Integrate the Buddha Dharma in Daily Life and Become Living Bodhisattvas in This World


The Buddha engaged in spiritual practice and attained buddhahood for the sake of sentient beings. Since we are also engaging in spiritual practice to attain buddhahood, we should share the same spirit, mindset, and aspirations as the Buddha.

“The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.” This means that it is for the sake of suffering sentient beings that bodhisattvas come to this world. This is just like how we built the Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital because there were patients in eastern Taiwan who could not get the help they needed. In a hospital, there are those who help and those who are in need of help. This is to say, we all exist in relation to one another.

Being born as a human is the starting point for attaining buddhahood. Once we leave this human life, we have no way to practice the path to buddhahood, as it is only in the human world that we encounter suffering sentient beings.

I often ask our commissioners, “When we help the impoverished, should they be thanking us, or should we be thanking them?”

Some commissioners respond, “Of course, it is them who should be thanking us.” However, I reply, “No, it is we who should be thanking them. If there were no suffering sentient beings, we could not awaken the spirit of the Bodhisattva Path.”

“The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.” Suffering sentient beings give us the conditions to become bodhisattvas.

Since we have the cause to attain buddhahood, we must take our life in the evil world of Five Turbidities as an opportunity to diligently advance in our spiritual practice by helping sentient beings. Then, with the affinities we form, we will be able to attain fruition.

The Buddha said, “The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.”

Why are there bodhisattvas? Bodhisattvas exist in relation to the sentient beings who are suffering in this world.

Take our hospital for instance. Where do doctors come from? There are patients who need treatment, and so there must also be doctors.

In the same way, suffering sentient beings need good people in this world to help them. These good people give everything they have without seeking anything in return. They are Bodhisattvas.
Tzu Chi commissioners are like Guanyin Bodhisattva. With keen ears, they listen attentively for cries of help. Whenever they hear someone cry for help, they immediately think of ways to help them.

Bodhisattvas joyfully return on the ship of compassion, so they greatly cherish this opportunity to help sentient beings. “The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.”

It is only because there are suffering sentient beings that bodhisattvas need to come to this world. It is only people with great love who make vows to return to this world.
So, in our daily living, we must never depart from this love.

In this era of social unrest, we truly need the bodhisattva spirit; we need Living Bodhisattvas to emerge.

The Buddha said, “The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.” This means that the extensive suffering and disorder in the world are the causes and conditions for bodhisattvas to emerge.

In this very moment, the causes and conditions for bodhisattvas are present. In another three years and a few months, it will be the year 2000. We are truly very blessed to be able to live at the turn of the century like this. We must think of our children so that we can provide them with a genuinely new and fresh era for our society.

Now, we must hasten to serve others, work hard, promote the Dharma, and mobilize people. In doing so, by the end of 2000, the year will conclude wonderfully; thus, we will be able to start 2001 as a society of truth, goodness, and beauty.

I hope for a pure world in the twenty-first century; this is our mission and our duty. So, we must work harder to bring purity to people’s hearts. Tzu Chi’s strength comes from its donating members, and our donating members are recruited by our commissioners. Since we have brought them in, we must constantly maintain contact with them over a long period of time and earnestly guide them onto the Bodhisattva Path. Only then can we hope for the world in the year 2000 to become a truly pure land filled with bodhisattvas.

In Tzu Chi’s Taiwan Southern Region, there are still some people who harbor deep-rooted prejudices toward our relief efforts in China.

Tzu Chi helps people with “great loving-kindness without regrets.” Our duty and mission is to respect life. No matter who is suffering, we must help them, just as doctors do not discriminate between their patients. Even when those who have the most terrible things are injured, doctors must treat them anyway.

There is no one I do not love in this world. When the Buddha was alive, he helped people without ever discriminating against them. This is to say nothing of how people in China share the culture, ethnicity, and kinship with us. Ordinary people in suffering are completely innocent!
As the Buddha’s disciples, we must sincerely adhere to his words and put them into action.
The Buddha said, “The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.” It is only because there are suffering sentient beings that the causes and conditions exist for bodhisattvas to come to this world. Therefore, wherever there are suffering sentient beings, we must help them; we cannot pick and choose.

