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Tzu Chi Cadres Rediscover Their Aspirations

Tzu Chi Singapore recently overcame the constraints of space limitations to organize a three-day, two-night retreat for its volunteer cadres. The 315 attendees gained deep insights into the topic of “universal compassion” with the guidance of two Dharma masters from the Jing Si Abode (Tzu Chi’s headquarters) in Taiwan. As the period coincided with the 50th anniversary celebrations of Singapore, everyone also offered prayers for societal harmony and peace for the nation.


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Tzu Chi Singapore recently organized its largest retreat for volunteer cadres during the period coinciding with the 50th anniversary celebrations of Singapore. (Photo by Douglas Lee)

“If it is the right thing to do, we should try hard and put in our very best efforts. Before you have done so, please do not simply say ‘(I will) leave it up to destiny’.”

Master De Han from the Jing Si Abode firmly believes that with the Dharma in one’s heart, one will find a way. During the Tzu Chi volunteer cadres’ retreat, she shared her experience of overcoming the multiple challenges of inexperience, a lack of manpower, and inadequate space over many years to eventually come up with the all-natural and additive-free “Jing Si instant rice”. This was not only well-received, it is also frequently employed during Tzu Chi’s humanitarian aid missions. She also encouraged everyone, saying that the earlier they undertake responsibilities, the faster they will learn.

“As I did not have professional expertise in that area, all (my driving inspiration) came from my (unwavering) faith and commitment to Master Cheng Yen, and I did what was necessary to overcome what I lacked. The spirit of our (Jing Si) Dharma lineage is entrenched deeply in ‘diligence’”. These words of Master De Han made a deep impact on her listeners.

A team of 14 people, including Master De Nian and Master De Han, together with staff from the organization’s Religious Culture and Humanitarian Aids Department as well as volunteer leaders from Taiwan made up the entourage that arrived in Singapore to facilitate the three-day, two-night retreat held at the Jing Si Hall. The camp focused on the topic of “universal compassion” (i.e. treating everyone equally with compassion). The Taiwan Tzu Chi members shared their practical experiences garnered over the year-long period of promoting this undertaking, especially taking pains to delve into the spiritual aspects of this philosophy, thus setting the foundation for the Singapore phase of this undertaking.

“Every Tzu Chi volunteer should attend this retreat.” This is the opinion of 81-year-old Zhang Qiong Juan, who has been a Tzu Chi commissioner for more than 10 years. Though in recent years her health has deteriorated, being both hard of hearing and suffering from arrhythmia, as well as at risk of suffering a stroke, her eagerness for the Dharma can rival that of someone much younger. Chen Zhao Yun who was there with five other family members, including his parents who were filled with joyful anticipation, said, “We must keep abreast of new learning in order to keep Tzu Chi’s teachings close to our heart.” Zhao, who fulfilled his 10-year-long wish to bring his parents into the fold of the organization, described this year’s National Day as an extra special one as he got to spend it together in the company of family, surrounded by love and positivity.

Returning to the Roots

In 2003, Tzu Chi first initiated the “four-in-one” concept of organizing its volunteers into functional groups named after the virtues of “Unity”, “Harmony”, “Mutual Love”, and “Joint Effort”, and as Isaac Chiu, head of the overseas Tzu Chi operations section of the Religious Culture and Humanitarian Aids Department explained, when every member adapts himself to the requirements of the time and environment to carry out his function, this is the manifestation of the above four virtues in equal importance.

According to the wishes of Master Cheng Yen, the Religious Culture and Humanitarian Aids Department embarked on the undertaking to promote the concepts of “universal compassion” and “working in joint effort” in 2013. The objective was to instil not only the concept of treating every person with equal compassion but also to promote cooperation between teams and individuals in the workings of the organization.

As Chiu put it, the undertaking is not driving something new but rather, a strengthening of the original concept. The hope is to build greater camaraderie, understanding, and greater flexibility among volunteers, thus upholding the inherent characteristics of compassion and deepening mutual respect, gratitude and love.

Everyone Does Charity

Reaching out to those in need to provide care and aid is the first door along the Bodhisattva Path. Taiwan volunteer leaders Yu Tian Zhu and Lv Mei Ying spoke on the topic of how people would only come to realize their blessings when they see the suffering of others. Lv in particular, cited the recent explosion that occurred at the Formosa Water Park in New Taipei City as an example in explaining the eight guiding tenets of charitable work. In the disaster, the injured exceeded 400 and were sent to more than 40 hospitals for treatment. Tzu Chi volunteers in the community were swiftly deployed to the accident site while also fanning out to the various hospitals to comfort the injured. This was therefore an example of “timeliness” and “localization.”

Tzu Chi also activated home visit volunteers, community leaders, Tzu Chings (collegiate volunteers), and Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) members and allocated them into six groups providing assistance. This illustrated the concept of “diversity”. Later on, when the number of accident victims increased, nine groups consisting of over 40 volunteers were formed, and a “mobile phone group” was tasked with giving updates on the disaster at 3pm every afternoon. This group also discussed the problems that had to be addressed and obtained consensus from the rest in a timely manner.

Volunteers not only conveyed the Master’s condolences and delivered financial assistance to the injured and their families, they also sought to get an in-depth understanding of each family, their financial situation, their religious faith, the severity of injuries sustained by the victims, as well as the psychological state of their families, etc. in order to come up with appropriate measures to help. These actions were thus “in-depth understanding” and “sequential process” at work.

