Written by Ichin Hsieh, Jennifer Tsai
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
“Grandpa Feng, I’ll help you set up the online connection to Master’s daily teaching,” a volunteer from Tzu Chi USA’s Oakland Service Center said to the senior gentlemen they had come to visit. They then explained, “All you need to do is enter these words to connect to the group. Now, you can watch Master’s teaching every day at the same time as Tzu Chi volunteers in Taiwan. What do you think?”
“I’m so happy!” 92-year-old Tzu Chi volunteer Chungyu Feng, affectionately called “Grandpa Feng,” exclaimed, “This way, I can see Master Cheng Yen every day!”
A Cherished Introduction
Chungyu Feng is the eldest Tzu Chi volunteer in all of Northern California, and his connection with Tzu Chi and Master Cheng Yen extends back decades. It began when he was young and living in Taipei, Taiwan, and met Meichu Chen, one of the pioneers in Tzu Chi’s history, as only the 43rd person to become a certified volunteer with the foundation.
Meichu, whom Tzu Chi volunteers affectionately referred to as “Big Sister,” introduced Chungyu to Tzu Chi and was the one who inspired him to become a volunteer. Once he did, his path of dedicated service did not falter through the years until today, when he is a beloved elder among Tzu Chi’s family of volunteers.
When once asked to share his story, he presented it in brief, pointing the light directly onto his faith in Buddhism and Master Cheng Yen’s teachings. In particular, he called attention to the wisdom in Master’s Jing Si Aphorisms, which he treasures as a guidance and support system throughout his life:
Dedicated to Education
Chungyu Feng believes in the value of education and Tzu Chi’s activities in that area, and that is where he concentrated his years of service. He volunteered at the Tzu Chi Academy in San Mateo, then Tzu Chi Academy in San Francisco, serving as a dedicated bell ringer, announcing the recess period during Sunday school. He assumed this role at the academies for 16 years, ringing the class bell vigorously and precisely on time each Sunday.
Concurrently, Chungyu participates during each Spring cleaning, helps tidy up the campus from time to time, and cooks snacks for the teachers and students. In recent years, as students have come to the U.S. from Taiwan through Tzu Chi’s study abroad program, which includes a visit to the University of California in Berkeley, he also contributes in his unique way.
Chungyu will send volunteers to get authentic American food, which he pays for, so the Taiwanese students can discover a cuisine unknown back home. When asked about his generous initiative, he’ll just grin and say, “Y’all take care of the great mission, and I’ll take care of the ordinary things!”
For Chungyu to do some of the things that he calls “ordinary” sometimes takes an effort many would deem extraordinary, especially with advancing age. Volunteer Rihua Jiang, who was once the principal of Tzu Chi Academy in San Francisco, recalls this warmly, and with great respect for his diligence:
Going further back to when he was volunteering in San Mateo, volunteer Meiling Cheng, who once served as the principal of the Tzu Chi Academy in that city, also shared a story:
Teaching the practice of, and learning to recognize, the merit and virtue in the kind and selfless – yet seemingly “ordinary ” – deeds and work that Chungyu doesn’t care to talk about is, in fact, an essential part of Tzu Chi’s educational mission. And, his aspirations and approach have faithfully aligned with Master Cheng Yen’s guidance to volunteers, as evident in Jing Si Aphorisms such as this: “Use the wisdom of a Bodhisattva to educate our children; use the love of motherhood to love our students.”
Role Model and Source of Inspiration
During his time serving as a Tzu Chi volunteer in Northern California, Chungyu Feng suffered two strokes. The first occurred while he was in the middle of visiting the residents of a nursing home alongside other Tzu Chi volunteers. Unexpectedly, he suddenly felt very ill. The other volunteers reacted swiftly and took him to the hospital, where doctors determined it was a stroke. For someone else, this may have been a setback, steering them away from the path of service. Not Chungyu, because upon recovery, he immediately returned to volunteering.
The second time Chungyu’s health took a blow, he fainted while at home and alone. And yet, it wasn’t long before several Tzu Chi Oakland volunteers conferred that they had not been able to get in contact with the elder and felt something might be wrong. They hurried to his home and found that, indeed, he had suffered another stroke. Fortunately, thanks to their timely response, he made it to the emergency room in time again.
Would Chungyu’s second alarming health scare deter his steadfast efforts to benefit others? Hardly. Once again, after recovery, he insisted on returning to the Oakland Service Center as a volunteer.
Tzu Chi volunteer Jennifer Tsai reveals that Chungyu is a role model for all the volunteers, inspiring them with his thoughtfulness as well:
And from where does Chungyu Feng draw his inspiration? Whose example does he follow? Given that he’s been listening to Master Cheng Yen’s Wisdom at Dawn – Teachings on the Lotus Sutra every day since 2014 and studiously taking notes, it’s clear. Currently, in his study, he has accumulated more than 26 handwritten notebooks.
At the beginning of December 2019, several of Master’s Cheng Yen’s resident nuns from the Jing Si Abode in Hualien, Taiwan, traveled to the United States and came to visit all the volunteers at Tzu Chi USA’s Oakland Service Center. On that day, Chungyu was suffering due to painful foot issues and would have ordinarily rested at home. However, he insisted on coming to the service center to greet the Buddhist masters.
Using a cane, he arrived in time to meet them, putting aside the discomfort from his physical ailments to participate in the seminar that the nuns had specially prepared to convey Master Cheng Yen’s blessings. Such is his devotion to Buddhism and Master Cheng Yen: Nothing will stand in his way. And in a similar way, nothing – not even a pandemic – will interfere with Tzu Chi Oakland volunteers’ wish to honor this beloved senior volunteer’s birthday.
An Online Birthday Bash
In August of 2020, Chungyu Feng was about to celebrate his 92nd birthday. The Oakland volunteers happily organized an online birthday celebration for him in advance of the special day, near the end of July. It took place during the monthly volunteer meeting they hold, a virtual gathering that Chungyu regularly attends.
It was a heartwarming occasion for all, and even more so since the elder didn’t expect the birthday bash and was truly surprised and deeply moved, expressing his feelings thus:
And, in turn, each Tzu Chi volunteer who has had the opportunity to meet Chungyu Feng, learn his ways, and be inspired by his wisdom and diligence along the Buddhist path, is grateful.
Tzu Chi’s USA’s missions are made possible by volunteers such as Chungyu Feng, who serve with devotion and determination. Your support will only bolster their steadfast efforts to benefit all in need.