JUST back from a visit to the Tzu Chi Foundation in Taiwan, where at last I fulfilled my wish to meet the Dharma Master, Cheng Yen. She is the Buddhist nun who has revolutionized Buddhism by making it relevant, pro-active, providing answers to the current needs of the times in the Buddhist way.
Master Cheng Yen, as she is referred to, has not changed Buddhism’s ethos of simplicity, meditation, good works and compassion. She has translated it to contemporary language and the good works that our times require.
The Tzu Chi Foundation is the result, a Buddhist Great Love Foundation that is now in most countries of the world including Haiti, Russia and North Korea, answering the call of the times for the right education, timely and common sense relief and rehabilitation in times of disasters and calamities and humanitarian service in state-of-the-art hospitals, schools and communication facilities.
Filipinos have come to know the Tzu Chi Foundation through its First Responder presence in the calamities of the Infanta mudslides, the Ondoy flooding of Marikina and the Yolanda aftermath in Leyte and lately in Catarman, Northern Samar after Nona.
In a common sense response with minimum fuss and forms, Tzu Chi devised the Cash for Work program in these areas with the rationale that cash would be short supply and stifle return to normal economic activity. They were so right because in exchange for the work of cleaning up and earning the cash the victims helped themselves with dignity and the realization of the value of work. Thus they were able to engage in commerce which brought them back to normal. Tzu Chi is still in Leyte providing temporary housing in magnitudes of thousands as well as livelihood and assistance towards arriving at self-reliance. They stay when needed.
In Taiwan, the Tzu Chi Foundation which will soon celebrate 50 years of existence has gone a long way. They have schools from pre-Kindergarten to graduate schools specializing in the Humanities, Social Sciences, pure Science and technology. We visited the school in Hwalien which is solidly but simply built in washout material with large courtyards, gardens and modern classrooms. The value of work is part of the Buddhist ethos, and is inculcated in the students. They clean their own classrooms and gardens and Honor students are given the honor of cleaning the restrooms. This is a discipline of manual work that will be a value for each in life.
Tzu Chi has six large and leading hospitals in the country (the one in Hwalien separated the Filipino Siamese twins of recent vintage successfully) that pioneer in bone marrow transplants, cord blood banks and the technique of saving limbs of diabetics from amputation. All these activities are non-profit, relying on volunteers and donations but with a high calibre of professionals, themselves Tzu Chi volunteers dispensing the best humanitarian services with compassion, common sense and the best of modern science.
Tzu Chi is so modern that it has seen and invested in the importance of communication. They have a number of television channels in their impressive television and radio stations in Taipeh which have a worldwide reach and employ hundreds. Here in the Philippines we can see the Daai TV channel on our cable television discussing humanitarian values and the need to co-exist with our Earth.
Basically, Tzu Chu teaches. Dharma means teachings. Thus, Master Cheng Yen is the Dharma Master as she teaches Buddhism relevant to our lives and times without compromising its ethos and ancient source. Tzu Chi also does not proselytize. It respects other religions and beliefs and works with their communities. In Leyte, they financed the rebuilding of the Sto. Niño Shrine, In Haiti, they rebuilt a Catholic Girls’ School.
The spirit and act of giving, of valuing life, feeling for others and living a simple and virtuous life, detached from material compulsions is the heart of Tuzu and the Buddhist way it espouses.
Next Week: Meeting the Dharma Master