I've known Chris Ng for more than 30 years now. She's one of those leading figures in the history of Buddhism in Canada who prefers to work in the background to make things happen for others.
As a co-founder of the Buddhist Education Foundation for Canada, she has been instrumental in funding courses and programs at the University of Toronto for more than a decade, as well as being a community organizer in many other capacities.
I recently asked her if she would be kind enough to be interviewed about her work, for the benefit of posterity, and here is an edited transcript of her responses.
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I grew up in Hong Kong, but it was in Toronto that I met friends at the Toronto Buddhist Society who introduced me to Buddhism. The late Master Sheng Yen was my first Buddhist meditation teacher. The various meditation teachers I have studied with since inspire me to strengthen my practice.
In the 1980s, I joined my friends at the Toronto Buddhist Society to attend some activities organized by the Toronto Buddhist Federation.
My friends at the Toronto Buddhist Society had known the abbot of Tai Bay (Ching Kwok) temple, Ven. Wu De, for a long time. I met the abbot through them. He became the founding President of the Buddhist Education Foundation for Canada (BEFC) and I worked closely with him as a fellow member of the Board of Directors and Secretary of the BEFC until he passed away in 2014.
I co-founded the foundation with two Venerable teachers: the late Ven. Wu De (of Ching Kwok Temple) and Ven. Tai Sau (of Ching Far Temple) in 2001. I asked the Venerables for advice and assistance when Buddhist studies at the University of Toronto was facing the risk of disappearing altogether with the expected retirement of Prof. Leonard Priestley in the late 1990’s. We founded the Foundation in 2001 in order to fundraise to support Buddhist studies at U of T, and we also had a broader vision that in the long run it could play a role in Buddhist education in Canada beyond the U of T. The money comes primarily from Buddhists in the Chinese community.
The Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health (BMPH) program was launched with the strong leadership of Professor Rick Halpern, then Principal of New College at that time. It was not related to the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH). The Buddhist Education Foundation of Canada sponsored some Buddhism courses at New College by donations beginning in 2003. With the Buddhism courses we sponsored, Prof. Halpern proposed a minor program in Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health, a name picked by several professors in a meeting, and the program proposal was sponsored by New College and the program was launched in 2007. The program has been very successful. Its contents have grown in breadth and depth over the years, and student enrolment has been very robust as well. After being the key financial supporter of the program up to 2013, we were happy to see the U of T taking over the funding of the program. We still donate to the program to support one course.
I met with the Principal of Emmanuel College, Prof. Mark Toulouse, in the summer of 2013. After extensive email correspondence and meetings with Prof. Toulouse, and also working with him to launch of a series of Buddhist chaplaincy roundtables in the Buddhist community, the Buddhist Education Foundation of Canada agreed to sponsor seven Buddhism courses to launch a Diploma Program in Buddhist Mindfulness and Mental Health at Emmanuel College. These courses are credit courses for Emmanuel’s Master’s degree programs. At that time, the first courses offered in the Diploma program were proposed by Professors Tony Toneatto and Henry Shiu, with whom I had worked closely over the years on the program at New College.
The Buddhist Chaplaincy Program is designed as a Buddhist stream within the existing Master of Pastoral Studies Program. It began after two endowment donations were made for a professorship in Buddhism at Emmanuel College. Ching Kwok Temple donated $1 million, and the Buddhist Education Foundation of Canada donated $100K, together amounting to a $1.1 million endowment. The professorship was named after the late abbot of Ching Kwok Temple and the late President of the Foundation, the Ven. Shi Wu De, to honour his leadership in Buddhist education in Canada. We are still looking to raise another $400K toward this endowment from the wider community.
New students continue to enter the programs each semester. This May, we had a first group of Buddhist students graduating from the programs and a community celebration took place on April 8, 2018.
The Buddhist Education Foundation of Canada and I continue to have a fundraising role for these programs. I also am a founding member of the Buddhist Studies Advisory Committee at Emmanuel College.
I find it is important for the BEFC to try to bridge academic Buddhist studies with the application of Buddhism. Academic studies should aid the understanding of the Dharma and thus facilitate authentic practice of the Dharma. Dharma practice should aid the understanding in academic studies. There are many ways to accomplish these goals. The key would be for the Buddhist practice community to be informed of and be involved in the academic arena and vice versa. I feel the BEFC could play a role going forward in this way. After all, the Buddha and the great teachers in Buddhism did not teach for the sake of academic studies, but for the sake of practice toward liberation.
If a need exists for the BEFC to sustain itself into the future, it will happen. The BEFC came to be when the necessary causes and conditions ripened. It will sustain itself into the future due the ripening of the necessary causes and conditions.