Context for the Teaching: When Master took refuge with Venerable Yin Shun and was given the Dharma name “Cheng Yen,” he gave her these six words as his instruction to her.
For Buddha’s Teachings, For Sentient Beings
October 19, 1973
Tzu Chi Commissioners’ Gathering and Medicine Buddha Dharma-Assembly
I have diligently led the work of Tzu Chi for several years, not only to help the poor, but most importantly to work “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” It has been my hope to guide people’s minds toward goodness. A place can only be free of disasters when its people collectively create good karma and gather endless merits and virtues. To guide people toward this end is the true significance of Tzu Chi.
November 5, 1980
Teaching Given to Kaohsiung Donating Members
In doing the work of Tzu Chi, my only vow is to work “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” My hope is that the Buddha’s teachings can be spread far and wide.
Twenty or thirty years ago, Buddhism was truly very weak. Why was this? It was because the teachings were not deeply infused within people’s lives. People did not understand the Buddha’s teachings, which caused a rift between the truth of the Buddha’s teachings and people’s minds. At that time, I made a vow to spread the principles of the Buddha’s teachings, which are most true, beautiful, and practical, throughout the world.
I went through so much hardship to establish Tzu Chi because it has been my wish that everyone can lead a life filled with blessings and happiness.
June 6, 1982
Tzu Chi Commissioners’ Gathering
Context for the Teaching: Tzu Chi is awarded the Social Service Achievement Award.
Dharma Master Da Hong quoted Chairman Lee Teng-hui, stating, “The power of charity initiatives by religious groups can assist the government in solving many social problems, especially in the area of public welfare. These initiatives represent a powerful force for good in our communities and our nation. From this point forward, the government will absolutely support the charitable works of Buddhist temples and various religious bodies with all its might, and it will help to simplify the related procedures and processes.”
When I heard this news, I found it very comforting because everything I do is “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” I had been working very hard and very cautiously so that the Buddha’s teachings could become firmly established in society and in people’s hearts, and could help people to understand that Buddhism is a religion that can truly help this world. I hoped to show that Buddhism could provide a strength to help society that cannot be ignored.
September 16, 1984
Tzu Chi Commissioners’ Gathering
For twenty years, Tzu Chi’s work has gained support from society and communities. Our work has already connected with sentient beings, so it can be said that we have given a tangible form to the Buddha’s teachings. This contribution belongs to all those who love Tzu Chi. Everyone has truly spread the spirit of Buddhism, even to the darkest corners of society.
It is said, “People spread the Way; the Way cannot spread itself.” Revitalizing Buddhism must begin with the Buddha’s disciples. We must work to cultivate our external appearance as well as our actions. Then we must unite every individual in exercising our ability to take action as a group. Tzu Chi has been able to establish itself throughout society because of everyone’s concerted efforts.
November 16, 1986
Tzu Chi Commissioners’ Gathering
In constructing the hospital, I have three goals that will never change.
1. To promote the Great Vehicle Buddha Dharma to the world and pass on the wisdom-life of the Tathagata so that society can understand the true spirit of Buddhism.
2. To elevate the standard of medical care in eastern Taiwan so that the more remote and underdeveloped areas can also enjoy modern medical service, thus safeguarding the health of all.
3. To nurture talent. Tzu Chi’s ultimate goal is to set up a medical school which fosters medical professionals filled with compassion and love.
I am not building this hospital for the sake of building a hospital, but rather “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” This direction will never change.
January 20, 1987
Teaching at the Morning Assembly
“For Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings” is absolutely the right road. If you wish to become my disciples, you must agree to the following:
“Take the Buddha’s heart as your own and your teacher’s mission as your own.” Taking the Buddha’s heart as your own is what “for Buddha’s teachings” means. By focusing on working for the sake of the Buddha’s teachings and taking the Buddha’s heart as our own, we become very close to the Buddha.
As for taking your teacher’s mission as your own, my mission is Tzu Chi, and Tzu Chi’s mission is to work “for sentient beings.” If you have the intention to give of yourselves to sentient beings and create affinities with them, then you are bodhisattvas, and as bodhisattvas, the Bodhisattva Path is your place of practice.
Tzu Chi Commissioners’ Gathering
Taking the spirits of loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity from the Buddha’s teachings and turning these into action is the embodiment of “for Buddha’s teachings.” Solving the medical problems of patients in eastern Taiwan is “for sentient beings.” However, although we will eventually build a hospital for sentient beings, we must take working for the Buddha’s teachings a step further; we can do so by creating a memorial hall. A memorial hall is a physical manifestation of the Dharma. Such a place allows anyone who enters it to realize, with a glance, that the Buddha’s teachings are not just teachings, but also a form of culture and art.
