Tzu Chi

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Tzu Chi Foundation
Tzu Chi's lotus Logo.
Monastery information
Full name Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, Taiwan
Order Mahayana
Established 14 May 1966
Founder(s) Cheng Yen
Abbot Cheng Yen
Location Hualien, Taiwan
Tzu Chi
Traditional Chinese 財團法人中華民國佛教慈濟慈善事業基金會
Simplified Chinese 财团法人中华民国佛教慈济慈善事业基金会
Short name
Traditional Chinese 慈濟基金會
Simplified Chinese 济慈基金会

Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, Republic of China, known for short as the Tzu Chi Foundation (Chinese: 慈濟基金會; literally "Compassionate Relief"), is a Taiwanese international humanitarian and non-governmental organization (NGO) with over 10 million members worldwide throughout 47 countries. It is operated by a worldwide network of volunteers and employees and has been awarded a special consultative status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council.[1]

The Tzu Chi Foundation was founded by Master Cheng Yen, a Taiwanese Buddhist nun, or bhikkhuni, in 1966 as a Buddhist humanitarian organization. The foundation has several sub-organizations such as the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) and also the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association (Tzu Ching) (慈濟大專青年聯誼會 (慈青)), Tzu Chi volunteers and relief workers are mostly recognizable worldwide by their blue and white uniforms called, in Chinese: 藍天白雲, lántiān báiyún, ( lit. 'blue sky, white clouds'). The foundation's work includes medical aid, disaster relief, and environmental work such as recycling.

While Tzu Chi has a policy of being secular in its humanitarian work, Dharma teachings are often integrated into its practices for volunteers. Cheng Yen is considered to be one of the "Four Heavenly Kings" of Taiwanese Buddhism, and Tzu Chi itself is considered to be one of the "Four Great Mountains", or four major Buddhist organizations of Taiwanese Buddhism along with Fo Guang Shan, Dharma Drum Mountain, and Chung Tai Shan.[2][3][4]


The Tzu Chi Foundation was founded as a charity organization with Buddhist origins by the Buddhist nun Master Cheng Yen on 14 May 1966 in Hualien, Taiwan. She was inspired by her master and mentor, the late Venerable Master Yin Shun (印順導師, Yìn Shùn dǎoshī) a proponent of Humanistic Buddhism, who exhorted her to "work for Buddhism and for all sentient beings". The organization began with a motto of "instructing the rich and saving the poor" as a group of thirty housewives who saved fifty cents (US$0.02) every day and stored them in bamboo savings banks to donate to needy families.[5][6]

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.[7] Tzu Chi has grown to become a significant actor in civil society, Tzu Chi is not only the largest Buddhist organization in Taiwan,[8] but also Taiwan's largest owner of private land.[9] As of 2013, the organization was estimated to have approximately 10 million members worldwide, and chapters in 47 countries.[10][11]

The four major causes of Tzu Chi are Charity, Medicine, Education, and Humanity, as highlighted by the official motto, or concept of "Four endeavors, eight footprints" (Chinese: 四大志業,八大腳印). The eight footprints are charity causes, medical contributions, education development, humanities, international disaster assistance, bone-marrow donation, community volunteerism, and environmental protection.

The official website for the organization states that the organization started with Charity, and then extended its aims to include Medicine, Education and Culture. Its stated goal is to promote "sincerity, integrity, trust, and honesty".[12]

Tzu Chi is notably distinct from the other "Four Great Mountains" and the other major Buddhist organizations of Taiwan in respect to three main unique characteristics. First of all, the founder of the organization is a female. Secondly, the founder is not a Buddhist scholar who promotes a specific interpretation of Buddhism nor started any kind of religious movement. And finally, the organization is officially a charitable organization and Tzu Chi itself focuses primarily on humanitarianism and community service rather than Buddhist spiritual development.[13]



Consisting of a ship that also simultaneously bears the lotus fruit and flower, the Tzu Chi logo symbolizes that the world can be made a better place by planting good karmic seeds. Followers believe that these seeds are required for flowers bloom and bear fruit, which is a metaphor for their beliefs that a better society can be created with good actions and pure thoughts. The ship represents Tzu Chi steering a ship of compassion, representing their goal in saving all beings that suffer, while the Eight Petals represent the Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism, which Tzu Chi uses as their guide.[14]

The Noble Eightfold Path consists of:

  1. Right View
  2. Right Thought
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Focus

Tzu Chi's Ten Precepts[edit]

Tzu Chi also has its own customized version of the Buddhist Precepts as formulated by Master Cheng-Yen. The Ten Precepts of Tzu Chi are:

