Dharma Master Heng Cheng (Gu Bing-mei)
Prologue to the Story
This moving story is true, but it touches people as much as a piece of fiction. It took place recently in Mei Nung (Beautiful Hamlet). Many people who hear the tale find that it brings them inspiration on the Spiritual Path.
Dr. Liu Yung-show celebrated his eightieth birthday this year. After he returned to Mei Nung for the Spring Festival this year then flew back to Japan's Ai Jr County, to look after his large hospital (Nakayama Hospital). His old classmate, Lin Yi-rung, and the friends from the area knew that after they saw their friend to the airport, as he took off for Japan, his eyes were streaming with tears.
Fifty years earlier, Mr. Liu was a high school student from Mei Nung. After he came back from his studies overseas in Japan, he obeyed his mother's orders to get married. She wanted him to continue the family line and start a family early in life. One day en route from Mei Nung to Gwang Lin to visit friends, he unexpectedly met a pretty young lady named Gu Bing-mei. Liu Yung-shou immediately decided to change his plans and to find a go-between to set up a marriage. Shortly after, he married Miss Gu Bing-mei.
At that time many people praised the young couple, claiming that the handsome husband and beautiful bride were a match made in heaven. They gave birth to two young daughters soon after, whose names were Mei-jing and Mei-hwei. The couple enjoyed a full life, and before long, Liu Yung-shou successfully completed his entrance examination for medical college in Japan.
He began to spend more and more time studying abroad. Although he often wrote long, tender letters home, full of concern about family business, his wife could not read. She sometimes didn't receive the letters, or if she received them, she could not express her feelings adequately in a reply. As a result, more and more family matters went unmentioned, and unresolved. It seemed to those close to them that since the couple was separated in fact, that they should be encouraged to get a divorce.
This event began fifty years of dismay and regrets, and wrote a new chapter in their lives.
Gu Bing-mei was now a young woman alone. She lived in Mei Nung's Gwang Sying district. The social customs of the countryside did not permit a widow to return to her mother's home. Who could survive the rumors flying about? She still had five and eight-year old daughters at her side.
In 1946, two years before Taiwan was over-taken, she and her two daughters climbed up to the mountain valley behind Gwang Sying. She put together a bamboo shelter and prepared to live a pure life of eternal chastity.
Many people laughed at her resolve, and considered it foolish. She was forced by circumstances to find food where she could. For months at a time she had to forage wild plants to keep hunger away. She sent her daughters to gather rice stalks or dig wild sweet potatoes, as there was simply nothing else to eat. The oldest daughter was forced to work as a family servant for three years to earn a meager living for her family.
On one occasion a typhoon blew in hard and mother had to climb up on the roof to repair a hole. She slipped and fell to the ground, where she fainted. The young girl couldn't cope with the situation, and could only hug her mother and sob frightened tears in the rainy night. Sometime later when people in the town found out about the situation, they brought medicine for the mother, and she recovered.
On another occasion, a flood roared down the mountain and all three of their ramshackle huts were completely washed away. They had no recourse but to let the destruction happen as they stood by helplessly and cried to heaven.
Their difficulty, unrest and insecurity continued until 1956. The children were aware that their mother was truly a great person. They shared a keen filial respect for her, and the three women relied only upon themselves to survive.
Liu Yung-shou stayed in Japan, and after his graduation he was sent by the Japanese Government into military service as a doctor. He passed through many dangers, and fortunately was able to return to Japan. After the war, he opened a small hospital. He worked hard and endured great toil. Gradually his reputation and his operations expanded. Every day he treated several hundred patients and his fortune grew quickly. The value of the land he occupied also increased, so that before long, he became the richest man in the area. He never forgot his estranged wife, Gu Bing-mei, and naturally he still longed for his two daughters. But he heard no news of them for the duration of the war.
He married a young Japanese girl and they gave birth to four children, who went on to the University and became doctors themselves.
In 1956, a friend from Mei Nung, Mr. Wen Tsai-shin traveled to Japan and brought news to Liu Yung-shou of his wife's situation, and her resolute chastity. He felt deeply moved. After 1956, he wrote to them in Taiwan and also sent money. In 1963 he first went to Taiwan in person to visit them. He wept as he helped the mother and daughters finish the roofing tiles on their small dwelling and also on the present Blessings and Wisdom worship hall.
