The Buddha Sasana Association of Australia

1981

The Buddha Sasana Association of Australia (BSA) can trace its roots back to 1981. At that time a small group of people who had discovered the benefits of the Mahasi style of vipassana meditation during their travels in Asia wished to continue their practice here in Australia. The group at that time included Carol Bigot, Grahame White and Lynne Bousfield.

1982

Group sits were held in Sydney and an American friend called Joseph Goldstein was invited to lead two retreats in May & June 1982. These were held at Wat Buddha Dhamma (35 attended) and Bodhi Farm (50 attended). The group decided on the name Buddha Dhamma Insight Meditation Society (BDIMS).

1983- 1984

The group sits continued to be organised in Sydney throughout 1983 and were led first by Carol, and then by Grahame & Lynne – who travelled from Wollongong to Sydney regularly for the next 3-4 years. Attendance at the sits fluctuated from highs of 20-30 people immediately following a retreat, to nights when they sat alone. At the same time they worked to ensure that at least one or two formal retreats led by overseas teachers were held each year. Around this time Elizabth Gorski, John & Sheila Hale and Chris & Tara (Robyn) MacLachlan became part of the informal group. Two 10 day retreats were organised and held in 1984 at Wat Buddha Dhamma. These were both led by Joseph Goldstein & Alan Clements.

1984- 1985

It was now becoming difficult to obtain teachers from IMS in America because of a growing worldwide demand so BDIMS decided to go to the source – the Mahasi Meditation Centre in Rangoon. In November 1985 BDIMS sponsored Sayadaws U Pandita and U Nanapunnika to lead a 28 day retreat at Kerever Park – a convent in Burradoo near Bowral. 50 people attended and this marked the beginning of the association’s links with the Burmese community.

1986

The success of the U Pandita retreat gave an impetus to purchase a property for a permanent home. Around this time the association decided to change its name to Buddha Sasana Association of Australia (BSA). As a first step towards buying land BSA became incorporated on 25 November 1986. This meant the creation of a separate legal entity which could own the land and to which tax deductible donations could be made (although tax deductible status was not granted until October 1988). The foundation members of the incorporated association were Patrick Kearney (President), Grahame White (Secretary), Lynne Bousfield (Treasurer), Elizabeth Gorski & John Hale.

In 1986 BSA was still only about 4 years old and did not have enough money to seriously consider buying a property. So Chris & Tara MacLachlan offered the use of their large home “Minhaven” in Evans Lookout Rd, Blackheath to enable weekend retreats to be held. Throughout 1986 seven weekend retreats and one 10 day retreat were held at “Minhaven”. The two major retreats in 1986 held at Kerever Park were 20 days in July led by Joseph & Sharon Salzberg (50 people) and 28 days in November led by Sayadaw U Lakkhana (50 people).

1987

During 1987, the focus of weekend activities moved from Chris & Tara’s house in Blackheath to the Southern Highlands. This was because Elizabeth Gorski acquired a property at Bundanoon which was more suitable for small retreats. John & Sheila Hale were the live-in managers and consideration was given to developing the property as an official retreat centre. The major retreats in 1987 were once again held at Kerever Park and were 10 days in March led by Alan Clements and 20 days in August led by Steve Smith & Michelle McDonald (50 people).

1988

By 1988 it was clear that BSA was unable to purchase and develop the Bundanoon property and so the search for a suitable site was resumed. A number of properties in Bundanoon and the Blue Mountains were considered but nothing suitable in the price range was found. Around this time Chris & Tara were selling ‘Minehaven’ and they used that money to purchase a neglected 2 acre property in Rutland Rd, Medlow Bath. This property was regarded as having some potential for development as a meditation centre. So, on 30 August 1988, 8 months after Chris & Tara had bought the property, BSA purchased 25 Rutland Rd (lots 1 & 2) from them for the very favourable price of $60,000. In fact, Chris & Tara received no money from BSA and lent the $60,000.

A Centre had been started and many work weekends were held at “Sasana House” to paint, renovate and clear the grounds of blackberries. The first official retreat was a weekend on 28 January 1989. It was led by Chris with the mens’ dormitory doubling as the meditation hall.

In late 1987 and early 1988 there were changes in the membership of BSA. Patrick Kearney, Elizabeth Gorski and John Hale resigned – Patrick went to Burma and ordained, Elizabeth travelled and continued her practice, John & his family moved to Tasmania. In their place were new members Chris & Tara MacLachlan, Malcolm & Vivianne McClintock, Caroline Coggins and Peter Thompson. Grahame White replaced Patrick as President and Chris MacLachlan became Secretary. Graham Wheeler was appointed as public officer and honorary solicitor and undertook responsibility for all of BSA’s legal work.

The major retreats in 1988 were again held at Kerever Park and were 6 weeks in January led by Sayadaw U Pandita (50 people), 10 days in April led by Alan Clements. Another 10 day retreat was also held at Picton in November led by Alan Clements.

