Dharma Master Cheng Yen, founder of Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, presides over a small Buddhist temple in Hualien, Taiwan and Tzu Chi’s worldwide charity program. She was born in a small town called Chingshui in central Taiwan in 1937. When she was twenty-six years old, she left home to become a Buddhist nun. In 1966, she established the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, then the Tzu Chi Merits Society.
Master Cheng Yen’s life experiences inspired her to search for a form of Buddhism that would reflect unconditional love through action. Many past incidents shaped her vision and she felt a higher calling. When her father had died of a heart attack, she felt guilty. In his passing, she felt that she had erred in caring for him. Later, at a hospital, she witnessed a penniless, aborigine woman be denied medical attention while bleeding on the floor. Another time, a Catholic missionary said to her, “You Buddhists are a passive group and ignore the needs of others.” Master Cheng Yen was determined to serve all humanity. She envisioned a world of kindness, compassion, joy and equality.
With the support of only thirty housewives who set aside NT fifty cents (US$0.013) of their grocery money each day, Master Cheng Yen embarked on her mission of helping the poor and educating the more prosperous. She and the newly formed Tzu Chi Merits Society established a charity fund to provide relief and assistance for the poor.
Today, Master Cheng Yen’s influence in the world is revealed through the inspiring stories of her disciples and the acclaimed international work of Tzu Chi Foundation.
Master Cheng Yen was awarded the Eisenhower Medallion for her contributions to world peace. In 1991, she was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award (considered the Asian Nobel Prize) for community leadership. She has been nominated in 1996 for the Nobel Peace Prize for her selfless dedication to bringing to a troubled world a renewed vision of compassion in action. Master Cheng Yen was named as one of the fifty “Stars of Asia” leaders at the forefront of change in the July 2000 issue of Business Week.
For a more comprehensive look at the life of Master Cheng Yen, please read “Master of Love and Mercy: Cheng Yen” by Yu-ing Ching (1995, Blue Dolphin Publishing). This is the chronicle of Master Cheng Yen’s search for wisdom and its flowering through the many works of compassion performed by her and her followers worldwide.