慈濟傳播人文志業基金會
Working Together to Benefit the World
photo by Huang Jin-yi

From April 7 to 11 this year, over 400 Tzu Chi volunteers from about 20 countries gathered at the foundation headquarters in Hualien, eastern Taiwan, for an annual overseas board of directors meeting. Participants reported on the work that Tzu Chi had carried out in their respective countries and listened attentively to their counterparts talk about their own experiences. Through the sharing, participants learned from each other’s good experiences, as well as what pitfalls to avoid.

Volunteers from Hong Kong shared how they care for street people in their fast-paced, densely populated city. Rents are very high in Hong Kong. Many people can’t afford a place and end up having to live on the streets.

Volunteers in Hong Kong began caring for the homeless in 2014. They visit them, listen to them, and give them supplies. They put themselves in the shoes of the street people and treat them with gentle consideration. Instead of providing merely sporadic or temporary help, our volunteers sincerely want to make a difference in the street people’s lives, so they encourage and guide them to enrich their wisdom-lives [as opposed to physical lives] by giving to society. Such genuine care has touched some vagrants and inspired them to volunteer and do recycling work for Tzu Chi.

Four years ago, in 2013, Typhoon Haiyan wreaked havoc in the Philippines. Ever since then, Tzu Chi volunteers have never stopped caring for victims in Ormoc, Tacloban, and Palo. They have helped many survivors of that terrible disaster get back on their feet.

After the typhoon, the foundation built houses for people who had lost their homes. Residents of these Tzu Chi villages have taken care to beautify their environments with trees and flowers. Living in such nice surroundings, they have left the sad memory of the disaster behind, and they have worked hard to carve out a better future. Their lives have improved, and some have even begun training to become certified volunteers. They abide by the Tzu Chi precepts, abstaining from smoking, drinking, and gambling, and they visit the needy and do other charitable work.

It was not long ago that they had to receive help from others, but now they can help others. They have demonstrated how sincere and unconditional love can transform people. By giving selflessly to them, Tzu Chi volunteers have helped bring out the love in them and have inspired them to give.

Tzu Chi volunteers in Hong Kong visit a homeless personLiang Chang-cai

 

Spiritually rich

Suffering abounds in this world. Thankfully, we have real-life bodhisattvas who help relieve that suffering. Tzu Chi volunteers help the less fortunate and inspire the rich to give. They take action instead of just talking.

Even countries with good social welfare systems like Singapore need the love of living bodhisattvas. Our volunteers in that country not only mindfully absorb my teachings, but they actively apply them to benefit society. They nurture good values and character in small children in the preschool they have established, they visit prisons to extend care to inmates, and they provide long-term care to patients who need help. They have done a good job of putting love into action in their society.

Our volunteers in Africa have also written moving chapters with their altruistic actions. Early this year, Zimbabwe and Mozambique suffered severe flooding. Tzu Chi volunteers there immediately mobilized to assess the damage and distribute aid, including portable beds and blankets. Some roads had been made impassable by the floods, but instead of backing off, volunteers took detours and overcame other difficulties so that they could reach the needy.

We saw the harsh living conditions of the local people from the pictures taken by our volunteers in Mozambique. The houses of some volunteers had collapsed in the floods too, but they put the needs of others before their own and joined their fellow volunteers to care for other flood victims. Since the volunteers were flood victims themselves, they received aid from Tzu Chi too. But knowing how scarce resources were in that country, they took only the items they needed, insisting that the other items be given to those who needed them more.

Even though many of our volunteers in Africa live materially deprived lives, they are content and grateful for what they have. They keep their material needs to a minimum and focus their lives on helping others. Their hearts are big and their thoughts pure. The smiles on their faces are so touching and inspiring. They are very rich in spirit indeed.

There are seeds of kindness hidden in every person’s heart. If we can help those seeds to sprout and grow, they can grow into large bodhi trees and form vast forests. If we do our best to give and further motivate others to do the same, our world will truly benefit indeed.

My heart felt so full and warm as I listened to Tzu Chi volunteers from outside Taiwan talk about their work in their countries. I hope everyone continues to nurture roots of goodness in their hearts and hold firm to their vows to give. I hope that all our volunteers are united in heart and mind and work together in harmony, for only then will we have the power to help bring about a better world. We will be able to overcome all kinds of difficulties in our work if we can treat one another with sincerity and give without expecting anything in return. Let us exercise both compassion and wisdom and never slack off in cultivating ourselves and contributing to the welfare of mankind. This is how we can help our wisdom-life to grow and live full, meaningful lives.

