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The Practice of Altruism as a Common Spirit For Diverse Religions

2009年03月29日 16:51:00 佛教在线 点击:0

The Practice of Altruism as a Common Spirit

For Diverse Religions

Giving the Example of Buddhism Tzu Chi Foundation

Rey-Sheng Her

Assistant Professor of Tzu Chi University,

The Director of Humanity Development Dept. of Tzu Chi Foundation

Dharma Master Cheng Yen founded Tzu Chi Foundation in 1966, with the philosophy of “helping others, helping yourself”, and emphasizing altruism. The four missions that carried by Tzu Chi members for more than four decades include charity, medicine, education and humanity.  All these four missions aim to provide “selfless giving”, in the other word, to be altruism.  Being altruistic enlivens the Buddhist concept of “Emptiness of the three entities – donors, recipients and alms”, modernizes Buddhism, and makes the concept understandable and executable.

The growth of Tzu Chi is due to the distinct history of Taiwan.  Dharma Master Cheng Yen was born in this small island in East Asia. Western countries and Japan colonized it for more than 200 years. As a result, it was familiar with and did not reject western capitalism and science. The Chinese Confucian tradition existed in Taiwan but did not play a dominant cultural role. Chinese Buddhism developed for some two thousand years and had a great influence on the way of thinking and life in Taiwan.  After these three civilizations converged on Taiwan, they mixed and proceeded generation by generation: they are the seedbeds in which Tzu Chi grew. Dharma Master Cheng Yen combined these cultures with her remarkable wisdom and personality to create a new religious movement.

Her model is pertinent for many other Chinese who have lived in countries away from their own and in societies dominated by capitalism: they have been unable to find their own identities and cultural position in their new societies.  The Tzu Chi movement has been broadly accepted by ethnic Chinese around the world, as well as non-Chinese, whose traditional cultural and moral values could not resist the compelling forces of westernisation. In countries like Indonesia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and El Salvador, an increasing number of people have joined Tzu Chi as volunteers. This spread of Tzu Chi is due to the reformation of Buddhism that believes in engagement in the secular world and practices altruism: through altruistic devotions, people can transform their own spirituality. 

As NRMs scholars, Peter B. Clarke states that churches were traditionally separated from the secular world and non-church spirituality has become a common phenomenon among all new religion movements. This vision has been highly emphasized by Dharma Master Cheng Yen. 

She considers every place a temple and every moment an opportunity for awakening, when we maintain a pure and a devoted mind.  For Tzu Chi, a hospital is a perfect place to practice Buddhism, when patients can be well cared for both physically and psychologically and physicians and volunteers can learn from suffering patients of the constant state of change in which we live: old age, sickness and death are the inevitable human cycle.  Therefore, we have to comprehend that life itself will vanish and realize that nothing is eternal.  Only by pursuing the wisdom of enlightenment can people reach the ultimate truth of their lives, and this means supporting others.  As Dharma Master Cheng Yen has said: “we have to transform the hell-like hospital into a state of heaven. All volunteers and medical personnel are like Buddhtisava who vow to enter hell to eliminate all the afflictions of people.”

Venerable Cheng Yen also considers the sites of disasters as ‘temples’ where we learn from the suffering of victims and provide compassion and relief.  Recycling sites can be a temple too, where more than 200,000 Tzu Chi volunteers use bare hands to protect the earth, clean their communities and learn to cherish our natural resources.  By doing this mission of recycling, the volunteers also transform their spirits and realize that a simple life is the most fortunate. A Buddhist should aim not to reach the Pure Land but believe that the Pure Land is right here with us on earth.  This is also the ideal of engaged Buddhism and the ultimate goal for individuals, to believe that through altruistic actions they may undergo spiritual transcendence.

As peter B. Clarke states “the New Religion Movement and a new kind of holistic, inner-directed spirituality have introduced a new cognitive religious style, which appears in the growing number of non-church people.  This is a style that places the emphasis on experience not on faith.  One can, thus, be spiritual or religious without faith.” 

In recent years, many Christians and Muslims have joined Tzu Chi as volunteers without changing their beliefs.  This is mainly due to the common spirit of altruism that emphasized by every religion.

Dharma Master Cheng Yen brings Tzu Chi members into the secular world, which differs significantly from the traditional Buddhist emphasis of self-reflection and self-purification leading to the Pure Land.  Dharma Master Cheng Yen believes that the Pure Land is here with us on earth presently, as long as we have the right thought.  This ideal has been similar to the Confucian concept of which aims to encourage intellectuals to improve the secular world.

