To Save the World, We Must First Heal Our Minds
Please use the hands that you applaud me with to pick up rubbish, sweep the streets, and do recycling, so that we can turn our land into a Pure Land. By turning trash into gold, we can turn gold into loving hearts."
“Do Recycling with Your Applauding Hands”
In recent times, there have been many observable anomalies in our weather. Scientists have discovered that the primary causes of these cataclysmic climate changes can be traced back to the pollution of our natural environment. How can we minimise the occurrence of natural disasters? What can we do for our future generations?
In 1990, when Master Cheng Yen was delivering a speech in Taichung, central Taiwan, she encouraged the audience to “use their applauding hands to protect the environment” and advocated the sorting of trash for recycling. A young woman immediately responded to her call. She began leading recycling efforts in her neighbourhood, and even donated the funds earned from recycling to charity.
These charitable acts of “turning trash into gold (i.e. cash), and gold into loving hearts” have since spread throughout Taiwan and overseas locales through the concerted efforts of dedicated Tzu Chi volunteers over the years. As of today, there are over 10,000 Tzu Chi recycling stations and points spread throughout the world, with close to 100,000 regular volunteers actively involved in recycling activities.
In 1999, Tzu Chi Singapore established its first recycling point in Jurong East. Presently, there are 39 community recycling points island-wide and an Eco-Awareness Centre, where over a thousand volunteers with ages ranging from the very young to the very old work to protect the environment.
The recycling points and Eco-Awareness Centre have become meccas of knowledge about environmental protection for schools, enterprises, and other NGOs, which have sent students, staff and/or volunteers over to learn about recycling and conservation. Tzu Chi‘s recycling efforts are so well-received that the Northwest CDC has partnered with the Foundation to promote recycling in the community, and allowed our volunteers to set up more recycling points together with the RCs.
Everyone knows the root of the problem — man’s relentless pursuit of profit and self-centred pursuit of earthly pleasures have continually raised the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere, leading to extreme weather conditions. However, it is very hard for businesses to sacrifice profitability to reduce carbon emissions. The imbalance in the Four Elements of land, water, fire and wind arises from the imbalance in people’s minds. With their deluded thinking and shortsighted seeking of instant gratification, it is as though people’s minds are shrouded in a thick fog, lacking the vision to see far. By focusing only on short-term gains, we endanger the long-term survival of our human species. If mankind does not awaken to these hidden dangers, it will really be ‘too late’ to save our Earth!"
Choose an Environmentally Friendly Diet and Lifestyle
In 2014, Master Cheng Yen travelled around Taiwan and personally visited various recycling stations, where she saw a lot of trash that could not be recycled. Feeling for the well-being of the volunteers, she began to call for a strengthening in environmental education, with the hope of instilling in the residents that recycling needs to start from the home. By cleaning and sorting the items before sending them out for recycling, residents can prevent the mixing up of trash with recyclables, thereby improving the quality of the recycling efforts.
The Master also stresses that apart from recycling trash, what is even more important is a call to return to a simpler way of life and cultivate a harmonious state of mind. Tzu Chi volunteers not only bring their own reusable utensils wherever they go, they also practise mindfulness in daily living that helps to reduce carbon emissions, and adopt a vegetarian diet to protect life and the planet. From doing “physical recycling”, they progress to a deeper practice of “spiritual recycling” (i.e. purification of the mind).
In Singapore, a comprehensive showcase of Tzu Chi’s philosophy and practices towards the environment can be found in its Eco-Awareness Centre, which was officially inaugurated in 2014. In addition, Tzu Chi volunteers have been actively promoting environmental vegetarianism to the public by holding talks and setting up information booths in enterprises, schools, shopping centres and major activities.
The United Nations had commissioned an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide scientific reports on the status of climate change. In a study that spanned over six years, the findings confirmed many factors contributing to global warming, of which 90 percent were a result of human activity. If countries cannot come to an agreement to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and when the earth’s temperature rises by four degrees Celsius, it will have a catastrophic and irreversible impact on our environment.
In November 2015, more than 190 countries took part in the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) held in Paris, France, in which Tzu Chi also participated. In this unprecedented meeting, the nations agreed to work towards an initial carbon reduction target. However, Master Cheng Yen feels that having a common understanding alone is insufficient, and that there is a pressing need for consensus and unified action. Only by reducing our material needs, practising self-love, and cultivating a love for others and the environment, can we truly help to resolve the climate crisis.
