Wat Mai Buddhavongs

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Wat Mai Buddhavongs
Tradition/Linage Lao
Main School Theravada
President(s) Mr Khammanh CHANLA
Teacher(s) Ven. Khamphanh Phanthamoutto
Abbot(s) Ven. Khamphanh Phanthamoutto
Contact Infotmation
Address 10 Denton Avenue
St. Albans
Victoria 3021
Country Australia
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Phone (03) 9364 1589
Fax (03) 9395 6168

Wat Mai Buddhavongs

History, Lineage and Organization

The Temple

According to the 2001 census there are 9562 Laos-born people living in Australia, 2024 of whom live in Victoria. The number of Laos-born Buddhists in Victoria is 1590. The Lao-born population in Melbourne is 1904; the area with the largest concentration is the Local Government Area of Brimbank (298 or 14.7%) followed by Whitehorse (195 or 9.6%) and Greater Dandenong (183 or 9.0%).24 Located in the Local Government Area of Brimbank, Wat Mai Buddhavongs is one of the three Laotian Buddhist centres in Victoria. It is also the most recently established; the other centres were established over twenty years ago and have a much larger membership.

Wat Mai Buddhavongs was established in July 2002. Manivanh Chanla, a founding member of the group, described the events that led to the formation of the centre. Early in 2001 Manivanh Chanla had to travel several hours everyday from Altona Meadows to Mitcham, to practice the funeral rites of a member of the Lao-Australian society. According to Manivanh Chanla, 'in the Lao tradition we rely a lot on the monks, especially when someone is sick or dying, and therefore it is very important that we have a temple close to where we live. The other two Lao temples in Springvale and Mitcham are too far'. Following this, she discussed the possibility of having a Lao temple in closer proximity to the westhern suburbs to cater for the large Laotian community in the area. This initially received negative responses; some thought the current temples in Melbourne were adequate, or that it would be too difficult to start a new temple. Others liked the idea, but did not have the resources to help start the new centre. Furthermore, Manivanh Chanla had to challenge patriarchal views within the group which, because of her gender, resisted her role as the initiator of a major project such as this. However, the support of a few like-minded individuals within the community kept the idea alive, and discussions continued within the community for nearly ten months.

A turning point in the process of establishing the temple was when Manivanh Chanla found out about the Buddhist Council of Victoria and contacted the council to obtain information about starting a centre. She was advised to contact Ven. Thich Phuoc Tan from the Quang Minh Vietnamese Buddhist temple in Braybrook. The meeting was a positive one; Ven. Thich Phuoc Tan gave useful advice and encouragement, and shared his experience as the abbot of Quang Minh Temple. Manivanh Chanla described the outcome of the meeting in the following way, 'Ven. Phuoc Tan gave me the strength to fight; after that I spoke to a group of four or five people and asked them to invite community members to a general meeting to discuss this idea'. Another key event in the formation of Wat Mai Buddhavongs was the successful attempt to gather the Laotian community in the westhern suburbs together to celebrate the New Year Festival in April 2002. The event was attended by a large number of the Laotians, and enabled the community to have a concrete experience of their common heritage as Australian-Lao Buddhists. The event required a great deal of organising, and as it was a religious celebration a monk had to be present. The organisers invited Phra Ajarn Kanlayano from Bhodhivana Monastery Warburton for the occasion. Some of the Laotians living in the area contributed by lending religious accessories and items such as bowls, chairs and mats. The festival also proved a successful fundraising event, with the organisers raising $1500. Encouraged by the presence of the community and their financial support, more meetings were organised and there was increased enthusiasm about starting a centre. This was followed by more fundraising events, with Laotians in the area hosting alms-giving ceremonies in their homes; the money that was raised was donated towards the cost of establishing a centre. These initial attempts raised enough funds to rent a house in St Albans, which was furnished through community donations. The next step in setting up the centre was to find a resident monk who would act as the religious leader of the community. Finding a Theravadin monk proved to be a difficult task. The group contacted Buddhist temples in Thailand, Laos, New Zealand and the United States with no success. Finally, Wat Prayortkeo, a Laotian temple in Sydney, was able to help by sending Ven. Khamphanh Phanthamoutto, the current abbot. Subsequently, the first committee was elected in July 2002, and the centre was established and incorporated on the 29th of August in the same year.