The Chinese Confucian concept of family also significantly impact the practice of Tzu Chi. Dharma master Cheng yen does not only want Tzu Chi members to walk into the secular multitudes, but also wants the volunteers to take care of their families before doing Tzu Chi – which is noticeably different from the traditional Buddhist concept of leaving the family behind.  Under the influence of Confucianism, Dharma master Cheng Yen emphasizes Family as the core value of the society.  Early in the master’s life, she read the “Four Books of Chinese Classics” in addition to the Buddhist readings “The Lotus Sutra” and “The Immeasurable Sutra”, which had a considerable influence on her thoughts.

Even though Tzu Chi values Family tremendously, and that the master always wants the volunteer to take care of their families before volunteering, there is also considerable difference from the Confucianism concept of family.  In traditional Chinese society, once a person gains wealth and power, the whole family leeches off it.  In Tzu Chi’s world, once a person is enlightened, he/she spreads the knowledge and love.

Dharma Master Cheng Yen teaches her disciples to love everyone in the world as their family.  This enlarges the family love, and rectifies the selfishness of the Confucian concept of family.  In the Tzu Chi world, we are all family.  This family is not a selfish one, but one that loves everyone, and one that is altruistic.

Through the unselfish love, the person who accepted Tzu-Chi's help before, now start to help others, this is a love circle in equal position, this spirit has been implement in both Christian and Muslim worlds.

Buddhism Tzu Chi Volunteerism In Christians World

In South Africa, Tzu Chi has reached out beyond the Chinese ethnic who introduced its philosophy to thousands of local people and inspired them to go out into their communities to help the poor, the sick and victims of AIDS and to educate thousands of poor children. The Tzu Chi mission is now also inspiring people who are neither Chinese nor Buddhist, showing that its message has a universal meaning.  Most of the volunteers today are devout Christians who see its message as being in harmony with their own faith. 

God’s Messenger is a Buddhist

The first black commissioner is Gladys Ngema, a 55-year-old Zulu woman in Durban, who received her badge from Cheng Yen in November 2006. A recipient of Tzu Chi’s aid during the winter of 1994, she was moved to come forward and help others. Since early 1995, she has worked full-time as a volunteer and now leads a team of 2,100 volunteers, in poor townships in the city suburbs. “When I was at the bottom, it was Tzu Chi who saved me,” she said. “Cheng Yen has sent us these messengers. We are doing God’s work.”

The Archetype of Cycle of Love

Pan, who has been volunteer with the Tzu Chi Foundation for ten years, initiated the collaboration between Christian and Buddhists.  The Christian Zulu members were used to be recipients of Tzu Chi. By practicing the philosophy of Dharma Cheng Yen, sheteaches her disciples “to educate rich to support the poor, and then support poor and educate them to have rich mind.”By practicing the principles of giving with gratitude and always deliveringrespect and love to recipients in spite of providing materials,many recipients eventually join the volunteers to devote their love and efforts to other suffered people.  This archetype of the “cycle of love” continuesto be fulfilled in the many areas that Tzu Chi volunteers have worked, including South Africa.  

Pan visited villages and foundthose, which wereeligible, to which the volunteers delivered the aids in person. He picked several families at random to examine their living conditions. “The shacks of the very poor did not have proper floors, onlysoil,and the roofs were built of scrap metal. Through the holes in the metal, they could see the sun during the day and the stars at night.” Often he could not deal directly with the poor but had to negotiate through the village chief, whose approval was a requirement. “We had to use our money with extreme care,” Pan said. “We had to present the goods to the recipients directly and extend our gratitude to them.”

After years of experience, Pan began to realize that the village were not involved in industry or agriculture.  He became convinced that job training would be more useful than donations: “instead of giving them fish to eat, we should give them fishing rods and teach them how to fish.” He observed that some aid recipients knew how to sew and, after consulting other members, decided that a sewing class would be the most useful. 

Support Poor and Educate Them to Have Rich Mind

He started in May 1995 with three sewing classes in Umbumbulu, a one-hour drive from Durban, using second-hand sewing machines donated by Tzu Chi,and scrap cloth given by garment factories.  The classes took off. Those who had been taught decided to become teachers themselves and impart their skill to others. Pan decided to expand the lessons to carpentry, farming and production of handicraft and admit men as well as women. Durban now has 53 such vocational training centres, which have educated more than 20,000 people.

