With flourishing communities from diverse cultural backgrounds, the harbor city of Sydney has become a dharmic melting pot. Buddhism is one of the fastest growing religions in Australia thanks to immigration and new converts, and the natural beauty of Sydney and its surroundings offer some of the best sites for reflection and contemplation.
The sprawling metropolitan area has something for everyone, with myriad Buddhist centers, temples, and cultural sites from a huge range of backgrounds and traditions, while some of the region’s most breathtaking Buddhist destinations for retreat or pilgrimage are just a day trip away.
1.| Chinese Garden of Friendship
In Darling Harbour, the Chinese Garden of Friendship is an oasis from the downtown district known for its nightlife and waterfront views of the Sydney Opera House. Established in 1988 through a collaboration between Chinese and Australian architects and landscapers, the garden has a naturalistic look based on the principles of yin-yang (opposing yet complementary forces) and wuxing (the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water). The design “is a metaphor for meditation,” says Sydney-based Insight Meditation teacher Winton Higgins. “Its paths snake around and over water that when peered into reveals strange submarine creatures—much like the meditative mind itself.”
2.| Winhangadurinya space
Indigenous contemplative practices have been a source of inspiration for many Australian Buddhist practitioners. About a 17-minute walk east of the Chinese Garden, the Winhangadurinya space at the Australian Museum offers insights into a spiritual history that continues to inform Buddhism in Australia. Winhangadurinya means deep listening, reflection, or meditation in the Wiradyuri language, and this healing and reflection space was created by First Nations Elders and community members for visitors to reflect on our spiritual connection to the earth and each other and to face the pain of invasion and genocide.
1 William Street
3.| Maha Bodhi bookstore
If you’re on a budget, skip gift shops and head down to Maha Bodhi. The quaint bookstore offers a wide range of books, art, and religious objects across traditions. What’s most impressive is what you don’t have to buy: their shelves are stocked with every kind of free-distribution Buddhist literature, much of which is available in multiple languages. If you get lost, the friendly owner is sure to point you in the right direction.
Shop 2/242 Elizabeth Street
4.| Monks on Alms Rounds
Fans of people-watching will want to see orange-robed monks collecting spoonfuls of rice on alms rounds (pindapata). Bodhikusuma Buddhist & Meditation Centre hosts morning alms rounds through Thaitown on the last Saturday of each month. Bring food to offer the monks and then join the sangha for a blessing and communal lunch at the center—or enjoy the offerings in Thaitown or adjacent Chinatown. Busy on Saturdays? Venture west to the suburbs of Harris Park, where the residents of Lokanta Vihara go on rounds each weekday morning, beginning at 11:00.
5.| Buddhist Library
The Buddhist Library and Meditation Centre nestled in hip Newtown is a hub of Buddhist community and learning. The humble loft space hosts a wealth of Buddhist resources as well as community gatherings, meditation and yoga classes, and workshops. It’s the perfect jumping-off point to a diverse selection of Buddhist places of interest within a half-hour walk, including the Sydney Buddhist Centre, Sydney Zen Centre, Bodhi Books, Wat Buddharangsee, and Tibet House.
90–92 Church Street, Newtown
6.| Metta Centre
Metta Centre sits closer to the geographical heart of Sydney, which places it 12 miles west of the central business district, in a region more indicative of the city’s full cultural breadth. Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, and Tibetan Buddhist temples dot the area, but Metta Centre is a great place to start; it offers a welcoming space where teachers and groups from different lineages often gather to host events and teach courses, many of which are free.
2/7-9 Cross Street, Bankstown
Within a short trip from Sydney are even more exciting Buddhist sites.
7.| On the South Coast, Nan Tien Temple, a branch of the Taiwanese Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order, is noteworthy for its architecture, borrowing elements from Chinese palaces, Japanese gardens, Tibetan art, and the color schemes of Southeast Asia.
8.| For a wilderness setting, head north to the heart of Dharug National Park for a retreat at one of the country’s oldest Buddhist monasteries, Wat Buddha Dhamma, which the German nun Ayya Khema cofounded in 1978. Alternatively, in the Southern Highlands, the nuns of Santi Forest Monastery welcome visitors to stop by for a few hours, and they also accept applications for a short stay.
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