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Interfaith Library Planned at Australia’s Great Stupa of Universal Compassion

From left: Gyalten Dondrup, Atalla Khawaldeh, Howard Nathan, and Abhishek Awasthi discuss the new interfaith library being built at the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion. Photo by Darren Howe. From bendigoadvertiser.com

The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion near the city of Bendigo, in the Australian state of Victoria, is to become home to an interfaith library of texts and artifacts, including Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, and Jewish volumes, as well as scientific papers. The organizers of the initiative, partially funded by an A$430,717 (US$311,000) grant from the state government, hope that the project will become a magnet for scholars and students of spirituality from around the world.

“All the work started seven years ago but in a very small way, with just a few boxes of donated books,” volunteer librarian Barbara Rozmus explained. “Initially, I was working on my own, just cataloguing the books onto a simple system, and it grew from there.” (ABC News)

According to the organizers, 1,500 texts have already been collected for cataloguing after the library is completed in November. The volumes include 250 texts that have already been uploaded to the stupa’s online library. Religious leaders from the region have lauded the library as a center of learning on spirituality, enlightenment, religion, and science. 

Volunteer librarian Barbara Rozmus. Photo by Tyrone Dalton. From abc.net

“[The library is] developing along with the themes of faith and science. . . . Buddhist books are certainly very well represented in the library, but we also have quite a big section already on interfaith, presenting other faiths,” Rozmus noted. “The very particular angle we are taking is looking at materials, supporting knowledge, but intersection of faith, Buddhism, and science.” (ABC News)

The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion and its interfaith library have been an undertaking 42 years in the making. The stupa’s director, Ian Green, has envisioned founding a leading library on theology and philosophy since the 1980s.

“It was in 1981 that Lama [Thubten] Yeshe said to me that up on that hill up there we [would] have a big stupa, and in this big stupa would be a big temple and a library. So now it is about to become a reality,” Green related. “It will become a resource that scholars and those interested in these particular subjects will actually come along and have a place where they can study. Where they can come here, work on computers, do research, but also they can login remotely as well.” (ABC News)

 The stupa’s director, Ian Green. Photo by Tyrone Dalton. From abc.net.au

At the nearby Atisha Centre, a Vajrayana retreat center and a hub for Buddhist education, director Venerable Gaylten Dondrup expressed hope that the library would also feature older texts dedicated to the Tibetan Lamrim path to enlightenment, as well as autobiographies and historical accounts, such as archival videos of founders Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche at an early age.

“Most people don’t understand most faiths,” Ven. Dondrup said. “So by having a library here, having a bit of access to know what those philosophies are and being able to share those with us, gives everyone a bit more bit more of an understanding.” (ABC News)

Located in Bendigo Valley in central Victoria, Bendigo lies about 150 kilometers northwest of the state capital, Melbourne.

Maree Edwards, member of parliament for Bendigo West, described the  Great Stupa of Universal Compassion as “. . . a welcoming and peaceful place where people from all backgrounds can come together and celebrate their faith.” (Bendigo Advertiser)

“The new library will be an added benefit to those who seek information and religious teachings from across the world,” Edwards said. “We are committed to providing multicultural and multi-faith Victorians access to modern facilities where culture and traditions are celebrated and preserved.” (Bendigo Advertiser)

Ven. Gyalten Dondrup, head of the Atisha Centre. Photo by Tyrone Dalton. From abc.net.au

The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion was the vision of the renowned Tibetan Gelugpa teacher Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935–84). Lama Zopa Rinpoche proposed basing the design of the stupa on the Great Stupa of Gyantse in Tibet. The stupa was completed in January 2020, after 17 years of construction that began in 2003. 

With a 50-square-meter base and standing nearly 50 meters high, the stupa is thought to be the largest in the Western world. The landmark has since become popular destination for Buddhists and tourists, and also hosted a visit by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2007. The stupa houses a 2.5-meter Jade Buddha for Universal Peace statue, reputed to be the largest gem-quality jade Buddha in the world.

“The reason we built [the stupa] was to inspire people to come here and feel peaceful and compassionate, not just a local thing but an international symbol,” said stupa director Ian Green in 2020. “[In 2007], the Dalai Lama said this stupa would be very significant for Tibetan Buddhism and culture, but also he hoped it would be a major centre of interfaith. That has inspired us. It’s a stupa for everyone, no matter your faith.” (Bendigo Advertiser)

According to census data for 2016, Buddhism is the third-largest religion in Australia, with 2.4 per cent of Australia’s population of some 26 million people identifying as Buddhists, just behind Islam at 2.6 per cent, and various Christian traditions, which make up a combined 52.2 per cent. Census data also indicate that Buddhism was the fastest-growing religion in percentage terms, with the number of Buddhists in Australia rising by 79 per cent between 1996 and 2001, in large part due to immigration.

See more

Great Stupa of Universal Compassion
Atisha Centre
Great Stupa of Universal Compassion to construct Interfaith Library thanks for Multicultural Community Infrastructure Fund (Bendigo Advertiser)
Great Stupa of Universal Compassion marks completion of construct by unveiling four-metre finial (Bendigo Advertiser)
Great Stupa of Universal Compassion near Bendigo to host interfaith library of religious texts (ABC News)

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