Chronicle of the Big Buddha of Buddha Mandala Monastery

In the last century, when Master Yuan Fan (Master) left the island of Pulau Ubin to propagate Dharma in mainland Singapore, he thought of having a big Buddha Sakyamuni statue to represent The Root Guru. In mid-1993, he began making trips to Myanmar to search for a jade stone, to sculpture the big Buddha statue and to make one reclining Buddha statue (14-feet long), three medium-sized Buddha statues (about 9 feet high) and 3,000 small Buddha statues. These Buddha statues were gradually brought to Singapore in 1995 with the exception of the big Buddha, which encountered several delays.

Master was cheated thrice in the arduous process of sculpturing and placing the big Buddha. In the first instance in 1996, Master followed the sculptor to the mine and selected a jade stone. In following year, the selected jade stone was sold by the sculptor to a Taiwan Buddhist organization. In 1997, Master flew to Yangon to view the newly sculptured Buddha statue. He was very satisfied with it but the sculptor went back on his words and sold it away again. Finally in 1999, on the face of the completed Buddha statue was an obvious line, stretching from the left of the forehead all the way down to the chin. Upon seeing this, Master naturally refused to accept it.

Since 1993, Master made a total of 16 trips to Myanmar. During these trips, he got acquainted with some local businessmen and through their assistance; he reported the cheating incidents to the Intelligence Bureau. At the end of 1999, through the connections of a Singapore businessman Michael Chang, who had investments in Myanmar, Master led a group of devotees to a temple in Mandalay (city which produces jade Buddhas) to make offerings to a thousand monks. The abbot of this temple is a highly respected monk who is not only well versed in the Theravada school’s Tripitaka Sutra; he can also recite the whole Sutra from memory. During this trip, Master learned that the sculptor was ultimately sued by the Military Intelligence Bureau for repeatedly using the same cheating tactics; he was imprisoned for five days. His last attempt was selling a Buddha statue to Thailand.

In 2000, Master visited the mine again and selected a huge piece of jade stone as material for sculpturing. During this same period, he visited the abbot twice in Mandalay to make offerings. On the advice of the abbot, Master hired a local police at the cost of US$100 per month over a period of eight months to protect the big Buddha statue from further mishap. Finally in 2001, the sculpting was completed and the big Buddha statue was shipped smoothly from Yangon to Singapore.

However, upon arrival in Singapore, the big Buddha statue was not allowed to be placed at Sagaramudra Buddhist Institute as planned due to strict government regulations and restrictions (BCA). As a result, it had to be temporarily placed in a shipyard owned by a devotee, Mr Tan. 90% of Mr Tan’s shipyard workers were from Myanmar and they had great respect for the big Buddha. They not only made daily offerings of fresh flowers and fruits, they even built an iron structure with tent to shield the big Buddha from rain and shine. The big Buddha sat quietly in the shipyard for a few years before being shipped to Buddha Mandala Monastery in Chittering, Western Australia in the first quarter of 2005.

At the time of purchasing the property for Buddha Mandala Monastery, Master was recuperating from his second surgery. He not only had to handle the cumbersome Australian government’s application procedures to build a monastery there, he also had to face the situation of scarce funding (which was the major challenge). Fortunately, with an economic recovery and a rising stock market in 2007, a devotee made a generous donation of two million; this enabled the construction process to continue. After going through numerous obstacles and challenges, the big Buddha statue was officially erected in 2008. The monastery was named “Buddha Mandala Monastery” to commemorate the big Buddha.

The big Buddha is almost nine meter tall and weighs fifty tons; together with the lotus seat, it weighs 60 tons. The placement work required a strong foundation and two large cranes, with capacities of 100 ton and 200 ton each (to lift the statue). Due to its sheer size, construction of the Great Buddha Hall can only begin after the placement of the statue. Two problems arose after the completion of the Great Buddha Hall. The first being the statue was slanted to the right by about 10 cm, thereby requiring realignment. The other problem was the second section of the roof top was too low, resulting in the big Buddha’s outlook being obstructed. A person standing outside the main entrance cannot see the big Buddha’s face either. Upon knowing these problems, one of the devotees (Mr Ho Whye Chong) proposed raising the roof top by 1.5 meters and thus reconstruction work commenced in 2011. At the same time, a local electrical engineer, David, used four Air jets and skillfully raised the right side of the statue by 11 cm (one cm higher to accommodate the downward pressure from its mass). The big Buddha was finally placed successfully facing the east.

The big Buddha at Buddha Mandala Monastery gestures Earth-touching mudra. Its extrinsic value lies in the fact that it was being sculptured from a single piece of complete jade stone. The Australian government named the big Buddha as The Southern Hemisphere’s largest Sitting Jade Buddha. In early 2012, the Great Buddha Hall was officially approved for use. Currently, many Buddhists from the Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana sects were attracted to Buddha Mandala Monastery to revere the big Buddha. People from different ethnic groups, including ethnic Chinese (China, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia), Burmese, Thai, Tibetan as well as local Australians heard and visited the monastery too.

Today, the big Buddha sits straight in Chittering’s Buddha Mandala Monastery, towering amid the blue skies and white clouds. Its posture emits a sense of stability, its features dignified yet tranquil. It emanates an air of compassion and authority. It radiates a strength that is magnanimous and natural. One is filled with reverence and a sense of closeness when one looks at the big Buddha. It represents eternity. May the light of Buddhism shine forever, benefiting all sentient beings.