Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Shr Fu, Dharma Masters, all my Mentors – Amitofo!
My name is Seng. Today I would like to share a short story with you from the Jataka Tales. Jataka Tales are stories of Shakyamuni Buddha’s past lives.
Long ago, in the hills of the Himalayas near a lotus pool, the Buddha was once born as a baby elephant. He was a magnificent elephant, pure white with feet and face the color of coral. His trunk gleamed like a silver rope and his ivory tusks curled up in a long arc.
He followed his mother everywhere. She plucked the tenderest leaves and sweetest mangoes from the tall trees and gave them to him. “First you, then me,” she said.
She bathed him in the cool lotus pool among the fragrant flowers. Drawing the sparkling water up in her trunk, she sprayed him over the top of his head and back until he shone. Then filling his trunk with water, he took careful aim and squirted a perfect geyser right between his mother’s eyes. Without blinking, she squirted him back. And back and forth, they gleefully squirted and splashed each other. Splish! Splash!
Then they rested in the soft muck with their trunks curled together. In the deep shadows of afternoon, the mother elephant rested in the shade of a rose-apple tree and watched her son romp and frolic with the other baby elephants.
The little elephant grew and grew until he was the tallest and strongest young bull in the herd. And while he grew taller and stronger, his mother grew older and older. Her tusks were yellow and broken and in time she became blind. The young elephant plucked the tenderest leaves and sweetest mangoes from the tall trees and gave them to his dear old blind mother. “First you, then me,” he said.
He bathed her in the cool lotus pool among the fragrant flowers. Drawing the sparkling water up in his trunk, he sprayed her over the top of her head and back until she shone. Then they rested in the soft muck with their trunks curled together. In the deep shadows of afternoon, the young elephant guided his mother to the shade of a rose-apple tree. Then he went roaming with the other elephants.
One day a king was hunting and spied the beautiful white elephant. “What a splendid animal! I must have him to ride upon!” So the king captured the elephant and put him in the royal stable. He adorned him with silk and jewels and garlands of lotus flowers. He gave him sweet grass and juicy plums and filled his trough with pure water.
But the young elephant would not eat or drink. He wept and wept, growing thinner each day. “Noble elephant,” said the king, “I adorn you with silk and jewels. I give you the finest food and the purest water, yet you do not eat or drink. What will please you?”
The young elephant said, “Silk and jewels, food and drink do not make me happy. My blind old mother is alone in the forest with no one to care for her. Though I may die, I will take no food or water until I give some to her first.”
The king said, “Never have I seen such kindness, not even among humans. It is not right to keep this young elephant in chains.” Free, the young elephant raced through the hills looking for his mother. He found her by the lotus pool. There she lay in the mud, too weak to move. With tears in his eyes, he filled his trunk with water and sprayed the top of her head and back until she shone. “Is it raining?” she asked. “Or has my son returned to me?” “It is your very own son!” he cried. “The king has set me free!” As he washed her eyes, a miracle happened. Her sight returned. “May the king rejoice today as I rejoice at seeing my son again!” she said.
The young elephant then plucked the tenderest leaves and sweetest mangoes from a tree and gave them to her. “First you, then me.” Amitofo.
Lecture Series by Kevin Chiu, Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine
All Buddhas and Boddhisattvas, Venerable Master, Dharma Masters and Buddhist Friends, Amitofo.
For those who do not know my name, I am Hean. And beside me is Cindy. She is a very dear family friend and a god daughter to my mother. Because of my lack of Chinese, Cindy will be translating for me in Mandarin. I will attempt to speak in Cantonese but please forgive me for my ‘broken’ Cantonese.
Although I have been coming to Gold Buddha Monastery (GBM) for a long while, I am ashamed that I am ignorant in Buddha dharma. As such, I have chosen an easy topic to speak today, which is my mother and the life lessons I learned from her. But first of all before I start, my sister and I with our families are truly grateful to all Dharma Masters and our Buddhist friends for your kindness and compassion in chanting for my mother’s well being for the past 7 weeks; as well as for your monetary contributions. We have donated all the monies to GBM on behalf of our mother. When she was alive, our mother was always touched by the care and warmth from everyone whenever she came to GBM. So once again, thank you, Dharma Masters and friends very much for your kindness.
My mother was a strong-minded, cheerful and a very independent lady and the lessons she taught me were full of wisdom and compassion. A long time ago when I was sick from chemotherapy, she was there to support me, physically, mentally and spiritually. She taught me to handle my suffering in a calm and peaceful manner and encouraged me to chant the Sutra of the Past Vows of Earth Store Bodhisattva. That was nearly 20 years ago and the lesson I learned or a little enlightenment I had then, was that suffering was uninterrupted day and night, and even though it was only a very small fraction of an eon, it was very unbearable. I cannot imagine how much more suffering there is in the Uninterrupted Hell as described in the sutra. This experience changed my perspective of life and I feel it was a tough but a very worthwhile lesson.
In 2010, my mother was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure at the age of 92 years old. It meant her heart was failing, liquid may fill her lungs and feet, and the medications she had to take affected her kidney function. We did not know how long we would have her but are grateful to have the continuous opportunity to care and enjoy her for the next 7 years. After the diagnosis, she still insisted on living her very independent life. It was worrisome for us but we respected her wishes. It was only 3 years ago, at the young age of 96 that she finally agreed to move back with me.
