The 2008 International Caring for Life Awards and Inspirational Forum

On the afternoon of 6 September 2008, the 2nd International Caring for Life Awards were hosted by the Dharma Drum Humanities and Social Improvement Foundation (DDHSIF) at the Grand Hotel in Taipei.

Those present included the founder of Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM), the Most Venerable Master Sheng Yen, the Abbot President of DDM, Venerable Guo Dong, Catholic Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi, the Secretary General of DDHSIF, Dr. Lee Shen-Yi, the President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention, Professor Brian L. Mishara, the former President of Control Yuan and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Fredrick F. Chien.

Venerable Master Sheng Yen proclaimed: "Life is invaluable. Committing suicide cannot solve our problems. From a Buddhist perspective, no matter what form it takes, suicide always results in intense suffering." For those who take their own lives, what they experience at the time of suicide will be experienced again and again, until the relevant karmic force expires and the person is reborn.

The Master explained that Taiwan's suicide rate is ranked the third in Asia, with four thousand people choosing to end their lives this way each year. In order to arouse public attention to the value of life, DDM has been promoting the idea of "caring for life" with the help of the media. "This is the reason that DDM wanted to host these awards."

The Master went on to say that none of us are really alone, and none are really deprived of relationships and support. Our lives are interdependently woven in a web of relationships. From this, we all bear some responsibilities and duties towards our fellow participants in this network of relationships. It means every one of us should cherish and make good use of life, carrying out our responsibilities and duties as best we can.

Professor Brian Mishara stated that the real challenge lies in the development of effective suicide prevention strategies. Each year, more people die by suicide than in war, terrorist attacks and homicides combined. Many people changed their mind and gave up the idea of suicide at the most critical moment.

The Professor explained, we should research into the reasons and motives for this critical change of attitude. This way we can help more suicidal people to brave the challenges of life. He stated that prevention programs often focus only on youth, and ignore other high risk groups, such as the elderly who have the highest suicide rates in most countries.

The Abbot President said that there are about one million people who die of suicide every year and approximately five million people who suffer with suicidal ideas. He stated that DDM wants to encourage those who are in desperation to seek professional help for their invaluable lives.

The Convener of the Judging Committee, Dr. Fredrick F. Chien, explained that a total of 68 individual and group applications combined were received for the event. He admitted that after reviewing only a few applications, there was already immense pressure because nearly every single applicant had remarkably touching stories to tell. He stated that many of the members on the Committee were moved to tears while reading the applications because each story was so moving.

To provide a platform for discussion and the inspirational talks from Venerable Master Sheng Yen and Professor Brian L. Mishara on the topics of suicide prevention and the meaning of life, the DDHSIF also hosted a half-day forum on the morning of 7 September at the International Convention Center of the National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei. The forum was very popular, with the convention center already packed half an hour prior to its commencement.

The Master reiterated that DDM teaches one to let go of fear, to ease the breath and to ease the mind in line with the teaching of Chan (Zen). The Master encouraged everyone to face difficulties bravely, explaining that if the one can face difficulties in life, one's mind would gradually be at ease and one would feel peace.

Professor Mishara echoed the Master's teaching by saying that we should actively reach out to people who attempt to kill themselves, noting that, people who are willing to receive others' assistance are few. We should go actively to encourage them to open their minds and seek others' help.

Winners were as follows:

(1) Winner of the Special Contribution Award: Professor Brian L. Mishara

Reasons: Professor Brian L. Mishara has produced 11 publications on suicidology and gerontology. His works have included detailed discussion of issues related to suicide prevention, theories on how children develop an understanding of suicide, and theories on development of suicidal behaviors.

He has been the President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) since 2005, touring the world to promote public awareness on suicide prevention. He signed an agreement with the World Health Organisation to collaboratively control access to dangerous pesticides. The result has been impressive, with significant decline of suicide rates in India, Sri Lanka and China.

(2) Winner of the Wisdom Award: Mr. Chen Ming Li

Reasons: Mr. Chen Ming Li has received many awards in the past. For a long time, Mr. Chen has dedicated himself to fighting for social welfare services. While devoting his service to the Taipei's Social Welfare Union, he worked jointly with the Taipei branch of the Legal Aid Foundation to propose revision of the Social Assistance Act and successfully amended part of its autonomous provisions that govern the safekeeping and application of the allocated surplus in Taipei's Charity Lottery Ticket revenue.

Additionally, while working at the Sunshine Social Welfare Foundation, Mr. Chen facilitated the establishment of Sunshine Car Wash Centers and Sunshine Rehabilitation Center.

(3) Winner of the Compassion Award: Mr. Wu Xin-An

Reasons: Mr. Wu Xin-An has been the director of the Kaohsiung Life Line Association since 1977. To uphold the mission of the Association, he dedicated both his time and talent with a philanthropic and compassionate spirit to caring for life and engaging in work related to suicide prevention.

During his service, he guided 4 full-time staff and 193 volunteers to provide a telephone counseling service to over 11,000 people annually, among which over 300 phone calls were made by people who were thinking of attempting suicide. Mr. Wu has personally assisted more than 700 people and offered them hope. For more than thirty years, his service has always been rated as excellent.

(4) Winner of the Group Award: The Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Injuries

Reasons: The Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Injuries (TAVOI) is the grass-root organization in Taiwan whose members are comprised of work injury victims. The members all have in common that they have all faced the pain and the near-death experiences brought by accidents at work. Yet for the past 16 years, they took that pain and transformed it into one collective energy, and extended it to care for and protect more lives.

The TAVOI has persisted in providing prompt service at the time of work accidents. The association also organizes story-telling teams, an arts club and audiovisual classes as well as other cultural means to record and report the journeys of the victims of occupational accidents and also that of other minority groups in our society.

(Reported & photos taken by Jin Yang/edited by DDM Australia Editing Team)

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