Buddhist Learning Network
“My ambition has been to see centres of Buddhist studies in universities and, gradually, one by one, to develop a link between them, forming a Buddhist knowledge network"
- Mr Robert Ho, Founder, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation
Mr Robert H. N. Ho has harboured the goal of creating a global Buddhist network of scholars from the early days of his philanthropy. He views such a network as a key way to fulfil the wishes of his devout grandmother Lady Clara Ho Tung. Lady Clara sought to help Buddhism adapt to the needs of modern society and reach out to the world to assist healing and solution-building among individuals and communities.
Mr Ho knows from his own experience how difficult Buddhism can appear. Although introduced to Buddhism as a child by Lady Clara, he had a non-practising period in his young to middle years, finding the doctrines hard to fathom and reconcile with today’s world. He later returned to Buddhism after meeting and being mentored by a Buddhist monk with a gift for simpler yet resonant explanations. Enabling Buddhism to be more widely understood has become a core feature of Mr Ho’s philanthropic outlook.
Keen to widen discussion from the often esoteric world of Buddhist studies to the contemporary and cross-disciplinary at major universities, he has worked to provide a variety of opportunities related to the field at leading institutions around the world. The reach is wide, with programmes covering the Buddhist scholastic spectrum, including philosophy, religion, art, conservation, culture, and Buddhism’s role in contemporary society. Unusually, the philanthropy is rigorously non-sectarian.
More recently, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation has turned to provision of funding support to enable individual academics and students to deepen and share their understanding of Buddhism, its role and responsibilities, with wider audiences. From this and the university endowment programme, it is hoped that an active network and broader general knowledge about Buddhism may emerge.
The initial spur for Mr Ho’s education network was an endowment to the University of Hong Kong, made through the Lady Clara-founded, Hong Kong-based Tung Lin Kok Yuen Buddhist temple in 2001. “The University approached me to help establish its Centre of Buddhist Studies, which at the time was the first of its kind in Hong Kong. I thought it was a good idea and Tung Lin Kok Yuen became a founding donor,” Mr Ho said. This was followed by endowments from Tung Lin Kok Yuen in Hong Kong to the International Buddhist College of Thailand in 2004 and the University of Toronto in 2006; and Tung Lin Kok Yuen in Canada to the University of British Columbia in 2005.
With the founding of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, more institutions were included: to date, Harvard and Stanford universities in the United States, and the Courtauld Institute of Art in the UK. The Foundation has also initiated an innovative Buddhist studies funding programme, setting up dissertation and postdoctoral fellowships, research and collaborative research fellowships and new professorships to help individual Buddhist scholars throughout their academic journey. It is administered through the renowned American Council of Learned Societies. In 2014, the earlier Canadian programmes were renamed, bringing them under the Foundation to form one cohesive network.