A dharma talk by Hean Chiang at GBM on October 22, 2017
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.