Letter from Master Cheng Yen to Tzu Chi Volunteers

The Buddhist Channel, Sept 7, 2005

Dear volunteers and staff of Tzu Chi chapters around the world,

Life is impermanent and the world is fragile. On August 29, Hurricane Katrina caused the most devastating disaster in the last 105 years of US history. Fierce wind and rain pelted the Gulf Coast like a ton of bricks, ravaging Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama.

The city of New Orleans received the hardest blow. When the levees collapsed, over eighty percent of the city, including two airports, became submerged in water. With gas leakages leading to outbreaks of fire, power outages, a water shortage, the collapse of infrastructure, and corpses floating through its waterlogged streets, the city was forced to shut down and declare a state of emergency. The Governor of Mississippi even compared the hurricane aftermath to Hiroshima after the atom bomb. The unimaginable scale of the disaster has paralyzed US emergency services. They are unable to rescue the survivors even as the number of casualties continues to climb.

Listening to all this, I feel an indescribable sense of pain and sorrow. In the world we live in, everything is interconnected. Any minor changes to the environment can ripple out to affect the whole. Where does a hurricane of such magnitude come from? The role of global warming cannot be denied, as scientific studies tell us. The disasters nowadays are increasingly more severe, and in the future, given human beings' wayward activities, the disasters will become even more devastating. The small acts here and there may seem minor, but very quickly we find upon us a calamity that tears apart families and destroys cities. As a member of this global village, how can we remain apart and take no action?

Tzu Chi members in the US have already mobilized. Since the disaster area was closed off, they have begun providing assistance to hurricane evacuees who fled to Texas, especially to the elderly, the disabled, and low-income families. They plan to distribute US$100 emergency gift certificates to the victims in lieu of cash and offer other forms of assistance, so the evacuees can immediately receive emotional and physical support. Furthermore, TIMA (Tzu Chi International Medical Association) members across the U.S. are preparing to provide medical assistance at the refugee centers, while everyone else prepares to kick off a nationwide fundraising drive. Tzu Chi members in Canada have already brought together US$1 million for the relief efforts.

I earnestly hope that all of you will bring forth your love and further inspire others to share the same compassion; that you will contribute but also draw others to join this global fundraising effort. At this time, we need to unite everyone behind this campaign— to rally everyone's love and inspire acts of kindness. The positive force created from this goodness is the force of positive karma. It is a force that can turn the tide of negative karma.

Just as Hurricane Katrina was forming over the Atlantic, Typhoon Talim was forming over the Pacific. While Hurricane Katrina swept through three states of the United States, Typhoon Talim landed in Taiwan. Thankfully, the Central Mountain Range helped to weaken the winds of the typhoon so that Taiwan was able to escape heavy damages. Having safely weathered the storm, we in Taiwan are filled with gratitude, and are humbled to realize how unconquerable the forces of nature truly are.

Indeed, those of us who are safe should reach out to those who are suffering. The South Asia disaster passed only eight months ago. Just when we were finally beginning to see the victims settled down, with the groundbreaking of the Tzu Chi communities in Sri Lanka and Aceh, Indonesia—suddenly another catastrophic disaster struck. Deeply saddened as we are, it is not enough just to feel sympathy. We should take action to do what we can to offer help.

Faced with such a horrific disaster, we must all awaken to its lessons. We must come to realizations and adjust our own hearts, to pray for and reach out to disaster victims with a heart humbled, sincere, and disciplined. At the same time, we must recognize how human activities have a hand in natural disasters, and do what we can to protect our environment and be more eco-friendly in our day to day living. While things may be safe and well for us, we must always remain aware of potential crisis and live in a way that can help prevent them.

We must quickly do good---doing good isn't something to be put off for another time. Doing good creates positive karma and sows blessings—bringing about good fortune and averting disaster. So, we should encourage everyone to exercise their compassion and carry out acts of kindness.  Disasters, both natural and man-made, are happening because there is a lack of goodness and love in our world today. Karma – the law of cause and effect – is a law of nature. As unrelated as things may seem, a cause and effect relationship nevertheless exists.

Everyone's actions, both positive and negative, affect the state of the world. If people are moral and ethical, then naturally the world will be safe and peaceful. When there are disasters, it is the concern of each and every one of us—we all have a responsibility to help. I hope you all will do your part in motivating those around you to contribute to humanity in a positive way.

We all live under the same sky, on the same earth. We should treat everyone in the world as part of our family and embrace their suffering as our own. Our mission now is to inspire everyone to dedicate their love and wisdom to helping the victims of the hurricane and easing their suffering. Let us fully embrace this mission.

I sincerely hope that everyday you will think good thoughts, speak kind words, and do good, so we can help to purify people's hearts, bring peace to society, and eliminate disaster from the world. I'm grateful to you all, and I sincerely wish you happiness and wisdom.

Ven. Cheng Yen is the Founder of Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation