Tzu Chi Compassion Relief Foundation

Doctrines The Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Association is a Buddhist organization in modern Taiwan. As such, it holds no doctrinal position over against Chinese Buddhism as a whole. The Association places a special emphasis on charitable giving (one of the traditional Six Perfections of Mahayana Buddhism) as the key to the religious life, and promotes the Confucian conception of individual morality as the foundation of a good society. It has also made some modifications in religious practice in an effort to meet the needs of Buddhist laypeople in contemporary society. In particular, in addition to the Five Lay Precepts (not to kill, steal, engage in sexual immorality, lie, or use intoxicants), which have been part of Buddhist practice since the time of the Buddha, the Association enjoins an additional five precepts: not to smoke, not to chew betel nut, not to gamble, to be filial sons and good husbands and fathers, and to buckle their safety belts when driving a car or wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle. (Jones 1996:390-396)

History In 1966, a young nun named Zhengyan (Cheng-yen) founded the Association following a remarkable series of experiences. She had already lived for several years as a self-ordained nun practising austerities in the mountains of southeastern Taiwan, and had displayed paranormal phenomena prior to seeking formal ordination as a disciple of the eminent monk Yinshun. Immediately prior to founding the Association, she had witnessed the death of a poor woman from a miscarriage in a local clinic when the doctor turned her away for failing to pay the deposit. Shortly thereafter, some Catholic nuns visited her and criticized Buddhism for its lack of social concern.
As a result, she called together a group of laywomen and asked them to put aside a small amount of money each day to provide medical care to the poor. At the same time, she strove for a self-sufficient lifestyle by selling handicrafts so that she would not have to divert any money from donations to her own upkeep. The idea of her organization spread quickly. In its first year, it had thirty members and collected the equivalent of US$720. By 1994, it had 3.5 million members worldwide and collected approximately US$61 million. It has also constructed a modern hospital, a nursing school, and a medical college in the poverty-stricken eastern seaboard of Taiwan, and has plans for a complete university.

Symbols The founder, Ven. Zhengyan, serves as the primary symbol for the Association. Photographs of her adorn every building and every publication, and she inspires believers with her life-story in which, despite poverty, poor health, and being a female in a male-dominated society, she has accomplished great things. Secondarily, the Association takes its white-marble hospital building and the small and simple temple in which Zhengyan resides as symbols of his mission. The women also dress in a blue uniform modelled on traditional Chinese feminine garb.

Adherents As of 1994, the Association had 3.5 million members in Taiwan, Canada, the United States, Malaysia, Singapore, England, and Japan. (Jones 1996:382)

Main Centre
 Still Thoughts Vihara, Te-hsing Road 143-100, Hualien City, Taiwan, Republic of China.