1989

In 1989, the focus of weekends shifted back to the Blue Mountains with 1 day dhamma talks at “Sasana House” being led by Sayadaw U Jaggara (from Burmese Vihara in Merrylands) and Ven Pannyavaro. However, there were reservations about the suitability of Sasana House as a retreat centre. This led to a decision to sell Sasana House and purchase a larger piece of vacant land in a cheaper, non-residential area. With this in mind a 40 acre property called “Gunyah” in Nellies Glen Rd, Megalong Valley was found. On 3 April 1989 contracts were exchanged to buy “Gunyah” for $150,000. However, as fate would have it, the purchase was never finalised – the fear of a Buddhist invasion struck the Megalong Valley and the neighbours refused to allow the creation of an access road. Contracts were terminated and BSA’s deposit was returned. Around Easter 1989 Gavin & Gabrielle Cusack and their daughter Shane took up residence at Sasana House as caretaker/managers.

As Sasana House had proved difficult to sell, a decision was made to take it off the market and try to develop it as an official meditation centre. Money was a problem, and so, instead of paying Chris and Tara the $60,000 owed, the vacant land (Lot 2) was transferred back to them on 10 March 1989. In effect this meant that they had given the Lot 1 with the house on it to BSA. The longer retreats in 1989 were mostly held in Kerever Park including 20 days in March led by Joseph Goldstein & Sharon Salzberg, 10 days in August led by Steven Smith & Michelle McDonald. A 16 day retreat led by Alan Clements was also held in October at Murwillumbah.

1990

Sayadaw U Jaggara continued to come and give dhamma talks and there were also regular group sittings every Thursday evening and Sunday morning. Malcolm & Vivianne McClintock resigned as members of BSA. As Sasana House was still unsuitable for holding retreats, Kerever Park was again rented for the one big retreat of 1990. This commenced in April was led by Sawadaws U Pandita & U Pannadipa and went for 2 months.

1991

Major renovations were undertaken to start converting Sasana House from a private home into a meditation centre. A new bathroom was put in to provide more suitable accommodation for teachers, interior walls removed and relocated and the dining room was extended. The outside flats were re-roofed and re-lined and an adjoining bathroom finished. Gavin Cusack and Chris MacLachlan provided most of the technical expertise with help from members of BSA and other volunteers.

BSA’s request to Sayadaw U Pandita for a resident monk was approved and Sayadaw U Pannathami has been chosen to come in 1992. Sayadaw U Jaggara continued to give some 1 day dhamma talks at Sasana House and U Buddharakkita (now Steve Armstrong) led a weekend and 1 day course there also. Peter Thompson resigned and Gabrielle Cusack became a member and Treasurer of BSA.

1991 was the last year of renting other centres for retreats. The major retreats held that year were all held in January and taught by Sayadaw U Pandita. They were held at Kerever Park (10 days & a kids weekend) and Birrigai ACT (10 days).

1992

16 April 1992 – Sayadaw U Pannathami arrived in Australia – sponsored by BSA for 12 months temporary residence. Chris MacLachlan took on the task of resident manager and monk’s attendant. After overcoming the difficulties of obtaining a Burmese passport, Ko Ko Latt finally arrived in Australia on 8 December 1992. BSA had sponsored him for 12 months and he took over from Chris in looking after Sayadaw. Katie Miller became manager for some months and was later relieved by Kim Fisch who managed and cooked for a number of months also. Caroline Coggins resigned as a member of BSA.

In early 1992 the Buddha image in the meditation hall was donated by Leon Prollius, a long time meditator and supporter of BSA who also donated many books to the Centre’s library.

The first major retreats held at Sasana House were all offered on a dana basis and were scheduled as follows:

    20 March ’92 – Steven Smith & Michelle McDonald – 10 days
    16 April ’92 – U Pannathami – 10 days – Dana
    29 May ’92 – U Pannathami – 10 days – Dana
    26 June ’92 – U Pannathami – 20 days – Dana
    24 July ’92 – U Pannathami – 10 days – Dana
    7 August ’92 – U Pannathami – 10 days – Dana
    21 August ’92 – U Pannathami – 10 days – Dana
    11 September ’92 – U Pannathami – 28 days – Dana

1993

After a successful period as resident teacher at the Centre a decision was made by BSA to sponsor U Pannathami for permanent residence in Australia. Work on this commenced in February 1993 and was successfully finalised in November 1993, just in time for him to return from London to lead the summer retreats at the Centre.

Other goods news in 1993 was Council approval of BSA’s Development Application to use the property as a meditation centre. Although approval was given on 5 May 1993 consultants still had to be employed to prepare the necessary building plans and to obtain approval from the Environmental Protection Authority to install an Envirocycle septic system. This was a long and drawn out process which continued well into 1994.

