Thursday, May 6, 2010

House Temples

People don't realise that Sydney is filled with little suburban house temples. There is well over a hundred of them, many of them in the Cabramatta/Fairfield area. They are simple suburban houses that have been renovated to become Buddhist temples, and they are the heart of many Buddhist communities.

Normally operating in a quasi-legal nowhere land, these little houses of worship are often at the mercy of local government authorities, who frequently fine them, threaten legal action and attempt to close them down. But in my experience they normally soldier on, and I find them wonderful examples of the power of the spirit standing up to the awful dead hand of homogenising local councils. It is normally the same councils that allow local "clubs" (i.e. pokie palaces) to swallow up whole tracts of land and alienate public property.

These temples normally only house one or two monastics, and service a membership of a dozen or so families. It is a hand-to-mouth existence for most, but the fact that so many monks and nuns are prepared to lead this lonely, uncomfortable and inconvenient existence in order to serve small communities stands as a testament to commitment and lived ideals.

Normally the house temples arise because parishioners - particularly the elderly - want a place of worship that is accesible by public transport. Almost all of the big Buddhist temples are in far-flung areas, quite often industrial or semi-rural districts, which are the only places they are normally allowed to build according to vile local government by-laws. Such places are almost impossible to access via public transport.

I love these little temples. My heart sings when I drive by a brick-veneer cottage and see a huge statue of Kwan Yin standing outside, sending her blessing out over the anonymous streets and cul de sacs of suburban Sydney. I know that people there still rate their spiritual life highly, and are supporting yet another humble, but terribly important, house temple.

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