My New Journey With Tzu Chi
Master Cheng Yen Of Tzu Chi
The Great Language Barrier
On September 25, 2012, I published an article on The Tzu Chi Foundation and its founder and spiritual mentor, Master Cheng Yen. I wrote that article because I was always fascinated with Tzu Chi’s ideals and its very effective global charitable and disaster relief actions. All these humanitarian achievements were made possible with the unwavering spiritual guidance of Master Cheng Yen. To know more about Tzu Chi and the Master, please read my article from the link I provided at the end of this article.
This article is about my new journey with Tzu Chi. I knew Tzu Chi a long time ago, easily 20 years. I was always fascinated with its humanitarian activities. The activities its members carried out greatly inspired me. It has always been my inner wish to contribute to society, but I have been unable to actualize this inner passion of mine. Standing alone is like a single bee, without direction nor the will and ability to put wishes into actions. So I have been drifting around all my life.
The only reason that I was unable to associate with Tzu Chi was that Tzu Chi was and still is Mandarin-speaking, and characteristically Mandarin-language based. I am English educated and cannot speak or read Mandarin, although I speak the dialect quite similar to that spoken in Taiwan. But that was neither good enough nor comfortable enough to be able to effectively associate with Tzu Chi in Penang.
Let me share with you a little bit of history of Tzu Chi in Malaysia. It was in my home island of Penang where it started. In 1989, a Taiwanese Tzu Chi volunteer, Sister Yeh Ci Jing was assigned to work in the Penang Hi-tech Industrial area. From her compassionate commitment, she introduced Tzu Chi to the people of Penang. In May 1993, the first batch of 18 local volunteers went on a pilgrimage to meet the Master. They gradually spread the great love of Tzu Chi to what it is today, especially around the northern states of Malaysia.
Chief Reverend Dhammananda And Author Good Guy
Affinity Not Arising
Most people believe in the concept of affinity. Under the guises of different names, affinity is nature’s way of attracting like-minded people together when the appropriate time is ripe. Usually we regard affinity in a positive perspective. However, there is also the dark side of this “affinity”. Good attracts good, while the bad will attract the bad. It is most pertinent to realize that what we are will attract that which befits our mindset.
So in a way, all my life I had no affinity with Tzu Chi, even though I yearn to be associated with it. For you see, all along since I was a young boy I have made great effort to learn Buddhism. I read a lot of books on Buddhism, and I attended countless talks by various Buddhist masters over the last 50 years. Being English educated I could easily find lots of Theravada Buddhist materials, but not the Mahayana texts. Likewise, the English educated in Malaysia are comfortably exposed to Theravada Buddhism because of the presence of English speaking foreign monks, notably the Sri Lankan and Caucasian monks. I had the good fortune of having the Chief Rev Dhammanandaas my Dharma teacher, way back in the 80s. Chief Rev Dhammananda was the incumbent monk of the Sri Lankan Brickfields Buddhist Temple in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Chief was a Sri Lankan and was a very eloquent Dharma speaker and writer, having written many Buddhist books in English. He was the guiding force of all the Buddhists in Malaysia, notably the Theravada Buddhists. Most of the present English speaking Malaysian Theravada Buddhists can trace their roots to the Chief Reverend.
Front Cover Of Tzu Chi Magazine Of "Fall 2005"
Floating In My Spiritual Quest
Tzu Chi is the embodiment of the Buddhist ideals of great compassion for all sentient beings, irrespective of race or belief. Buddhist teachings are all centred on this core mission; to encompass all humanity and all living beings with great compassion. I have actually learned more than enough of the various concepts of Buddhism. But mere knowledge is like a big library with huge numbers of books. All talk but no action! Something was missing in my life.
It was by chance, many years ago, that I came across a past issue of Tzu Chi English quarterly magazine. The main article was about Master Cheng Yen’s chance meeting with her Mentor and the instruction he gave her; “for Buddhism, for living beings”. Then the article proceeded to expound the concept of the Mentor’s mission of “humanizing” Buddhism. That struck a chord in my heart. Yes, “humanizing” Buddhism. Buddhism in real action. Talk and action! Buddhism has been lacking the follow up into action. Buddhism has been and still is restricting itself to rites and rituals, and self cultivation; grossly neglecting to put theory into practical action with the society. Tzu Chi transforms Buddhist teachings into actions, going forth amongst the peoples. This is the real essence of “humanizing” Buddhism.
I was greatly impressed by the Master’s impeccable conduct and achievement, but alas, Tzu Chi was a Mandarin-based organization. I was still floating in my spiritual quest for the next 10 years, after reading that magazine.
In the later part of 2015, I chanced upon a casual conversation with a Facebook contact and the topic of Tzu Chi crept up. I was given a contact number of an English-speaking Tzu Chi group in Penang.
