From the dirt road approaching the Monastery at East Warburton the Buddha Bodhivana Monastery is an impressive sight. The large temple building and the dragon flanked staircase leading up to it have an heir of Majesty that makes you feel that you are arriving at a special place. The extensive grounds are perched in a clearing on the side of a hill at the edge of the forest.
As you enter the grounds it’s notable how neat and well maintained everything is. There are a choice of car parks, and if you are lucky enough to be able to come up on a weekday the visitor carpark is available and the most convenient to the kitchen area where visitors congregate with their offerings.
The monastery is open daily between 9am and 1pm and if you plan to bring something for the Monks to eat and share then it’s best to arrive just before 10am to allow some preparation time. All food donations are accepted both vegetarian and non-vegetarian.
Dishes that share well are best such as rice, stir fry, noodles, curry, salad, desserts etc. Monks are allowed to consume fruit juice, water or cheese in the evenings so these are also good things to bring for them. If you stay for questions after lunch then perhaps what sort of donations to bring is something you might ask.
The monks are forbidden from using money and can’t just pop down to the shops to get things, so they rely on visitors to bring their food and other basic items such as razors, soap, and other supplies.
You will need to remove your shoes before entering any of the buildings so be prepared for that. The kitchen area is modest, but well equipped with enough capacity to prepare food for a large gathering. Posted on the walls is some information about the etiquette of visiting the temple and interacting with the Monks. There are also usually a few more experienced visitors floating around who can also provide some direction if you are feeling a bit lost.
In the kitchen you prepare the food you’ve brought along and get it ready for serving. Just before the monks come to the hall attached to the kitchen, the food is laid out and one of the monks blesses all of the dishes in appreciation of the donors generosity. Then the visitors line up to offer rice to each monk before they take a selection of food up to the Dhamma hall to eat quietly.
While the monks are eating the visitors share in a communal meal and you have a chance to talk to people who come from far and wide to visit the Monastery. Once the meal is finished everybody helps to clean up and then most visitors proceed to the Dhamma hall where a senior monk will be available to answer questions, or provide guidance and insight through a talk. Here you can offer the monks any items that you may have brought along for them and ask them any questions that you may have.
It is worth noting that the Monastery is not a tourist attraction, it’s a functioning Monastery and it’s primary purpose is as a training monastery for Buddhist monks. So if you are going to visit, it is important that you do so with this in mind, as it’s not a place for children to be running around being loud or for taking lots of photos. There is no souvenir shop or guided tour, it’s a real monastery with real Buddhist monks living and practicing there.
It is also a place of quiet reflection and meditation and for the visitors who attend it is an opportunity absorb some of the principles of the Buddha’s teachings and to begin to develop some of these qualities in their own lives. So if you do plan to visit, please take a moment to read the visitors information section of the Monastery’s website beforehand.
What you get out of it is up to you, but I have found that a visit to the Monastery is a humbling experience and one that inspires me to further my own inner journey. The Monastery also offers a lot of written and audio material if you are interested in leaning more about Buddhism and the teachings of Venerable Ajahn Chah and Venerable Ajahn Kalyano the current Abbot of the monastery.
The Buddha Bodhivana Monastery’s official address is 780 Woods Point Rd East Warburton 3799, however to get to the front gate you will need to turn onto Magpie Lane and follow the dirt road around to the left. The monastery’s opening hours are between 9am and 1pm daily.