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Rahula Community Lodge, Canberra, Sunday 8 February 1998: address on the occasion of the opening.

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It is a great pleasure for Helen and me to be with you this morning, for the Official Opening o f the first three buildings o f the Rahula Community Lodge, here at the Sakyamuni Buddhist Centre

This is the first time that we have had the privilege o f visiting the Centre - the first and certainly the largest o f the Buddhist institutions in Canberra It is also the largest Buddhist Welfare Centre in Australia It gives me the opportunity to acknowledge the great contribution the Centre is making to the spirit o f diversity and true multiculturaiism in the ACT and surrounding region

As I read them, the most recent census figures put the number o f Buddhists in Canberra at around 4000 people That is a significant proportion o f the overall population. Yet the Chief Abbot, the Venerable Thich Quang Ba, tells me he believes the true figure is possibly closer to 6000 people Certainly the large crowds which attended the festivities here late last month to mark the beginning o f the New

Year - the Year o f the Tiger - with joy, feasting and fireworks were a very good indication o f the strength and enthusiasm o f the Buddhist community in the Capital Territory.

A report from the Bureau o f Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research a couple o f years ago, showed that over the 10 years to 1991 Buddhism was by far the largest growing religion in our country an increase in the order o f 300%, although from a relatively small base To a significant extent, o f course, the figures reflect the substantial increase in migration from south-east Asia over that period - most notably by people from Vietnam who accounted for more than a third o f all Buddhists. But the second largest national group were Australian-born Buddhists - many from non-Asian cultures attracted by both the philosophy and the practice o f

Buddhism with its emphasis upon the search for inner peace and understanding

The United Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation o f Canberra was established by a small group o f Indo-Chinese refugees early in 1983 Later that year, the Venerable Thich Quang Ba was invited by the group to become President, and he has


remained, to become founder and Chief Abbot o f the Van Hanh monastery and director o f the Sakyamuni Buddhist Centre

The plans for this complex go back to those early days It was in 1986 that the then Department o f Territories granted this land to the Congregation, and the monastery - the first stage o f the Centre - was built and opened in 1989. Five years later a number o f beautiful monuments on the site were built and dedicated as the second stage o f the project. Today we come to the third stage the opening o f the first three o f what eventually w ill be five residential blocks for low-income people within the Rahula Community Lodge There will be 28 people housed here initially: people from many backgrounds and cultures, not necessarily from the Buddhist tradition Each resident will have his or her separate room, with communal cooking, washing and laundry facilities. The separate cafeteria - the Karima House - that we see, will be open not only to residents but also to the public generally. The architecture o f the Centre, particularly the more gently curving roof line, clearly reflects the Vietnamese influences which have contributed so much to the establishment and development o f the local Congregation

The Sakyamuni Buddhist Centre is making and will continue to make a most significant contribution to our religious and cultural diversity Among the considerable range o f welfare programs with which the Centre is associated, let me mention briefly the visits to correctional and juvenile centres, the joint activities being undertaken with organisations such as Red Cross, the Council o f the Ageing, the Cancer Society, the Ethnic Communities Council, Community Aid Abroad, the Community Refuge Settlement Scheme, Interfaith groups, and so on. In all o f this, the Sakyamuni Buddhist Centre is making a profoundly important practical and moral contribution to that sense o f mutual understanding, toleration and respect which is such a fundamental aspect o f our Australian multiculturalism

In short, the Sakyamuni Buddhist Centre’s contribution to the moral, religious, cultural and social enrichment o f the people o f Canberra and the surrounding district has been a profoundly important one. It w ill be enhanced with the opening and occupation o f these new residential blocks I congratulate the Centre on all that has been achieved over the past 15 years I offer my very best wishes for the success o f all that you hope to achieve in the years ahead as future stages o f the Centre are completed the proposed school for lay people and clergy, the library, the pagoda, the facilities for both young people and the elderly May all your endeavours prosper and bring joy to those whom they are intended to help

Finally, I offer my sincere congratulations to all those who have been associated with the planning, design and construction o f the project

And now, with the greatest o f pleasure, I officially declare open the Rahula Community Lodge for the Sakyamuni Buddhist Centre