When we cultivate wisdom with compassion, we are able to observe everything in the world equally, with an open and accepting mind. If we can keep compassion and wisdom in balance and merge ourselves with everything in the universe, we will naturally treat all beings with love, give them help, and live in harmony with all. Then we will live out the most beautiful scenes of life.
There was once a foreign visitor to Taiwan who witnessed first-hand how Tzu Chi volunteers helped the needy from every corner of our society. Touched by what he saw, he set out to learn all he could about our foundation. It wasn’t long before he discovered that Tzu Chi volunteers have unselfishly served in over 60 countries around the world. He affirmed the foundation’s philanthropic efforts by describing our volunteers as “walking temples.”
What is a “walking temple”? A temple is a place where people find a haven of peace and solace. Tzu Chi volunteers extend care and comfort wherever suffering arises. No matter where they are, they provide peace and solace amidst the storms of life. Thus, they are just like “walking temples.”
Tzu Chi started as a local charity organization 42 years ago in Hualien, Taiwan. From that humble beginning, our volunteers have spread Great Love further and further, carrying it everywhere they go. Our volunteers go in person to those that are suffering, and they do their best to alleviate the pain in their lives. They provide support and security, addressing the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of each person. Wherever people need help, Tzu Chi volunteers are there for them to lean on. In this way, like ripples in a pond, Great Love has expanded throughout the world.
On May 12, 2008, the terrible Sichuan earthquake rocked China and left death and destruction in its wake. Teams of volunteers from Taiwan, China, and the United States promptly went to the devastated areas to provide free clinics, cook hot meals, and comfort wounded hearts, and volunteers have been there ever since. These volunteers are indeed “walking temples” that offer solace and support to the needy.
When we give with a heart of willingness and joy, when we overcome all problems to provide support and comfort to the suffering, a resonance of love will naturally be generated.
Time flies! More than a month has passed since the massive tremor jolted Sichuan and shocked the rest of the world. I believe that only by bringing out and strengthening the power of love hidden within people’s hearts can we alleviate and lessen the pain of the survivors.
Seven groups of volunteers have visited Sichuan as of June 18, and many more groups are ready to go, like a relay of love. Walking ever so gently on the devastated land, our volunteers are easing wounded hearts with love and sowing seeds of goodness in the minds of people.
The conditions under which the volunteers help survivors are difficult. The weather in Sichuan has not been favorable lately. Sometimes the sky pours down rain; sometimes the sun burns blazing hot. It is very hot and humid. And yet, volunteers willingly stand all day, cooking hot meals under tarpaulin tents. Compounding the challenges posed by the weather are the endless clouds of dust. These are raised by trucks weaving in and out of the disaster area, clearing debris. Tzu Chi doctors and nurses must always wear masks when treating patients, just to keep the dust out of their mouths. Although the masks make the doctors and nurses even more uncomfortable and hot, they cheerfully stay at their posts to ease people’s illnesses.
Some of the sick live in tents in remote areas and cannot come to the free clinics. In those cases, our volunteer medical personnel maneuver through the destruction and debris to reach them. The doctors enter the makeshift tent shelters and offer treatment with great care and love, speaking softly and gently patting the patients’ shoulders to comfort them. It’s touching to see the way these doctors respect life and lovingly care for the sick and injured.
Each team of volunteers stays eight days at the disaster site before being relieved by the next team. It was raining cats and dogs the day the sixth volunteer team arrived in Sichuan. Yet even the heavy showers did not dampen the local children’s enthusiasm and happiness at the arrival of a new team of Tzu Chi volunteers. The children had been very sad when the fifth team left, but they became happy again when the new team brought with them the same friendliness, sincerity, and smiles that they had come to know. The kids sang welcome songs in the rain and gave hugs to the volunteers.
I am grateful that all volunteers to Sichuan have paved the road to recovery with love. They have built strong bonds with the locals. The people there become very sad every time a team of Tzu Chi volunteers prepares to leave. But they also look forward to the arrival of new teams that will keep them company on the path to reconstruction, on the path to a bright and hopeful future.
Group after group of volunteers are continually sowing seeds of love and kindness in the hearts of all local residents. No matter what sort of challenges our volunteers face, they overcome them with a heart of willingness and joy. In so doing, a resonance of love is naturally generated. As one volunteer on one of the relief trips said, “This is a relay of love.”
Kindness means to render happiness to everyone around us. Compassion means to relieve people of their suffering. Bearing compassion and wisdom in mind, we can offer the most adequate support to the needy and help heal their traumatized hearts and minds.
