Volunteers and donors of Tzu Chi Philippines numbering to 224 gathered at the Jing Si Hall in Quezon City on May 9 for the weekly Three Steps and One Bow pilgrimage. The ceremony became even more special as it fell on founder Master Cheng Yen’s 82nd birthday.
For nine years now, Barangay Tatalon resident Warlita Azucena has been waking up before 5:00 a.m. on Wednesdays to walk to Jing Si Hall, Tzu Chi volunteers’ spiritual home in the Philippines. After sipping her cup of coffee, the 74-year-old lady dons her uniform and starts her fifteen-minute trip. She arrives as the sun rises and joins her fellow volunteers for the Three Steps and One Bow pilgrimage.
The three steps represent the Triple Gem of Buddhism namely the Buddha, the Dharma or doctrine, and the Sangha or the Buddhist monastic order. By kneeling and bowing until their foreheads kiss the ground, they repent, cleanse their minds and let go of their worries. They repeat this routine until they reach the Jing Si Hall entrance.
Although Catholic by faith, Warlita found peace and comfort in the said ceremony.
“Doing the pilgrimage was never difficult for me,” shared Warlita. “I actually feel stronger and energized after.”
For the first few years, with every step and bow she made, she prayed that she be given five more years to live and be with her family. She got more than what she had asked. When her family survived a fire incident early this year, Warlita found more reasons to religiously attend the ritual.
But one pilgrimage every year is most special that Warlita cannot miss it.
For 2018, that day fell on May 9. On the said date, following the Chinese Lunar calendar, Tzu Chi founder Dharma Master Cheng Yen celebrated her 82nd birthday.
“Today, I wish Master Cheng Yen longevity so that she can help more people and guide them in the right path,” shared Warlita.
Among the 224 volunteers and donors who gathered for the ceremony, 9-year-old Rachelle Tiu was the youngest.
Her mother, Catherine, shared that it was Rachelle’s wish to attend and pay homage to Master Cheng Yen.
“We’ve been showing her pictures of other people’s situation in different parts of the country. Some of them suffer from illness or poverty. Because of that, she has also started saving coins for charity, just as the Master teaches,” added Catherine.
When the pilgrimage ended, everyone gathered at the dining hall for a meal prepared by Tzu Chi volunteers’ culinary group. The misua soup served represents longevity in Chinese tradition which is why it is commonly seen during birthdays.
“I consider a great blessing that Master Cheng Yen was given another year to touch the hearts of millions of people. As for me, I will continue to help her carry out her mission across humanity,” said volunteer Hedilisa Hina, who attended the pilgrimage in spite of a foot injury.
Each attendee received a siopao or ‘shu tou’ as the Master’s gift to her followers and supporters. Volunteer Teresita Wong hopes the gifts will remind everyone to “live according to the footsteps of Master Cheng Yen.”
The celebration concluded with an online assembly of Tzu Chi chapters across the world. During which, they simultaneously chanted the Buddhist Medicine Sutra, which encapsulates Tzu Chi volunteers’ commitment to alleviate the suffering of all beings.