Words From Dharma Master Cheng Yen—Bodhisattvas Among Us

Translated by Teresa Chang
Photo by Huang Xiao-zhe

A life lived to the full embodies true worth. For a while now, I’ve been encouraging everyone to examine and take stock of their lives. When I reflect on my own, I feel how rewarding it has been. I am surrounded by good-hearted people every day. Everything I see, hear, and come into contact with in Tzu Chi is rooted in love. I walk the same path with and am supported by many real-life bodhisattvas who share my mission. They selflessly give without expecting anything in return, elevating their acts of kindness beyond the ordinary.

Helping the needy is not restricted to the wealthy. Anyone who is willing to contribute can make a meaningful difference. In fact, I’ve found that seeking donations from wealthier individuals can sometimes be more challenging than from those with limited means. The wealthy may feel uncomfortable giving too little yet find it hard to part with a large sum. In contrast, individuals accustomed to financial constraints willingly save what little they have to contribute to charitable causes, despite the effort it might require of them.

There is, for example, a couple who runs a stall making and selling pan-fried stuffed buns. Their profits are small, but they consistently set aside money to support Tzu Chi’s missions, a practice they continue even in their old age. There was also a dedicated volunteer who wished to help Tzu Chi build a hospital in Hualien, eastern Taiwan. She was of limited means, so she worked hard to make money, selling fruits during the day and getting up at one a.m. to sweep a bridge. Similarly, another volunteer who was already working as a domestic help for several households sought additional work in order to donate more to Tzu Chi. Witnessing the kindness and dedication of these individuals, it is impossible not to be deeply moved.

Many people scrimp and save to fulfill the dream of owning a home, but there are those who prioritize charitable giving. I remember that when we were building Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital, a couple in Banqiao, northern Taiwan, generously donated a significant sum initially intended for their future home. They deemed Tzu Chi’s work more important, so they redirected their savings to support the hospital’s construction. Although they lived in a shabby rental, their act of giving filled their hearts with joy.

We can find such kind-hearted people not just in northern Taiwan, but in the southern regions of the island as well. During the construction of Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital, when I traveled to Pingtung, Taiwan’s southernmost county, a couple approached me with a bag. “Master, can you spare us a moment?” they said to me. Unwrapping layers of newspaper and old cloth, they revealed pieces of gold jewelry, which turned out to be the wife’s dowry and gifts from relatives and friends when their children were born. (In Taiwan, it’s customary for people to give gifts of gold on important occasions.)

This couple sold freshly made puffed rice cakes from a cart each day, living a life far from affluent. I asked them, “Why are you offering me these pieces of jewelry when you have to work so hard to sustain yourselves?” They replied, “Our material life may be challenging, but finding inner joy is more important to us. We realize that Tzu Chi has a lot of work to do, and we wish to contribute.”

After they happily fulfilled their wish, they left. I’ve never crossed paths with them again. I have no idea what they are doing now or whether they have become Tzu Chi volunteers. It is unlikely for them to come forward from the crowd and say, “Master, we are that couple.” However, they have left an indelible mark in my memory.

I am grateful to everyone, past and present, who has contributed their love over the years. I see more and more people giving without seeking recognition. They may expect nothing in return, but surely, all the spiritual merits they deserve will be theirs. Furthermore, by joining forces with like-minded people to alleviate suffering, they form good affinities with many others.

It has been more than 50 years since Tzu Chi was founded. Looking back, I see how our foundation, with everyone’s support, has progressed step by step from our humble beginnings. The light from a single firefly may be weak, but when many fireflies come together to give light, their collective brilliance illuminates even the darkest of nights. The smallest acts of kindness can lead to profound change.

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