Master Shih Cheng Yen, Tzu Chi Foundation is being honored as a Champion of Change for the leadership they demonstrated in their involvement in response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy.
Growing up in a small town in Taichung County, Dharma Master Cheng Yen saw at an early age the cruelties of war and the transience of life which propelled her to seek the out the answers to life and death, to why life is so transient and where then lies its true meaning?
It was in 1966, when Dharma Master Cheng Yen was visiting a patient at a small local clinic that she saw not just suffering, but the helplessness of those in the clinic. One of the patients who was suffering from labor complications, had to be carried by her family for eight hours from their mountain village, but when they arrived at the clinic, they did not have NT$8,000 (then US$200), the required fee; and so, the family could only carry her back untreated. Hearing this, Dharma Master Cheng Yen was overwhelmed with sorrow; she was reminded of her own helplessness in the wake of suffering and impermanence, that as an impoverished monastic barely supporting herself, what could she possibly do to help these poor people?
A short time later, three Catholic nuns visited Dharma Master Cheng Yen, and they had a discussion on the teachings of their respective religions. When Dharma Master Cheng Yen explained that Buddhism teaches love and compassion for all living beings, the nuns commented: Why have we not seen Buddhists doing good works for the society, such as setting up nursing homes, orphanages, and hospitals? She saw the fragility of life and the world which surrounded, but instead of looking the at impermanence with pessimistic nihilism, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, taking the advice and wisdom from her Catholic sisters, established Tzu Chi.
Tzu Chi, meaning “compassion and relief,” actively engages in international disaster relief and environmental protection, devotedly promotes humanistic values and community volunteerism, and has established one of the world’s largest bone marrow donor registries. It was with the four major missions of charity, medicine, education, and humanistic culture that Tzu Chi was established and holds sacred in our responsibility for our fellow man. Started in 1966 by Venerable Dharma Master Cheng Yen and from its first 30 donors—housewives who saved two cents from their grocery money each day to help the poor—Tzu Chi now has the capacity to extend our charge and abilities internationally. Now we send our volunteers to various locations affected by natural disaster and help the communities rebuild. We have helped build schools in countries such as Haiti when it was ravaged by the earthquake in 2004, we have built community clinics in different parts of the world, providing medical care to the underserved in the community, and we frequently work with schools, helping students develop positive character traits of kindness, trustworthiness, and integrity. And through our years of experience in providing relief to the various locations around the world, through what we have seen during times of calamities, it is in the most tenuous hours that the spirit, courage, and kindness of man that shines the brightest.
This was what we saw when Hurricane Sandy struck the east coast. While delivering hot food, warm blankets, and cash aid to the affected districts of New York City, we were reminded of the same sorrow caused by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and yet, we were also reminded of that same enduring strength, the same one we saw in New Orleans, 2004 and in Boston where after finishing the marathon, runners ran back 2 miles to donate blood. Our volunteers, who come from all over the nation to show their love and provide aid, saw that it was the collaboration and dedication of all groups and individuals that truly helped our nation shine through. This resilience of the people and the groups involved in relief can only be attributed to the contagious nature of human compassion; that one act of kindness and compassion will sprout another and inspire many more; that in times of darkness, it is when heroes, like those running towards the bomb blast in Boston to help, are created; and that it is with compassionate relief, or “compassion and relief,” which is what Tzu Chi means, that truly reinforces our bonds of unity.
Charity work takes us to places of suffering, and it is in these places of suffering, where man is at his most vulnerable, that bodhisattvas, or enlightened beings and saints, arise in response to the suffering. Our world is impermanent, and because of the fleeting nature of our existence, we should at every moment do more good for the world; only by doing good can our society become peaceful and safe. With that, we give our sincerest prayers and blessings to the victims of the Waco explosion and Boston marathon bombing.
Dharma Master Cheng Yen, a Buddhist nun from Taiwan, founded the Tzu Chi Foundation in 1966. The foundation is an international humanitarian nonprofit organization that aspires to help the needy with love and inspire compassion in the wealthy. Tzu Chi responded to Hurricane Sandy in late 2012, serving almost 60,000 people in over 25 of the most severe disaster areas in New York and New Jersey.