PHOTO BY JUAN I-JONG
Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful storm to hit the Atlantic in nearly a decade, barreled across the Caribbean Sea and the southeastern United States in October this year. Five U.S. states were seriously affected. The storm also wreaked havoc in Haiti, located in the Caribbean, killing over a thousand people and impacting more than a million. With an ongoing cholera epidemic already plaguing the country, I was really worried about how the Haitian people were going to cope with this new devastation.
Haiti is an extremely poor country, often hit by natural disasters. After Hurricane Georges devastated the nation in 1998, Tzu Chi donated four containers of clothes to help the victims. That marked the beginning of our relief work in Haiti. Our foundation once again extended a helping hand to the country after four hurricanes ravaged the country in 2008. In 2010, our volunteers reached out yet again to Haiti after it was rocked by a strong earthquake which killed close to 300,000 people. After that earthquake, Tzu Chi provided emergency relief and later helped with school reconstruction. To this day, Tzu Chi volunteers and their care and love have never left Haiti.
Just two weeks before Hurricane Matthew hit at the beginning of October 2016, our volunteers finished distributing 600 tons of rice in Haiti. The process was riddled with difficulties and challenges. Six hundred tons of rice was simply not enough for a country with so many poor people. Our volunteers could only focus on the poorest among the poor and tried to encourage others to be compassionate to people who were even more in need. Thankfully, the distribution went off well in the end.
Authorities in Haiti urged residents in high-risk areas to evacuate before Hurricane Matthew made landfall, but many people refused to leave. That contributed to the high death toll. International aid organizations airdropped relief goods to Haiti after the calamity, but survivors fought among themselves to claim what they could. People who were old, ill, or physically disabled were at a disadvantage to get any aid, and their only option was to wait for roads to be repaired so that more supplies could be sent in. Tzu Chi volunteers from the United States visited Haiti to assess the damage in the aftermath of the storm. The reports they sent back were heart-wrenching. Many houses that were ramshackle to begin with were completely destroyed by the strong winds and heavy rainfall. To make matters even worse, debris and garbage were strewn all over the disaster areas, raising the possibility of an epidemic outbreak.
To help the victims, U.S. Tzu Chi volunteers are preparing blankets, water purifiers, instant rice, and other supplies to be delivered to the disaster zones. They are also evaluating the possibility of a cash-for-work program, in which participants will get paid for cleaning up their ravaged neighborhoods. This will hopefully prevent the poor sanitation conditions from deteriorating further.
Currently, tens of thousands of people in Haiti have no home to return to. They need people in the international community to pool together their love and give them a hand. When each and every one of us can act out of compassion and wisdom, we will be able to help Haitians rebuild and return to normal lives as soon as possible.
Good seeds bear good fruits
We are witnessing frequent natural disasters around the world caused by extreme weather—this is a sign that our Mother Earth is sick. To mitigate and ward off disasters that are plaguing the entire world, we need the combined efforts of the majority of the global population, not just a few people. Only when lots of people create blessings together will the collective benevolent force be great enough to make a change. Let us all heighten our awareness, live balanced lives, reduce our desires, nurture good thoughts, and do good deeds so that we can bring about a world that is safe, peaceful, and healthy.
Our volunteers in Africa are doing their best to help bring about such a world. There are at present Tzu Chi volunteers in eight countries on the African continent: South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, and Sierra Leone. These countries are largely poor and faced with law and order problems. Despite that, many people there are still willing to reach out and help those worse off than themselves. This is truly praiseworthy and admirable.
Our volunteers from Durban, South Africa, have traveled to Namibia three times to inspire more people to become volunteers and serve their own communities. It is a long, arduous, 2,900-mile round trip. During the journey, there might not even be a chance for the volunteers to wash their faces. Even so, they have willingly endured all kinds of inconveniences to spread seeds of love. When they arrived at their destination, they shared their volunteer experiences and the Tzu Chi spirit with the locals even though they were in a totally strange environment and not everyone was friendly to them. For them, every place can be a spiritual cultivation ground. They talked to people who had gathered under a tree, for example. Their efforts have successfully aroused people’s curiosity about Tzu Chi.
In September, three Namibians who had joined Tzu Chi visited South Africa to learn more about the foundation. They arrived early one morning. Right after breakfast, they went out with local volunteers to call on the needy, serve food to orphans, and visit vegetable gardens cultivated by volunteers to feed the needy. The visitors wanted to learn how the South African volunteers cared for disadvantaged people on their own strength. The Namibian volunteers also listened to my talks during their visit.
Teofilus, one of the three Namibians, asked Taiwanese volunteer Michael Pan (潘明水): “I have love in my heart, but I don’t have anything to give to others. What can I do?”
“Give them your shoulder to lean on,” Pan answered. He told Teofilus that most native South African volunteers don’t have much either, but they still manage to overcome all difficulties and give to the needy in their country. Not only have they done this, they’ve even crossed into Swaziland, and in just four and a half years they’ve inspired more than 3,000 people there to pitch in and care for their own countrymen.
On Sunday during his visit to South Africa, Teofilus, a devoted Christian, wanted to go to church. He asked our South African volunteers if there was a church nearby he could attend. Gladys Ngema, who is also a devout Christian, told him that a church exists in each of our hearts. As long as we embrace love, a church can be wherever we are and any time is a good time to pray.
Teofilus immediately grasped her point. He took out the Bible he carried around with him and shared a teaching from it with everyone: “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.” He explained that he had seen how Tzu Chi volunteers were working hard to spread love in Africa, and they had even visited his own country, Namibia, to sow seeds of Great Love, hoping that the seeds would one day grow into big trees and yield good fruit. He promised that after he returned to Namibia, he would also mindfully carry out Tzu Chi work and help spread Great Love.
