Old in Age, 
But Young in Spirit
Photo by chen you-peng

There is a group of elderly volunteers who serve at the Jing Si Hall in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan. They help clean the hall and keep it in shape. They nicknamed themselves “the Seven Fairies”—not because there are seven of them but because “seven” is a homophone for “cleaning” in Taiwanese. The oldest among the group is 90-year-old Ke Wang Bao-mei (柯王寶美). She goes to the Jing Si Hall every day before dawn to mop the floors and do other cleaning work. When she is done, she returns home and begins to do recycling work. She certainly makes good use of her time by giving of herself the best she can. She and her fellow volunteers may be old but they are still in good health. Even if they are injured physically, they still go to the Hall to volunteer—they use cleaning as a form of rehabilitation. They are truly living their lives to the fullest.

Chen Xu Jin-tu (陳許金土), 91, has been a recycling volunteer in Chiayi, southern Tai­wan, for 25 years. In addition to picking up recyclable garbage around her village, she places four large bags at four locations in her village every day for people to put their recyclables in; when the bags are full, she pushes a wheelbarrow to collect them. Even though she is advanced in age, she pushes the wheelbarrow steadily. Her fellow villagers have commended her as the treasure of their village for her dedication to recycling work and her determination to serve despite her age.

Cai Kuan (蔡寬), of Zhanghua, central Taiwan, turned 100 this year. She joined Tzu Chi at 70 years of age and has volunteered for three decades. Despite being a centenarian, she visits the needy with other volunteers. She cheers up those who are despondent and encourages them to get out and about more. She is a role model for her children and grandchildren, and they all follow her example in doing good.

These volunteers may be old, but they remain young in spirit. They do their best to give of themselves. Second by second, time rapidly slips by. We should learn from their example and make the best use of our time. If we are focused on consuming the resources of the world and pursuing comfort and pleasure, we are simply feeding and pampering our material desires and squandering our lives meaninglessly.

There are many elderly people in Tzu Chi who are fit in body and mind. When they were young, they worked hard for their families. As they aged, they passed on their businesses or their family responsibilities to the younger generations so they could devote their time to caring for the Earth and helping less fortunate people. Now they live with dignity and provide good examples of how to realize the value of life. They are truly the treasures of our world and worthy of our emulation.

Cai Kuan, 100, sorts newspapers at a Tzu Chi recycling station. There are many elderly volunteers like her in Tzu Chi who, despite their age, still give of themselves wholeheartedly.   Qiu Xiang-shan

Believe in yourself

During June and July, I traveled all the way from northern Taiwan to the south. I visited Tzu Chi offices along the way. I heard many stories of our volunteers taking care of their old or sick fellow volunteers as they would their own family members. Their care and companionship was not just for a few days, but often extended for years. When all is fine and well, our volunteers work together to contribute to the welfare of the world, but when impermanence or misfortune strikes, they are there for each other. The genuine care they show for their fellow volunteers is so touching and comforting. Such love and care are the most precious things in life. No money can buy the unity and harmony they demonstrate.

I was touched by what I saw, but my heart was also heavy. I’ve seen in recent years more and more senior volunteers growing feeble with age, falling ill, or passing away. I can only tell myself that such is the natural course of life. The Great Conduct Bodhisattva says, “With another day gone, our lives become shorter.” Time marches relentlessly on. It is vitally important for us to make good use of every moment, to persevere in our aspirations and do what we need to do.

Volunteer Zhang Wu Xiu (張吳秀) from Tao-yuan is doing exactly that. At age 88, she still shoulders the responsibility of a team leader. Every time I visit the Taoyuan office, she shows up to let me know that she is still there, still serving as the team leader and sticking to her post. Never once has she told me that she is too old or wants to pass the baton to a younger volunteer. She feels that though she is advanced in years, she is physically fit enough to help with various volunteer tasks, such as cooking and recycling. Her team members respect and love her, and, upholding their shared ideals, they work alongside her in a spirit of unity.

Lin Wang Yue-e  (林王月娥), from New Taipei City, is 95 years old and has been doing recycling for over two decades. She is also training to be a Tzu Chi commissioner. When we met recently, she told me she was very happy because she will complete her training and be certified by me as a commissioner this year.