Each time he returned home to Mei Nung during the years 1973, 1974, 1976, 1977, and 1979, he first climbed the mountain to pay a visit to his wife and daughters. No words could suffice to convey the depth of feeling and sentiment between them. But who can return to the springtime of his youth? Liu Yung-shou donated $500,000.00 (NT) to the Mei Nung Elementary School, and donated another $100,000.00 to the City Hall. He made a large contribution of financial resources to make up for his lack of public participation since he went abroad.
In 1982 Liu Yung-shou traveled through the countries of South East Asia and his comment upon returning was that none of the countries he visited could compare with Taiwan in security and stability.
This year he made a special return trip to pass the New Years holiday, and he ate the New Year's dinner in the temple with his wife and daughters. Each time Liu Yung-shou and Gu Bing-Mei meet, they pass a time of wordless silence. The man is seventy-one years old, his mate is sixty-nine, and after so many years, what needs to be said?
But when Liu Yung-shou sees his two daughters, aged forty-five and forty-two, both of whom never married, and who stayed with their mother through the hardships, he feels distraught. They are not at fault for their loneliness!
Their chance for happiness in this life was spoiled by their father's choice of career. Liu Yung-shou feels his duty keenly, and has not let riches and success make him forget his family duties. The daughters on their part, do not hold a grudge against their father, instead, they do their best to make him happy, to make up,for the distress he felt when they were separated for so long.
Liu Yung-shou said just before he left this time, that he had wronged his children and felt he could never make it up to them. Then he wept.
In March of 1942 on a cloudy morning, eight years after her wedding, Gu Bing-mei, then thirty-two years old, was the estranged wife of a doctor, but because of the troubles caused by gossip and rumors, she was forced to leave her own home. She carried two bundles in her arms. One was eight-year-old Mei-jing, and the other was five-year-old Mei-hwei. Her heart was filled with bitter injustice. Her face wore a grieved, disappointed expession, and her spirits fell in utter defeat as she returned from her home with the Liu family in Mei Nung to her mother's house in Bamboo Corners.
All of the past events, all of her mental turmoil and heart-felt grief, could not be put to rest. Her only choice was to assume that heaven had arranged fate this way. Who else could be blamed for the turn of events? For the sake of her children, for the sake of setting matters right, for the sake of facing the past and the present, she made her decision.
In 1943 the mother and her daughters were still living in her maternal home, and although food and shelter were not a problem, the arrangement was in no way permanent. Often after helping with the family chores, whenever she had a spare moment, Gu Bing-mei would take her daughters and walk up to the somewhat level and clear patch of land on the side of the mountain. She hoped for a home of her own for her daughters. But this home needed to be far apart from normal society. She would often go to the Shan Hua (Good Transformations) Temple in the evening to recite Buddhist sutras to relieve her miseries. She felt that this brought a little bit of peace of mind.
In the autumn of 1943 she built a small cottage out of bamboo on the side of the mountain. It was enough to keep away the wind and rain. Despite the blessings of her mother's comfortable house, and under the doubting, questioning stares of the neighbors, she moved into the ramshackle hut. Gu Bing-mei was thirty-four, Mei jing was only ten, and Mei Hwei was seven. Mei Jing entered the first grade at the Gwang Sying Elementary School. The small family was poor and destitute, and simple survival was difficult. They were often forced to retreat to her mother's home for food.
In 1945 before the Second World War was over, Taiwan had passed through fifty difficult years of occupation by Japan. Finally it returned into the embrace of their ancestral land. During this year the mother and her daughters established an independent partnership among themselves. The mother went to work during the day, and at night she cleared more of the hillside land at their homestead site in order to escape her grief.
Every time the mother set to work digging the earth, Mei Jing helped with the physical labor, while Mei Hwei stood by on the side, playing her child's games. When night fell, although she was extremely fatigued, the young daughter did not dare to go back to the hut alone. She simply slept wherever she was at the building site, under the sky. Her mother and older sister were extremely frustrated by this situation.
They had to move the earth, but they lacked proper tools, and were forced to sneak down to the Gwang Sying public graveyard to forage bamboo sections left at the grave sites to use as dirt-hods. This was taboo, according to the local customs, but what were they to do?
In 1946 the government drafted laborers, and things were in an uproar. Society was in chaos and turmoil. People lacked material goods. Many families found it hard to make ends meet, but Gu Bing-mei and her daughters had it even harder. They were forced to eat wild sweet potato leaves to keep hunger away. Often they would go for an entire month without a drop of oil for cooking.
Illness compounded their misery, as Mrs. Gu and her daughter Mei Jing suffered pneumonia that lasted a year. Mei Hwei fought it for three years, which delayed her entry into school for the entire period.
to be continued in the next issue...