Cheng Yen

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Master Cheng Yen
Other names Huizhang
Dharma names Cheng Yen
Nationality Republic of China (Taiwan)
Born Chin-Yun Wong
(1937-05-11) May 11, 1937 (age 80)
Kiyomizu Town, Taikō District, Taichū Prefecture, Japanese Taiwan (modern-day Qingshui, Taichung City, Taiwan)
Senior posting
Based in Tzu Chi
Title Master
Religious career
Teacher Yin Shun

(Master) Cheng Yen (Chinese: 證嚴法師; pinyin: Zhèngyán Fǎshī; born 11 May 1937) is a Taiwanese Buddhist nun (bhikkhuni), teacher, and philanthropist.[1][2][3][4][5] In 1966, Cheng Yen founded the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation,[1] ordinarily referred to as Tzu Chi. Cheng Yen's work in humanitarianism later developed, and to the present the Tzu Chi Foundation has become involved in international programs of disaster relief, bone marrow donation, environmental protection, and community volunteering.[6][7] Tzu Chi has grown to include approximately 10 million members worldwide, and chapters in 47 countries.[8][9] The organization is currently the largest Buddhist organization in Taiwan has been awarded a special consultative status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council.[10]

Early life[edit]

Cheng Yen was born "Chin-Yun Wong"[11] (Chinese: 王錦雲; pinyin: Wáng Jǐnyún) in 1937 in Kiyomizu Town, Taikō District, Taichū Prefecture, Japanese Taiwan (modern-day Qingshui, Taichung City, Taiwan).[1] A unique aspect of Cheng Yen was that unlike most of the other leaders of major Taiwanese Buddhist organizations, she was born in Taiwan rather than mainland China.[12] Her uncle was childless, so she was given to be raised by her aunt and uncle. She had first-hand experience of suffering because she was raised in under Japanese rule during World War II.[11] She witnessed the devastating effects of war and even experienced bombings in Taiwan. These experiences were credited as contributing to what she regarded as the truth behind the concept of impermanence. In 1945, when she was eight years old, she looked after her sick brother in a hospital for eight months, and so learned more closely about people's pain and helplessness. At the age of 23, her father died suddenly[1] from brain blood vessel disorder that brought about hemorrhaging and stroke. It was in searching for a burial place for him that Cheng Yen first came into close contact with the Buddhist Dharma ideas, associated doctrines, and related ancient scriptures (sutras). After her father's death, Cheng Yen took over managing her father's theaters and became financially responsible for her family.

Bhikṣuṇī Ordination[edit]

Upon deciding to become a nun, Cheng Yen ran away to a temple, fearing that if she were to ask leave in advance, she might not be permitted to go.[11] After her first attempt at running away, her mother found her three days later and brought her back home.[11] She ran away from home a second time in 1961. She left to travel through eastern Taiwan with a friendly nun by the name of Master Xiūdào (修道法師). Cheng Yen followed a nontraditional route to becoming a nun, traveling for two years with Master Xiūdào. Cheng Yen even shaved her own head before she had been officially ordained a nun. After traveling for two years, Cheng Yen decided that she needed to become an ordained nun in order to continue with her lifestyle. She went to the Lin Chi Temple (zh) to register for ordination. They turned her down because she did not have a master. Typically, to become a nun, one must be the disciple of a master for two years before ordination. Cheng Yen encountered Venerable Master Yin Shun, whom she asked to be her mentor. He accepted her request, an hour before the registration closed. In February 1963, she became the disciple of her mentor, the Venerable Master Yin Shun,[11] who gave her the dharma name of Cheng Yen[11] and the courtesy name of Huìzhāng (慧璋). Yin Shun also gave her the expectation of "doing all for the Buddhist religion and for all beings", which is written with six characters in Chinese. These six characters became the highest ideals for Cheng Yen in belief, teaching, and practice.

In May 1963, shortly after receiving her initiation as a nun, she went to Pu Ming Temple (普明寺) in Hualien County to continue her spiritual formation.[1] As a part of that formation, she recited the Lotus Sutra, which she revered, every day and copied it every month. It was during her six months there that she vowed to commit herself to the Lotus Sutra and the "Path of the Bodhisattvas."

