(Can Those With Mental Ailments Like Dementia Reach Pure Land?)
One late afternoon, there was a sudden call from Malaysia. It was from an uncle, who informed of my Grandmother’s sudden passing. (Not her picture above.) When we rushed there from Singapore, we had one of the greatest shocks of our lives… Grandmother’s eyes were glaring widely and her face was scowling with obvious great anger. The few of us who just arrived took barely one look, before turning to walk away. All were unsure of what to make of her expression and what to do. Her expression was nothing short of horrifying. To date, I have never seen such intense anger on anyone’s face before. It was so great that to take a closer look was challenging.
Her ‘final’ expression was particularly unsettling because from my lifelong memories of Grandmother, she never raised her voice or expressed unhappiness, be it verbally or physically, at anyone or about any issue. She was the mildest, most patient and gentle human being I personally knew. My Father affirmed this, especially since he was an extremely naughty boy, yet never getting even a single spanking from her. Now that she looked so extremely displeased, all of us knew that her passing was an unhappy ‘ending’. The differences between her usual look and her present look were as great as they were disturbing.
My Father much later explained that Grandmother had died with dementia. When she was diagnosed with it much earlier, he had volunteered to pay for her expenses, to stay in a nursing home in her Malaysian hometown. However, without communication, she was discharged by the uncle, whose family was the previous and final caregivers. She was returned home to stay with them. As my Father is a Singaporean, who did not live in the same country, the arrangement was accepted. However, the family eventually did not care well enough for Grandmother, often leaving her to her own devices.
As dementia worsens, the patient can even forget the need to, and how to handle basic survival functions, such as eating, bathing and even going to the restroom. It was said that Grandmother was once found lying on her bed on a very dirty pillow, and in her own waste, sadly symptomatic of the lack of mindful care for her. She must have died due to the last stages of dementia. But if dementia meant being confused, what explained her explicit expression of anger?
When anyone with a mental ailment linked to the brain passes away, the consciousness that used to function through the brain is disconnected. This is when such ailments, being first physical in nature, before being mental, will cease to exist. That is, dementia that is experienced through a malfunctioning brain will cease to function, rendering the consciousness free from dementia (or any other such ailments). This is when the consciousness of the newly deceased will be more wakeful, even aware of one’s manner of passing. Grandmother must have realised, with great indignation, that her last days were terrible due to lack of proper care.
While the other family members seemed to be guilty, as they talked among themselves at a distance to arrange for funeral matters, I knew I had to do something to help Grandmother, especially if her consciousness is still around, as is often the case of the recently deceased, due to habitual attachment to the body, family and/or house. I did the only thing I knew should be done. I took out a Nianfo device, that plays the name of ‘Amituofo’ (Amitabha Buddha), placed it near Grandmother’s body, and sat by her.
As I was new to support-chanting, I did not do anything outwardly dramatic at all, while the rest of the family silently let me do what I did. I was so shy that I simply offered words of guidance firmly in my mind. Closing my eyes to better Nianfo sincerely, I thought ‘aloud’, ‘Grandma, you have already passed away. Please do not be angry at anyone any more, as it will do no one any good. It is time to let all these go. Please Nianfo with me as sincerely as you can, until you see Amituofo come to receive you to his Pure Land, where there is no more suffering, where there is only bliss.‘ This was followed by utterly sincere silent Nianfo, following the Nianfo device as a guide…
About twenty minutes later, I opened my eyes. Taking another look at Grandmother’s expression, I had the next greatest shock of my life. This time, it was a most pleasant surprise. As I am writing this, recalling what I saw years ago, tears of great rejoice and gratitude still well up fully in my eyes. While my eyes were closed, Grandmother’s eyes had closed by themselves. She now has the most peaceful and blissful smile I have ever seen on anyone’s face. It had become the total opposite of her earlier expression. Recalling her days alive, even though she was always a kindly smiling old lady, she had never looked so peaceful and blissful before. This is her truly final expression!
My heart that felt so unbearably heavy before immediately lightened with joy and gladness. I immediately knew deep down that Grandmother is now alright. She must had followed the advice to Nianfo sincerely, and happily connected to Amituofo, who came to receive her to his Pure Land. There was no other way to explain the drastic transformation within such a short period. It was then that a group of volunteer Buddhists arrived, preparing to offer more support-chanting. It was from this experience that I learnt about the utmost importance of sincerity when doing support-chanting, even if one is not a great practitioner, even if the deceased (or dying) is probably not so too. As the consciousness of the deceased can read our minds, our genuine concern can be truly felt, with our advice truly heeded upon knowing we really care and wish to help. Often, there is no need for elaborate external rituals at all.
Yes – those with mental ailments can be helped with Nianfo to reach Amituofo’s Pure Land too. Despite difficulties, they should be guided to Nianfo sincerely every day when alive, especially by practising with them. Even if not done with great concentration, the point is to nurture this pure habit, to familarise with Amituofo, to prepare for the final moments later. If difficult to chant aloud and in sync, encourage chanting mentally or listening intently. When the consciousness disconnects from the body upon death, the consciousness free from the ailment will be able to Nianfo much easier. This is why support-chanting is ideally present from before to after death, to guide with sincere Nianfo, to swiftly connect to Amituofo, before karma forces rebirth to elsewhere.
Also, with or without mental ailments, if one is heavily drugged, the bad news is that before physical death, as the consciousness still functions through the body, one will experience drowsy effects of such medication. This can thus affects the quality of Nianfo. As such, they should be administered only when needed, and as little as possible. The good news is that when the consciousness disconnects or departs from the body, even if still abiding in the body, the consciousness will no longer experience the earlier drowsiness through the body. It is therefore a great misunderstanding, that all who die with mental ailments or drugged cannot Nianfo to reach Pure Land. When they do reach Pure Land, they will be forever free from otherwise possibly ripening remnant negative karma, that might bear fruits as mental and physical ailments. There will only be ultimate spiritual and physical bliss!
How To Help Those With Dementia Reach Pure Land
Understanding Amituofo Via The Amitabha Sutra