More good news was a call from the then local MP Barry Morris on 24 May 1993 to let us know that BSA’s application for an Ethnic Affairs grant had been approved and we would receive a much needed $15,000. Mr Morris also came to the Centre’s second Burmese Food day that was held in May. Joan King started as manager around September 1993 and finished her 6 month term around February 1994.

1994

By August 1994 all the bureaucratic hurdles that had been stopping work at the Centre had been met. Official approval to commence installing the Envirocycle was expected any day. But on 18 August 1994 we received a letter from Council’s solicitors advising that Council had forgotten to notify 2 neighbours of our DA. To avoid possibly ending up in the Land and Environment Court we were advised to resubmit the DA. This was done and finally on 29 November 1994 approval for both the DA and building approval was granted. At last the new septic could be installed, the meditation hall could have verandahs added and landscaping could be done.

With its new official status, the Centre hosted its first retreat with Sayadaw U Pandita. Sayadaw was assisted by U Pannathami and a house in Medlow Bath was rented for them to stay in. 14 yogis stayed for the whole 28 days and a further 12 sat for shorter periods. A group of 18 people volunteered to help with cooking, cleaning and managing.

The Centre’s association with the Buddhist Library in Sydney started with Grahame White leading an introduction to vipassana course over four Friday evenings.

1995

Debra Couslon started work as the Centre’s manager in February 1995. Debra continued in the position until October when Rose O’Malley (and her daughter Electra) took on the challenge.

Ko Ko Latt was now on his second temporary residence visa and a decision was made to sponsor him for permanent residence. The application was lodged on 27 June 1995 and 6 months later on 27 November 1995 his permanent residence was granted. We were now absolutely sure that he was a good kappier – we had the medical certificates and references to prove it. We also knew that the Commonwealth Employment Service could find nobody else in Australia with the qualifications to do his job.

After many months of delay and frustration the work on the Envirocycle system, the Meditation hall and landscaping was finally finished in October 1995. A Burmese food day was held at the Centre on 5 November 1995 to celebrate the occasion and raise more funds. The costs of the work were over $30,000 – including nearly $13,000 for the Envirocycle system.

With the increasing number of people using the Centre expenditure was beginning to exceed income and a decision was made in September to charge people attending retreats for food and accommodation ($95 for a weekend and $25 per day for longer retreats). To ensure that the Centre was accessible to everyone regardless of their means a scholarship fund was established.

Since transferring the vacant land back to Chris & Tara, BSA had been fortunate enough to have free use of that land. Apart from providing a beautiful ambience and walking space, the land also had a converted garage which accommodated up to 8 female yogis plus a caravan that was used by staff. However, the MacLachlans needed money by the end of the year and had to sell the land to raise it. After much debate over BSA’s ability to afford the land a decision was made to try and buy it. On 12 December 1995 Lot 2 was bought by BSA for $100,000. This was made possible by many generous donations and a favourable loan agreement with Chris and Tara.

The Centre moved into the computer age when it was given it first computer – an Apple Macintosh Classic. A newsletter from the time also advises readers who have a modem that they can access a Buddhist Bulletin Board created by Venerable Pannyavaro known as BuddhaNet. A related web page was also mentioned for those few people who had access to the internet.

During the year retreats were led by Sayadaw U Pannathami, Venerable Pannyavaro, Grahame White, Lynne Bousfield, Malcolm Huxter (Teenagers weekend) and Lesley Fowler. Venerable Nyanadhammo from Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth also visited in April and gave a dhamma talk to a capacity crowd of 40 plus people. A program of full moon group sits was also organised at the Centre during the year.

1996

Rose finished her 6 month term as manager in February and moved back to her home in Katoomba. Donald Elniff moved in as voluntary caretaker with support from David Smith. Fundraising to repay the $50,000 owing on the land and to further develop the property continued. The full moon group sits continued at the Centre during the year.

Sayadaw U Pannathami led a 28 day retreat in January and two 9 day courses in February. Venerable Sujiva, the then abbot of Santisukarma Meditation Centre in Malaysia made his first visit to Australia in March 1996 and led a retreat at our Centre. He also travelled to Lismore & Byron Bay to lead meditation courses there and returned to our Centre in October to lead a 20 day retreat. A Malaysian Food Day was organised at the Centre in September and despite the rain over $9,000 was raised to help purchase the land.

Steve Armstrong & Kamala Masters from Hawaii also led a 9 day course at the Centre in April.
Local teachers Patrick Kearney and Venerable Pannyavaro each led 9 days retreats in July and November respectively.

The highly respected Sri Lankan monk and author of “Mindfulness in Plain English”, Venerable Gunaratana also came to the Centre in August to lead a weekend retreat.

Weekend retreats in May, November and December were led by Grahame White, Lynne Bousfield and Patrick Kearney.