“The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.” It is precisely because there is so much suffering in the world that we need Bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas must be on call at every moment.

The opportunity to create blessings does not come easily. When do we create blessings? We do so in times of disaster and hardship.

For example, when our volunteers go out and serve others, why do they serve? Because sentient beings are suffering and in pain.

We give of ourselves to help suffering sentient beings; this is how we cultivate our field of blessings.

I have told you all that among the eight fields of blessings, treating illness is foremost. Helping and guiding people in their greatest time of need brings great merits and virtues. It is because there are disasters that bodhisattvas need to appear. “Bodhisattvas” are only considered bodhisattvas if they serve others. If they do not serve others, they are not bodhisattvas. The opportunity to create a field of blessings does not come easily. Even if we deliberately seek out places of hardship to serve others, we might still lack the right karmic conditions. Therefore, when we have the opportunity, we must promptly exercise Tzu Chi’s spirit of great love.

We must truly safeguard our aspirations. If you only love me and Tzu Chi from a place of worldly love, as soon as you encounter a small interpersonal conflict while doing your volunteer work, you will very likely lose sight of your spiritual aspiration.

Even handling daily matters is an opportunity to engage in spiritual practice. “The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.” It is not only the people we help who are suffering. In fact, the people sitting right next to us are also suffering! Life’s afflictions are never-ending, and many of them arise from within our own homes. This is why I say that the people right beside us are suffering sentient beings too! Their hearts are suffering because they are filled with worries.

Hardships are difficult to overcome, for our afflictions are not easy to put aside. Instead, they become lodged in our minds and lead us to take issue with others. Who do we take issue with? We take issue with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with the people right beside us!
When we take issue with those close to us or even with ourselves, this causes suffering!
It is not just people who lack food to eat or clothes to wear who are suffering. We ourselves are truly suffering; we suffer to the extent that we take issue with ourselves, our families, and our Dharma family. These interpersonal conflicts are extremely difficult to deal with and lead to great suffering!

We and the people around us are truly suffering sentient beings. There are so many people in the world of Tzu Chi. Even though it is crowded, we must not get in other people’s way, nor let ourselves become obstructed by others. The only way to do this is to shrink our ego.

The Buddha tells us that we cannot attain Buddhahood in heaven, nor can we engage in spiritual cultivation in hell.

Heaven is the place of greatest happiness, so there are no opportunities to engage in spiritual practice there. All heavenly beings live very good lives. In the absence of suffering sentient beings, there is no opportunity to walk the Bodhisattva Path.

I often tell everyone that we must be grateful whenever we get the chance to help people, because we can only avail ourselves of this opportunity in the Saha World. There are suffering beings in the Saha World for us to help, and thus it is with suffering sentient beings that the affinities of bodhisattvas lie. We must become bodhisattvas in order to help these suffering sentient beings.

Giving unconditionally is true spiritual practice.

Tzu Chi is not just a charity organization. When we take society as our spiritual training ground, the entire world becomes our place of spiritual practice. Places of poverty and suffering are our spiritual training grounds. Prideful and arrogant people also give us opportunities for spiritual practice.

The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.

It is not only the impoverished who are suffering. It is not only victims of disasters who are suffering.

In fact, pride and arrogance are spiritual disasters, and prideful and arrogant people are also suffering sentient beings.

We must constantly ask ourselves, “Am I suffering from a spiritual disaster?” If our spirit is in a state of disaster, who can save us? We must save ourselves!

Tzu Chi’s Dharma door is to seek the Dharma and transform others. Without ever holding anything back, I have imparted to you all the spirit and ideals that the Buddha taught.

“The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.” The Buddha was reborn in this world for the sake of suffering beings. Thus, there is beauty within the imperfection of this world. It is because the world is full of suffering and afflictions that we need to attain the character of a buddha. It is because the world is full of suffering and afflictions that we are able to walk the Bodhisattva Path. Whether speaking of the state of ordinary beings, of buddhas, or of bodhisattvas, as long as we can practice understanding and see the beauty in the flaws of this world, they are all perfect.

