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Taking On a Hallowed Mission Bravely

Just as there is only one planet Earth and one Master Cheng Yen, in our one lifetime, we have only one chance to make the best of it. On 4 August during the half day training camp attended by commissioners and Faith Corps members, Madam Hung Su-chen, chief editor of the Tzu Chi Dharma Lineage Historical Archival and Research Centre said, “Let’s bring upon ourselves the mission and responsibility of continuing the lineage.”

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Madam Hung Su-chen presented a talk on “Mission and Responsibility of Continuing the Tzu Chi Lineage”during the half day training camp attended by commissioners and Faith Corps. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

“Lively, humorous and interesting” have always been the comments from audience who have attended Madam Hung’s talks. Madam Hung once had the occasion to stand in for a colleague to interview Master Cheng Yen; from there, she had promised the Master to visit Jing Si Abode frequently. Subsequently, her one promise of “I will lend a helping hand if the organization needs help” has kept her active in Tzu Chi’s activities all the way since she was 28 years old.

In order to share her experience and give guidance on the task of compiling the history of Tzu Chi Singapore, Madam Hung made the trip from Taiwan to Singapore. Seizing the opportunity, Tzu Chi Singapore invited her to give a talk on “Mission and Responsibility of Continuing the Lineage” during the half day training camp attended by commissioners and Faith Corps members on 4 August 2013. Madam Hung started by giving an update on the progress of the historical compilation on the Tzu Chi journey and stated that this is an important responsibility in the preservation and promotion of the lineage.

Never Forgetting One’s Initial Intent

After the lifting of martial law in Taiwan in 1989, Madam Hung, who was then a journalist at the China Times, was assigned to interview Master Cheng Yen in Hualien. As there was a sense of disorientation in the populace at that time, the interview was meant to re-establish a sense of stability in society. At that time, there were very few articles on the mission and work of Tzu Chi, so after the interview, Madam Hung enquired of the Master directly, “Which of the classics do you normally read?”

The Master’s answer was not what Madam Hung had expected - instead of quoting the usual Four Books and Five Classics of the Confucian canon, Master referred to the “Lotus Sutra,” which she had never heard of. Unlike the ancient saying “scriptures stay academic,” the Master’s view is that the teachings in the scriptures are applicable to our daily lives. Madam Hung further explained that in reading the scriptures, of utmost important is to understand the essence, and apply what we have learnt in our day-to-day living. Tzu Chi volunteers’ actions are always based on the application of the Dharma to real life.

Each Tzu Chi volunteer’s motivation and reason for joining the organization is different, but it is imperative to always remember your initial intent. Tzu Chi volunteers follow the Master’s example and footsteps in carrying out good works, and while we may encounter many complex situations, we should not be deterred by other’s comments, opinions and attitude, and experience a change of heart.

Taking Responsibility for Oneself, Taking Responsibility for the Organization 

It is not easy to take a human rebirth, and it is by our existence that we can create beautiful works of humanity. Madam Hung feels that life is cyclical. Once we are born, adversity is inevitable in life’s journey of growing-up, getting married and having a family. Even the rich cannot be guaranteed a smooth-sailing life. Therefore, we must bravely face our difficulties and setbacks and not run away. It is only by going through life’s trials and tribulations that we are able to become a better person and help others.

Madam Hung reminded the audience that the Master has said that the path of the Bodhisattva lies in human society, and that is why we need to interact with others. In society, you will meet a wide array of personalities with different opinions and you will be faced with a multitude of difficulties, so much so that many dare not take up the challenge. However, it is only when you are able to take up these responsibilities bravely and face up to others, that you can selflessly serve people and develop love, compassion, joy and equanimity, in the process create beautiful and fulfilling lives for ourselves.

Great leaders do not only exist in the past. A principal of a Hong Kong university who was visiting Master Cheng Yen told Madam Hung, “You have a teacher like Confucius, the only one to come by in the last three hundred years!” Thus Madam Hung encouraged the audience to cherish the opportunity to work on ensuring that the lineage continues on.

The climate disequilibrium our earth is facing has resulted in the increasing occurrence of natural calamities. We have to bear responsibility for our earth by starting to re-examine our personal activities, and then start repenting as a social group within our society. The easiest way to start is by become a vegetarian and not taking lives, followed by promoting vegetarianism to the rest of society.

To bear responsibility for the group is to take care of one’s personal behavior. Madam Hung said that in her younger days she always walked with a splayed gait. But after she was appointed as a Tzu Chi commissioner, she continually corrected her way of walking, and even visited the hospital to seek advice on correcting her gait so that she would not look awkward in her Tzu Chi uniform.

She added, “In our practice, we open up our hearts and willingly submit ourselves; in serving others and carrying out good deeds, we lower our ego and give our utmost.”

