The last three years living with my father
From January of 2004 onward, my father’s appetite gradually declined, and his physical strength also significantly diminished. Yet, he still kept up with his set daily practice, reciting the Buddha’s name without slacking off for a moment. In order to reduce unnecessary associations with the outside world, he did not want to see anyone other than his children and Dharma Masters. His mind was still very clear; he knew if someone offered him something. He would request me to let him wear for one or two days the clothes someone offered him, and to let him eat or drink one or two mouthfuls of fruit or drink another person offered him. At that time it was extremely difficult for him to move around, and his digestive system had gradually degenerated. But I knew that he wanted to fulfill their wish and tie good affinities with them.
In the evening of January 15th, his Buddhist friends came to our house as usual to recite the Buddha’s name for an hour. My father suddenly told me, “Today we recited the Buddha’s name quite well! I even heard the voice of the Master reciting the Buddha’s name. Mmm! Very good!” Afterwards, he again said in a relaxed manner, “After several days, it will be a very good day, a day to be exalted!” At that time, I just kept silence and remained composed. But in fact, I had mixed feelings in my heart, just like the five flavors intermingled. On the one hand, I felt as if a knife were piercing my heart. I wished to cry, but I had no more tears. I was acutely aware of the fact that my affinity with my father was coming to an end. On the other hand, I was happy for my father because he at least knew in advance the time of his passing. Apparently he had a total assurance of his rebirth in the Western Pure Land.
Since November of 2003 when my father contracted the illness, his complexion had always been pale and dull, and his eyes lifeless. However, after January 10, 2004, my father’s complexion gradually became ruddy. His forehead and cheeks were glowing, and his eyes sparkling. How could he be someone approaching his end? Even the nursing staff expressed admiration for my father’s ease and courage.
January 21, 2004 was the lunar New Year’s Eve. I remembered that on the lunar New Year’s Eve the previous year, we had a lengthy conversation side-by-side with my father in the living room until late at night, chatting away the time. I would never expect that on the lunar New Year’s Eve this year, we were about to part with our father forever. We couldn’t help but sigh with sorrow.
By the early morning of January 23 (the second day of the lunar New Year), my father had become much feebler; his heartbeat and blood pressure had significantly dropped. Five of us, my siblings and I, seized this opportunity to repent and express our gratitude to our father one last time. As I was kneeling in front of my father’s bed and was about to say my repentance to him, I suddenly felt pangs of sorrow. I cried my heart out and was choked with tears. I then realized that it was improper to do so. Thereupon I immediately stood up, turned away from my father, took a few deep breaths, and recited Guan Shi Yin Bodhisattva’s holy name. I beseeched Guan Yin Bodhisattva to bestow courage on me so that I would be able to face this critical moment. Slowly, my emotions stabilized. Then I again knelt down in front of his bed, repented and expressed my gratitude to him for his kindness in raising and nurturing us. But he seemed irresponsive to the fluctuations of my emotions and unaffected by my attachment to him. Steadily and slowly, he was breathing in and out alternately.
After five of us bade farewell to our father, I complied with my father’s last instructions for me to stay next to him. I took measurements of his pulse and body temperature, and at the same time, recited the Buddha’s name softly by his ears. As I was reciting the Buddha’s name, I suddenly felt increasingly relaxed and joyful. Surprisingly, all the emotions of separation by life and death were swept away. The distracting thoughts and sorrow in my mind all evaporated at once. Only the holy name of “Amitabha Buddha” remained in my mind. The name of Amitabha Buddha became perfectly holy and pure, free of any defilement.
Past four in the afternoon, my father suddenly opened his tightly closed eyes and looked intensely at the holy image of Amitabha Buddha on the wall for more than 20 minutes. After that, he closed his eyes slowly. At this time, I spoke softly by his ears, saying, “Dad! I have faith in you that you definitely will be reborn in the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss. Dad, please return to this world with your vows to take us across the sea of suffering.”
By half past 7 in the evening, a number of Buddhist friends had arrived before the Dharma Masters to support my father in his recitation. Our family members gathered in front of my father’s bed, reciting the Buddha’s name in unison. At this time, my father’s complexion was ruddy; his smiling face was peaceful. Steadily and slowly, he breathed in and out. The atmosphere in the room became solemn and tranquil. At 8.50 p.m., I sensed that my father’s breathing had stopped; he had already passed away peacefully. Relying on his resolute faith in the practice of mindfulness of the Buddha, he completed his life journey with ease. With his departure to the lotus country to continue his spiritual cultivation, to fulfill his great vow of compassion to “return to the world to take all the numberless living beings across the sea of suffering”, he completed the final period of his life.
I recall that upon my father’s passing, he had pink cheeks like those of a baby and a joyous smile like a pure and adorned white lotus flower. I deeply believe that my father was reborn in the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss as he wished. Only now do I profoundly understand how my father confronted death! As he was approaching the end of his life, neither flustered nor frightened, he walked to the end with composure, courage and joy.
With equanimity, my father faced the arrival of death, and even maintained his regular practice vigorously, not forgetting Amitabha Buddha for a single thought. If he did not have great concentration power, how could he possibly do that? Now I finally grasped the significance of the advice he constantly gave to his fellow Buddhist practitioners, “To recite the Buddha’s name at ordinary times is just to recite for the moment of the last breath.”
During the period when the five of us, my siblings and I, were working with concerted efforts to look after my father, the physical exhaustion, mental burden and tribulations were indescribable. Fortunately we were received support and protection from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, as well as emotional support from the Dharma Masters and our Buddhist friends. Accordingly we were able to face our father’s passing with composure and courage, accepting the fact that we had to be separated from a close family member in life and death, and endure this mournful and grueling stage of our life. As for taking care of my father’s funeral affairs, it was the lunar New Year Festival. Initially we refrained from alarming our relatives and friends, and troubling others; nevertheless, the Dharma Masters and our Buddhist friends took the initiative to help, and thus completed my father’s funeral.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to the four assemblies who helped us. At the same time, I would like to share with the readers who have affinities with us, our father’s experience studying Buddhism and his understanding of mindfulness of the Buddha. Hopefully this article will benefit the living beings drifting along in this evil time of the five turbidities!