Ven. Khamphanh Phanthamoutto was ordained in 1982 in Luang Prabang in northern Laos, and was a resident monk in Wat Prayortkeo in Sydney prior to coming to Wat Mai Buddhavongs. Wat Prayortkeo in Sydney and Wat Mai Buddhavongs belong to the same lineage of Laotian Buddhism and have a close working relationship. Wat Prayortkeo has been assisting the establishment of Wat Mai Buddhavongs through offering material help as well as sending monks to visit and live at the centre. In addition to the abbot, both resident monks in Wat Mai Buddhavongs come from Wat Prayortkeo. Wat Mai Buddhavongs has also sponsored monks from overseas to visit, and stay at the centre for up to two years. The abbot and the resident monks at the centre are responsible for the religious activities. The centre is administered by a management committee of twenty who are elected by the community every two years. The management committee is responsible for the day-to-day running of the centre and activities such as fund raising and sponsorship of overseas monks. The centre has around 400 members who contribute in a variety of ways ranging from cleaning, making repairs, paying the bills and the daily offerings of food to the abbot and the monks.

The Abbot

After its inauguration, the centre remained at the rented house in St Albans for eight months. However, following complaints by the neighbours to the landlord about noise, the centre relocated to their current premises in St Albans, which is owned by one of the community members. The house has three bedrooms, a shrine room, an office, a kitchen and enough space to accommodate the abbot and the resident monks. The house is too small for most community events; currently these events take place at local community centres. The centre is also restricted to having only two resident monks, which is inadequate in meeting the needs of the growing community at Wat Mai Buddhavongs. In order to overcome these problems and avoid further complaints by neighbours, the community decided to purchase a property which would offer them privacy and adequate space. According to Manivanh Chanla, after discussions about the present needs of the community as well as future directions, the community arrived at the following long-term vision:

We first considered to buy a house of our own in the area, but then we thought that we will face the same problem with the neighbours again and we need a place which offers us privacy. I contacted the council, the bank and the accountants to discuss future directions for the group, and then we decided that what they wanted was not just a temple but a place for the Lao people of Victoria, because we don't have a community place to go to, we don't have a place of our own. We want a place for the lay people, a place for the children, the youth and the elderly where we can meet and learn about not just Buddhism but our culture and language; also a place where parents can meet and where we can offer different activities [...] so instead of going to the casino you go to the temple; we try to bring people to the temple to do the good thing, not the bad thing.

In September 2003 the group purchased a 22 acre property in Rock Bank, approximately 28 kilometres west of Melbourne CBD, where the group intends to set up the first traditional Lao temple to be built in Melbourne. The plans for the new centre include a double story monks' residence, a hall for religious functions and community activities, a shrine room (sim) and a stupa. The construction is due to begin in 2005, pending the local council's approval. The first project will be the building of the monks' residence, which will accommodate up to seven monks and includes a large area on the ground floor which can be used by the lay community. The ground floor will also include accommodation for nuns. This will be mainly for women who take up temporary ordination during the Rains Retreat. The hall which will be large enough to accommodate 150 people will be constructed next, followed by the shrine room and the stupa. The establishment of the new centre will lead to an expansion of the religious and cultural activities that are offered at the centre so that, 'the temple will be a fully functioning temple like those in Laos'. For example, the sim (shrine room) at the new centre will enable the ordination of monks and nuns, which traditionally has to take place in a sim. The New Year celebration is another example; according to Manivanh Chanla, 'In Laos, New Year celebration happens over three days ; currently we can't do this but once we have our own temple we can do this in the traditional way'.

The establishment of the new centre has been encouraged by Ven. Khamphanh Phanthamoutto who believes that the new centre will play an important role for the: preservation of our culture and customs, for worship and practice of Buddhism and also a place of gathering of many children and their children. We will truly have a permanent and traditional Buddhist temple of our tradition in Melbourne, as other states already have their own permanent ones [...] The temple is not just a centre for our religious ceremonies and education, but also for our community services such as cultural functions (Songkan - Lao New Year, Loykathong, etc), sports and youth activities, support for the elderly citizens, [a] teaching centre for Lao language and our beautiful culture and tradition [so that the] heritage of Lao community will be passed on to our children and their children, and many generations after.25

The group relies on members donation of labour and money to support the building of the new centre. Regular working bees are held to maintain the land and members have already donated building materials. The group is active in fundraising and holds monthly fundraising events. The youth group at the centre has also made financial contributions towards the construction of the new centre. The group is also hoping to receive financial assistance from the government towards the building of the hall in the new centre which will be made available to the general public as well as for the Lao community.


