One More Temple

Sang-Chong Lieu, who goes by the English name Armstrong, was a science educator from a University of Education in Hualien, Taiwan (he is now with Bliss & Wisdom, a Buddhist group from Taiwan). During a visit to the University in Hualien I had given several presentations to faculty and graduate students, met a number of dignitaries at the University, and had visited some of the most scenic spots on this beautiful part of the coast. On my final day in Hualien, Sang-Chong asked me if I would like to revisit the coast or go to a Temple. I thought for a moment and reflected on the number of Temples I had already visited in Hualien and elsewhere in Taiwan. After a few moments of thought I said that perhaps I should spend the time doing some writing. He looked disappointed and remarked: “No! I really think you should see this Temple.”

When I arrived at the Temple I was simply amazed at its magnitude. It was the Tzu Chi headquarters and served many purposes including a residence for monks and nuns, a medical university, and of course a place of worship. I was astonished at the size of the main building and could have spent many days visiting. After a period of time we were approached by a monk who announced – the Master will see you. Sang-Chong was astonished. After coming to the Temple for many years he had never met the Master and yet on this occasion we were to have the privilege of meeting Master Cheng Yen.

There are many memorable aspects of the Tzu Chi Temple and Foundation. The one that struck me at the time and still is salient today is the mantra “work for food.” Participants at the Temple can reside, learn, and participate in myriad ways with the stipulation that they work for food. Tzu Chi Temples are distributed around the world and Tzu Chi is a compassionate organization that is a first responder in times of crisis such as during an earthquake, a tsunami, or armed conflict.

I do not regard my meeting with the master as coincidence as much as an opportunity to reflect on my roles and practices in the world. In many ways it was a wake-up call. Nor do I want to overstate the nature of the meeting, which lasted all of 30 seconds. We “met” at a distance of 10 meters – a solemn bow and sincere thoughts about many aspects of being in the world. This was indeed a turning point.

kenneth tobin in the himalayas

Master Cheng Yen, Tzu-Chi Monastary, Hualien, Taiwan