In forest monastery, Buddhist abbot faces Australia bushfire with a smile

In forest monastery, Buddhist abbot faces Australia bushfire with a smile

The Abbot of Sunnataram Forest Monastery, Phra Mana, 56, prays in front of a Buddhist statue near a
The Abbot of Sunnataram Forest Monastery, Phra Mana, 56, prays in front of a Buddhist statue near a burnt forest in Bundanoon, Australia, Jan 21, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Angie Teo)

BUNDANOON, Australia: Buddhist monk Phra Mana helped build his bush monastery with his bare hands three decades ago, but when Australia's worst wildfires in generations threatened to destroy it he stood up to fate with a smile.

An inferno ripped through the forest surrounding the Sunnataram Monastery in New South Wales two weeks ago and, after being evacuated, he and his fellow monks could do nothing but pray.

"I have never seen branches behave like this in the past 30 years," the Bangkok-born abbot said, describing how dry the land was. "So when the heat came, it just burnt so quick."

This season's bushfires have razed an area equivalent to half of the UK, killed millions of animals, devastated rural communities and cost farmers and vintners their livelihoods.

READ: Threatened species hit hard by Australia's bushfires

READ: Forget a ‘new normal’: Experts say Australia’s worst bushfires still lie ahead

The Abbot of Sunnataram Forest Monastery, Phra Mana, 56, looks at the ruins of a burnt female dormi
The Abbot of Sunnataram Forest Monastery, Phra Mana, 56, looks at the ruins of a burnt female dormitory in Bundanoon, Australia, Jan 21, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Angie Teo)

At the monastery, which around 50 to 60 volunteer firefighters were dispatched to defend, only a few buildings and water tanks were lost.

True to his religion, Phra Mana has been able to accept the damage with equanimity.

"Wildfires are normal in Australia's bushland," the 56-year-old said as he strolled around the scorched compound in orange robes. "As long as our faith and morale remain strong, we are prepared to face it."

The Buddha statues gracing the compound still stand, and now the monks have added a message spelling out "Thank you Firey", addressed to the firefighters.

But the monastery remains under threat as a nearby forest continues to smoulder. "We are prepared. At the same time, we accept," Phra Mana said.

Source: Reuters/zl

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