In the Headline...

New chapter, old verse

Buddhist library born of family's desire to share ancient religion


By Kathy Cichon
Staff Writer

When Bert and Li-Su Tan opened the doors to their new library, they hoped to also open the minds of others to another way of thinking. "It's really for educational purposes," Bert said. In May the couple held the grand opening of Amitabha Buddhist Library in Chicago, on Maple Avenue in Lisle's Green Trails Shopping Center. The library houses a reading area and a practice center, providing visitors with a place to learn and reflect.

"It's the only Buddhist library of this kind in this area," Bert said.

Bert and Li-Su, along with their fifth-grade daughter, Lotus, attended two Buddhist temples in the past, but they now use the practice center inside their library.

For the Tans, Buddhism is more of an education than a religion.

"We treat it as an education," Li-Su said. "To promote peace and harmony for all beings. We believe it's education from Buddha," she said. "He teaches us how to reach a more peaceful life and understand the true meaning of life. It's very hard to explain to people. ... We don't treat Buddha as a god. We treat him as a teacher."

The idea to create a Buddhist library was born out of necessity after the Tans ran out of storage space in their Naperville home. "About a year and a half ago we began to more deeply practice," Bert said. "We requested books from other places so we would have material to reference. The materials kept coming," he said.

As the stacks of books from Taiwan turned into multiple boxes, they began to distribute them to others. They took some of the materials to an Oriental food mart in Westmont, as well as a Chinese cultural center.

"It became popular X the materials went fast," said Bert, who works at Lucent Technologies.

Photos by Leslie Barbaro
Staff Photographer
Lisle's Amitabha Buddhist Library in Chicago, which opened in May, provides a formal space for Buddhists to gather for singing, chanting and reading of the sutras. The exercises are practiced to foster self-cultivation, one of the steps toward enlightenment.
Bert Tan prepares for a formal Sunday practice at Lisle's Amitabha Buddhist Library in Chicago. The practice space offers a place for meditation and structured reading of the sutras at library, which Bert and his wife, Li-Su, opened May 24.
Eugene Gao, right, practices using a chin, an instrument unique to Buddhism, while Bert tries to maintain a rhythm on a bell and wooden fish. They depend on a CD for the structured chanting and music that accompanies their exercises but hope to master the instruments without the recorded music as a guide.
Four-year-old Rulian Wang of Naperville imitates her mother, Betsy, as she shows her respect to Buddha after the library practice center's formal Sunday exercise.
Fifteen Buddha statues imported from Malaysia line the walls of library's practice room.

While they continued to take boxes of books there, they still had an overabundance of books filling their home. With the basement full of materials and other portions of the house quickly following suit, they decided to take action.

"We needed to find someplace to store the books," Bert said.

That was last summer, Li-Su said. They then spent three to four months searching for a location. The couple then heard about the space in the shopping center, which was actually two storefronts right next to each other.

"It's so close to my office," said Li-Su, a certified public accountant whose office is across the street on Steeple Run Drive. "We thought it would be a good place."

Throughout the next several months, the Tans, along with about 45 volunteers, began remodeling the stores to create the library. They built tables and rows of bookshelves and anything else they needed. The only work done professionally was that which required a licensed contractor.

Once the facility opened, the volunteers continued to play an important role in staffing the library.

After the shelves were in place, the Tans then had the task of unpacking about 380 boxes of books and audiovisual materials. They estimate there are close to 2,000 items on the shelves.

"We still have some in our home," Li-Su said.

While many of the works are in Chinese, there are a materials in English and Vietnamese as well. Li-Su plans to order more books in other languages.

"There is no charge for any use of the materials," Bert said. "Some of the books we give out free."

If the library has three or more of one title, library patrons are allowed to keep a copy.

While in the library, visitors also are able to use the computers to do research.

"There's a lot of information on the Web," Bert said.

The Tans also plan to add satellite television, which frequently broadcasts Buddhist programming. Offering these types of services helps them in their goal of providing those who are interested in learning about Buddhism a place to go.

"Any organization or school that would like to come for a visit, they are welcome to do so," Bert said.

In June, a group of about 25 eighth-grade students from Our Savior Lutheran Church in Wheaton visited the library.

In the fall, the Tans will give lectures at local colleges and universities. They have sent 70 canon sets to universities across the country, including Harvard and Columbia. They also sent the 169-volume set to the Library of Congress.

"We just hope that people can get some use of them," Bert said.

Amitabha Buddhist Library in Chicago is at 2753-55 Maple Ave. in Lisle. The library is open from noon to 6 p.m. weekdays. During August, the library portion is not open on weekends, but the practice room is open from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Sundays. Weekend library hours will resume in the fall. Call (630) 428-9941.

8/22/03 — ©
2003 Digital Chicago & Hollinger International Inc.

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