Venerable Wei Wu, International Buddhist College
The founding organization of International Buddhist College is Than Hsiang Foundation. Than Hsiang Foundation is an international Buddhist organization based in Penang, Malaysia. It had its humble origin as Than Hsiang Temple established in 1985 to serve the spiritual needs of a local community around Bayan Lepas in Penang and so far it has become an international institution present in Malaysia and Thailand. Its beginning and continuous development is guided by the following motto in its Buddhadhamma work for the good of many:
The Young to Learn,
The Strong and Healthy to Serve,
The Aged and Sick to be Cared for, and
The Departed to Find Spiritual Destination.
Its rapid expansion in the first decade in services and operational areas necessitated a re-organisation and structural reform for greater efficiency and this gave rise to the umbrella body called Than Hsiang Foundation. There are three major interconnected and complementary fields of Buddhadhamma work operated by Than Hsiang Foundation. These are spiritual practice and cultivation, social-welfare programs and Buddhist education.
In planning and running its Buddhist educational programs, the contents and quality of the education are the primary considerations. These are designed and structured for specific methods of delivery tailored to the particular needs of different target groups across the spectrum of the society. Being pragmatic, practical, and in constant cognizance of the purpose of extending Buddhadhamma to many, educational programs are conducted in both formal and informal bases, from kindergarten levels to tertiary education for the ordained members and lay Buddhists of different traditions, subscribers of Buddhist philosophy and the general public who are interested in Buddhist teachings. Informal teaching is given during religious services, informal but regular Dhamma study groups, country-wide Dhammadûta speaking tours, children and adult camps. Formal education starts at kindergarten levels and extends into Diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate programs of organized tertiary institutions of learning. The rest of this paper will introduce International Buddhist College, a tertiary institution of learning founded by Than Hsiang Foundation and detail the undergraduate and postgraduate programs on Buddhist Studies run by these institutions.
A Brief History of International Buddhist College
International Buddhist College is located in the Songkhla Province, in the south of Thailand. It is an all-embracing multi-traditional Buddhist institution of tertiary learning. The place where the idea of establishing the all inclusive multi-traditional International Buddhist College as we know it today originated at the Than Hsiang Buddhist Research Centre (THBRC), Penang, Malaysia.
THBRC was established to launch its Buddhist Studies Program. It is affiliated to Buddhist and Pâéi University (BAPU) of Sri Lanka. It began running the Diploma courses of BAPU in 1992 and the B.A. program of BAPU in 1994. Prominent Buddhist scholars and educators including Prof Y. Karunadasa were invited to teach at THBRC. During one of these visits in 1996, Prof Karunadasa was much impressed and amazed at the harmonious and colorful existence of the very pluralistic society of Malaysia which is marked by its multi-religious, multi-traditional and multicultural characters. This observation gave rise to the idea that a Buddhist institution of learning that is multi-traditional would have a diversity that is enriching and conducive to the development of inter-traditional understanding and supportive of mutual growth. The Professor expressed the idea to friends and colleagues. The idea grew to be a vision shared by many including the writer, Professor Karunadasa, Venerable Professor Dhammajoti, Venerable Professor Dhammavihari, Venerable Professor Anuruddha and Dr (then Mr.) Y H Lai. In 1999, the group met in Sri Lanka and the meeting entrusted the task of realizing the vision to the writer. Thailand, a Southeast Asian Buddhist country that is supportive of Buddhist educational ventures was chosen as the country to site the International Buddhist College. In the same year, 1999, Than Hsiang Foundation set up and registered its branch, Klintiendharm Foundation, in Thailand to launch the project in earnest. More details of the early history are available at http://www.ibc.ac.th and elsewhere.
Klintiendharm Foundation then began identifying suitable location and area for establishing the College and filing application for the license to establish a tertiary institution with the Thai government. In 2003 the Foundation was awarded the license. A piece of land of about 110 acres near the township of Khlongae in the province of Songkhla was purchased for building the College. In October 2004, International Buddhist College opened with the first intake of students for its Bachelor of Arts Degree Program and Intensive English Language Training Program. Witnessed by an international gathering of over a thousand Saàgha members and lay supporters, the Thai Vice-Minister of Education officially declared open the College on July 17, 2005.
