ABSTRACT

Tzu Chi (Ciji), the “Buddhist Compassionate Relief Foundation,” is a philanthropic association founded by the Taiwanese Buddhist nun Cheng Yen (Zheng Yan) that is formally separate from but intimately connected with her Still Thoughts Dharma Lineage. The Dharma lineage is based on a Humanistic Buddhist version of Pure Land Buddhism and is carried on by the hundred or so nuns at the Still Thoughts Abode, the monastery led by Cheng Yen in Hualien. The Tzu Chi Foundation is directed by Cheng Yen but composed of lay people who pledge themselves to carry out missions of charity, medicine, education and culture in accordance with bodhisattva virtues of compassion and wisdom in order to create a Pure Land on this Earth. Tzu Chi has millions of members (and over 80,000 “commissioners” who are its most dedicated and elite members), billions of dollars in assets, and branches throughout the world. There are tensions between traditional and modern elements in the Still Thoughts Lineage and tensions in the enactment of that vision in the Tzu Chi organization. Tzu Chi undoubtedly retains a Buddhist spirit, but its size and complexity make it difficult to maintain that spirit in its purest form.