Bushfires threaten Buddhist communities in Australia

Sunntaram Forest Monastery, Santi Forest Monastery, and Vejjasala Retreat Center are all currently evacuated. No injuries or major destruction have been reported.

Sam Littlefair
6 January 2020
A monk surveys the damage at Vejjasala Retreat Center in New South Wales, Australia, on Monday. Photo via kimmcsweeney52 on Instagram.

Multiple Buddhist monasteries in Australia have been evacuated due to raging wildfires. So far no injuries or significant damages have been reported.

The monks at Sunntaram Forest Monastery evacuated on New Year’s Eve, bringing their peacocks and cat with them. According to a message on their website, they put out food and water for the wildlife affected by the fires.

On January 6th, Kim McSweeney, the volunteer secretary at Sunntaram, posted on Instagram that she visited Sunntaram and saw that the monastery wasn’t damaged by the fire. McSweeney visited nearby Santi Forest Monastery, which had also been threatened by fire, and reported that it was unscathed.

At nearby Vejjasala Retreat Center, a cottage and small bridge were burnt.

In Lyneham, a suburb of Canberra, there was a report on Twitter of a small rubbish fire at a Buddhist temple.

In early December, Wat Buddha Dhamma, one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in Australia, was damaged by wildfires, and the monks evacuated to Santi Forest Monastery.

Of the experience, Wat Buddha Dhamma resident Ajahn Tiradhammo wrote,

While all situations in life can be a source of contemplating impermanence, it is extreme times like this that bring the truth of impermanence directly into our minds. Most often we contemplate impermanence while in a relatively safe and secure environment such that this contemplation is usually in the abstract – yes, things are impermanent but not me. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, your world can be turned upside down and, if you have not seriously understood impermanence, you can be over-whelmed with suffering at all levels of being at once.

For those who want to support the communities affected by the wildfires, there is a fund to collect donations for repairs at Wat Buddha Dhamma. Sakyadhita Australia Association of Buddhist Women has launched a GoFundMe to alleviate the suffering caused by the fires. Dhamma Sarana Buddhist Temple, outside of Melbourne, has been packing water bottles to deliver to affected communities.

Sam Littlefair

Sam Littlefair

Sam Littlefair is the former editor of LionsRoar.com. He has also written for The Coast, Mindful, and Atlantic Books Today. Find him on Twitter, @samlfair, and Facebook, @samlfair.