What is ultimate beauty in life? It is love. How can you demonstrate selfless Great Love? You must practice the following:
Let kindness bring forth compassion: Kindness is to have a heart so broad that you sincerely wish for the well-being of all living beings. Because of this, even if you don’t know someone personally, you can empathize with him or her, and strive to relieve his or her suffering as if it were your own. This is compassion.
Let compassion inspire wisdom: When your heart is full of compassion, you won’t be able to stand idly by while others suffer. You will need to apply your wisdom to find the right methods to help them become free of misery and suffering.
Let wisdom bring forth true understanding: With wisdom, you will see into the true nature of love, hate, and all the other human emotions. Because of this, you will be freed from spiritual bondage and eliminate your illusions at their roots.
Let true understanding bring forth an impartial frame of mind: When you understand that everything in the world is the result of causes and conditions coming together and falling apart, you will understand that all things are essentially equal. Then you will be able to treat all beings equally, with an open and accepting mind and with due respect.
If you can practice these four methods and exercise compassion with wisdom, you will feel intimately connected with everything in the universe. You will treat all beings with love, give them help, and coexist with them in harmony.
Kindness means to render happiness to everyone around you. Compassion means to rid others of their suffering. Being kind and compassionate is beautiful, but you must also demonstrate wisdom at the same time. Sometimes compassion should come first, such as when you try to help others. At other times, wisdom should take precedence. But whatever the case, you must let compassion and wisdom guide your actions.
Compassion and wisdom are like your two legs. In order to walk, both legs must work together. When one leg steps forward, the other leg must quickly follow. Such coordination and cooperation allow you to walk steadily. Compassion and wisdom work the same way. Both must work together to allow you to help others steadily.
Tzu Chi volunteers are doing everything they can to help soothe the pain of quake survivors in Sichuan. Through their unselfish giving, our volunteers have been able to activate the innate compassion hidden in the hearts of the survivors. People have even been inspired to contribute their time and energy to help their fellow villagers. By helping others, the victims feel blessed and gain wisdom.
Many parents lost their children in the disaster. How excruciating it must have been for them to face the reality that the children who had left happily for school were now buried within toppled school buildings. In Luoshui Township, Shifang, a father and mother held flowers in their hands as they stood before rows of bricks marked with numbers. They had come to visit their child who had died in the disaster, because that day was their child’s birthday. Tzu Chi volunteers stood beside them, offering comfort and support, and joined them in sending blessings to the child and to all the children buried under the debris.
Aside from comforting the bereaved, volunteers are also helping them in other ways. For example, our volunteers have invited survivors to help us in our volunteer work there, as a way to help open up their closed hearts and lessen the pain and anguish they feel.
At the Tzu Chi hot meal stations, many grieving survivors who had felt lost after the disaster were offered the opportunity to help cook for other survivors. Being of service to others had a profound impact on them. Gradually, they began to cheer up and have hope again. Similarly, many young children learned to care for others and started helping at Tzu Chi’s medical stations. This has helped their hearts and minds to heal.
I heard the story of a little girl who was found in shock after the earthquake. She had closed herself off from other people and would not speak or smile. When Tzu Chi volunteers found her, they gave her much care and comfort. One day, she finally opened up her heart and began sobbing on a volunteer’s shoulder. When she was done crying, she put on a Tzu Chi volunteers’ vest and became a volunteer herself.
In Mianzhu, a severely damaged area, Grandma Zhang Le-lan (張樂蘭) was touched to see Tzu Chi volunteers that had traveled great distances to help disaster victims like her. Although her house was partially damaged in the earthquake, she cleaned out a room and offered it to volunteers to store relief supplies. She slept on a sofa in front of the room at night to guard the goods from thieves.
She humbly received the volunteers’ expressions of gratitude, saying it was the least she could do for the volunteers who had come from thousands of miles away to extend help to her people. Even though she had been hit by such a big catastrophe, she still could open up her heart and help Tzu Chi volunteers with kindness and optimistic love. This is truly wisdom!
The love of our volunteers is resonating in Sichuan. All these heart-warming stories show that when you reach out to help others, when seeds of love are deeply planted in people’s minds, you activate a cycle of love that goes on in endless ripples.
When you have a lot of love in your heart and live in harmony with others, you will experience the most beautiful scenes in life. From your heart will shine forth the most precious rays of life.
With the spirit of Great Love, may our volunteers sow seeds of goodness in the wounded land. May all the seeds sprout and flourish and further give rise to countless other seeds of goodness.
