Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Living spiritual masters big attraction for Christian-raised singer

The increasing profile of the Dalai Lama is factor in growing popularity of Buddhism.

Junelle Groves now goes regularly to the Dorje Chang Institute.  Photo / Steven McNicholl
Junelle Groves now goes regularly to the Dorje Chang Institute. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Having reincarnated spiritual masters was one of the main attractions of Buddhism for Auckland-born, Christian-raised singer Junelle Groves.

"Christians have Jesus, and Jesus obviously has passed away and they constantly make references to him and he's an amazing being," said the 28-year-old.

"But for us, we are fortunate to have the Dalai Lama and amazing masters in the flesh to go to and to experience."

Miss Groves, who describes herself as "three-quarters European, one quarter Maori", follows the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, one of three major schools of Buddhism in New Zealand.

Its religious head, the Dalai Lama, is believed by devotees of the faith to be the rebirth of a long line of spiritual high priests.

"Even being around them makes you more mindful," Miss Groves said.

"So you have your teachings and your texts that you can study from and then you have real-time people who you can spend time with and to really witness in this day and age."

Since her conversion, Miss Groves has met the Dalai Lama five times and since 2010 has made two pilgrimages to India - where he lives - for retreats.

The Buddhist leader fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, and has been in exile since.

Miss Groves now goes regularly to the Dorje Chang Institute, a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Avondale, which she said offers peace that's "out of this world".

"I go there to escape from the daily madness, and there's where I find peace," she said.

"It has an environment that's conducive to just keep silent, and where everything slows down."

Miss Groves said she first found out about Buddhism seven years ago from YouTube.

"I was just going on YouTube when I came across the teachings of His Holiness [the Dalai Lama]," she said.

"His words were so profound, but also so simple ...

"After that, I became inspired to just start living deliberately and with meaning."

In 1986, just 0.002 per cent of Auckland's population were Buddhists, but by 2006 the number has grown to 2.2 per cent.

Buddhism is the second-fastest-growing religion in Auckland, just behind Hinduism.

There are now about a dozen Buddhist temples around Auckland, each specifically serving Thailand, Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao populations.

The Tsu Ming temple in Greenlane is the city's oldest Buddhist temple and the Taiwanese Mahayana Fo Guang Shan, set over 3.65ha in Botany, is the largest.

Around 70 new Buddhists were interviewed for a 2010 Victoria University study, where the researcher Hugh Kemp attended 27 Buddhist gatherings to find out how and why New Zealanders converted to Buddhism.

The study found that the increasing profile of the Dalai Lama, the country's closer ties with Asia, New Zealand's openness to new religions and having a history of people experimenting with new religions were factors for Buddhism's popularity here.

The series

The Immigration Act 1987 radically changed the criteria for migrant entry to New Zealand, resulting in a surge in people coming from non-traditional source countries. This week, the Herald looks at how these migrant communities have changed Auckland.

Yesterday: Population - the changes and how comfortable are we?
Today: Religion - Christianity vs new religions
Tomorrow: Food - from caffe latte to teh tarik
Thursday: Sports - tapping on migrant talent
Friday: Festivals - changing the way we celebrate.

- NZ Herald

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