There is so much suffering in the world. It is full of so many illnesses, mental obstacles, and more. Some people clearly know of Tzu Chi, but still look on from the sidelines. They see what we do, but do not want to take part in it. These are examples of mental obstacles. They obstruct themselves [from joining in].

Some people really do want to help, but their families hold them back, or they are hindered by their external circumstances or their physical condition. Who can open the door to their hearts or remove their obstacles so that they can join us? This is our responsibility. We must find ways to guide and lead them; this is the Bodhisattva Path.

All life is suffering, and every being we encounter is a suffering sentient being. “The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.” We seek to become bodhisattvas, but what need would there be for bodhisattvas without any suffering sentient beings? The Buddha did not attain buddhahood for himself, but for the sake of sentient beings.

If there were no suffering sentient beings, if sentient beings did not go through birth, aging, illness, and death, if there were no environmental or social disparities, if it were not for these things, this prince who was soon to become king would never have formed the aspiration to leave the palace and go among people to help them.

In spiritual practice, we aim to cultivate our minds so that they may become as clear as a mirror. Then, when circumstances arise, the mirror of our minds will reflect them clearly.

What kind of world can the mind of a bodhisattva see? A world of suffering. The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings. We must quickly go and help them. In this lifetime, we never know when impermanence might strike.

However, the most important thing is that whenever we are able to make our own decisions in life, we do so with a broad and expansive mindset.

With open hearts, we can accommodate and give our love to so many people. In this way, we will be able to do what the world truly needs us to do.

The Buddha tells us, “The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.” For bodhisattvas to emerge, there must be suffering in the world.

Bodhisattvas and suffering sentient beings are complementary roles. When sentient beings suffer hardships, bodhisattvas do not seek their own peace and joy; instead, they seek to relieve sentient beings from suffering. The hearts of bodhisattvas do not fear the danger, stench, or corpses that surround them. This was especially the case in Aceh. Our volunteers went there and saw that people were needed to help move the corpses, so they helped with this immediately. If they were not bodhisattvas, they could never have realized this courageous spirit and abundant love.

Tzu Chi travels swiftly to any country that suffers from disasters.
Although our volunteers may bear no relation to these people, as long as the people there are suffering, they have an affinity with this organization of bodhisattvas.

This is why we say, “The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.” Because we are an organization of bodhisattvas, no matter the country, no matter how severe the disaster, we will quickly respond to their suffering and go there to help them.

Look at our Living Bodhisattvas who have formed aspirations all over the world. Tzu Chi volunteers are everywhere, in so many countries. Some are in poor countries that are full of hardships. Take South Africa for example. Life is very difficult there, and public safety is not good. Yet, there is a group of people spreading the spirit of Tzu Chi who willingly remain there to serve others.

Without fear of hard work, our Living Bodhisattvas willingly go to places where many different people live. There is a language barrier, and more challenging still, the roads are difficult to travel on, and the surroundings are often filthy and dilapidated. There is also a high concentration of people suffering from AIDS.

However, the volunteers bravely enter those communities, undaunted by AIDS, the difficult roads, and the filthy homes.

(Story: South Africa Tzu Chi volunteer Zhang Minhui had an encounter with some robbers. Except for a bullet that grazed his face, he escaped unharmed.)

I asked him, “Were you scared?”
He replied, “Yes, I was afraid. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t. I was terrified.”
I said, “After experiencing such a scare, did you want to move back to Taiwan?”
He said, “No. There are still so many people who need our help. How could I move back just because of that?”
I said to him, “You must consider how bad public safety is over there. Won’t you consider it?”
He said, “Master, I will consider it, however those people really need us.”
“The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.”
I asked him, “There are many suffering sentient beings there. They need you, but aren’t you afraid?”
“I do get scared.”
“You all have to work so hard. Why do you still want to live there?”
He said, “Master says that the affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.”
He has taken the Dharma to heart. As long as the suffering of sentient beings endures, so will his aspirations. With this power of love, even now that he is over seventy years old, he still travels back and forth between Taiwan and South Africa. He is still so resolute, and he does this willingly and joyfully.

