With a history stretching back thousands of years and with millions of practitioners today, the influence of Buddhism is unquestionable. Many people have looked to this philosophy for answers about the nature of the world, solutions to health issues, or guidance on how to live their lives.
The University of Hong Kong's (HKU) Centre of Buddhist Studies is offering a master of Buddhist studies to teach the philosophy in a comprehensive and scientific way.
Sik Hin Hung, assistant professor of the centre, said the programme drew interest from a wide range of people. "Religious studies teachers come to upgrade their knowledge," he said. "Counsellors and psychologists take the course to learn how Buddhist teachings add a new dimension to the science of human psyche and how they can be applied to their daily work."
There are also students who want to explore a philosophy of life and study Buddhism for spiritual development. "In a busy city like Hong Kong, people are under a lot of stress" Sik said. "They want to learn to relax mentally, to find a window to release stress and most importantly find meaning in life."
Recruitment runs from January to March every year, with classes starting in September. Students can choose between studying one year full time or two to three years part time.
The basic qualification is a bachelor's degree with honours from HKU or an equivalent qualification from a comparable institution. There are interviews to look at applicants' interests and motivations for learning about Buddhism.
"We look for people who want to enrich their life through Buddhism and not so much about getting advancement in their jobs," Sik said.
Ng Chi-hin, who is on the course, said he wanted to find answers in life. He has a background in economics and works in the financial industry. "I have been intrigued by Buddhist teachings since I was young," he said. "But my studies have never been serious or well-structured. Having acquired the knowledge and skill I need to make a living, I am still trying to figure out how to live life to the fullest. I am curious to know what Buddhism teaches about life and living. I hope to learn Buddhist teachings systematically and develop the necessary tools to exchange Buddhist thought with different people."
Ng said he had been able to gain valuable life education from the course. He learned about how Buddhism explained the phenomena of this world, how the mind and body worked, and what leads to true happiness.
"Don't think of this course as a theoretical study in religion," he said. "Buddhist studies has practical applications and significance to various aspects of our life. It is a very practical stream of knowledge which is too often neglected or underappreciated."
Ng said his favourite course was the "study of important Buddhist meditation texts", which introduced him to classic literature that approaches meditation from different angles.
"By learning how different ancient and modern masters teach and practise meditation, and cultivate wisdom through meditation, we can get more familiar with one of the most important practices in Buddhism." he said.
He said he thought the "counselling and pastoral practice" course was also very practical because it introduced ways Buddhist theories and practices could be used for counselling and personal transformation. The course covers key topics relating to how the mind works and how to deal with emotions.
"Through the course, I have met with students from different professions, religious backgrounds, and from other parts of the world who share the same passion for knowledge and compassion for people," Ng said. "This has been a very valuable experience for me."