The Highest Form of Benevolence Flows Like Water
I recently completed a temple pilgrimage in Taiwan and was deeply inspired by the artistry of this calligraphy by Master Master Hsing Yun, founder of the Fo Guang Shan Lineage and have been contemplating its deeper meaning The Highest Form of Benevolence Flows Like Water.
One of the largest Buddhist organizations in Taiwan is Tzu Chi. Led by its founding nun, Master Cheng Yen, the nun’s community and thousands of lay members, now rivals the International Red Cross the size and scope of service. While much of their work is focused on disaster relief, their diverse activitiesinclude hospitals and specialized responses to smaller events. Master Cheng Yen’s vision is to respond to the world with a heart of benevolence flowing like water to wherever it is needed. Through exemplifying this conduct with a rare purity, a vast network arose to amplify her work.
The story began so humbly, five nuns in a tiny cabin determined to build a life only giving to others. They invited 30 housewives to save fifty cents from their food shopping and drop it in bamboo banks which they made form a grove nearby, sawing the stalks at the joints. With the slogan “50 cents can save lives”, and the aspiration of kindness formed with each deposit, funding small acts grew into an international community of response. Every suffering being who found their way to the cabin elicited heartfelt caring which grew exponentially.
Gradually the work of the nuns flowed into every dimension of experience. An example was a local explosion that injured 500 children. They started visiting the burn victims and found that the compression bandages used were inadequate. So, they invented new fabric, continuing to visit the patients weekly, offering comfort and assessing the fabric. After testing several versions, the new fabric is now useful for all burn victims. The tenderness extended towards cries for help also extends to how the solutions arise; the
environment and all the volunteers who implement the vision. For instance, hospitals; how do you create an environment of compassion? In the photo we see volunteers setting an intention of kindness before starting work. New medical students are met with volunteer “godparents” to lovingly encourage them throughout their studies. Their training begins with an extraordinary experience of appreciation that opens their hearts. The education of a doctor begins with anatomy and dissection. In this program they visit the families of the donors of the bodies and write a biography of their first teacher, the body given for dissection. Then before the start the study, a wonderful ceremony thanking the families and giving them a chance to say goodbye and honor the choice of their loved one is held at the hospital. There are prayers of gratitude to the donor by the students and a full ritual funeral attended by the whole monastery, students and families at the conclusion. The students are taught that their knowledge comes from a treasured gift and their work must honor its value. These doctors grow in understanding the role of compassion in their work.
The wonderful call and response of need and compassionate action; flowing so powerfully in the course of one lifetime is a joy to witness. The five nuns were joined by hundreds of thousands of lay volunteers and funds to cover the world, who are now often first on the ground in places like Fukushima and even in Texas after the disastrous tornados. The essence of compassion is ever-present in how they work.
I come away with a new understanding of seamless benevolence enabling boundless compassion. May benevolence flow in and from our lives like water.