History

Dhamma Bhumi

Dhamma Bhumi means Dhamma soil or Dhamma land. The land includes over 40 acres of flowering heath and eucalyptus forest on the edge of an escarpment in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Just outside the town of Blackheath in the Blue Mountains, within walking distance of the railway station, it has the attraction of excellent rail and road connections with Sydney. It also has great natural beauty, commanding magnificent views of the cliffs opposite and valley below. It is frequented by a variety of native birds, including some very colourful rosellas, and sometimes ducks and wallabies.

Goenkaji first came to Australia in 1980, and the original centre land was donated the following year. During his 1982 visit Goenkaji inspected, accepted, and approved it as a suitable place for a meditation Centre. A date for the first course, to be given by Goenkaji, was set for late in 1983, so there was a deadline.

Laying the foundations

Laying the foundations at Dhamma Bhumi, 1983
Laying the foundations at Dhamma Bhumi, 1983

Planning consent was granted very easily by the Blue Mountains City Council to a very informal development application. A meditator architect offered his firm’s services to develop the detailed building plans. However Council then attached much tougher conditions to the Building Application consent. The Centre could not be used until completed, and a section of public road leading to the Centre would have to be sealed at the Centre expense.

Part of the land was bulldozed for the buildings, and a dam was built. The first major priority was then to fence the land, which proved extraordinarily difficult. Months later, when only the main gate remained to be put in, a sand delivery truck deposited its load right on the site of the gate! The task was finally completed in time.

The framework

Building the frame for the first meditation hall

Building the frame for the first meditation hall

Work now began in earnest to build the Centre. The land had not been built on before, and Dhamma Bhumi was the first Western Centre to be built like this. The initial budget for the first three buildings of Centre was $64,250. Part of this was provided by the sale of a Dhamma house in Sydney.

It was assumed that meditators would provide almost all of the labour and with Goenkaji’s permission, four old Western students were flown out from Dhammagiri to form the core of the building team. They arrived in April 1983.

This first phase was built over about seven months in 1983, during a bitter winter, largely by the handful of students who gave their time for the project. Despite a number of setbacks, it was prepared just in time for the first two courses conducted by Goenkaji.

Comments from the workers

The meditators’ own words below tell their story.

Smoko

A well-earned break

“There were a number of incidents where things happened surprisingly easily, as if Dhamma wanted it to happen, just made it happen; and at other times there were abnormal, unreal difficulties.”

“We were working through the winter of months. Blackheath is in the mountains. It’s extremely cold. Sometimes those workers… were having to break the ice before they could start work. It was very, very tough conditions.”

This ground is hard

This ground is hard

“Wind was pretty constant throughout the winter actually… clear skies but the wind just came roaring up the valley and it was freezing.

I can remember… for a full week it didn”t get above two degrees.”

“The first major job we had to do was putting the foot-holes in for the buildings… two hundred and fifty on the meditation hall and something like 200 on the dormitory… with crow bars through heavy rock and each hole would take half an hour or sometimes an hour to dig two or three foot… eventually the post hole digger arrived… we thought – salvation!

There was no electricity to the site, so a generator was bought for the power tools. Because there was no shelter on the land, a house was rented for the workers in the town of Blackheath. Later another was made available by a meditator.”

Unusual difficulties

Unusual difficulties were experienced with most service connections. Because mains sewage was not available to the land, a decision was made instead to pump back to the mains, about 400 metres down the road. The application to do this was delayed and then apparently lost by the authority. Finally a meeting with the Board’s Publicity Officer enabled a rapid processing of the application.

Another problem involved the application to lay a sewage pipe down Station St, the street which the Centre had been asked to upgrade at its own expense. This application was refused, but in the end a meeting with the Town Clerk resolved the problem.

The working team varied from a minimum of three or four, to over 20, especially in the late stages of the project. Some comments from them:

“I was coming up only in weekends. It was actually an enjoyable time. It was a lot easier to go home than to stay. [That] was very hard. In one sense, they were doing the work continually. They worked very hard… they were continually in all the worst situations.”

Group sitting

Group sitting

“People worked six days a week and as the project neared completion people went from working eight hours a day to 12 hours a day and to [more]… it was tremendous.”‘