Sorting through a large pile of used clothes and household items, Hsiao Hsiu-chu is the picture of a new-age Buddhist.

The 63-year-old retiree used to practice her religion by praying at temples, but now she volunteers seven days a week at a recycling centre to raise funds for Taiwan’s Buddhist association Tzu Chi.

“I have no time to go to temples. Praying is not important. Coming here every day is like praying,” said Ms Hsiao.

This is not how most people practice Buddhism in Chinese-speaking or even non-Chinese Buddhist societies. Their faith is usually self-focused: praying for protection in their current life and to be born into a better life after they die.

But Taiwan is leading a quiet, yet powerful movement that has turned traditional Buddhism on its head, converting many Buddhists such as Ms Hsiao into doers, not just believers.

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