Buddhism is the fastest growing religion in Australia, and the biggest reliquary-burial mound ("stupa") outside countries with significant Buddhist populations is being built in Bendigo, not far from Melbourne.
It was while doing 18 months of research on Buddhism in Australia for two articles on the subject that now appear in the Cambridge University Press' massive tome "The Encyclopedia of Religions in Australia" that [D.S. Abeygunawardena] not only came across these two nuggets but also discovered that Australia had 570 listed Buddhist organizations, including monasteries, temples, retreat [center]s, meditation centers, and meeting places for Buddhist societies. A 3-D model of The Great "Stupa", the biggest reliquary-burial mound outside countries with a significant Buddhist presence.
Today these are patronized by a Buddhist population of a little over 400,000 (two percent of the total population), almost double the 1996 census count ten years earlier. Islam has only about three-fourths that number and Hinduism a third. With nearly 13 million listing themselves as Christian, this tale of Buddhism in Australia is just one of Abey's typical, but solidly fact-based, footnotes.
It's a story that begins with a boatload of Chinese arriving in Adelaide in 1851 to walk to the Victorian goldfields. Many of them were Buddhists. But there is no record what happened to them or their faith. Better recorded is the 500 Sinhalese [Sri Lankan] Buddhists from the Galle area in southern Sri Lanka. They came to work as contract labor in the Queensland sugar plantations. Given their urban background, they soon moved out of the plantations and found work in Broome, Darwin, and Thursday Island in the pearl industry. (Some of their descendants are still in the jewellery business). On tiny Thursday island, the 100 or so Sinhalese families that settled there built the first Buddhist shrine in Australia. But when their descendants moved out, the shrine vanished.
by AJAHN BRAHM
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