Medical Care for Members of a Buddhist Monastic Community

Northeast  |  March 30, 2024
Tzu Chi International Medical Association’s New York chapter members provide vision checkups for Bliss & Wisdom Foundation’s Buddhist monastics. Photo/Sianhong Lo

Written by Pinhau Chiou
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

The Tzu Chi USA Northeast Region and the Bliss & Wisdom Foundation’s New York chapter teamed up to hold a free clinic on February 25, 2024. Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) staff and volunteers provided dental, ophthalmology, physical therapy, and acupuncture services to the venerable Buddhist Dharma masters of the Bliss & Wisdom Monastic Community. Moreover, it was the first time the Northeast Region’s Dental Mobile Clinic operated in New York as it served the Community.

Many Bliss & Wisdom Monastic Community members live and practice 800 miles from New York in Canada, on Prince Edward Island. As they don’t have access to medical services there, the monastics rarely have physical checkups, which they usually only get when they return to Taiwan, where the Bliss & Wisdom organization was founded.

However, thanks to the joint efforts of volunteers from the Bliss & Wisdom Foundation and Tzu Chi USA Northeast Region, more than 40 Dharma masters from the Bliss & Wisdom Monastic Community had the opportunity to receive professional medical services provided by TIMA members. To benefit from the free clinic, they traveled 17 hours from Canada to the Bliss & Wisdom Foundation’s New York chapter office in Flushing, a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens, to attend the medical outreach event.

Preparation Was the Most Important Step

It was early spring in New York, and the weather was still chilly on February 25. Early that day, at dawn, TIMA doctors and volunteers arrived at the free clinic site to organize medical equipment and set up the consultation area. The team carefully sterilized the equipment following strict procedures and prepared sterilized surgical instruments for use in the treatment area. They carried out all the preparations meticulously and methodically to ensure that every medical service provided could proceed smoothly and, more importantly, to ensure the treatment process was hygienic and safe for the patients.

Meanwhile, Tzu Chi stationed the Northeast Region’s Vision Mobile Clinic and Dental Mobile Clinic vehicles in the Bliss & Wisdom Foundation’s parking lot. The mobile units would serve patients alongside the indoor clinic, improving the medical outreach event’s efficiency and providing a seamless health checkup experience.

The Dharma masters of the Bliss & Wisdom Monastic Community began to gather at the venue shortly after the TIMA team had finished setting up. One after another, they registered, filled out health record forms, and received medical consultations and treatment at the clinic in order of arrival. Although many monastics attended the clinic that day, they all lined up and waited patiently so the flow of activity was smooth and orderly.

Masters lined up to register and fill out medical records.
The monastics line up and wait their turn to register and fill out health record forms. Photo/Rita Lin

Benevolent Doctors Attend to the Monastics With Care

The clinic’s teams in each department treated the monastics individually and with care. In the dentistry area, the dentists meticulously examined each tooth and asked the patients about any concerns, ensuring they didn’t miss any details needing attention. The team cleaned and filled cavities, plus provided oral hygiene instruction, addressing every aspect of the monastics’ dental health.

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The dental team treats each monastic’s teeth with care. Photos/Rita Lin

In the ophthalmology department, the team patiently conducted vision tests, carefully adjusting the position of the examination instruments to ensure accuracy and gently explaining the meaning of each step so that the monastics felt relaxed and respected. Moreover, those who needed prescription eyeglasses for vision correction could receive them on the same day, benefiting from instant eyesight improvement.

TIMA doctors help the Master do his optometry
TIMA doctors conduct vision tests to ascertain optometry needs. Photo/Sianhong Lo
The ophthalmology department examines the monastics’ eye health. Photo/Rita Lin

Having routinely engaged in Dharma practices that demand extended periods of sitting, monastics can often suffer from shoulder, neck, and back problems or pain. To alleviate their chronic discomforts, TIMA doctors used a two-pronged approach of Western physiotherapy combined with acupuncture and acupressure treatments from Traditional Chinese Medicine. 

The monastics marveled at the doctors’ superb skills. After receiving acupuncture and massage treatment, Dharma master Xinmao felt relaxed and relieved of his ailments. He happily said, “I feel good after the visit. I think the medical staff who come to Tzu Chi are very, very attentive. The senior doctor who helped me with acupuncture today said he had retired but came here especially to do this kind of free clinic for the masters; I’m very grateful.”

There are many physical ailments and discomforts. The medical checkups and clinics are very helpful to us all.

First Operation of Tzu Chi USA Northeast Region’s Dental Mobile Clinic

The free medical outreach clinic at the Bliss & Wisdom Foundation’s New York chapter office also marked the inaugural operation of Tzu Chi USA Northeast Region’s Dental Mobile Clinic. With its brand-new equipment, the Mobile Clinic can comfortably accommodate four medical staff members and two patients simultaneously, which is impressive.

TIMA New York dentist Dr. Richard Yang treated the Bliss & Wisdom Monastic Community Dharma masters in the new Mobile Clinic that day. “This is the first time we put our Dental Mobile Clinic into operation in New York! It feels the same as if we were in our dental clinic offices. I even feel it’s a little better because everything is brand new,” he remarked. “The masters were pleased and surprised that our Mobile Clinic looks so good and that it’s so practical,” Yang added.

Overall, the Bliss & Wisdom Monastic Community members marveled at the efficiency and care of TIMA and Tzu Chi volunteers. As for the doctors and volunteers who served them, when they learned that the monastics had traveled 800 miles from Prince Edward Island in Canada to New York, they were grateful for the opportunity to give their time and effort.

A Thank-You Letter From 800 Miles Away

Although their attendance at Tzu Chi USA Northeast Region’s free clinic in New York was brief, the experience left a deep impression on the more than 40 monastics who came. Once they returned to Prince Edward Island and resumed their spiritual practices, they didn’t forget the kindness bestowed upon them and let this be known, as a letter from Canada landed in the hands of Tzu Chi volunteers in New York not long after. 

The Dharma masters of the Bliss & Wisdom Monastic Community include a drawing of a lotus in their thank-you letter, the lotus representing purity and spiritual awakening in Buddhism. Photo/Sianhong Lo

“We’re deeply grateful to the Tzu Chi medical team, ‘May there be medicine for suffering and the source of peace and happiness forever in the world, and may the Dharma be upheld,’” the Dharma masters wrote in their thank-you letter. In their words, they conveyed gratitude for Tzu Chi’s medical services while recognizing its humanistic spirit and Buddhist roots. The monastics also used calligraphy and drawing to capture their warm memories on paper with images, strokes, and phrases. 

art from masters
The Dharma masters of the Bliss & Wisdom Monastic Community include a drawing of a lotus in their thank-you letter, the lotus representing purity and spiritual awakening in Buddhism. Photo/Sianhong Lo

As the Tzu Chi volunteers read the letter, they felt the depth of the Dharma masters’ heartfelt appreciation, reaffirming their efforts’ worth. Each word was a ray of light that illuminated Tzu Chi volunteers’ path of compassion in action and inspired every TIMA member to take a more determined step to extend kindness and care to every corner of the world, painting a beautiful picture of unconditional love on Earth.

As all rivers return to the sea, so do all Dharma lineages and paths originate from the same source. Tzu Chi will continue to work closely with various Buddhist organizations to protect and help the world with compassion.

Your love and care empower all our missions. With your support, join us on the path of compassion in action to relieve suffering and provide medical care to those in need. 

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