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Towards a Common Destiny

The 2016 Tzu Chi volunteer retreat for cadres kicked off with much anticipation on 10 September. The event, which lasted till 12 September, was attended by 327 participants. With a theme centred on retracing the journey of Tzu Chi and rediscovering one’s initial spiritual aspirations, the retreat aimed to pass on the spirit of selfless Great Love, with the hope of motivating and guiding volunteers to work towards the three goals of “purifying people’s minds, bringing peace and harmony to society, and mitigating disasters around the world”.

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Over the Hari Raya holiday and long weekend, Tzu Chi Singapore held its second annual “Four-in-One” volunteer retreat. Photo by Cai Juan Hua

The yearly “Four-in-One” Tzu Chi training retreat for global cadre members, originally held in Taiwan, started to be organized in other countries, too, since last year. Tzu Chi Singapore held its first three-day and two-night training retreat in August, 2015, at its Jing Si Hall in Pasir Ris, with help from Tzu Chi Taiwan in Hualien. Experienced staff and volunteer leaders from Taiwan expressly came to Singapore, and upon gaining an understanding of the local context, were able to give valuable pointers in the programme contents and to share their invaluable knowledge and experience gained through walking the Tzu Chi Path.     

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Volunteers were activated and deployed into various teams to make preparations  before the retreat. Photo by Lai Tong Heng

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In order to enable more trainees to participate fully in the programme, the Tzu Chi Eco-Awareness Centre in Woodlands was used as a dormitory. Volunteers would rush down after work to clean the floor and make preparations for the night. Photo by Pua Poo Toong

The 2016 Tzu Chi volunteer training retreat for cadres kicked off with much anticipation on 10 September and lasted till 12 September, with its theme centred on retracing the journey of Tzu Chi and rediscovering one’s initial spiritual aspirations. The strong lineup of lecturers, including Dharma masters from the Jing Si Abode, staff from the organization’s headquarters and seasoned volunteer leaders, who hailed from Taiwan and Malaysia, numbered a total of 20 people.  

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Participants reporting to their team facilitators at the multipurpose room in Jing Si Hall. Photo by Chua Teong Seng

At 2pm on 10 September 2016, four Dharma masters from the Jing Si Abode opened the programme with Master De Ge giving a few words of advice to the participants and expression of thanks to the lecturing team. She pointed out that although the space constraints at the Jing Si Hall posed a challenge, the venue was far superior compared to the crude environment where Tzu Chi volunteers in African countries like Mozambique had their training. She encouraged everyone to open their hearts and maintain a pure mind, that they could together pass on the spirit of Great Love to others and work to bring peace and harmony to society.

“Though it’s not too convenient for me to come here for training, I really treasure the opportunity,” said Singapore participant Ou Shi Guo, who is wheelchair bound due to a spinal injury. He had to take the MRT early in the morning and transfer to a public bus in order to make his way to the Jing Si Hall. A Tzu Chi volunteer for five years, Ou eagerly seized the opportunity to participate in the retreat despite his physical condition.

Xie Ming Xun from Tzu Chi Cambodia revealed that the organization had recruited many new volunteers during the recent rice distribution for the needy. However, as they lacked the manpower and resources to train them, they could only let the new members watch programmes from Tzu Chi Taiwan’s Da Ai TV to learn about the Foundation’s missions and philosophy. The Singapore retreat thus presented a golden opportunity for training them, especially for those who were stepping out of Cambodia for the first time in their lives.

Retracing the History of Tzu Chi

“The Jing Si Abode will forever be the supporting pillar of all Tzu Chi members!”  Master De Rang spoke on the first topic in the retreat, and in the short span of an hour, she recapped the history of Tzu Chi over the last half century. Despite having expanded its footprints over the globe to become a charity on a scale to be reckoned with, the organization has remained true to its initial aspirations — to exist for the benefit of those in need.

