Dharma Master Cheng Yen
Dharma Master Cheng Yen was born in 1937, in a small town in Taiwan called Qingshui. Since her uncle was childless, she was adopted by his family. Being the eldest daughter in the family, she often helped out in looking after her younger siblings.
Growing up, she experienced the air raids that the Second World War brought upon Taiwan, and the cruelties of war deeply imprinted on her young mind. Throughout her growing years, she had many questions about life and its meaning.
The Spiritual Calling
In 1960, Dharma Master Cheng Yen's father suddenly took ill and passed away the very next day. The death of her father marked a turning point in her life, she started to question the meanings of life and often study Buddhist sutras to seek for the answers to the questions. Inspired and moved by the insights of Buddhism, Dharma Master Cheng Yen realised that she could only find true happiness in life when she expanded the love she had for her family to all of humanity.
In 1962, she left her home to pursue a monastic life, eventually settled down at Pu Ming Temple at Hualien and devoted herself to the study of Buddhism. In Autumn of the same year, she shaved her own head and determined to become a Buddhist nun, unaware of that one needs to do so under the tutelage of a teacher.
In February 1963, serendipitous circumstances led her to Venerable Master Yin Shun, who became her spiritual mentor and gave her the Dharma name, Cheng Yen. The venerable said to her : “Karmic affinities have brought us together. Now that you have become a monastic, you must always remember to work for the good of Buddhism and all living beings.” And this is precisely what she has been doing ever since with self-discipline, diligence, frugality, perseverance, and at root, expansive love for all.
Founding of Tzu Chi Foundation
In 1966, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, while visiting a patient, saw a puddle of blood on the floor of the small clinic and found out the blood was from an aboriginal woman suffering from labour complications. Without the ability to pay for admission fees, the woman was unable to receive treatment; to this, Master Cheng Yen was overwhelmed with sorrow and started to question the value of one’s life. With all the suffering and impermanence of life, what could she do to help those people?
A short while later, Master Cheng Yen received a visit from three Catholic sisters, sharing the teachings of their respective religions. When Master Cheng Yen explained that Buddhism is all about love and compassion to all beings, the sisters asked why there was no work done by Buddhists within our society, such as building schools and hospitals. Hearing this and seeing the fragility of life and our world, Master Cheng Yen took the wisdom of her Catholic sisters and established Buddhist Tzu Chi Compassion Relief Merit Society, now known as Taiwan Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation.
The Foundation’s fundamental spirit is “Sincerity, Integrity, Faith and Honesty”. Master Cheng Yen frequently reminds Tzu Chi volunteers to embrace the spirit of Great Love, to love all living beings and to give selflessly without expecting anything in return. She also urges volunteers to practice kindness, compassion and find joy in giving when promoting the Eight Footprints of the Foundation. Despite many obstacles and challenges encountered over half a century, Master Cheng Yen and Tzu Chi Commissioners have reverently followed Buddha’s teaching of “expressing great kindness to all sentient beings and taking their suffering as our own” and carrying out Venerable Master Yin Shun’s instruction of “For Buddhism and for all sentient beings”.
“ Remember always to work for Buddhism and for all living beings.”
Mother Theresa of Asia
Master Cheng Yen leads by example, and firmly believes that true compassion is more than passive sympathy for another's plight: It is concrete action aimed at relieving suffering directly. In founding Tzu Chi, her wish was to give ordinary people the chance to actualize their compassion, and find inner peace and joy while saving the world. She is often called the “Mother Theresa of Asia”, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and honored on TIME 100: The Most Influential People in the World list.