Touring my backyard: The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion

A silver glint flickers above the tree-line between Woodvale and Marong. It’s been there for years, sitting in the distance. My parents always mention it being the top of a massive Buddhist temple. So we pass it on drives along Allies Road. It’d continue to come up in conversations every now and then, but no one in my family had ever actually set foot on the grounds. There wasn’t really a reason for us to go — my main connection to religion is my Anglican baptism… which didn’t really stick.

My curiosity about this massive tourist destination finally got the better of me, and I arrived at the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion. And it’s massive.

The interfaith capital of Victoria

Don’t let your eyes deceive you. Despite the grand visual of the Great Stupa, it’s not yet complete. It sits at the back of a massive garden featuring smaller statues and relics, and the grounds are still being added to. Construction is ongoing as funds continue to come in.

The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion, being built near Bendigo Australia, is 50 metres square at its base and nearly 50 metres high. This makes it the largest stupa in the Western World.

Great Stupa of Universal Compassion

And it’s sitting in Bendigo’s back yard.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to enter the Great Stupa due to COVID-19 restrictions at the time, but visitors are welcome to enter the grounds as usual. I took a stroll along the walking trail — a self guided tour you can take with a little information provided by the stupa’s staff. There are twelve stops along the walking tour, intermingled by multi-cultural creations and a dash of modern acknowledgements.

For example, the Ganesh Temple, though built in honour of Ganesh in in traditional Nepalese style, it’s dedicated to all children who’ve passed away from brain cancer.

Nearby is the Quan Yin Grotto, Four Harmonious Friends, and the Bahai Star. Quan Yin is seven metres tall, a life-like statue made in Vietnam and hand-painted at the stupa. Its the whitest outdoor figure I’ve ever seen, well-taken care of. To her right is a life-size statiue of the four brothers representing an important Buddhist teaching — it was created in Thailand.

Up the hill to the Great Stupa

Prayer wheels are built into the external walls of the Great Stupa. The prayer wheels make no noise when you spin them — which I admit, is something I expected. Each wheel is said to contain 20 million ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ mantras, and spinning the wheels in a clockwise direction is said to release compassionate energy into the park, for the world. I, however, did not feel compassion, but an intense satisfaction in being one with the park.

I recognise how suspicious that sounds to proper atheists, though, so I give you permission to believe my satisfaction came from the OCD compulsion of spinning the wheels clockwise.

There are dozens upon dozens of prayer wheels, but here are a few to appreciate.

The yellow skirting flapping in the wind sounds like someone running nearby. It caught me a couple times, but rest assured, no one runs around the stupa. Except maybe Buddhists late for tea.

The peace park

The Golden Thai Buddha, Heart Sutra wall, the wishing well, and Ik Oankaar are all immediately accessible in an open-plan park. Each area is its own little place of being. Each one has an element originating outside of Australia: the Golden Thai Buddha was supplied by a benefactor (and it’s eyes were pained by a Tibetan artist); the Heart Sutra Wall is carved from granite in Vietnam (one side of the wall is in English, the other in Vietnamese); the Ik Oankaar is the first of its kind in Australia.

Then, shoved off in a far corner is Saint Francis of Assasi — the Catholic area shoved away for a rainy day. It sits in stark contrast against the bright golds, whites and silvers of the parks, a humble brown in the corner. He’s waiting to be joined by another faith in the future.

I’ve been, I’ve seen, I bought.

The Great Stupa’s shop is stocked with all sorts of gifts, incense, and more. I left the shop with a chakra candle (…I collect candles…), a wrist mala, and a key ring (which I also collect), and a pen for my pen-collecting mother.

The peace park is a fantastic place to sit quietly. There are no crowds, the atmosphere is settled. You’re encouraged to partake in meditation or quiet contemplation during your visit.

You do not need to be a Buddhist, or even religious, to visit the Great Stupa.

The Great Stupa is run as a not-for-profit organisation that offers a place of peace and harmony for all beings.

The Great Stupa

They also host a few festivals and events — one which I’m super disappointed I missed, being the ILLUMIN8 event, which was cancelled (thanks VicGov). Definitely going to keep my eye out for it, because it looks like an awesome time.

If you live in Bendigo, go see the Great Stupa. Entry is free. It’s a wonderful, peaceful experience, with some amazing creation

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