In Conversation with Venerable Wei Wu (Shi Fu)

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Compiled by Ms. Chimi Wangmo
A silhouette of frail yet tall figure emerged from a distant. ‘Must be another monk on his way to the evening chanting’ crossed my mind as I rushed through a paper with few student monks. Utterly amused by the eager answers interjected during the quizzical moment, I had forgotten the sense of time. ‘Good evening’ came the sound, which obviously didn’t belong to the group. The figure had reached closer to us, monks folded their hands to greet back and it didn’t take me long to guess. I met Shi Fu for the first time; he had arrived from Penang that afternoon. His long gown draped to the ground made him look almost like the ancient kung fu master. The monks excitedly were sharing what they were learning; his fond smile in response reminded me of my father and I instantly felt comfortable talking to him.

Shi Fu, Ven. Wei Wu is the founder of the International Buddhist College (IBC) and a religious organization called Than Hsiang Temple in Malaysia based on the Buddha’s teachings of compassion. In his own words, he describes Than Hsiang as a place ‘for the young to learn, the strong and healthy to serve, the sick and aged to be cared for and the departed to find spiritual destination.’ IBC was also founded under the same principle to promote Buddhist education.

On 26th February, he shared his thoughts and memories of IBC as presented below:

Question: What is your idea of Buddhist education?

Shi Fu: Buddhist monasteries have always been the education center. The teaching of the Buddha is an education, so it is our hope that with IBC, we can revive the great ancient spirit of institutions such as Nalanda, Vikramasila and of course other monastic institutions in countries such as Sri Lanka and other places. We provide education in English and Chinese in IBC to attract students from different countries, where students from different Buddhist traditions and cultures can come together and learn from each other and then go back to serve their respective countries. This is the whole idea of setting up IBC.

Question: As a Founder, what are the challenges you faced in establishing IBC?

Shi Fu: Before I share with you on the challenges, I have to make one very important point on the whole idea of establishing IBC. The credit should go to two other persons. One is Venerable Professor Dhammajoti, he is my very good friend. We studied in the same university in New Zealand in the early 70s. After we parted, he ended up in Sri Lanka where he focused on Buddhist studies and became a very respectable professor. With his connection, we started to organize and to offer diploma and degree courses of Sri Lankan Buddhist universities. Then we had many good Sri Lankan professors; Professor Karunadasa when he came to teach in Malaysia, he saw Southeast Asia as a very promising place where different Buddhist traditions meet together. He suggested the idea of establishing a university that embraces the three major Buddhist traditions.

The big challenge is that we did not have among us people who could directly communicate in Thai, so a lot of our documents are written in English and when we submit to the authorities they were translated into Thai. (laughs) But we did not know if the Thai version was exactly the same as the original English version. I hope that young people, who are the future IBC leaders will learn Thai so that they can communicate directly with the people in charge. Otherwise it is fine, I think Thailand is a beautiful country and it is very open in terms of education.

Question: Tell us more about 12 years of the establishment of IBC, are you satisfied with its accomplishment?

Shi Fu: (Laughs) Oh! I must think back. I always remember a person who worked throughout these 12 years with me – Dr. Fa Qing. Next time you should ask Dr. Fa Qing, he will have more interesting stories (laughs)

Question: What future plans do you have for IBC?

Shi Fu: We would like now to seriously consider offering secular courses which we have accumulated 20 to 30 years of experience, such as courses on early child education, geriatric nursing, Buddhist psychotherapy, counseling and Chinese medical course. However when I say this, we want to offer these courses with a Buddhist flavor. For example, if we run a kindergarten, we want to run one with a Buddhist flavor. It is very important to plant the seed very early. Nowadays the kids are exposed to the Internet, (laughs) you know they just play with the smart phone. Even if you start Buddhist education at the primary level, it is already considered too late.

Question: Do you also encourage others to follow the similar ideology?

Shi Fu: Before we established IBC, I was in Kuala Lumpur doing fund raising and student recruitment, explaining to them that we are going to start IBC. One person among the audience, he is a very devoted Buddhist - he asked a question ‘aren’t there already two Buddhist universities in Thailand, which are financially supported by the government? Why do you want to go and start a third one?’ Then I asked the person ‘Yes, Thailand is a Buddhist country; do you know how many Christian universities are there in Thailand’? Obviously he didn’t know, if he had known he wouldn’t have asked that question. Then I said ‘SEVEN’! He was of course surprised. So today, we are already far behind in terms of promoting religious education compared with Christianity and even with Islam. Therefore, we need more Buddhist colleges and more universities to produce future generations of quality Buddhist leaders.

Question: Could you share a distinctive memory of IBC – either a very difficult moment or a happiest moment?

Shi Fu: Let me share with you the happiest moment which took place on 20th August 2008. You might wonder why I could remember the date so clearly (laughs) - because it is a 20, 08 and a 2008, I didn’t choose that date if we were going to have our first convocation. So I gave Ven. Professor Dhammajoti two dates to choose from, and he chose that date. That was the first convocation date, which witnessed the first batch of BA graduates and MA graduates. That is the day I remember very well, a very happy day for all – for me and for all!

Question: If you were to describe IBC in one sentence, what would it be?

Shi Fu: Oh! Ven. Professor Dhammavihari had done that for us when he chose the motto for IBC; the IBC was established “For the Good of the Many”.
Question: Please share your final thought or advice for the staff and students of IBC.
Shi Fu: It is important for us to promote Buddhist education and we must emphasize a quality education. If we do not invest on education, Buddhism will have no foreseeable future. I hope that our professors, faculty staff, students and alumni will continue to support IBC so that we become better every year.