Those of us who have been fortunate enough to experience university know the life-long value and countless adventures it holds. The notorious freshman fifteen, fraternities and sororities, panic-inducing course selection, the making of new friends in each class, pre-semester shopping, post-exam relief—the list is almost as long as the requirements for getting the actual degree!
One of the best memories graduates take away from The University of Hong Kong (HKU) is the friends they meet, share their experiences with, and can trust to call at 3 a.m. when in dire need of copying an assignment. The people we meet bring their own quirky stories into our lives, and it was these stories that brought together Arun, Gyatso, and Mingyuan.
The three students had been awarded Tung Lin Kok Yuen Postgraduate Scholarships in Buddhist Studies, which they used to fund their Master of Buddhist Studies (MBS) degree at HKU. This scholarship is awarded to both local and international students, and a combination of academic merit and financial need gave Arun, Gyatso, and Mingyuan the chance to leave their home countries and study in Hong Kong last year.
The three friends come from diverse backgrounds. Experiencing the ups and downs of life in Hong Kong together was a major bonding factor for them—from the culture and people to trying different foods, it made their time in Hong Kong that much more vivid. “People are very helpful, but only when asked to lend a hand. They can smile at you, but only if you smile at them first. Spontaneous greetings are a rarity,” comments Arun, a journalist from Nepal, who gave up his job to pursue his intellectual and spiritual interest in Buddhism. His family background is Hinduism, which dominates Nepal at a steep 86.51 per cent of the population, while Buddhism accounts for only about 8 per cent (SAARCtourism.org). Arun’s initial interest in Buddhism was stimulated by vipassana (insight meditation), and he eventually converted to the religion under Venerable Hin Hung (director of the Centre of Buddhist Studies at HKU). He has also opted for vegetarianism, and finds eating out in Hong Kong a challenge due to its meat-based cuisine.
Gyatso, a Tibetan who pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Chinese Classical Philology for five years in Nanjing, is a fan of Sichuan and Yunnan cuisine, and Hong Kong’s food didn’t do much to whet his appetite either—for him, the spices just aren’t spicy enough! Gyatso now hopes to do a PhD in Chinese Buddhist Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Since Buddhism is such an integral part of his Tibetan upbringing and family life, his decision to formally study the religion was a natural step.
The three scholars speak about Hong Kong being a perfect mix of opposites. Many know that Hong Kong is a mix of a metropolitan lifestyle and Chinese tradition—yet more than half the city consists of pristine nature and country parks. Arun points out this contrast: the urban life versus the countryside, the open seas and tall hills versus downtown Central.
Affordability is an issue in the metropolitan areas. Hong Kong is known to be far from cheap, and the students agree that it takes no small preparation to live in the expensive city. Sharing a 64-square-foot room and paying a hefty rent, Gyatso and Arun lament that HKU does not provide housing for taught postgraduates.
Philosophy student Mingyuan, who came to HKU’s MBS program for the professor’s fame and the free academic environment, had this to say about Buddhism: “Buddhism is something that should be acted out, not spoken about. I don't believe someone who studies Buddhism intellectually would be unaffected by Buddhist virtues at all. . . . In mainland China, thanks to the decline of Buddhism in the past centuries on the one hand and the influence of old materialist education in previous decades on the other, some older people thought Buddhism backward and equivalent to superstition. So I'm afraid there's still a long way to go for Chinese Buddhists to change their social image, and I think becoming more intellectual might be a shortcut for them.”
The three friends have completed one journey, and will soon embark on many others. I wish them a great academic and spiritual journey ahead!
Special thanks to:
Gyatso YangMingyuan Gao