Master’s Teaching to US Volunteers

National Headquarters  |  March 30, 2020
Photo by Peter Lin

Teaching by Master Cheng Yen to U.S. Tzu Chi volunteers during the coronavirus crisis on March 23rd, 2020.
Translated by Dharma as Water Dev. Dept, Tzu Chi USA

I am very grateful and also very touched. Now, online, I see that throughout the US, in every place where there are Tzu Chi volunteers, there are Bodhisattvas who have joined us. Although you are very far away from each other in different states, not to mention that you are all very far away from me as well, it is as if you all are in front of
me. As I listen to you report on the things that are going on in your respective areas, I resonate with you all.

However, I don’t know why, but this time my mind keeps wondering what is going to happen. There is this indescribable worry. How long will this pandemic last? I truly cannot tell. We truly cannot predict how long it will last. However, based on what we know now, there are 198 countries and regions with confirmed cases. I could never have imagined that among the little over 200 countries and regions on Earth, at this time, 198 countries and regions could be affected. Who knows if the number will increase by this afternoon?
This is very worrying. This is truly unprecedented. The entire world is worried, terrified.

This is truly an earth-shattering disaster. But has humankind reached a world-changing awakening to the situation we are in?

It seems that sometimes it is very hard to reach people so that they will realize the gravity of this situation. And even if they hear it, will they take it to heart and practice precautionary measures? This is something I often lament. We have a shared understanding, however,
have we taken the lessons to heart? We must leave the past behind us and quickly awaken ourselves so that we can have peace in the future. In this way, we can quickly mitigate this disaster and prevent it from spreading and becoming more serious. We hope that from this point on, the number of cases will start to decrease and people will be able to
return to peace. This is what we should all pray for now. But often, when we pray for peace, we are only praying with our mouths, we are not praying with our hearts. Even though we are scared, a lot of the time, people may not sincerely pray for peace. They only talk about what they hope for, but they are not truly sincere in their prayers. This is truly lamentable.

Earlier, we all heard that everyone has realized how serious this is. Tzu Chi volunteers have realized that they need to listen to the Dharma and be diligent. We absolutely must be diligent. We need to listen to and understand the principles and stockpile them in our minds. We cannot wait until the last moment and then try to “embrace the Buddha’s feet.” And even for those who wait until the last moment, are they even willing to do that? Some are very stubborn. If we think about it, sentient beings are very stubborn!

A few days ago, I spoke about how Tzu Chi volunteers are supposed to follow the precept of not killing. Yet, over the course of more than fifty years, how many of you have adopted a vegetarian diet? [In a survey to Tzu Chi volunteers], everyone was asked if they fall into the category of those who are vegetarian or those who are not vegetarian. If everyone answered honestly, I would guess that the balance between vegetarians and non-vegetarians is very off. Those who are vegetarian are very light on the scale, while those who eat meat are much heavier on the scale. So, it is not in balance. From this point on, I hope that everyone can take the Dharma to heart, for only then can we inspire love in ourselves and others.

From the end of 2018 until now, we have been emphasizing the theme of, “May We Cherish All Life with Gratitude, Respect, and Love.” Whenever I mention this, I always put an emphasis on the “all life” part.

We must love and cherish all beings and all things on Earth.

However, it is truly a pity that people do not understand this and instead only focus on loving human beings. Perhaps in some cases, as Tzu Chi volunteers, we have been focusing on caring for people, but not so much on the lives of the animals. This is all in the past now.

From this point on, we must work together to “create blessings with harmony and reverence.” We must truly work to create harmony and no conflicts with others, and we must also create blessings. In the past, we might not have emphasized caring for all living beings very strongly. Now, we must quickly mobilize to do this. We must really give rise to a sense of repentance and really practice according to the Dharma. Going vegetarian is really not difficult. We can influence our family members to adopt a vegetarian diet together. This can also help promote harmony in our families. If we cannot influence our own family members to go vegetarian yet, then at least we can start with ourselves by following a vegetarian diet. In this way, we are also doing our part. Then we can go on to promote it to others. In all things, we must understand the principles. When we go more deeply into these principles, we find that they are the universal truths, which are the Buddha-Dharma. Only when we understand these truths can we genuinely practice according to the teachings.

