As a student-led Buddhist society with a history of more than three decades, the HKUSU Buddhist Studies Society (BSS) has experienced what one of its members called a ‘full life-cycle of its own’, while remaining an inspiration to students at other universities who wish to establish their own Buddhist society.
I expected to meet a group of students fresh in their early twenties, with curiosity in most new ideas. It was a little surprising when greeted by people who were members of the Society many years ago. Right away, the word ‘inheritance’ came to mind. The passing on of traditions and knowledge is, after all, the basis of continuation for any community and organization, but the question is, how can it be done?
The Society was established in 1980 by Dr. Chan Ka Po, a medical student then, with a group of friends who all shared an interest in Buddhism. Realizing there was a chance to promote Buddhism in the University, the group called for a meeting inviting those who shared their vision to meet and discuss the establishment of an official Buddhism student society. The meeting confirmed the determination of the students and after months of hard work, the BSS was finally set up with the mission of promoting and letting more students learn about Buddhism, which remains the objective of the Society until this day.
For young people in Hong Kong, Buddhism’s image has been tarnished: it is seen as a religion for the elderly, conservatives, or the uneducated. This general impression leads to difficulties in looking for new blood to take on the responsibility to run a Buddhist society. Even those who are curious about the subject might not be confident enough, fearing that their lack of knowledge would be a hindrance to the society’s growth. There has been more than one occasion where the BSS was on the verge of closing down due to the malfunction of the committee and lack of members.
‘We thought the Society was in great danger, because the chairperson himself was determined to close it down…we went to our senior Dr. Chan Ka Po for advice and he comforted us saying it’s not a problem, as long as you are doing the right thing, it (the BSS) will live on,’ said Martin, vice chairman of the 13th BSS executive committee.
And it did. With the help of past members and their teacher Ven. Sik Hin Hung, the BSS reflected upon past mistakes and recognized that changes were needed in order for the Society to pick itself up and carry on its mission. While some may think Buddhism is mostly about philosophical talks and discussions on the meaning of life, one of the society’s missions today is to change this conception and encourage more young people to learn about Buddhism or Buddhist Studies in a practical and fashionable way. Organizing activities like ‘Sushi Zen’ (practicing Zen in daily life), weekly discussion groups, and even singing contests not only brings the Society closer to everyday life, catering to the members’ social expectations, but also opens the door to those who are curious about the subject but don’t know where to start. And the good news is that the Society grew from a small group of 30 members to more than 200 members in these couple of years.
‘Unlike some other student-led organizations, the BSS is a harmonious one. Committee members are all very humble, and know they’re not here to fight for power but to take up responsibilities to pass on the mission of the Society. We’ve even attracted members from other religions to join us and we hope to build a more inclusive environment starting from us by welcoming inter-religion exchanges,’ said Ernie, member of the 33rd BSS executive committee.
Another major factor that contributes to the survival of the BSS is that there is always someone round the corner ready to give them a hand. They have built a good reputation in serving the student community as well as a good relationship network, one of the most precious intangible assets an organization can enjoy.
‘We’re not organizing Chinese calligraphy classes for our members this year because we recommended our volunteer calligraphy teacher to help a newly set upChinese calligraphy society instead. We hope that our small sacrifice will bring great benefit to more people. This is how we earn good relationships,’ said Albert, the present Chairman of BSS.Serving with peace and humility, encouraging interfaith interactions, keeping up with ever-changing trends, reaching out to build good relationships and inheriting the established traditions are things that the BSS will maintain in order to carry on with its mission. With ‘doing the right thing’ as a philosophical anchor, the BSS is confident to be able to overcome any circumstances. Even if the physical entity no longer exists, Buddhism will live on inside the hearts of the members and manifest in their daily living.