Up a steep winding road, hidden behind the main streets of Hong Kong’s busy Tsuen Wan new town and atop a small hill, a historic monastery and temple is home to a thoroughly modern online portal that is opening up understanding of Buddhism and its relevance to everyday life worldwide.
At Wang Fat Ching She, aptly translated as “a place from which the Dharma is spread” and located at the picturesquely named 9½ Milestone, Castle Peak Road, Mr Robert H. N. Ho’s aim to sustain and extend the Buddhist legacy of his grandmother Lady Clara Ho Tung through a global network of knowledge is being actively realised through the popular non-profit Buddhist Door news website (www.buddhistdoor.net).
The visually striking and responsive multimedia portal is one of the largest and most visited sites of its kind, drawing nearly 500,000 unique visitors every month. Guided by Mr K.C. Lum, Editorial Chief Executive, it provides original news and features on a wide range of topical subjects related to the Buddhist community as well as serving as a platform for Buddhist perspectives on current events and world issues.
“A multimedia news website is a wonderful way to link up the Buddhist community across the world as well as show the world at large that Buddhism is moving with the times and has much greater relevance to society than mindfulness alone”
- Mr Robert H. N. Ho
Buddhist Door was first launched online in 1995 in Vancouver, making it a very early pioneer of internet publishing. The initial site was sponsored by the Tung Lin Kok Yuen, Canada Society, a Buddhist temple that Mr Ho helped to establish in 1994, and later by Tung Lin Kok Yuen in Hong Kong, the temple founded by Lady Clara in the 1930s. Wang Fat Ching She was donated to Tung Lin Kok Yuen in 1960.
In the website’s earliest days, the goal was mainly to bring greater awareness of Buddhism to English-language audiences. When the site moved its base to Hong Kong in 2006, it started to extend its reach in line with technological advances and the new location. The website now comes under The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation’s umbrella.
While Buddhist Door is not the only Buddhist online media platform, it is distinctive in its combination of non-sectarianism and multiple global perspectives, rather than focusing on readers in one particular Buddhist tradition or region of the world.
The site employs two separate editorial teams of Chinese language (佛門網) and English language journalists (Buddhist Door Global), with 90% of content created specifically for their individual sites. Chinese content is available in both traditional and simplified characters. News issues have tackled Buddhist views of the migrant crisis in Europe in 2015 and climate change. Subjects for features include Buddhist spirituality, engagement in society, meditation, art and personal development. The role of women in Buddhism has been a particular focus.
Handling the different interests of readers around the world is a key challenge, according to Mr Lum. Visitors from the US may want to read about meditation, while those from Chinese communities worldwide are more drawn to human interest features involving Buddhists. To address this, content is regionally organised on the website, with freelance writers based in individual locations providing articles from their respective communities. Stories that do appeal to all readers mainly involve internationally renowned personalities, such as Buddhist nun, teacher and writer Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo.
In addition, a growing presence on social media is helping the site reach out, including registration in 2015 on Sina Weibo in Mainland China. Weibo provides a service similar to a combined Twitter and Facebook and has tens of millions of daily users.
As a former journalist and editor, Mr Ho takes a keen interest in the sophisticated multimedia site available today, given its exciting capability to reframe Buddhism in a more contemporary context. However, there is a hands-off approach regarding editorial content, according to Mr Lum.
Another aspect of the borderless Buddhism that the site embraces is a willingness to engage in interfaith dialogue. One such event, organised by Buddhist Door, was a seminar in Hong Kong in 2015 focused on love and peace and involving Buddhist, Muslim and Christian participants. The event was co-hosted by Turkey’s Anatolia Cultural & Dialogue Centre and the Centre of Buddhist Studies at The University of Hong Kong. The university centre is part of the scholarly Buddhist network in renowned academic institutions around the world supported by Tung Lin Kok Yuen and The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation.
Mr Lum sees Buddhist Door and the academic network as highly complementary. Activities and events at the Buddhist network institutions, particularly those related to modern practice, are reported and featured on Buddhist Door. This creates a platform for exchange within the network and at the same time widens awareness of the centres worldwide.
While rooted physically at Wang Fat Ching She, the future outlook for Buddhist Door is one of expanding horizons, be it extending the readership among those below 25, exploring the possibility of content in more than two languages, or highlighting previously unsung Buddhist activities around the world. “We really want to broaden the image of Buddhism,” Mr Lum said. “We want to encourage people to interact with the site, to see it as a modern platform, and a way to really understand what it means to think as a Buddhist.”