October 18, 1988
Wisdom at Dawn
Why are we working so hard? Is it for our missions? Is it for the Buddha’s teachings? Is it for sentient beings?
In working “for Buddha’s teachings,” I hope that the spirit of the Buddha’s teachings can act as a bridge which will allow people’s hearts to find true faith in the Buddha-Dharma.
In working for our missions, I hope that our four great goals can be fully achieved in this lifetime.
In working for sentient beings, I have an even greater hope that people, whether or not we share affinities with them, will be happy and become pure and perfected.
I have this kind of hope for sentient beings and for our missions; we must work hard for the sake of the Buddha’s teachings.
December 19, 1989
Wisdom at Dawn
Tzu Chi’s ideal is to work “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.”
In Tzu Chi, we learn the Buddha’s teachings as a group, and we must become spiritual practitioners who do our part. If we want to be knowledgeable Buddhist disciples, then to work “for Buddha’s teachings” means looking after our image. If we establish a good image, others will see that practitioners who follow the teachings of the Buddha have well-cultivated characteristics; for this reason, they will hold the Buddha’s teachings in even higher regard.
To work “for sentient beings” requires us to go into our communities and among people. Instead of wasting our lives away, we must unceasingly give of ourselves to sentient beings. We must give material resources to the poor and inspire the love in the hearts of the wealthy.
Apart from this goal, coming into the world of Tzu Chi also requires taking the Buddha’s heart as your own and your teacher’s mission as your own. This is our core belief and objective.
June 12, 1990
New Commissioner Certification Ceremony
My greatest wish in promoting Tzu Chi is to work “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” I hope that the Buddha’s teachings can be applied in the world and within people’s lives, and that everyone can incorporate the Buddha’s spirit and way of living into their families. Only when we have harmonious and happy families can we mobilize society to bring purity to people’s hearts.
May 1, 1991
Conversation with Singapore’s Dharma Master Hui Qi
When I became a monastic and took refuge with my teacher, he said to me, “You must work for the Buddha’s teachings and for sentient beings.” It was then that I silently vowed, “Master, I most certainly will work for the sake of the Buddha’s teachings and for sentient beings.”
Ever since that time, these two phrases have been the motto of my entire life. I am always thinking of how to work for the Buddha’s teachings. First, I had to transform society’s perspectives of Buddhism from negative to positive. I had to help everyone recognize that society needed to change, and that the Buddhist spirit was necessary to accomplish this. This is the first thing that I promised to do in working for the Buddha’s teachings.
In the third year after I became a monastic (1966), the Tzu Chi Merit Association was founded. During these three years, I was always thinking of how to change society’s perspective towards Buddhism.
Later, when I saw a pool of blood in a clinic, I was heartbroken to learn where it had come from. That image continued to linger in my mind. Previously, I felt that becoming a monastic meant I could avoid dealing with money, because money is too cumbersome. Yet, in order to help sentient beings, to help people, money is necessary.
However, simply having money does not guarantee that we can successfully help others. Indeed, there are many people with good hearts, as well as many wealthy people. But without the causes and conditions to locate those who are suffering, we cannot mobilize our love to help them. I recalled the Buddhist concept of “Guanyin Bodhisattva with a thousand hands and a thousand eyes.” How is it that she could have a thousand hands and a thousand eyes? How could she appear like a human being? When I was a child, I used to ask questions like these. Then, one day, I understood. There is also a Chinese saying that, “Amitabha and Guanyin are in every household.” I think this can be changed to “Amitabha and Guanyin are in every person.”
At that time, I resolved to unite the strength of Buddhist disciples, important people in society, and the public to build a hospital in the Hualien area to elevate the standard of medical care. Then, in the event of accidents or illnesses, people in Hualien would have somewhere to turn for help instead of helplessly watching their loved ones pass away.
For two or three years, I sought donations to build the hospital, but I only gathered about $30 million NTD. Why was it so slow? One reason was that Tzu Chi only had about 30,000 donating members at that time.
Another reason was that many people who knew that I wanted to establish a hospital were suspicious. They thought, “Is such a project even possible? And if not, will I be donating money in vain? Establishing a hospital is not easy. You have no land, no funds, and no doctors. What do you have that enables you to build a hospital?” When the hospital construction was completed, then they said, “Since you have money, you can build the hospital. Now, we will see if you have doctors.” So many attacks came from all directions, over and over again without end.
