Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation

Jun 17th
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Home Our Founder Master's Teachings Be a Drop of Life-Nourishing Water

Be a Drop of Life-Nourishing Water

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[Master's Teaching]
Seconds and minutes tick away; days and years quickly vanish into the past. On October 16, we commemorated the 20th anniversary of our mission of education and the 15th anniversary of our medical school. A look back reveals the truly arduous trail we’ve blazed. The road to building Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital (now the Hualien Tzu Chi Medical Center) was fraught with obstacles; starting the medical school was met with even more difficulties.

After Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital opened in 1986, we saw the urgent need to train conscientious nurses and doctors to staff it. In response, we overcame countless challenges and created our own college of nursing in Hualien. The Tzu Chi College of Nursing (later to become the Tzu Chi College of Technology) was inaugurated on September 17, 1989. Its purpose was to nurture nurses with upright, loving hearts. The creation of the college launched the foundation’s mission of education.

As soon as the College of Nursing was established, Tzu Chi devoted its manpower and resources to building a medical school. Five years later, in 1994, the Tzu Chi College of Medicine opened. Our hope is that our medical students will see patients not simply as cases of illness to be treated but as members of their own families, and that they will respect life and care for their patients’ physical illnesses as well as their emotional wellbeing. This commitment and care of the whole patient is summed up in the school’s anthem: “I vow to treat all living beings as my dearest family. I will cure illnesses, heal patients, and help all to attain health and peace of mind.”

When it was first established, the remoteness of the medical college made it very difficult to recruit teachers and staff. Nevertheless, many came and joined us in getting it up and running. The dean and the teachers even pitched in to help clean up the environment around campus. In fact, some buildings were still under construction when the school opened. Students sometimes had to walk on concrete forms, molds in which wet concrete is placed to harden, to get to their classrooms. Those students are now able attending physicians in their own right.

Educating students is like planting trees. Mother Nature must provide soil, nutrients, water, fresh air, and sunlight for saplings to grow into big trees. Likewise, our educators must give much of themselves to help students reach their full potential. Students at all Tzu Chi schools receive instruction from mindful teachers, willing to go the extra mile to make sure they receive the finest education. Tzu Chi Moms and Dads, volunteers who “adopt” students and care for them as if they were their own children, provide love and guidance to them and point them in the right direction in life. Students are taught to respect their parents and teachers, to befriend upright people, to understand the value of life, and most importantly, to form wholesome characters and fulfill their duties and responsibilities as human beings. With such nourishment, our young students have indeed grown from saplings into big trees, bearing bumper crops of fruit.

Dr. Liu An-bang, chief of neurology at the Hualien Tzu Chi Medical Center, recalled what his teachers and friends said to him 20 years ago when he decided to serve in Hualien: “Hualien is very remote, and life there is hard. If the telephone poles there had legs, even they would run away.”

Working at our short-staffed hospital, Dr. Liu has indeed had a hard job in his 20 years in Hualien. But good doctors are not deterred by hard work or the challenges that face them. It is their mission to safeguard lives, regardless of the obstacles that must be overcome. Dr. Liu is but one example of the dedicated people working at the Hualien Tzu Chi Medical Center.

Only people who are honest, upright, and loving would choose to work in Hualien and give to the best of their ability. I am very grateful that today, 20 years later, so many conscientious doctors, nurses, and teachers are safeguarding lives in eastern Taiwan. Seeing how hard they work, I truly feel for them. Yet I also hope that they will emerge from the trial of hard work like polished, sparkling diamonds.

Tzu Chi began with the mission of charity more than 40 years ago, followed by the missions of medicine, education, and culture. These Four Missions later evolved to become the Eight Footprints, which include the four original missions as well as international relief, bone marrow donation, environmental protection, and community volunteerism. Everything that has been accomplished has been due to everyone’s concerted efforts. “One step leaves behind eight footprints”—everyone makes such good use of their time and talents to do Tzu Chi work that it is as though they cover eight steps in one stride. The Tzu Chi Path is paved with everyone’s sincere hard work. When we look back at our history, every chapter touches a chord in us.

