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Dharma Realm Buddhist University in California Adjusts to Life with COVID-19

Dharma Realm Buddhist University (DRBU) in the rural northern Californian town of Ukiah, some 185 kilometers north of San Francisco, has faced similar struggles to many in the world and in America during the pandemic. The spread of the novel coronavirus meant a rapid lockdown. That took place in March, when several counties around the hard-hit San Francisco Bay area issued shelter-in-place orders.

“Like everyone else, we had little notice,” said Susan Rounds, president of Dharma Realm Buddhist University. “[We] realized we were going to have to send all of our students home.” (The Willits News)

Nonetheless, DRBU and the larger City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, where it is located, closed to the public and began the work of helping those students who wished to leave return home—buying plane tickets, driving students to the airport, arranging personal protective equipment (PPE) for travel, and storing belongings during their absence.

DRBU workers ready to donate PPE to frontline workers. From

DRBU also launched a global effort to gather and donate PPE to first responders in the area, reporting at the end of April that they had facilitated the donation of some 200,000 items of PPE.

As with many institutions, the timing was somewhat auspicious as it coincided with spring break, giving students, faculty, and administrators a much-needed pause to restructure teaching for the new online environment. Speaking of the makeshift final weeks of the semester, Rounds said: “You do what you have to do.” (The Willits News)

In June, students graduated with an online ceremony and celebration.

MA Class of 2020. From
MA Class of 2020. From

Over the summer, the Trump administration passed rules requiring international students to return to their home countries if they were not housed at their universities. This forced DRBU and thousands of other institutions of higher learning to scramble to find safe accommodation for students, even as plans were being made to continue classes online for safety reasons.

Fortunately for DRBU and others, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with the backing of some 200 other universities, challenged this policy. With widespread public support for the colleges and their international students, the Trump administration backed down and reversed the decision.

Nonetheless, DRBU built a residential mini-campus for those who decided to stay. They are housed together in what is known as a “bubble,” openly sharing contact with one another but restricting contact with the outside world, at the newly refurbished Sudhana Center.


Some 44 other students from across the United States and several other countries, including Canada, China, Italy, Mexico, and Malaysia remained in their home countries and have been attending classes virtually this fall.

“Our pedagogy remains vigorous, vibrant and supportive and we are very happy about that,” said Rounds, adding of the students: “The spirit of this group of people is so dedicated, so unselfish, and so generous, providing a tremendous ethic of care.” (The Willits News)

Rounds continued:

We truly believe that we are doing something very good for our students and for the world. We really need an infusion of people who are inspired by a strong ethic of caring for the environment and caring for other people, who are unselfish and who want to do good, want to believe that there’s an antidote to all the anger and fear and division out there, that even a small effort is better than doing nothing.

We’re a small light but we feel like our light can go everywhere. We’re all dedicated to that; it’s what keeps us going.

Optimism is contagious; love is contagious. (The Willits News)

DRBU is a small, private, non-profit university established in 1976 by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua under the philosophy of “developing inherent wisdom.” Today it is an accredited institution offering a four-year bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a two-year master’s degree in Buddhist classics.

See more

Dalai Lama Congratulates Joe Biden, Kamala Harris on Election Victory (The Willits News)
DRBU Launches PPE Drive to Support COVID19 First Responders (DRBU)
Class of 2020 Shares Gratitude and Their Hopes (DRBU)

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