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).
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.