Dr. SHEN, CHIA THENG (1913-2007), co-founder of the Buddhist Association of the United States (abbreviated hereafter as BAUS), was born on Dec. 15, 1913 in Chekiang, China. In 1937, after obtaining his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the National Chiao Tung University in Shanghai, he had served for the next ten years in Central Elec. Mfg. Works and then in the National Resources Commission in the Chinese government. In 1947, Shen had his own international trading company opened in Shanghai and then moved his business to Hong Kong in 1949. In 1952, he and his family came to the United States and, along with some business partners, established a shipping company and thereafter had held various shipping executive positions until his retirement in 1980. In 1973, Shen was conferred with an honorary Litt. D. by St. John’s University in New York.
Ever since his youth, Shen had always felt spiritually drawn to the Buddhist teachings of personal cultivation toward enlightenment and compassion for all sentient beings. But it was not until he came to the United States that he started to study Buddhism seriously. Guided by some learned Buddhist friends in the States, Shen has attained a deep understanding of the profound and subtle principles of the religion. He has the vision that the ever-new wisdom embodied in the Buddhist teaching, along with other w orld religions, will help bring about world peace and alleviate the suffering of mankind. He has therefore dedicated himself to the cause of promoting friendship and mutual communication among all religions, and to introducing the Buddha Dharma into the Western world, in particular America, which he recognized as a fertile soil for the propagation of Buddhism for the benefit of its people.
Over the years, Shen’s efforts and financial support has led to the formation of the BAUS in 1964, and in 1971 the Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions in New York. Since accurate translation and publication of the Buddhist scriptures into western languages are essential if Buddhism is to be appreciated beneficially by the Western world, Shen donated in 1968 a property in San Francisco to Rev. Hsuan Hua to establish the Buddhist Text Translation Society for just that purpose. In 1971, he fur thermore helped found the Institute for the Translation of the Chinese Tripitaka(ITCT) in Taipei, Taiwan. The most important publication of the latter is a 496-page book entitled A Treasury of Mahayana Sutras, which was published in 1984 by Penn State University.
To allow North American Buddhists to have a place for regular Dharma Assembly and to attend lectures given by renowned Dharma masters and learned Buddhists from all over the world, Shen and his wife, Upasika Woo Ju Shen, donated in 1969 a property in Bronx, N.Y. to BAUS to establish the Temple of Enlightenment. In 1970, Shen started the Bodhi House in Long Island, N.Y., which has been used as headquarters of the 16th Karmapa of Tibetan Buddhism and conference places for various Buddhist gathering. Shen late r supported the 16th Karmapa again financially to establish the Karma Triyana Dharma Monastery in Woodstock, N.Y.
In 1980, a 125-acre parcel of land, located in Putnam County, N.Y., was donated by Shen to the BAUS to build the Chuang Yen Monastery which, with its Great Buddha Hall which houses a 37-foot statue of Buddha Vairocana – the largest Buddha statue in the Western hemisphere, Kuan-Yin Hall, Thousand Lotus Memorial Terrace, library, statues of Kuan-Yin and Amitabha, and beautiful landscape designed with the theme “Pure Land” in mind, has become an attraction for Buddhists as well as tourists. Currently, Shen eng ages himself in a project to store the Buddhist scriptures on computer CD-ROMs. By doing so, Shen hopes distribution of the Buddhist books becomes more convenient and the Buddha Dharma can be preserved from being destroyed because of war or political upheaval.
Since 1969, Shen has lectured, in either English or Chinese, on Buddhism on many occasions. Most of the lectures have been collected and printed as books. His publications include A Study on Diamond Sutra, The Five Eyes, May Flower, A Glimpse of Buddhism, What We can Learn From Buddhism, and The Enlightenment of Bodhisattva Kuan-Yin.
Reviewing his life, Shen made the following statements in Who’s Who in America: To benefit all human beings and to work toward freeing them from fear is my goal. The collective wisdom of all world religions furnishes us the direction and means to achieve that goal. To introduce such wisdom into the daily life of mankind in general and America in particular, is therefore what I devote my energy to. To the extent that I succeed in this endeavor, I consider my life successful.