Five Generations With Tzu Chi

From my grandma Wang Mian to my grandchildren, five generations of my family have kept close ties with Tzu Chi. We are very fortunate. This is a result of the good karma we’ve accumulated over several lives.

When I was little, my mother, Huang Yu-nu, used to talk a lot about her first acquaintance with Master Cheng Yen. They met at a Buddhist society in Taitung, southeastern Taiwan, in 1961. Back then, the Master was called “Jing Si” and hadn’t yet shaved her head. My mother was surprised to learn, when they met again 10 years later, that the Jing Si who was wearing two long plaits when they first met had become the founder of Tzu Chi. Everything in life is due to karmic affinities, and karmic affinities can indeed be inconceivable.

In 1973, Typhoon Nora wreaked havoc in an area from Yuli, Hualien, down to Dawu, Taitung. Master Cheng Yen instructed Tzu Chi volunteers to pull out all the stops to help with the disaster relief efforts. My father, Wang Tian-ding, was volunteering for Tzu Chi by this time. He was the one who helped prepare the rosters of aid recipients. He understood that the charity organization was funded mostly by small donations and that fund-raising wasn’t easy, so he suggested that only about 200 households should receive aid.

However, when the Master looked at the recipient rosters prepared by my father, she recommended less rigorous aid-giving standards in order to allow more households to benefit. My father reworked the rosters and presented a renewed relief plan, but the Master again recommended a wider margin than what my father had proposed. This went back and forth three times. In the end, the number of households in Taitung to receive aid from Tzu Chi increased to over 500.

My father was an elementary school principal, so he arranged for the relief distribution for typhoon victims to take place at the local Jie Shou Hall. Tzu Chi reimbursed attendees for their train fares, but some people lived in townships with no train service, such as Taimali and Jinlun. The Master hired a tour bus to ferry these people to and from the venue. Such consideration for the survivors deeply moved my father. He remarked, “The Master’s action embodies the spirit of ‘Great mercy to strangers and great compassion for all.’”

Another incident also left its mark on my father. In 1973, Tzu Chi held its first free clinic in Taitung at Hai Shan Temple. When my father saw Su Wan-gui, who was from a poor family, arrive at the clinic without his father, he inquired about his father’s absence. Su’s speech was so slurred no one could understand him, so he used gestures to try to communicate his message. Eventually, with the help of a neighbor, he was able to communicate that his father was dying. The Master was very concerned when she heard this. She immediately visited Su’s father at home along with a doctor from the free clinic. Su’s father was diagnosed with lung and heart problems.

Soon after the free clinic, my father received a phone call from the Master. She asked him to pick up some heart medicine at the Taitung train station and take it to Su’s house. She had asked a train conductor to deliver the medicine for her.

The Master herself happened to suffer from angina. There was medicine for her condition at the Jing Si Abode in Hualien, the convent she established and where she lived. She thought Su’s father could benefit from her medicine, so she asked people to deliver it for her. The way the Master kept the needy in mind moved my father. “The Master is really compassionate,” he said. “She teaches us to treat everyone equally. We make every effort to relieve people, even those who aren’t related to us, from pain.”

Picking up the baton in the Yunlin-Chiayi region

The Master, greatly revered by my mother, always stayed at our place when she came to Taitung to visit the needy. My mother used to keep a guest room especially for the Master, and she always cleaned it carefully before her visits. We were not allowed into the room.

I was studying in Taipei at the time. On the occasions when I visited home and saw the Master, I addressed her as “Grandmaster.”

At the age of 26, I got a job at Chunghwa Telecom, maintaining equipment at base stations of wireless networks. Later I put down roots in Xingang, Chiayi County, southern Taiwan—the hometown of my wife, Yan Yu-zhen (嚴玉真).

That was in 1979. From reading earlier issues of the Tzu Chi Monthly, I learned that the foundation had started sponsoring underprivileged households in Yunlin, the county right next to Chiayi, as early as in 1973. The first household in Chiayi was helped in 1977.

Back then, these households were visited by cross-region Tzu Chi commissioners from either Taichung or Tainan. My first household visit after I moved to Chiayi was guided by the Master. On that occasion, the Master came down from Hualien with Master De Rong, Master De En (德恩), and Tzu Chi Sister Jing Xian (靜憪). I rode a motorbike and navigated the routes from the front while the Master and the others followed me in a taxi. We rode to remote areas in Yunlin and Chiayi to visit needy families.