  1. Tzu Chi Foundation's depiction of the Buddha on a wall mural. The image is known as "The Great Awakened of the Universe (宇宙大覺著)".
    No killing
  2. No stealing
  3. No fornication
  4. No lying
  5. No drinking
  6. No smoking or use of narcotics or betel nuts
  7. No gambling
  8. Practice filial piety and develop pleasant manners and speech
  9. Abide by traffic laws
  10. No participation in political activities or demonstrations

Master Cheng-Yen has stated that she developed these rules based on the new needs of modern society.[15]

The Great Awakened of the Universe[edit]

The Great Awakened of the Universe (宇宙大覺著) is the Tzu Chi Foundation's depiction of the Buddha. In the statue, the Buddha is depicted as a monk, with his palm placed over a globe, letting the world witness his enlightenment. The image has been subject to controversy in Taiwan, the primary criticism being that the image looks more like Cheng Yen rather than a traditional depiction of Gautama Buddha.[citation needed]

Medical Mission[edit]

One of the first major initiatives Tzu Chi took part in was the "Tzu Chi Medical Mission". This effort was inspired in 1970 after Cheng Yen noticed a link between poverty and illness after spending six years among the poor of eastern Taiwan.

Tzu Chi's first medical outreach occurred in 1972 when a free clinic was opened in Hualien.[16]

Tzu Chi Hospital[edit]

Tzu Chi General Hospital in Hualien in 2011

The Foundation established its first Tzu Chi Hospital in Hualien in 1986. A 600-bed general hospital had been planned in 1979 to service the impoverished eastern coast of Taiwan. A primary concern for Cheng Yen was that the area was isolated and the people in the area were cut off from aid during disasters.[17] Despite setbacks both in funding for the hospital and finding an acceptable site. Ground was broken on the site eventually chosen on 5 February 1983 at a ceremony officiated by then Provincial Governor (later President) Lee Teng-Hui. However, two weeks after ground was broken, Cheng Yen received a notice from the military telling her that the property was needed by the military and that construction would have to stop.[18][19]

A new site was obtained for the hospital with help from Minister of the Interior Lin Yang-kang.[20] A second groundbreaking occurred on 2 April 1984 at the new site.[21] The publicity of the project to build the hospital led to a significant increase in the number of Tzu Chi volunteers, with Tzu Chi membership increasing six-fold by the time of the second groundbreaking since the announcement of the project in 1979.[20] Construction was completed and the hospital opened on 17 August 1986.[18]

Tzu Chi has since built hospitals in Yuli, Hualien County; Dalin, Jiayi County; Guanshan, Taidong County; Tanzi District, Taichung City; and Xindian, New Taipei City.[22][23]

In addition to building hospitals the Tzu Chi College of Nursing was founded on 17 September 1989 in Hualien in order to address the shortage of nurses on Taiwan's east coast, with a focus on serving the poor.[24][25] It was the first private nursing college in Taiwan to waive tuition for selected courses, in addition to providing full scholarships for qualified Taiwan aborigine students.[citation needed]

Bone Marrow registry[edit]

Tzu Chi created a bone marrow registry, the Tzu Chi Bone Marrow Bank, in 1993 after a young follower of Cheng Yen was diagnosed with Leukemia.[26][27] Cheng Yen referred to the concept of bone marrow donation as a way to "save a life without harming yourself."[28] This effort to register bone marrow donors from an organization with such massive membership like Tzu Chi caused Taiwan to change its laws regarding organ donations.[29][note 1] This registry became a division of the new Tzu Chi Stem Cells Center, which was founded to improve research and treatment capabilities.[30][31] By 2007 the program had saved the lives of almost 1,500 people in 25 different countries.[31] By 2008, Tzu Chi had registered more than 307,657 bone marrow donors.[32]

College of Medicine[edit]

Tzu Chi established the Tzu Chi College of Medicine in 1994. This college became Tzu Chi University in 2000. In the meantime Cheng-Yen appealed to the Taiwanese public to donate their bodies for medical training, attempting to dispel traditional taboos in the process. As a result of this appeal, public support for body donations surged nationwide. Consequently, at the Tzu Chi College of Medicine, there is one body for every four students to study as opposed to one body for every two hundred students at one school, the ratio is the lowest in the country.

In 1995, the Athletic Drug Testing Center was established at the request of the Ministry of Education and went into operation in 1996 during a national sporting event when gold medal winners were tested for banned drugs.[citation needed]

Disaster relief[edit]

Tzu Chi is most well known for its disaster relief efforts worldwide. In carrying out these projects, Tzu Chi has a policy that forbids public gatherings for the sole purpose of specific political, economic, and religious groups.[33] Tzu Chi volunteers are not to discuss business, politics, or preach religion while giving aid.[34] 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.[35]

People's Republic of China[edit]

Tzu Chi's involvement with providing aid in the People's Republic of China was difficult at first. Cheng Yen has referred to relief work in China as "Building a Bridge of Love." The initial problems with providing aid in China involved the political tensions between Taiwan and China and Communist China's disdain for religion. In Taiwan, it was difficult to convince Taiwanese to help the Chinese, and in China, it was difficult to convince government officials normally wary of religious organizations to accept Tzu Chi.