Dear Bodhisattvas, if we do not do this for sentient beings in this world, then we should do it for ourselves in this present lifetime and in our future lifetimes. There is no religion which rejects the law of cause and effect. Even in the Christian faith, they also talk about how doing good deeds makes God happy. According to the Buddha-Dharma, by doing good deeds and cultivating ourselves, we can reap what we sow. If we do not cultivate ourselves, then we will reap nothing. Even worse, we may create negative karma for which we must also suffer the consequences. This is why we have been very meticulously sharing the Buddha-Dharma. Moreover, the education we gain from the Buddha-Dharma enables us to thoroughly awaken. We can only reap the results of our own cultivation. As your teacher, I have the responsibility to tell you all that you must engage in spiritual
practice for your own sake. This is like when Stephen Huang said, “We must listen to our teacher.” Only then will we have the same direction.

At this time, there are around 2,000 people who are listening to this live stream from all over the US. I hope that these 2,000 people can all become seeds. One seed can give rise to infinity. There are over 7 billion people in the world. If each of these 2,000 people can each influence 5 more family members, relatives, friends, and so on, wouldn’t we very quickly reach 100 million people? Then, multiplying by only a few more factors, we could reach the entire population on Earth. So, this is really not difficult to accomplish, as long as everyone gives rise to this aspiration.

Modern technology allows for the convenience of video conferencing. Everyone has a cellphone in their hands. This is why I am always saying that we should make use of modern technology. Technology is what enables this Dharma-assembly to take place; it is our communication channel. This is why I often talk about paving the road well and opening up the path widely. All of us can pave the path well and open the great door to the Bodhisattva Way.

There shouldn’t be any difficulties; so long as we form aspirations and make vows, we should be able to accomplish this.

Dear Bodhisattvas, every day, my every thought is with you. Every day when I see the news, I ask the monastics at the Abode to call various locations to see if the volunteers there are safe and sound. No matter where they are, even if they are monastics from other sects, I always express my concern for them. Whoever has a connection with the people there will place a call to see if they are well, and to remind them to continue practicing diligently. To do this, we must rely on a very far reaching network; these connections are intangible. It is just like this virus, which is also intangible.

Likewise, when it comes to modern technology, its applications are also intangible, so we must give it a wholesome purpose; if it is not used for good, it can become a negative force. If we can make good use of this technology, the positive benefits can be great, as great as Mt. Sumeru. This is an analogy often made in the Buddha-Dharma, which means that it is without limit. As long as we are willing to give rise to a thought of kindness, the resulting goodness can be as great as Mt. Sumeru, which is unlimited. But if we do not believe in the Dharma and simply follow the worldly lifestyles of ordinary beings, we will
very easily be swept away by deluded and greedy thoughts.

So, how can we cultivate ourselves so that we always have gratitude and contentment in our hearts? We should all be content with our lives. We should all express our gratitude now, because we are still able to see each other even though we are so far apart. As I look at the screen, I can see so many disciples right in front of my eyes, each in their individual frame, and you can also see me from where you are. It is indeed a blessing that we are able to gather here together in this way. The fact that you are able to listen very carefully to me, that I have this place and this equipment which enable my words to reach you and enter your ears, is something we must truly be grateful for. I hope that you can also take the words I am speaking to heart, but we must not only take the Dharma to heart, we must also put it into practice. At this point, I really cannot keep merely touching on these issues, thinking that I am accommodating the conditions of sentient beings; I cannot do this anymore. I have been worrying about this for a long time, and now I truly must speak up.

So, everyone, we have the causes and conditions to listen to the Dharma together and follow the Bodhisattva-path together.