Vision and Objectives
The College seeks not only to be a renowned modern centre of rigorous Buddhist practice, learning and scholarship. The College integrates the modern liberal with the monastic traditional approach to ensure a quality well-rounded education in Buddhist scholarship and practice with appreciation and full awareness of current global issues that such scholarship and ancient wisdom of the Buddha acquired in the College can be used to resolve. The College aims to successfully educate, train and equip Saàgha members and laity with Buddhist scholarship, critical and practical skills and wisdom for successful Buddhadhamma works in social transformation and resolution of conflicting issues at individual, societal or global scale.
Uniqueness of International Buddhist College
International Buddhist College is unique in several aspects as a tertiary institution of learning or as a Buddhist institution. Firstly, it is multi-traditional in philosophy, outlook and practices, in spiritual training and running educational programs and in administration. Secondly, it is a fully residential Buddhist College that is funded solely from donations from well-wishers all over the world. Thirdly, it is one of the few tertiary institutions of learning where the major concentrations are Buddhist Studies and Practices. Fourthly, it integrates the traditional in instilling Buddhist values and culture in everyday monastic living with the modern in offering a broad-based all-rounded education that is liberal, progressive and relevant in meeting today's needs and demands. Fifthly, being multi-traditional and proactive in integrating learning from all traditions, the College is where one finds a rich diversity of traditions of Buddhism and cultures in its resident faculty and student community.
Further, at International Buddhist College, cultivating spiritual growth and wisdom are as important as developing intellectual scholarship and worldly knowledge. This requires skills in its integration of monastic training in daily life with the implementation of modern formal education programs. Structurally therefore, the College has a Monastic and an Academic component. The Monastic component complete with its residential area and Theravârda and Mahâyâna shrine halls is responsible for nurturing and inculcating Buddhist values in daily practices and living in the monastic fashion. The Academic component runs the academic programs with a liberal approach focusing on developing not only scholarship but also critical thinking and life-long learning skills.
Monastic Training Program and Growth
The College is also a training ground for Saàgha members and laity as the College believes in balancing spiritual cultivation with formal education, balancing mental with physical growth. This balance is essential so that graduates from the College will be wiser and more useful citizens in their contributions to the society. International Buddhist College is thus residential with a strong monastic component. Monastic tradition of spiritual cultivation is incorporated in the daily life of its residents - students and staff. The program consists of morning and evening chanting and meditation sessions, religious ceremonies and retreats. The monks and nuns are expected to conduct themselves according to their Vinaya. Dhamma talks and discussions are organized in addition to the formal education given.
Academic Programs and Growth
The academic focus of International Buddhist College is on developing Buddhist Studies, scholarship, training and practices underlain with a generous portion of liberal arts component to assure a balanced spiritual and intellectual growth with a good understanding of Buddhist and conventional world views and development. This guides the commencement and continued academic growth of the College in the future. The College now offers Bachelor of Arts Program in Buddhist Studies and a Master of Arts Program in Buddhist Studies.
The College is established for the benefit and good of many as the motto. It naturally adopts and starts its operation with an international language like the English language as its medium of instruction so that Buddhist teachings and scholarship could be extended to many. Being liberal and multi-traditional in its academic thrust, the curricula for the B.A. program are broadly based on an arts and sciences component making up about 21%, foundational courses on Pre-Buddhist and Buddhist cultures and history, and basic Buddhist doctrines make up about 21% of the curricula while courses on Buddhist scriptural languages and texts of Theravâda and Mahâyâna Buddhism are fairly evenly weighted in making up the rest of the curricula of B.A. program (See Appendix 1).
The College began operation in October, 2004 with the offer of four-year 141 credit hours of Bachelor of Arts Degree program in the following fields:
- Religious Studies (Faculty of Religious Studies);
- Buddhist History and Culture (Faculty of Religious Studies);
- Pâéi and Sanskrit Language and Literature (Faculty of Liberal Arts).
