Over the course of the New Volunteers Training Camp, the Tzu Chi volunteers from Taiwan shared their wisdom with their aspiring counterparts. But their wisdom can be summarized in a few words: “It’s not enough to learn the dharma. It must be applied to your everyday life.”
“Nature doesn’t need people. People needs nature.”
This powerful slogan comes from “Nature Is Speaking,” an environmental awareness ad by the non-profit group Conservation International. The gist of it is simple: nature cares little for what happens to people. It will remain long after people disappear from existence.
Isaac Chiu, a Tzu Chi volunteer from Taiwan, presented this along with a series of videos as part of his presentation on environmental protection and vegetarianism. Overall, the videos evoked strong messages about the need to be more aware about the state of the planet. By the end of the lecture, the participants have expressed their willingness to cut back on meat, if not go vegetarian entirely.
For 13 years, it’s been Chiu’s mission to help society become more aware, but it’s been difficult. For starters, people are somewhat confused as to what they really wanted to do. And when they finally choose, Chiu explains, their choices often lean towards the dangerous.
“People normally choose the peaceful choice. But their actions often lead to danger. Why are they like this? Because people can’t let go of conveniences,” Chiu said.
For this, Chiu spared no expense in showing videos that explicitly highlight the horrors of a world in suffering. One shows a hungry polar bear more than willing to devour young cubs, as her source of food is now affected by climate change. Another shows a turtle crying in pain as scientists try to pull out a plastic straw lodged into its nose.
He admits to moments of doubt. Even as he vigorously champion environmental awareness, the Earth’s suffering only seem to worsen.
“But then I remember Master Cheng Yen’s story of the lone bird trying to put out a forest fire all by itself. Its effect may be small, but it has to do the job nonetheless,” Chiu added.
In her talks, Dharma Master Cheng Yen iterates that it’s not just enough learning the dharma from lectures. She says that humans tend to revert to their habitual tendencies, forgetting the dharma entirely. Only through practice can people find and understand what the dharma really means, slowly but steadily eliminating the ill habits they fall back to.
Vegetarianism, environmental protection, filial piety—all these and more are part of the dharma. All these and more must be applied in our everyday life.
Amidst a society resistant to change, there are simple individuals striving to be the change they want to see in the world.
Inspired by a fellow Tzu Chi Youth member and her vegan mother, Anabel Ong decided to go vegetarian last year. She abstained from any form of meat for three months before stopping for two reasons. First, she doesn’t know how to cook vegetarian. Second, she struggled to buy the necessary vegetarian ingredients.
Although not a participant in the camp, she manages to rekindle her vegetarian commitment with Chiu’s lecture. She’s finally ready to make up for lost time.
“If before, I don’t want to see the animals get hurt, now I feel as if the animals themselves might be my relatives from my past life. All the more reason to go vegetarian,” narrated Ong.
Meanwhile, Loren Sy has abstained from meat for the past five years. He has listened to the lecture multiple times, yet again and again he finds inspiration to continue being a vegetarian.
“I’ve listened to [Chiu’s] lecture at least four times. But for every session, I feel joyful and learn a lot from him,” Sy remarked.
David Liu, Tzu Chi volunteer from Malaysia and a resource speaker, notice the number of youths participating in this year’s camp and admires their eagerness to make the much-needed change. However, he also concurs with the fact that many people do not seize the opportunity to be that change, even if the opportunity is already in front of them.
“Perhaps there is still hope for that change.” Liu said. If the participants become Tzu Chi volunteers.
“Tzu Chi is all about action. We have to walk among the people, alleviating their suffering. We don’t just stand idly and study the dharma. We have to practice it,” Liu added.
To quote one video in Chiu’s presentation: “An open world begins with an open mind.”