Tzu Chi's involvement in the People's Republic of China began in 1991, when it undertook relief operations after severe floods hit central and eastern China. The aid provided to China was Tzu Chi's first major effort at international relief aid, it also allowed Tzu Chi to develop its principles of delivering aid and establish relations with the People's Republic of China. Since then, the foundation has built schools, nursing homes and entire villages, including infrastructure in poor inland areas, such as Guizhou province.[36]

Over the past twenty years, Tzu Chi expanded their humanitarian work and influence to 28 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions in China. Projects include relief work after major disasters like the Sichuan earthquake; distribution of rice and goods to the poor; social programs like regular visits to the needy; scholarship programs to the less privileged students; medical missions like bone marrow donation and free clinics; and educational outings of environmental protection and recycling activities.[37]

In March 2008, Tzu Chi became the first organization represented by a non-Mainland resident to be registered with the Chinese government.[38]

In the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Tzu Chi sent food, blankets and medical aid to survivors, while volunteers in China set out for the disaster zone.[39] Tzu Chi was also one of the few organizations the Chinese government allowed to bring in aid workers from overseas to join the relief effort.[40][41] With the motto "First to arrive, last to leave," the organization has continued with long-term reconstruction work in Sichuan, and by 2010, had rebuilt thirteen schools in the region.[42]

In August 2010, Tzu Chi became the first overseas NGO to receive permission from the Ministry of Civil Affairs to set up a nationwide charity foundation. Normally, overseas organizations must register with the Ministry of Commerce as businesses.[43] The foundation received the China Charity Award from the Ministry of Civil Affairs for its work in charity and promoting the well-being of society in 2006 and again in 2008.

Aid in Taiwan[edit]

In 1996, Tzu Chi started a nationwide volunteer program where volunteers are registered according to where they live with the goal of "neighbors helping neighbors." The community volunteer initiative began as a disaster relief effort started in response to Typhoon Herb.[44][45][46]

Tzu Chi volunteers were one of the first responders in the Jiji earthquake (known in Taiwan as the 921 earthquake) of 1999, mobilizing within 2 hours to provide thousands of sets of food and relief supplies to victims. The volunteers followed a strict system of organization where commissioners and teams of volunteers were assigned to specific townships, and teams were assigned to specific areas within the townships. This organizational structure was what allowed the volunteers to be mobilized so quickly and efficiently.[47] The earthquake prompted Cheng Yen to start "Project Hope", a long term project to rebuild 51 schools for those effected by the disaster.[48][49] Tzu Chi raised more relief funds for the earthquake than any other religious organization in Taiwan, raising nearly sixty times as much funds for the relief effort than the next largest fund raiser, Fo Guang Shan.[50] The 921 earthquake was credited for prompting Tzu Chi to create a disaster relief coordination center at its headquarters to organize quicker disaster response services.[51]

Tzu Chi was also active in providing aid after Typhoon Nepartak struck Taiwan in 2016, providing relief supplies, rebuilding communities, and providing medical care through its medical support staff in Taimali, Taiwan which have been holding medical outreach free clinics in the area since 2006.[52][53]

International Disaster Relief[edit]

Tzu Chi has participated in numerous other relief projects around the world, including sending teams to Indonesia and Sri Lanka in the wake of the tsunami resulting from the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake as well as to Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake in their northern mountains. The later was done despite poor relations between the governments of the two countries.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the organization announced on 18 November 2012 a donation of $10 million in the form of $300 and $600 Visa debit cards to those affected in the New York and New Jersey area.[54] Volunteers handed out these cards in parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Tzu Chi was also active in providing aid following the 2015 Nepal Earthquake. Tzu Chi was also active in relief efforts during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the group provided aid, as well as cash gifts for those who helped the community during the disaster.[55][56][57] In 2016, the organization distributed in the United States over $2 million in cash cards to disaster victims.[58] As of 2015, Tzu Chi has provided disaster relief aid to over 85 countries worldwide.[59]

Global presence[edit]

Tzu Chi's headquarters is in Hualien County, Taiwan.


Tzu Chi's portfolios include case management, medical, educational and disaster relief.[60]

The organization builds and operates many hospitals and schools, with outreach efforts that range from visits to nursing homes to providing bone marrow surgery, as well as offering items such as washing machines to struggling single mothers. The television "Da Ai" network operates with its own news and television programming. Chinese schools have also been established abroad, such as in Australia and the United States, which apart from teaching Chinese and sign language also guides students in ways of compassion and community service.


