Definition of Charity

The Australian Federal Government is revising its statutory definition of a charity. Given that most Bddhist organizations operate as charities, this is of concern for the Buddhist community, and the Govt has asked the FABC to offer advice. The webpage is here for anyone who’s interested. It is essential that any new definition should include Buddhism as a charity, as it provides abundant public benefits. In the past there has been some discussion as to whether Buddhism qualifies as a “religion” under Australian law. This is another matter that should be clarified.

What does Australian Buddhism look like?

There’s a discussion going on now among the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils about a new logo. Just a bit of PR, really, but it raises some interesting questions about Buddhism in Australia, and how we go about finding an identity, and expressing that visually.

One suggested logo is a lotus on a map of Australia. I don’t like it: it’s too obvious. And it’s not integrated: take a symbol of Buddhism, put it next to a symbol of Australia, and voila! Instant Oz Buddhism. But it’s really just two separate entities stuck together: “Australia” “Buddhism”, not “Australian Buddhism”.

What’s much more interesting for me is to look at how aspects of Buddhism have genuinely resonated with Australia.

The most obvious thing is “light”. Think of temple names in Australia: Dhammaloka, Buddharamgsee, Aloka. They all mean “light”, and reflect the local Buddhist’s response to Australia’s brilliant sunshine, a light that reflects the light imagery that is so pervasive in Buddhism.

Light is connected with the Dhamma wheel, which originated partly as a solar symbol (the other main symbolic source is the wheel itself, especially the two-wheeled chariots of the Aryans).

One of the common Buddhist flags reflects this imagery. Not the garish multi-colored .modern flag, but a traditional design, often seen in Thailand, of gold background with a red Dhamma wheel in the center.

The red center! Now that’s pretty Australian. The design is also a little reminiscent of the Aboriginal flag, which also has a sun in the center.

I think this is getting to some aspects of what it means to be an Australian Buddhist. There’s a brightness, a relaxed optimism, a morning freshness. There’s also a sense of great space. This is, for me, one of the essential things: we cling to the margins, and somehow we always know there’s a great big empty heart. This is not a negative thing, it’s an openness, a feeling of room to move, where horizons just keep on receding. And they recede over the ground, that great, broad, flat earth.

It is, of course, this sense of place that creates the many
magnificent works of Aboriginal art. It speaks to us, it feels like home, even for the many Australians, like myself, for whom the involvement with indigenous culture and the outback is marginal.

Dots, then; maybe a Dhamma wheel done in dots? Or too obvious?

Or another tack. The Australian crest features a kangaroo and emu facing a shield; not altogether unlike the classic image of the Buddha being served by a monkey and elephant. How about it? A Buddha being attended by a kangaroo and emu? Yes!

Any ideas? What does being an Australian Buddhist mean for you? And for those living elsewhere, how is Buddhism felt in your landscape? How has your place, peiple, story shaped your experience of the Dhamma.