ESR 2 Blog May/June 2023: Piu-Wai Chan

During my recent trip to Hong Kong, I visited a Buddhist lecture hall since I heard they recently published an analysis on Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, which I have been studying for my research on Buddhist logic. Since I am going to present at the next FEINART colloquium very soon, I will not elaborate on the conceptualisation further here. (Hence, the wise saying: Treat the readers mean, keep them keen.)

The lecture hall is located right in the middle of an industrial district. Not exactly easy to find, not to mention the humid and almost intolerably hot climate. Sadly, this is not uncommon for many Buddhist organisations since Hong Kong has suffered terribly from land grabbing since the 90s, rendering it the most expensive city to rent or buy in. In response to this, a monk once commented, ‘Sure, there are plenty of grandeur temples, but one may be blinded by the lavish ornaments and overlooked the dharma.’

Nonetheless, during our search for ‘dharma’, one would suspect that they could smell the melting cement as they were ‘google-mapping’ in the labyrinth of an industrial complex. If the cement was not melting, I certainly was. A friend who accompanied me could not help but question, ‘Right, I just checked that they have not updated their Facebook page for a while–what if it is not even open after we came all the way?!’ While it was a legitimate concern, I comforted her with the tales of how many Buddhist scholars, philosophers and monks risked their lives (and to be fair, quite a lot of them did not make it through the pilgrimages) sailing across the ocean to rescue many sutras before the decline in its homeland. In fact, that was precisely what the author of this very book I was searching for, often said in his lectures, ‘…therefore, we are extremely fortunate to encounter Buddhist philosophy.’ He then added, ‘One shall not study Buddhism because it is easy and comfortable; if it feels easy and comfortable, it probably is not Buddhism.’

So, after our not-too-easy, nor too-comfortable journey, we fortunately, found the lecture hall was indeed open. When I enquired to the staff about the new publication, they seemed very much surprised that we knew of it and gave us a tour of the author’s library, which is pure philosophical joy. Not only did I see familiar names from its collection–a whole body of works from monks and Buddhologists (whose works have hardly been translated elsewhere) I deeply admired, but there were also many out-of-print books I was not aware of. Upon seeing my excitement, the staff kindly invited me to research at the library. I could hardly believe my luck, and I immediately cancelled almost all arrangements for the rest of my trip to Hong Kong. So here I was, navigating the cement labyrinth, jumping in-between books to decrypt cryptic philosophical verses, while slowly learning Buddhist etiquette from other visitors and staff– every action and every non-action, no matter how subtle, has an ethical intention. Due to the modest size of the lecture hall, I could hear and see the daily operation all at once. A piece of memory that I am particularly fond of is hearing a Buddhist ceremony conducted right behind me when I was deep into the analysis of the Buddhist conceptual paradox. At that very moment, I realized the book is lived.

In awe of the vast collection, a friend who visited the library with me commented that, ‘How could anyone read all these in a single lifetime?’ I thought, ‘That is when the concept of reincarnation comes in handy, right?’


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