[The last three years living with my father]
I was griefstricken by the sudden departure of my mother. Often, I regretted the fact that “the tree wishes to remain still, but the wind will not cease; the child wishes to care for her parent, but her parent did not wait for long.” When my father realized that my emotions were out of control, he comforted me, saying, “Your mother has gone to the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss, why are you grieving? You should only be happy!” He then taught me how to single-mindedly recite the Buddha’s name. Perhaps I was influenced by my father: when I recited the Buddha’s name, my distracting thoughts gradually decreased. Thereupon, with each recitation of the Buddha’s name, my pain of bereavement slowly faded away and my emotions gradually subsided.
About a hundred days after my mother passed away, I accidentally found out that my father often sat in a corner of the house alone, reading or contemplating in silence. Only then did I realize that my father was already in his declining years, just like a candle flickering in the wind. I also realized that his bereavement had stricken him hard. I resolved to take care of him to the best of my ability. In order to soothe him, I did everything possible to please him. Knowing that he concentrated on the practice of mindfulness of the Buddha and disliked discussing worldly affairs, I would glance through some Buddhist books or sutras in order to find some topics to discuss with him or consult him regarding certain issues of spiritual cultivation. That was the beginning of my actual exposure to the practice of mindfulness of the Buddha.
Half a year after my mother renounced her retribution body, one day my father suddenly handed me the will that he drew up and asked me to take care of it. He also told me not to be nervous, and that he would pass on only after three years. At that time, not expecting to hear him say this, I became emotional. I was reluctant to be separated from my father. With his guidance and comfort, however, I had to learn to see through the vanity of family love and worldly relationships. I deeply understood that my father liked to cultivate the spiritual path. Instead of obstructing him, I should fulfill his wish. Accordingly, I earnestly prayed to Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva to give me courage and wisdom so that I would no longer be fettered by family love. Even if I could not help him accomplish his spiritual cultivation, I should not obstruct my father from walking on the spiritual path. In the three years that I lived with my father, I experienced firsthand his determination and perseverance to cultivate the spiritual path vigorously.
At the end of 2001, on his 80th birthday, my father wrote down some verses expressing his feelings. His firm vow and determination to be reborn in the Western Pure Land were revealed in between the lines:
This year is already the beginning of the 80th year.
Wandering thoughts are boundless, yet what can one do?
To see the self-nature as being empty by means of Dhyana is difficult
I should then extinguish them by means of the holy name
To pull out the root of love is difficult, yet the sword of wisdom could uproot it
I would never let this life pass in vain again.
From 2001 to 2003, just like in the past, my father daily recited the Buddha’s name, sat in meditation and read sutras. He also read the writings of eminent monks and cultivators of past generations on the process of spiritual cultivation in order to learn from their experience. Each month, he regularly shared his experience from sitting in meditation, reciting the Buddha’s name and reading sutras with his fellow Buddhist practitioners. This sharing of experience was discontinued when he started feeling ill in May 2003.
After my father passed away, in his posthumous manuscript, I came across the method and goal in spiritual cultivation that he set for himself at this stage of his life:
1. Everyday, sit down and get ready for the daily practice on time with a calm mind. Recite mantras and the Buddha’s name calmly,neither too fast nor too slow, without seeking enlightenment or spiritual power. When leaving the seat, apply the skill of sitting meditation to walking, standing, sitting and lying down in daily life. Continuously contemplate that nothing is permanent, and do not be affected by external circumstances. When certain conditions arise, remain unmoved in mind. Feel neither fondness for favorable conditions, nor aversion to unfavorable ones. Neither welcoming nor rejecting them is to “truly accord with conditions”!
2. Practice mindfulness of the Buddha primarily by means of reciting the Buddha’s name. Be sure to recite mindfully and listen attentively in order to obtain mindfulness of the Buddha from the bottom of one’s heart. To recite mindfully and listen attentively means to recite the Buddha’s name from one’s heart, and to listen with one’s ears clearly and distinctly. Only then could one gather in the mind without giving rise to wandering thoughts, and gradually enter samadhi.