The transformative power of Great Love
In 1998, Hurricane Georges devastated many Central American and Caribbean countries, including the Dominican Republic. Tzu Chi volunteers from the United States visited La Romana, a hard-hit area in the Dominican Republic, to help disaster survivors. There they witnessed a group of impoverished people living off a mountain of garbage. As soon as garbage trucks dumped their loads, women and children swarmed in to scavenge for scraps of food. Anything they found was immediately stuffed into their mouths. Such sights anguished the volunteers, so after providing disaster relief to the needy, volunteers continued to provide care for the local people. Tzu Chi later built them a school.

On August 8 this year, the La Romana Tzu Chi School held its fifth graduation ceremony. The graduates knelt, held up tea cups, and served tea to their teachers, parents, and the volunteers who had come from the United States to express their gratitude. It was truly a heartwarming scene.

Over the past 11 years, Tzu Chi volunteers have given unselfishly to the local people with Great Love. They have helped bring new life to the slum area in La Romana, and they have improved future prospects for the local children. The mountain of garbage is gone, and the area has been transformed into a clean residential community. The children who once fought over discarded food in the trash heap have become polite students. Now they have dreams for their own future. Almost all graduates of the school plan to continue their education. Some of them want to become engineers, and some plan to be physicians.

Our volunteers have also brought out the pure, untainted love that lay undeveloped in the hearts of the children. When the children heard that many in Taiwan had lost their homes to Typhoon Morakot, they donated their pocket money to help. Some even cried.

It was touching that they, although poor, were so willing to give. Such is how a seed of love can start a cycle of goodness. It also shows that no matter how destitute peoples’ lives are, if their hearts are pure and full of love, there is always hope.

The power of collective karma
There is a story in a Buddhist sutra. For a period of time, the Buddha lectured at the garden of Anathapindika in the Jeta Grove. During this time, a rich man made daily food offerings to the Buddha and his monastic disciples. Hundreds of beggars would come to listen to the Buddha’s lectures each day in order to partake of the rich man’s donation of free food. After listening to the Buddha’s teachings day after day, the beggars came to realize that their poverty in this life was caused by their accumulated doings in their previous lives. From then on, though they continued to attend the lectures, they did not do so for food. They attended solely for the teachings. They even asked the Buddha to accept them as his disciples.

The former poor beggars repented of their past wrongs and diligently carried out spiritual cultivation. Eventually they attained arahanthood and traveled everywhere to teach people how to be free from mental suffering.

Don’t think that we are too small and insignificant to make any difference. Tiny acts of kindness that accumulate over time can do great good. However, if we act, talk, or think inappropriately, such seemingly small vices can build up into a tremendous force of bad karma.

A 500-year-old tree cannot withstand the attack of tiny termites. A man, however strong, is no match for the invasion of minuscule germs. Our earth, however big it may seem, cannot withstand the destructive force of the negative collective karma of all beings.

Let us not be the termites that gnaw at the tree. Let us instead be a drop of water that keeps the earth nourished so that all beings can flourish together on the planet. Our deeds, words, and thoughts are the building blocks of the collective karma of all beings. So we should do any deeds that benefit mankind, and we should affirm and praise others for the good things they do. We must never give rise to evil thoughts; we must never commit bad deeds. We must never for our own interest slander others or hinder them from doing good.

I hope all of us can clean away the impurities in our minds and always harbor hearts of gratitude, give of ourselves, and form good affinities with others. Let us speak kind words, do good deeds, and think good thoughts. We need not be concerned that each one of us has only limited strength. When everyone’s strength is combined, our collective force will be huge. As long as each individual contributes his or her bit, we can bring the world hope.