Wat Mai Buddhavongs actively supports the varied needs of the Laotian community in the northern suburbs, and contributes to the well being of its members through a range of services and facilities. Wat Mai Buddhavongs recognises that many Lao cultural practices merge with Buddhism, such that it is impossible to separate the two. Therefore, the centre not only promotes Buddhism but it also aims at preserving the Lao art, culture and language.

The religious activities which take place at the centre on a daily basis are morning and evening meditation and prayer service; the lay community regularly takes part in the evening service. There are weekly Dharma classes and meditation groups. The centre has run Dharma classes for children intermittently depending on community interest. Four times a month (once every 18 days, on every Half Moon and Full Moon) the community gathers at the temple to make offering of food to the monks; on these occasions the monks offer meditation and a Dharma talk. The centre also runs an annual retreat. In addition, twice during the Rains Retreat, women have the opportunity to be ordained as nuns for a day and receive Dharma instructions. At the end of each year the centre runs a novice program for boys over the age of seven or eight (or when they are independent enough to look after themselves). This is a popular program, and many young boys in the community follow the tradition of becoming monks for a week. However due to limited space at the centre, the numbers are limited to around five participants. During their temporary ordination the novice monks follow a daily schedule of Buddhist study, chants and meditation and go on an excursion to another Buddhist centre, such as the Bodivana Monastery in Warburton, Victoria.

The temple also fosters a number of cultural activities. Baci and Songkan (or Pimai Lao) are the two main Lao festivals that are celebrated at the centre. The celebration incorporates Lamvong, a slow circular Folk dance, which is taught at the centre. Another aspects of Laotian cultural that is maintained at the centre is respect for the elderly. According to Manivanh Chanla the elderly are involved in the functioning of the centre at all levels:

They put a lot of time in the running and the maintenance of the temple. They also come to the centre to socialise and to learn new skills; [some of] the elderly get very isolated and they bring food for the monk during the day and then stay all afternoon talking to the monk and other people.

Wat Mai Buddhavongs, with the help of the Department of Human Services and the North-West Migrant Resource Centre, runs the Lao Elders Support Group. The centre also offers community information sessions on different topics, such as health and housing.

This is how Ven. Khamphanh Phanthamoutto describes his role as the abbot, and the role of the resident monks within the community:

The temple supports the community and the community supports the temple too. We teach Dhamma to the community. We support people by teaching them to be good Buddhists. It is our duty to teach Buddhist philosophy to the lay people, who as good Buddhists have to follow the monks' instructions. The second task is to help people when there is a crisis like a death in the family or when people are in hospitals; we go and visit the sick person in the hospital and take food for them and visit the sick in their houses. We also visit the elderly in the nursing home, and take food for them.

Wat Mai Buddhavongs is involved in the activities of other Buddhist groups in Victoria. The centre actively supports other Lao and Thai temples and organises excursions to Buddhist temples from different Buddhist traditions. During these events the community offers alms to the monks and the nuns. The monks at Wat Mai Buddhavongs join the sangha at a local Sri Lankan Buddhist centre once a month for alms giving. The group has also joined other Buddhist as well as Christian church groups for the Australia Day celebration.

Brief History of Buddhism

Siddhartha Gautama was born into a royal family in the area around Northern India and Southern Nepal, in 566 BCE. Siddhartha realised at the age of 29 that wealth and luxury did not guarantee happiness, so he explored the different teachings, religions and philosophies of the day, to find the key to lasting human happiness. After six years of study and meditation he finally discovered (not invented) 'the middle path' and gained enlightenment at the age of 35. The title Buddha means ‘the awakened one’. After enlightenment, the Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching until his passing away at the age of 80. The Buddha taught a path to enlightenment (or lasting happiness) from his own experience. His teachings are called ‘the Dharma’, meaning Truth. These teachings later came to be known as Buddhism. His teachings are maintained by the Sangha, the community of monks and nuns.


Wat Mai Buddhavongs