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Tzu Chi at the Lincoln Center: Our Volunteers Bring Love to the Stage

National Headquarters  |  October 18, 2016

The full moon is a sacred time in Buddhism, as Buddha was born, became enlightened, and died on a full moon day, so it was auspicious that Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s 50th Anniversary celebration on October 16th, 2016, would coincide with a full moon at its closest point to our planet as it orbits the Earth.

The venue for Tzu Chi’s “Thousands of Helping Hands” charity concert – the celebrated Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan, New York – was equally special, and the first time Tzu Chi volunteers would introduce the foundation and its missions on this scale and on such a world-famous stage.

As the audience assembled for this nearly sold-out event featuring the remarkable China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe – appearing in New York after a 6-year absence –  one could feel positive energy fill the Lincoln’s David Geffen Concert Hall. Everyone’s presence here was an act of goodwill, since they had come to this charity concert to support Tzu Chi’s humanitarian aid around the globe.

The concert began with a brief introduction to Tzu Chi by the Masters of Ceremony for the evening, Tien Ming Huang, a TV host with his own show on Tzu Chi’s DaAi TV, and Pinky Lin, a Tzu Chi volunteer from Taiwan. They highlighted that we were commemorating a half-century of service by Tzu Chi volunteers who cultivate compassion in themselves, while relieving the suffering of others.

The first performance was by Tzu Chi volunteers who took to the stage in their signature blue and white uniforms for a ceremonial welcome named “Bell and Drum”. Both instruments are universally used in Buddhist ritual as a means to invoke blessings and bring peace and calm to the mind.  As the first bell rang out, its sound resonated across space and time, touching us through its palpable vibration.

Then drums joined the field of sound, and volunteers mimed their beat with measured and stylized gestures, performed in unison like drops of water in the rain. As they continued their synchronized choreography, often drawing their palms together in prayer, we listened to the “Ode to the Jing Si Dharma Lineage”, whose lyrics reveal the Tzu Chi path, one of diligent spiritual practice and active benevolence.

The next performance, “From Vow to Action”, revealed that no matter how sincere our practice or noble the goal, life is an unpredictable journey beset with inescapable peril. As an illustration of this, Tzu Chi volunteers collectively formed a ship with their bodies, and struggled against the wind as they rowed across a mighty turbulent sea – projected on a screen behind them. The words of the accompanying song underscored the danger and hardship on this treacherous path we’ve been trapped on “for countless eons.”

The image on stage called to mind the heartbreaking pictures of refugees in search of safe haven, lost at sea on makeshift vessels. While theirs is a veritable humanitarian crisis, “From Vow to Action” led us to contemplate that given the impermanent nature of life and the inevitability of death, the ultimate refuge we seek is of a different nature.

The image on stage called to mind the heartbreaking pictures of refugees in search of safe haven, lost at sea on makeshift vessels. While theirs is a veritable humanitarian crisis, “From Vow to Action” led us to contemplate that given the impermanent nature of life and the inevitability of death, the ultimate refuge we seek is of a different nature.

The performance become a celebration of enlightenment, in that what begins to stand out as a beacon of hope, is the massive full moon peeking out from behind the clouds above this violent ocean of existence – reminiscent of the one aptly illuminating the sky above the Lincoln Center. This, the light of radiant wisdom and awakened mind is always there, ready to be uncovered, and universally attainable to all sentient beings equally.

“Gratitude”, also performed by Tzu Chi volunteers, was a plea to show love and respect for our parents, whose immense kindness we can never fully repay. As volunteers used sign language and moved in unison, like the petals of a single flower or branches on a tree, we were invited on the spiritual path. By cultivating our character, upholding moral precepts, and sharing the light of wisdom, we can begin to fulfill our inherent duty to the two beings who gave us life. The message was inspiring in that it enveloped our parents as well as all beings in one unbreakable circle of love.

The last performance by Tzu Chi volunteers, “Fulfill My Dream” presented the wish of spreading the wisdom of Buddhism with a pure heart, despite all obstacles. With 108 volunteers on stage, one could marvel at how when ordinary individuals come together with a noble goal at heart, they can become an extraordinary force of good in the world.

As “Fulfill My Dream” drew to a close, we were introduced to the one who continually inspires Tzu Chi supporters and volunteers on the path of active compassion, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, Tzu Chi’s founder.

A video showed Master Cheng Yen in the Jing Si Abode in Hualien, the town in Taiwan where this path of love began, as we heard her fundamental view on the altruism that should underlie humanitarian service and giving:

True giving is giving with gratitude, while asking for nothing in return.

This is the view Tzu Chi volunteers uphold as they undertake humanitarian aid around the world. Examples of recent disaster relief missions were presented next in the program.  

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