On a busy road in the industrial estate of Wetherill Park, you'll find a temple constructed as a spiritual refuge for all who care to visit. The surrounding wall of the Phuoc Hue Temple has a bamboo motif reminiscent of a Vietnamese villageand Buddhist flags in blue, yellow, red, white and orange flutter in the breeze. Pull over into the car park and admire this significant centre for Buddhism in Australia. While the Temple functions as a teaching centre and monastery, it is also open to all who seek peace and tranquillity.
Architecture and symbolism
The ornamental gateway has three curling roofs topped by the Dharma Wheel. Dharma is the teachings of the Buddha dealing with the path to Enlightenment. The gate also features Vietnamese dragons and lotus flowers. The dragon as the king of all beings is a representation of the Buddha. Dragons can live in the water, on the earth and can fly in the sky, and are therefore revered for their ability and their mind. The Lotus is also very significant in Buddhist traditions, as it is symbolises many of the central Buddhist teachings. The Lotus grows in the mud but does not smell - it transcends the dirt and impurity of murky water to reach the purity of air. Lotus flowers contain seeds when they are in full bloom, representing the potential for blossoming in all beings. The centre of a lotus stalk is empty - a reminder of the Buddhist nature of selflessness or 'no self'.
Directly beyond the gateway you'll see the main Temple building, with its balustrades of fearsome dragons. The dragons were made by a Vietnamese born artist and represent the ancient Vietnamese legend which tells that all Vietnamese are descended from a dragon father and an fairy mother. During the Moon Festival a large lotus lantern hangs above the front entrance. The Temple Doors are flanked by the Temple Guardians or Dharma Protectors. The Dharma is the Way, the path to Enlightenment and the central Buddhist teachings. On the right is a deity, and on the left holding a sword is Quang Cong, a famous Chinese general who vowed to protect Buddhist temples after his consciousness was accepted as a disciple by the patriarch of the T'ien T'ai School. The presence of Quang Cong is particular to this school of Mahayana Buddhism.
Inside the temple is a large statue of the seated Buddha and a Dharma wheel lights up the ceiling. There are no seats as worshippers sit or kneel. All visitors should remove their shoes before entering the temple and avoid pointing their feet towards any Buddha image.
To the left of the main temple a cave has been constructed as a private place for meditation. A small bridge over a fishpond leading to the cave is for the'elimination of suffering'. This lotus pond also contains a five-metre tall statue of Guanyin, often called the Goddess of Compassion.
At the rear of the Temple in the Hall of Ancestors, are urns containing the ashes and photos of the deceased. Men and women are housed on separate sides of the hall. In the centre of the Hall is a large statue of the Vietnamese patriarch of the T'ien T'ai. Relatives of the deceased will leave ashes, or sometimes only a photo, so that the consciousness of their loved ones can be close to the Buddha and can have a chance to hear the chanting of the sutras.
To the right of the Temple stands a concrete bodhi tree, with a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha underneath in meditation, flanked by guardians - the King of the Oceans and the King of the Underworld. A live bodhi tree grows at the rear of the temple. Its seed comes from a descendant of the original bodhi tree in Bodhgaya in India, where the Buddha attained Enlightenment.
Nearby the Lotus Pond contains 7 ornamental lotus flowers representing the seven steps taken by the historical Buddha when he was born. These steps also represent the seven directions and the seven elements. People often bring unwanted goldfish to release into the pond as a way of accumulating merit by demonstrating compassion for living things. Beside this pond is a large ceremonial bell. Prince Charles sounded this grand bell when he visited the temple.
The Prajna bell and drum are housed within the main Temple and are used on special occasions to greet the founder of the Temple, the Most Venerable Phuoc Hue and distinguished guests. A bell also rings during retreats to calm the mind and to alert the surrounding area.
A Stupa is under construction at the rear of the complex. The Stupa will be 26.2 metres and 7 levels high and will house original Buddha relics. The Stupa is modelled on the most famous pagoda in Vietnam and is funded by communitydonations.
Culture and community
This is a very popular temple. On the Lunar New Year 10, 000 people take part in the Temple celebrations. The temple stresses Buddhism as a way of life and the Path to Enlightenment. In Vietnam and in many other Asian countries, Buddhism is considered not just a religion, but central to the culture and an important part of society. Temples have traditionally offered shelter and protection against harsh governments. Temples also function as a community centre where culture can be maintained.
The Temple caters for many different types of visitors and activities. Tourist visitors enjoy the serene surroundings and unique architecture. For temple visitors, the site functions as a sanctuary - a place for relaxation and reflection. Temple visitors often buy vegetarian pilgrim food available on weekends. During visits people may ask questions and learn more about Buddhism and the Temple.
Many Buddhists from a range of traditions come to the temple to burn incense, to honour their ancestors, to pay their respects to the Buddha and to offer fresh fruit. These popular traditions may also open the way to a deeper interest in Buddhism.
The temple also has a very important teaching role. While the initial focus has been the Vietnamese-Australian community, the Phuoc Hue temple is very keen to expand its activities and links with other communities. More and more sessions are being conducted in English, and a range of people are taking part in the retreats. While most of the teaching is conducted in Vietnamese, you'll also hear Cantonese, Mandarin and English spoken. Many lessons are translated, and teachers from Burma, Taiwan, England, the United States, China, Thailand and many other centres have visited the Temple.