Following my phone call, my affinity with Tzu Chi finally ripened! Apparently some English-speaking members of Tzu Chi Penang have been conducting meetings for studying the Master’s books in English for some years already. When I arrived on my first evening, it was a pleasant surprise that the current facilitator was an old colleague of mine! It was in his office, 10 years ago that I read that particular Tzu Chi magazine! Affinity ripened; like attracts like, goodness attracts goodness.
On another occasion I read a Facebook posting that someone was going to a Tzu Chi recycling center doing recycling work. I enquired about this and was surprised to know that the center was near my location. Since then for the past one year already, I have been doing recycling work at that center, every Monday night.
Could this be mere coincidence? Or was it a timely ripening of affinity?
That someone turned out to be Sister Chris Ting who is very active at the Tzu Chi "Lumba Kuda Recycling and Education Center". Since then Sister Chris has been my unofficial mentor in my journey in Tzu Chi. She is most friendly and always has the "Tzu Chi" smile on her face. Later I found out that the other male Tzu Chi Volunteer who runs this recycling center is her husband. Very naughty of her for not telling me so. Luckily I had nothing negative to say about Brother Edwin Khoo; otherwise I would be in hot soup! For such is also Brother Edwin, a most amiable personality!
My Second Encounter With The Magazine
Affinity Ripens After 10 years
This Tzu Chi Magazine (Fall 2005) Sent Special Messages To Me
I wish to share this personal story about my unusual encounters with this particular Tzu Chi magazine of Fall 2005 issue. I think this might be a special issue published following the death of the Mentor of the Master, with special articles on the Mentor and the Master's story as well. This is surely my "two tales of a magazine".
I mentioned this magazine earlier, but did not elaborate. Here is my story about this special magazine. My first encounter with this magazine was in 2005 at my friend's ofice. That was when I read about the term "humanizing' Buddhism and I was greatly inspired with this concept.
Then recently I was given the magazine by another Tzu Chi volunteer when I was at the local Tzu Chi recycle centre. He happened to be Brother Edwin Khoo. Apparently that magazine ended up at the recycling bin, but Brother Edwin managed to salvage it and presented to me!
After reading through it, I told my wife that this particular magazine brought back memories of my first encounter with a similar one at my friend's office over 10 years ago.
After a period of thinking about my two encounters with this particular issue of the Tzu Chi Magazine (Fall 2005) it suddenly dawned on me that the events were more than mere coincidences. The timing and the places I encountered with this magazine seemed to send special spiritual messages to me. After looking at the date of this magazine, I remebered that the first time I came across it at my friend's office was in 2005 or 2006. This issue of the magazine was dated Fall 2005! The main articles were about the Master and her Mentor and the subject of "humanizing" Buddhism and bringing living Bodhisattvas into this world. This particular magazine of Fall 2005 publication that is currently with me must be the same issue that I encountered more than 10 years ago at my friend's office! And this friend is non other than Brother Ming Hai who is now a Tzu Chi Certified Volunteer. He beats me to it!
Are these mere coincidences? Or could it be spiritual affinities ripening at a timely order?
My Journey With Tzu Chi Begins
In a way, I am not a complete stranger with Tzu Chi principles. By now I have known Tzu Chi for more than 20 years. Being a practising Buddhist, I am completely comfortable with Tzu Chi’s ideals and principles. I am fully conversant of what Tzu Chi stands for. I also have my greatest respect for the Master, being awed by her impeccable character and resilience.
For years I have witnessed the inability of even spiritual people reaching out to help others. The best most can do was to help out within their own communities. From my observation, the greatest hurdle hindering the ability of humans to work in a cohesive group is this problem of the Big Ego in each of us. Despite succinct knowledge of how to improve ourselves, we often failed miserably. Why? My personal view and conclusion is that we, being just ordinary humans, are too frail to live up to the required level of perfection without a guiding force. I have found this guiding force in Tzu Chi.
Good Guy Attending The Tzu Chi Trainee Course
The Fundamental Principle In Tzu Chi
My search for Buddhist knowledge was not that difficult. The difficult part was to put the Buddha’s teachings into action. Most Buddhists will focus on cultivating themselves through meditation. This is inward looking for personal salvation only. Tzu Chi embarks a step further and that is to go forth serving all humanities. This is the living “Bodhisattva Path” of great compassion towards all living beings. The life and mission of Master Cheng Yen are the embodiments of this living “Bodhisattva Ideal”.
