Fifty-five years ago, a devout Buddhist monastic living in an undeveloped and impoverished region on the east coast of Taiwan set out on a heartfelt mission. She committed to assisting those in need by providing charity aid. Venerable Dharma Master Cheng Yen was 29 when she founded the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation in 1966, with her disciples – 30 housewives and five Buddhist nuns – rallying behind her.
At the outset, it was her close followers who supported the charity work entirely. The housewives saved a little daily from their grocery money to help fund the foundation’s aid efforts. The monastics, who sustained themselves by selling things they made, sewing baby shoes, making animal feed bags, and knitting sweaters, for instance, increased the volume of products to help raise funds.
Others might have viewed the prospects for the organization’s growth as limited. Yet Master Cheng Yen’s vision was boundless right from the start and as it evolved, guided by her absolute faith in the essential goodness and compassion inherent in the human heart – our pure Buddha Nature. Thus, she only saw and focused entirely on the possibilities rather than obstacles along the path.
Slowly but surely, the word about Master Cheng Yen and Tzu Chi’s mission spread, inspiring people to give regularly. As they recognized the power in having noble intentions and practicing virtuous deeds consistently, they realized that, indeed, even tiny drops of goodness could amass to become a mighty ocean of love whose pure waters could quench the needs of people around the globe.
Fast forward five and a half decades later, and we find Master Cheng Yen, now 84, at the helm of a global humanitarian charity organization, inspiring goodness in people’s hearts as much today as when she first set out on this mission. From the original 35 followers, Master Cheng Yen is now a beacon of light for an ever growing number of supporters and volunteers worldwide.
Tzu Chi’s global missions now extend beyond charity to include disaster relief, medicine, education, and humanistic culture. In addition to its various programs and activities, Tzu Chi has also founded and runs its own hospitals, clinics, and educational institutions. And beyond the many people whose suffering or needs Tzu Chi relieves through its efforts, the foundation’s volunteers continually plant seeds of goodness in people’s hearts, inspiring giving and service, thus fanning the ripples of love further each day.
And through it all, Master Cheng Yen is still the devoted monastic she has always been: compassionate and wise, visionary and resolute, tireless and diligent, ascetic and self-disciplined in her daily life, and at root, having unconditional love for all in her heart. All combined, these qualities make her a precious and beloved spiritual mentor to her many disciples and students; and a highly respected leader of a global humanitarian movement made possible by the genuine and steadfast dedication of its volunteers and supporters.
To date, Tzu Chi has brought aid to 124 countries and regions around the world. In the United States alone, Tzu Chi USA operates nine regional chapters with 65 offices spanning 25 states. The organization consistently attracts volunteers who can participate as community volunteers locally, or enter a path of volunteer training and broader scope of commitment.
In celebrating Tzu Chi’s anniversary, we’re also honoring the immeasurable and infinite means within a noble vow. When Master Cheng Yen was formally ordained as a Buddhist nun at age 25, her spiritual mentor, Dharma Master Yin Shun, gave her these instructions: “Now that you are a Buddhist monastic, remember always to work for Buddhism and for all living beings.” And this is what she has been doing with absolute focus since then.
What vows can we make to give more meaning to our lives, realizing their incredible potential as seen through the example of Dharma Master Cheng Yen? In the hearts of all the volunteers on the frontlines of Tzu Chi’s aid activities, their commitment and journey of love through service has no end in sight; for as long as suffering exists, they aim to relieve it with compassion and care.