In the 1960s, a young Master Cheng Yen and her three monastic disciples lived in the Pu Ming Temple in Hualien, eking out a living from growing vegetables and handmade products. Despite not having enough for themselves, they were motivated to help the poor. The spirit of “no work, no meal”, with its tenets of thriftiness, hard work, and perseverance, was thus established as the foundation of the tradition of Jing Si Abode (residence of the Master and her monastic disciples).

Master De Rang shared that at that point, the Jing Si Abode had not been built and Master Cheng Yen and her disciples did not have a home of their own, yet they had built the first house for one of their aid beneficiaries in 1967. As the Master herself would say, “Do what needs to be done and don’t wait till we have our own resources before we act.”

With the efforts of the monastics and volunteers, Tzu Chi was set up in 1966. The monastics’ daily needs continued to be financed by their own hard work and the donations received for charitable projects were kept separate from the former. In fact when Typhoon Nina destroyed part of the Jing Si Abode in 1975, it had to wait till 1980 to be rebuilt due to lack of funds.

As the charitable missions of Tzu Chi continued to expand in scale, its footprints were gradually seen across the five continents, and it received much recognition among many. Not only is the Abode the spiritual home of global Tzu Chi members, it is also a place for their spiritual practice. The Master desires that every disciple places compassion above all, that they practise forbearance and humility while acting to benefit others. In addition, just as others are helped by them, so too, will their kind acts be of benefit to themselves. 

Showing gratitude, respect and love for others is important whether they are our family or strangers, and Great Love should encompass the whole world. Master De Rang urged everyone to take these teachings of Master Cheng Yen to heart so that they would be able to inspire more people to join the fold of the organization.    

Change Starts from Within Oneself

Experienced volunteer Sister Ji Jing Yang is 78 years old this year. She joined Tzu Chi when she was 40, and at 72, she started learning to use the computer to create Tzu Chi photo news. When she was younger, she remembered Master Cheng Yen told her that when a volunteer enters Tzu Chi and engages in its charitable undertakings, it is a commitment of a lifetime. Hence, over the last 30 years, she had never once entertained the thought of taking a break from Tzu Chi’s work.

“I know, I know, I know!” Once, in response to the Master’s reminder that one’s involvement in Tzu Chi was not to be taken lightly, Sister Ji had responded thus. To which the Master said in all seriousness that the answer only bore repeating once and not three times in resignation.

Sister Ji shared that the Master taught every one of her disciples with patience and had faith in them; she now takes her teachings to heart and answers her with a single “I know” ─ these two words are also a steadfast vow to continue on the Tzu Chi Path.

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Sister Ji Jing Yang shared personal anecdotes in her talk which were both enlightening and amusing. Photo by Cai Juan Hua

Sister Ji spoke of how her uneasy marital relationship benefitted from the Master’s advice, i.e. “rather than trying to change others, we should start by working on ourselves”. Indeed, when one applies the right teachings in daily life, one will be able to develop an extraordinary mindset, and live out a happy and meaningful life.

Similarly, husband and wife Lin Guo Liang and Chen Yu Xin, who used to have frequent disagreements because of their differing religious faiths, learnt that change must start from oneself after they joined Tzu Chi. Chen saw the changes in her husband and from then on, she gradually participated in Tzu Chi activities and is now a staff at the Tzu Chi Free Clinic.

After the sharing by Sister Ji, Chen mentioned that she had learnt a lot that was applicable in her family life. She plays the role of peace-maker in her family between her husband and her child. When the latter two had an argument, she would explain matters to her child and share teachings from the Jing Si Aphorisms with her husband. Though Chen neither understood Chinese nor the Minnan dialect, she was able to overcome these linguistic challenges and now tunes in to Master Cheng Yen’s morning Dharma teachings and shares what she learns with her husband.  

Practicing Mindfully Among the Masses

Qiu Guo Qi from the Tzu Chi headquarters in Taiwan was the next speaker, and having served beside the Master for close to 20 years, he was able to share many more personal experiences that are rich with the Tzu Chi spirit.

