Doing Good Great
Thirteen Asian Heroes and Their Causes

Chapter 2: Compassion Organized

Country: Taiwan
Organisation: Tzu Chi Foundation
Cause: Compassion

Buddhism teaches that life is a continuous cycle of birth and death, that to be alive is to suffer, and that one can overcome suffering and achieve enlightenment through wisdom and compassion1.

Compassion is what Dharma Master Cheng Yen embodies. Wisdom is found in her aphorisms and teachings. Hailed as the “Mother Teresa of Asia,” Cheng Yen is a Buddhist nun who founded the Tzu Chi Foundation, the largest nonprofit organization in the Chinese-speaking world.

The foundation is well known not only in China and Taiwan but also globally for its humanitarian relief machinery, especially for its ability to respond immediately in the wake of natural disasters. Tzu Chi volunteers arrive at ground zero with astonishing speed, promptly dispensing food, medicine, blankets, and warm clothing to the displaced and, in the longer term, rebuilding homes, clinics and schools.

Inspired by Dharma Master Cheng Yen, Tzu Chi’s followers put Buddhism into action. They bring calm in chaos, touching the lives of those whom they serve with their acts of kindness given freely without any expectation of reward.

Brief facts



Born Chin Yun Wang in Qingshui, a small town in the outskirts of Taichung; adopted by her aunt and uncle


Committed 12 years of her life to the Bodhisattva of Compassion and promised to become a vegetarian in exchange for her adopted mother’s recovery from illness


Her father’s death triggered her initiation into Buddhism at the Ci Yun Temple; ran away from home to become a nun


Became a disciple of Dharma Master Yin Shun; ordained a nun in the Temple of Lin Chi and accepted Dharma name Cheng Yen


Pool of blood incident in Hualien and meeting with three Catholic nuns leading to the foundation of the Tzu Chi Foundation with five disciples and 30 housewives




Ramon Magsaysay Award for Social Leadership


People to People International’s Eisenhower Peace Prize


Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization’s International Human Rights Award


President of El Salvador’s National Medal of the Second Order


President of Taiwan’s Order Brilliant Star Decoration


Asian American Federation’s Heritage Award for Humanitarian Service


Japanese Niwano Peace Foundation’s Peace Prize


Roosevelt Institute’s Distinguished Public Service Award

TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World


National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster’s 2014 Member of the Year Award

Rotary International’s Award of Honor (for Humanitarian Spirit and World Peace)


End Notes

  1. Buddhism teaches that life is samsara, which is defined as the continuous repetitive cycle of birth and death that arises from ignorance and attachments to material things. It is characterized by suffering, anxiety, and dissatisfaction. One can only be liberated from samsara by following the Buddhist path of wisdom and compassion.