Ven. Dr. Wonji Dharma
Chancellor – President
(2012 – 2021)
​Buddha Dharma University

Ven. Dr. Karuna Dharma
​President – Chancellor
​(2000 – 2012)
​Buddhist Studies Institute

Ven. Dr. Havanpola Ratanasara
​President – Chancellor
(1980 – 2000)
College of Buddhist Studies

Ven. Dr. Thích Thiên Ân
President – Chancellor
(1973 – 1980)
​College of Oriental Studies​


On June 30, 2012, Ven. Dr. Karuna Dharma transferred the administration and control of the Buddhist Studies Institute to the Five Mountain Zen Order via Ven. Dr. Sunyananda Dharma, as Provost and Dean, and subsequently, Most Ven. Dr. Wonji Dharma. We therefore assumed responsibility for the operations of the Buddhist Studies Institute – Los Angeles whose base of operation was located within the International Buddhist Meditation Center.

The University of Oriental Studies was founded in 1973 by Venerable Dr. Thich Thien-an as the International Buddhist Training Institute, at the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Los Angeles, California. As an autonomous division of the University of Oriental Studies, the International Buddhist Training Institute was conceived with the specified purpose of offering Western style seminary training to Buddhist Monastics from around the world, while not neglecting the inherent experiential nature of Buddhist monastic training in favor of secularly-slanted academia. The school was recognized as an Authorized Independent Institution by the California Superintendent of Public Instruction under Section 94310-3 of the California Education Code.

Following the passing of Most Ven. Dr. Thich Thien-An in 1980, the University of Oriental Studies suspended its classes due to a dispute between Dr. Leo Pruden and the newly installed Abbot, Ven. Dr. Karuna Dharma, of the International Buddhist Meditation Center over property rights, name, ownership and direction of the University. Eventually, the issues were settled and the Abbot agreed to purchase the two buildings (duplex houses) owned by the University. It is believed that subsequently, the extensive library was donated to Hsi Lai University (now University of the West) by Dr. Leo Pruden.

Following this settlement, the University of Oriental Studies was reorganized in September of 1983 as the College of Buddhist Studies – Los Angeles under the leadership of Ven. Ven. Dr. Havanpola Ratanasara and Ven. Dr. Karuna Dharma. As such, this allowed I.B.M.C. to maintain the legacy of Ven. Dr. Thien Ân’s vision of a universal English language Buddhist training facility serving the needs of the West. This manifestation would continue in spite of the death of Ven. Dr. Havanpola Ratanasara in May 26, 2000.

By November 2004, Ven. Dr. Karuna Dharma charged her staff with restructuring the program as the Buddhist Studies Institute – Los Angeles, transitioning the program into a primarily online educational facility. Moving to utilize the internet, BSI-LA provided accessibility to a greater number of students from around the world, the school work was primarily handled via e-mail with course work and instruction on individual course web pages.

In 2012, Ven. Dr. Karuna Dharma gave stewardship of the university to Ven. Dr. Wonji Dharma, where it continued to be fleshed out into a full online curriculum. In 2021, Ven. Dr. Wonji Dharma passed on, and BDU is now maintained by several of his students. Buddha Dharma University is under the direction of Reflecting Moon Zen Church, a direct descendent of the Five Mountain Zen Order.

In Memoriam:  Most Venerable Dr. Wonji Dharma

Ven. Wonji Dharma, DMin was the Founder of the Five Mountain Zen Order and the President / Chancellor of Buddha Dharma University. He was a fully ordained Bhiksu, having taken the Dharmagupta Vinaya precepts with H.T. Thich An Duc (Ven. Dr. Suhita Dharma).

Soensanim began practicing Advaita Vedānta as well as Vipassana Meditation in 1986 with Swami Chaitanya Siraj and took refuge vows with his teacher that same year. Swami Chaitanya Siraj had studied in an Indian Ashram for many years and his path of teaching was wide and open to all of the Wisdom Traditions. Soensanim’s direction has been informed by Zen since his college days of studying Psychology. Wanting to experience the direct experience of koan study he eventually discovered Zen Master Seung Sahn and the Kwan Um School of Zen in 1989 and began practicing regularly at Dharma Zen Center in Los Angeles.

Throwing himself headlong into Zen practice for five years he received sanction and encouragement from Zen Master Seung Sahn to open the Huntington Beach Zen Center on August 14, 1993, where Soensanim was installed as Abbot by Zen Master Seung Sahn.

Soensanim was ordained by Zen Master Seung Sahn as a Dharma teacher in 1995 and received teaching authorization from Zen Master Ji Bong, (an independent heir of Zen Master Seung Sahn), in April, 2006. Having obtained a BA in Psychology from California State University, he earned his Masters (M.Div) and Doctorate (D.Min) degrees from BSI-LA before becoming a primary staff member. Ven. Dr. Wonji has practiced with more than thirty different Zen Buddhist masters during his time and maintained an eclectic approach to Buddhist Teachings and spirituality in general.

He often said, “We aren’t an organization – we’re a family.  And like a family, we don’t all think alike, have the same skills, or believe exactly the same things.  That is what gives us strength.”  This view informed his approach to Buddha Dharma University.

His students now carry on his legacy by continuing to teach the Dharma and administer BDU.