If you enter the building of 137-77 Northern Boulevard, you may be surprised. It is not a lobby of a big ostentatious, office buildings, but a small café where you can buy anything from drinks to spiritual guides to recycled goods. This is the Flushing headquarters of the Tzu Chi Foundation, where religion and good deeds go hand in hand.
There are four guiding principles of the Tzu Chi Foundation: Charity, Education, Medicine, and Culture.
The charity that the Tzu Chi Foundation promotes is both broad and narrow. The Foundation has international relief efforts that volunteers can donate money to, in addition to local relief efforts. One member told us that each month, volunteers are asked to donate a sum–even if it is a small amount–to either a local effort, an international effort, in addition to whether or not it will be used for medical aid. We attended a service the week after the Japanese earthquake disaster and Dharma Master Cheng Yen, via video, which called upon volunteers to donate. She shared examples of relief efforts, ranging from individuals donating one-third to an entire month of their pay check, and explained how Tzu Chi was able to set up collection centers in department stores throughout Taiwan.
Educating the next generation in these values is something very important to the Tzu Chi Foundation. In the tri-state area, there are youth groups for Tzu Chi volunteers in high school and college. At Buddha’s Birthday Celebration, we spoke to Lillian, director of the youth group in the tri-state area, who was able to tell us about some of the programs that they do. The goal of these educational programs is to create a new generation of volunteers to take over for the current adult generation of volunteers. The outreach program isn’t just designed for youths alone. Tzu Chi has public, open events (such as the birthday celebration) about once a month in hope of drawing in participants who do not not usually associate with the organization, which usually consists of the youth.
Another principle of the Tzu Chi Foundation is medicine. Local volunteer doctors stood out from the crowd in Kissena Park, in comparison to the light green or navy uniforms that the rest of the volunteers were wearing. One volunteer told us about how Dharma Master Cheng Yen had seen an instance of a hospital refusing to help a needy, poor woman for her lack of hospital fees. As a result, she created a hospital in Hualien that was never to turn away patients. Internationally, the Tzu Chi Foundation has a bone marrow donor registry and tries to collect samples from as many donors as possible in order to help a larger group of people. It is currently the largest Chinese marrow donor data bank.
The final principle of Tzu Chi is the cultural aspect. Lillian and Anita, a QC student involved with the youth groups, told us about how the Tzu Chi Foundation offers tea ceremonies and floral arrangement lessons open to the public. In addition, they make ceremonies into both religious and cultural events. An example of this was that Buddha’s Birthday Ceremony, which was held on Mother’s Day, highlighting both the religious aspects and the fact that family life is important. They aim for these cultural events to be a learning experience, in hopes of cleansing peoples’ hearts of evil.
All of these guiding principles are based off Buddhist religious practices. Budhhism is based off of Dharma, or the teachings of the Buddha. Dharma Master Cheng Yen believes that compassion is the key to becoming like Buddha, by following Dharma. However, Master Cheng Yen and Tzu Chi promote that the most important way to be compassionate is to alleviate suffering from people around the world.