慈濟傳播人文志業基金會
Words from Master Cheng Yen - The Age Treasury

With another day gone, our lives become shorter.” The Great Conduct Bodhi­sattva used these words to remind us of our ever-shortening life spans. After we are born, we pass through infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. As our age increases, our remaining days decrease. Time marches on inexorably, and before we know it we have reached the autumn or winter of our lives. How can we live a more fulfilling life and end up with fewer regrets? If we dedicate our time entirely to advancing our personal interests, we are not making the best use of our days. We should instead work hard to nurture our wisdom-life [as opposed to physical life].

How do we help our wisdom-life grow? We can find the answer in the Buddha’s teachings. He taught us to use the knowledge and experiences we accumulate through life to walk the Bodhi­sattva Path. This approach to living will help our wisdom-life grow. For example, people of my generation lived through World War II. We experienced air-raids, and we hid in shelters to escape from harm. If we reflect on these experiences, we realize how precious our lives are and how we should, instead of squandering time away, live fully and do what we can to contribute to the welfare of mankind.

Some volunteers tell me that they are old and want to pass the baton of their work to younger people, but I tell them that passing the baton shouldn’t mean retirement. I encourage them to support younger volunteers and to guide and cultivate new blood with their experience and expertise, instead of resting on their laurels after handing over their responsibilities. I encourage them not to surrender or acknowledge defeat to old age.

At the same time, I also understand how age can be an impediment to some older people. That’s why I came up with the idea of opening an “age bank,” which I later renamed an “age treasury.” I ask older volunteers to deposit 50 years of their age in this treasury. I myself was the first person to make a deposit. After depositing 50 years in this treasury, it’s as if I were in my early 30s—right in the prime of my life, the stage of my life when I had just founded Tzu Chi. When older people have deposited 50 years in this treasury, they can continue to walk the Bodhisattva Path with the spirit of a younger person.

In fact, in Tzu Chi there is no lack of people who still do their best to give despite their age. Zhuo Fu-yu (卓甫裕) joined Tzu Chi when he was in his 60s, and now he is 90. In spite of his advanced age, he carries out various volunteer duties just like he did when he first joined. He often encourages people who feel they aren’t up to something by saying, “Look at me! I’m 90 but I’m still volunteering. You’re younger than me. You can do it!” I also know some recycling volunteers who are pushing 100 but who still serve with high spirits, as if they had deposited 50 years in the age treasury and were now not yet 50.

Recently I met a man who came to me dressed neatly in a business suit. The volunteers who brought him to me said he was 101 years old and that he had decided to start training to become a certified Tzu Chi volunteer. It requires two years’ training to receive one’s certification, so he’ll be 103 by the time he’s certified, but that hasn’t stopped him. I am really impressed by the energy and spirit demonstrated by this man.

Everyone can tap into an inexhaustible source of wisdom and mental energy. Never feel hampered by your age. As long as we have the will, we can walk the Bodhisattva Path no matter how old we are. In fact, we can walk this path to all eternity. Why to all eternity? There is a chapter in the Lotus Sutra called “The Lifespan of the Tathagata,” in which the age of a buddha is mentioned. The word “buddha” means “awakened one.” Such awakening has neither beginning nor end. A buddha’s age is therefore infinite. The Buddha told us that every sentient being has a buddha nature. Since we all possess a buddha nature, we should have infinite life spans too.

Our age is just a number. Don’t feel trapped by it. Tell yourself you are just in your 20s, 30s, or 40s. Do your best to give until you forget your age. If we continue to give, our wisdom-life will continue to grow. We’ll live a most worthwhile life if we work for the good and peace of the world every day.

Hsiao Yiu-hwa

May 2018