Beautifully crafted wooden models of two dormitories and a temple provided visuals of expansions planned by the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society during their meet-and-greet last Saturday at Hillcrest Church in Montague.

More than 100 people came to the afternoon event, many of them now long-time friends of the monks and nuns and others who just wanted to meet them.

Building permits and approval are pending for construction of one 40,000 square foot and another 47,000 square foot dormitory, which will be used as visitor and student living quarters at the 225 acre Heatherdale site, said GEBIS advisor Floyd Sanderson.

The next phase includes construction of the Grand Temple also beginning this year.

Buddhist philosophy is not to accept money from government, Mr Sanderson said, so funds are raised by parishioners all over the world. The expansion will progress as the money becomes available.

“There could be other construction going on for the next 10 years,” Mr Sanderson said.

The first phase in the Heatherdale construction was of two similar dormitories and provided work for more than 60 Island contractors.

When global spiritual Buddhist Master Zhen-Ru chose PEI for the GEBIS community in 2009 she requested the buildings be designed according to Asian Tang Dynasty style, which presented some challenges for sourcing the right materials and installing them. Thousands of clay tiles for the roofs were shipped here from Japan. They are made from black clay that can withstand the temperature fluctuations on PEI. Because of their weight, a supporting roof is built beneath the tile roof.

For the first buildings, craftsmen from Asia were brought over to work with Island contractors, and local builders are now able to install the tile roofs. “They have mastered it here now so we don’t have to bring people over, which is good because there are so many to be built,” Venerable William said.

“We want to live here so it is not reasonable to out-source materials and workers.”

Concept drawings also show small pergolas or pagodas which are created as places of remembrance. These are dedicated to global masters and teachers and are also personal spaces for honouring the memories of grandparents, parents and other family members.

The Grand Temple will hold 3,000 people and will include lecture halls, classrooms and gathering spaces.

Two dormitories for the nuns will be built on the 433 acre GWBI site in Brudenell.

Essentially, GEBIS is a university, Mr Sanderson said, and currently more than 300 monks and nuns have committed to 14 years of study, resulting in the academic equivalent of a PhD. The dormitories are their homes.

Buddhism is a faith based on logic, science, compassion, tolerance and self discipline, Venerable Walter explained. Studies include comprehensive explorations of other world religions.

“A lot of the teaching is about right standards ... when you know what to do or what not to do. I try to be compassionate to every being.”

The Buddhists are strict vegetarians but he said there is a misconception that because they do not eat animals, including lobsters, they must be against activities that harm them.

“If I am compassionate towards the lobster, I’m also compassionate towards the fisherman,” Venerable Walter said.

“My favourite part of Buddhism is listening to the Master give lessons on how to make daily life better.”

Master Zhen-Ru lives on PEI for six months of the year and travels globally for six.

Venerable Yvonne is in her sixth year with the nuns at Great Wisdom Buddhist Institute. Like many of the monks and nuns she attended a traditional university before taking on the 14-year program.

“The meet-and-greet is the Island way of showing appreciation to our neighbours and we are learning from Islanders how to treat neighbours just like family. Many people are very curious about us.”

Last year GEBIS had 5,000 visitors, including the retreat that brought 1,000 monks, parishioners and family members from around the world. The visitors were anything but reclusive during that retreat, instead taking part in beach and roadside clean-ups and tree planting, Mr Sanderson said.

“They become volunteers when they come here because this is what they believe.”

GEBIS and GWBI continue to offer programs and retreats for teachers, children and others, including a free, six-week, Happy Class, which introduces practical Buddhist teachings, such as how to overcome negative thinking.

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