It was during this period of time that I trained myself to stop listening and keep my ears in a pure state, no matter what people said. Now, no matter what other people say, I do not pay them any mind. I just persist wholeheartedly in my sole aspiration, to work “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings!”
Now, many people say, “Taiwan cannot do without Tzu Chi!” What they are really saying is that Taiwan needs all of us to help one another. I hope that every person, upon coming in contact with Tzu Chi, will know that it is a Buddhist organization.
May 10, 1991
Wisdom at Dawn
“A human life is measured in the span of a breath.” I use these words to encourage my disciples. We must be vigilant every minute and every second, and we must never be lax. This does not mean that we must give up everything. Over twenty years ago, I held on to this idea. Even though I clearly knew that human life is measured in the span of a breath, I still planned long-term goals to do my part for the Buddha’s teachings and for sentient beings.
Is “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings” not an everlasting mission? The Buddha’s compassion encompasses the entire world. It will take a long time to help the multitude of sentient beings understand that the Buddha’s teachings are applicable in their daily living and that they can guide every person to walk the Bodhisattva Path. Looking back on how my own life has existed in the span of each breath, I have tried to make good use of every moment; I do not dare to waste a single second of my time.
December 6, 1993
Central and Southern Region Teachers Retreat
What does it mean to form an aspiration? Forming an aspiration means to make a vow, to make a resolution. When you resolve to be a teacher, you have already made a vow to educate students for the purpose of nurturing talent for society. This is like how, when I first became a monastic, I aspired to work “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.”
January 22, 1995
Northern Region Faith Corps and Commissioners Certification and Year-End Blessing
Tzu Chi was established according to my master’s expectation for me, which was to work “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” Many people say that we are taking resources from Buddhism and from society, but actually, it should be said that Tzu Chi is opening up resources for society.
Thirty years ago, Buddhists did not really do any work in society, so where did so many good people in society come from?
Because of Tzu Chi, I am able to lead many non-Buddhists to the Buddha’s teachings through the door of charity. There have been many people who were initially completely unfamiliar with the Buddha Dharma, and many who did not even approve of it; yet because of Tzu Chi, they can encounter the Buddha’s teachings through the door of charity.
May 19, 1996
Happy Life Lecture
Location: National Cheng Kung University, Tainan
Some people ask me what my future plans are, what I want to do in the future. I always answer, “I want to quicken my pace and do my very best to work for the sake of the Buddha’s teachings and for sentient beings.” Although I have formed this aspiration, I cannot accomplish everything on my own, so I need the support and help of everyone to enable me to do even more and even better in the next thirty years.
My vow is to help the entire population of Taiwan to become Living Bodhisattvas. I hope that in the future, whenever the international community makes mention of Taiwan, they will give a thumbs up and say, “Taiwan is great! Taiwan is the place with the greatest concentration of love in the world.”
December 2, 1997
Teaching Given at the Taichung Chapter
I received the instruction from my master to work “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” This is my goal, and I will work hard my entire life to accomplish it.
Once, an honorable board member asked me for guidance. Although he was encouraged to “take the Buddha’s heart as his own and his teacher’s mission as his own,” he still did not know how to actually work “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” I replied that a lion is unparalleled in its courage and fears no other beasts, yet it is afraid to be bitten by the bugs on its own body. Similarly, one should not fear that the Buddha’s teachings will be extinguished by non-Buddhists, but rather that it will be destroyed by its own followers.
Although some people regard themselves as the Buddha’s disciples, they may not possess even a single characteristic of a Buddhist practitioner. In this way, they bring Buddhism to ruin.
The Buddha Dharma is very applicable to our daily living, so as Buddhist practitioners, we need to start with how we treat others each day. Every action we take be should worthy of praise from others. This is how we promote the Buddha’s teachings. Whenever people hear the name “Tzu Chi,” they immediately know that Tzu Chi is a Buddhist organization. This is how we work “for the Buddha’s teachings.” And when Tzu Chi volunteers give of themselves without expectations, this is how we work “for sentient beings.”
October 11, 1998
Faith Corps Leadership Retreat
Some people ask me what school of Buddhism I study. I say that it is the Tzu Chi School.
As to the kind of Dharma-door that I practice, it is actually very simple. It is “for the Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings,” the words given to me by my teacher.
If I can hold on to this aspiration and constantly actualize my vow through my actions, this will be enough.
I often say, “Take the Buddha’s heart as your own and your teacher’s mission as your own.” There is endless work to be done for your teacher’s mission already!
If we can all constantly uphold the heart of the Buddha, which is a pure heart filled with undefiled great love, then we will be able to handle the concerns of so many sentient beings.
