A two-day volunteer retreat was held by Tzu Chi Merit Organisation (Singapore) on 15th and 16th September 2018, in conjunction with Tzu Chi Singapore’s 25th anniversary celebrations. The aim of the retreat was to instil the essence of Tzu Chi’s Jing Si Dharma lineage and the spirit of Tzu Chi Path in the volunteers.
In the wee hours of 15th September, before dawn broke, Tzu Chi’s Jing Si Hall in Pasir Ris was already crowded with volunteers who had arrived early to listen to Master Cheng Yen’s early morning Dharma talk, before the retreat commenced. Among the participants were 15 volunteers from Cambodia, who had come with the head of Tzu Chi’s office in Cambodia, Xie Ming Xun.
The content of the retreat revolved around Jing Si Dharma Lineage and the Tzu Chi Path. Two Dharma masters from Jing Si Abode, who are monastic disciples of Tzu Chi’s founder Dharma Master Cheng Yen, came all the way from Taiwan to provide guidance and give their blessings to all participants. On the first day of the retreat, Dharma Master De Ge read the letter of well-wishes from Dharma Master Cheng Yen, to everyone. This is followed by a talk by Dharma Master De Bei, who presented a topic titled “Jing Si Dharma Lineage and Tzu Chi Path”.
She said that the Lotus Sutra is like a map for Tzu Chi volunteers as it provides them with guidance and directions. Master Cheng Yen often spoke of how the bodhisattva footprints of Tzu Chi testify to the teachings of the sutra during her discourses, to make the sutra easier to understand for the volunteers.
Master De Bei highlighted the importance of the Lotus Sutra and stressed that now is the time to use its teachings to save the world. This was also advocated by the late Venerable Master Yin Shun (Master Cheng Yen’s mentor), and it is only when many people come together and work unitedly to practise the sutra teachings that we can realise the Truth taught by the Buddha.
Master De Bei stressed that Master Cheng Yen wants to form karmic affinities that are as strong as flesh-and-blood with all her disciples and to deeply connect with them through the Dharma. She further added that the Master hopes that everyone will truly cherish their karmic affinities with her and that such affinities will last life after life. It is the Master’s heartfelt wish to see all her disciples advance spiritually and grow in wisdom.
Master De Bei also spoke of how the Lay Spiritual Practitioners in the Abode practise the “Ten Grounds of Bodhisattva Path" in their daily lives: They start every day with joy and gratitude. After listening to the early morning Dharma talk, they exude the radiance of enlightened wisdom. They also give without expecting anything in return and inspire others to do good with wisdom gained from the Dharma.
Then, the retreat participants were led by Master De Bei to sing the song, “The Vow”, which reminded them to bear in mind their initial aspirations and to work to benefit others and themselves as they cultivate the Bodhisattva Path to attain wisdom.
Volunteer Ester Cheong was moved to tears as she listened to “The Vow” while looking at the song lyrics on the screen.
"When I think of how Dharma Master Cheng Yen still insists to help her disciples attain wisdom (by expounding the Dharma daily) despite her frail health, it makes me heavy-hearted," shared Cheong.
It is inevitable for one to face obstacles while carrying out Tzu Chi’s Missions, hence, one needs to take in the Dharma to heart so that one may use the teachings to resolve issues and to untangle the knots in one’s heart. Cheong vowed to be mindful of her thoughts, words, and actions and to lead others by example.
Taking in the Dharma during walking meditation
“Please put your palms together. Let's begin. Right, left, right, left… …”
Guided by Master De Bei, the participants started chanting the verses of “Hearts in Harmony as Pure as Crystal” as they began their walking meditation.
Grooming the talents of cadre volunteers
In his talk, the former CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore Liu Ji-Yu revealed that he often reminded himself to actively take up responsibilities, and to let go of glory. With his usual witty humour, he shared about the responsibilities, missions and training of cadre volunteers, sending everyone into laughter as they picked up the wisdom and humour in his messages.
Liu stressed in his speech: “Actually, we are not short of talents. We are just not observant enough, and do not know how to nurture and retain talented individuals.”
