In his first visit to Tzu Chi Philippines on October 21, Tzu Chi Taiwan’s charity CEO Yen Po-Wen urges his Filipino counterparts to balance compassion and wisdom when doing charity work. As to when a volunteer should be compassionate or wise, he quotes from Dharma Master Cheng Yen, who says that volunteers should use their judgment.
In his first visit to Tzu Chi Philippines, a prominent Tzu Chi volunteer from Taiwan urges his Filipino counterparts to “balance compassion and wisdom” in doing Tzu Chi’s work.
Yen Po-Wen, CEO of Tzu Chi Taiwan’s charity mission, arrived in Manila on October 20 to visit the foundation’s operations in the country. Formerly the CEO of a major company in Singapore, he joined the ranks of Tzu Chi volunteers. In 2017, he rose to leadership of the charity mission not just within Taiwan but also around the world. He carries years of hard-learned but valuable lessons about doing charity work to share with the Filipino volunteers.
In his first meeting with Tzu Chi Philippines staff, Yen shared the foundation’s immediate and long-term response in the wake of the 1999 Chi-Chi earthquake in Taiwan. On the pre-dawn hours of September 21, 1999, a magnitude-7.6 earthquake rocked the entire island country. Nantou County, where the epicenter was located, took the brunt of the disaster, leaving homes and lives in ruins.
After touring the Tzu Chi Great Love Campus, Yen met with Filipino and Filipino-Chinese Tzu Chi volunteers in an open forum. The two-hour discussion centered on balancing compassion and relief in doing Tzu Chi’s work, which Yen admits that the answer is within a grey area.
“Our Master always reminds us that when doing Tzu Chi work, we need to follow wisdom and also compassion on a case-to-case basis. Wisdom is how we do it wisely, but compassion is from our inner spirit,” explained Yen.
Despite having no definite answer, the Taiwan volunteers say that the query isn’t uncommon. Siew Pei Fung, one of the members of Yen’s entourage, iterates that Tzu Chi’s obligation to help others should be based on need.
“Would we give a farmer a pair of high heels? A gown or maybe even a suit? He or she doesn’t need these things in his or her everyday life and work,” said Siew.
“We have to reach out to people and relieve their suffering first. And once they’re relieved from suffering, it’s the time that we can tell them Buddhist teachings. We can tell them how to stand on their own feet,” Siew quotes from a past meeting with Dharma Master Cheng Yen.
Master Cheng Yen encourages volunteers to decide for themselves when to be compassionate and when to be wise. Bro. Yen recalled that during his first year as CEO of the charity mission, he would seek guidance from the Master but would only be told stories in return. Over the years, he realized that the Master wants him to think what to do in every situation.
“We need to further our spiritual practice to become more compassionate, to go among people and try to understand their suffering and help them become from a palms-up to a palms-down person. That would be the most beautiful scene we can think about,” said Yen.