Just before her monastic ordination, Master Cheng Yen was given this simple instruction by her refuge master: “to always work for Buddhism and for all living beings”. Since then, the Master has faithfully dedicated her life to this vocation. This is how the world of Tzu Chi we know today came into being.
Master Cheng Yen established Tzu Chi from scratch on 14th May 1966, in the rural east coast town of Hualien in Taiwan. With the conviction that the Dharma is found in daily life, the Master hopes to nurture the spirit of sincerity, integrity, faith, and steadfastness, and the Buddhist values of loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and giving in people. Under her compassionate guidance, Tzu Chi now has countless volunteers worldwide actively working to serve the needy in their communities, turning the power of compassion into practical actions.
From the Lotus Sutra, Master Cheng Yen discerned that there is much suffering in the Saha World (the transient world we live in). People’s suffering can be physical, mental/emotional or a combination of both. The Sutra also speaks of the Buddha ceaselessly working to purify living beings’ minds, which are the source of all afflictions and suffering. Hence, the Master believes that the only way to eliminate the suffering of the world is to guide people to direct their minds towards goodness and purity.
In the early days of Tzu Chi, the Master and her Monastic disciples lived an austere lifestyle, faithfully practising the traditional values of self-discipline, frugality, diligence, and perseverance. Despite living in hardship, they were determined to raise funds for their charity work. Thus each nun made an extra pair of baby shoes daily, and the Master led 30 housewives (her lay disciples) to save 50 NT cents into their bamboo coin banks each day, to kick-start their work of relieving poverty. Today, the “Bamboo Bank Era” is regarded internationally as the origin of the organisation’s humanitarian spirit.
From its humble beginnings in the rural east coast of Taiwan, Tzu Chi’s footprints of Great Love have spread to 101 countries, and it is now an international NGO with Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UN ECOSOC). The organisation focuses its efforts on its Four Missions of Charity, Medicine, Education, and Humanistic Culture, which have further extended to include Bone Marrow Donation, International Relief, Environmental Protection, and Community Volunteerism.
Volunteer-based and funded by public donations, Tzu Chi is committed to the betterment of humanity in the spirit of Great Love. Its global network of volunteers work directly with people in need, providing care and aid with a selfless love that transcends race, nationality, language, and religion. This has brought about a positive cycle of love and goodness around the world.
In the current era of climate change, with increased frequency of natural disasters, Master Cheng Yen believes that the cause of disasters is rooted in people’s hearts and minds. Hence, she hopes that many more people in the world can uncover and tap into the wellspring of purity within their own hearts. As more wellsprings are tapped into, more water will flow forth. With an abundance of water flowing forth, it would be possible to cleanse the hearts of all around the world.
Charity is the cornerstone of Tzu Chi. This Mission comprises the primary programmes of long-term care, emergency aid, winter relief distribution, as well as disaster relief. Besides helping beneficiaries to get back on track in life, Tzu Chi provide them with ongoing support and help them become financially independent so as to escape the poverty cycle. The aid recipients are also encouraged and inspired to give to help others in need, to pass their love forward.
The Mission of Medicine started with a free clinic, followed by fundraising to build the first Tzu Chi hospital. Today, there is a comprehensive Tzu Chi medical network around Taiwan, inclusive of six hospitals, free clinic, house call, etc. In addition, the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) has established its presence in various countries, to serve in areas where medical resources may be lacking, thus safeguarding lives and health.
Education is a long-term mission of nurturing the mind and spirit. The Mission of Education encompasses a full range of educational institutions, starting from preschools and elementary schools to high schools and universities. Tzu Chi strives to nurture a whole new generation of young with aspirations, sound character, and healthy minds and bodies, through the teaching of moral values and living skills, and providing a holistic education.
The spirit of Humanistic Culture is about living out the greatest value of one’s life with joy, and attaining personal growth and character refinement. With the advancement in technology, Tzu Chi leverages on printed and 3D broadcast media to spread its inspiring news and messages around the globe, with the hope of purifying the minds. By providing truthful and positive news that bear witness to human kindness, it aims to create a virtuous cycle of love and charity.
Based on the disaster relief principles of timeliness, directness, priority, respect, and practicality, Tzu Chi provides relief supplies, such as food, rice seeds, clothing, blankets, medical supplies, etc. to disaster-hit nations. It also develops long-term relief plans, such as the rebuilding of houses and schools, developing water sources, etc. Although the type of relief it provides may differ depending on the situation, Tzu Chi serves all who need aid with the same humanitarian spirit.
Haematopoietic stem cell donation, which enables one to “save a life in a harmless way”, may give a new lease of life to sufferers of blood disorders. Thanks to its volunteers' active promotion, Tzu Chi was able to establish a bone marrow donor database, which later became the world’s largest database of registered Chinese marrow donors. The Tzu Chi Stem Cells Centre is committed to the development of the HLA testing technology, clinical medicine and research, etc.
Tzu Chi volunteers worldwide actively promote recycling to the public, and set examples by taking action to conserve resources and reduce carbon footprint. They also encourage and guide the residents in their community to carry out eco-friendly habits and practices in their daily lives to protect the environment. In addition, Tzu Chi actively advocates a meat-free diet and promotes a simpler and more sustainable way of living, which can help to mitigate global warming.
By making an effort to build a network of volunteers in each community, Tzu Chi hopes to transform the heartlands into caring communities where people practise good neighbourliness. With such a network of support, not only can those without kin be taken care of, but the volunteers can also mobilize quickly to render help to those in need in times of emergency, creating a society filled with human warmth and love.
With hearts united in love, Tzu Chi volunteers selflessly reach out to the suffering in the world, taking each opportunity to serve those in need. Even though a human life span may be limited, love and charity knows no bounds. We would like to share with you the video, “Tzu Chi 2018 Year in Review”, and invite you to join us in unleashing the power of charity to comfort a suffering world.