golden mielie fields of Bronkhorstspruit, 40km east of Pretoria,
are a rather unexpected setting for a Buddhist Temple. This
might explain why certain visitors have been attracted to
the ornate Nan Hua Temple thinking it is a casino.
on 15-hectares of land donated to the Taiwanese Fo Guang Shan
(Pure Land) Buddhist Order by the Bronkhorstspruit City Council
in 1992, the temple is the first and only Buddhist seminary
the most unexpected surprise for any visitor is the sight
of the seminary's novices. Drawn from countries as distant
as Brazil, Congo, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Tanzania, and
Zimbabwe, these bald-headed initiates have all come here to
study the Buddhist way of life.
it is not singularly Buddhist history and conduct that is
the lure for many of these young men. For Krugersdorp-born
Andreas Morwe, the seminary initially offered to cater to
his childhood interest in the martial arts. As the 23-year-old,
however, freely admits, his studies soon opened him up to
new insights. "Buddhism is about love and compassion.
Once you realise this, you don't need the things offered by
the martial arts."
came here because I wanted to know about Chinese culture and
language," says Hobi Ramenanaliga. Born in Antananarivo,
Madagascar, the young novice gets to study Mandarin everyday.
Other subjects that underpin his intensive three-year monastic
orientation include chanting, meditation, sutra, computer
studies, physical education and English.
very hard," admits Ramenanaliga. He is not simply
referring to the monastic routine either. "Most of
my family don't accept me being here," he says. "My
mother's side of the family is Catholic, my father's side
novices are free to contact their distant families by letter
or telephone, beginners may not return home during their three-year
to 24-year-old Ramadan Hammed, from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania,
teachers actively discourage contact with families. Purifying
the mind through Buddhist practice is a fundamental precept
on which their training is based, and is viewed as a way of
preparing novices to become committed teachers of Dharma (universal
truth) on the African continent.
don't break down so much as they want to break out," said one third-year novice. Having started out in a class
larger than twenty, he is now one of four novices left from
his year. Filial duties are one of the chief reasons novices
leave, the young men often summoned home to take on the onerous
duty of being breadwinner to a large family.
it is not simply family commitment that prompts novices to
voluntarily leave. The memory of a past life, girlfriends,
drinking; many find it hard to promise themselves never to
indulge in these activities once they have entered the seminary.
is a requirement that all novices renounce their old sense-desire-based
lifestyles, this renunciation symbolically re-enacted in the
annual Head Shaving Ceremony. Held every April, the ceremony
marks the moment first-year novices relinquish all attachments
to a material world. For many it is a sizeable leap of faith,
for example, Tanzanian-born Martinique Bendera effectively
turning his back on a potentially lucrative career as an electrical
the promising novice, however, there is the reward of a further
four years study at one of 16 Fo Kuan Shang Buddhist colleges
in Taiwan. Established by the Venerable Master Hsing Yun,
Pure Land Buddhism is based in Taiwan. It is noted for its
active missionary spirit and emphasis on education. Its Taiwanese
educational colleges aside, the order has also established
the Hsi Lai University in Los Angeles.
Nan Hua Temple represents part of an ambitious new initiative
in Africa. While largely funded by the Fo Guang Shan Order,
the Bronkhorstspruit temple has also benefited from contributions
made by some of South Africa's 14000 resident Taiwanese immigrants.
Buddhism's marked presence in South Africa reflects greatly
on the initiatives of the Asian diaspora currently in the
country. Alongside the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order, other
African Buddhist groupings include Theravda (Burmese
and Vipassana), Zen (the Kwan Um school), Nichiren (especially
Soka Gakkai in Ghana) as well as Tibetan groupings (Kagyupa
its marginalised status in South Africa, Buddhism does claim
a surprisingly long history. The first known Buddhists in
this country were three Thai bhikkhus shipwrecked in Cape
Town in 1686. The arrival of Hindus in KwaZulu-Natal early
in the last century also saw conversions to Buddhism in the
1920s and 1930s.
South Africa's Burmese community, largely immigrant doctors
who helped establish a Buddhist temple in KwaZulu-Natal, the
Fo Guang Shan's plans are markedly more ambitious. The Nan
Hua Temple is a multi-million rand project. The first temple
building, completed in 1996, cost R60-million and currently
serves as a museum, temple and administration office.
main temple, which will only be complete in 2003, is being
constructed at a cost of about R150-million, and will allegedly
be the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere.
whether this new wave of missionary zeal does not unsettle
him, especially given the sad history of religious colonisation
in Africa, novice Andreas Morwe came back with an interesting
reply. "My feeling is that Buddhism is taking us back
to being an African. If
you go back three centuries, you will find that we once ate
natural food and led a simple life in Africa. But because
of Westernisation, or globalisation, we got mixed up. This
is a return to that simple life."