by Bibek (a student of International Buddhist College)
1) People are often curious to know about the personal life of a public figure. So, could you please tell us something about your personal life before taking ordination e.g. your childhood, your education, and your business life?
I was born in a big family with 5 brothers and 4 sisters. After completing high school in Malaysia, I studied in New Zealand and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from University of Canterbury. I worked in New Zealand for two years before returning to Malaysia. In Malaysia, I was an employee of Hewlett Packard for twelve years and a consultant in Total Quality Management for another four years. In my four years as a management consultant, I also supported Proctor and Gamble in U.S., Phillips, Fiat and Astec in Europe, Astec in Malaysia, Hong Kong and China and two government development corporations in Malaysia.
2) In today’s world, people are often Buddhists by faith than by birth. Could you please tell us something about the Malaysian context, whether you were a born Buddhist? When and why were you interested to take refuge in the Triple Gems?
I was born in a Buddhist family. I joined the Buddhist Society in high school but was not very serious in Buddhism then. I only studied Buddhism seriously and became a vegetarian when I was in New Zealand. However, I only took refuge in the Triple Gems after my return to Malaysia in 1976.
3) We all know that you are an ordained monk. What inspired you to become a monk? When did you take an ordination and who was your preceptor? What lineage is this and what is your main practice?
I was ordained as a Buddhist monk under my teacher Ven. Xiu Jing who was from China in the Chan (Zen) Linji (临济) lineage in 1992. I received my higher ordination at Xi Lai Temple in the U.S. in June 1992. Subsequently, I received the Chan Caodong (曹洞) Dharma Lineage from my teacher Venerable Bo Yuan in 1995. Chinese Buddhism is not sectarian in practice; my main practice is Pure Land Buddhism.
4) A practical question: What is Buddhism for you and how do you try to apply it in your daily life?
While working in the managerial role in Hewlett Packard, I told myself that if Buddhism was good, I could apply its teachings in my job. I tried that and found it to be extremely useful especially the teachings of cause and effect. Subsequently, I also tried to use some of the modern management techniques in running a Buddhist organization and found it to be very effective.
5) A reality check from your own experience: How do you see Buddhism in today’s world? Vis a vis other religions?
Buddhism has an important role in today's world to promote peace. We need to do this together with other great religions of the world including Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.
6) You have become a symbol of engaged Buddhism in South-East Asia. You are a founder of an organization called Than Hsiang, which as far as I understand, is a purely social organization inspired by Buddhist philosophy of compassion and service. Could you please tell us about Than Hsiang? What is the vision behind it and what does it aspire to achieve?
There are many more people who have done more in this area.
The term 'Engaged Buddhism' was first used by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh. In Chinese characters, he used the term 入世佛法 – Buddhism which enters into society - this is simply the Bodhisattva Ideal.
Than Hsiang is first and foremost a religious organization based on the Buddha's teachings of Wisdom and Compassion. We operate with the conviction to build a society where 1. the young learns; 2. the strong and healthy serves; 3. the aged and sick are taken care of and 4. the departed finds his or her own spiritual destination.
Actually, Than Hsiang started in the canteen of Hewlett Packard. Many colleagues, when they knew that I was on a vegetarian diet, were curious and started asking me questions on vegetarianism and then on Buddhism. Later we started to meet in a colleague's house and it grew into the Than Hsiang organization.
7) You are also a founder of a Buddhist college in Thailand called International Buddhist College, which is being supported by Than Hsiang. What is the vision behind your or Than Hsiang’s involvements in Thailand?
We started to run courses of the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka in the 90's. When Professor Karunadasa came to teach some of these courses, he saw Malaysia as a place where different Buddhist traditions meet and suggested that we could start an international Buddhist University which would embrace all the three major Buddhist traditions. So the seed was sown by him and we decided to site the college in Thailand.
We registered the Than Hsiang Foundation in Thailand and applied for a license to run the college. It is also our wish to promote and introduce the religious, educational and welfare activities to Thailand based on over 20 years of experience in Malaysia with modifications to suit the Thai background.
8) During recent floods in different parts of Thailand, IBC and Than Hsiang got involved actively to help those people in distress. Could you please elaborate a little bit?
The north eastern provinces of Thailand were badly hit by floods last October; IBC has a campus in the Korat province. When I was able to communicate with our staff through mobile phone, I was told that our campus was badly flooded with one of the buildings under seven feet of water! I told our staff that after the water subsided and some initial cleaning was done; we should go to the villages nearby to help those who were badly affected by the flood. The immediate reaction that I got was: “We are victims ourselves!” I then told our staff that we had the option of considering ourselves victims and wait for people to come and help us or we could reach out to those who needed our help more because they were very poor. I saw the flood as an opportunity for our staff and students to put into practice the Buddha's teachings that they had learned in the classroom. A week later, southern Thailand was flooded and again our staff and students in the main campus went out to help the poor flood victims nearby. In Malaysia, we organized disaster fund raising to help victims of the floods in Thailand, Malaysia and Myanmar as well as the tsunami and volcanic eruption victims in Indonesia. Buddhists in many countries made on-line donations towards the fund. Altogether we raised over 5 million baht.
9) There are also Weekend School and Metta Clinic? Could you please tell us something about it?
These are examples of what I told you earlier. The weekend schools in Malaysia had been introducing simple Dharma to primary and high school students for more than twenty years. Our Metta clinics in Malaysia started since 1988 and about 20,000 patients were treated each year. Experiences learnt in Malaysian were applied in Thailand. English and Chinese languages were taught besides the Dharma in the Thai weekend school.
10) Do you or Than Hsiang envisage any projects outside Malaysia and Thailand in the future?
If there are people in other countries who like to promote the religious, educational and welfare activities like those that we are doing in Malaysia and Thailand, we will be happy to start them there. In fact we are targeting to do this in some Asian countries in the next ten years.
11) What is lacking in Buddhist world today, and how should Buddhists direct themselves in the future? Where does the future of Buddhism lie?
We are far behind other religions like Christianity and Islam in promoting education. Education is very important, if we do not actively promote education, we will be left further behind. We need to train Buddhists who can serve the society they live in. In IBC, after Buddhist Studies, we want to introduce courses in early childhood education, counseling, Chinese medicine and geriatric nursing.
12) Do you have anything to say to young Buddhists of today’s world?
“The future of Buddhism is in your hand. You are the hope for our world in future.”
13) Anything else you want to add….
I wish that the good work you are doing to spread the Buddha Sasana will thrive in Nepal and elsewhere.