We are now more than 10 years along since the establishment of the Centre of Buddhist Studies and enjoying the fruitful efforts and contributions of many talented scholars, supporting foundations, skillful administrators and dedicated students that have nurtured the growth and community spirit that we know so well today.
Given that, imagine who were those first students, and how did it feel to be in the pioneering first cohort of the program? CBSAA reached out to Mrs. Susan Lee and asked for her reflection on the early days.
CZ: How did you hear about the new Masters of Buddhist Studies back in 2002?
SL: I remembered seeing the full-page advertisement by CBS in the South China Morning Post to promote the Masters of Buddhist Studies. Initially, I communicated with Carol Li in February of 2002, and then on July 31, 2002 was delighted to receive the offer of Admission as a part time student.
CZ: What was the atmosphere surrounding such a new program and did you know any of the organizers?
SL: There were a lot of enthusiasm and positive energy for learning and team work. Most of the students and professors were very connected. I would describe the atmosphere as warm, respectful, fun and casual most of the time. I was familiar with Venerable Dr. Jing Yin being the Founding Director of CBS and Carol Li, his very capable assistant. Professor Lee was involved in the organization but my contact with him was very limited.
CZ: Did you know anything about Buddhism before you started?
What motivated you to take the program and did you have some intentions?
SL: In 1985, I began to learn about Sunlun Buddhist Vipassana Meditation in Yangon and went to practice meditation almost every year under the guidance of Sunlun Sayadaw Ashin Vinaya at the Sunlun Meditation Monastery. I also read about Buddha’s Teachings through the books of Ajahn Chah, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, Venerable Dr. Walpola Sri Rahula and other masters. I wanted to learn more in a structured environment instead of reading books on my own and attending Dharma talks.
My objective in attending the program was to learn, practice, understand, integrate and share. I felt that management, relationship building, communications, negotiations, psychotherapies, and Buddha’s Teachings (including meditation) could be integrated with kindness to develop wisdom, compassion, joy and peace for myself and others.
CZ: Do you remember anything special about the courses offered?
Did you learn a lot more about Buddhism?
SL: I only wanted to take the courses offered in English, and the selections were quite limited in the beginning. Venerable Hin Hung taught a course called “Positioning Buddhism for Today’s World” in Chinese. Thankfully, he allowed me to complete the thesis and presentation in English.
Venerable Dr. Jing Yin taught “the Study of Vinaya” which was very exciting because normally lay people did not have the opportunity to study Vinaya. The enrollment was very small and we all enjoyed the learning and bonding. From this course, I really experienced and understood more of Buddha’s wisdom and compassion with each Vinaya he established. About ten years later, I heard that the course was only offered twice in the MBS program. It is most unfortunate for the MBS students. I was truly inspired and have been interested to spend more time to study the Vinaya since. The course turned out to be my favorite in the MBS program.
In two years as a part time student, I did learn a lot more about Buddhism from the lectures, handouts, reference books, writings, presentations, Q and A, testing and team projects. The experiences were very rich and beneficial.
CZ: Do you remember any particular impressions about your professors?
SL: Yes, three come to mind: Venerable Dr. Jing Yin, who taught many courses, was like a big brother to us during the program – encouraging, caring, far sighted, knowing, understanding, and supportive. Venerable Professor Anuruddha, who taught Theravada Buddhism, was so knowledgeable with a great sense of humor. I really enjoyed learning from him. Professor Helena Yuen, who taught Buddhist Mediation, was passionate about the subject and teaching, which was contagious.
CZ: Did your experience from the program contribute to a shift in your personal thinking before and after the program?
SL: Academic learning without practicing is far from being complete. I met a lot of fellow students who focused only on studying, without the understanding or interest to practice. Also, as an older student in this environment, I experienced various personalities of other students and faculty members, which was a wakeup call to reality. It raised the issue in my mind of testing mental stability before accepting the application for MBS.
CZ: Today, the Centre promotes a feeling of community and ‘family’ among the current students and alumni. As a member of the first class, how was that achieved … or not yet in those early days?
SL: For me, the bonding among the students in the early days was more informal in a fun environment under the caring support of Venerable Dr. Jing Yin. The students and professors were really like a community and family. Many of us shared the same interest to practice what we were learning through community services and fund raising activities.
Some of us were very active in forming the non-profit organization called the Hong Kong Society of Dharma Supporters, under the guidance of Venerable Dr. Jing Yin. HKU/CBS leased a venue at Wang Fat Ching She in Tsuen Wan for five years initially to establish a Buddhist community center.
CZ:. Do you stay in touch with any of them since graduation?
SL: In 10 years, some of us have drifted apart but most of us still see each other regularly. Everyone is very busy whether retired or not.
The board and members of Hong Kong Society of Dharma Supporters have been in touch and working together since graduations in 2003, 2004 and later years: Ben Kwong, Walter Ngai, Hau Leung so, Tin Lun chan, Corina Chan, Venerable Dhammapala, Yan chan, Gwen Wong, Julia Wong, Lismen Chan, Maggie Chau, Kwok Ho Mak, Nam Sang Lee, Sau Chan, Stephen Suan, Fiona Ng, Justin Lam, Gerald Lee and Della Chiu.
Thank you Susan for sharing your personal stories with us. It brings back memories for some of us who have known students and professors from the early years. No matter which year of attendance though, it seems that a strong sense of community values have been treasured all along.