UT student org educates community about Buddhism

Mae Hamilton

Before converting to Buddhism, Jue Ji was raised Catholic and graduated from a Catholic college, but felt an emptiness in her life. Now that Ji is a Venerable, or Buddhist nun, she feels that not only has she found personal enlightenment, but she can spread it to others through community service.

Ji serves as the adviser to the UT chapter of the Buddha's Light International Young Adult Division, also known as YAD. Members of YAD work with Fo Guang Shan, a religious organization that started in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and has over 200 branches worldwide and 26 branches in North America. Through the temple and YAD’s involvement in the community, they hope to educate people about Buddhist values and Chinese culture.

“Our purpose here is to get local people to know about us and that the teaching of the Buddha is compassion, wisdom [and] harmony,” Ji said. “We are not some strange cult. We are a religion that helps stabilize the human mind [and] can help solve human problems.”

Advertising senior Shufen Wang co-founded UT’s YAD chapter in 2014 and now serves as the club’s president. She said YAD was a perfect way incorporate the three good deeds — thinking good thoughts, saying good words and acting with compassion — into everyday actions, as well as make friendships with like-minded people.

“I originally joined to find a community and be around people who have similar interests as me,” Wang said. “I grew up in a family with a Buddhism background, and it was difficult to find a community built on that value, so I was excited when my friend introduced me to YAD.”

YAD hosts weekly classes to help UT students learn the basics of Buddhism, such as how to end suffering through the eightfold path, the life story of Buddha and the four noble truths, important teachings all Buddhists follow.

Biochemistry senior Kevin Gian, who will be next year’s YAD president, said that to him, Buddhist principles offer a relief from the turbulence of college life.

“When learning about the causes of suffering, I learned about impermanence,” Gian said. “Being aware of impermanence in everyday life has allowed me to live a less stressful and [more] fulfilling life since I am no longer holding on too closely to things in my life that are constantly changing.”

In addition to classes, YAD members regularly volunteer at the Xiang Yun temple and host events during the fall and spring semesters.

Xiang Yun temple hosts events and workshops like Tai Chi, tea ceremonies, meditation, yoga and kung fu classes. Earlier this summer, Xiang Yun held an interfaith vigil for victims of the Orlando Pulse shooting. When Austin conducted its Asian American Quality of Life research project, the temple served as a site for community members and leaders to create an open dialogue.

“Austin YAD's main goal is to provide a community for students who are interested in learning more about Buddhism,” Wang said. “This year, we hosted our first big event on campus for Buddha's birthday so students can pray [and] learn about the origin of Buddha's birthday and tea ceremony.”

Although YAD and Xiang Yun temple are Buddhist organizations, they are open to people of all faiths and backgrounds.

“All of [our events] attract a lot of local people,” Ji said. “To see so many people interested in learning Chinese and Buddhist culture makes us feel that we’re meeting our goal of conveying and passing Chinese culture to the West.”