Over 7,000 schools were toppled in the Sichuan earthquake. Although many students no longer had school buildings, they studied diligently nonetheless among the debris under the blazingly hot sun. When asked by reporters what they most wished to do right now, they unanimously replied, “Study.” To help these students, Tzu Chi decided to build prefabricated classrooms for middle and elementary schools. Even though the classrooms are temporary, volunteers took every precaution to make sure the structures were safe, functional, sturdy and effective in keeping out the elements.
People living in tents found it difficult to take a shower. Besides, they were too immersed in rebuilding their houses or resuming their farm work to pay much attention to personal comfort. Even twenty days after the earthquake, most had not properly showered or cleaned up. To help people reclaim a sense of personal cleanliness, Tzu Chi set up a makeshift beauty station where, with help from local children, they washed and cut people’s hair and gave massages. Refreshing their bodies in this way also refreshed their minds and attitudes.
When the Dragon Boat Festival [one of the three major Chinese festivals] approached, our volunteers in the Greater Shanghai area sold home-made zong-zi [pyramid-shaped dumplings made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves--a traditional treat for this festival]. They also sent 3,000 zong-zi to Sichuan to make sure that people there could celebrate the festival as well.
Tzu Chi volunteers not only tried to take care of survivors’ physical and emotional needs, they also promoted filial piety among local children. They organized events where children squatted on the ground and washed the feet of their grandparents and parents in basins of water. Many parents were moved to tears. A child said, “Tt wasn’t until I washed Dad’s feet that I realized they were covered with calluses from his hard work. I must try my best to be a good son.”
Wherever suffering occurs, bodhisattvas will be there to give help. Emulating the examples of the bodhisattvas, Tzu Chi volunteers have endeavored to give love and care wherever they go. With the spirit of Great Love, may they sow seeds of goodness throughout the wounded land. May all the seeds sprout and flourish and further inspire countless other seeds of goodness.
Take others’ pain as your own. When others are relieved of their suffering and gain happiness, it will be your happiest moment.
Tzu Chi volunteers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, have long been helping refugees from Myanmar living in Malaysia. After Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar on May 2, 2008, our volunteers led the refugees in praying for their home country. Every time they prayed, children would shed tears. One of the children shared his wish: “I will be happy if all the disaster survivors are safe and sound.”
There is not a day that goes by that my heart does not go out to the people in Sichuan and Myanmar. I sincerely pray that they can quickly emerge from the physical and psychological trauma of those massive disasters and return to a stable life. Only then will my mind be at ease.
Tzu Chi aid teams began distributing relief supplies in some disaster areas in Myanmar soon after the disaster. On June 14, the government of Myanmar sent a letter to Tzu Chi, officially inviting our foundation to be involved in the disaster relief and reconstruction efforts in their country.
I am very grateful that our volunteers around the world can take the pain and sorrow of others as their own and give help with love. All Tzu Chi volunteers who go on disaster relief trips take with them the love of millions of Tzu Chi volunteers and donors from around the world. When disaster survivors can smile again and the wounded lands recover their vivacity, it will be the happiest moment for all Tzu Chi people.
The 21st century began only eight years ago. In that short time, numerous world-shocking catastrophes have happened: the Bam earthquake in Iran, the Indian Ocean tsunamis, the earthquake in Pakistan, Hurricane Katrina in the United States, and the Yogyakarta earthquake in Indonesia. Now, the cyclone in Myanmar and the Sichuan earthquake this May can be added to the sad list.
So many lives have been lost, so many homes have been ruined, and so many people have been traumatized as a result of these disasters. Whose heart does not go out to them? Tzu Chi volunteers cannot bear to see people in suffering. They brave all hardships and difficulties to extend help, hugs, and comfort. Let’s hope that all shattered hearts will be healed in the shortest time possible.
We all live under the same sky in this world; all of our lives are closely interdependent and intertwined. Let us respect heaven and earth and coexist harmoniously with all living creatures. It is not right for us to be indifferent and nonchalant toward the less fortunate just because we are leading a secure and comfortable life ourselves. The value of life lies in mutual help and love. When we are secure and safe, we should be grateful, pious, and vigilant. Above all, we must share compassionately in the unhappiness of others. Let us broaden our compassion to embrace all beings and try our best to help the less fortunate. With many more good people doing good deeds and thinking wholesome thoughts together, I believe the world will be a safer and nicer place to live. I thank you all!
By Master Cheng Yen
Translated by Teresa Chang
Source: Tzu Chi Quarterly Fall 2008
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- Welcome to a New Year Full of Wisdom and Blessings
- The Butterfly Effect
- Heeding the Wake Up Call of Disasters
- Examples of Bodhisattvas
- Life, Like a Diamond
- The Endless Power of Kindness
- Taking Hold of the Present Moment
- Today Is the Continuation of Yesterday