“The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.” This is why bodhisattvas vow to benefit both themselves and others. There are so many suffering sentient beings; some suffer due to poverty, others due to accidents or disasters, and so on. So, they all need bodhisattvas to appear beside them in their time of need.
At the same time, there are many who are not physically suffering, but whose minds are suffering.

All suffering of the mind arises from greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt. These Five Poisons need to be treated with medicine of Dharma. The medicine of Dharma comes from bodhisattvas who constantly seek the Dharma and always care for sentient beings.

To fundraise for disaster relief in the Philippines, Tzu Chi volunteers in many countries took to the streets with donation boxes.

They didn’t do this for the money; they did this primarily to wake people up and get people to realize that somewhere in the world, people are suffering from an earth-shattering disaster. They hoped to raise awareness, inspire love, and create blessings for others. With every blessed donation, the suffering from disasters is reduced.

“The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.” People who live in peace and safety are blessed, and those who are blessed ought to help those experiencing hardship. I do not ask you to make offerings, but only to seek to understand the true principles of the world a bit better. The Dharma helps us grow in wisdom. When the Buddha taught the Dharma, his first teaching was the Four Noble Truths of suffering, causation, cessation, and the Path.

Entering a hospital to witness life’s impermanence and listen to all the families’ life stories helps us grow in wisdom.

I hope everyone can seize this opportunity and make the most of their lives by mindfully devoting themselves to helping others.

Who are bodhisattvas? Bodhisattvas are awakened sentient beings.

Bodhisattvas are not statues in temples made out of wood, clay, or gold. Such statues are carved by people. The bodhisattvas that the Buddha spoke about are living in this world. “The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.”

The Buddha always warns us that “the world is impermanent, and the earth is perilously fragile.” Impermanence can strike in an instant. Whenever disaster strikes, “the affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings,” meaning that this is when they emerge to help people in the world.
True bodhisattvas appear beside people in times of suffering, in their moments of greatest anxiety and loss. In their time of greatest need, there will be people who draw close to them, embrace them, and give them a shoulder to lean on. These are true Living Bodhisattvas.

Context: Tzu Chi volunteers in Europe continue to care for the people in Serbian refugee camps.

To walk the Bodhisattva Path, we must never abandon the people of this world. “The affinities of bodhisattvas are with suffering sentient beings.” This is what the Buddha teaches us, and it is what he expects of us as his disciples.

The lives of refugees are filled with unbearable suffering!

This group of Tzu Chi volunteers from different countries traveled great distances to gather there for one goal: to help the refugees.

They stayed with the refugees for over ten days. It was hard work, but they were very joyful because they were able to see the refugees receive aid.

In witnessing the refugees’ suffering, they realized their own blessings. Suffering is a very serious matter in life. By going among people, we witness suffering and realize our own blessings. We gain joy through taking action; this is blessings. We gain freedom through being understanding; this is wisdom.

July 8, 1986
Morning Dharma Talk
June 8, 1988
Lecture to Donating Members from Kaohsiung
June 9, 1994
Meeting with Donating Members from Taichung
April 20, 1995
Lecture to Tzu Chi Volunteers Worldwide
November 30, 1996
Spiritual Homecoming for Commissioners in Training from Kaohsiung
January 2, 1997
Kaohsiung Volunteers Year-End Meeting
October 26, 1998
Award Ceremony for Volunteers in Taiwan
April 15, 1999
Lecture in the Taipei Haishan Service Center
July 18, 1999
Construction Volunteer Retreat
June 3, 2001
Pingtung Certified Volunteer Retreat
June 7, 2001
Morning Volunteer Assembly
October 13, 2002
Taiwan Northern Region Volunteers’ Spiritual Training
March 5, 2003
Changhua Certified Volunteers Meeting
January 18, 2005
Certification Ceremony and Year-End Blessing
May 10, 2005
Global Tzu Chi Volunteer Retreat
April 29, 2012
Morning Dharma Talk
March 4, 2013
Morning Dharma Talk
November 30, 2013
Pingtung Certification Ceremony and Year-End Blessing
August 8, 2014
Morning Volunteer Assembly
March 12, 2016
Morning Dharma Talk