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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
69 summer 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly with the urban and global challenges of the future. Madsen places these tectonic pressures in the largest possible context: “The rise of Asia as the world’s most dynamic center of wealth, power, and cultural creativity is perhaps the single greatest challenge for a global order that has for centuries been dominated by Europe and now the United States. A breakdown along some of the fault lines centered on Taiwan could, in the worst- case scenario, become the epicenter for a catastrophe of global proportions.” The rich historical and phenomeno- logical detail offered in Democracy’s Dharma never obscures Madsen’s over- riding argument, that the progressive religious values embodied in Taiwanese Humanistic Buddhism are compatible with the political and social agendas of civil societies in the twenty-first century. Chapter headings point in this direc- tion: “Tzu Chi: The Modernization of Buddhist Compassion”; “Buddha’s Light Mountain: The Buddhist Contri- bution to Democratic Civil Religion”; and “Dharma Drum Mountain: Tran- scendent Meaning in a Broken World.” More telling are the parallels of world- view, organization, and implementa- tion that link the three religious orders. All three Mahayana sects embrace the bodhisattva vow to save all beings and the belief in a Pure Land for all. But the cosmic dimensions of the traditional vision—encompassing many lifetimes and distant Buddha realms—are col- lapsed to the here and now. Serving others in this life is the essence of the new Buddhism, equally appropriate for venerables and laypeo- ple, and the only Pure Land worth hav- ing is our dear Planet Earth—purged of poverty, injustice, tyranny, and war. A mark of the immediacy and intimacy of this ethic can be found in Ven. Cheng Yen’s wish that Tzu Chi volunteers hold the earthquake victims in their arms and wipe their tears, not as dutiful strangers but as loving family members. “By envisioning the nation and even the world as a family,” Madsen observes, Reviews “Tzu Chi enables its Taiwanese mem- bers to feel at home, in continuity with the best of their traditional values, even as they experience the typical material and spiritual dislocations of a global- ized modernity.” The robust institutionalization, effi- cient bureaucracy, and extraordinary wealth of the new Buddhist sects may seem foreign, if not disturbing, to Amer- ican Buddhists, who would prefer not to purchase the empty church building on Main Street to accommodate (or attract) a growing sangha. The four million Tzu Chi members are organized in ranks, starting with volunteers, who wear blue shirts, white pants, athletic shoes, and hard hats with the blue Tzu Chi logo. Working at disaster sites all over the world—even in the United States, where Tzu Chi volunteers came to the aid of New Orleans residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—these volunteers fly the Tzu Chi flag (white lotus and sail- ing ship on a blue field) and sing work hymns expressing the joys of service. In the ranks above the volunteers are the nearly one hundred Commission- ers, laywomen who have served with Ven. Cheng Yen since the 1960s, when the organization was founded. The Faith Corps, a men’s security team, was formed to direct traffic at work sites in the 1990s; members typically come from professional backgrounds and contrib- ute mid-level administrative and organi- zational skills as well as logistic support. Above the Commissioners and Faith Corps are the Honorary Board and the Religious Affairs Committee, made up of business and financial leaders respon- sible for funding the five hospitals, sec- ondary schools, medical college, and multimedia outlets that comprise the $1 billion-plus Tzi Chi enterprise. Finally, at the top of the pyramid, working in a modern building called the Hall of Still Thoughts, is Ven. Cheng Yen herself, still a simple nun who, like Shakyamuni, ran away from home as a youth, lived in voluntary poverty, and meditated and studied Buddhism on her