On December 3, 2010, Tzu Chi USA’s CEO, Dr. William Keh, was invited to speak at Chaoyang University of Technology in Taichung, on the topic of “filling the global village with great love.” Before an audience of hundreds of staff and students, Dr. Keh recounted how he first started to feel his life was unfulfilled around what was ostensibly the highest point of his career. It was only after he had retired and personally participated in a disaster relief outreach with Tzu Chi that he realized that “this is exactly what [he] was meant for.”
How helping the needy gave him perspective in a life awash with success
“Seeing young people like you makes me feel very hopeful for our future,” said Dr. Keh to the university audience. “I had been a doctor in a veteran’s hospital and had an MBA when I went to the US in 1980 to pursue further education. There, I started a business with my wife, and by 1991, after several years of hard work and trials, our business grew to employ hundreds of people.”
“However, when I was around 40, a real mid-life crisis was looming over me, even in the midst of all that success. I thought, if the average lifespan is 70-80 years, then I’m halfway done. I had money, fame, and expensive properties. Was that all there was to life? I started to think, ‘What is the meaning of it all? What is the value of my existence?’ These feelings would make me wake up in the night in a cold sweat, worried about what the future would hold. I had no idea how to change my life or fix what was wrong.”
After joining Tzu Chi as a volunteer and through all forms of giving, he finally found the answers to his questions. He realized the meaning of life, and how Tzu Chi plays a part in that realization.
In 1995, Dr. Keh first became involved with Tzu Chi. By 1997 he had retired from his business to become a full time volunteer, and in 1998, he endured a 36-hour flight and a 10-hour plus bus ride to arrive in disaster-stricken Guizhou, China. Quoting Master Cheng Yen, he said, “Disaster survivors are like bodhisattva’s incarnation. Their hardships show us how much we have and teach us how to appreciate it, while also giving us an opportunity to give back.”
Dr. Keh spent his entire first day in Guizhou greeting survivors and humbly bending his back in respectful, 90° bows. He did his best to convey Master Cheng Yen’s love, care and respect. That night, despite his physical and mental exhaustion, Dr. Keh could not stop thinking about the events of the day. All of a sudden, he was struck with the idea that compassion was the essential secret and power of the universe. He realized that everything he had was created from this world that he lived on. Everyone and everything was connected. Because of other’s previous hard work, he was able to gain his success later. From that moment on, he understood what it meant to be truly grateful, and he was sure that Tzu Chi was what he was meant to do with the rest of his life.
Following the Master to bring great love to the world
In Tzu Chi, we “manage people with love and affairs with Buddhist discipline.” Dr. Keh said, “Our Master’s love for the land is incomparable.” No matter where Tzu Chi volunteers are, they never forget their roots, and it is through Master’s teachings that we volunteers indiscriminately spread our “great love” among people, regardless of language, race or religion. Wholeheartedly devoted to the organization, Dr. Keh is ready at a moment’s notice to travel anywhere in the world on its behalf.
After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, many of its airports and seaports were demolished. Combined with the increasing social unrest, several countries and charity organizations held back and resorted to airdrop for relief distribution. Dr. Keh explained how a mutual respect for the survivors made Master Cheng Yen insist on personal contact during relief distributions, and to hire local people to help clean up disaster areas. Being able to feel the love and kindness of the Tzu Chi volunteers touched many of the local residents and motivated them to join Tzu Chi themselves. It helped rekindle their hope and self-confidence and showed them how to eventually become a giver instead of a receiver.
Dr. Keh told of his admiration for the Haiti relief volunteers and of their indefatigable positive attitude and determination. “Even though they only slept for two hours every day, the Tzu Chi volunteers could rise to handle almost any challenge.”
He also explained that while in Haiti himself, he noticed that the Haitians were very passionate and loved to dance. This inspired him to sponsor a “Buddha’s birthday” gathering in a local church as a well-wishing ceremony for the survivors. During the ceremony, he highlighted Tzu Chi’s three wishes: to purify people’s minds, to harmonize the world’s communities, and to work to provide all human beings with a conflict-free world.
Dr. Keh continued, “In the US, our offices, medical service centers, and Jing Si Bookstores continue to grow in numbers. We also participate in U.N. meetings and thus gain access to even more services for disaster survivors.”
He then expressed gratitude for all the volunteers’ selfless efforts. For all the little acts of kindness that were planted and that together will blossom into a field of blessings. This spirit, he explained, was very much in keeping with the spirit of the “Bamboo Bank Era.” It is the spirit from which Tzu Chi was founded, and it advocates that the accumulation of small deeds creates a great force with which to be reckoned.
Tzu Chi volunteer Wang Song-Qi marveled at Dr. Keh’s speech and said, “There is a dharma saying which goes, ‘It is difficult for rich people to be enlightened.’ To be able to put aside one’s desires and look lightly on worldly wealth is not easy! Dr. Keh, however, not only did so, he also willingly shouldered the difficult duties of becoming our organization’s American CEO and carried them out remarkably.
In a brief two hours, Dr. Keh brought the young audience on a mental tour through his disaster relief trips to meet those affected around the world and successfully ended with a powerful message that everyone’s little acts of compassion would together bring great love to our global village.
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