In fact, the Temple has significant links both nationally and internationally. The Most Venerable is the patriarch of the Phuoc Hue lineage, and as this is his home temple, it is also the headquarters of the lineage. Monks from several brother temples visit regularly. The Phuoc Hue has quickly become an important site for celebrations of peace and multiculturalism. During 2000 a 'Prayer for Peace' ceremony brought together the Vietnamese, Cambodian and Lao communities in Fairfield. Tibetan monks have performed a blessing ceremony at the temple, which also hosted a mass citizenship ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the Citizenship Act. The Temple also hosts religious and political leaders including the Dalai Lama, Venerables from around the world, Prince Charles and representatives of every level of government. The Dalai Lama has visited the Most Venerable twice, once when the Phuoc Hue temple was still in a suburban house, and in 1996 at the Quan Yin temple in Melbourne. The Most Venerable is an internationally respected Dharma Master, one of the few Australians to be mentioned in the 'Seeker's Glossary of Buddhism'.
History and development
The development of the Phuoc Hue temple began in 1980 when a group of Buddhists in Melbourne sponsored The Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue OAM from a Hong Kong refugee camp. The Most Venerable, a senior teacher, was the first Vietnamese monk to arrive in Australia. He had formerly taught at the An Quang Pagoda, the pre-eminent Buddhist centre in southern Vietnam. The first Buddhist ceremonies organised by the Most Venerable were held at a Thai temple, in Stanmore. Two years later a house temple was established in Fairfield. The current temple stands on the site of the old Wetherill Park Public School.
Construction of the temple took almost three years and cost nearly 3 million dollars - mostly raised by donation. The Most Venerable has travelled extensively in Australia and overseas, and there are now temples in many Australian states, in New Zealand, New Caledonia and the United States following the Phuoc Hue lineage. It is said that every temple that is built, means that one less prison is needed.
The end of the Vietnam War in 1975, with the subsequent takeover of the South by North Vietnam, caused an exodus of over two million Vietnamese refugees, three-quarters of whom managed to escape their war-torn land. Forced into refugee camps in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, Vietnamese were accepted for resettlement in Australia.
For the majority of Vietnamese-Australians their new life began in migrant hostels, where English classes and orientation programs were available. But when the close-knit community began taking shape and informal social networks to provide mutual support sprang up, they left the hostels and began sharing accommodation. They moved to industrial suburbs where employment was available and the rent was cheap.
In a little over two decades, Sydney has become the focus of Vietnamese settlement in New South Wales. Since 1993 the Vietnamese name ‘Nguyen’ has been in the top ten listings in the Sydney White Pages.
A Buddhist Temple has many functions. It is
- a common shelter for society
- a meeting place for people of goodwill
- a spiritual refuge for people seeking peace
- a custodian of cultural heritage and tradition
- a place of worship for people seeking perfect Enlightenment.
Resident monks and nuns observe the Buddhist precepts daily. Most of the resident monks are also students in high school and at university.During school terms their daily activities are structured around the school day,with plenty of time for study and the after school program of tutoring at the temple. The daily activities also include chanting and exercise.
The temple holds a month long retreat in December or January every year. Monks from around Australia participate. During this retreat lay Buddhists can experience the life of a monk or nun for a month. They will have their hair shaved and be ordained as a novice monk. After the retreat some stay on as monks, and others are released from their vows. This retreat is popular with young people -and both boys and girls take part. Fortnightly retreats are also held on the premises, during which participants learn meditation and Dharma. Up to a hundred people will stay overnight at the temple, living a day in the life of the monastery.
The Rainy Season retreat is held from June to August, and during this time a monk's life is most disciplined. This is an intense training period, and monks must stay in the temple compound at all times. During this time ordained monks and nuns focus their minds and energies on spiritual gain. Everything is done strictly by the monastic rules, and the monks and nuns concentrate on study and meditation. The Dharma classes are open to lay Buddhists. Monks wake at 4.30 am every morning and their day begins with chanting at 5.00 am. During the retreat lunch is a formal affair - all the monks wear yellow ceremonial robes and mantras are chanted. On very special occasions the Most Venerable presides over the ceremonial meal. Lunch is followed by walking meditation. There are Dharma classes throughout the day, and senior monks and nuns must find time to cook and clean also.
Seniority is strictly observed in temples, but physical age is of little relevance. Religious age is calculated by the number of years a monk has attended the Rainy Season retreat. Senior monks eat before junior monks and walk before them in procession.
The two main religious festivals celebrated here are Ullabana, the festival of the spirits and the Buddha's birthday, or Vesak Day. After the Rainy Season retreat, monks emerge on a spiritual high. Ullabana is celebrated at this time and many lay Buddhists come to make offerings to the monks, whose spiritual powers are at their highest after the retreat. During the festival people pay their respects to their ancestors and make offerings for parents both living and deceased. Often lay Buddhists will ask monks to chant Sutras for their ancestors on their behalf.
The Phuoc Hue Temple hosts a range of community activities including martial arts classes in the Shao Lin tradition on Saturday mornings. On Sundays there are Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin language classes. The Temple is an important centre for young people, with computer rooms and internet access to assist students. The Phuoc Hue Vietnamese Youth Group meets at the temple to study Dharma and to learn Vietnamese song and dance. The group also emphasises outdoor activities and camping.
Visiting and protocols
- Dress modestly and avoid short skirts or pants
- Remove shoes outside the main shrine
- Be quiet and respectful
- Do not bring meat or alcohol products onto the temple grounds
- Food or drink are not allowed in the main hall
- Please respect the privacy of monks and nuns
- It is respectful to walk clockwise around the temple, keeping your right shoulder to the temple.
Vietnamese Buddhist Phuoc Hue Temple
365-367 Victoria Street, WETHERILL PARK NSW 2164
Tel: (02) 9725 2324, Fax: (02) 9725 5385
Open for visitors: 9.00 am to 5.00pm
The temple welcomes group visits and school excursions.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 March 2013 14:20