Celebrating Lunar New Year is a Tzu Chi tradition. Thus, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s chapters and offices in the United States and around the world hold annual Lunar New Year Blessing ceremonies. On that occasion, guests will receive a Red Envelope, or Hongbao, literally “red envelope or packet” in Mandarin Chinese.
Offering a Red Envelope at New Year or important festivals and special celebrations is common in Chinese and other East and Southeast Asian cultures. The red color symbolizes good luck and prosperity, and the packet contains a monetary gift, given as a gesture extending good wishes. Yet within the world of Tzu Chi, the practice carries a deeper and more spiritual meaning.
Tzu Chi’s Red Envelope is a personal gift from the organization’s founder, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, representing her blessings to everyone. The tradition began in 1990 and is interwoven with the publication of Master Cheng Yen’s teachings, as royalties from those books fund the gifts.
The first publication, a compilation of Jing Si Aphorisms, came about for special reasons related to the Grand Opening of Tzu Chi’s nursing college in Hualien, Taiwan, where Master Cheng Yen offered the book as a welcome present to the more than 20,000 people who attended the celebration. [Master Cheng Yen shares the full story in this video.]
Following the event, a publishing house printed the book for mass distribution, and when Master Cheng Yen received the first royalty payment, she was taken aback by the amount:
Since then, Tzu Chi’s Hongbao packets and the custom-made coins they contain have a unique design and carry a different message for that year. “If you keep the Hangbaos from every year, the collection can become a family heirloom that bears witness to your affinity with Tzu Chi. So, I hope everyone will cherish it,” Master Cheng Yen has said.
Moreover, while the coins embody some monetary value, Master Cheng Yen views them more as “yeast,” considering the money to be an agent that she hopes will expand Tzu Chi volunteers’ wealth, allowing them to do more good deeds. And, they are firmly rooted in Tzu Chi’s spirit of continual giving and Master Cheng Yen’s commitment to always work for Buddhism and all living beings:
We welcome you to a Lunar New Year celebration at a Tzu Chi regional office in your area, where you can receive this special gift from Master Cheng Yen to inspire you towards good deeds and the cultivation of wisdom in the year to come and beyond.