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Tzu Chi Foundation

Today, for a Worlds of Buddhism class project, a few friends and I visited Tzu Chi in San Dimas, the state headquarters for the international Tzu Chi Buddhist movement. Since our project is focusing on Buddhism & Ecology (or ecoBuddhism), we went expecting to pick up some pamphlets about how environmental concerns factored into the monastery's every day practices and buildings

Upon our arrival, Trisha (who is maybe the temple's PR person, we were unsure) ushered us into a room, presented us with maybe the best tea we've ever had, and sat us down to watch a Discovery Channel documentary about the Tzu Chi, or Buddhist Compassion Relief, Foundation.

So that I don't run on for too long about this, as so as succinctly noted on wikipedia.org, "Tzu Chi was founded by Master Cheng Yen (1993 Nobel Peace Prize nominee), a nun, on April 14, 1966 in Hualien, Taiwan, after she was inspired by her master and mentor, the late Venerable Master Yin Shun ((印順導師, Yin Shun Dao Shi) significant proponent of Humanistic Buddhism) with the great expectation of: "work for Buddhism and for all sentient beings". The society started as a group of thirty housewives who saved a small amount of money each day, and has grown to have over 4.5 million members worldwide today. Whereas many Buddhist societies focus on personal enlightenment and meditation, Tzu Chi focuses on community service and outreach (especially medical, educational, and disaster relief). Tzu Chi maintains a small number of nuns, and conducts its mission via an international network of volunteers. The volunteers are easily recognized by their uniforms… Tzu Chi remains a non-profit organization and has built many hospitals and schools worldwide, including a comprehensive education system within Taiwan spanning from kindergarten through university and medical school."

Aside from the anthropologic and sociologic implications of such an organization (and in particular its being headed by a woman when in most countries the Buddhist nun lineage was allowed to be extinguished, preventing any future nun ordinations), what I found really interesting here was the mobility new technology has granted the movement, and the ways in which really, it is reliant on it. As Tzu Chi is an international organization, technology's first and foremost role is to reach and dispatch volunteers as new disasters strike. Tzu Chi's heavy integration of technology allowed them to be the first aid organization in Indonesia following the 2005 tsunami. As Yin Shun suffers a heart condition that prevents her from traveling out of Taiwan, she uses videoconferences to connect with international volunteers and doctors, and she tapes her sermons to be broadcast on the organization's satellite television station.

At the same time, the fundamental idea Yin Shun advocates is the belief that all things have an innate life force and should be treated with the utmost care and respect. To this end, the organization encourages serious environmental action, initiating recycling programs and advocating vegetarianism (for the environmental benefits) internationally. Trisha told us that when Yin Shun uses paper, she first uses pencil, then blue ink, then red ink, and then calligraphy tools in order to get full use of each piece of paper she uses.

I think the juxtaposition here of technology and basic environmental consciousness and compassion are really encouraging. I also really enjoy seeing how such wide uses of technology have found a place in a religion that traditionally values simplicity. We've seen the use of technology grow in the Christian church, particularly in Evangelist churches and communities, but I think it's interesting to see it being integrated into Buddhism given the traditions even very recent history of passing on new technologies.

Do you remember the title of

Do you remember the title of the Discovery Channel show? Thanks.

You've got it wrong. Yin

You've got it wrong. Yin Shun is Master Cheng Yen's mentor. Yin Shun was a man. Cheng Yen is the founder not Yin Shun.