Tung Lin Kok Yuen, Canada Society
Mr Robert H.N. Ho shared just six years with his second grandmother, Lady Clara Ho Tung, before her death in early 1938. Yet her devotion to Buddhism has played a highly influential part over much of his life. Tung Lin Kok Yuen, Canada Society, a charitable organisation founded by Mr Ho, and its associated Chinese Buddhist temple in Vancouver are major ways in which he has sought to both safeguard the legacy of Lady Clara and take forward her vision to nurture understanding of Buddhism internationally.
From east to west
Lady Clara’s Tung Lin Kok Yuen in Hong Kong was established in 1935. Exactly 60 years later in 1995, a memorable consecration ceremony led by Dharma masters Hsing Yun, Kok Kwong, and Wu Yi was held for the first overseas branch of Tung Lin Kok Yuen. The temple was situated at 2495 Victoria Drive in Vancouver and had been established the previous year.
As Mr Ho recalled, the search for such a location had been spurred by concerns among Hong Kong’s Buddhist community over the 1997 handover and the changes it might bring. Charged by the Board of Tung Lin Kok Yuen with exploring options in North America, Mr Ho and Venerable Wu Yi first travelled across the United States to look at cities with major Chinese populations, such as New York and San Francisco. But complex rules related to sites for religious buildings eventually precluded the idea of a temple in the United States.
“The only way we discovered to found a temple in these large cities was to buy a church and remodel it,” Mr Ho said. “The Board decided this was not an appropriate route to take. Not only would it always be known as the former church. Most importantly, we would have to take down the cross. And we didn’t want to do that.”
In Canada, Mr Ho and Venerable Wu Yi found far fewer restrictions. They visited Toronto. They looked at Vancouver. While the actual number of Chinese people in Vancouver was lower than Toronto, the concentration was higher given the Pacific coast city’s smaller geographical spread. Vancouver was chosen as the location.
At Tung Lin Kok Yuen on Victoria Drive, what had previously been a Chinese restaurant was transformed into an oasis of calm and a focus for the city’s growing number of Buddhists to worship. A few years later, the dilapidated housing units nearby were acquired and made over into an atmospheric Ancestral Hall, enabling people to pay their respects to relatives who had passed away.
The 20,000-square-foot temple complex also includes a Longevity Hall, Meditation Hall, Memorial Hall with pictures of early Ho family members, conference hall, and multi-purpose hall. There is a shop for Buddhist artefacts and literature, vegetarian kitchen, library open to the public, and small garden for contemplation.
With donations from the Buddhist community in Canada much more limited than many locations in Asia, on-going support for the temple was provided through the acquisition and redevelopment of a small strip of shops opposite the temple. The shops were turned into rental apartments for people over 55 years. Lin Kok Manor was officially opened in 2001.
Challenges and resolution
While the temple quickly established itself with older Chinese people, it found it harder to reach across generations and cultures. Challenges ranged from the management of a Chinese Buddhist temple in a mainly English-language environment to how to reach out to different ages and groups.
“It was very difficult to get monks and nuns to come over because of the work permit situation,” said Mr Ho. “There was also an age gap problem. People of my generation are too old. The question was how could the temple get young people to come in to continue its activities? Not necessarily to convert them to Buddhism but to get them to know something about it and its philosophy.”
In 2004, Mr Ho set up the Tung Lin Kok Yuen Canada Foundation to help to close that generational gap by advancing Buddhist knowledge through the tertiary education sector in Canada and as part of his goal of setting up a global network of Buddhist studies.