Launch the Cycle of Goodness for a Year of Peace and Blessings:

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

A lady holding Very Veggie Movement flyer and Tzu Chi blessing
A care recipient at a drive-through food distribution in California in 2020, joyfully accepts to take a vegetarian pledge. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tzu Chi USA volunteers distributed food, supported the vaccination effort, and promoted vegetarianism. Photo/Shuli Lo


Time flies, it’s already 2024. A few days ago, when I was traveling, I found out that I had contracted COVID-19. I was worried about spreading the disease to others, so I immediately changed my itinerary. It has been four years since this invisible and unstoppable epidemic spread internationally.

I remember that during the pandemic’s peak, I had video conferences with several Tzu Chi Hospital presidents and teams every morning, listening to their reports on how they set up screening stations outside hospitals and administered medication and vaccines. The pandemic was like an enemy army set on attacking the city, which had arrived at the gate. The doctors and nurses were like the generals defending the city, who needed to put on their armor to fight. I asked the presidents to take good care of their medical staff, who were responsible for protecting life, health, and love, and also to protect themselves beforehand so they could protect people and the community.  

In those days, healthcare workers on the frontline had to wear airtight apparel with their heads, faces, bodies, hands, and feet sealed up. This made them feel extremely hot and stuffy inside the coveralls. When they finished their work and removed the layers of gloves and protective clothing, they would find their inner layer of clothes so soaked with sweat that they were dark, and they even had to wring out the liquid. The public could not see the repercussions of their daily hard labor under such difficult conditions. Seeing the healthcare workers sweating all over saddened me, but my heart was full of gratitude: If not for their dedication, how could we have protected people’s health?

Everyone has a duty to do something for the world. The medical system took on a great deal of responsibility, but we, on the outside, also have to do our part. A few years ago, when the pandemic was on the rise, I saw in the news that priests in India didn’t have the necessary equipment to protect themselves but still went to the hospitals to serve; I hoped that Tzu Chi could go there and provide support through protection supplies. Over the past two to three years, we often heard about Tzu Chi’s international aid: When a particular country, hospital, or organization needed oxygen cylinders and protective clothing, we kept providing them.

It is often said that people living in peace should care about places that are not peaceful or have been struck by disasters, offering support to help anyone in need there with love. Those who can save people are blessed, and those who can do good can be at peace. We are grateful to Tzu Chi volunteers for responding to my appeal to raise love and donations to purchase vaccines and for delivering vegetarian meals to the elderly and helpless who could not cook for themselves during the pandemic.

Indeed, there is much suffering in the world, yet we still wish that this year will be one of peace and that the pandemic can subside. Therefore, we must be more prudent and pious to create more blessings. If we want peace, we must live accordingly. For example, we should maintain a healthy lifestyle. We should not overeat with the understanding that illnesses can arrive through the mouth. We must also refrain from consuming what we should not eat, which includes meat. The wish for the world to be peaceful and disaster-free depends on what humans eat. If there is a large population of meat-eaters, how many animals will they need to consume to satisfy their appetite? Won’t these animals retaliate because of their grievances?

I often mention statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations on the number of animals slaughtered each year, and that enormous number includes only cows, pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, etc., and not aquatic creatures. From the perspective of Buddhism, all beings in the six realms of life are equal, only with different body forms. Slaughtering and devouring living creatures to satisfy human appetites is utterly irrational, as all living beings share the same karma. Human beings have committed a great deal of killing deeds. Without vigilant awareness of these transgressions, disasters will continue to raid the world.

The Buddha said more than 2,500 years ago that in the Latter Dharma Era, there would be fewer and fewer people who believe in the Dharma and abide by a humanitarian spirit. Yet, I’m very fortunate as the number of human Bodhisattvas has increased in this age. I hope everyone does not slacken in their efforts to promote a plant-based diet, spread the great teaching of vegetarianism that protects all beings’ lives, guard health with sincere love, and bring peace to all. If everyone is pious and loving, utilizes their wisdom for the benefit of humanity, and launches the cycle of goodness, I believe 2024 will be a peaceful year of blessings and wisdom.

Master Cheng Yen

Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation

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