Buddhists find calm in Dubai villa
Reverend Narammala Santhagawesie Thero and Reverend Hunnasgiriye Piyasumana Thero during a sermon at the Mahamevnawa Buddhist Temple.-Photo by Dhes Handumon
Dubai - Close to 300,000 Buddhists have been living peacefully and cordially in the UAE for decades.
At a villa in Jumeirah on a Tuesday morning, a group of Sri Lankan expats - men, women, boys and girls - all dressed in white were deep in meditation. Heads bowed and hands clasped in prayer, they were chanting sutras or verses from ancient Buddhist canons.
Right in the hustle and bustle of the city, the two-storey, three-bedroom villa has become the centre of Mahamevnawa Buddhism in Dubai since May 2012. It is actually the only Buddhist temple in the region, according to Sri Lankan expat Rubesh Pillai, a volunteer who helps run the Buddhist shrine.
Buddhism is considered the fourth-largest belief in the world after Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. According to Pillai, "close to 300,000 Buddhists have been living peacefully and cordially in the UAE for decades, around 250,000 of them are from Sri Lanka".
"This proves that the UAE is not just tolerant, the country is very welcoming to other faiths as well. I'm sure even Pope Francis, on his upcoming visit to country, will be surprised by the warm welcome he will receive," Pillai told Khaleej Times.
"For me, being tolerant is not the exact phrase to describe how the UAE has been to people from various cultures, beliefs and tradition. Tolerance often means you are facing something distasteful and you allow or endure it. The UAE actually cherishes and fosters anyone and everyone," he added.
"The UAE has looked after us and allowed us to freely practise our belief."
The first Mahamevnawa Buddhist temple was established at a small villa in Satwa in 2008. Starting strong with hundreds of Buddhists, the congregation grew quickly and found a bigger place in Garhoud in 2010. Then in 2012, it moved to its present location in Jumeirah, behind the former Dubai Zoo.
The temple is open every day to anyone who wants to meditate. From the outside, it looks similar to the rows of white-painted villas across Jumeirah.
There are no special markings at its facade. Once you get in, however, you would be welcomed by the waft of incense drifting through the air and a lush green bodi tree that provides the perfect meditation shade.
"Anyone can come - Muslims, Christians, Hindus, or any other religions," said Pillai. "Our location is very accessible and the busiest day of the week is Friday, when the crowd swells to thousands. Buddhists from across the country come to meditate, make offerings to Buddha, and listen to the monks."
People donate food for the monks while the upkeep and rent for the temple is shared by the Buddhist expatriates. Pillai added that they are looking for a place to build a big Buddhist temple in Dubai.
He said that Buddhism, at its core, is not a religion but a way or philosophy of life. "There are no restrictions in Buddhism. It merely states that when you do something, there will be a repercussion. It's the cause-and-effect philosophy."
Another Sri Lankan expat and Dubai resident, Gayan Thushara Herath, 36, said: "Buddha is not a god, but we follow the path he has shown to humanity."
"Meditation helps. Whenever I'm in a stressful situation, I do 'bhavana' (breathe in, breathe out) to release the stress. Even scientists have proven that meditation is good for the body and it enriches the mind and gives more meaning to life," he added.