The Heart Encompasses the Universe and the Boundless Worlds Within It


Context for the Teaching: When Master Cheng Yen was practicing in solitude in the small wooden cabin, she encouraged herself to open her heart up vast enough to encompass the entire universe and love all sentient beings in the world.

I often encourage everyone and say that since we have formed aspirations to learn the Buddha’s teachings and dedicate ourselves to Tzu Chi’s work, our hearts must be even more open and spacious. Our hearts should be able to accommodate the universe and all sentient beings in this world.

It is easy to be a virtuous person, but harder to be a person of great aspirations. Society always honors virtuous people. However, despite everyone dedicating their lives to Tzu Chi over these last years, I have not offered special praise nor have you sought recognition for your work.

I believe that everyone inherently has a broad mind that encompasses the universe and the boundless worlds within it. This is the mindset that develops great people. Fulfilling Tzu Chi’s great mission of continuing the legacy of the Buddha’s teachings depends on all of us maintaining a broad mindset.

I have nothing—no strength or specialized knowledge—yet the mission I wish to achieve is difficult and important. This is why I am truly worried.

I can only rely on everyone else’s strength. I have been appealing to everyone to open their hearts. As we all are learning from the Buddha, we must contemplate life more clearly and thoroughly. In this world, there is nothing that stays with us forever. Neither the people most dear to us nor the greatest amount of wealth can be ours forever.

Life is limited, but by constructing Tzu Chi Hospital, we can let our wisdom-life, spirit, and loving heart continue on forever.

In any case, at this crucial time, I need everyone’s strength, and I further hope that everyone will not underestimate their own strength. Not only should we take the initiative, but we should enthusiastically encourage more people to come and support Tzu Chi.

In addition to financial support, we need spiritual support even more.

Now that we have resolved the hospital’s land usage issues and completed the floor plan, everyone can be at ease and focus on fundraising efforts.

Everyone, please form great aspirations, practice the spirit of great loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, and fulfill Tzu Chi’s great missions with a heart that encompasses the universe and the boundless worlds within it.

The hearts of religious practitioners must be great and vast, like thousands of rivers flowing back into a great ocean.

There is a beautiful saying in Buddhism, “The heart encompasses the universe and the boundless worlds within it.”

This means that the hearts of spiritual practitioners must be big enough to accommodate the universe, and that we must achieve boundless love which extends to all places.

Having accepted the Buddha’s teachings, I must to attain this state where my heart can encompass the universe and the boundless worlds within it. So, how can I only limit my love to Taiwan? The Tzu Chi song, “The Spirit of Great Love,“ represents my outlook on life; there is no one in this world whom I do not love, whom I do not trust, and whom I cannot forgive.

We must open our hearts to accommodate and love one another. When sentient beings are suffering, how can we not go and help them?

When so many look at Tzu Chi with admiration, it naturally attracts criticism as well.

On one hand, I wish for our work on many matters to be praiseworthy, but on the other, I do not wish for us to become proud. We must constantly humble ourselves so that others do not feel that we are arrogant or that we are inflating our egos, and end up distancing themselves from us.

The more we are respected and trusted by others, the more vigilant and humble we must be; this is always my goal.

When others criticize me, I must swallow and digest their harsh words; this requires patience.

If I only swallowed the negativity and allowed it to remain undigested, my heart would be devastated.

My heart must always be able to encompass the universe. Whether something is fragrant, beautiful, and good, or smelly, rotten, and ugly, let us accommodate all things in our hearts.

Opening my heart means not only enduring negativity, but also digesting it and letting it go. Otherwise, how can I move forward? I am a human too!
We must open our hearts and humble ourselves so we can continue to live on and carry out the work of Tzu Chi.

Everyone has come here to engage in spiritual cultivation. This is not the spiritual cultivation of monastics, but the cultivation of our minds and behavior. We must treat others with propriety, and we should be modest and courteous towards each other. Most importantly, if you can emulate this mindset, then before long, the world will be yours.

For the past few years, Tzu Chi has provided aid to people in mainland China. Some people praised this and others responded with great support, but, a small number of people disagreed, slandering Tzu Chi and more. However, for the sake of Tzu Chi’s missions, we must do the right thing and be unafraid of difficulties. We must have determination and courage to persist and carry on.

Tzu Chi is a Buddhist organization. The Buddha’s heart encompasses the universe and the boundless worlds within it. He loves all sentient beings in this world. As we are the Buddha’s disciples, we must be able to respect all life. Every living being has a right to live, and to preserve life, we need the help of others. So, we must uphold Tzu Chi’s mission and respect life. We do not discriminate between ourselves and others. In carrying out charity work, we do not view anyone as our enemy.