Our South African volunteers have come to realize that walking the Bodhisattva Path and doing good will yield good fruit, so even though they are poor themselves they are dedicated to helping those in need. When they visit communities to distribute aid, they carry heavy sacks of rice on their shoulders. When they slip and fall on the muddy road, they quickly get up and continue forward. No matter how rugged their path may be, they are determined to reach their destinations. They keep a church in their hearts at all times and sincerely encourage others to tap into their inner wells of love. If they, who live such challenging lives, can do it, why can’t we? Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in a comfortable environment should all the more make great altruistic vows and work for the good of the world.
After Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti, Tzu Chi volunteers from the United States along with Haitian volunteers carried out relief work, which included the distribution of hot meals.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF TZU CHI USA
There are all kinds of sufferings in our world. They may come from the life cycle of birth, aging, illness, and death, or they may be caused by natural or man-made disasters. But apart from these, there is another form of suffering that torments us even more: the worries and afflictions that plague our minds. When we walk on the Bodhisattva Path, we must not only give material relief to people who are living harsh lives—we must also strive to alleviate people’s inner suffering.
In order to better help others, we must do our best to cultivate ourselves. The world we live in, with all the suffering there is, is a good place to carry out spiritual practice. The Buddha gave us the Six Paramitas (Perfections) to practice on our path of cultivation: giving, moral discipline, patient endurance, diligence, contemplation, and wisdom.
We practice giving and moral discipline when we give without expecting anything in return. We practice patient endurance and diligence when we endure all kinds of hardships and press forward so that we can bring relief to the suffering. No matter what difficult people and harsh criticism we may come across in the process of accomplishing our missions, as long as we practice contemplation and wisdom, we will be able to overcome all challenges and continue forward.
Every time a disaster strikes, our volunteers quickly mobilize to help the victims. They do not sit by and look on, thinking, “My family and I are fine. The suffering of other people has nothing to do with me.” They demonstrate the spirit of a bodhisattva by embracing the mindset of “giving without expecting anything in return.”
Real-life bodhisattvas must diligently give to others without falling prey to the pride of being a giver. Our mission is to fill the world with warmth. But in the process of helping others, we inevitably encounter difficulties and hardships. When that happens, will we be able to stay true to our commitments and never deviate from the Bodhisattva Way? Will our faith be firm and strong enough?
Many unenlightened, self-centered people only focus on their own petty concerns. They get caught up in worries and negative emotions when they run into interpersonal conflicts or challenging circumstances. As they give way to hatred and anger, they drive people away from them. When people’s minds are thus entangled in negativity, they contribute to the spiritual turbidity in the world.
Our minds are stubborn and hard to tame. That’s why we suffer and cause suffering. In this world, we see people displaced by climate change and natural disasters, and we see people displaced by war and turmoil, but in fact there are even more people “displaced” by their own mental afflictions—they can’t get past the obstacles set up by their own worries and negative thoughts.
As we embark on the Bodhisattva Path, we must truly practice the bodhisattva spirit. We must care for not just the needy, but all people around us. When we can thus form good affinities with everyone and help relieve their suffering—mental or physical—we will create a lot of good karma and truly benefit the world.
Volunteers from South Africa and Lesotho visit Namibia to spread seeds of Great Love. JENNIFER CHEN
Tzu Chi principles
In Tzu Chi, we believe that religion helps us realize the purpose of our lives and guides us to use all occasions in our daily lives to educate and improve ourselves. Following that belief, our volunteers must abide by the guiding principles of sincerity, integrity, good faith, and honesty when they deal with others, and they must practice loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity in their daily lives.
We must never veer away from sincerity, integrity, good faith, and honesty in our everyday dealings with other people. As spiritual cultivators, it is important that we observe moral discipline and never stray from uprightness in whatever we do. We must believe in these life principles and carry out our work in good faith.
I have abided by these principles ever since I took refuge with Master Yin Shun 53 years ago. He instructed me to work for Buddhism and all living beings. He hoped that I could nurture and inspire people’s faith in Buddhism and use Buddhism to benefit the world. I promised him that I would do so, and I have kept my promise. For the past half century, I have done the best I can to relieve people of suffering and give them joy. I have carried out all my work with sincerity, integrity, good faith, and honesty. My whole being has been devoted to Tzu Chi.
I’m grateful to all our volunteers for helping me advance the Tzu Chi missions for the past 50 years. They have paved our path with love. Our volunteers in Taiwan, the birthplace of Tzu Chi, work hard to carry out philanthropic work, and volunteers abroad also make the best of their time by helping suffering people. All our missions aim to save lives, nurture wisdom, and transform people’s minds, and our volunteers have striven to do just that.
When you have discovered the right path and committed yourself to it, you must hold firm to your aspirations. If you can do that, you will be able to accomplish a lot. Time waits for no one; it marches by relentlessly and never returns. We must use every second to do what is right and nurture kindness in ourselves and others instead of wasting our time on useless worries and negative, limiting thoughts.
The Buddha’s teachings are a good remedy for the ills of the world. The Enlightened One teaches us to do all good and avoid all evil. When the force of goodness increases in the world, the force of evil will diminish. Let us do all good and avoid all evil and encourage others to do so as well. Doing so will set into motion ever-widening ripples of goodness.
I expect all our volunteers to abide by sincerity, integrity, good faith, and honesty, and practice loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Such are the principles and values we uphold in Tzu Chi; such is the spirit of our foundation. Please be ever more mindful.
Tzu Chi volunteers distribute aid to victims of Typhoon Haiyan in Leyte Province, the Philippines. Every time a disaster hits, Tzu Chi volunteers quickly mobilize to help survivors. HUANG XIAO-ZHE
This article is excerpted from a series of speeches delivered by Master Cheng Yen from October 1 to 17, 2016.