In 1977, Venerable Tsang Hui migrated to Australia with the hope of sharing the teachings of the Buddha with the west. He was appointed the Abbot of the Prajna Temple and preached Dharma at the Australian Society of Chinese Buddhism.
Following an illness that saw him left the temple, the Venerable moved to Redfern where he began to teach Buddhism to curious locals. With limited resources, the Venerable worked at the post office to support himself, and it was through these every day interactions that he met and began helping the children of Indo-China refugee migrants in their studies. This marked the beginning of the Hwa Tsang Monastery Tuition Class.
In 1981, with the encouragement of Venerable Bai Sheng, Venerable Tsang Hui formed the Hwa Tsang Monastery (HTM) with just a few devotees.
On 16 December, 1984, the HTM Interim Committee was formed and the HTM Constitution was drafted. It was hoped the monastery could become a more organised and structured organisation. After many years of hard work, HTM was officially founded on the 19 May 1985 with Venerable Tsang Hui appointed as the founding Abbot. A Board of Director and an Executive Committee were also formed to help Venerable run the activities of HTM.
The aims of HTM were established as:
To encourage the practice and the propagation of Buddhism in Australia;
To encourage, foster and promote education among the Australian community;
To foster mutual understanding and friendship between the Buddhist and other religious groups and the Australian public;
To provide welfare services to those who need help in the Australian community; and
To develop the monastery to benefit the interest of its members and of all Buddhists in Australia.
The Board of Director of HTM is formed by the Sangha members and the founding members. The founding members are also the life members of HTM.
Directors are also elected at the Annual General Meeting (AGM), and serve a term of two years. They are members of the monastery who show great concern and care about the monastery’s development.
In addition, HTM also formed the Executive Committee to manage the activities of the monastery. The office bearers of the Executive Committee are nominated and elected by the Directors at the AGM. Their term of office is also two years. The Executive Committee calls a meeting every month to discuss the matters and activities of the monastery. An AGM is also called every year to provide financial and activity reports to the members.
At the beginning, the Executive Committee only consisted of the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and Social Secretary. As time passed, the number of sub-committees increased.
HTM has also formed a Property Executive Committee to ensure that the custody of the monastery’s properties abides by the secular laws as well as to the Buddha’s teachings. All HTM’s properties are under the name of Hwa Tsang Monastery Inc.
The Monastery’s Growth
In 1985, HTM moved to its current address in Homebush, in Sydney’s inner west. The initial development application in 1986 was rejected by the local council on the grounds that it was not beneficial to the community.
However, the demand from the community seeking a place for learning and worship continued to grow and could no longer be met within the confines of a residential house.
In July 1988, HTM submitted its new monastery development plan to the Strathfield Council. Due to a lack of understanding of Buddhism, this application brought great debate among the local residents. There were also many articles in the local newspapers criticising the monastery project.
In order to gain acceptance for the monastery, the HTM Tuition Class students undertook a door knocking campaign around Strathfield Municipality to personally explain the reason and future plan of the project.
According to the council’s record, 890 letters and 840 signatures in favour of the project were received, and there were only 25 letters and 273 signatures of objection. However, the application was still not approved by the council.
Undeterred, Venerable Tsang Hui and the monastery lodged in an appeal to the Land and Environment Court. A three-day hearing was held in May 1989. On 1 June, 1989, under the blessing of the Triple Gem, the Land and Environment Court approved the development of HTM. This set a precedent in Australian Buddhism and will hopefully pave a smoother way for any future applications.
In making his judgement, the judge said: “…It became plain that the intensity of the opposition to the subject development was, in some instances, influenced by the circumstance that the religious institution was a Buddhist monastery. All residents were at pains to volunteer that their views were not “racist” and I accept their assessment of their objections. The question of what does or does no qualify as “racism” was not explored in the proceedings but because the word was bandied about during the course of the hearing, I feel bound to express my opinion that I do not think any objector is a “racist” just because he or she objects to Buddhist temple functioning next door or in the near vicinity. It was stated explicitly by some and was implicit in the evidence of others that the opposition would not have been so intense had a comparable Christian establishment been proposed.
…It is made clear by the evidence, there is a need for the monastery in the sense that there are many people who wish to have a place to congregate as Buddhists. The subject land is zoned residential but churches and educational establishments are permissible in residential areas. There are many churches in residential areas in Sydney, some of which have functions and undertake activities more intrusive than the subject proposal…
I am, however, confident that most other people who have expressed hostility to the concept will, with the passage of time, accept the monastery in the same way they presently accept the Lutheran church. I have already mentioned that the precinct is dominated by the Homebush Boys’ High School; there is a large Lutheran church in the vicinity and the monastery is proposed to be erected right next door to commercial tennis court. In my opinion, development should be granted subject to the conditions which I annex to this judgement.”
This short insight into the struggle to create the monastery as it is today is to encourage all Buddhists to understand that it was not easy for the monastery to come true. We should value the monastery that we have and practise diligently and be good citizens. In this way, we can repay the kindness of the country, the Triple Gem and all the people.
The new building of HTM was officially opened on the 6 December 1992.