Michael - Thursday
Photos - Jonathan Everitt
Since sadly we no longer have Lisa Brackman telling us about China, I thought I’d try to fill the gap this week with a look at the Nan Hua Temple. Nan Hua means Southern Flower in Mandarin, but don’t confuse Nan Hua temple with its namesake in China which is more than 1000 years older.
This Nan Hua is near the Johannesburg international airport and is about twenty-five years young. The order itself is young only dating to 1967 when Hsing Yun established “Humanistic Buddhism,” or Fo Guang Shan, in Taiwan. Unusually for Buddhist orders, this one’s mission is to spread the enlightened word of the Buddha far and wide and—as Hsing Yun put it— “bring the Buddha’s light to the Three Realms, so that the Dharma waters may flow throughout the Five Continents.” 250 orders with over 1300 monks now exist worldwide after only 50 years.
In fact, Nan Hua dates to 1991 when the rather conservative and, of course, white male chairman of the Bronkhorstspruit city council—Dr. Senekal—visited Taiwan seeking investment, and met Hsing Yun himself. Impressed with Taiwan and their business investment, the following year he organised a donation of 30 acres of city land to the order to set up a branch in South Africa. About US$6 million was raised here from the not insignificant Taiwanese community and also from the order itself in Taiwan to construct the temple. Not only is it the headquarters of the order in Africa, it's also the largest Buddhist temple in Africa.
One of the attractive things about the order here is that while it naturally sees itself spreading the knowledge of its religion, it's proud of its local status. African monks and followers form a diverse community. It's website mentions with pride that 95% of the materials used in the construction of the temple were sourced locally. It offers food and accommodation, and had a joyous Chinese New Year celebration last month—with red for luck everywhere—attended by thousands. Its charitable work is directed at the poor local communities in the area, providing sensible things that they need.
If you're interested in learning more, they have a useful website, and it even gives you tips on how to begin meditation if a novice, including the lighting, the timing relative to your meal, and concluding with advice not to sit where there is a draft to avoid catching a cold.
Not everyone was delighted, however. On the 30th October 2002, a group of extremist white supremacists of the Boeremag plotted to destroy the temple. In a re-enactment of the Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot, they secreted explosives in the basement below the main hall of worship. Fortunately, the detonator failed to set off the explosives - the blast would have killed 150 people from around the country and the world who were attending a ceremony at that time in the hall above.
The South Africa constitution guarantees freedom of worship. We have various Christian churches, mosques, synagogues, Churches of Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists, Buddhist and Hindu temples, and probably places of worship of every other religion you care to mention. They all seem to get on with their own business and not interfere with the others. Our politicians - for all their varied failings - don't make an issue of it.
It’s something to be proud of.