It was an enormous challenge to launch the classes. First, Zulu communities are scattered far apart, involving Pan in hours of travelling in his four-wheel-drive, nine-passenger van over poor roads through wide prairies and rocky plains. Second, there was a high security risk. Most people advised Pan not to enter the black areas at all. Not only was there a high incidence of crime, by the poor and unemployed who steal and kill to make a living, but also political violence between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party, under Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a major Zulu leader. A total of 15,000 people died in fighting between rival Zulu groups in KwaZulu-Natal in the decade from the mid-1980s.

Changes Them Both Financially and Spiritually

One Taiwanese volunteer who was visiting a black village had his van stolen by armed bandits, who fired a bullet that grazed his cheek and then drove the vehicle away. South Africa has nearly four million licensed firearms, with a further 500,000-one million unlicensed. Because Pan was brave enough to enter black villages, which most local white people did not dare to do, Zulus gave him the nickname of ‘warrior’. To distribute aid and run classes, Pan had to negotiate with village and area chiefs and deal with local political factions suspicious of any challenge to their authority. He told his volunteers to stick to the Tzu Chi principle of not being involved in politics.

The growing number of classes and attendees had an unexpected result – it changed the lives of the students both financially and spiritually. It gave them a means to earn money and improve the life of their families and also inspired them to help others as they had been helped.

It is these students that account for most of the 2,100 volunteers in Durban. They visit orphans, elderly people and AIDS victims.  The focus of their work is the devastating effect of the AIDS pandemic, which has swept South Africa like the Black Plague

A Christian Deliver the Spirit of Buddhism Tzu Chi

Like Gladys, Dlamini was a former recipient of aid from Tzu Chi. In the winter of 1995,he received food and, in 2005, joined the foundation as a member. “I want to teach others about Tzu Chi and teach the young about HIV, not to use drugs and to love one another. Before, nobody helped. I lived on the streets begging and surviving somehow. I did not know what a normal life was.”

Gladys and Dlamini are examples of the virtuous circle in the Tzu Chi philosophy -- a person in need receives help, a process that awakens his sense of giving and inspires him also to help others in need. The volunteers are devout Christians (Protestants) and their faith has been not an obstacle but an incentive to them to take part in Tzu Chi. Its work has empowered hundreds of poor women, trapped in poverty and despair at home, to find a new purpose in life by working together with others for the common good.

Jesus and Buddha are the Same

 “We are doing God’s work,” said Ngema, a fervent Protestant. “Master Cheng Yen has great love. Jesus and Buddha are the same. Tzu Chi people are like angels. In the hour of our greatest need, they brought clothes to us. From them, I have learnt the way of love. Now I hope I do the same thing and love my own people.

The Tzu Chi Volunteerism In the Muslim World

Tzu Chi has also crossed the religious divide in working with the Nurul Iman boarding school at Parung Bogor, a 90-minute drive from Jakarta. It was founded by a local Moslem teacher, Habib el Saggaf who wanted to provide a religious education that promoted tolerance for all. He accepted abandoned and homeless students, many of them orphans, and used money from donations to pay for their education. Practical courses in agriculture and economics account for the half of the curriculum, with the other half Islamic laws, doctrines and teachings.

In 2003, Tzu Chi volunteers visited the school and found that it lacked proper food and medical services. In October of that year, they agreed to provide 50 tons of rice every month and hold a free clinic every six months. In the summer of 2005, the school completed construction of a two-storey building, with 24 classrooms and 40 bathrooms, paid for by Tzu Chi.

At the very beginning, when Habib el Saggaf started to receive the support from Tzu Chi, other Muslim priests cursed him for daring to receive a pagan’s donation and support.  However, Habib el Saggaf continues to accept the rice, and the number of his students increased from 3000 to 12,000 in the months afterwards.  This is one aspect of Tzu Chi’s charitable projects in Indonesia.  In the last five years, Tzu Chi has delivered fifty thousands tons of rice to over six millions households, and built more than six thousand houses for the people of Indonesia, including the victims of Tsunami, the villagers lived by a garbage reviver in Jakarta, and five Muslim Mosques in both Ache and Java.