Life is short and filled with suffering. With only a few decades, what sort of things are we able to do?

If we only measure life in years, we will end up with nothing.
Instead, let us measure our lives by how much we have actually dedicated ourselves to helping sentient beings.

The Buddha came to the Saha World to transform sentient beings. People in this world continue to have minds that are filled with greed, anger, and ignorance. They are attached and unwilling to let go of wealth, fame, status, and comfort. These suffering sentient beings live in this Saha World, seeking pleasure within suffering.
But in fact, life is impermanent. If we only seek fame and comfort, we will become ignorant and deluded. The Buddha Dharma shows us how pitiful sentient beings are.

We must clearly see the principles of life and eliminate greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt. We must turn our greed into giving, our anger into compassion, and our ignorance into wisdom.

When people are compassionate and wise, naturally their hearts become more open and spacious, and all sentient beings in this world are able to receive care and help.

The Buddha told us that our hearts must “encompass the universe and the boundless worlds within it.” So, we must learn to open our hearts to encompass the universe, to extend our minds without limitations, to be unaffected by states of greed, anger, and ignorance, and to return to our pure original compassion and wisdom.

“The heart encompasses the universe and the boundless worlds within it.” I often say, “Let us humble ourselves to fit into the eyes of others without bothering them, and enter their hearts.” We must humble ourselves to be discrete, while still harboring limitless great love within us.

For people to “embrace the boundless worlds” means that their love can reach any place in this universe. In life, the capacity of our minds is inherent to us. It is not created for us by others.

Our parents give birth to our physical bodies. However, “Though they give the child a physical body, they cannot direct the child’s mind.”

The capacity of our minds is not born from our parents; it is truly very wondrous and profound.

How do we achieve the purity, wisdom, and great love that we seek?
Only by being unattached and unobstructed can we thoroughly understand our pure intrinsic nature.

Context for the Teaching: The operations of the Tzu Chi volunteer team became community-based.

I asked volunteers to follow a community-based system; thus we had to reorganize the teams based on their communities. Some volunteers live on the east side, but they participated in activities located on the west side. Now, we are asking them to remain on the east side for activities. Because of this, the team leader also has to change; the people they work with will also change. It is a large restructuring across Taiwan.

Initially, I was a bit worried that people would not get used to it, and that some people would be against it. Unexpectedly, every Tzu Chi volunteer was very understanding and accommodating, and they even told me, “Master, thank you for letting us organize activities within our community. Now, we have an opportunity to create good affinities with our neighbors.” Volunteers from northern, central, and southern Taiwan all told me this, and I am very grateful.

Tzu Chi is the bodhisattva path in the world. It is not only a charitable organization but also a training ground for Living Bodhisattvas.

We must train ourselves to have the spirit of bodhisattvas and become people with a cultivated and perfect character, opening our hearts to “encompass the universe and the boundless worlds within it.”

We must seek the path to buddhahood and faithfully accept and practice the teachings the Buddha taught.

“The heart encompasses the universe and the boundless worlds within it.”
No matter what challenges or setbacks I encounter with people or matters, I remind myself to practice “the spirit of great love,” that there is no one in this world whom I do not love, cannot forgive, or do not trust.

This is also why so many people are willing to follow me, to work hard and dedicate themselves to Tzu Chi’s missions.

If you were to ask, why is it that I am able to attract so many people to work hard for this ideal, the answer is that our hearts “encompass the universe and the boundless worlds within it”! The capacity of my heart will expand to match that of the universe. I will do my utmost to help people in all places.

The Buddha said that there are two types of virtuous friends. One serves to create beneficial adverse conditions, while the other creates favorable, assisting conditions.
“Beneficial adverse conditions” are obstructions on the bodhisattva path that we have chosen to practice. These obstructions might come from family, from the environment, or from our partners. To resolve them through understanding depends on our perspective.

When faced with adverse conditions, we should be grateful so that we can create good conditions and develop our resilience and courage.

Without negative conditions, how are we able to cultivate goodness?
We must constantly be grateful for beneficial adverse conditions. By having gratitude for such conditions, we are able to be more accommodating. Having an accommodating heart is very important.

I often say that extending our compassion and great love involves training the capacity of our minds to be open and spacious. Our hearts must encompass the universe and the boundless worlds within it. Our hearts must be so broad and vast that they accommodate the universe. Whether the people are good or evil, the conditions favorable or adverse, in this world, there is no one who we do not love, and so we must have a heart broad enough to accommodate all of this.