Tzu Chi[edit]

Lotus Sutra[edit]

Master Cheng Yen was heavily influenced by the Lotus Sutra. According to the Master, the Lotus Sutra is the culmination of the Buddha's teachings. Master Cheng Yen's initial exposure to the Lotus Sutra happened when she left her family in Fengyuan, Taichung County, and stayed away from the world by lodging in a small hut in Taitung County, in eastern Taiwan. While in Taitung, she accidentally found a Japanese version of the Lotus Sutra, and was pleased with what the book said. Later, she had a friend bring back a Japanese copy of the Lotus Sutra (Myoho Renge Kyo) from Japan, and was inspired by the Mu Ryo Gi Kyo, or what is better known as the Innumerable Meanings Sutra, which is the precursor to the Lotus Sutra. The Innumerable Meanings Sutra addresses human problems, weather behavior, and psychiatric, psychological, and spiritual issues.[13]

Encounter with Roman Catholic Nuns[edit]

There were two watershed events that inspired Cheng Yen to take the power of Buddhism and use it to help people in the material world. The first is when she had a now-famous discussion with three Roman Catholic nuns at Pu Ming temple in 1966.[1] While the nuns admitted the profundity of Buddhist teachings, they noted that the Catholic Church had helped people around the world by building schools and hospitals.[1] "But what has Buddhism done for society?"[1] Those words made Master Cheng Yen realize that Buddhism had to do more than simply encourage the private cultivation of people's souls.[1]

Miscarriage of Taiwanese Aborigine[edit]

The other watershed event occurred in the same year, while Cheng Yen was visiting a hospital in Fenglin. After seeing blood on the hospital floor, she learned that a Taiwanese aborigine woman had a miscarriage. They were forced to carry the pregnant woman back up the mountain after they could not afford the 8000 New Taiwan dollar deposit.

Founding of Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation[edit]

Influenced by the Lotus Sutra, and the encounters with the Roman Catholic nuns and the Taiwanese aborigine woman, Master Cheng Yen established the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation on 14 May 1966 in an endeavor to help the poor of east Taiwan.[1] The organization started when Cheng Yen encouraged her thirty housewife followers to save fifty cents (US$0.02) from their grocery money every day and store them in bamboo savings banks to help needy families.[11] When posed with the question, "Why can't we give once a week?"[11] Master Cheng Yen replied, "Because giving is a practice and we need to give every day. If we have a yearning or a positive desire in us, we must nourish it and bring it to fulfillment. Just as Buddha was guided by a noble desire to help others, we too can listen to those who are sad or help those who are in pain."[11] In the first year, fifteen families were provided with aid by the thirty followers.

Tzu Chi expanded its work from helping needy families to medical aid in 1970. In 1986 Tzu Chi established its first Hospital in Hualien.[14] Tzu Chi has since built hospitals in Yuli, Hualien County; Dalin, Jiayi County; Guanshan, Taidong County; and Xindian, New Taipei City.[15][16]

Tzu Chi experienced modest growth in the first two decades of its establishment, it grew to 293 members in 1968 and by 1986 had just 8,000 members. However, with the surge in popularity of "Humanistic Buddhism" in Taiwan in the late 1980s and 1990s, Tzu Chi enjoyed a rapid expansion in membership alongside several other major Taiwanese Buddhist organizations. From 1987 to 1991 Tzu Chi membership doubled in size each year, by 1994 it boasted a membership of 4 million members.[12]

Tzu Chi is most well known for its work in disaster relief, Cheng Yen's philosophy includes the notion that not only are those receiving assistance benefiting materially by receiving the aid, but those delivering the aid are also spiritually rewarded when they see the gratitude in the eyes and smiles of the recipients.[17][18] Tzu Chi's first major disaster relief effort was in 1991, when it undertook relief operations after severe floods hit central and eastern China.[19] One of the most iconic attributes of Tzu Chi disaster relief efforts is that volunteers not only provide short term aid but also partake in long term projects to rebuild the communities affected. Tzu Chi often builds new homes, schools, hospitals, and places of worship (including churches and mosques for non-Buddhists) for victims following a disaster.[20] As of 2015, Tzu Chi has provided disaster relief aid to over 85 countries worldwide.[21]

A significant fraction of funds raised by Tzu Chi revolves around environmentally friendly goals in encouraging the recycling of items such as water bottles as well as using reusable items or reusing items to reduce waste. As of 2014, the foundation operates over 5,600 recycling stations.[22]

Tzu Chi has grown to become a significant actor in civil society, with approximately 10 million members worldwide, and chapters in 47 countries.[23][24] Tzu Chi has grown to become not only the largest Buddhist organization in Taiwan,[12] but also Taiwan's largest owner of private land.[25]

Da Ai Television[edit]

Cheng Yen launched Da Ai Satellite Television' (慈濟大愛電視台; Cí jì Dà Ài Diàn Shì Tái) a 24-hours in daily of satellite television station on 1 January 1998.

Da Ai is commercial free and operates twenty-four hours a day. It is funded by donations as well as partially by Tzu Chi's recycling programs.

