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Sangha History and Profile: Lotus Bud Sangha, Sydney

In late 1986, Thay was invited by the Buddhist Peace Felloship to lead retreats in Australia. During his visit in Sydney, the Vietnamese community had a rare opportunity to enjoy mindfulness practice with him. During that five-day retreat, many of us tasted true peace and joy for the first time. The practices Thay offered were like beautiful fresh air gently blowing over our community, and he also chose the name of our Sangha. He mentioned that there was Plum Village in France and Maple Village in Canada, but that the name "Eucalyptus Village" did not sound right in Vietnamese. He invited us to think of another name. At that time, some of us did not have any idea about building a Sangha or forming a practice centre. One day Mai and Nguyen visited Thay while he was giving a retreat south of Sydney. They were invited to have lunch with him, followed by a walking meditation. Returning from the walk, he told them, with a beautiful soft smile, that he had found a name fo our Sangha: Lang Sen Bup or Lotus Buds Village. He explained that every time we joined our palms together to greet one another, a lotus would be there. Since there would be many of us together, there would be many lotuses. Mai and Nguyen bowed deeply to show their gratitude.

After Thay left Australia, a number of us who had been to the retreat decided to continue the practice. We met once a month and each family hosted events for the next year. We were touched when we received a parcel from Thay containing a mokyu and a big bell.

During the initial stage of searching for a suitable place, Thay paid a brief visit to the land. We spent eight months looking at various places and finally settled on the first piece of land we had inspected with Thay. Lotus Buds acquired three pieces of adjoining land with a total of 100 acres about 170km northwest of Sydney. It has beautiful big rocks, old trees, birds, kangaroos, foxes, rabbits, and many other wild animals. We took walks to the top of the mountain to watch the sunsets, feeling as though we were also sitting at the Gridhrakuta Mountain in India.

In early 1989, with a small budget, we started to build a meditation hall. Thay seemed to know through past experience that if one were to start with big plans and cling to a dream place, one might never have the opportunity to put the Dharma into practice. We remembered his advice: "You can start with a shed as a temporary meditation hall". The hall was the former Phap Bao Temple, recycled with the help of many friends, children, and Tony Coote, an architect from the Sydney Zen Centre. Feelings of togetherness during the hard labour time brought us closer, and it was a period of great joy and peace. We continued regular sitting meditation early in the morning and at night throughtout our construction period. We rejoiced at the simple but adequate facilities of the land, using only rain water, gas, and candles or kerosene lamps for everyday activities. For the quarterly retreats, we camped outside. Since there are no sleeping accomodations, we also hold retreats elsewhere for non-members. The place is simple and yet has witnessed several precepts transmissions ceremonies.

Although Thay has not been able to visit Australia since 1986, we feel blessed to have had monks and nuns from Plum Village lead retreats during the past six years, and to hear tapes from Plum Village which strengthen our practice. In 1988 we had two Tiep Hien members. Now there are 19 of us, including two Dharma teachers.

Lotus Buds continues to hold monthly Days of Mindfulness. Since 1992, more Australians have been coming, inspiring us to revise our programme for participants from both cultures. We practice sitting, walking, and eating together but split into two streams for the Dharma talks and discussions. We feel blessed and happy to have two young Australian children currently practicing regularly with the Sangha. As parents, we feel deep gratitude to Thay for being so interested in young people's activities and for encouraging open communication within families and teaching reconciliation techniques. We also have regular sutra study nights in Vietnamese and English in different suburban areas. We recite the Mindfulness Trainings monthly, rotating among member's homes in Sydney. Quarterly retreats are held on the Lotus Buds land. Dharma teachers Khanh Le Van, backed up by Dan and Lam, teaches meditation weekly at the Buddhist Library downtown. During the last two years, a few brothers and sisters of the German, English, and Italian Sanghas have joined us for meditation while visiting Sydney.

Some of us feel the need to have our own centre in the city, but until conditions are more favourable, we continue to practice happily as is. We also raise funds for the rejuvenation program in Vietnam, work with destitute young people, and distribute Thay's books and tapes throughout Australia. For the past year, we have enjoyed transcribing and editing Thay's Dharma talks.