She also said that since she was already on a very good path, she should just keep going. She has faith in me, in Tzu Chi, and in herself. For her, age is not an issue. She is confident that she is still capable of shouldering responsibilities.

It takes two to three years for a person to become a certified commissioner. I hope everyone who has completed the training, who understands the philosophy and ideals of Tzu Chi, and who is convinced that the organization is worth their dedication, believes in their choice and has faith in their ability to serve. If you don’t believe even in yourself, how will you have the courage to dedicate yourself to the welfare of mankind?

What our society today needs the most is unity of hearts, harmony, mutual love, and concerted effort. Many people’s minds today are unbalanced, and the world is muddied by a thick spiritual turbidity. To counter this, we need the help of living bodhisattvas willing to go into the world and take on the responsibility to transform people’s hearts and minds. What is a living bodhisattva? It is anyone who vows and works to free people from suffering instead of seeking his or her own comfort or pleasure.

To realize the bodhisattva spirit in the world, we must bravely overcome all kinds of challenges. We must harbor loving-kindness and compassion, be gentle and forbearing, and realize the emptiness of all things so that we may not be attached to anything. With broad, compassionate hearts and firm resolution, we commit ourselves to caring for all suffering people in the world. With gentleness and forbearance, we work to make the world a better place.

If we take the Buddha’s teachings to heart and live them out, we will remain calm and at peace when we encounter obstacles. We will be able to tell right from wrong and do what we need to do. With our conduct upright, we will have a clear conscience and experience no fear.

Life is like a dream, an illusion. What is there to quibble about? We should all see through life’s impermanence and the emptiness of all phenomena and just focus on playing our roles well.

I encourage everyone to give wholeheartedly, without asking for anything in return. That’s how we can best help ourselves cultivate wisdom and blessings.


A Tzu Chi volunteer (right) expresses care for a patient at Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital. Tzu Chi hospitals are noted for their volunteer system.   lin yan-huang


For love, not for profit

When I stopped at Dalin Tzu Chi Hospital, southern Taiwan, during my trip, I listened to reports from our medical team there. Young doctors shared with me the aspirations that led them to join the medical field; senior doctors talked not about how to make a profit but how to nurture good doctors. I also learned how personnel from different departments treat each other with love and help each other grow.

It’s not easy to be a doctor or a nurse. They often cannot get off work on time because patients may suddenly need their help and care. Besides treating illnesses, they need to soothe patients’ emotional anguish as well. Their work can be so demanding that it’s easy to imagine how tired they must often feel. Nevertheless, many of them hold firm to the initial aspirations that brought them to enter this profession. They stick to their posts and work hard to save lives.

The mission of our Tzu Chi medical system is one of love. Making profits is not our priority. Our mission is to “safeguard life, health, and love.” Since we know we are going in the right direction, what everyone needs to do is play their role the best they can.

Employees at our Dalin Hospital look upon the hospital as one big family, and they work together to safeguard it. Chen Yan-ru (陳彥如), an ICU nurse, has served at the hospital for nine years. Her mother, Yang Cui-yun (楊粹雲), is a cleaner at the hospital. Besides working there, Yang volunteers at the hospital during her days off. She rests only two or three days a month. She greatly enjoys serving at the hospital because she feels it is not only a job for her, but it also provides her with a convenient venue to do good. She finds her work to be very meaningful. Her attitude has inspired her daughter to work even harder.

Yang is a lay disciple of mine. She helps keep Dalin Hospital spotless and helps me realize my mission. As both a volunteer and an employee of Tzu Chi, she goes about her work with dedication. She is one of those who make Tzu Chi possible.

An important feature of Tzu Chi hospitals is the volunteer system. There are volunteers at every Tzu Chi hospital to care for the spiritual and psychological needs of patients. They visit with them and their families and serve as a bridge between the patients and the medical staff. Thus, they enable our doctors and nurses to focus their attention on saving lives and nursing them back to health. The volunteers and the medical staff form a united team tending to the needs of the patients.

