Robert Buswell is Distinguished Professor of Buddhist Studies and the founding director of the Center for Buddhist Studies and Center for Korean Studies at UCLA. Before participating in a panel on visions and depictions of the afterlife, he sat down in the Zócalo green room to talk about becoming a Buddhist monk, giving a copy of Pulp Fiction to North Korea’s supreme leader, and choosing the best restaurant in Koreatown.
What’s the best restaurant in KTown?
Chosun Galbee. Even if you’re not a meat eater they have all kinds of fish dishes and vegetarian dishes as well. Korean food is great for vegans and vegetarians because of all the vegetables that they use.
What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday?
I usually just go and take a hike in the mountains. I live up in Topanga Canyon, and I can walk out my front door and take a hike in the hills.
What’s the biggest thing you wish more people understood about Buddhism?
I would like them to appreciate the diversity of Buddhism—that there isn’t just a Buddhism but many kinds of Buddhism, all of which provide ways of how it’s best to live one’s life. There are many Buddhist answers to the question of how best to live one’s life.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve ever taken?
Leaving for Thailand when I was 19 to ordain as a Buddhist monk—having never been outside the country in my life. It was a 36-hour flight to get to Thailand in those days.
If you had one more hour in the day, how would you use it?
Trying to create another hour.
What keeps you up at night?
Worrying about the projects I have to finish. I’m always behind on my writing projects.
If you had to leave all your money to one charity, what would it be?
I would leave it probably to UCLA to endow a chair in Buddhist studies.
What’s the last purchase that gave you buyer’s remorse?
I have no idea. [Laughs.] What was my last purchase? That’s more of a question. The last tank of gas I bought.
What wedding gift would you give Kim Jong-un?
I would give him a DVD of Pulp Fiction.
Spare change? Asset or nuisance?