This program is offered in English medium. The first intake was around thirty students of Theravâda, Mahâyâna and Vajrayâna traditions from eight countries - Singapore, Malaysia, China, Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Thailand. In subsequent years, there are students also from India, Sri Lanka and South Korea. There are also occasional students from Argentina and Israel. A large majority (88%) of the students are young monks and nuns.
By 2006, the College stepped up its academic growth and started offering a 36 credit hours Master of Arts Degree program in Buddhist Studies in both English and Chinese languages. The year also marked the adoption of a second international language, the Chinese language as a medium of instruction at the College, thus making Buddhist education offered by the College accessible to a greater percentage of the world population. Its first intake of 11 graduate students at the main campus came mainly from Malaysia, Thailand and China. Interestingly, although monks and nuns still formed the majority (60%) of the graduate students, lay students constituted quite a significantly substantial proportion compared to the undergraduate level. The postgraduate program attracts lay mature students, this is particularly true in its Malaysian campuses at Penang and Kuala Lumpur. This observation and trend in Buddhist education development is well taken and will be considered in charting the future growth of the academic programs of International Buddhist College.
There are two options of study for the M.A. program. One option is full course work (33 credit hours) with a minor independent research project (3 credit hour). The second option consists of coursework (24 credit hours) with a thesis (12 credit hours). The curricula consist of three 3-credit hour compulsory courses - history of Indian Buddhism, Theravâda Buddhism and Mahâyâna Buddhism (Appendix 2). Electives include Buddhist canonical languages and literature in addition to courses on Buddhist Thought or Philosophy. Flexibility is added to the curriculum with the provision for special topics to be introduced as and when it is opportune to do so.
The teaching faculty and visiting lecturers of both Theravâda and Mahâyâna traditions come from China, South Korea, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Belgium, Canada and the United States. The diversity provides a multi-traditionally enriching living and learning experience. It also ensures a widely based education and teaching from different perspectives so that students get trained to be open-minded and progressive in outlook and approaches in viewing and solving contemporary problems.
Present Status, Future Plan
The College is still small in size of less than 100 including students, faculty and staff. It is still young. It will grow in quality and size with the continuous support from well-wishers all over the world. It is one of the few universities, Buddhist or otherwise, that is funded solely from donations made by supporters of Buddhist education from all over the world.
There are plans to diversify and further expand the academic programs in the near future to include the development and offer of
- Doctor of Philosophy program in Buddhist Studies
- Professional diploma and degree programs in Education, Nursing and Geriatric Care, Psychology & Counseling and such fields to meet the needs of Buddhist-trained professionals in this area.
International Buddhist College is an exciting institution of learning where different Buddhist traditions from diverse cultural backgrounds from much of the world congregate to teach and learn from one another. It is unique in many other ways. It combines the rigour of traditional monastic living and training with liberal modern approach in teaching and learning. Its curricula for both the B.A. and M.A programs are well balanced in terms of distribution of weightage on the teachings of Theravâda and Mahâyâna teachings, scriptural languages and a liberal dose of arts, humanities and sciences so as to give the students a well-rounded education needed for a good understanding of today's world and issues.
The College is still small and young. It continues to work towards improving the quality and diversifying its academic programs to train up Sangha members of all major traditions and Buddhist professionals for the Academics, missionary works and to help manage Buddhist-based organizations involved in social-welfare works. It continues to work towards becoming a great centre of Buddhist learning, scholarship, practice and culture.
The author acknowledges with appreciation the invitation from the Organising Committee to participate at the conference and the opportunity given to me to share IBC's experience in Buddhist educational venture for the good of many.
 Presented at The International Conference of All Theravâda Buddhist Universities held at International Theravâda Buddhist Missionary University, Yangon & Woodlands Hotel, Poppa Mountain Resort, Bagan, Myanmar, 9-12th March 2007.
Part of this paper was extracted from one paper (A Case Study of the Than Hsiang Foundation in Malaysia and Thailand) presented by the author at the International Conference on Buddhism and the 21st Century, February 4 to 6, 2007, Bodhgaya, India.
 Wei Wu, (2005). For The Good of Many. Eastern Horizon, August 2005 Issue no. 17: 4-10.