Teachings by Dharma Master Cheng Yen
Translated by Dharma as Water Development Department, Tzu Chi USA
Time passes by so quickly. It seems as though we were just talking about the Lunar New Year and sharing New Year’s greetings, and now it is already the beginning of the second lunar month—another month has passed. Life is most comfortable when our days are predictable and we are not faced with much change. Spending each day in peace and simplicity is a cause for happiness. However, this kind of life is not easy to attain.
With the advancement of technology, when there are disasters in the world, we will quickly learn about them. This leaves us feeling heartbroken. Consider the deadly earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria. So many buildings collapsed. Those who were inside had no time to call for help, and their chances of survival were slim. As for those who were outside, by the time they heard the noise and turned around to look, entire buildings had already collapsed.
The friction between tectonic plates can tear open a fissure in the ground several meters wide. For humans, it is no easy feat to dig a stream or river, but nature has such power that a large piece of land can be torn apart instantly, as though it were just a piece of paper, causing immediate suffering of great magnitude.
When disaster strikes, in a fleeting moment, impermanence and suffering arise. We saw a mother trying desperately to free her daughter from under the rubble. Her daughter was still conscious, but the mother could not free her and could only cry out in anguish. There was also a pregnant woman who was in labor, with her child halfway out of her womb. She was screaming in pain when her house collapsed. Many tragedies like these happened at the same time, in an instant. It is truly difficult to describe in words.
Search and rescue teams from many countries were mobilized; because of the distance they had to fly, they were racing against time. Even with a speedy entry through customs, the process still takes time. Teams from Taiwan had to travel more than ten hours to reach Turkey, but once there, they were able to rescue four earthquake survivors. Their efforts were truly valuable.
In times of disaster, many people must come together, give of themselves, and provide support. I remember in 2018, in response to a series of earthquakes in Hualien, Tzu Chi’s medical teams and volunteers were quickly mobilized. Tzu Chi volunteers from all over worked mindfully, practicing loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, giving of their love through the Four Missions simultaneously. There were also many other teams of different religious backgrounds that came together to serve in the frontlines of rescue work or to provide support in the back.
For survivors of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, we hope to provide more than immediate disaster relief; we hope to also provide short- and mid-term assistance to help the survivors as they try to return to normal lives. In the face of such a major disaster, we need great strength to give immediately and with confidence. This requires bits and pieces of effort that have accumulated over time. That is why we say that we need “faith, vows, and action.”
The Buddha teaches us to practice loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. In the face of impermanence, suffering, and emptiness, we need to practice the Bodhisattva Path in this world. Just as the search and rescue teams need constant training so they are prepared to save lives during disasters, we need to cultivate love, faith, and strength over a long period of time. We must spread love throughout the world, and we must also continuously accumulate resources.
Every day, I worry about the disasters in this world. I also worry about the poverty in this world and the disharmony in people’s hearts. There is always a sense of heaviness in my mind as I wonder what methods we can use to bring peace to the world. As everything arises out of sentient beings’ collective karma, we must collectively create blessings together! We must gather good karma to benefit the world; we must not do things that will lead to disaster.
A household that practices good deeds will certainly accumulate more than enough blessings to benefit future generations. When everyone creates blessings together, their blessed energy will be like a protective shield of blessings. Just as people cover their cooked food with mesh to protect it from flies or mosquitos, blessings act as a shield that protects us from disasters.
Natural disasters are inevitable, but what is more dangerous is when people’s minds are out of balance. When we let a single thought or impulsive act lead to conflict—whether that act is born out of happiness, anger, sadness, or joy—this results in sorrow and suffering in the world. When everyone practices right mindfulness and right actions, not only do we protect ourselves, we also generate an abundance of blessings. In this way, we can mitigate further disasters in this world.
Compiled from Master Cheng Yen’s teachings at the morning volunteer assemblies on February 7 and February 20, 2023.