 

Students in class at El Menahil, a school Tzu Chi established in Turkey for Syrian refugee children  Yu Zi-cheng

Soothing the Suffering

In April, days of torrential rain pummeled northwestern South America, resulting in massive flooding in Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru. The areas affected were vast. Tzu Chi volunteers mobilized to help.

The wellbeing of all living creatures is constantly on my mind. Never does a day or an hour go by without me praying for the safety of the world. But I also know that with the imbalance of the Four Elements [earth, water, fire, and air], natural disasters are bound to occur with a greater frequency. When a disaster hits, we should do as a bodhisattva would do and reach out to the victims to give comfort and relief. We should learn to count our blessings, be grateful that we are safe and sound and leading a good life, and do our best to sow more blessings.

Our world is beset not only by natural disasters but by man-made ones as well. As a result of such man-made disasters as war, a great multitude of people have been forced to leave their countries, creating a grave refugee problem for the international community over the past decade. Whether stranded at national borders or struggling to eke out a living in a host country, many of these people are having a very tough time. To help out, Tzu Chi volunteers have been providing long-term care to some refugees. Our volunteers in Thailand and Malaysia have been working with the United Nations and providing regular free clinics to refugees in their countries. Volunteers in Jordan too have been doing what they can, and now they are raising funds for temporary schools and basic medical equipment for Syrian refugees.

Turkey has accepted two million Syrian refugees but prohibits adults from working. As a result, many refugee children have had to quit school and go to work to help support their families. Knowing how important education is, Tzu Chi volunteers have, with the help of local government authorities and Professor Cuma Serya, a Syrian refugee, overcome a myriad of obstacles and established El Menahil, a school for Syrian children. Tzu Chi also provides financial aid to some of these students’ families so that the students do not have to work and can attend school without worries. More than 3,000 Syrian children are currently enrolled in the school.

El Menahil is officially registered with both Turkish and Syrian education authorities, and its graduates are awarded diplomas. Children cherish the chance to be students again and, having received such kindness, they pay it forward by giving what little money they save to help other needy people. Love has grown in their hearts.

Tzu Chi has also set up a free clinic in Turkey, so refugees can receive free medical care. The clinic employs Syrian doctors. This has at least two benefits. First, the doctors, being refugees themselves, benefit by earning stable incomes. Second, patients can talk to the doctors in their own language. With no language barrier between them, it is easier for them to communicate and patients feel more at ease seeking medical attention.

A kind thought leads to a kind word or action, whereas an unkind thought can lead to an irreparable disaster. Only when people’s minds are purified can disasters be kept at bay.

There is a folktale that goes like this:

A woodcutter worked hard every day to make a living. He did the backbreaking work of chopping down trees and cutting wood so that he could put food on the table for his family. One day when he returned home exhausted from work for lunch, he became angry when he learned that the meal was not ready yet. He blew up at his wife, who in turn hurried into the kitchen and rushed their daughter to get lunch ready. The pressure from the mother flustered the daughter, who got nervous and salted the food twice without noticing.

When lunch was finally served, the woodcutter dove into the food and immediately found that it was too salty. The ruined dish made him even angrier, and he left the house in a huff to go back to work. Back with his fellow woodcutters, he vented his anger about his family. The more he talked, the madder he got and the more wildly he gestured. He forgot that he was holding an ax, and in the middle of one particularly expansive gesture, he lost his grip on it. It flew out of his hand and struck and hurt a person who was passing by. The passerby turned out to be the prince of a neighboring kingdom. The two kingdoms had been on very good terms, but because of this unfortunate accident, they went to war with each other. The war resulted in countless casualties.

The story demonstrates how a small spark can start a great fire. When we harbor negative emotions and allow them to grow, they can spiral out of control. We must take care not to let such mental pollutants as anger, delusion, arrogance, and doubt grow unchecked. We have all seen how the anger of a few people has led to catastrophic consequences and triggered a global refugee crisis.

We need love to counteract hatred and animosity. Tzu Chi has held several benefit concerts in Taiwan this year to solicit love and raise funds for Syrian refugees. We hope to help everyone know that by cutting down a little on their daily expenses, we can save enough to help many suffering people. Our love can also help prevent seeds of hatred from growing in the refugees’ hearts.