Tzu Chi’s Charitable Model in Indonesia

In 1998, following the riot in Jakarta, Dharma Master Cheng Yen asked Tzu Chi volunteers not to leave; on the contrary, she urged them to stay and to use love to combat hatred.  In that year, Tzu Chi volunteers and joined with local Chinese people to deliver aid to more than 130 thousands recipients.  In 2002, during the Jakarta floods, Master Cheng yen inspired Chinese tycoons in Indonesia to clean the garbage out of the Anke River.  Chinese entrepreneurs invited local Chinese to use their own hands to clean up 10 kilometres of garbage, along with military soldiers and hundreds of volunteers from overseas branches of Tzu Chi. The Indonesian volunteers conducted free health clinics afterwards and treated more than sixty thousand patients in half of a year.  Eventually Tzu Chi built more than 1600 new houses for the villagers in a year and a half.  Also, in the great Love village, Indonesia Chinese Volunteers constructed two schools for the children and established a free clinic centre.  Now more a hundred villagers and thousands of the Chinese volunteers’ Indonesian employees have joined Tzu Chi as volunteers.

The Spirit of Direct Giving

The charitable project inspired by Cheng Yen was a completely new kind of project than has been seen in China before.  Indonesian Chinese used to donate money to Indonesia, but Anthony Lin, the wealthiest person in Indonesia said ”we used to donate more money to Indonesia, but they perceived us as declaration of guilt”.  But now the Venerable Cheng Yen expects them perform “direct giving”, so that rich Chinese businessmen will be able to have direct contact the Indonesia recipients.  And this created enormously compassion within the ethnics and also changed the impression of the Chinese who used to be perceived as selfish, arrogant and ignorance by the Indonesians.   The success of the Angke River projects signified the altruistic support from the rich Chinese to the poor Indonesia people and that as the governor of Jakarta said, the project significantly reconciled the historical conflict within rich and poor, as well as contributed to the harmony of the two ethnic groups.

Cheng Yen Becomes the Spiritual Model in Muslim School

After visiting the Great Love villages in Jakarta, Habib el Saggaf asked Tzu Chi to support his school.  At the opening ceremony for the new building, Habib El Saggaf announced that the Jingsiyu, the book “Still Thought”, the sayings of Venerable Cheng Yen, would be included in the curriculum. He said that the ethics and morals advocated by the sayings were shared by Buddhism and Islam alike. He also announced that a photograph of Cheng Yen would hang in each classroom, a rare presence of a Buddhist master in a Moslem religious institution. It has over 12,000 students, from the elementary to university level. Habib expected every student to learn Dharma Master Chen Yen’s love to all the human beings.

Muslim Students Join Tzu Chi as Volunteers

In 2007, during the flooding in Jakarta, Habib also asked two thousand students to join Tzu Chi as volunteers to help to distribute food to victims and clean up the damage-stricken streets.

Adopt the Jin Shi Abode’s Self-Support System

Dharma Master Chen Yen also asked Tzu Chi volunteers to suggest Habib to adopt the self-sufficient system for his school. Dharma Master Chen Yen and her disciples have been lived in a self-sufficient manner for more than 42 years.  The Master and all her disciples work for their living needs.  All donations that the Foundation receives go to the Foundation’s charitable works.  They follow the rule of “No work, no meal.”  All the Dharma masters in Abode not only work for their own living, they are also volunteers and have continuously donated to and devoted in the Foundation for over 42 years.

Inspired by Dharma Master Chen Yen, Habib started to ask his students to carry out the self-sufficient life style.  Students initiated several efforts including farming works, baking breads, produce organic fertilizers, and selling water.  Tzu Chi volunteers in Indonesia provide them the seeds of rice and students started to learn the agricultural techniques.

I visited Habib in June of 2007, and he told me “ everyone in the world has to learn from Master Chen Yen. She is like a sunshine that enlightens every suffered soul.”

In respect to Master Cheng-Yen’s as well as Tzu Chi’s contribution without asking for returning. In April 2007 Elders Habit asked for a Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s photo and hanged it on the institute’s main office together with Koran. In additional in August 2007 Habit hanged Mater Cheng-Yen’s photo in every classroom. At the beginning of each class the students will bow to Master Cheng-Yen as an appreciation of Master Cheng-Yen’s teaching.  At this event the love held both Buddhists and Muslims together tightly.

This is the realization of the theory announced by a well-known author Karen Armstrong about “Religious Studies”. The world needs a new religion, which can accommodate the different, believes.  Moreover, one religion can accept and tolerate the other religion’s belief.  That is ideal of Dharma Master Cheng Yen who believes that people will join together through the selfless love and giving, and this is the ideal of altruism.  Tzu Chi volunteers bring Buddha’s equality and love to every place in the world across the boundary of the different religions.  It is ascertained that the spirit of altruism will eventually bring people’s belief and actions together and therefore, a pure land and great society can be reached.

 

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