April 15, 1999
Teaching at Xintai Service Center
We must never forget about why the Buddha came to this world. What was the impetus for his coming to the world to teach the Dharma? What was his original thought or intent? It was to help and transform suffering sentient beings. Similarly, we must not forget the origins of Tzu Chi either.
I cannot choose my disciples, but a disciple has the right to choose a teacher. Since you all have chosen me as your teacher, you must trust me. When you take refuge with me, I do not ask anything of you except that you “take the Buddha’s heart as your own and your teacher’s mission as your own.” My teacher gave me the words “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings,” and I have given all of you the words, “take the Buddha’s heart as your own and your teacher’s mission as your own.” This is the tradition I pass on.
Some people say that I am revolutionizing Buddhism, but I would not call it that. I am returning to the Buddha’s original intent, so the Buddhism that I follow is not “traditional Buddhism,” but is rather “original Buddhism.”
January 5, 2001
Yunlin Region Faith Corps and Commissioner Certification and Year-End Blessing Ceremony
We have been walking the path of Tzu Chi for thirty years, always focused on one goal, to work “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” This means that we are focused on how to bring purity people’s hearts and spread the spirit of the Buddha’s teachings in the world. Therefore, I often say that we must apply the Buddha Dharma to our daily living and become Living Bodhisattvas.
Being a Buddhist does not simply mean prostrating before an image of the Buddha; a true Buddhist is one who practices the Buddha’s teachings.
So, being a Buddhist practitioner means learning to emulate the Buddha. If we wish to be like the Buddha, we must certainly act according to the Buddha’s spirit and actions in order to attain buddhahood.
From the state of unenlightened beings to reaching the state of buddhahood, what lies between is the Bodhisattva Path. We must start out as bodhisattvas in order to reach buddhahood. Therefore, Tzu Chi volunteers should practice the Buddha’s teachings in their daily living. Instead of merely paying homage to bodhisattvas, we must become bodhisattvas in this world.
November 10, 2002
Central Region Faith Corps and Commissioner Training
When I took refuge with my teacher, he told me to work “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” These words have become my life’s motto and my path.
When we work for the sake of the Buddha’s teachings, we are also working for sentient beings. We know that in the Buddha’s time, the Buddha engaged in spiritual practice for the sake of suffering sentient beings.
December 15, 2005
Tainan Faith Corps Members and Commissioners’ Leadership Meeting
Context for the teaching: Master recalled the scene on March 17, 1963, when she took refuge with Venerable Yin Shun at Light of Wisdom Dharma Hall.
Master Yin Shun told me, “Our causes and conditions as master and disciple are quite extraordinary. There is so much I wish to say to you, but there is no time. Please remember that once you become a monastic and have received the precepts, you must work ‘for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.’” When he said these words, I immediately prostrated before him. At the very moment that I prostrated, in my heart, I vowed to act according to this teaching.
September 16, 2007
Southern Region Faith Corps and Commissioner Training
The teachings I promote offer purpose for our lives and an education for our daily living. They comprise the Tzu Chi School of Buddhism.
Modern Buddhism should not be confined to a monastery, rather it should involve going among people.
Tzu Chi has adapted to modern society, enabling us to go among people with an image that modern people can accept. When I took refuge with my teacher, he gave me only the simple instructions to work “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” Yet, those words truly moved me to the core.
How do we work “for Buddha’s teachings”? With Tzu Chi, I have established a concrete example of the Buddha’s teachings in the world and have expanded their mission. Now unbounded, the teachings can transcend religious teachings, sectarian beliefs, ethnic origins, and national affiliations, for they can encompass all of these.
November 13, 2008
Central Region Faith Corps and Commissioner Meeting
Every year, the second Sunday in May is when we observe the combined celebration of Buddha Day, Mother’s Day, and Tzu Chi Day.
This year, people not only in Taiwan, but in countries around the world come to the Buddha bathing ceremony. This is an example of our work “for Buddha’s teachings.”
Many countries do not know about the Buddha Dharma or Buddhism, so we must tell them that this is the day when the Great Enlightened One of the Universe appeared in the world. Over the past forty years, we have worked to serve sentient beings, and now we must begin to work to spread the Buddha’s teachings; we must work “for Buddha’s teachings,” and “for sentient beings” in parallel. Tzu Chi uses the world-transcending spirit of the Buddha’s teachings to perform its worldly mission. In order to connect with people, we must follow worldly methods, which are called skillful means.
After forty-two years, we now must truly practice the Jing Si Dharma Lineage, which is a path of diligent practice.
