Tzu Chi Founder Discusses Environmentalism

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Tsu-Chi Foundation birthplace (Photo by The Merciless available on Flickr)

I’m always excited when I stumble upon a new person of faith who cares about the environment. In the case of Dharma Master Cheng Yen, I really should have stumbled upon her earlier.

The Buddhist nun, who is known as the Mother Theresa of Asia, founded the Tzu Chi Foundation and has been active with disaster relief, health issues, and community volunteering. Among the many contributions to society, volunteers with the Foundation in the United States pass out bread to the homeless in Washington, DC and run a mobile dentist clinic in Los Angeles. There is even a bone marrow registry.

Recently a group from the Manila Times and three 19-year-old Nepalese boys, victims of the recent earthquake there, met with Master Chen Yen. The focus was on her environmentalism.

One of the Nepalese boys asked her about animal sacrifice. In Nepal, the famous Gadhimi festival in southern Nepal involves the large scale animal slaughter with the goal of pleasing Gadhimai, a Hindu goddess. It is estimated that 500,000 animals were sacrificed during the festival in 2009 and this year two charities canceled the controversial event.

Chen Yen said that animals are part of our natural environmental and an indispensable part of our lives because they help us. Tzu Chi believe we have to co-exist with the Earth and its members are vegetarians. They don’t believe animals should ever be killed for food or to appease a goddess.

One of the visitors from the Manila Times brought the Master a handwoven Yakan cloth. She wrapped the gift in paper and secured it with tape. The Dharma Master delicately worked the gift so as not to damage the paper saying paper is to be re-used an recycled. Not only do Tzu Chi respect animals — they respect everything.

Not all Buddhists are vegetarians, but many Buddhists care about the environment. In fact, Buddhist leaders recently came together to support a global agreement to address climate change. But much needs to be done at a grassroots level and leaders like Master Chen Yen are inspiring people to respect the world around them. I look forward to following the work of the Dharma Master and her Tzu Chi Foundation more.

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About the Author

I'm an organic-eating, energy-saving naturalist who composts and tree hugs in her spare time. I have a background in environmental law, lobbying, and field work. I believe in God; however, I do not call myself a Christian or a Jew or a member of any religion. I am merely someone who finds a spiritual connection to all humans and the environment. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .