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Peter Singer’s “The Most Good You Can Do” Quotes 1

Dharma Master Cheng Yen is a Buddhist nun living in Hualien County, a mountainous region on the east coast of Taiwan. Because the mountains formed barriers to travel, the area has a high proportion of indigenous people, and in the 1960s many people in the area, especially indigenous people, were living in poverty. Although Buddhism is sometimes regarded as promoting a retreat from the world to focus on the inner life, Cheng took the opposite path. In 1966, when Cheng Yen was twenty-nine, she saw an indigenous woman with labor complications whose family had carried her for eight hours from their mountain village to Hualien City. On arriving they were told they would have to pay for the medical treatment she needed. Unable to afford the cost of treatment they had no alternative but to carry her back again. In response, Cheng Yen organized a group of thirty housewives, each of whom put aside a few cents each day to establish a charity fund for needy families. It was called Tzu Chi, which means “Compassionate Relief.” Gradually word spread, and more people joined. Cheng Yen began to raise funds for a hospital in Hualien City. The hospital opened in 1986. Since then, Tzu Chi has established six more hospitals.

To train some of the local people to work in the hospital, Tzu Chi founded medical and nursing schools. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of its medical schools is the attitude shown to corpses that are used for medical purposes, such as teaching anatomy or simulation surgery, or for research. Obtaining corpses for this purpose is normally a problem in Chinese cultures because of a Confucian tradition that the body of a deceased person should be cremated with the body intact. Cheng Yen asked her volunteers to help by willing their bodies to the medical school after their death. In contrast to most medical schools, here the bodies are treated with the utmost respect for the person whose body it was. The students visit the family of the deceased and learn about his or her life. They refer to the deceased as “silent mentors,” place photographs of the living person on the walls of the medical school, and have a shrine to each donor. After the course has concluded and the body has served its purpose, all parts are replaced and the body is sewn up. The medical school then arranges a cremation ceremony in which students and the family take part.

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