Da Ai features non-political news, lectures from Cheng Yen and serial programs focused on the virtues, often profiling people who made major changes in their life for the better.[26][27][28]

Daily Schedule[edit]

Cheng Yen makes a broadcast every week-day morning in an address known as "Wisdom at Dawn" and makes another address in the evening. She wakes up around 3:45 am to start her activities, such as receiving visitors, and overseeing Tzu Chi's projects throughout Taiwan. She often makes monthly trips around the country to check in on Tzu Chi's projects and activities.[26][29][30]

Awards and recognition[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Biography of Dharma Master Cheng Yen". Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation. 22 May 2014. 
  2. ^ Mowe, Sam (12 Aug 2010). "Diane Wolkstein on Dharma Master Cheng Yen". Tricycle. Archived from the original on 6 Sep 2010. 
  3. ^ "Founder of Tzu Chi Receives Rotary International Hono". Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  4. ^ Chen, Shu-Ching Jean (2010-04-12). "Sister of Charity". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  5. ^ Staff, TIME (2011-04-04). "The 2011 TIME 100 Poll". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2017-03-11. 
  6. ^ About Tzu Chi
  7. ^ Huang, C. Julia (2009). Charisma and Compassion: Cheng Yen and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Movement. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674031333. 
  8. ^ "Master Cheng Yen and Tzu Chi". The Discovery Channel. Retrieved 15 September 2016. 
  9. ^ "Tzu Chi Missions". Retrieved 15 September 2016. 
  10. ^ O'Neill, Mark (2010), Tzu Chi: Serving With Compassion, John Wiley & Sons
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i Wolkstein, Diane (2010). "THE DESIRE TO RELIEVE ALL SUFFERING". Parabola Magazine. Archived from the original on 23 Sep 2010. 
  12. ^ a b c Schak, David; Hsiao, Hsin-Huang Michael (2005). "Taiwan's Socially Engaged Buddhist Groups". China Perspectives (59). Retrieved 15 September 2016. 
  13. ^ Cheng Yen (证严上人) (2011). 无量义经 (in Chinese). Shanghai: Fudan Univ. p. 277. ISBN 9787309076196. 
  14. ^ Mark., O'Neill, (2010-01-01). Tzu Chi: Serving with Compassion. John Wiley & Sons. p. 26. ISBN 9780470825679. OCLC 940634655. 
  15. ^ Laliberté, André (2013-08-21). The Politics of Buddhist Organizations in Taiwan, 1989-2003: Safeguard the Faith, Build a Pure Land, Help the Poor. Routledge. p. 94. ISBN 9781134353545. 
  16. ^ "About Medicine Mission". Buddhist Tzu Chi General Hospital. Retrieved 28 April 2017. 
  17. ^ Foundation, Tzu Chi. "When East Meets West". Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  18. ^ "Taiwan | A Buddhist Tends to her Flock in Taiwan". Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  19. ^ "Outline of assistance given to Chinese provinces". Archived from the original on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2014-03-27. 
  20. ^ Dharma Master Cheng Yen - Discovery Channel Documentary 證嚴法師 - Discovery 頻道 (中文字幕) 480p, 2014-03-01, retrieved 2017-04-29 
  21. ^ Glaser, Bonnie S.; Vitello, Jacqueline A. (2015-01-21). Taiwan's Marginalized Role in International Security: Paying a Price. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 28. ISBN 9781442240605. 
  22. ^ Jennings, Ralph (17 Nov 2014). "Taiwan Buddhists transform plastic waste". Retrieved 2017-01-15. 
  23. ^ "Master Cheng Yen and Tzu Chi". The Discovery Channel. Retrieved 15 September 2016. 
  24. ^ "Tzu Chi Missions". Retrieved 15 September 2016. 
  25. ^ "Why Tzu Chi is sparking resentment". Central News Agency. 6 March 2016. Retrieved 15 September 2016. 
  26. ^ a b "Life of the "Mother Teresa of Asia" | Olbios". Olbios. 2016-01-26. Retrieved 2017-03-18. 
  27. ^ "大愛電視 DaAi TV". Retrieved 2017-03-19. 
  28. ^ Foundation, Tzu Chi. "Da Ai Television Launches High-Definition Channel". Retrieved 2017-03-19. 
  29. ^ Tzu Chi English (2013-07-22), DISCOVERY Channel: Master Cheng Yen and Tzu Chi, retrieved 2017-03-19 
  30. ^ "Spreading ‘Great Love’ the Tzu Chi way - Nation | The Star Online". Retrieved 2017-03-19. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Love Transcends Borders (大愛無國界). Han Ta Publishing Company. 1999.  Note: This book is bilingual (Chinese/English)
  • Lotus Flower of the Heart: Thirty Years of Tzu Chi Photographs. Shi Cheng Yen. 1997. 
  • Juan I-Jong (2005). Seize the Moment: A Pictorial Journey with Master Cheng Yen. 天下文化 (Tianxia Wenhua).  Note: This book is bilingual (Chinese/English)
  • Still Thoughts (2 Vols.). 
  • Three Ways to the Pure Land. 
  • The Thirty-seven Principles of Enlightenment. 
  • Still Thoughts, Wisdom, and Love. 
  • Twenty Challenges to Enlightenment. 
  • The Sutra of the Bodhisattvas' Eight Realizations. 
  • The Master Tells Stories (2 Vols.). 
  • Cycle of Beauty. 

External links[edit]