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.[61] One of the foundation's projects is the recycling of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles for the production of textiles. The project, which was started in 2006, collects PET plastic bottles and recycles them into cloth.[62] The project is handled by the Tzu Chi sponsored non-profit Da Ai Technology Co. The products are all designed by members of the paid staff and recycled plastic bottles make up about half of the raw materials for the products. The project collects about 2,000 tons of plastic bottles each year.[61]

Since 2007, the foundation has produced over 460,000 polyester blankets out of recycled plastic bottles, many of which have been distributed as part of Tzu Chi's disaster relief programs throughout the world. Other items made with the recycled resins include thermal underwear, T-shirts, hospital bed sheets, medical gowns, suitcases, stuffed animals and uniforms for Tzu Chi volunteers. While the project relies on recycled plastic bottles for the production of its products, its leaders have stated that it is still best for people to not use plastic bottles at all.[63][64][61]


The teachings of the Buddha and founder Master Cheng Yen play a core role in the workings of the organization. "Tzu Chi Day" is celebrated every year on the second Sunday of May which generally coincides with the Buddha's birthday (Vesak Day), and Mother's Day (as recognised in Taiwan). Celebrations during Tzu Chi Day include the bathing of the Buddha ceremony, the tradition's message is that it is the people that need cleansing before they become better individuals. Tzu Chi promotes many of the teachings of Buddhism, in particular the Lotus Sutra, and also has sutra adaptations through the use of sign language on the Sutra of the Innumerable Meanings, which teaches that sentient existence is challenging and filled with disasters in the absence of observations of virtue, as well as the Sutra of the Water Repentance, which advocates and symbolizes the need to repent karmic transgressions. Despite these activities, Tzu Chi has a policy of not proselytizing religion directly at its public activities.[65][66] Apart from being non-proselytist, Tzu Chi's adaptation of Buddhist principles is apolitical.

In disaster regions where a particular religious faith is prominent, Tzu Chi regularly works together with local religious organizations. Tzu Chi has re-built mosques and churches in disaster zones where faith plays an important role in local society.[67]

Tzu Chi nuns (bhikkhunis) do not rely on donations for their livelihood, something uncommon among most Buddhist orders. In earlier days, the nuns sustained themselves by farming, weaving and other handicrafts. More recently, they sustained themselves by the manufacture of electrical circuit breakers and other products.

International branches[edit]

Tzu Chi has branches in 47 countries and regions including USA, Canada, Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore,[68] and various locations in Asia, Europe and Africa.[69]

Television and Satellite Network[edit]

On 17 August 1999, a television network was formed in Taiwan under the Tzu Chi Foundation of the Culture of Communication, Inc with the slogan "Love to make the world light up". Formally known as Da Ai Television,[70] the network grew into a global broadcasting presence with offerings of a radio service,[71] Tzu Chi Channel 1, Tzu Chi Channel 2, Da Ai TV Indonesia, Da Ai TV Thailand, and Da Ai TV Egypt. Live streaming of Channel 1 and 2 can also be found on YouTube.[72]

Jing Si Books & Café[edit]

Jing Si Books & Café is a chain of non-profit bookstores and cafes operated by Tzu Chi offering Tzu Chi merchandise and publications by Cheng Yen.[73]


The Tzu Chi Collegiate Association (慈濟大專青年聯誼會) is the Foundation's college youth organization,[74] and was officially established in Taiwan on 31 May 1992. With chapters at universities worldwide, its goal is to allow university students (known as Tzu Ching or 慈青, literally "compassionate youth") to be involved with Tzu Chi's activities.[75][76] Tzu Ching volunteers are given the opportunity to participate in large-scale events such as disaster relief and international NGO conferences such as the annual UN Youth Assembly. Master Cheng Yen encourages the Tzu Ching volunteers to actively communicate with each other, with the goals of learning and improving. Each year an international Tzu Ching officer training retreat camp is held at the foundation headquarters in Hualien.

Tzu Shao (慈少) is the Tzu Chi branch for youths under the age of 18.

Year End Ceremonies[edit]

Each year Tzu Chi conducts a Year End Ceremony attended by Tzu Chi workers, volunteers and members in December where Master Cheng Yen distributes blessings in the form of red packets that embosses a coin in Taiwanese currency[note 2] together with auspicious words for the coming year.[77]


  1. ^ Prior to 1993 Taiwanese law only allowed organ transplants between relatives
  2. ^ The coin symbolizes the fifty cents the thirty housewives saved at the founding of Tzu Chi


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]