If you plan to travel Down Under, you are most welcome to contact us. Even though thousands of kilometres separate us, we are close in spirit.

About the Lieu Quan School of Buddhist Meditation

Ed. Note: If you received th Five Precepts from Thay Nhat Hanh, your Dharma name, if you asked to receive one, begins with the word Tam, "Mind" or "Heart", and you belong to the ninth generation of the Lieu Quan School of Zen, and the forty-third generation of the Lin Chi (Japanese: Rinzai) school of Zen. Note that in the verse in the last paragraph of this essay, the ninth character is Tam (Mind or Heart).

Master Lieu Quan was born in the village of Bac Ma, in the Phu Yen province, in Vietnam, in 1670. He lost his mother at the age of six. His father used to bring him to the Hoi Ton Temple, where he met the abbot, Te Vien. At the age of ten, he was accepted in the temple as a novice. He studied with Te Vien for nine years.

When Master Te Vien passes away, Lieu Quan went to th far away province of Thuan Hoa (now Hue) to study with the Master Giac Phong at the Thien Tho Temple, now called Bao Quoc. One year later when he received news that his father was sick, he asked permission to go back to his village where he worked as a logger to support his father. Four years later, his father died and he nt back to study and practice at Thien Tho Temple. He was ordainedas a bhiksu in 1697 at the age of twenty-seven.

In 1702, he met Master Tu Dung and began to study with him at the An Tong Temple in Thua Thien. For five years, he was given the Cong an: "All dharmas return to the one. Where will the one return to?"

In 1708, he went back to his teacher. Master Tu Dung told him:

Alone let yourself go down to the abyss.
The only way to be reborn is to die.
Who could blame you after that?

Lieu Quan clapped his hands and laughed. Tu Dung said: "Note ripe yet". Lieu Quan tried once more: "The hammer is iron itself". Tu Dung shook his head. Lieu Quan went back to his cell. The next day, Tu Dung was passing by Lieu Quan's cell and called out to him: "Our conversation of yesterday is not finished yet. Tell me again!"

Lieu Quan replied, "If i had know that the lamp is fire itself, then the meal could have been ready a long time ago." Master Tu was delighted by this reply.

Lieu Quan was thirty-eight when he received this transmission and set up the Thien Tong Meditation Centre. He allowed the Thien Tong Centre to be built by his students at the foot of the Ngu Binh Mountain. Lord Nguyen Phuc Khoat used to come to this centre to practice. In the pyears 1733-1735, four national ceremonies of ordination were organised in the Thua Thien province over which Master Lieu Quan presided. The number of his disciples were as many as 4000. In 1740, he presided over an ordination at the Long Hoa Center and in 1742, at another one organised at the Vien Thong Center. Practice centers of the Lieu Quan School were set up everywhere in the country. The Phu Ye province is one of the strong holds of the school, along with the Hoi Tong, Co Lam, and Bao Tinh temples.

On the morning of the twenty-first day ofthe eleventh month of the lunar calendar, 1742, Master Lieu Quan asked his attendant to bring him a pen and a piece of paper. He wrote this gatha:

During the seventy or more years
I have been in this world.
Form and Emptiness have always been the same.
Today, all vows fulfilled.
I am going back to my home.
Do not tire yourselves out asking questions
concerning schools and patriarchs.

After finishing the gatha,the Master sat quietly drinking his tea. Monks living at the center came to see him. Some of the monks cried. Lieu Quan said, "Please do not cry! Even Buddhas have to enter nirvana. My coming and going is clear. There is nothing to be sorrowful about." The monks stopped crying. He asked, "Has the mui hour (from 1-3pm) come?" People said, "Yes." Lieu Quan said:

The great Way of Reality
is the pure ocean of the true nature.
The source of Mind
has penetrated everywhere.
From the roots of virtue
springs the tradition of compassion.
Vinaya, samadhi, and prajna --
the nature and function of all three is one.
The fruit of transcendent wisdom
can be realised by being wonderfully together.
Maintain and transmit the wonderful principle
in order to make known the true teaching!
For the realisation of true emptiness
to be possible,
wisdom and action have to arise together.


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