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Ethnic Buddhists in New South Wales.

08/04/201314:28(Xem: 3653)
Ethnic Buddhists in New South Wales.


Graeme Lyall
(Originally published in Abe Wade Ata (Ed.) "Religion and Ethnic Identity - An Australian Study" Vol.3, 1990, Richmond, Vic., Spectrum Press.)

ORIGINS AND TEACHINGS

In the year 563 B.C., on the border of modern day Nepal and India, a prince was born to a ruler of a minor kingdom, the Sakyan. His name was Siddhartha Gotama and, at the age of thirty five, he attained, after six years of struggle and through his own insight, full enlightenment or Buddhahood. The term 'Buddha' is not a name for a god or an incarnation of a god, despite Hindu claims to the contrary, but is a title for one who has realised through good conduct, mental cultivation and wisdom the cause of life's vicissitudes and the way to overcome them. Buddhism is, perhaps, unique amongst the world's religions in that it does not place reliance for salvation on some external power, such as a god or even a Buddha, but places the responsibility for life's frustrations squarely on the individual. The Buddha said:

By oneself, indeed, is evil done;
By oneself is one defiled.
By oneself is evil left undone;
By oneself, indeed, is one purified.
Purity and impurity depend on oneself.
No one purifies another. (1.)
His teaching can be summarised as:
Not to do any evil,
To cultivate good,
To purify one's mind, This is the Teaching of the Buddhas. (2.)

THE SPREAD OF BUDDHISM
Today, Buddhism is almost extinct in India, the land of its birth. It fell victim to the Arab (Muslim) invaders, led by Muhammad Kasim, in 712 A.D.
'His soldiers slaughtered a large number of 'samanis' (sramanas) who 'shaved their heads and beards'.---- Toward the end of the 8th century the Arabs swooped down upon the prosperous monasteries of Gujarat and destroyed the Buddhist University at Valabhi on the sea coast.' (3.)
However, during the reign, in India, of Asoka (273 - 276 B.C.) Buddhism spread outside India to Sri Lanka and, possibly, Burma (Myanmar)*. It was later adopted by Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. These countries constitute the stronghold of the Theravada or the orthodox school of Buddhism. Another major school, the Mahayana or reformed school, which had its roots in India in the fifth century B.C. spread to China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam, during the early centuries of the current era. An offspring of the Mahayana school, the Vajrayana or Tantric school took root in Tibet in the seventh century and later spread to Mongolia, parts of China and currently has pockets of followers in Korea (Chingak and Chongji sects) and Japan (Shingon sect).
*' According to the tradition preserved in the Ceylonese Chronicles, two Buddhist Monks, named Sona and Uttara, were sent by Emporer Asoka to preach Buddhism in Suvarna-bhumi, which is generally identified with Burma. There is, however, no reliable evidence to show that Sona and Uttara were actually sent as missionaries by Asoka, and the location of Suvarna-bhumi is also not beyond dispute. For, while some identify it with Burma, others place it in Siam or take it to denote, broadly the whole of Indo-China. Barring the story of Uttara and Sona there is no other evidence that Buddhism flourished in Burma before the fifth century A.D.' (4.)

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE MAJOR SCHOOLS
The essential teachings of the Buddha are accepted as pivotal to all schools of Buddhism, however, they differ mainly on the emphasis that they place on certain aspects of the teaching and in their interpretation of the rules (Vinaya) governing the conduct of the clergy (Sangha). The Theravada school claims to adhere strictly to the original teachings of the Buddha as contained in the Pali cannon (scriptures) and it emphasises the goal of personal salvation (Arahant ideal) for the individual follower. The Sangha of the Theravada is expected to observe to the letter the 227 rules laid down in the Vinaya, which includes eating only prior to midday and refraining from handling money. Four of these 227 rules, if broken, entail expulsion of the transgressor from the monastic order. They are: killing a human being, sexual intercourse, stealing and falsely claiming supernormal powers.
The Mahayana school is less rigid in its interpretation of the Teachings and emphasises the importance of the follower's becoming a Buddha for the salvation of all living beings (Bodhisattva ideal). The Sangha observes strict vegetarianism (unlike the Theravada where vegetarianism is optional) but eat in the evening. This change of eating rules became necessary when the Teaching spread to colder climates. The post-midday meals are regarded as medicine. The rule prohibiting the handling of money has been seen by the Mahayana Sangha as impractical in today's world, and it has been reinterpreted as not amassing wealth, whilst a transgression of the celibacy rule entails only demotion in some sects of the Mahayana. Other Mahayana sects, notably in Korea and Japan, admit married priests.
The Vajrayana school is essentially the same in its interpretation of the Teachings as the Mahayana but it stresses the importance of the K Iacceptance of a personal Guru (teacher) who initiates his followers into the, so-called, secret teachings (Tantra). Neither the Theravada nor the mainstream Mahayana schools accept that there are such things as 'secret teachings' in Buddhism. The Gelugpa sect of the Vajrayana is the only Tibetan sect that insists on the celibacy of its clergy.

BUDDHISM COMES TO AUSTRALIA
Apart from the traditional Koorie (Aboriginal) religion, which has existed on Australian soil for at least 40,000 years, it is suggested, by some anthropologists, that Buddhism may have been the earliest non-indigenous religion to reach our shores. Between 1405 and 1433, the Chinese Ming Emporers sent an armada of sixty two large ships under the command of Cheng Ho, to explore the south. Evidence exists that several ships of this armada landed on the Aru islands, 480 kilometres north of Arnhem Land, but whether they set foot on the mainland is not confirmed. Professor A.P.Elkin seems convinced that certain Koorie practices such as the belief in reincarnation, psychic phenomena and mental cultivation can only be explained in the light of early contacts with the Orient. Unfortunately, no hard evidence exists to support his hypothesis.(5.)
In 1882, a ship called the "Devonshire" arrived in Mackay, Queensland, where two hundred and seventy five Sri Lankans were landed. Two days later, another two hundred and twenty five Sri Lankans disembarked at Burnett, to be met by an angry group of 'Anti-Coolie Leaguers' who pelted stones at them. This violence was met with retaliation by the Sri Lankans who drew knives to protect themselves. This racist encounter later came to be known as the 'Battle of Burnett'.(6.) A certain Bastion Appo is recorded as having sworn an oath on a 'Buddhist Bible' when bringing assault charges against an Australian in a Mackay Court in 1885. This 'Buddhist Bible' is thought to have been a Buddhist textbook which the Sri Lankans had brought with them. (7.)
During the 1890's, almost five hundred Sri Lankans, mainly pearlers, settled on Thursday Island and established the first Buddhist temple in Australia. It is thought to have occupied the site where the post office now stands. All that remains to remind us of this Buddhist community are two Bodhi trees (Ficus religiosa) descendents of the original tree under which the Buddha sat, when he attained Enlightenment, more than 2,500 years ago. Despite his minor flirtation with Buddhism, it was Alfred Deakin who introduced the Immigration Restriction Bill in 1901 which was the forerunner of the notorious White Australia Policy. (8.) This heralded the decline of Buddhism in Australia for the next fifty years.

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