Thirty Years of Limitless Care for Those Suffering:

Looking Back at Tzu Chi’s Medical Mission in the United States

A Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) doctor interacts with her young patients
A Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) doctor interacts with her young patients on July 31, 2002, during dental care outreach in the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles. TIMA doctors in the U.S. routinely travel to remote areas to serve families needing healthcare services. Photo/Linjhao Yan


For 30 years, Tzu Chi’s medical mission in the United States has been calling on professional and non-professional volunteers to provide healthcare services in impoverished areas nationwide and in neighboring Central and South American countries. Tzu Chi USA doctors and volunteers have traveled everywhere, cultivating goodness in communities and bringing medicine and care to underprivileged areas with a relative lack of healthcare resources.

“Kindness” means giving joy, “compassion” means alleviating suffering, and Tzu Chi is the Dharma path of guiding all beings to do good. We’re grateful to the Tzu Chi medical team in the U.S. for their steadfastness and commitment over the past 30 years, as we’ve seen the compassionate figures of Tzu Chi doctors and volunteers in the dark corners of suffering and at disaster scenes in major cities and across the United States.

In 1992, Stephen Huang made a wish to promote the vision of guarding health in communities in the United States. He invited Dr. Chinlon Lin to personally visit the free medical clinic established and run by Share Our Selves, a nonprofit organization focused on providing free medical services for those experiencing homelessness in Southern California. Subsequently, after observing, investigating, and evaluating the possibility of Tzu Chi setting up a free clinic center, Lin gave an affirmative response. Huang immediately left for Taiwan to report.

At the time, I told the Tzu Chi volunteers to uphold one principle: “Get what you need locally, rely on yourself.” The U.S. is in a global arena, and it must be stable and rooted for the Bodhi seed to have a limitless life. In the event of any international disasters, Tzu Chi USA volunteers must also shoulder the burden of saving people on Earth from suffering!

I’m happy to see that Tzu Chi volunteers in the U.S. are taking practical steps and spreading the seeds of love all over the country. It’s touching that the Buddhist Tzu Chi Free Clinic, established 30 years ago in Alhambra, California, could be self-reliant. There are many undocumented immigrants there, some of whom live on the streets. The volunteers couldn’t bear to see them suffering. They set up a bathroom in the Free Clinic and prepared several sets of clean clothes so the unhoused individuals could take a hot bath and change into fresh clothes before seeing a doctor. The U.S. volunteers’ thoughtfulness and respect for people have been truly impressive.

Today, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Free Clinic (now a Buddhist Tzu Chi Health Center, one of three with Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike status in California), serves nearly 10,000 patients annually. On Sundays and holidays, the medical team travels to remote areas for free clinic outreach activities, providing vaccinations, blood tests, dental and vision care, health education, and other services, guarding the health of communities with love and perseverance.

In a land as vast as the United States, it’s gratifying to know that 24 Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) local chapters already exist, which recruit professionals and volunteers to follow the Bodhisattva Way and integrate the power of mainstream society. The U.S. medical team has also invested significant effort in launching Tzu Chi Mobile Clinics; the specialized vehicles are like free clinics on wheels, equipped with facilities that meet general clinic specifications and allow minor surgery. Therefore, Tzu Chi USA can extend its healthcare services to many places that need them. The medical team hoped to provide in-community visits on the premise that “If the patients can’t come to us, we’ll come to them,” and they did it!

Tzu Chi USA volunteers give back to the United States plus travel to impoverished countries such as Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Peru to provide medical care; they exemplify true humanity. After the earthquake in Haiti, TIMA immediately conducted a 100-day free clinic while simultaneously doing its best to foster local medical seeds. In 2012, there were patients in Haiti’s central hospital who suffered from nutritional disorders. Fortunately, local TIMA members immediately conveyed the message to Haitian volunteers. Despite poverty and a lack of supplies, these volunteers made arrangements on the spot to provide nutritious food – beans mixed with rice – to the patients. This energy of love, inherited from TIMA USA, has been spreading.

One of the major causes for the Buddha’s coming to Earth was to pass on the Dharma to people. Tzu Chi volunteers have vowed to practice the Bodhisattva Way and become a clear stream in the turbid world. As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Tzu Chi’s medical mission in the United States, I’ve witnessed all your actions in carrying out the Bodhisattva Way. On this heartwarming and beautiful occasion, I sincerely hope that everyone will open up their wisdom, stand firmly by our intention to take up the mission of purifying people’s hearts and cultivating peace in society, and aspire to be the uninvited teacher of all beings; “Keeping one’s commitment to following the Way is the grand way.”  

I hope everyone can align their body and mind to the axis of the Jing Si Dharma without bias so that we can be just like three-dimensional concentric circles with the same central root. I hope that you take action and promote the Tzu Chi School of Buddhism so that everyone, no matter where they are, can join their hearts and work hard to cultivate a field of blessings. May the Dharma and Tzu Chi transcend space and time to become deeply planted among people, with the roots of wisdom deeply immersed in the Great Path of Bodhi, so that a clear stream may prevail over the turbid stream and turn suffering into peace, converting Earth into a pure land as soon as possible. I sincerely wish all of you happiness, peace, and good fortune so that every day is full of Dharma joy and growth in blessings and wisdom.

Master Cheng Yen

Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation

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