The Master, being aware of the mental agony of the injured and how busy medical workers would be, directed volunteers to care for the victims in a holistic manner, such as subsidizing their supplements and mattresses used in recuperation. These acts of kindness did not go unnoticed and they succeeded in touching the hearts of others. One of the injured who was a teacher by profession, was even moved to donate NT5,000 (est. S$220) to Tzu Chi.

“How could so many people be deployed so swiftly in an emergency?” Lv’s question brought to light that community volunteers had been well trained by Tzu Chi as the organization had always encouraged everyone to engage in charitable acts. Thus when the need arose, timely help could be rendered to the needy.

“How does one pass down the experience gained by Tzu Chi to others?”

“How does one invite more Tzu Chi commissioners and new volunteers to take part in home visits (to needy families)?”

These were some of the questions from the audience and the speaker panel made suggestions such as spreading out the activities, having a charity day for all volunteers of a particular Zone, and having experienced house visit volunteers accompany the newbies as well as having group sharing sessions. These will allow for mutual learning to take place. At the same time, community volunteers can organize classes dealing with the topic. Lv emphasized that as long as one holds dear the Dharma taught by the Master, one will be guided in the method.

Liang Jia Shen, a Tzu Chi home visit team leader heartily agreed with the suggestion to organize a charity day for each Zone where all volunteers are given an opportunity to participate in home visits. He had been guided by senior volunteers in conducting home visits and learnt by experience; he now accompanies newbies in conducting house visits and is in the process of learning how to share the Dharma with Tzu Chi beneficiaries. Inspired by the contents of the talk, he has decided to start sharing his experiences through small groups, and encouraging his team members to do the same after conducting house visits.

Showing Care and Love for Dharma Family

Speaker Lin Jin Bo from Tainan (southern Taiwan) held up Master Cheng Yen as the epitome of showing care for one’s Dharma family as no matter how busy she was, she would never fail to think of how her disciples were doing. Lin explained that the meaning of “Unity” is that one’s heart is united with the hearts of one’s Dharma family. When all the members of the various volunteer teams show care and love for one another, the spirit of “pure hearts united as one” is realized. Only when everyone works in unity and joint effort will there be warmth and synergy. Every Tzu Chi undertaking is only made possible by team effort.

Lin hoped that Great Love will be the reason that brings people into the fold of the organization, yet the converse should not hold true and one should not leave Tzu Chi because of a lack of it. She urged the volunteer leaders not to neglect finding out why people leave the Dharma family and be sincere in trying to understand their needs. Through extending timely help and kindness, and employing wisdom in addressing their doubts, the other party will be more willing to divulge the actual reasons behind their leaving. At the same time, Lin reminded her audience not to neglect their own health and that of their families even as they give of themselves.

Tzu Chi volunteer Ye Rui Ping was in full agreement with these points. In 2013, she was diagnosed with cancer, but with the encouragement of her own family and the Dharma family in Tzu Chi, she underwent chemotherapy and recovered. This experience made her feel that taking the initiative to show concern for other people is better than waiting to receive care from others and she hopes to be more sensitive in perceiving the needs of people around her.

“The local Tzu Chi volunteers are more reliant on technological means such as (sending) text messages, (and this results in) less personal interaction between people and decreases (the perception of) sincerity and warmth,” commented home visit team leader Don Low, who has been involved in Tzu Chi activities for the past three years. He further pointed out an area for improvement, saying that the tendency was to invite the more active members to participate in activities while neglecting the less active members. He was determined to show more concern towards every Dharma family member in the community and strengthen the bond between them after the talk.

In his speech on the first day of the retreat, CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore Mr Low See Seh expressed that though the volunteer framework had been established locally for close to 10 years, its functionality and capabilities could be improved upon. Through gathering feedback from the community volunteers and with the invaluable sharing by the experienced staff and volunteers from Taiwan, Tzu Chi hopes to build common consensus among all its volunteers such that greater impetus can be injected into achieving its vision of “universal compassion through joint efforts”.

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Master De Han from the Jing Si Abode advised her audience that if it is the right thing to do, one should try hard and put in one’s best efforts rather than say that one will leave it up to destiny. (Photo by Douglas Lee)

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The Singapore curriculum team took the effort to come up with three short skits that illustrated the challenges of organizing Tzu Chi activities in the community. (Photo by Chua Teong Seng)

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Isaac Chiu from the Religious Culture and Humanitarian Aids Department of Tzu Chi HQ in Taiwan explained the concept of “universal compassion through joint efforts” in detail. (Photo by Chua See Siew)

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During the training retreat, a Q&A segment was arranged for every session so that attendees could have their doubts clarified by the panel of speakers from Taiwan. (Photo by Douglas Lee)

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Speaker Li Jin Bo spoke on how one could show concern for fellow Dharma family members by being observant and connecting with the rest of the team. (Photo by Douglas Lee)

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Many elderly volunteers were as enthusiastic as the younger crowd, eagerly participating and taking careful notes of what the speakers say. (Photo by Chua See Siew)

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The camp attendees put their palms together and gave thanks as they were served their meal. (Photo by Douglas Lee)

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Charity team leader Liang Jia Sheng (front) was inspired by what he had learned and hoped to start small scale sharing sessions with his team members in order to better care for their beneficiaries. (Photo by Douglas Lee)

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The speakers made good use of their opportunity to interact and share experiences with attendees. (Photo by Lee Tong Heng)


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