After our visit together, the Master said to me, “From now on, you’ll be in charge of this area.” After that, when a needy family was referred to our headquarters in Hualien for help, they sent me the documents and information for the household to follow up. Gradually I assumed responsibility for Tzu Chi’s charity work in the Yunlin-Chiayi region.

When Wang Shou-rong
(王壽榮) and his wife, Yan Yu-zhen, visited the needy during the early years, Wang would take the photographs while Yan extended care to the families. After-wards, they compiled files based on the info they had collected.

The first time I conducted year-end visits to the households receiving long-term aid from Tzu Chi, the Master instructed me to take along a tape measure to measure each member of every household and record the measurements. At first I did not understand the purpose of this action. It wasn’t until I received the supplies for the upcoming winter distributions that I understood why she wanted me to do this.

Every household was to receive three packages: Two contained food and utensils, and one contained winter clothes and student uniforms. The clothes in their package were folded neatly, and each item of clothing was labeled with the name of the intended recipient. When the families received the clothes, everything fitted, those for the adults and the young kids alike.

Elderly people received warm woolen coats, and the school uniforms for children were made from the best khaki fabric—in fact, Tai Tzu Lung’s famous brand watermark could be seen inside the collar. These details showed how much thought the Master had put in to prepare these supplies for our aid recipients. She even thought of people’s needs for new clothes at the Lunar New Year. Such attentiveness!

Back then, I had to deliver supplies and monthly allowances to our aid recipients every month. Due to our annual winter distributions, winter was a particularly busy delivery season. At that time my wife and I could not afford a car, so we managed the deliveries on our motorbikes. I had a 100cc Yamaha and my wife had an 80cc Suzuki. Each of us could only carry six packages per trip, enough supplies for only two households. It took us several days of such mini-deliveries to distribute all the supplies.

Because of our long-term exposure to the sun and the sea winds while on the road on our motorbikes, our faces were nearly always dry, chapped, and peeled. One year after the winter distributions I went back to my parents’ home for the Lunar New Year. My parents thought I was ill because of my dark, dry, gravely wrinkled face!

My mother’s affirmation

During those early years, my wife and I had day jobs and so we could only deliver supplies during the weekends. One year, I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to deliver all the winter relief supplies and allowances before the Lunar New Year’s Eve, so I wrote in advance to our aid recipients and asked them to collect their supplies at my father-in-law’s place. But then I witnessed a scene that made me regret my decision: Two elderly women who had taken a cab together from Budai Township, Chiayi County, threw up the minute they arrived at my father-in-law’s place. They had become very carsick on the trip.

It hurt me to see how those ladies had suffered, so I resumed my personal delivery to each family. Although this method consumed a lot of time and energy, it was in accordance with the Master’s teaching: One has to see things from the perspective of those who suffer instead of handling things based on one’s subjective ways of thinking. That is the most precious lesson I’ve ever learned.

Wang Shou-rong (back row, left) with his wife (back row, right), mother, and father (who passed away at age 95 in 2017)

During the 1980s, my mother came to live with us for a short while. I took her to visit a woman in her 70s who lived by herself in the village of Jinhu, Kouhu Township, Yunlin County. The woman’s son had been conscripted into the Japanese army during the Japanese rule of Taiwan (1895-1945) and had been killed on the battlefield. After that, the woman built tall fences around her house, refused to interact with her neighbors, and never let her guard down.

Because I visited her every month, I had won her trust. On that particular day my mother got out of the car first. When she saw the woman standing at her door, she called out to her, but the woman ignored my mother’s greeting and retreated deeper inside the house. It wasn’t until I showed up at the woman’s door and called out to her that she recognized my voice and opened the door. This interaction affirmed for my mother the benefits of my long-term charity efforts.

From my grandma Wang Mian (王麵) to my grandchildren, five generations of my family have kept close ties with Tzu Chi. My eldest daughter, Wang Ling-yi (王齡誼), and her husband, Zhang Huai-ren (張懷仁), both work at Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital, one at the research department and the other as a cardiologist. And two of my grandchildren study at Tzu Chi elementary school and kindergarten; they often volunteer at Tzu Chi bookstores on weekends.

I’m 66 this year, and I’ve devoted myself to Tzu Chi work for 40 years. Over the years I’ve witnessed with my own eyes how thoughtful the Master has always been in providing help and care for the needy. She has always been like a loving mother and a compassionate bodhisattva. I’m grateful that my parents led me to Tzu Chi and that I could take part in such meaningful social work. It’s due to the good karma I’ve accumulated over several lifetimes that I could have such a blessed life.

July 2019