It is increasingly the consensus among many climate scientists and researchers that vegetarianism is an effective way to reduce emissions. The chairman of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, has also appealed to people around the world to respond to the urgent call to reduce emissions by “not eating meat, riding a bicycle, and being a frugal shopper”. Many Tzu Chi volunteers adopted a vegetarian diet with the original intention of protecting life; today, scientific evidence has shown that the widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet can reduce food-related emissions. Hence, all of us have “three opportunities” each day to help save the planet.
In response to the Paris climate change conference, Tzu Chi has launched a global campaign titled “Ethical Eating Day 111” , which calls on people to go vegetarian to help save the earth, with the ultimate goal of encouraging each person to eat only vegetarian food at each meal, every day. The Foundation hopes to invite at least 1,110,000 people worldwide to respond to this call on 11th January every year, thereby unleashing the collective power of positive influence.
Wisdom at the Grassroots
A Life Enriched by Being a Blessing to Others
Despite living in materially-rich Singapore, Tzu Chi volunteer Peter Kua has, for over ten years, managed to maintain his simple, spartan lifestyle. It was not only because of his exposure to stringent water rationing conditions in our nation’s early years, but also because, after joining Tzu Chi, he further understood that everything that one needs or uses in life cannot be separated from nature’s provision. Thus, he feels that he must cherish every bit of nature’s resources. His monthly water bill never exceeds S$1. He collects his bath water and uses it to wash clothes, and only uses a single electric light in the night. Even his soap, toothbrush, clothes, and other daily necessities are hand-me-downs from others.
Peter, who is over 70 this year, only sleeps four hours a day. The rest of his time is either spent working or doing recycling – he collects recyclables in his neighbourhood and sorts them for recycling. In spite of his thrifty ways and habits, he does not accumulate wealth for himself, but rather donates his savings to charity. In the past ten years, he has donated NT$2 million (equivalent to two times the donation of a Tzu Chi honorary board member) to Tzu Chi. Through serving as a volunteer, Peter has gradually opened his heart and transformed his reserved character, a hallmark for most of his life, into someone who experiences unspeakable joy from serving the public.
The Inspiring Strength of Pioneers
“Master Cheng Yen says that we must protect Mother Earth. I want to follow the Tzu Chi Path for life,” said Chen Ya Ting. Chen and her husband, Bi Yu Kun, have quietly walked the path of environmental protection without any regret for over 10 years. Twenty-years ago, long before “environmental protection” became a household word, Tzu Chi volunteers in Singapore had already started collecting recyclables from door to door in the community. As there was no fixed recycling point during that time, many volunteers took the recyclables home and carefully sorted them for recycling. They even personally arranged for a small truck to transport the sorted items for sale to appointed merchants. When Tzu Chi began establishing the community recycling points, these brave and hardy pioneers were the first to break new ground. Through their perseverance, they were able to overcome many challenges in promoting the message of environmental protection to the public. Thanks to their tireless efforts, Tzu Chi now has a network of recycling points island-wide.
A Green Enterprise
After having personally visited Tzu Chi’s establishments in Hualien, Taiwan, Singaporean entrepreneur, Teo Siew Leng, was determined to promote environmental protection in her own laundry factory. Using the framework of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle (the 3Rs) as a reference, she managed to review and overhaul the workflows in her business. Besides introducing technologically-enhanced machines that are more energy and water efficient, the factory’s management has also placed recycling bins in various locations and encourages its employees to do their part in protecting the environment and Earth.
Towards a Clean and Green Singapore
By placing equal emphasis on our country’s economic development and the promotion of environmental protection and humanistic values in our society, we can coexist in harmony with Mother Nature. In 2015, a delegation from the National Environment Agency (NEA) visited Tzu Chi Singapore’s Jing Si Hall and met up with the recycling volunteer leaders, to discuss how to go about incorporating environmental practices into the community. At the “Clean & Green Singapore Carnival” in recent years, Tzu Chi was invited to set up booths to share with the public how to make enzyme cleaner, sort recyclables, reduce food waste, conserve water, etc. On each of these occasions, Tzu Chi volunteers were on duty to share their rich knowledge and experience in environmental protection with the visitors.
Our beautiful blue planet, Earth, is our common and only home in the universe. We sincerely invite you to join us in our green efforts to protect our home planet with love. Let us coexist in harmony with Mother Earth and our environment!