I often say, “Let us be grateful as we help others.” When we go to help people, we should always be grateful.

We should thank those who receive our help because they enable us to fulfill our spiritual cultivation and see that life is filled with suffering and hardship.
Without these suffering sentient beings, how are we able to recognize our fortune and blessings?
If there were no sentient beings in need of help, how could we realize the strength we have within ourselves?

No matter how much strength we give to others, we must always be grateful. To people who we do not know, we have already given gratefully and without expectations, so we are free and at ease.

Furthermore, we are a group of Living Bodhisattvas, and so we should know to respect, love, and care for each other.

This time, before the Tzu Chi volunteers from overseas were about to go back to their countries, I asked them, “Please remember to relay these two simple phrases. After putting this into practice, come back next year to show me what you have accomplished.” The first phrase was, “Unity and Mutual Love.” The other was, “Love those whom I love; accomplish matters that I love.”

There is no one in this world whom I do not love. If every person can love those whom I love, this loving-heart can encompass the universe, and every person would be loved.

With love in our hearts, the power that we employ would be great. When we have the opportunity to dedicate ourselves, we should earnestly treasure this and awaken to the fact that life is impermanent. Knowing this, we should exercise the love in our hearts.
We must work in unity and harmony. We are Tzu Chi volunteers who share the same vow, the same aspiration, and the same path. Within Tzu Chi, let us unite and love each other.

Let us open our hearts to the world around us so that they may encompass the universe and the boundless worlds within it.
There is no one whom I do not love.
If we can achieve this, Tzu Chi will become even better.

Why do I want to construct a hospital? Why do I push for construction and education?
Everyone knows that I am a monastic, and monastics accept the teachings of the Buddha earnestly and diligently.

The Buddha’s teachings are always on my mind.

The Buddha teaches loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.
During the evening recitation, the Prayer to the Eighty-Eight Buddhas begins with, “Great loving-kindness, great compassion, great joy, and great equanimity.”

In front of every word, the word “great” is added, signifying how the Buddha teaches sentient beings to open our hearts and bear that love. To what extent should this love grow? It should encompass the universe and the boundless worlds within it.

As disciples of the Buddha, what we must first learn is compassion and loving-kindness, which should be great loving-kindness and great compassion. We must broaden the capacity of our hearts to the extent that they can encompass the world.
Great loving-kindness means giving joy to others. When there is joy, there is no suffering. However, how can people who live in this world not experience suffering? Everyone in this world is suffering. They suffer because they are unable to meet their material needs; they suffer from spiritual pitfalls, from having money, from not having money, from being childless, and from having children. Every person is suffering.

What can we do about suffering? We must remove suffering. It is like being pricked by a thorn, which is painful even with a light touch. We must be mindful as we extract this thorn so that once the thorn is extracted, our bodies will no longer hurt.

Finding ways to remove the suffering of sentient beings is the practice of great compassion. Giving everyone cause to be joyful is the practice of great loving-kindness.

In response to Tzu Chi’s international disaster relief work, some people say, “Instead of helping Taiwan, Tzu Chi goes abroad to provide relief. Going to mainland China to provide relief is robbing resources from Taiwan and strengthening the power of the enemy.”

This is an example of people who do not cultivate the fields of their minds and who have not earnestly contemplated the problem. First, it must be understood what kind of organization Tzu Chi is. Tzu Chi is a Buddhist organization.

The Buddha teaches us that love does not discriminate between people or their backgrounds, and that we should love all sentient beings in this world. Regardless of a person’s skin color, we are all humans nonetheless, and we should not discriminate by ethnicity. Moreover, it is not just human beings that we are supposed to love! We must love not only people, but animals, too.

So, let us love all life in this world; this is the Buddha’s perspective. The Buddha taught us that our hearts should encompass the universe and the boundless worlds within it. We must broaden our hearts. No matter how big the universe is, our hearts can be just as big. There is no one in this world that I do not love.

Mainland China and Taiwan are simply on opposite shores. The people there are suffering, and we hear about it. If we can bear to ignore them, we are not fit to be human beings; how could we even claim to be learning the Buddha’s teachings?
Learning the Buddha’s teachings means cultivating a compassionate heart and being unable to bear sentient beings’ suffering. When others hurt, we feel pain, and we feel sad when others suffer.

We do not just speak nice sounding words; we put these into action for everyone to see. This is an example of treating the world’s sentient beings with sincerity and integrity.

We feel pain when others are hurt. When others are physically hurt, we feel their pain in our hearts; when others suffer due to their circumstances, we feel their sadness in our hearts.