Life is priceless. For the good of our patients, we must constantly improve the quality of our medical care and strive to upgrade our equipment. But we must not forget that though good medical skills and equipment are essential, the most important thing is invisible and intangible: love. I hope the staff and volunteers at our hospitals continue to work together in unison for the well-being of all patients.


Tzu Chi Canada offered free Chinese medicine treatments to wildfire victims. Wu Qun Fang


Caring for the Earth

A strong earthquake jolted the province of Leyte in the Philippines on July 6. There were many aftershocks, and people were too scared to return to their homes. The city of Ormoc and the nearby town of Kananga were among the areas hit the hardest. Tzu Chi volunteers in Ormoc immediately mobilized to aid victims.

Four years ago, when Typhoon Haiyan devastated Ormoc, Tzu Chi volunteers rushed to the area to help. In addition to rendering emergency aid, they provided long-term care and built houses for people who had lost their homes. They also encouraged local residents to join Tzu Chi and train to become certified volunteers.

In the aftermath of the July 6 earthquake, these newer, local volunteers jumped into action. They surveyed damage in disaster areas, comforted victims, and planned relief distributions. By the time volunteers from Manila arrived at Kananga on July 10 to help distribute aid to survivors, they found that the distribution venue had already been well set up and everything arranged in an orderly fashion.

We saw landslides, badly damaged roads, and collapsed buildings in the footage taken by our volunteers of the disaster areas. Heavy rains after the quake only made life harder for people who had been made homeless by the temblor. Tzu Chi volunteers will continue to care for them.

A spate of wildfires broke out in British Columbia, Canada, on July 7. Many firefighters and helicopters have been mobilized to put out the fires, but the conflagrations proved difficult to contain. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes. Tzu Chi volunteers have mobilized to assess the damage and helped the affected. [The fires continue to burn as of mid-August.]

The Earth is ill. The Four Elements of earth, water, fire, and air are out of balance. The quake that struck the Philippines and the wildfires ravaging British Columbia remind us to live with sincere piety and vigilant care. Natural disasters are actually closely connected to the human mind and behavior. When people indulge themselves in pursuing pleasures and satisfying their material desires, it leads to an overexploitation of the planet’s natural resources and causes various forms of destruction to the Earth. To make the Earth healthier, we must therefore start by purifying people’s hearts and minds. We must do our best to sow seeds of goodness. One seed of kindness can give rise to countless others and transform the world.

Just as doctors care for patients, our recycling volunteers guard the health of the planet. They do more than reclaim reusable resources—they also promote environmental education. They teach people how to correctly classify garbage so that reusable resources can be salvaged and made useful again.

I remember that in 2014 I stopped by a recycling station in Kaohsiung during one of my regular trips around Taiwan. Dusk had fallen and it was raining, but some volunteers hadn’t gone home yet and were still working there. A truck had just returned to the station with a full load of recyclables, and the volunteers were unloading the truck and sorting the garbage. I took a look at the unloaded stuff and found that a myriad of objects were in there, including meal boxes with food scraps inside.

I asked the volunteers right then to politely decline when people gave them unsorted garbage in which both unrecyclable and recyclable trash were mixed. I asked them to do that because I was thinking of the sanitation of the station and I wanted to protect the health of the volunteers. Some of them told me that they were worried that if they rejected unsorted garbage from people, they might stop bringing recyclables. But I reasserted the importance of asking the public to form the habit of sorting their garbage and cleaning their recyclables at home before bringing it to us. This is for the good of everyone. Tzu Chi volunteers take up recycling to protect the Earth. We hope people will work together with us to do the Earth a good turn.

Besides recycling to conserve resources, everyone should cherish what they have and not easily throw out things that are still useful. Many people nowadays buy things at whim, and once they get tired of an object they discard it even though it is still pretty new. These objects might end up in landfills and not decompose even decades later. Taiwan is not very large; it can’t take such thoughtless production of garbage.

Let us motivate and inspire every household to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Never underestimate what everyone can do to contribute to the welfare of the Earth. If we can all rein in our desires and conserve resources, if we can combine everyone’s efforts, we will bring a lot of blessings to the world.

Please be ever more mindful.

(This article is excerpted from a series of speeches delivered by Master Cheng Yen from July 1 to 20, 2017.)



Fall 2017