Āmítuófó. Dear fellow Dharma brothers and sisters, as some of you know, my younger brother T.H. Chua passed away peacefully on 4 October 2020. I would like to share with you on how I guided him to Niànfó (念佛), in the hope of him having a swift rebirth in Āmítuófó’s (阿弥陀佛) Pure Land (净土).
When much younger, my brother used to visit a Thai temple, where he learnt Pāli chanting. Somehow, he also collected and wore many Buddha pendants (although such excessive material ‘refuge’ is not necessary). He also sought a Tangki’s (Chinese medium) help on and off when he was Taoist long ago. (Such was his earlier mixed religious background.) However, he has a Guānyīn Bodhisattva (观音菩萨) statue at home. When my sister-in-law had cancer many years ago, they chanted the Heart Sūtra (心经), Great Compassion Mantra (大悲咒) and the Rebirth Mantra (往生咒) too. (Such were his mixed Buddhist practices, which though good, lacked a central focus then.)
In a hospice from 23 September onwards, his legs became very swollen, and he was put on a painkiller. Though he was breathless, he still talked a lot, as if there was not enough time. When I visited him on the first day there, he scolded me for every issue he could think of, which he had resentment on for years. Next, he flared up angrily at other family members from his wife’s side, saying they despised him, and that when he dies, he wants his wake to have vegetarian meals for his siblings, but a non-vegetarian feast for his wife’s siblings, (probably to ‘impress’ them). All this anger came from his negative thoughts.
The next day, I hugged him and sincerely asked for his forgiveness, for all the hurt unintentionally caused. I could feel that he was immediately no longer angry. I took the opportunity to tell him let go of all resentment, anger and worries about his family and wealth, in order to have peace of mind, and to Niànfó instead, to have swift connection with Āmítuófó. He assured me that he has no more worries about his wife and son, and that he will chant Guānyīn Bodhisattva’s name when he has much pain, as she always helps him. I recited the guidance text for the dying (which Lǎoshī sent) to him only once then, as I know he was not receptive at that moment, while knowing that at a later stage, when he is more sick, he will surely Niànfó. Whenever my elder sister visited him, she would sit quietly by his bed and Niànfó for him.
He chatted about how he increasingly likes vegetarian food, about where has the best beehoon and such. He used to love meat dishes. I also told him there are great merits from offering vegetarian food and that it is more delicious and impressive than meat, hoping he will drop the idea of having non-vegetarian food at his wake. I gently reminded him that his angry state of mind will affect his next life, and that when he feels anger, he should just dissolve it with Niànfó or Niànpúsà till there is peace of mind.
Every day, I would bring him different vegetarian food, though he eats only a little. (It is best for all – the well, sick and dying, to consume kinder food and drink, as a compassionate practice, to create less negative karma, and to create more merits.) When he needed a risky and long operation to remove a cancerous tumour on his head about eight years ago, I prayed for a safe operation, and vowed to since become vegetarian.
I reminded him to think of all the good things he has done for our Granny and Mum, for being a filial grandson and son. I also reminded him of how he once told me, of how he saved a frog from the dining table when he lunching at a coffeeshop many years ago. He was so happy about the incident that he related it to my son-in-law when he visited, on how the frog looked at him, and that he could not bear to let him be killed. So, he bought the frog for $8 and released him back to nature. My son-in-law asked him to rejoice in all his good deeds too. (Proper life liberation creates much merits. The practice of rejoicing in good done helps to put the mind in a wholesome state, to have more peace and less regrets.)
I was quite disturbed by his earlier remarks on wanting a non-vegetarian feast at his wake, as negative karma would be created in his name. I checked with my nephew on whether he promised him that. To my relief, he did not. Every day, when I visited, I reminded him to chant Āmítuófó as it is easier to focus on his name, which has only four syllables, without need to chant Námó (南无) as long as he is sincere, while ‘Námó Guānshìyīn Púsà’ (南无观世音菩萨) has seven syllables, which makes it harder to be mindful of if in great discomfort or pain. I also told him that Āmítuófó is the teacher of Guānshìyīn Púsà, therefore connected to her. He then recited a few lines of Āmítuófó with me.
He asked me to contact a Venerable, whose place we went for monthly chanting together. Back then, when he was quite sick, through the Venerable, I also helped to liberate a cow in Sri Lanka in my brother’s name, so as to create more merits for him. At his wake, the Venerable also chanted the Maraṇasati [i.e. a reflection on mindfulness of death] and a sutta for him.
On the night before my brother departed, when he was breathing a little harder, I recited guidance text for the dying to him, telling him that as he is departing soon, he should swiftly let go of all attachments and grudges, and Niànfó sincerely, to go to Āmítuófó’s Pure Land, where there is no more suffering, only bliss. I showed him a picture of Āmítuófó, telling him that he must follow him when he sees him, and not any other person. I told him that I am going to Niànfó for him. He nodded and gave a thumbs up. After some time, he closed his eyes, and we left to let him rest. I also had to visit my Father-in-law as he was also unwell.
The hospice called my nephew at around 4am to inform that my brother might be departing quite soon. That was around the same time I reached home after my Father-in-law’s hospital admission was completed. I went with my nephew and sister-in-law to Niànfó for my brother again until about 7.30am. However, we did not manage to see him depart, as he was assumed to be sleeping, and that we should come back later. Shortly after, the hospice called to say he has passed on. He looked peaceful, though his mouth was a little open, which further closed before encoffining. I feel that my guidance and support-chanting before he departed helped him, as he was not gasping, as if in deep ‘sleep’ with heavier breathing. (Passing away is however always with the consciousness consciously departing, even if the body seems unconscious.)
After my brother departed, we continued to Niànfó, managing to do so for about three hours, as there were many calls from the hospital where my Father-in-law was critically sick. The others had to see to various administration matters too. I requested Lǎoshī to arrange for support-chanting with the kind help of Pureland Practice Fellowship’s friends. My sister-in-law is not a full Buddhist, but I was touched at her earnest Niànfo during the support-chanting.
Today is the 49th day of his departure. Due to work today, in advance yesterday afternoon, with a younger sister, we recited the Amitābha Sūtra (阿弥陀经) and Āmítuófó’s name for half an hour before his tablet. This morning, I woke up early to practise the above again before leaving for work. Other than for my brother, I also dedicated the merits to my (later) departed Father-in-law (and all the names listed in Pureland Practice Fellowship’s daily/weekly dedication list) for swift rebirth in Pure Land (and speedy recovery). With our collective efforts, may all be benefitted!
Námó Āmítuófó: H. Chua (with additional notes by Shen Shi’an)
21 Nov 2020
(Names abbreviated for privacy)