On 17 December last year, I travelled with a group of post graduate students and researchers from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to a Buddhist conference. This was the 2016 Buddhist Studies Graduates Students’ Conference organized by the Department of Buddhist Studies of the Fo Guang University (FGU), also known as the Buddha’s Light University, situated in a lush hilly terrain of Yilan County in Taiwan.
I learned a lot from the Conference and was able to explore some important aspects of Buddhism development in Taiwan.
We started with an interesting introduction of each other before the Conference. Ven. Shi Huifeng, Assistant Professor of the Department of Buddhist Studies asked all participants to recount our personal interest in research and present our outlook on strategy in Buddhist studies in the future. Many of the international students from Asia, Australia. Europe and America enriched the presentations and I still recall clearly their varied ideas and views.
A student from Brazil shared with us he was inspired to explore Buddhist studies because of the humanistic approach that Buddhism has worked to better life in communities in Brazil by Fo Guang Shan as a humanitarian Buddhist charity. He was involved as a volunteer teaching children in their outreach posts in Brazil.
At the opening ceremony of the Conference, Ven. Huifeng highlighted the distinctive cultural background of the students which has contributed to the rich diversity of the academic course at FGU. This significant theme is evident in both undergraduate and post graduate programmes. There is also an outstanding modern approach to the teaching of language studies, computer studies and digital technology.
I was surprised to discover that in addition to academic work, all students who reside on campus are required to incorporate Buddhist practices into their daily life. They participated in morning and evening chanting sessions, meditation practice, cleaning, cooking, and other monastic tasks.
I feel that through these activities, students are able to be engaged in an environment of academic theory with religious practices that leads to self evaluation and improvement. At the start of each winter and summer break, all students also participate in a one week intensive Buddhist retreat at the Fo Guang Shan Monastery.
The impression I took away was, for the many local students comprising both monastic and lay followers, they will mature after their course to effectively spread Dhamma teaching both nationally and internationally. They will through their university course and the annual conference enhance not just Buddhist studies but nurture the deep and sound growth of Buddhism in its entirety.