The term “Bodhisattva” has many interpretations. Here are three of them. To the Theravada Buddhists, “Bodhisattva” is simply a “Buddha-to-be” in his next rebirth. Second, the conventional Mahayana interpretation of a being who can become a Buddha but instead chooses to liberate the sufferings of all beings before becoming a Buddha. The third interpretation as I understand, is the “Living Bodhisattva” ideal espoused by Master Cheng Yen of Tzu Chi. This is the mission of ordinary people reaching out to help others without any expectation or condition. This is true compassion in its purest form! This is what the Master refers to as “humanizing” Buddhism; that is, Buddhism in action, through the mission of the “Living Bodhisattva Path”.
The Fulfilment Of The Bodhisattva Ideal
Tzu Chi provides the perfect platform for those who aspire to walk this living “Bodhisattva Path” of great compassion. It is a path that demands astute diligence and unwavering commitment of the whole person. The Master provides the exemplary guidance first to purify oneself before one is able to go forth helping and inspiring others. This is why an aspirant will need to undergo stringent training for at least two full years to become a Certified Tzu Chi Volunteer, wearing the iconic blue shirt and white pants.
To the best of my knowledge, Tzu Chi is the only organization that can inspire people of different backgrounds and beliefs to contribute and function as a team, with harmonious clockwork precision. There is actually no secret formula for this success. It took only one person to realize this mission with one simple instruction. Tame this BIG Ego inside us and the rest will fall into their rightful places. To me, it is this BIG human ego that is the cause of most life's problems. The Master’s daily life is the embodiment of selfless cultivation, always inspiring others to emulate her pure nature of great love for all living beings. This is her “teaching by example and leading by example”. I am greatly inspired by her.
Knowledge without wisdom is quite a dangerous thing. Many in this world are very clever, but lack wisdom. Those with great knowledge and extreme views but without wisdom, are potential disasters both for themselves and the society. They may display great arrogance and terrible intolerance. The Master has this ability to open people’s hearts to nurture wisdom. The Master not only expounds the Dharma in its pure form, but also constantly “humanizes” the Dharma into daily “living Dharma” by giving practical advices and instructions for her followers to improve on their characters. This in essence, is the lifeblood of Tzu Chi culture.
By the way, "dharma" generally means the Buddha's teachings.
My Journey With Tzu Chi Continues
(This section will be periodically updated as I travel along the “Living Bodhisattva Path” with Tzu Chi.)
Sunday 20 November 2016, was a very special day for me. Incidentally, it was this very day that I published this article. On this day, I successfully completed my first training course, thus enabling me to become a Tzu Chi "Trainee Commissioner" wearing the grey shirt and white pants, to participate and train in all the Tzu Chi activities. In short it was just like passing out from a kindergarten to a primary school. This was just my first little step into Tzu Chi. It will take at least another 2 years of training and spiritual cultivation for me to become a full-fledged “Certified Commissioner” wearing the iconic blue shirt and white pants.
In a twist of fate, or was it “a twist of timely affinity”, that I was able to associate with Tzu Chi. From the later part of 2015 onwards, I participated in Tzu Chi’s various activities, notably the recycling activities and the English book study sessions (EBSS) and subsequently enrolled myself in the Volunteer Training Course which stretched to 4 months, culminating in my progress to a “Trainee Commissioner”. This training course introduced me to the various aspects of Tzu Chi culture and activities. Tzu Chi places special emphasis on proper decorum and behavioural etiquette for its members for good reasons. In order to inspire others, members need to set good examples.
My journey continues.
Photo Of The English-Speaking Group On Graduation
Fighting For A Cause Vs Engaging In A Cause.
It is indeed very stressful to FIGHT for a cause. Only the very courageous and heroic can withstand the onslaught to carry on this very demanding mission. Let me leave it to the unyielding politicians and brave soldiers.
It is less stressful to ENGAGE in a cause. Engage in a cause of great love without conditions. Working in large groups amongst people of like minds, supporting one another, forward-looking just doing the good work of helping people alleviate sufferings. No petty squabbles and frivolous thoughts. Just Do It!
Fighting for a cause is like going to the front line to fight a battle. Engage in a cause is like the paramedics administering to the sick and wounded, behind the scene. We need both groups to ensure a safe and happy environment.
In due couse I will not participate in the first group. A necessary and an inevitable choice in order to involve myself in serious dedication to serve sentient beings of all kinds. This mission requires oneself to serve all with great compassion; cutting across race, religion, and the political divide too.
There must always be discipline in life. Without it, life cannot be focused as we would be drifting like a piece of dead wood along a river always going downwards or stuck in corners. One method to stay focus is to be in a group of like-minded people. Tzu Chi provides such a pleasant and effective platform for its volunteers to stay focus through disciplined effort.
An inevitable choice to be made: "fight for vs engage in". I choose "engage in". So wish me well.
