I remember my mother as a strong, principled, and loving woman, talented and with a sense of humor. These qualities were evident to all who knew her, especially in the last days of her life. She was also a strong Christian, steeped in the tradition and well versed in theology. Therein lies the rub. I remember when she met Shifu after lunch at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, back in the late 70’s, he looked at her mischievously and said, “You know your son will do anything I tell him to do. If you want him to get married, just tell me and I’ll make him do it. All you have to do is ‘bow Buddha.’ ” I don’t know whether to be thankful or not that she refused the offer! The problem, of course, was that she could not put down her Christian head even an inch to obtain benefit which, she was probably quite sure, was in the power of the Abbot to provide, if the act would be considered offensive to her own faith. As Buddhists, I believe that we must respect the beliefs of others, especially our parents. This is just according with conditions and not being attached to name and form. I never forced Buddhist orthodoxy on her, although we had many long talks about our respective beliefs. I would like to believe that this helped her in some way to get through her final days. Even though, I could never get her to read a Buddhist Sutra, or ‘bow Buddha,’ I know that she had a great respect, finally, for the Abbot and for the work of the Triple Jewel.
My practice for many years has revolved around mindfulness of Earth Store Bodhisattva. I was hoping that during her last hours, I would be able to loudly recite at least one Buddha's name and claim one of the many promises made in Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva, eradicating the retribution she might face from past evil deeds and aiding her in her rebirth. My brother and sister and I had been maintaining a 24 hour vigil ever since moving her into the local hospice. My siblings are both Christians, and both handicapped, so I had to spend more time helping them to maintain the vigil, than I did myself. Between their presence and the presence of the staff there seemed to be no time to be alone with my mother, until the last night of her life. I sat by her side from about 11 in the evening, silently reading the entire Earth Store Sutra and silently reciting while my sister and brother, doctors and nurses all came and went. At about six that evening she had begun to suffer from congestive heart failure. Her breathing had become very labored, fluid was filling her lungs, and I believe she went into a coma. By the time I had finished reading the Sutra, she seemed to be much more peaceful, her breathing was shallow but not strained. Both my siblings said that they would go down the hall and get some rest. I stayed. And suddenly, at about 2 a.m., I was completely alone with my dying mother. After days of frenzied activity, I could hardly believe it. I closed the door to her room and, holding her hand, I recited the entire Morning Recitation. Near the end of the Shurangama Mantra, the room seemed especially swept away, clean and pure. When I got to the verse in the Heart of Prajna Paramita Sutra, “up to and including no old age and death,” she let out a sigh as if, finally, a question long held had been answered. At the end, instead of doing the Medicine Master Praise, I recited the Praise to Earth Store Bodhisattva and began to recite his name, throwing a “Namo Guanshiyin Pusa”, and “Namo Amitofo” into the mix occasionally for good measure. After only about 5 minutes of this, my mother breathed her last breath. I could hardly believe it. It was as if she was covered by a heavenly blanket of peace, free at last.
I am just a common person, so I am unable to give you anything more than my impressions and beliefs. At some point in time, perhaps, I will understand more fully what had occurred. I believe, however, that the very time of her passing away was a true blessing from Earth Store Bodhisattva and from the Venerable Abbot, because without his teaching to guide me, I would have never thought to be filial, and to try and repay the kindness of my parents. This is a sad comment, not just of myself, but on the state of the world we live in today. And I would like to add, that the benefits from reciting Earth Store Bodhisattva’s name, and the reading of Sutras seem to be almost beyond reckoning, if not beyond merely my own expectation. Our family has been united and harmonious. Affairs of the world seem to be working out smoothly. Many hearts have been softened.
I have had two very clear dreams of her since she died. In one she merely surveyed the house and asked me what I had done with her cat. In the other dream, I was accompanying her to a Buddhist temple which was filled with many people. At the back she spied the Venerable Abbot and tugged on my arm indicating that she wanted to leave. So we sidled out a side door, only to almost crash into the Abbot accompanied by several younger monks. He proceeded to blast her with a ray of golden light almost blinding in its intensity, all the while smiling, polite and cordial. We all proceeded from there to the sitting room where the Abbot offered her tea and they had a pleasant interchange about which I recall nothing other than the general feeling of great compassion and harmony which prevailed. I could not help fulfill his great vows with regard even to those who had only seen his face but were not disciples or even Buddhists. I hope that this account of my experience will encourage others in their own cultivation and in dealing with the passing of loved ones in their own families. Amitabha!