My mom, sister and I spent a beautiful summer last year. We enjoyed simple things in life; such as drinking coffee, enjoying the garden, praying to the Buddhas, chanting, chatting and joking. We had many laughs. One time, I remembered her cheekily telling me in a secretive voice that she had stuffed a lot of money at the top of her shirt. She would then pull out sheets of clean tissue. Was she senile? No, she was not. To her, these tissues were similar to if not more valuable than actual money because she needed them for her convenience to spit lots of sputum. She always thought of ways so that she could take care of herself without bothering others, including her daughters. That’s my mom.
Even though I had personally received several life aging notifications e.g. failing eye sight, slower brain functions, stiff bones in the morning and many more; but nothing prepared me for the deep insights I had on this 2nd type of suffering – old age; until I witnessed my mom’s fast aging process and suffering. I was humbled by my mother’s aging graciousness and diligence. Whenever her energy permitted, she was eager to attend the Great Compassion Repentance session at GBM. Even though it was difficult for her to see the text, she would keenly follow when I sat beside her pointing to each character for her. From all these, I again learned a huge lesson from mom.
There was a time when she was appalled that she had forgotten how to wear her precept sash. For a few days on end, she would practice again and again until one day, she smilingly said that she knows how to wear her precept sash again.
It was sad to helplessly watch as she ages but it also enriches my life watching how she handled herself. She was calm in her nature and took care of herself physically and spiritually. She chanted ‘Amitofo’ or ‘Guan Shi Yin Pu Sa’ whenever she could. She was diligent in exercising even though her bones ache all the time. There was one day when we went for a stroll and I videotaped her when she started exercising; lifting her arms and moving her hips. So for those of you who may be interested in watching a cute short clip of her exercising, please let know during the break and I will show you on my phone.
Karmic retributions caught up with mom in her last few months. She contacted shingles. Shingles is a disease that causes unbearable nerve pain. It was very, very painful and at the very beginning, she would lament why she has to suffer this painful disease at her old age. We would chant Guan Shi Yin Pu Sa’s name together. One day, I asked mom to share her pain with me. Of course, she was like a ferocious lion protecting her cub and said a strong firm ‘No’. She quietly practised endurance and contemplated sickness suffering as a ‘test’ on her. She would constantly remind herself of endurance with a Chinese character ‘Endure’ on her wall.
In her last couple of months, we had assistance from Fraser Health and she had a number of caregivers who were very kind to her. They would bring laughter to her and comforted her. Those were her blessings.
We cared for her daily needs and whenever she could, we would stimulate her mind and motor skills with games. At times, we sat at the front door together and enjoyed the sunshine and garden or after dinner, we would wheel her for a walk around the neighbourhood to see an auspicious statue of Guan Yin Bodhisattva in a neighbour’s garden. Her eyes would especially light up whenever her grandchildren kept her company.
In the morning of September 2, she was feeling unwell and was admitted into Burnaby Hospital. Her heart and kidneys were failing and she was placed in acute care. While she was in hospital, my sister, cousin and I took rotating shifts in looking after her 24 hours a day. On one particular night, she woke up very hungry at midnight. My cousin fed her a big bowl of rice porridge and had a good conversation with her. She was very responsive and coherent in her responses. On another night, she woke up and chanted ‘Amitofo’ loudly. The nurses were worried until my cousin explained that she was only chanting.
Over the next few days after her admission, her doctors were amazed and encouraged that she had improved. She recognized all of us. She even pulled a joke on my sister. Out of a sudden, she said there’s a rat and my sister was shocked and said ‘where?’ She then laughed and said ‘I am only pulling your leg.’ However, the doctors were still cautious because the heart organ is unpredictable and so they were not able to provide a life span prognosis. They basically prepared us that we will be supported by a palliative home care team when we bring mom home when she was stabilized.
On Sept. 7 morning, after the nurse aide gave her a body wash, I asked if she wanted some rice porridge. She nodded and less than an hour after I fed her a small bowl, she showed some signs of discomfort. I called for help and the nurse and doctor came immediately. It then happened…. so peacefully and quickly….. my mother passed away, at about 11:50 am.
There were many deep lessons I learned in the past few years, and there is also much to be thankful for. My mother is no longer suffering the awful nerve pains from shingles. I no longer need to worry about her inevitable forthcoming toothache from a couple of decaying deep roots embedded in her gums. I am very thankful that my mother’s passing was quick and peaceful.
It was amazing to watch her face slowly transformed and relaxed into a smile as we chanted ‘Amitofo’ for the first 8 hours. Toward the end of the chanting session, after Dharma Masters arrived, I am comforted that one of our family members saw mom in her robes, waving her hand with a smile on her face. Today is my mother’s last 7th day ceremony at GBM and I, on behalf of our whole family would like to express, once again our deep gratitude to all Dharma Masters and friends for your compassion in chanting for my mother’s well being. Amitofo.
“OM MA NI PAD ME HUM” – these six syllables together make up the Six-Syllable Great Bright Mantra; each one individually is able to emit brilliant light. If you are able to constantly recite the Six-Syllable Great Bright Mantra, there will be six paths of light changing the darkness of the six destinies into brightness.
— Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
October 15 (Sunday)
＊ 1:00pm~3:30pm –> SIX-SYLLABLE MANTRA DHARMA ASSEMBLY
＊ 3:30pm~ –> Rebirth Hall Transference