Gordon Tam used to be a rich stock trader, with a beautiful television star wife and a well-appointed flat in Kowloon Tong. Now he is Sik Hin Hung, a shaven-headed Buddhist monk in dark blue robes. His metamorphosis began late one night in 1989, when his wife of nine years returned home from a Buddhist meeting and remarked that one of the women there had decided to leave her husband and become a nun. 'I said: 'How about us?' And one of us said: 'We should go too.' So it was settled.' At midnight the two, who had developed an interest in Buddhism over the years, shook on the deal, he agreeing to become a monk and she a nun. He is as busy now as during his stock-trading days, but instead of maximising profits for clients, he is spreading the message of Buddhism. No longer married, the couple remain friends. One of the founders of the Centre of Buddhist Studies at the University of Hong Kong, where he teaches, Sik Hin Hung also lectures at other institutions, has developed the Dharma therapy to treat people with psychological problems, and is a board member of the Hong Kong Buddhist Association. Born in 1953, he was the fourth of five children in the family of a businessman who operated a stocks, property and export business. They lived in Kowloon Tong and could afford domestic help. He was a flabby rich kid with poor eyesight from reading too many martial arts novels until his father sent him, with his brother, to the International Canadian Academy in Kobe, Japan, to escape riots in Hong Kong triggered by the Cultural Revolution. It was a physical, cultural and linguistic shock to share a dormitory with expatriate classmates. 'It was a good experience and made me grow up. I recommend it. Hong Kong children are too well taken care of and live in a greenhouse,' he said. At the school, he started trading Japanese securities, but after reading the Communist Manifesto which taught that communism did not allow independent wealth and business endeavours, he realised that to survive in Hong Kong after the 1997 handover, he might need a skill other than stock trading. As an insurance policy, he chose a double degree - computer science and international business - when he attended the University of Oregan in the US to ensure he would be employable after the handover. Two of his sisters emigrated to the US, but he returned to work in his father's company where business was good until British prime minister Margaret Thatcher started negotiations for 1997. In 1980, he married Lun Chi-man , a television actress famous enough for their wedding to be featured in newspapers' entertainment pages. An injury to his wife while on their honeymoon first stirred the couple's interest in religion. She suffered a slipped disc in her back and was confined to hospital for several months. Doctors proposed a major operation, but the couple refused. Instead she went to a traditional Chinese doctor, visited Wong Tai Sin temple every week and practised qigong and made a full recovery. It was the couple's first contact with Buddhism. 'My wife's illness enabled me to see things other than money and to look into a deeper understanding of life,' Sik Hin Hung said. They began to read books on Buddhism, attend lectures, meditate and pray. Meanwhile, his life in the business world continued, as busy and engaged as the thousands of Hongkongers absorbed by the daily minute-to-minute fluctuations of the stock market. His moment of revelation came in 1987 when he applied for the post of a senior research analyst at investment bank Morgan Grenfell, with a monthly salary of HK$50,000. He passed the first interview and went to see the bank's head of Asia. He recalled: 'I realised that I'd have to devote my whole life to the bank. I left Hutchison House and walked to the Star Ferry. It was dark and my heart was frozen. I wanted either to be rich and successful in business or successful in Buddhism. I could not do both. But if I gave up Buddhism, I would die.' Once he and his wife made the decision to enter religious life, it took a year to organise. His business partners insisted he remain in the company for 12 months and he gave most of his assets to his brothers. It was more difficult for his wife, whose parents found it hard to accept her decision. She went to a nunnery, where she took Wai Dak as her Buddhist name, and he moved to a monastery on Lantau Island, where he rose at 4am daily for prayers. One of his duties each morning was to take out the garbage, carrying it to a site 15 minutes from the monastery. 'The dump was on a ridge overlooking what is now [Chek Lap Kok] airport. Sunrise was the most peaceful and spiritual moment of the day. Life in the mountains was very enjoyable,' Sik Hin Hung said. He was ordained as a monk in 1990 and then earned a Master's in Religion at the London School of Oriental and African Studies. 'I needed to learn what was available in the west and to practise English more, in order to teach in it,' he said. Back in Hong Kong, he was invited by Cecilia Chan, then head of the social sciences department at the University of Hong Kong, to draft a proposal for a department of Buddhism. Drawing on syllabuses from other universities, he drew up a proposal that was accepted, and the centre was set up in 1990. It has 100 students, ranging from businessmen to retired civil servants, Catholic priests and young people. But spreading Buddhism is an uphill struggle in Hong Kong, he says. 'We are fighting a strong trend, the current of what Hong Kong people believe in. Men are traditionally brought up to make money and take care of the family. If they do not understand Buddhism, they think they cannot reconcile it with this ambition. Actually, there is no conflict. 'Most people think of us as laid back and not industrious ... We have an image problem to get people to listen to us seriously,' he said. He estimates there are 300,000-400,000 practising Buddhists in Hong Kong who understand and follow the religion's precepts - while millions of others visit Buddhist and Taoist temples without really knowing what they involve. Sik Hin Hung is also involved with Buddhism on the mainland, which has seen a revival in the past 15 years, with the rebuilding of temples and monasteries and the printing of scriptures. But monks on the mainland are not allowed to leave their monasteries and operate in the wider society, like opening schools or hospitals. The Communist Party remains fearful of the power of religion, especially after the popularity of the Falun Gong movement. In the official ideology, religion remains the 'opiate of the people'.