Qiu told of how in the early days, volunteer Sister Jing Ming had spent NTD200 in cab fare to collect NTD150 in donation money. When the Master asked her if it was worth it, Sister Jing Ming had replied in the affirmative. She reasoned that the cab fare was paid by herself, while the donation would go to Tzu Chi. In addition, because she would patiently go about collecting donations for Tzu Chi from her donating members, the latter would donate higher amounts, and those who were touched by her efforts would introduce other donors to her. As the Master said, Tzu Chi depends on the love of many individuals, and this has always been a key concept in its philosophy.  

For the teachings of a lineage to be passed down, sincerity and careful observation are important. When Brother Ji Duo from Tzu Chi New York mentioned to the Master in his reporting that the local conditions were not favourable for charitable undertakings as the media there do not report on such news, the Master responded: “Tzu Chi’s charitable activities do not depend on the media to become known. When the community volunteers have done their work well, naturally the good name will spread and people will approach Tzu Chi for help when they discover people in need of aid.” This too, is an important philosophy within Tzu Chi.

Qiu recounted that in the days when he was part of Tzu Ching (Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association), he was in a morning volunteers meeting to share his experience and received some words of advice from the Master herself: “One’s feet should be firmly planted on the ground; just do what is right.” These words of wisdom had inspired him greatly then.

“You may be in a good organization, but that doesn’t mean you won’t err.” Qiu gave his audience food for thought with his story of how he had killed another snail (by stepping on it accidentally) when he was saving one. He also used the analogy of the redwood tree, which though its roots do not extend deep underground, have an extensive root system intertwined with other redwood trees, enabling it to grow to great heights. This is akin to many individuals who work together in harmony, lending the support an organization needs to stand strong.

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Qiu Guo Qi from the Tzu Chi HQ in Taiwan told his audience, “You may be in a good organization but that doesn’t mean that you won’t err.” Photo by Cai Juan Hua

Qiu commented that our mindsets are the most difficult thing to change, while the hardest thing to guard against are our mouths. In addition, laziness is the easiest wrong to commit. He also quoted from the Master, telling his audience that while it is easy for one to make a vow, it is difficult for one to keep it. Spiritual cultivation needs focus, which can only be achieved through a disciplined lifestyle. The determination to persevere come what may, is the only road to cultivation; one can only engage in spiritual practice among people in this world (and not in isolation), learning forbearance in every experience. 

Zheng Yun Ran, a former Tzu Ching, said that Qiu’s sharing inspired her. She said that one should not have high expectations of one’s elders or working partners, and resentment will build up if one’s heart is not open. “Brother Qiu said that the Master told him that a true spiritual practitioner needs to harbour gratitude and not pick on others’ flaws, and this is what I have to often remind myself about.”

Volunteer Li Mu Fen suffers from lupus and her bodily joints will ache terribly if she sits for too long, therefore she has never taken part in any camps or long training sessions. However she signed up for the retreat as the contents intrigued her. Closer to the retreat date, she found her anxiety turning into anticipation and explained that it was because she decided to have a change of mindset and began to see her opportunity as a blessing. 

“The Master hopes to build a deep affinity with us,” said Li. The day’s programme reminded her that we should not forget how our predecessors in Tzu Chi have paved the way for us. In return, we should work harder at our goals.

In his closing speech, CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore Low Swee She pointed out that the training retreat this time had an unprecedented number of overseas speakers involved. As the Foundation develops at a faster pace, the number of people with noble aspirations it attracts increases. Hence, the training retreat provides a platform to strengthen the organization’s philosophy among its members and inspire volunteers to engage in the Tzu Chi missions with even more zest.

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A canopy was erected over the carpark next to the Jing Si Hall to create a makeshift dining area. Photo by Chua Teong Seng

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In the evening, lecturers would take the opportunity to interact with trainees. Photo by Chua Teong Seng

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