Myself, my spouse, two sisters and brother-in-law are very grateful to Teacher Shi’an for teaching the ‘Destination Pureland’ course, with which we were able to apply what we have learned during the passing of my Aunt.
Upon confirmation from the doctor that my Aunt was in the last phase of her life’s journey, she was transferred to Bright Vision Hospice, as her surviving sister, who was her caregiver, was unable to care for her alone. When admitted, the doctor deduced that she would only survive for three to four days, as she could neither eat nor drink. Bedridden, she was unable to talk and kept her eyes closed most of the time. However, she managed to survive for about three weeks.
Although my Aunt was a Buddhist, she was not a Nianfo (念佛) practitioner. When we visited her during a more sober state, we talked to her about Amituofo (阿弥陀佛) and his Pure Land. We then asked if she wished to follow him to his Pure Land. Although she could not talk, she nodded her head affirmatively. We felt very relieved when we saw that.
Subsequently, whenever we visited, we would recite the Amitabha Sutra (阿弥陀经), to introduce Amituofo and his Pure Land, followed by half an hour of Nianfo, which we encouraged her to practise with us, at least silently in her mind. During the day, her sisters who stayed by her bedside would constantly Nianfo, as guided by a Nianfo player (念佛机).
There were a few occasions when the doctor said she would be departing in a few hours. When we rushed there however, she managed to stay on. We also asked her if she still had any unresolved matters that we could help settle, so that she could depart peacefully with Amituofo. She indicated that there was nothing bothering her.
In advance, we had requested the hospice to transfer her to a another room after departure, without touching or cleaning her body, so that we can do support-chanting for 8 hours without interruption. It was nice that she was transferred to a single-bed room during her last few days.
Night Of Death
On her last evening at 10.40 pm, she reached her last phase. She opened her eyes and mouth, looked around and took her last breath. Her sisters who were chanting for her all along continued to chant for 15 minutes before informing the doctor. She had departed with a very subtle smile.
We rushed there to do the rest. As we had already covered her with the Rebirth Blanket (往生被) for protection and blessings on her last few days, we added the Blessed Sand Of Golden Light (金光明沙) on her forehead, throat, chest, and both palms, while explaining what we were doing.
Next, we offered brief ‘Words Of Guidance’ (开示), and recited the ‘Repentance Verse’ (忏悔文), followed immediately by Nianfo for eight hours, till 6.40 am the next morning. The Amitabha Sutra did not have to be chanted as we had already introduced it, while the Guidance already served as a summary. As the sutra teaches to ‘firmly uphold the name’ of Amituofo (执持名号), Nianfo was the Main Practice to do then.
During these eight hours, the five of us, with my other Aunts and an Uncle, all did Nianfo together. Even though two were not Buddhists, they chanted along sincerely. We did not plan a shift system as we were all eager and anxious to make good use of these eight golden hours. (As most Singapore hospitals allow bodies to be unhandled for an average of 3 hours only, it is more ideal to move to a hospice or return home once confirmed dying, with no hope of recovery.)
There were some hiccups in the beginning, as some were going in and out of the room to take documents and stuff, with shuffling sounds of papers and plastic bags, and usage of the attached toilet. These made the room slightly noisy and disturbing, but were quickly prevented.
As we had communicated before, on the do’s and don’ts, and ‘who to do what’ when this moment arrived, such as who to handle documentation, and to offer spiritual support (such as the above and below), we all took to our posts quite seamlessly. My other Aunts also managed their emotions quite well, for the benefit of the deceased.
In the middle of the night, the more elderly Aunts took some rest. The chanting went on with at least five persons. At the end of eight hours, we completed the chanting with ‘Dedication Of Merits’. My elder sister then gave three gentle tugs of the hair on the crown of my Aunt, to guide her consciousness to depart from there, in case she had yet to leave. Next, she gently checked the temperature there. It felt warm, as compared to other parts of her body, which were cold. Her sisters then cleaned her body with nurses’ help. It was pretty soft, just slightly tight at the elbows.
The five of us did more rounds of support-chanting during the wake, which we engaged a Buddhist funeral service provider (from Vimalakirti Buddhist Centre) to oversee. The funeral accorded with Buddhist ceremonies, with only fully vegetarian meals, without burning of incense paper and gambling. Only Buddhist chanting was played when leaving for cremation too.
I cannot thank Teacher Shi’an enough for sharing the Pure Land teachings with us, without which, I’ll still be groping in the dark, unable to see the fastest way out to get out of Samsara for myself, and for helping others to do the same. Upon return after adequate training in Pure Land, we will be able to help all beings even more skilfully too.
Amituofo, R, L, K, S, J