Love Begins at Home

She did not nag or argue when her husband came home late at night.
Instead, she greeted him with a smile.


Wang and Fang often take their granddaughter to attend Master Cheng Yen’s early-morning sermon.  Feng Pin-ren

Fang Bi-zhu (方碧珠) was born into a wealthy family in Linyuan, Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan. Everyone in the family doted on her, the youngest of eight siblings.

“My mother was not well when I was three,” Fang recalled. “A fortuneteller told her that her youngest daughter—me—was the cause of her bad health. He told her the two of us were naturally incompatible, and that I was her natural nemesis. He advised my mom to give me up for adoption.” Such superstitious practices were not uncommon at the time.

Her mother unwillingly took the fortuneteller’s suggestion, but she carefully chose to give her daughter to a good family nearby with sufficient financial means to raise the girl. Her planning turned out to be prescient and her choice excellent. Fang’s large adoptive family treated her like their own. They all loved her, and the six big brothers in her new home just pampered her. Her adoptive father and mother gave her ample latitude in seeing her biological parents. She was a darling in both families.

When Fang was ten years old, her birth mother died. Her birth father remarried a few years afterward, and her stepmother loved her dearly too.

In 1980 Fang married Wang Tian-fu (王添富) of Chaozhou in neighboring Pingtung County. His parents also treated her like their own daughter. Fang later moved with Wang to Pingzhen, Taoyuan, northern Taiwan. There their three children, two girls followed by a boy, grew up under their careful attention.

Fang said of her good fortune of being so well-loved by people around her: “Perhaps it’s due to the good affinities that I formed in my past lives. I’m really grateful to my three mothers and mother-in-law. They have all loved me so dearly.” She pondered how to pay their love forward to help other people and to serve society.

Wang and Fang’s daughters and their schoolmates played music to attract passersby to stop and listen to Tzu Chi volunteers promote bone marrow donation in 1997.  Courtesy Wang Tian-fu

Fang’s stepmother passed away in 1989. The family held a Buddhist-style funeral. The solemn, dignified ceremony inspired in Fang the desire to find a spiritual haven.

At the invitation of Zhuang Jin-feng (莊錦鳳), a neighbor and Tzu Chi volunteer, Fang attended a Tzu Chi gathering in neighboring Zhongli. The following year Fang, now in her thirties, started volunteering for the foundation. She would sometimes take her five-year-old son with her when she volunteered, and leave her two daughters, who had just started going to school, in the care of her mother-in-law, who was staying with them at the time.

This went on for some time until her mother-in-law had some issue with her volunteering. One day Fang returned home, and as her daughters were hovering around her and telling her that they had already done their homework and practiced the piano and the recorder just as their schedules had called for, Fang’s mother-in-law suggested to her that, instead of volunteering, she should consider getting a paying job. “If you and Tian-fu both work, you’ll be able to provide a better education for the kids,” she said.

“I’ve thought about this, too, but looking after the children now takes precedence over all other concerns,” Fang replied. “We can get by on Tian-fu’s income, and I’ll live frugally to give the children the best education.”

Just as her mother-in-law was about to reply, Fang’s younger daughter said, “Mommy, let me show you the big kite that sister taught me to make,” and dragged her out of the living room.

Watching them walk away, Wang said, “Mom, I think it’s better for Bi-zhu to volunteer for Tzu Chi than to work at a paying job.”

He observed that Bi-zhu had always been the baby of her family, getting all the love and attention, and all her friends were in the south. She used to want to visit her parents’ home all the time and strongly expressed a desire to move back south. She really missed her family and friends. Sometimes when Wang came home late from work, she’d sulk or even refuse to say a word to him while tears welled up in her eyes.

But things began to change after she started to volunteer at Tzu Chi events. She would take her children along on weekends to visit needy people at their homes, to help clean up the homes of old people who lived alone, or to attend Tzu Chi gatherings or fund-raising activities. She was so happily occupied with her volunteer work that she not only quit nagging him about moving back to southern Taiwan, but she wasn’t upset anymore when he came home late.

“But…,” his mother said, still not fully reassured. Wang quickly followed, “Don’t you worry about it. I’ll keep an eye on her.”

“I’m not worried about her,” his mother said. “It’s you. I need to remind you that simply because she’s not mad at your coming home late doesn’t mean that you can overdo it. Don’t spend too much time socializing for business. You need to take better care of your health.” His mother’s words left him speechless.

A considerate wife

One night, Wang came home very late—again. The children had already been put to bed. Fang was alone in the living room, taking care of the paperwork on the donations that she had collected from members she had recruited.

Fang put down the things that she was working on and asked Wang if he was hungry. He shook his head and sat down on the couch. She asked if he would join her and their son to visit the needy the next day, but he claimed he had a scheduling conflict. He then quickly went to take a shower just so he could get out of that conversation.

Fang and their son went on the home visits the next day. When Wang returned home from work that day, their boy clung to him and babbled on about what he had seen during the home visits. It sounded like some weighty stuff.

Fang enlarged on what the boy had said. A woman had given birth to a handicapped child. She could not bring herself to take the baby to visit her in-laws because she was afraid of what they and other relatives would say. She had cried in her room all day long every day since returning home from the hospital. To comfort her, Tzu Chi volunteer Zhuo Mei-yu (卓梅玉) told her that every child comes to this world for a reason. Since there is a purpose behind every birth, Guan Yin Bodhisattva is sure to hand-pick a mother capable of raising the child. “You’re the good mother the bodhisattva has chosen for your baby,” Zhou concluded.

