Buddhist Studies at Top of its Class

Buddhist Studies at Top of its Class

JENNIFER DRADER/daily bruin senior staff
Students in the Fiat Lux seminar "Zen and the Art of Cooperation" sit with monastics in a meditation hall at Deer Park Monastery during the weekend retreat offered as a part of the course.

By Vanda Farahmand of the DAILY BRUIN

This article was originally published by the Daily Bruin on April 12, 2005.

UCLA is a university that houses one of the most diverse student populations in the nation, and it acknowledges and explores the diversity of its students, faculty and the community at large with various programs that study themes like religion and nationality.

UCLA currently has one of the top three Buddhist studies programs in the United States, according to the Center for Buddhist Studies Web site, which takes into consideration the faculty size and quality at UCLA, as well as the breadth of coverage in the subject.

Jen Pham, a third-year psychobiology student who used to teach Vietnamese in a Buddhist temple next to her house and plans to do the same again this summer, relayed the importance of the Buddhist studies program at UCLA.

"I think this program will be beneficial for students and the UCLA community because this will benefit those who want to know and learn more about Buddhism," she said. "Moreover, I think having a belief will be necessary because people nowadays face more changes in society, and they have more challenges. And I think if people have a belief, people will not feel lost and become stronger when facing obstacles."

The Los Angeles community, which has especially seen great influxes of immigration from all areas of the world, is flush in its diverse cultures and history.

Southern California specifically has seen a great growth of people of Asian ancestry, and this growing population with its rich cultures is reflected at UCLA and its academic reach.

"With the growing percentage of UCLA students of Asian heritage, the center acts as a way to serve students interested in studying their ancestral cultures," said Robert E. Buswell, Jr., director and founder of UCLA's Center for Buddhist Studies.

UCLA at this time has the largest Buddhist studies program of any university outside Asia. The university has four full-time faculty who are Buddhist specialists, and additionally two faculty members in art history who specialize in Buddhist art.

"It was (established) in recognition of the major commitment UCLA had made to building the premier program in Buddhist studies in the United States. The center was also among the first such centers anywhere in the country devoted specifically to Buddhist studies. The center enabled UCLA to spearhead the compilation of the first complete Encyclopedia of Buddhism to be published in the West," Buswell said. The encyclopedia was published in 2004 by Macmillan Reference.

The Center for Buddhist Studies at UCLA, founded in July of 2000, houses numerous specialists who understand and teach the different facets of Buddhism. The center is research-oriented and regularly sponsors conferences, colloquia, workshops and symposia.

The Center for Buddhist Studies is affiliated with UCLA's Asia Institute, and was founded by the UCLA College, with support and funding provided from the UCLA College's humanities and international divisions, according to its Web site.

"The center was established as a means to recognize the rapid growth in UCLA's study of Buddhism across several different departments, from Asian languages and cultures, to art history, to anthropology. The center's activities bring together faculty and students in Buddhist studies to broaden UCLA's coverage of the field. The center holds various events and programs dedicated to the exploration of Buddhism and expanding its reach," Buswell said.

Furthermore, UCLA has numerous courses and academic studies devoted to the discipline, which include courses in anthropology, art history, Chinese, Asian languages and cultures, Japanese and Korean.

This quarter, there is a sociology Fiat Lux freshman seminar titled "Zen and the Art of Cooperation: Buddhist Approaches to Peacemaking," which is not part of the Center for Buddhist Studies program but explores Zen Buddhism as a system of social psychology that has evolved for thousands of years.

UCLA is the only institution that offers both comprehensive undergraduate and graduate curricula in Buddhist studies, and courses offered at UCLA encompass a wide array of subjects related to it.

"UCLA is one of the few universities that offers a complete curriculum in Buddhist studies at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The undergraduate major in Asian Religions administered by the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures focuses primarily on Buddhist studies and is the first such major offered at any university in the Western world. We enable students to engage in in-depth study of Buddhism," Buswell said.

UCLA also houses numerous institutes devoted to Asian studies, including the UCLA Asia Institute, which promotes Asian studies at UCLA and uses outreach activities like public symposia to garner greater understanding of Asia, as well as the UCLA International Institute, which is dedicated to educating global citizens.

Various Buddhist clubs and associations also have chapters at UCLA, such as the University Buddhist Association, a group of students, faculty and staff that holds both social and educational activities including bonfires, trips to Buddhist temples and meditation sessions in order to learn about Buddhism and the Buddhist community.

In addition to academics, the Fowler Museum of Cultural History has had various Buddhist exhibits, as well as exhibits that feature works of Asian ancestry, open to the public. Past displays have included a photography show titled "Visions of Buddhist Life" in 2004 and an art exhibit from October 2003 to January 2004 titled "From the Verandah: Art, Buddhism, Presence."

Programs like these allow students and the UCLA community at large to become better associated with Buddhism and its role today.

For instance, the Center for Buddhist Studies, along with the UCLA Asia Institute, will sponsor a colloquium with Alexander von Rospatt, a UC Berkeley professor, on April 22.

The colloquium, "The Sacred Origins of the Svayambhcaitya and the Kathmandu Valley," will examine the beginnings of this caitya, one of the most important shrines for the Newar Buddhists, and the reasons for its erection more than 1,500 years ago.

Also, the Center for Buddhist Studies and the UCLA Asia Institute will sponsor a colloquium scheduled for April 29, with Robert Sharf of UC Berkeley, titled "The Ritual Function of the Dunhuang Grottoes."

The colloquium will explore a possible function of the Mogao cave complex of Dunhuang, China.

Though many scholars have hypothesized that these rock-cut caves were used for monastic purposes, Sharf will use architectural, visual and inscriptional evidence to argue that the caves functioned as family or clan shrines.

Thus, there are many opportunities at UCLA for students with Asian ancestry, or just those interested in exploring a rich culture and history, to explore Buddhism and its reaches.

"I find that this is a good way to learn about the Buddhist religion, and there are many practices within Buddhism that can be very beneficial in everyday life," said Nathan Tran, a third-year mathematics student.

Published: Tuesday, April 12, 2005