The Department of Asian Languages & Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has received gift commitments totaling US$3.7 million from distinguished professor of Buddhist studies Robert E. Buswell, Jr. and his wife Christina Lee Buswell, a translator of Korean religious scriptures. The funds will create the Chinul Endowed Chair in Korean Buddhist Studies, named for Puril Pojo Chinul (1158–1210), the most influential monk in the formation of Korean Seon Buddhism. The funds will also establish and the Robert E. and Christina L. Buswell Fellowship in Buddhist Studies in support of graduate students in the department.
Robert Buswell is widely regarded to be the leading Western scholar of Korean Buddhism and a top specialist in Buddhist meditative traditions. He holds the Irving and Jean Stone Endowed Chair in Humanities at UCLA. He is also the founder of UCLA’s Center for Korean Studies and the university’s Center for Buddhist Studies.
Robert is known to students of Buddhism around the world as the editor-in-chief of the two-volume Encyclopedia of Buddhism (Macmillan Library Reference 2003) and as the co-author of Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Princeton University Press 2013). He has served as the president of the Association for Asian Studies and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016.
“Robert Buswell’s impact on the fields of Buddhist studies and Korean studies has been unparalleled,” said David Schaberg, senior dean of the college and dean of humanities. “Not only has he built, here at UCLA, the nation’s largest programs in these two areas, he has also trained dozens of scholars now teaching and studying at academic institutions all over the world. I am immensely grateful for his leadership and for his and Christina’s extraordinarily generous gift.” (UCLA)
Christina Buswell was raised a Catholic and immigrated from South Korea to the US with her family when she was 13 years old. She said: “My experience as a Korean-American immigrant led to a quest to understand myself and ask the question ‘who am I?’ I kept looking for answers, and in the end, Buddhism made the most sense to me.” (UCLA)
Christina earned a BA in Religious Studies from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and an MA in Korean Studies from Columbia. At both institutions she saw a lack of resources dedicated to Korean Buddhism.
“It was important to both of us,” Christina said. “That there be at least one US university with a permanent faculty chair specifically devoted to Korean Buddhism. UCLA is the ideal place for this chair since the university has played such an important role in developing Korean and Buddhist studies as fields.” (UCLA)
Robert Buswell followed a similar path. Raised by non-practicing Methodist parents, he began exploring philosophical and religious questions at a young age: “On my first exposure to Buddhism when I was 16, I was thunderstruck at how closely it mirrored the philosophy of life I had been creating for myself. I’ve been completely enamored with Buddhism ever since,” he said. (UCLA)
Robert’s journey led him to drop out of college in 1972, followed by seven years practicing as an ordained monk in Thailand, Hong Kong, and in Korea, where he spent five years at Songgwang Monastery, and translated texts written by Puril Pojo Chinul. After some time, he returned to the US to continue his academic studies of Buddhism, completing a PhD in Buddhist studies from University of California, Berkeley in 1985.
Robert said: “It seemed appropriate to name [the chair] after Chinul, the most influential monk in Korean Buddhist history and the inspiration for much of my own scholarly work. Chinul believed that success in Buddhist meditation demanded a solid grounding in doctrinal understanding. This rigorous combination of doctrinal study and Zen meditation has remained the distinguishing characteristic of Korean Buddhism ever since.” (UCLA)
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