The Parliament of the World's Religions (PoWR) was held in Chicago in the United States with 105 representatives. It welcomed the pivotal role of the Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation. Focusing on faith and morality, Tzu Chi led discussions on global issues, emphasizing unity, defending human rights, and advocating a compassionate world. The event highlighted Tzu Chi's diverse contributions and leadership, uniting 200 religious leaders and 80 countries with the mission to foster peace, justice, and sustainable development.

The 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions gathered organizations from over 80 countries, representing more than 210 different religions, indigenous beliefs, and folk faiths. (Photo by Jennifer Chien; Chicago, USA; 2023/08/14)

The 2023 Parliament of the World's Religions convened in Chicago from August 14th to 18th and marked its return to the birthplace of the global assembly 30 years ago in 1993.

A Short History of PoWR

Throughout history, there have been several important gatherings known as the Parliament of the World's Religions. The inaugural event, the World's Parliament of Religions in 1893, aimed to foster a global conversation among different faiths. To mark its centenary in 1993, a celebratory conference was held. This commemoration sparked a fresh series of conferences under the official title Parliament of the World's Religions. They all shared the common objective of nurturing a global dialogue among diverse faiths.

The History of Tzu Chi at PoWR

The Tzu Chi Foundation first participated in the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City. When the PoWR met again in 2018 in Toronto, Canada, with 8,000 people from 80 countries, Tzu Chi’s delegation included volunteers from the United States and Canada, and two Dharma Masters from the Jing Si Abode, in Hualien, Taiwan; it was the first time they had ventured outside the monastery to present on an international stage. Dharma Master Cheng Yen appeared during the opening ceremony through a pre-recorded video entitled “Love Beyond Religion,” to convey her message to the audience.

During the PoWR in 2018, a speech by Dharma Master Cheng Yen was presented at the opening ceremony. Photo/Tzu Chi Toronto, Canada

Tzu Chi’s Vital Role and Global Agenda Leadership

As a significant member of the organizing council, Tzu Chi played a crucial role at this year's Parliament. A total of 105 Tzu Chi representatives from the Jing Si Abode in Taiwan, the Tzu Chi Foundation, and multiple branches across the United States were actively involved. They led or participated in 16 critical agendas and discussions, delivering over ten thematic speeches.

Grounded in faith and morality, Tzu Chi addressed global issues such as climate change, gender equality, healthcare systems, and food sustainability at this global gathering. They shared insights into how Tzu Chi is dedicated to practicing environmental conservation, advocating vegetarianism, and extending compassionate relief to communities. The event's opening saw an attendance of 6,500 individuals.

Tzu Chi's Impactful Presence

During the opening ceremony, the Tzu Chi Chicago branch arranged a lion-and-dragon dance performance, to infuse the event with lively Asian culture. In attendance from Tzu Chi’s headquarters in Taiwan were nine representatives, including Master De Yuan (德淵師父), Master De Cheng (德澄師父), and Master De Huang (德瑝師父 ) from the Jing Si Abode and Rey-Sheng Her (何日生), Deputy CEO of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation. Together they led discussions and delivered speeches on 16 critical agendas.

Unite for Global Conscience and Collaboration

The overarching theme of this year's Parliament was “A Call to Conscience: Defending Freedom and Human Rights”. Discussions primarily focused on the urgent crisis of authoritarianism, asking global religious and spiritual communities to coexist harmoniously and unite based on faith and moral principles to defend dignity, freedom, and human rights. The objective was to contribute to a better world through enriched wisdom and compassion.

The 1993 PoWR initiated The Global Ethic, a declaration resulting from discussions among over 200 attendees. Subsequent parliaments have slightly revised and discussed this declaration. The current official versions of this declaration are available in English, Polish, and Spanish on the parliament's website. This year's Parliament will unveil Tzu Chi's translated Chinese version of "The Global Ethic," making Tzu Chi the sole religious organization to undergo such a translation within the parliament.

(word missing in this paragraph) Tzu Chi has participated in PoWR since 2015. Master De Yuan was among the first representatives to attend the assembly in 2018. “Our experience in 2018 allowed us to understand how to engage with the Parliament,” she noted. As a result, this year Tzu Chi actively sought to expand its presence, from a single exhibition space in 2018 to occupying almost all of the major exhibition areas.” Through discussions, interactions, and exhibitions, our aim is for more people to recognize and understand Tzu Chi, inspiring greater participation in our compassionate endeavors,” said Master De Yuan.

Tzu Chi’s Master De Yuan signed the Global Ethic (GE), a landmark declaration of the PoWR. (Photo by Dennis Lee; Chicago, USA; 2023/8/14)

Immersive Exhibits and Spiritual Engagements

At the five-day event at McCormick Place, the largest convention center in the United States, Tzu Chi crafted three distinctive exhibition spaces: "The Life of Buddha Exhibition," "The Climate Village," and "Buddhist Environmentalism".

Tzu Chi’s three dharma masters, Shih De Yuan, Shih De Cheng, and Shih De Huang, assembled in the Buddhist Prayer Room to present a simplified form of the Buddha Bathing Ceremony to PoWR attendees. (Photo by Dan Ferrara; Chicago, USA)
A booth for youngsters shared the importance of environmental protection and compassion for all life. (Photo by Dan Ferrara; Chicago, USA; 2023/8/14)

Debra Boudreaux (曾慈慧), CEO of Tzu Chi USA, emphasized the importance of this event as an opportunity to share Master Cheng Yen's philosophy with the world. She particularly highlighted the emotional response of Nepalese attendees who visited the comprehensive "The Life of Buddha Exhibition" and expressed strong support for Tzu Chi's initiatives in Nepal.

Legacy and Global Unity

Originating 130 years ago during the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, the "Parliament of the World's Religions" is now regarded as the origin of contemporary interfaith and new religious movements.

This year’s Parliament brought together organizations from over 95 countries, representing more than 210 diverse religious, indigenous, and folk belief systems. Through the assembly of 8,254 individuals, the collective aim was to promote global peace, justice, and sustainable development through interreligious dialogue and cooperation.

Master Cheng Yen’s Address

At the closing of the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions, Ven. Dharma Master Cheng Yen shared her message with all assembled in a video entitled “Purifying Minds for a Peaceful World,” recorded at the Jing Si Abode in Hualien, Taiwan, where she resides.
Her earnest and heartfelt advice:

The core essence of all religions is love. With love, we can inspire the materially poor to become spiritually wealthy. The purpose of each and every religion is to purify hearts and bring peace to the world. Only then can a Pure Land on Earth be possible. Such a grand vow comes deep from our hearts. When every one of us shares the same heart, we can head in the same direction and accomplish what we aspire to do. Let us seize our time in this life and work together to purify people’s hearts. This is the path we can walk together.”

When Gaza is engulfed in devastating artillery fire, global peace and harmony becomes ever more urgent. It needs the collective effort of everyone to embody the beliefs of peace and love between people and within our daily lives.

Click here to visit the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Tzu Chi volunteers and students from Tzu Chi University lit candles and led the attendees to sing the song “Prayer,” wishing for a world without disasters." (Photo by Qiu Yao-yang; Chicago, USA; 2023/8/14)
Tzu Chi members from across the United States assembled for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, in Chicago, Illinois, ready and eager to begin setting up for the coming days. (Photo provided by Tzu Chi USA)
Tzu Chi volunteers prepared conference tote bags to give to each attendee. Tzu Chi donated 10,000 bags made from recycled PET bottles, manufactured by DA.AI Technology. (Photo by Fan Ting; Chicago, USA; 2023/08)