Tzu Chi and the Philanthropy of Filipino Volunteers

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This paper examines how local Filipino volunteers frame their participation and membership in the Tzu Chi Foundation, a worldwide Buddhist philanthropic organisation headquartered in Taiwan. These volunteers were recruited into Tzu Chi after receiving disaster aid in the wake of Typhoon Ketsana in 2009 in the Philippines. They participate not just in philanthropic activities, but also in Buddhist religious instruction and rituals. We suggest, however, that the volunteers, who are mostly non-Chinese, urban poor, and Catholic, frame their participation in terms of personal transformation through self-discipline and self-fulfillment. These are facets that render their philanthropic participation in Tzu Chi not so much as religious as it is aspirational. In other words, participating in Tzu Chi for local Filipino volunteers is not about religion, but rather aspiration, in contrast to earlier studies that have emphasised Buddhist awareness as crucial to members of Tzu Chi. This piece contributes to the emerging literature that documents Tzu Chi as an increasingly inclusive organisation that downplays its traditionally Chinese diasporic character.