With hundreds of millions of followers worldwide, Buddhism is one of the world’s largest religions.

Buddhism can be traced back 2,500 years, spreading slowly from India and throughout Asia, but one group of monks calls Prince Edward Island home.

In fact, there are two Buddhist monasteries in eastern P.E.I., where monks from around the world have been coming to pray and study for almost 10 years.

A sprawling 3,400-acre property in Heatherdale, P.E.I. was founded by the monks’ spiritual leader while she was visiting the area. She decided the peaceful community was a perfect spot to establish a monastery.

“When she came to P.E.I. the first time, she can feel serenity and calm on P.E.I., so she thinks it’s a very good place for the monks to meditate,” says Venerable Peter, a Buddhist monk and spokesperson for the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Society, which also opened a monastery in Little Sands, P.E.I.

In addition to meditation, time is set aside for study and prayer in the vast halls filled with ornate decorations.

“We will pray for human beings that are suffering in the world, or if someone needs help,” explains Venerable William.

“Our main objective as monks and practitioners is to avoid suffering and to obtain happiness, not just for yourself, but for all sentient beings,” says Venerable Eli.

There were only about 10 monks at the monastery when they first came to P.E.I. in 2009, but now there are closer to 200.

A new dormitory was built at the monastery in Heatherdale just last year. The buildings incorporate Chinese architecture and use a mix of materials from Canada and the Far East.

“Most of the materials are from this island. Some is from different countries,” says Venerable William. “The tile is from Japan and most of the big wood is from Vancouver.”

Like the construction materials, the monks come from all over the world, too.

“The majority of the monks are from Taiwan,” says Venerable Eli. “We also have other monks from Korea, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, from USA, from Canada.”

In the beginning, there was some apprehension from residents who weren’t sure how the arrival of so many monks from around the world would impact the small P.E.I. community. However, the monks have been welcomed with open arms.

“No one knew much about them, their ways, how do I address them? And those are things that we kind of worked through, through the years that they’ve been here,” says resident Karen Murphy.

“They are nice people. They are peaceful people,” says resident Leslie Stewart. “They’re not a violent people, so it’s nice harmony.”

Just as the community has embraced the monks, the monks have embraced the community by giving back.

Members of the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Society make 1,200 of their famous bread rolls every week and distribute them to seniors, schools, and local food banks.

“We heard a lot of people in wintertime, they don’t have enough food to eat, so our teacher said we are on the island so we should do something for Islanders,” says Venerable William.

The monks produce the rolls from seed to table at their monasteries. The wheat is grown on site, milled, and then combined with other organic ingredients to make their bread.

Once the rolls are made, they are sent to six different distributors across the province, including three in Montague, two in Charlottetown, and one in Summerside.

Distributors like Andrea Boyle and Karen Murphy then bag the rolls according to the orders and wait for them to be picked up.

“The rolls are fabulous, they’re absolutely delicious,” says Boyle “They’re large, they’re sweet, they’re very good.”

“They certainly do a lot in the community for people in need,” says Murphy. “For benefits, they will make 300 rolls and donate them.”

Some distributors sell the sought-after-bread and return the profits to the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Society.

“We purchase about six bags of rolls a week from them and we save the money for them and they come and collect the money and then we are involved when they do fundraising as well,” says Boyle.

The monks’ efforts haven’t gone unnoticed in the community. Montague resident Evelyn MacKenzie says they always step up when someone is in need.

“They’re wonderful when it comes to people needing help,” says MacKenzie. “They chip in at the wellness centre here, they did an amazing job helping to get the pool fixed.”

It seems P.E.I. communities will continue to benefit from the monks’ charity work, as the number of monks on the island is expected to grow from 200 to about 800 at the monasteries in Heatherdale and Little Sands.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Jonathan MacInnis