UWest was founded by Venerable Master Hsing Yun in 1990. Born in Jiangdu, Jiangsu Province, China in 1927, Venerable Master Hsing Yun, a widely respected advocate of Humanistic Buddhism, is also the founder of the Fo Guang Shan (Buddha’s Light Mountain) order, one of the largest Buddhist organizations in the world. Founded in Taiwan in 1967, it now has over 200 branch temples and associated centers throughout the world.
The humanistic projects of Fo Guang Shan include a children’s home, free medical clinics, a senior citizens’ home, prison ministries, disaster relief, and various other forms of community service. Fo Guang Shan also administers and sustains various cultural and educational endeavors including nursery schools, high schools, libraries, museums, colleges, and universities.
In 1962, Venerable Master Hsing Yun established the Tsung Ling Buddhist College at Fo Guang Shan, and subsequently developed fifteen other Buddhist colleges for the study of the Buddhist dharma and the education and development of monks and nuns. A related activity was the establishment of the Buddha’s Light International Association (BLIA) in 1992. This laity-based educational and service organization now has over 130 chapters with several million members in over 60 countries. The establishment of post-secondary educational institutions combining Buddhist theory and practices with formal academic studies has been a lifelong commitment of Venerable Master Hsing Yun.
To date, five such universities have been founded. The first was University of the West in Los Angeles County, USA, which opened its doors as Hsi Lai University in the spring of 1991. Nanhua University in Jiayi, Taiwan, began instruction in 1996, and Fo Guang University in Ilan, Taiwan, opened in 1999. In Australia, Nan Tien Institute was founded in 2001 and received accreditation from the Australian government to offer graduate degrees in Applied Buddhist Studies in 2009. All four universities combine Buddhist teaching and practice with academic disciplines and grant a variety of degrees from the bachelor’s level through the Ph.D. level. Guang Ming College is the newest member of the Fo Guang Shan family. Located in the Philippines, it focuses on performing arts and Buddhist studies. All member institutions are associated with and connected to an extensive network of temple-sponsored research centers, where scholars from many countries engage in research projects.
In North America, Venerable Master Hsing Yun founded Hsi Lai Temple in 1978 in Hacienda Heights, California. After ten years of preparation, the temple officially opened its doors to the public in 1988. Hsi Lai Temple is situated on 15 acres and includes ten major buildings, including the main shrine, library, auditorium, convention hall, exhibition hall, Buddhist art museum, memorial pagoda, and dining hall. Hsi Lai Temple is designed in the tradition of Chinese palatial architecture and is the most expansive Buddhist temple and monastic center in the Western hemisphere.