The Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi (Ciji) Foundation of Taiwan is a lay Buddhist movement under monastic leadership that has a mission of relieving all living beings from suffering. The founder and leader is the Venerable (or the Dharma Master) Cheng Yen (Zhengyan fashi). Cheng Yen is an ordained nun and, at the same time, commands considerable personal appeal. While Tzu Chi's current membership of several million does include a significant number of men, the majority of followers, especially the core members, continue to be women. What do Taiwanese women see in Cheng Yen and in Tzu Chi? Drawing from ethnography in southern Taiwan and the Tzu Chi literatures on Cheng Yen, this paper attempts to show a pattern of normalizing female charisma——in the sense that female followers struggle for a breakthrough from the cultural constraints of their female gender roles by means of, and by virtue of, the Tzu Chi mission.
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