April 17, 2010
Kaohsiung Tzu Chi Volunteer Meeting
We need to remember our origins and never forget the “bamboo bank era,” when Tzu Chi first started. It is in this way that I recall my master’s words when I first took refuge with him, to work “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” But in the beginning, how could I work for the Buddha’s teachings? First, I had to begin by helping those who are suffering. So, before we can find a way to bring the Dharma to people’s hearts, we must first relieve their suffering.
If someone says that they are hungry, but we keep telling them, “You should just recite the Buddha’s name,” how will that ease their hunger? They are obviously in pain, because they are asking for our help. What use is it to simply tell them, “You must recite the Buddha’s name! This will allow you to…”?
To summarize, when people are hungry, we must quickly give them bread or rice to fill their stomachs; when people are sick, we must quickly take them to see a doctor. This is how we can help them.
Over the past forty years, we have focused entirely on worldly matters and have respected all religions. The Buddha’s teachings are like a great ocean, where all the water from rivers, springs, wells, and rain converge. Likewise, we must broaden our own hearts to be like the ocean.
For others to accept us, we must first show them respect.
April 13, 2013
Wondrous Voice Editors Training and Abode Pure Practitioner Training
I recall when there was an air raid during the Second World War. Some people complained, “Why aren’t Grandmother Mazu and Mother Guanyin responding to our prayers and guiding the bombs away to the ocean?” An old man said, “It is not that Mazu and Guanyin are not responding. It is that the karma that sentient beings have created is deep and heavy. Guanyin Bodhisattva is weeping so much that her tears have dried up and she is now weeping blood. The tears that come out of her eyes are tears of blood.”
These words were deeply engraved into my heart.
The scene of that air raid allowed me to experience the impermanence of life in a shocking way. It is most likely that there exists a connection between witnessing the cruelty of reality and my becoming a monastic.
After my father passed away, I went to the temple and read Emperor Liang’s Repentance, which states, “When a king gives in to anger, corpses pile up everywhere.” The intense words in the sutra brought me into contact with the karmic law of cause and effect, as well as the realization that we must repent! This was when I first had the idea to leave home to become a monastic.
I thought to myself, “Everyone experiences hardship throughout our lives, but for lay people, it is all for the sake of only one family.” Thus, I firmly resolved to run away from home. Once I ran away, I was able to become a monastic, which was how I could find a teacher who instructed me to work “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” This led to the Tzu Chi we have today.
October 7, 2016
Morning Volunteer Assembly
Around the world, there are many people who do research on the Buddha-Dharma. However, when they ask Tzu Chi volunteers, “Which school of Buddhism do you belong to?” they are unable to answer what school of Buddhism Tzu Chi is. This is because I did not give them a clear and obvious definition.
Over the past fifty years, everything we have done has been “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” We give of ourselves to serve the world, so why can we not proudly say, “We are Buddhists, and Buddhists serve sentient beings”? We are not Buddhists in name alone, but in reality. This is what the Buddha taught us, so how can we not practice according to his teachings? Thus, we must work for the sake of sentient beings.
January 15, 2018
Northern Region Faith Corps and Commissioner Certification and Year-End Blessing Ceremony
Dear Bodhisattvas, as you become certified today, the badge pinned to your chest says, “Take the Buddha’s heart as your own and your teacher’s mission as your own.”
Over fifty years ago, I received only six words from my teacher, Venerable Yin Shun; “For Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” I will not be able to finish the work of these few words in this lifetime. Indeed, I will continue this work in future lifetimes and will still be unable to complete it.
Whether the Buddha-Dharma can be propagated among people depends on Buddhist disciples who are willing to step forward and say, “This is what the Buddha Dharma teaches us, and it enables us to perfect our wisdom and grow our wisdom life.” Only when we can do this will the Buddha Dharma thrive.
Please do not leave me all alone to work for Buddha’s teachings and for sentient beings.
February 4, 2019
Jing Si Abode Chinese New Year’s Eve Event
I have seen how pure practitioners can give up their limited familial affections and dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to the world, working “for Buddha’s teachings, for sentient beings.” The footprints they leave behind follow closely behind my own.
Through the Four Missions, they work to relieve the suffering of sentient beings in the world, without seeking peace and joy for themselves. Isn’t this so? This is our aspiration.
You must not let down all of the Tzu Chi volunteers around the world who support you. Even more so, you must not fail to live up to the vow that I have carried with me in this life. You must remember to earnestly persist in your aspiration at this moment.
Tzu Chi Commissioners’ Gathering