He further added that everyone in Tzu Chi is indispensable, but not everyone knows how to put the right person in the right job. He also quoted the wisdom of the ancient Chinese sage, Yan Zi, a disciple of Confucius who described the three bad omens of a nation: Not knowing who the capable people are, knowing who these people are but not making use of their abilities, and not giving talented people tasks that are worthy of their skills and abilities.
He stressed that in the eyes of Master Cheng Yen, the ideal talents are not merely people who are highly talented but also humble and keep a low profile as they quietly work hard. They are those who are determined in their efforts and able to treat everyone equally, while possessing knowledge and skills as well as a clean and pure mind.
Liu Ji-Yu shared that he needs to have plenty of mental and physical strength, as well as strong perseverance and endurance to keep up with his busy schedule as a senior Tzu Chi volunteer. He said, "When being busy becomes a habit, we will no longer feel busy.”
He also pointed out that hard work has to be coupled with the right method in order to succeed, and that it is not enough to just take in the Dharma and practise it, but rather, one must apply the right teaching at the right time in order for it to be effective.
Volunteer Lin Shu Guo felt that the most useful message shared by Liu was how to stay united in the face of challenges and difficulties. She shared that Liu said if a volunteer had worked very hard but his efforts did not yield the desired results, it only meant that he had done things in the wrong way. Thus, one has to look for the solution within oneself and not blame others for not being cooperative.
"In fact, setbacks are often due to the mishandling of matters and the lack of a loving rapport with others. Hence, this makes it difficult for others to accept us," shared Lin.
The Four-in-One Volunteer Structure
Xu Yu-Feng, a Tzu Chi staff from Taiwan explained the concept of the Four-in-One Volunteer Structure. Tzu Chi Singapore has been implementing this structure since 2005, thus this was actually a refresher class for the volunteers, so that they might gain new insights into what they already knew. It also allowed the newer volunteers to gain a better understanding of the volunteer structure of Tzu Chi.
The Four-in-One Volunteer Structure of Tzu Chi focuses on equality, respect, common consensus, team spirit, and community engagement. Xu Yu-Feng highlighted that the combined elements of “Unity, Harmony, Mutual Love and Joint Effort" should always be present in the organisation, be it at the administrative or spiritual level.
The “Unity” leaders consist of senior volunteer leaders who are responsible for passing on Tzu Chi’s Missions and philosophy. The “Harmony” leaders are in charge of explaining the organisation’s goals and objectives while the “Mutual Love” leaders plan for events and activities, which are implemented by the “Joint Effort” leaders. In this framework, everyone works together regardless of their status or rank, and contributes their efforts with a pure heart to sow blessings for humanity.
In the segment on “grooming cadre volunteers and nurturing talents”, the team of experienced volunteer leaders from Taiwan spoke of the common issues and challenges in leading and guiding volunteers. Singapore volunteer Chen Bi Hui shared that she had personally encountered problems while carrying out Tzu Chi’s work due to a lack of consensus among her team members. After listening to the speakers from Taiwan, she was inspired and motivated to promote understanding and consensus in her team.
In the segment on “caring for fellow Dharma brothers and sisters”, Wang Ci Wei, a senior volunteer leader from Penang, said to the participants on the floor, “Do you wait to care for others and show them concern only when it is needed? It is actually more important to keep in touch with our fellow volunteers on a day-to-day basis.”
Wang’s own mother and another elderly volunteer share a strong rapport and always take care of each other. They often volunteer at the Tzu Chi dialysis centre in Penang together, and even participate in sign language performances together. Lam Kew Foong, the staff in charge of Tzu Chi Continuing Education Centre in Singapore, shared, "We need to build good relationships with others on an everyday basis and broaden our hearts, so that we can better care for others when needed."
During the sharing session in the evening, the participants were divided into groups for group discussion and to seek guidance from the Dharma masters and senior volunteers from Taiwan. Master De Bei patiently answered every question from the participants and encouraged everyone to watch Master Cheng Yen’s early morning Dharma talks each day, because most of the answers to their questions could be found in the Dharma talks. Master De Ge also reminded the volunteers to put more focus on their own words and actions, and not to pick on the mistakes of others. She stressed that everyone should look at the positive traits of others and emulate them while patiently seeking to understand every person’s character and disposition. Only then would everyone be able to work together happily and cooperate well with one another.