I give you all the same teachings, so we all practice the same Dharma, which is the Dharma of Tzu Chi. The spirit and ideal of the Buddha’s teachings is the Bodhisattva Way, which we must implement in this era in sentient beings’ time of need. The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings. This is what I always say. At this moment, sentient beings are in need, so this is the time for us all to take action. Earlier, apart from the present pandemic situation, we also heard about how people are engaging in group study online together. Everyone mentioned that they are praying together, which makes me very happy. I feel very comforted and at ease. Please do not stop this practice. It turns out that it is actually very easy to gather everybody’s kind thoughts together. How great is the power we create when we give rise to altruistic intentions together and vow to help others at the same time? Everyone, we must have faith. We can all utilize the virtual “cloud” as our spiritual training ground. Just like how Bodhisattvas gather in the clouds and all Buddhas manifest, we are also gathering in “the cloud” through the internet. So, it is with this connection that we can all gather together in “the cloud.” So, as we Living Bodhisattvas come together, our Dharma-assembly will never disperse.

As we go among sentient beings, every place becomes our spiritual training ground. Every sentient being can be transformed, so we need to do our best to transform them. It is very important to adopt a vegetarian diet and also encourage others to do the same. Earlier, we heard Debbie Chen talk about the numbers. Here, we have these little
cards. I don’t know if you also got one of these cards? On this side, there is a picture of someone opening his mouth wide, and you can see all these animals going into his mouth. So, how many animals are going into that mouth each day? Every day, over 200 million lives are consumed. With all these animals entering our mouths, how many of
them are looking for the people who have killed them or torn their families apart? They too have families. Haven’t we seen orangutans and gorillas who have expressed that human beings’ eating habits are destroying their homes? Even these animals can speak. So, I must remind you of this.

Dear Bodhisattvas, every day, over 210 million lives are lost. Only a moment ago, they were still alive. Then, one second later, they become food for humans. Their physical bodies go into our body, and their spirits disperse and become vengeful ghosts. These vengeful ghosts cannot be seen, but these karmic debtors will come looking for us. The
sutras also talk about how, with everything we do and say, no matter how subtle, we are creating karma.

Everyone should be able to see on the screen right now the picture I was talking about. Can you all see the mouth? Isn’t it a part of our Six Roots, which include our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind? When these lives go into our mouths to satisfy our craving for taste, within a few seconds that sensation disappears. Yet, as a result, we continue to create this cycle of karmic debt between ourselves and the lives we consume. It is due to these attachments that sentient beings become trapped by suffering.

Dear Bodhisattvas, the time has come for us to awaken.

We must realize that this pandemic is now upon us. At this time, can we not realize the situation we are in and repent sincerely? Will we still not humble ourselves and express our gratitude? We all must sincerely express our gratitude to everyone and everything at all times. And in expressing our gratitude, we must also repent. From now on, we must
not create conflicts with people, nor should we create conflicts with animals just for the sake of satisfying our desire for taste. Out of confusion, people continue to think that they must get nutrients by eating animals. We must not have this kind of delusion. We should let animals live their lives while we live our lives, and we should respect all life with harmony and reverence in order to create blessings together.

Dear Bodhisattvas, we must gather the energy of our love. At this time, we can do this by promoting a vegetarian diet, and of course, we must also become vegetarian ourselves. There is truly a lot to talk about, but just hearing that everyone shares my aspiration and that everyone is encouraging one another helps me to feel a bit more at ease. With this,
I ask everyone that rather than striving to give me peace of mind, you should strive to give each other peace of mind. We need to inspire each other. If you can inspire one more person, then that brings us more peace of mind. When one more person is doing good, then we will be safer.

We are truly running out of time, so we must take action right now.

Thank you, dear Bodhisattvas. Time passes by really quickly. So everyone, let us seize the time and encourage each other. Let us pray together and encourage everyone to pray reverently together, uphold the precepts, and adopt a vegetarian diet. This is the only method we can use to create a wondrous medicine for our times. We also hope that the researchers can quickly develop a way to treat this disease. This is what we need to really put collective effort into right now. I send my gratitude and blessings to everyone to gather the power of love and encourage each other. I wish for you all to be safe. Everyone,
please care for your fellow Dharma-relatives and encourage one another. Continue to use your cellphones to pass on my reminders and well-wishes to everyone and spread good words. This is something we can all do. I wish you peace and blessings every day. I hope you will be diligent every step of the way on the Bodhisattva-path. This will bring infinite merits. I hope for everyone to stay safe and sound, and I am very grateful to you all!

Teaching by Master Cheng Yen to U.S. Tzu Chi volunteers during the coronavirus crisis on March 23rd, 2020.

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