Author: Ida Eva Zielinska
What does it mean to volunteer with Tzu Chi or TIMA (Tzu Chi International Medical Association)? On March 31, the closing day of the 2019 TIMA Global Forum, “Enlightened Wellness: Body, Mind, Spirit,” in San Dimas, CA, Stephen Huang, the Executive Director of Tzu Chi Global Volunteers, gave an inspiring presentation, drawing from his own personal reflections and experience over the last 30 years of service as a Tzu Chi volunteer and disciple of Dharma Master Cheng Yen.
Huang, who has been on many disaster relief missions around the globe, was once a successful entrepreneur, yet he sold his business and retired at the age of 46 to become a full-time volunteer. He shared why later in his presentation, first taking us back to 1998 and a mission in war-torn Afghanistan after an earthquake had killed and left thousands injured and homeless. Arriving there, he discovered that many survivors had found shelter in caves that Buddhist monks lived and meditated in years ago.
Afghanistan was once a Buddhist country and this region was home to the largest standing Buddha statues in the world. Now it was a Muslim nation and people viewed the statues as blasphemous idols and tried to destroy them but couldn’t because they were carved directly into the cliffs. A few years later, the Taliban finally dynamited and destroyed them. Huang then revealed the point of the story, recounting his reaction: “What they blew up was just stone. The spirit of the Buddha will never be destroyed.”
For Stephen Huang, Tzu Chi’s humanitarian culture is the Buddha’s spirit, one of great love, compassion, tolerance and universal respect, and Tzu Chi volunteers embody it. His presentation then drew us back to TIMA, which he referred to as a flying horse, “flying to the people who need our help, flying to disaster areas where a lot of people are suffering.” The members of the association are highly skilled and educated professionals yet they too represent that spirit and serve with humility and respect when they provide medical outreach on disaster relief missions.
Tzu Chi has offered aid in 98 countries so far, and its reach continues to expand. The first steps in Huang’s efforts to set up a Tzu Chi branch in Russia are underway, and Mozambique may be next. Master Cheng Yen told him when he returned from a first visit there, “Maybe the last vow of my life is to try and turn around the fate of Africans.” There are many problems in Africa, from disasters, to diseases, famine and drought, and she was eager to know – how can we help? Although Master Cheng Yen never leaves Taiwan, her heart is all over the world through her Tzu Chi volunteers and donors.
Huang then shared how Master Cheng Yen changes the views of rich people who then become devoted supporters of Tzu Chi’s missions – she certainly changed his. In the past, when he was a successful businessman, he was preoccupied with continually accumulating wealth. And then his older brother, who was only 54, died suddenly and Huang started to question the meaning of life. That’s when he went to Hualien and met Master who asked him in regards to money, “When do we say – Enough is enough?” That question propelled him to change the course of his life and enter the path of service and giving.
Now he reaches out to the rich and is skilled at encouraging them to give: “That’s my specialty.” He reminds them how, “In the 21st century, people can’t say we only take care of our own – the whole world is connected to each other, even people. So we should help each other.” It starts with making a big vow and giving your great love. When people ask, “What does your great love mean?” He answers with, “How about unconditional love, just like your mother loves you, and parents love their kids. Unconditional love where you ask for nothing in return.” That’s the path of service with great love that each Tzu Chi volunteer undertakes.