Mr LJR was a good friend and a devout Buddhist, a Taichi teacher who shared all he knew of the art and tips to keep healthy. In his mid 60’s, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2014, with perhaps six months to live.
‘Why would this happen to a good man?’ I have asked. The answer I got was that no one escapes one’s negative karma accumulated over lifetimes when the conditions are ripe. Having accepted the diagnosis, he and his family prepared for his departure with rites of the Pure Land tradition. He even had it all written down in a notebook as a blueprint for his family to follow.
About six months later, his condition deteriorated, and the time of departure drew near. His family had him moved to a hospice, with the understanding that support-chanting (with Amituofo’s name) could be done before his passing, and even for eight hours after. His wife also notified friends to come in shifts for support-chanting.
During the visit to bid my friend farewell, this was what I observed. At the door and in the room were notices requesting handphones to be switched off, so as not to disrupt the ongoing Nianfo (chanting of Amituofo’s name). Also, if one felt like tearing, one should leave the room. Mr LJR had specifically requested his family and friends not to cry in his presence as he might be sad and reluctant to leave when it is time to go. Thus, when two sisters who are Christians entered the room visibly crying, they were immediately and politely ushered out.
On the wall facing his bed was a poster of Amituofo and a retinue of Bodhisattvas coming from Pure Land to receive him. On both sides of the bed, six friends and colleagues were doing Nianfo guided by a recording. He was covered with the Rebirth Blanket from shoulders down, his hands clasped in prayer pose. Sadly, he was very gaunt and dark. As I moved to his bedside, our eyes met. I gave him a nod and started to join in the Nianfo.
Not long after, the family filed in around the bed in a composed manner. No one cried. A nurse came to briefly check and in our hearts we knew he had left us (at 7pm). The Nianfo continued uninterrupted in shifts till the next morning (at 7am) for 12 hours. Only then did the doctor come in to perform the death certification.
I was told that when they were preparing the body for the wake, it was relaxed enough for his arms to be straightened by his sides. This is an auspicious sign of a peaceful passing. The place on the body that was still warm relative to other parts of the body after 12 hours was his crown, which is an auspicious sign of rebirth in Pure Land. Rejoice!
The following days of funeral rites at the wake were dignified with chanting of Amituofo, Amituojing (Amitabha Sutra) and Dizangjing (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra, which is optional). He looked serene in his haiqing (lay black robes), no more dark and gaunt. Again, no one cried at the wake. One of the Christian sisters remarked to Mrs LKR that she was totally surprised that the Buddhist rites were so dignified, without all the ‘noise’, bawling and superstitions that she previously perceived from Chinese funerals.
On the day of cremation, the casket was carried to the hearse by friends in haiqing. The cortège progressed down the road for three blocks to the chants of Amituofo’s name. At the crematorium, six young Venerables, whom Mr LKR had voluntarily taught Taichi performed the final rites.
During the next 49 days, his urn was placed at a temple where the Venerable in charge, who was his good friend, offered special prayers daily for dedication of merits. After this period, the urn was transferred to a niche. Is this all not the best last way to depart, that any Pure Land practitioner can hope for?
Later, I complimented Mrs LJR, that she was so well-composed and in control. She replied that it was difficult but her husband had specifically explained to her why she should not cry. Of course, she said, she did cry, but not in his presence or at the wake. I also complimented that everything was done according to the Pure Land practice so smoothly. She replied that it was possible because to ensure she would remember the details, she only had to refer to his above-mentioned notebook. Well done!
Note: The ‘Destination Pureland’ course (http://thedailyenlightenment.com/2015/06/destination-pureland-how-to-have-the-best-rebirth-3rd-run) uses materials that will form ‘The Pure Land Passport’, a handy guide book with detailed instructions on how to handle the moments before, during and after dying, based upon the instructions of the 13th Pure Land Patriarch Great Master Yinguang. There will be further announcement when the book is ready.