중앙데일리

Buswell gives Buddhism a sizeable boost

July 18,2009
Robert Buswell
Professor Robert Buswell has a difficult task on his hands: help Korea become one of the world’s leading areas for Buddhist studies.

The 56-year-old American scholar is the first person to head the new Korean Buddhist Research Institute at Dongguk University in central Seoul. He took the reins of the institute for one year starting in June.

The organization was established in March this year by combining other Buddhist research institutes within the school.

Buswell said he has several primary goals during his term.

“First, I will try to introduce as many contributions from Korean Buddhist studies as possible to the world,” he said. “I am also planning to spread the excellence and superiority of Korean Buddhism by introducing its history and culture.

“Additionally, I will raise awareness of unique characteristics of Korean Buddhism by writing many related books and articles so that not only non-Buddhist scholars but also ordinary people can be exposed to Buddhist studies.”

The professor was appointed as the head of the institute by Dongguk in May. He is also a professor of the department of Asian languages and cultures and director of the Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of California in Los Angeles.

Buswell was born into a Christian family, but he became fascinated with Buddhism while he was an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. During that time, he was exposed to numerous books and articles related to Buddhism by chance.

Buswell said that he became interested in the history, culture and, in particular, the meditation practice of Buddhism because it was like studying the science of the mind.

The professor dropped out of college in 1972 and spent one year each in Thailand and Hong Kong as a Buddhist monk. While he was in Thailand, two Korean monks introduced him to Korean Buddhism and persuaded him to eventually visit a monastery in Korea.

Buswell moved to Songgwangsa, or Piney Expanse Monastery, in Suncheon, South Jeolla, in 1974 at the age of 21, where he practiced meditation for five years as a Buddhist monk. After spending some time in Korea, he returned to Berkeley and earned a doctorate degree in Buddhist studies in 1985.

As a professor at UCLA, he founded two centers that now rank as the largest of their kind in the United States. He is married to a Korean-American woman, Christina Lee Buswell, who is a scholar of Korean studies. The two first met in 1997 when Buswell visited Dongguk to attend an academic symposium related to Buddhism. Lee worked as an interpreter at the conference.


By Lee Min-yong [smartpower@joongang.co.kr]



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