Walking the Path

There are lots of activities in Tzu Chi, and lots of opportunities to enrich ourselves too. Madam Hung shared her practice with us, and joked about her experiences using witty Chinese proverbs. While attending a “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation practice session, she couldn’t remember and co-ordinate the lyrics, hand gestures and stage position. As a senior, when her mistakes were pointed out publicly, she realized then that all beings are truly equal.

In the midst of laughter, Madam Hung asked, “If we are so tired out by the activities every time, why do we still follow the Master’s calling?” Where the heart is, our home shall be. The road in Tzu Chi is the road home.

In watching the movie “Life after life in Bodhi”, the audiences were moved to tears. After introducing the members of Tzu Chi who had passed on, she highlighted Master Cheng Yen’s determination in carrying on despite her sorrow. Last year, even after a fall, she still insisted on attending the year end blessing ceremony as she wanted to personally hand out the red packets of blessing to her followers.

When the body of her mentor, Master Yin Shun, was brought to the Tzu Chi University, Master Cheng Yen placed his hand over his body a few times. Yet his hand kept sliding down. Master Cheng Yen realized at that moment that that was indeed his way of telling her to “look up in search of the Buddha Dharma, and look down in search of sentient beings to liberate”. Upon that realization, the old Master’s hand did not slide down anymore.

Master Yin Shun’s emphasis on “devotion to Buddhism and devotion to all beings” became the core value and belief of Tzu Chi. Madam Hung said, ”Our Master is the successor of the spirit of Dharma, the practitioner of the Buddha’s tenets, the founder of Tzu Chi.” Scholars had pointed out the founding of Tzu Chi is a significant historical event in Buddhism. We, being her students, can only express our gratefulness and gratitude by taking it upon ourselves to propagate Tzu Chi’s ideas and social programs.

Spreading the Dharma and Repaying the Master’s Kindness

In 2012, Tzu Chi officially set up a centre to study, research and compile the lineage history of Tzu Chi. All of Master Cheng Yen’s recorded speeches, the sutras that she had taught and explained, were systemically categorized by Madam Hung and her group of volunteers. As part of the teaching was taught in the Taiwanese Minnan dialect, senior volunteers were tasked to do the translation.

After a long period of hard work, the group finally gathered 14 compilations of the Master’s teaching. These teachings span over forty years, from 1969 till 2009. Madam Hung said, “Over these forty years, so much has changed in our environment; yet the teachings stayed consistent."

There are people who question the direction of Tzu Chi after the passing of Master Cheng Yen, fearing the decline in its spirit of Buddhism. Madam Hung firmly and confidently rejected this view. Master Cheng Yen led her students to Buddhism via the route of “humanistic Buddhism in action,” and this is a radical way of propagating Buddhism. Tzu Chi had thus been established, and going towards its fiftieth anniversary, the work on the compilation of sutra teachings, history and explanation of Dharma teachings has already started. Moving forward, the disciples of Tzu Chi should carry on the mission of propagating the Dharma and spreading the teachings.

Madam Hung‘s rousing lecture had inspired the audience deeply. Volunteer Hu Xiu Tao had originally applied for three months leave due to her father’s passing. But after listening to the lecture, she decided to be as determined as the Master, cancelling her leave and continuing to help out in Tzu Chi’s works.

There have recently been a spate of activities and volunteer Huang Xu Quan admitted that sometimes, he is too exhausted to participate in the ongoing community activities. Occasionally, when he is down, he would also not respond to his team leaders’ requests for assistance. However, after the talk, he felt re-energized by Madam Hung’s personal sharing and is reminded of his commitment to the charity mission. He is now more determined than ever to continue his house visits.

The aspirational verses that Tzu Chi volunteers often sing states:

With hearts connected, we aspire to continue the lineage
Our will is strong and unshakeable
We treasure the karmic ties we have with Tzu Chi
The Tzu Chi lineage is innumerable in its benefits

Madam Hung said, “With the combined efforts of each and every one of us, we can actualize our vows, and fulfill our dreams. We only have one Master, and we follow her wholeheartedly. We live our lives only once, and have only one chance in this life. Thus we need to fully utilize it by taking up our responsibilities and fulfilling them to the best of our abilities. This, indeed, is the actualization of the greatest virtue in life.”

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Madam Hung gave a lively and humorous account of her first encounter with Tzu Chi and encouraged her audience to follow in the footsteps of Master Cheng Yen in walking the bodhisattva path. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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Volunteer Hu Xiu Tao’s (left) father had just passed away and she initially thought of taking a break to stabilize her emotions, but changed her mind immediately after the talk. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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Volunteer Huang Xu Quan had been feeling the strain of participating in the numerous Tzu Chi activities, but the talk had reinforced the importance of continuing the lineage, and had made him do some self-reflection. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

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