“For the past three days I’ve been a guest at the Than Hsiang Temple, in Penang in Northern Malaysia. It's my fourth or fifth visit here, and I have never regretted visiting so often. For me, the Temple is one of the most inspiring places of 'engaged' Buddhism I've ever been to. It comes very close to what I imagine to be FWBO to be at its best ... and in certain ways more.
“To call Than Hsiang a 'temple' may be slightly misleading since, besides some of the meditation halls images that one would expect to find in a temple from the Chinese Mahayana tradition, it includes a number of welfare and right livelihood projects as well, all integrated into one large building. Among other things there’s a kindergarten, an old folks home, a centre for counselling, and a vegetarian canteen. The Than Hsiang foundation is headed by the Venerable Wei Wu who, as a student in New Zealand, had some contact with the FWBO – and later, when Urgyen Sangharakshita visited Malaysia, translated for him.
“Over the last few years, the foundation has expanded rapidly. It now includes a number of Buddhist student hostels (which they call Kalyana Mitra homes), urban and retreat centres in various parts of Malaysia, and even a Buddhist College across the border in Thailand – across the border because Malaysia is a constitutionally Muslim country, and so no permission would be given to establish a Buddhist college in Malaysia itself. The approach to studies at the college is clearly ecumenical, with one major objective being to train monks and lay people from mainland China and other countries to work as Dharmadutas, or messengers of the Dharma.
“People here are very interested in the FWBO approach - they feel they can learn from us, in particular from our experience in building Sangha and our approach to Team Based Right Livelihood. Not surprisingly, I was invited to meet various groups of volunteers for some input followed by lively discussions. For our part, there is a lot we can learn from Than Hsiang and the people working there — not the least in the area of communication with the wider society and hence finding support for our work.
“I'm here for another three days, including a weekend seminar on psychological type and Dharma practice, and then I'll be off to Beijing. It’s been very hot, with tremendous rain – but now there’s a lovely breeze with drizzle drifting in the air and mist hanging at the mountain slopes”.