Author: Tsui Chung Hui
Translated by: Stephanie Chin, Corey Bell
Photos: Provided by Tung Lin Kok Yuen
Sir Robert Ho Tung
Sir Robert Ho Tung was born the son of an English gentleman and a Chinese mother in Hong Kong in 1862, 20 years after the territory was ceded to Great Britain as a result of China’s defeat in the Opium Wars. Unlike many that enjoyed privileged access to Western institutions, his early education was undertaken at a traditional Chinese private school, leading him to become strongly influenced by Chinese learning and fully conversant of the local language and culture. Sir Robert was nevertheless subject to discrimination and exclusion by both the territory’s British and Chinese societies in his youth, and strove to earn their respect through the pursuit of academic excellence and success.
Owing much to his sharp intelligence, hard work and keen business sense, Sir Robert excelled in his studies, and in 1897, at the age of 35, became Hong Kong’s richest man. Aspiring to utilize his wealth to benefit society, Sir Robert proceeded to devote an enormous portion of his fortune and other personal resources to a remarkable number of charitable causes, ensuring an enduring legacy and renown as one of the most important philanthropists of Hong Kong’s early history.
Lady Clara Lin-Kok
Lady Clara Lin-Kok (1875-1938) was the second of two wives of Sir Robert, having married him in 1895. She raised ten children, and was a loving mother and a source of considerable encouragement for her husband. Most importantly, Lady Clara Lin-Kok, supported by Sir Robert, invested a great deal of her time and energy to the establishment of a diverse array of charitable activities aimed at assisting and alleviating the sufferings of the infirmed, disadvantaged and underprivileged. In doing so, she was largely inspired by her belief in, and devotion to, the Buddhist faith.
Realization of Truth
Lady Clara’s mother and grandmother were dedicated Buddhists, and their devotion influenced her at an early age, inspiring her faith in, and practice of, the Buddhist teachings. This dedication to practice, in turn, helped Lady Clara come to terms with a cruel litany of personal tragedies, including the premature death of her parents, the early death of one of her sons, and several serious illnesses of her immediate family, including Sir Robert’s contracting a serious case of pneumonia in 1909. Then, in 1914, Lady Clara had an experience that profoundly energized her faith. Then 39, she suffered a throat condition which, while Sir Robert was away on business, became critical. Tortured for months by excruciating pain and separated from her husband, she sought to relieve her suffering by continually reciting the name of the Amitabha Buddha. As a result of doing this, she began to comprehend the realities of human suffering, and despite her considerable pain, felt herself in a state of profound peace. From this point on, Lady Clara’s faith in Buddhism deepened immensely, and she found herself gifted with a tremendous reservoir of faith, inner strength and compassion.
A true Bodhisattva
In 1919, Lady Clara’s eldest daughter Kam Chi suffered a serious case of post-natal depression. Sir Robert proposed that she be taken to Qingdao in Northern China to seek treatment, and Lady Clara, along with several of her children, accompanied her.
Kam Chi recovered after treatment in Qingdao, upon which Lady Clara took her to the famous Buddhist mountain Pu Tuo Shan, where she listened to dharma talks convened by Venerable Yue Chi at the Hong Fa Zen Monastery. Lady Clara found herself inspired by the teachings of Venerable Yue Chi, and aspired to further her studies of the dharma under the guidance of such a capable mentor. In her Notes on Mountain Travels, she wrote, “I will never abandon my faith to the triple gem. The true nature of the four elements in the universe is void. Everything that comes and goes is like a bubble and a dream. Human life is impermanent like dust and as fragile as straw, requiring guidance from great teachers to understand. Otherwise, how can one overcome the suffering of life and death? The world needs true dharma teachings.”
Lady Clara’s exposure to the teachings, commitment to practice and ability to confront her personal sufferings enabled her to profoundly strengthen her faith, love of all humanity, and sense of purpose. Thus as a result of her experience at Pu Tuo Shan she made the Bodhisattva vow – that she would commit her life to help alleviate the sufferings of all sentient beings. As a result of this, and thanks to the loving support and assistance of her husband, she set out on what was to become a remarkable career of philanthropy, undertaking a diverse array of religious and other charitable projects and activities that were to touch and transform the lives of thousands. Her story, thus, is the story of the spirit, mission and origin of the Tung Lin organization.