Dear Teacher Shi’an, below is the testimonial which I would like to share, especially with those who are skeptical about the consciousness possibly remaining in the body for some time after physical death. (Note: Only three kinds of beings have ‘immediate’ rebirths upon their passing – those who have very strong negative karma, which sends them swiftly to a lower realm, those who have very strong positive karma, which sends them swiftly to a higher realm, and those who have very good Pure Land practice, which connects them to Amituofo to swiftly reach his Pure Land.)
My Father passed away about 16 years ago. His state of mind was still very clear and stable before he died, although his speech was inaudible. During the evening before he passed away, he seemed to be worried about my Mum. Hearing my Mum telling him not to worry about her, advising him to let go, and that if he sees Amituofo, he must follow him to his Pure Land, he smiled and nodded.
Thereafter, he held his palms together with much difficulty and managed to Nianfo (chant ‘Amituofo’) twice together with my Mum. In the middle of the night, there was some excretion (which is a sign of physical release) and before 5am, he passed away peacefully. Although his mouth was closed, there was still a small gaping hole between his lips.
Mum told us not to touch him or cry at his bedside as these can create physical pain and mental anguish. We continued to Nianfo by his bed. About an hour later, a Dharma Brother came to our place. We were very surprised to see him as it was still dawn and we have yet to inform any friends and relatives. While Mum, my Sister and him were busy offering incense to Buddha, I continued to Nianfo.
To my amazement, I saw that my Dad had closed his mouth, which slowly transformed into a wide and blissful smile. While looking at him, I started to smile too, and there was inexplicable and tremendous joy though I was still grieving. My Sister-in-law, a Christian, who was standing at the door outside the room witnessed it too, as I heard her calling to my Mum, telling her she saw Dad smiling.
Dharma friends who came to Zhunian (offer support-chanting) smiled too, when they saw my Dad. The house was so peaceful, without much traces of sadness. The continuous chanting lasted for about 8 (or more) hours (which is a common recommended duration, so as to give ample time to guide the consciousness to connect to Amituofo, to depart for his Pure Land), before we called for a doctor to certify his death.
(Note: A clear blissful smile as a final expression that forms after death, especially in the midst of Nianfo, is a sign that the deceased’s consciousness was still in the body, thus effecting changes through it, expressing positive changes in the state of mind. It is an auspicious sign that there was connection to Amituofo’s assuring blessings through Nianfo, which means the deceased has most probably reached his Pure Land. In other ordinary cases, rigor mortis, which is natural stiffening of the body, quickly sets in, beginning with the eyelids, neck and jaw, while with Nianfo, there is suppleness of the body instead, which represents final mental and physical ease of the deceased. This is an auspicious blessing stated in Vow #33 of Amituofo.
Vow #33: Receiving Light That Benefits Upon Touching The Body: If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings of all kinds, in all immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha Lands of the ten directions, who receive my light that touches their bodies, will have tenderness [suppleness, peace and bliss] of body and mind, that surpasses that of gods [and humans]. If this is not so, I shall not attain right awakening [Buddhahood].
This important vow describes how we can connect to Amituofo’s blessings through Nianfo, whether when alive, dying or deceased, to experience mental and physical bliss through connecting to his light of blessings that embrace us, through which Amituofo shares his merits with us to relieve our suffering. As the vow states, such bliss is beyond even that of gods, which means one who departs in this state attains a rebirth beyond all samsaric heavenly planes – in Pure Land.
Vow #33 can be experienced before and without reaching Pure Land, when well and alive. However, for the dying or just deceased, whose consciousness might be around, their Three Provisions [Faith, Aspiration and Practice] – of Faith [in Amituofo’s ability to guide them to Pure Land], Aspiration [to reach his Pure Land], and Practice [of Nianfo to wholeheartedly express Faith and Aspiration] are likely to be the strongest in sincerity then, as there is no more time to lose, and not better place to be reborn. This is why they can experience and show the workings of Vow #33 most clearly.)
P.S. Our Dharma Brother later told us that in the middle of that night, he woke up from a dream, where he saw my Dad walking round and round four walls, seemingly at a loss. He sensed that his time was up, which is why, as dawn broke, he quickly came over. (Note: This could be due to their strong karmic connection.) Every day, during the wake, he would come early in the morning to Nianfo and chant Dizangjing (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra) He too advised us to Nianfo as much as we could to help my Dad. We are very grateful to him and all Dharma friends for their support.
Namo Amituofo, YH (2014)
(Edited with notes by Shen Shi’an)