given this was my first time attending this event and given the limited time available to write this article, I have summarised some key points only; no doubt have missed many other interesting presentations.
The ASA members voted for the new committee for 2020-2021 as follows: President:Ven. BomHyonSunim, Vice President:Ven. HojunFuten; Treasurer: Ven. Bhodhidhaja; Secretary: Ven. ThubtenChokyi.
Ordinary members: Most Ven Thich Quang Ba, Ajahn Brahm, Ven Thich Nguyen Tang, Ven. Tongnyi, Ven. TempaBejanke, Ven. Mettaji, Ven. Santacari.
It has been notedthat the next AGM for 2021 could potentially be in Perth. Location and details to be advised.
For more information on the Australian Sangha Association, visit this website: https://www.australiansangha.org/
Minh Tuan (photographer)