‘Hidden’ Thai Buddhist temple in planning mix-up

The Sunday School at the Slateford Road temple is packed. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The Sunday School at the Slateford Road temple is packed. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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WORSHIPPERS at a Thai temple in the middle of an unassuming residential street are facing some bad karma – thanks to a wrangle over planning.

The Dhammapadipa Temple was the first Thai Buddhist temple established in Scotland and remains one of only two the country. But despite having existed on Slateford Road for a nearly a decade, the monks at the temple were apparently unaware that permission was required to change the use of the building, and have only just applied to Edinburgh City Council for retrospective permission.

A spokeswoman for the council said: “We’ve received a retrospective ­planning application which is currently under consideration. Neighbours have been notified and all comments will be taken into account.”

And while refusal could seriously disrupt the karma of the spiritual centre, it seems the highly regarded monks don’t have too much to worry about from those nearby. Neighbour Alexander Rowe said: “It was actually just an empty lot there for a number of years. I think they only meant it to be a temporary place, but they like it so much they’ve decided to stay, and I don’t have any ­problem with that. The ­garden has been a little unkempt recently but nothing to get too upset over.”

However, he admits having a spiritual centre so close to home has led to the odd unexpected visitor at even odder hours.

“Buddhists from all over the world come to the temple, which has sometimes meant confused foreigners have shown up here looking for it. Once an American woman rang my door at 2am and I had to take her to the right place. But that was about five years ago now and apart from that they’re generally very quiet. You wouldn’t even really know they were there.”

Another neighbour, who has lived on the street since 1991 and did not wish her name to be printed, said she had noted the kind gestures and outreaches to the local community made by the monks.

She said: “We were pleased when someone bought the empty lot, but also a little concerned as to what would be built there – some new buildings these days are grotesque monstrosities. But we have no problem with what they did construct.

“Everyone got a very nice letter from them inviting us to come in for a visit when they first opened. And I remember once a package meant for one of my neighbours got delivered to the temple by mistake. She had a bad cold at the time so when one of the monks came to give her the package she warned him not to get too close to her in case he caught it. The next day he came back with a hot cough mixture and a little bunch of violets, which she thought was very sweet.

“But I suppose that’s what they are all about . . . love. You never hear them – obviously, with them being monks – and you only very rarely see them in the street. We’ve had no trouble with them at all and would be very happy for the temple to remain.”

Upsurge in global popularity

NEARLY 95 per cent of Thailand’s population is a Buddhist of the Theravada school.

Theravada is the oldest surviving branch of the religion, and the name, derived from Sanskrit, translates as “the Teaching of the Elders”. There are estimated to be roughly 150 million Theravada Buddhists, who are otherwise known as Theravadins, worldwide, with the religion seeing an upsurge in popularity in the West over recent decades.

The origins of the religion can be dated as far back as 250BC. Other countries with a predominantly Theravada school population include Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos.

The religion is described as “relatively conservative”.