Cleanup after typhoons
Typhoons Ketsana and Parma hit the Philippines within a week of one another, upsetting the lives of millions of people. When the floods caused by the typhoons receded, they left behind unimaginable amounts of mud and garbage. If not quickly cleaned up, the areas could have been breeding grounds for epidemics. This would have only added to the misery inflicted by the typhoons. But the disaster areas were vast. How could Tzu Chi provide help in such huge areas with so few volunteers?

Because most disaster survivors were poor and had no income after the floods, our volunteers in the Philippines decided to pay the locals to help with the cleanup. The volunteers also provided tools with which to work and meals for those working.

At the end of each day, the volunteers respectfully handed each worker the pay they had earned that day. The sincerity of the volunteers moved many people. Where before many disaster victims had sat surrounded by debris and worried about how they could sustain themselves, now they roused themselves and actively participated in their own recovery.

When the environment was cleaned up and the residents once again had a clean, safe space in which to live, those who had helped in the recovery efforts felt warm and cheerful. Their hearts opened up. Some of them even volunteered to clean up other areas after they had finished the work in their own neighborhoods. They said, “I don’t want to get paid today. I want to be a volunteer.”

This was how Tzu Chi volunteers used their wisdom to inspire local people to help themselves and others. They brought out not only the love but also the wisdom in the flood survivors. Some residents even said, “Let’s join hands and clean up one street after another. When every place is clean, naturally our home will be clean too.”

Naturally, it is not within one person’s power to clean up such vast flooded areas. But the collective power of many people can work miracles. If people can chip in and do what they can, if everyone can pick up a shovel and clean away just some of the dirt, then the messy streets will naturally become clean and beautiful again.

When we give of ourselves and help others, we bring out their love. When everyone is inspired to love each other, Great Love will fill the world.

Always be vigilant and pious
There is an old adage that goes, “Those who go with the law of nature stand, and those who go against it fall.” The law of nature refers to morals and ethics. We should follow the law of nature and play our part the best we can. If we hurt others to benefit ourselves, or if our actions benefit ourselves more than others, we are going against the principles of nature. This will surely bring disasters.

The Buddha said that the mind alone creates everything. Disasters, natural or man-made, are intrinsically created by our mind. In the face of any disasters, it behooves us to carefully reflect on our thoughts and deeds.

Zengzi, an ancient Chinese philosopher, said that he reflected on himself three times a day. We should reflect on ourselves not just three times a day, but every moment of the day. We should ask ourselves how many good wishes and good vows we have made each day. We shouldn’t set our minds on such petty thoughts as “I’m right and you’re wrong.” If we do that, we will hold grudges against others and consequently form bad affinities with people.

If we want our world to be free of disasters, our society to be harmonious, and everyone to live in safety, just praying to heaven will not do. Instead, we must be constantly mindful of our actions, words, and thoughts. We must harbor gratitude in our hearts and respect and love one another. When we can do this, we will dissolve our bad karma and invite no new troubles; we will create blessings and avoid disasters.

All beings share a collective karma. The forces of good karma and bad karma are in a constant tug of war. When the power of good karma is weaker, the force of bad karma will prevail. When people repent, live in vigilant piety, and activate the love in themselves and others to soothe suffering, only then can everyone be at peace and the world be free of disasters.

Suffering people need to be soothed by Great Love. Those who have blessed lives should help them with a heart of kindness. Such is the spirit of compassion.

Tzu Chi volunteers form a beautiful group in which they dedicate themselves to the Tzu Chi missions and do their best to give of themselves selflessly. They are forever spiritual partners on the Path of the Bodhisattvas. I hope all of you take my commitments as your own and always walk with me on the Path. Together let us try to be like the Buddha, exercise kindness and compassion, and go among the people to help the suffering.

May all of you take my teachings to heart, carry out the missions of Tzu Chi, and pass the torch on to the next generation. May all of you show kindness even towards people that you don’t know, and share compassionately in the unhappiness of others. Let us do this every day.

Translated by Teresa Chang
Source: Tzu Chi Quarterly Winter 2009

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