By Rinzin Wangchuk

In a show of unity and shared devotion to Buddhist beliefs, hundreds of Bhutanese residents of Canberra gathered at the Bhutanese Buddhist and Cultural Centre (BBCC) on Wednesday to commemorate the Treldha Tshechu.

This significant occasion, which marks the birth anniversary of Guru Rinpoche, brought together community members affiliated with a growing number of chhoetshogs (religious associations). However, beneath the surface, a fracture in their unity has emerged as various religious associations are being established. This development poses a challenge, some say, to the realisation of the proposed Druk Namgyel Chhoeling, a planned Bhutanese temple that has received the blessings of the Zhung Dratshang.

Bhutanese Buddhist and Cultural Centre

The initiative for the centre was conceived in 2017 when Dorji Lopon of Zhung Dratshang visited Canberra. “During his visit, we appealed to Dorji Lopon to establish a Buddhist and cultural centre,” says Chencho Tshering, the president of the centre.

Subsequently, the centre was officially established as the Druk Namgyel Chhoeling Buddhist Centre, becoming the primary community hub under the guidance of Letshog Lopon Sangay Dorji, who visited the capital city in 2019. Since then, all Bhutanese individuals residing in Canberra and neighbouring cities have automatically become members of the centre, according to Chencho Tshering.

To promote Bhutanese culture and Buddha Dharma in a foreign land, the centre provides a range of community services to Bhutanese individuals, actively assists in organising rituals and ceremonies, and conducts classes on Dzongkha (the national language) and Bhutanese culture every Saturday.

Last year, His Holiness the Je Khenpo appointed a Lam in Canberra, formally solidifying the establishment of the Druk Namgyel Chhoeling Buddhist Centre.

According to Chencho Tshering, the next step is to establish a community lhakhang, which the Bhutanese community in Canberra will run and have ownership of. “Once the temple is built, our community will have direct access to it, symbolising unity among Bhutanese individuals,” he says. “Both the Central Monk Body and the Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Canberra have wholeheartedly supported this initiative.”



However, a new trend has emerged. Bhutanese Canberrans say that with an increasing number of Rinpoches visiting Canberra, establishing chhoetshogs has become the primary focus for many community members. This shift in priorities has affected fundraising efforts for the construction of the BBCC. The centre does not receive financial support from the Zhung Dratshang.

Today, the centre operates from a rented apartment. Chencho Tshering says they are in search for patronage to cover expenses such as rent, electricity, water bills, and services. There is, according to a member of the BBCC, no intention to seek funds from the government. “This will be a community-driven project, which is precisely why we need the support of the community,” he says.

Chencho Tshering says that the vision for a common centre was to establish a shared space to unite all Bhutanese, irrespective of their affiliations. “We aspire to nurture our collective identity and preserve our rich Bhutanese heritage,” says Chencho Tshering. But the centre’s dependence on donations from the community makes fund-raising an uphill task.

Within the Canberra community, some say that there are now two separate lhakhang projects, which they say have led to a stark division, contradicting the intent of fostering unity.

“The resources and contributions that could have been pooled together for a collective endeavour are now divided. Consequently, both initiatives struggle to garner the necessary support,” says a community member working as a sales assistant.

In addition to the challenges of fund-raising, members of the community express concerns of fragmentation of the community along chhoetshog lines. “Each chhoetshog has attracted followers based on sectarian views or devotion to specific teachers,” says one. The consequences of this fragmentation, he warns, could deepen division within our already small Bhutanese community.”

Another Bhutanese student pointed out that a few individuals and devotees of a Rinpoche are attempting to build another lhakhang without considering the consequences of their actions. “Pursuing objectives exclusively for a minority group will undermine the unity of our community and sever the connection between future Bhutanese generations and Bhutan,” he says.

Many believe that for a small community, one Lhakhang or centre should be sufficient. “Imagine eight chhoetshogs or associations vying for eight centers and eight lhakhangs within a community of about 4,000 individuals. Such a situation breeds competition that erodes the very essence of Bhutanese unity.”

Asked about the concerns of divisions in the community, the President of the Australia Bhutan Association of Canberra, Dorji Tshering, says the association supports the establishment of the BBCC and the Bhutanese temple as it is in line with the Royal Vision of His Majesty The King to promote and preserve Bhutan’s spiritual and cultural heritage.

“The association will work closely with the BBCC to build a Bhutanese Temple in the near future. It is important that we implement all measures necessary to keep our community united and harmonious and also to be able to hand over our spiritual and cultural heritage to our children intact, “ he added.



Representatives of chhoetshogs say they would support the initiative of the Buddhist centre.  Tshering Dukpa, a member of Druk Dewachen Chhoetshog associated with Tang Rinpoche, says that as a private entity, they cannot provide religious services to all Bhutanese residing in Australia. Tshering Dukpa believes that the centre initiated by Zhung Dratshang and the government would cater to the needs of not only Bhutanese in Canberra but the entire community in Australia.

 “We will be like monkeys, not knowing where we come from,” says Leko of the Dujdom Dharma House in Canberra, stressing the importance of one Buddhist centre for all Bhutanese in Australia. “When residing in a foreign land, we need a Buddhist centre for Bhutanese. Such an initiative will help us preserve and pass down our rich culture and heritage to our children.” 

Clarifying what he calls misinformation on the Kharchu Centre constructing a temple in Canberra, Tsheten Dorji says that the Kharchu Centre has no plans for a temple. “It is 100 percent not true,” he said. “While every chhoetshog wants to have  a small centre to host visiting lams and Rinpoches, there is no possibility of building temples.”

Tsheten said that while devotees of different groups have the right to follow their teacher, everybody should come together to support the initiative of the Druk Namgyel Chhoeling.