With Fellow "Grey Shirts"
Good Guy Receiving Confirmation At The Official Ceremony
One Step Nearer : An Update
This is an update.
The final session to prepare for the Certification is attending the 2-day "Peiwei" course. After this I need to attend another 6 sessions of training next year before being ready to be certified by our spiritual Master in Taiwan. Then my real journey will only begin. The photo below shows me wearing the grey with white collar shirt, signifying one step nearer to be certified as a Tzu Chi Certified Commissioner. I attended the Peiwei course last week on 16 and 17 December, 2017.
Group photo of the Peiwei course
Tzu Chi's Uniform Decorum And Identification Structure
The Master is very meticulous in everything, and this includes Tzu Chi uniform. Qualified members must even follow the standard guidelines on how to wear the uniform properly. The uniform embodies the sense of belonging and uniqueness, encompassing the "trend of wisdom" (in Tzu Chi's words).
The following explains the Tzu Chi uniform portfolio:
An ordinary "unqualified" volunteer will wear white t-shirt and white pants.
A more committed "qualified" volunteer is called "Trainee Commissioner" and wears grey t-shirt and white pants.
Confirmed "Certified Volunteers" have special names. The females are referred as "Wei Yuan" or "Commissioners", while the males are called "Tzu Cheng" or in English "Faith Corps". These "Certified Volunteers" are the ubiquitous "Blue Angels" of Tzu Chi, famous throughout the world for their everlasting smiles and unlimited patience and displaying boundless compassion.They wear navy blue t-shirts with white collar, and white pants. For the ladies, they can also wear the full-length navy blue dresses usually for more formal functions. The full-length dress is supposed to be the embodiment of "gentleness and patience". The men wear light blue shirts with Tzu Chi striped neckties and blue pants for more formal functions.
It is the great wish of every Tzu Chi member to arrive on the day when the Master herself will personally pin the name tag on the shirt, formally confirming the person as a "Certified Volunteer" in a grand ceremony at the various Tzu Chi centers around Taiwan.
In order to identify the persons on duty during functions, An ochre-colored vest will be worn over the shirt or dress of the person on duty. This is a very clever innovation.
To be able to reach the status of "Certified Volunteer", a member has to undergo stringent training and spiritual studying. These will include attending many lectures and retreats and most important, many hours of outreach duties. The shortest period to progress from the grey shirt to the blue shirt is 2 years. It is not surprising that many volunteers even took more than ten years to reach that "Blue Angel" status! According to one Certified Commissioner, wearing the blue is not a promotion or rising up the rung of the ladder, but a deepening of commitment, "going down", in her own words.
The Ten Commandments Of Master Cheng Yen
As a parting message for this article, may I append here the Ten Commandments of Master Cheng Yen. Take particular note of Commandment No.10. At first I couldn’t figure out its significance and importance. After much contemplation, it dawned on me that because of this tenth commandment, Tzu Chi is able to cut through political divides to universally serve all the peoples of the world irrespective of political allegiance.
Here are the Ten Commandments:
1. Do not kill
2. Do not steal
3. Do not fornicate
4. Do not lie
5. Do not drink alcohol
6. Do not smoke, use drugs or chew betel nuts
7. Do not gamble or speculate
8. Respect your parents and be moderate in speech and attitude
9. Follow the traffic regulations
10. Do not participate in politics or demonstrations
This is the link to my article on Tzu Chi : "Tzu Chi Foundation : Master Cheng Yen"
Video On The Master's Early Years And Phylosophy
How can one not be inspired by such a noble person? This is the story of how a person single handedly undertaken a vow to help all beings starting with virtually nothing except the spirit of spiritual determination. From a single seed to a global force within a span of 50 years, through the concept of "humanizing" Buddhism!
Please watch the video below.
The Master's Early Years And Phylosophy
Video On Tzu Chi Penang And Master's Advice
Tzu Chi is about putting thoughts into actions. Putting compassionate thoughts into compassionate actions to relieve people's sufferings irrespective of race or religion or whatever. In Buddhist parlance this is the stream of "living dharma" and not mere dry "dharma knowledge". This is the concept of "humanizing" Buddhism in action.
Penang has a very special affinity with Tzu Chi. Please watch the video below.
Tzu Chi Penang And Master's Advice
Video On The Master's Stream Of Living Dharma
The Master nourishes the contnuous stream of daily living Dharma to inspire her disciples. Her talks are all based on her own experiences, giving realistic and practical teachings to guide her disciples. Such is the wondrous virtues of the Master.
Please watch the video below.
The Master's Stream Of Living Dharma
It is not free to join us because you have to give; give your time, give your energy, give your patience, give your love, give your humility and even give your money if can spare.
Want to join us?
© 2016 Justin Choo