I believe that human nature is inherently good. Mother Earth is very compassionate to us. She has provided us human beings with abundance. We should repay such kindness by giving of ourselves lovingly and helping make this world a better place. When we can all do that, the cycle of goodness will come full circle.

 

Angel Rojas Cevallos (middle), the mayor of Jama, Manabí Province, Ecuador, holds a copy of Jing Si Aphorisms by Master Cheng Yen given to him by Tzu Chi volunteers.  Lin Jing-fang

Guiding People Toward the Good

People who wish to propagate Mahayana Buddhism in this world of spiritual turbidity are bound to come up against a lot of obstacles. [Mahayana Buddhism, one of two main existing branches of Buddhism, is concerned with the salvation of all living creatures.] In the “Ease in Practice” chapter in the Lotus Sutra, Manjusri Bodhisattva asked the Buddha for his advice for those who wanted to preach his teachings. The Buddha answered that any of his disciples who wished to preach his teachings should persevere in their commitments despite all kinds of hardship and be gentle, tranquil, and nonviolent. They should remain unmoved with regard to all phenomena, perceive all phenomena in their true aspect, and refrain from discrimination. They should also be careful about the friends they make and the places they visit. In other words, they should mindfully cultivate themselves, take good care of their hearts and minds, associate with wholesome friends, and stay away from bad influences.

What is a wholesome friend? In “On Bodhisattva Lion’s Roar” in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, it is pointed out that a wholesome friend of the Way is “a person who speaks well about faith and precepts, erudition, giving, wisdom, and who makes people practice the Way.” In other words, a wholesome friend of the Way studies the Dharma with diligence, puts it into practice, and is happy to give to others and guide them toward the good.

On April 16, 2016, Ecuador experienced a massive earthquake that registered a magnitude of 7.8. Tzu Chi volunteers from the United States visited the country soon afterwards to help with disaster relief. They started a cash-for-work program in early May through which survivors were paid for clearing debris and cleaning up their cities. After carrying out the program in four cities, they were about to bring it to a close in late May when Angel Rojas Cevallos, the mayor of Jama, Manabí Province, came to the volunteers and asked if the program could be implemented in his town too.

Our volunteers explained to the mayor that they were wrapping up the program and entering the next phase of their work, that is, launching a mid- or long-term reconstruction project, and that they would visit Jama in their next trip and see how they could help. The mayor could not hide his disappointment as his eyes brimmed with tears.

Seeing how sincerely the mayor was seeking aid for his townspeople, the volunteers’ hearts went out to him. That very afternoon, they put together a team which went to Jama to assess the damage. The team discovered that the town had indeed taken a heavy blow from the quake. After conferring with the mayor, our U.S. volunteers decided to kick off a three-day cash-for-work event in the town on May 29. They hoped they could get a thousand people to participate.

One hundred and ninety people showed up on the first day. At the end of the day, volunteers thanked everyone for their contribution. They shared with the participants how Tzu Chi began its charity work and led them in singing the Tzu Chi song “One Family.” The participants were greatly cheered up, and the gloom that had enveloped them for some time lifted.

Taking everything in, the mayor was deeply moved. He told Tzu Chi volunteers that if more than 400 people joined the cleanup event on the next day and the day after that, he would defray the additional costs. On the second day, 490 people came, and on the third day 591 people showed up. True to his word, the mayor instructed his assistant to bring him 4,200 U.S. dollars. His love of his people was so genuine and touching that the volunteers did not want to add to his burden, so they asked him to take the money back and put it toward reconstructing his town.

When our volunteers carry out disaster relief work, they bring to victims not only material aid but sincere love as well. They exercise their wisdom to lift the victims’ spirits, instill in them the faith that they are capable of rising to the challenge of rebuilding their lives, and help them head toward their future with confidence. Our volunteers play the roles of wholesome friends, inspire positive thinking in the people they are trying to help, and guide them to work together for a better future.

As Buddhists, we shouldn’t just focus on attaining enlightenment ourselves—we should also help others do the same and attain peace and joy. In fact, when we benefit others, we benefit ourselves too. When everyone’s mind is purified, our society will be filled with harmony, love, and warmth, and we as members of society will enjoy the peace and stability that comes with that.

Let us be ever more mindful.

 

 

Mayor Angel Rojas Cevallos and participants of a cash-for-work event take part in a group activity led by Tzu Chi volunteers. Lin Jing-fang

 

 

Summer 2017