Great love must encompass our global village. Tzu Chi volunteers love with “hearts that encompass the universe and the boundless worlds within it.” We must spread open our loving hearts so that they can encompass the universe, spreading our love to all sentient beings in this world.

Every time I hear someone say, “Instead of helping Taiwan, Tzu Chi goes abroad to provide relief,” I feel deeply saddened. If the day comes when we need everyone to come help save Taiwan, that means Taiwan is experiencing an extreme tragedy and requires people’s help.

Why are we not forming good aspirations? Isn’t it a good thing to be someone who can help others?

The earth is fragile; it is difficult for all things contained between the earth and sky to remain forever in harmony. This world is always filled with disasters, and so we must always form aspirations, as we are blessed to do so.

In the two Chinese characters which make up the word “wisdom,” the first character represents discernment between virtuous and evil behavior in this world. After we choose the virtuous, we must put effort into upholding the precepts to refrain from evil. This takes wisdom. The second character represents an accommodating heart, a heart that encompasses the universe and the boundless worlds within it. All living beings live within my heart, and I cherish them deeply.

The lives of all sentient beings and mine are together as one.
This unconditional loving-kindness and universal compassion is true wisdom.

All buddhas share the same path, so no matter which of the Buddha’s teachings we are learning, as long as we open the doors of our hearts, we are all on the same path.

The Buddha wished to inspire the minds of sentient beings so that our hearts can encompass the universe and the boundless worlds within it. He hoped to elevate our wisdom so that light can shine on the world. Let us not be selfish, only thinking of ourselves and not taking notice of others. Such a life is truly suffering.

When the Buddha came to this world, he said to us,
“You are the same as I. What I am able to do, you are also able to do. My wisdom can understand all things in this world, all principles in this universe. I understand this, and you can too.”

How are we able to understand this? By expanding the limited love we have and returning to great love.

Over thirty years ago, I had already seen that people have great love in their hearts. Why?

Because I read in the Buddhist sutras that the heart can encompass the universe and the boundless worlds within it. Every person has the capacity in their hearts to encompass the universe. Wherever there is sand and dust, we can encompass it.

People often ask others, “Why are you so small-minded?” If the capacity of our minds is small, we cannot accommodate all matters in this world. When it is small, we might burst from lack of space. So, we should expand our capacity so that we can encompass boundless worlds, expanding our minds to encompass all places.
When we have this capacity, our love can encompass the universe.

This is the capacity of the Buddha’s mind. This is why we must learn the Buddha’s teachings.

Context: Master’s reflection on her spiritual cultivation in 1963 at the small wooden cabin.

Even in the small wooden cabin, in that very small and narrow house, my mind was open and spacious because I could feel that this is my calling. I felt I must broaden and open my heart.

“It is better to have a big heart than a big house.” Although it was a cramped, small wooden cabin, I had to find a way to broaden my mind so that my heart could truly encompass the universe and the boundless worlds within it.

Our hearts must be as broad as the universe. This is why I often speak of Sakyamuni Buddha’s awakening and how he is the Great Enlightened One of the Universe.
He is not just the Great Enlightened One on Earth, but also the Great Enlightened One of the Universe.

With his wisdom, the Buddha is able to explain the principles of this universe in a very simple manner.

The Heart Encompasses the Universe and the Boundless Worlds Within It
June 26, 1983
Tzu Chi Commissioners’ Gathering
September 21, 1996
Jing Si Lifestyle Camp for Southern Region Honorary Board Members
September 23, 1996
Teaching to Staff Members at Global Headquarters
January 17, 1997
Taoyuan Commissioner and Faith Corps Certification Ceremony and Year-end Blessing
January 21, 1997
Kaohsiung Commissioner and Faith Corps Certification Ceremony and Year-end Blessing
February 23, 1997
Teaching to Southern Region Commissioners and Faith Corps
March 16, 1997
Foreign Language Team Spiritual Homecoming
September 24, 1997
New Staff Training
January 11, 1998
Kaohsiung Commissioner and Faith Corps Certification Ceremony and Year-end Blessing
April 30, 1998
Meeting with Taoyuan Tzu Chi Volunteers (Tzu Chi’s Thirty-Second Anniversary)
November 17, 1998
Meeting with Northern Region Tzu Chi Volunteers
November 29, 1998
Spiritual Homecoming for Northern Region Faith Corps in Training
March 25, 2000
Southern Region Faith Corps Retreat
July 14, 2001
Wisdom at Dawn
September 13, 2002
Meeting with Tainan Tzu Chi Commissioners and Faith Corps
February 10, 2012
Tzu Chi Collegiate Volunteer Camp