3. Expand one’s mind. Be magnanimous and tolerate everything without the conception of liking or loathing. In accordance with the circumstances and one’s ability, do all good. Do not be swayed by considerations of personal gain and loss, slander, praise, success or failure. This is the greatest spiritual power!
4. Get into the habit of “recognizing the thought as it arises”, so that one will achieve the state of “not pursuing the thought as it arises”. Constantly contemplate one’s own thoughts. When distracting thoughts arise, immediately recognize them. Yet be mindful of the Buddha wholeheartedly, so as to curb one’s wandering thoughts. Do not be affected by them and do not suppress them. Simply ignore them, and focus on being mindful of the Buddha. Those wandering thoughts will naturally subside and one will enter samadhi with ease. If we do not pursue our thoughts as they arise, we will have the full control over our birth and death. We will not be rendered helpless by karma, and ultimately we will be free and at ease.
5. Vow to eliminate all “subtle flows” in the field of our eighth consciousness. Usually they are both imperceptible and intangible. One must enter deep samadhi to completely eliminate them and thus reveal one’s fundamental true mind.
My father further made a vow: “I vow to practice vigorously without ever slacking off, so as to uncover my original appearance (Buddha nature), personally attest to the Buddha nature, perfectly attain Bodhi, and achieve great success!” Yet, in his posthumous manuscript, my father also expressed his regret. He considered himself as one with shallow wisdom and limited ability. Despite his utmost mental efforts, he was still unable to attain the state of supreme wonder. (Perhaps it was this regret that motivated my father to make a firm resolve aspiring to Bodhi on the eve of Mid-autumn Festival in 2003.)
During my father’s last three years in the world, he spent the most time with me. Whenever I felt indignant over worldly affairs, I would pour out all my frustrations in detail to him. After he listened carefully, he would tell me calmly, “Everything in the world is like flowers in a mirror and the moon’s reflection in water—it is illusory. When it is over, just let it go. Mind it not, or else you will be deceived. If you are still unable to deal with it, then you might as well recite the Buddha’s name, and use the Buddha’s name to sweep away all your afflictions.
He often advised me, “Spiritual cultivation is simply to cultivate your mind. Only when you’ve cultivated your mind to the point that it is pure and free of defilement, can you recite the Buddha’s name effectively. You must expand your mind. Human beings are born in the Saha World because of their bad habits and shortcomings. Weaknesses in human nature are inevitable; we study Buddhism and cultivate spiritually in order to understand the weaknesses in human nature, and to get rid of our bad habits and shortcomings. You must be sympathetic to others’ faults and never give rise to hatred or a vindictive mind. Otherwise, you will still form ties of enmity with them, from which you would have difficulties extricating yourself in the future. Surely you don’t want to be turned by the states they incurred, or do you?” He further said, “Great Master Ou Yi once said, ‘External conditions and states are neither favorable nor unfavorable; such discriminations actually arise from our mind. The fool gets rid of the external states instead of his [discriminating] mind; whereas the wise person gets rid of his [discriminating] mind instead of the external states. Once the mind is subdued, how can states actually exist?” After listening to him, I immediately felt relieved and comforted.
During the summer of 2002, my father got a hernia and suffered extreme pain. In order for his practice and meditation to not be affected, he underwent a minor surgery in the hospital in August, and returned home to recuperate. He reluctantly allowed me to attend to him in his room day and night. At night, when he wanted to get up to go to the bathroom, he would endure great pain, and supported himself to get up with great difficulty. Fearing that he would stumble, I would wake up with a start to the slightest stir. When he saw that I had woken up to assist him, he would comfort me, saying, “Relax! Don’t be too nervous! Go back to sleep! I will be fine.” Watching him staggering away, I felt deep sorrow. I could not help but get up and help him.
During the period when my father was confined to his bed, he still recited the Buddha’s name and sat in meditation. Sometimes I would recite a section of sutra text for him, and then he would share with me his understanding of that section. By October that year, he could move about without much difficulty, and his physical strength had already been restored. He could even go out for a walk, sit in the full lotus position to meditate, bow to the Buddhas, etc.
To be continued