“When she heard what Sister Zhou said, the woman finally smiled through her tears,” Fang told her husband, adding that she had really witnessed the power of good words that day.

Wang could see that his wife was no longer just a homemaker whose main concern was her family and household affairs. Her world had apparently broadened. Having worked for a long time, he considered himself worldly-wise. But even so, he often found himself deeply captivated by the stories his wife shared with him after her home visits.

“Last time we visited another family. I still can’t forget that mother. Her image often surfaces in my mind.” Fang went on to tell her husband the story. This family had four children, all of them afflicted with spinal muscular atrophy. Two had passed away. The mother had been diagnosed with cancer. After surgery, she went home to take care of her two children, despite the fact that her wound was still bleeding.

Fang asked her, “Doesn’t it hurt?” The mother answered, her brows slightly knitted, “Of course it hurts. But losing a child hurts even more. I must take good care of my remaining two children. I don’t want to lose them too.”

Her voice choked with emotion, Fang told her husband that as a mother, her heart really went out to the woman. “Compared to her, I’m very fortunate. What have I got to complain about?” Such first-hand observations of pain and suffering had helped Fang appreciate the blessings that had enveloped her own life. She said that since she had begun to visit families like that, she no longer got mad when her husband came home from work late. “Like Master Cheng Yen says, we should be understanding toward others. We should count our blessings, cherish them, and sow more blessings.”

In 1991, Tzu Chi volunteers were mobilized to solicit donations on the streets to help flood victims in eastern China. One day after a gathering with his friends, Wang went to a local temple where his wife and other volunteers were raising relief funds. He was moved as he looked at the group of people hard at work soliciting donations from passersby. Without saying a word, he joined them.

Soon after, he started training to become a certified volunteer. The next year, he and his wife received their certifications at the same time. Volunteering has since become part of their family life.

Fang and her son solicited donations for victims of Typhoon Herb in 1996.  Courtesy Wang Tian-fu

Nice kids

One afternoon Fang was on duty at the Zhongli Tzu Chi branch when her children phoned her. They wanted her to return home right away because their dad’s parents had just arrived from Pingtung but he was not home.

As soon as Fang got home, her mother-in-law praised how well Fang had raised her three children. First, the children seated them and gave them water to drink. They told them that their parents were not home. The oldest of them went upstairs to call their mother and ask her to return home. Then while her siblings kept the grandparents company, she went to the kitchen to get a plateful of fruit for them.

Fang’s in-laws were impressed by how polite and well-mannered these three children were; after all, they were just around ten years old or a little older. “Your father-in-law couldn’t stop smiling and praising how well you’ve reared your children,” Fang’s mother-in-law told her.

Just at that moment, Wang returned home, and, hearing what his mother had just said, remarked, “Now you know what a good thing it is for the kids that Bi-zhu has stayed home, instead of going out to work.”

Fang smiled and told her mother-in-law that she had only learned how to guide her children after she joined Tzu Chi. She had learned from Master Cheng Yen that parents are their children’s role models. If the parents are upright, the children are more likely to be upright too. Her volunteerism and willingness to help others had become good examples for her children to emulate. What’s more, the couple and the three children had surrounded themselves with like-minded volunteers who were always gentle, civilized, kind, and helpful. Those qualities had quite naturally become theirs.

Fang mentioned that she, her husband, and the children went with other volunteers to the Taoyuan Veterans Home once a month. The young ones played recorders for the elderly residents, massaged them, and talked with them. They strove to give the elderly—most of whom had fled to Taiwan with the Nationalist government and left their families behind in China after the communists gained control of China in 1949—a sense of family and somewhat relieve them of their homesickness.

The children also took to the streets with other volunteers to promote bone marrow donation. They recruited their schoolmates to play musical instruments so as to attract passersby to stop and watch; when they stopped, volunteers used the opportunity to explain to them how donating their bone marrow could help save lives without harming their own health.

After Typhoon Herb ravaged Taiwan in 1996, the children joined other volunteers to solicit donations for typhoon victims. They stood for hours on end under a hot sun, handing out flyers and holding out donation boxes.

Wang, Fang (third and second from right), with their children and grandchildren.  Zhan Xiu-fang

Fang pointed out that since her children had grown up in a “do-good” environment, the kindness and beauty of human nature had naturally taken root in their hearts, and they grew to be upright, warmhearted, and helpful.

Wang’s parents nodded in agreement as they listened to Fang. Wang spoke up right then: “Those old folks at the veterans home are so happy when they see the kids. It’s like their own grandchildren are visiting.”

“You go too?” his mom asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

“You don’t have to socialize for business any more?”

Embarrassed, he said, “Most Tzu Chi activities take place at night or on weekends, so I have no time for business socializing any more.”

Smiling, Fang’s mother-in-law took Fang’s hand and said, “The family that does good is sure to reap abundant blessings. I believe you will be one very happy and blessed family.”

The three children have since grown up, and Fang and Wang are now grandparents. Since retiring from work, Wang and his wife volunteer full-time together. They lead a simple life. What money they do not spend they donate to help the needy. They have found their days very purposeful and fulfilling.

Wang serves as a documenting volunteer, video-taping Tzu Chi events.  Zhan Xiu-fang


Spring 2017