Chung Tian Temple
1034 Underwood Road, Priestdale, QLD 4127
Gary Zikking is a part of the Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA) of Queensland, who run activities within the Chung Tian Temple in Priestdale.
Part of the Foguanshan Buddhist order originating in Taiwan under Venerable Master Hsing Yun, the Chung Tian Temple is focused on Humanistic Buddhism, which belongs to the people – not just reclusive monastic orders. The BLIA was also established by Venerable Master Hsing Yun. The volunteer led organisation runs libraries, temples and free health clinics around the world in over 200 locations including the City of Logan.
Gary has been a part of the Queensland branch for many years now and from 2016 to 2020 was the President of the organisation, which helps deliver many of the activities day in, day out at the Temple.
Gary first became involved at Chung Tian Temple when he began to consider the benefits of meditation twenty years ago. He found a small ad in the local newspaper offering classes.
“There was a phone number, but I just turned up,” he smiles. “The Temple was a lot smaller then. I pressed the buzzer at the gate and a gruff voice answered. I said, ‘I’m here for the meditation classes.’ They told me to come back the next day. I came back the next day and I’ve been involved ever since.”
Gary met his wife Sandra at her sixteenth birthday party in Sydney, where they both grew up. Three years later as they prepared to marry, 22 year-old Gary enrolled in the army. They fast tracked their wedding so he could take up his first posting in Darwin where they began to build their life together.
Trained in nursing and as a field medic, Gary eventually became a Sergeant in the Medical Core. He was a member of the last unit deployed to Vietnam, where he served for nine months.
He remained in the army for six years, before declining a post to Malaysia so they could return south with their young family and settle in the Blue Mountains.
He then joined the Katoomba Ambulance Service and spent fourteen years as a first responder in his local community. After attending so many traumatic events, the loss of a friend in a bad accident would be the catalyst for him to reconsider his career direction. Taking three months off as he considered his options, he engaged with the Vietnam Veterans Affairs Counselling Service. Between time in a warzone overseas and then time responding to so many difficult situations as a paramedic, he realised he was burnt out and experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).
A few years later, Gary and Sandra moved up to the City of Logan to be closer to family members who needed support. Before moving north, a friend had given Gary a copy of the Dalai Lama’s ‘The Art of Happiness’ which planted initial seeds of curiosity in him around the practice and benefits of meditation.
Gary gave himself nine months to learn how to meditate through the classes offered at the Temple, where he learnt how to reflect on responses to daily life. He found it so beneficial to his day-to-day life as he worked to process what he had lived and worked through, he continued to attend.
“I was doing the meditation classes and I was feeling comfortable. But I realised there was something more to meditation than just sitting. I wanted to know what this whole edifice was for.”
Gary’s exploration of Buddhism saw him eventually decide to take his own vows and commit to upholding five key precepts in his daily life. He would eventually be appointed as a Dharma teacher, sharing the teaching of the Buddha with students coming to the Temple.
“I have been teaching for fifteen years now. This is my first sabbatical,” he speaks of the break he is currently taking from the majority of his activities at the Temple while he takes some time to support his wife of fifty-three years through medical treatment.
Visitors are welcome at any time during the hours the Temple is open to the public, however the BLIA volunteers recommend pre-booking a guided tour through the spaces including the Main Shrine, meditation rooms and Pagoda.
“Tours were one of the first things I did at the Temple and it is still the most rewarding. For a tour of the Temple try and allow about two hours,” Gary recommends.
Activities such as meditation classes, participation in a Tea Ceremony or learning calligraphy – a popular option for the many school groups that also come through – are also available if pre-booked.
“Everyone comes to the Temple for meditation. There are many forms of meditation though, not just sitting. Walking meditation, sitting meditation, tea meditation. Anything you think of can be a meditation. It’s about being mindful and present.”
The Temple in Priestdale was first built in 1993 in response to the growing population of Taiwanese and mainland Chinese residents living on the southside. The Temple is currently undergoing a new chapter of construction, with a large Pilgrim Lodge and new main shrine emerging behind the existing facilities. When completed, it will be the biggest Buddhist Temple in Australia, with all fundraising for the project led by the volunteers of the members of BLIA Queensland.
The Chung Tian Temple also welcomes visitors for key cultural events throughout the year including Chinese New Year and the annual Buddha Birthday Festival.
To discover more about the activities at the Chung Tian Temple and to plan your visit go to chungtian.org.au
Author: Jacqueline Bawtree 2021 for Logan City Council.