Biography of Dharma Master Cheng Yen
Dharma Master Cheng Yen was born in 1937, in a small town in Taiwan called Qingshui. Since her uncle was childless, she was offered to his family and adopted, so perhaps the seed of her desire to help others was at play from the start. During World War II, air raids and the reality of human violence left a deep impression. She then saw the suffering of sickness and pain while caring for her ailing brother in the hospital for months. When her mother needed a risky operation, she prayed and offered to give up years of her own life in exchange for her health. Her mother recovered without surgery, so in gratitude, she became a vegetarian. Her spiritual calling intensified when her father died within hours of falling ill, and she was left bereaved and full of questions about the meaning of life. Her auspicious first contact with Buddha Dharma at this critical moment offered the wisdom and guidance she was seeking.
Soon after her father’s death, she ran away from home to become a Buddhist nun, needing to expand the love for her family to all of humanity. Her relatives found and brought her back, but she left again, this time traveling further away, to Hualien. The conditions there were harsh, but her commitment to Dharma only grew stronger. Following a nontraditional path, she shaved her own head to formally renounce lay life – unaware tradition dictates one do so under the tutelage of a teacher. Serendipitous circumstances led her to Dharma Master Yin Shun, who became her spiritual mentor, and she was formally ordained as a Buddhist nun at age 25. Master Yin Shun then gave her these concise and profound instructions: “Now that you are a Buddhist monastic, remember always to work for Buddhism and for all living beings.” And this is precisely what she has been doing ever since, with self-discipline, diligence, frugality, perseverance, and at root, expansive love for all.
Mother Teresa of Asia
Master Cheng Yen leads by example, and firmly believes that true compassion is more than passive sympathy for another’s plight: It is concrete action aimed at relieving suffering directly. In founding Tzu Chi, her wish was to give ordinary people the chance to actualize their compassion, and find inner peace and joy while saving the world. She is often called the “Mother Teresa of Asia”, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and honored on TIME 100: The Most Influential People in the World list. But worldly accolades cannot encompass the full impact of the immense and tangible relief Master Cheng Yen and Tzu Chi bring to those in need and distress around the globe.