Taiwanese Christian Takes Buddhist University Presidency

Jan 06, 2003 07:51 PM EST

"I still don't know why I came to Tzu-chi." Dr. Fang Jyu-hsiung (Png Kiok-hiong), an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) who has been acting president of Tzu-chi Buddhist University since August, was formally installed in the post on December 4th. Ten years ago, when he chose to return to Taiwan from North Americam, he went to work for the Tzu-chi Buddhist Welfare Association at its university. Over this decade he has over and over said that he trusts his life and work have been guided by God.

When Dr. Fang's confirmation as university president presented him with some faith related hesitancy university board members assured him, "we are not afraid that you are a Christian, we would fear more if you had no faith of any kind." Upon hearing this, he accepted the appointment.

Years ago in North America, because of his associations, he was reported by an anonymous agent and placed on the "black list" of Taiwan's then ruling Nationalist Party. The listing prevented him from returning to Taiwan. When the ban was lifted he applied for an open faculty position in genetics, his specialist field, at Tzu-chi University.

Since he neither neglected nor denied his faith stance in his early years at the school, how can anyone be concerned that he will do so now in th president's office? No matter what may subsequently develop, he is firm in his commitment. He says, "Whether or not Tzu-chi University is a Buddhist institution, or whether or not the people who belong to the association are considered 'exalted' or recognized as doctors of Buddhist doctrine, from the standpoint of love, they hold much in common with Christians. They rise and fall with Tzu-chi, and I respect their integrity."

Dr. Fang recognizes that in his position he must walk with care. There are many religious ceremonies that are part of the university's life. He says, "Some of these are not in accord with Christian faith." He says he will operate in a spirit of cooperation but not full participation. As he sees it, "This is essential to the maintenance of my own faith." As opportunities present themselves, he will openly testify to his faith and his experience as a member of the PCT.

In discussion of the work of the Tzu-chi Association's humanitarian relief operations, he believes that all religions should cooperate. He sees no need to promote the relief work of either Tzu-chi or the Presbyterian Church over the other. "When the society has met a disaster, it matters not from where the relief comes. Tzu-chi has been prepared at times of crisis. Its members have their assignments. All it needs is for an officer of the association to give orders, and they are at work. The Presbyterian system is not so quick to respond. It must organize for the task and observe policies. This delays things." But, he believes, each organization has its own strengths.

Apart from Dr. Fang, Tzu-chi University employs five or six other confessing Christians on its faculty. The Christian students there also have their own club.

There used to be a faculty Christian association which held weekly meetings, but schedule conflicts have prevented its meeting for several years.

In accepting the office of university president, Dr. Fang promises to look to the school's future growth, including continued improvement in teaching, campus development and whole person education.

By Gu Hao-ran, Translated and rewritten by David