I introduced Āmítuófó (阿弥陀佛) and the Pure Land (净土) teachings to my Mum a few years ago, after attending Teacher Shi’an’s ‘Understanding Āmítuófó Via The Amitabha Sutra’ (通过阿弥陀经认识阿弥陀佛) course. It was the best decision I have ever made. I am very thankful that my Mum accepted the Pure Land teachings and started to be mindful of Āmítuófó’s name, for at least a short while daily.
In November, my Mum was diagnosed with advanced lymphoma. The tumour was quite big and in her nose area. As it was pressing on her ears, she could not hear very well. She also had two lumps at her neck area. After a cycle of low dosage chemotherapy, conditions did not improve. Feeling very weak, she told me that she was very tired and wanted to go to Pure Land quickly. I encouraged her to try to be mindful of Āmítuófó’s name in her heart. I also recited the Repentance Verse (忏悔文) with her. I referred to the book (‘Pure Land Passport: The Three Great Essentials When Approaching Death’) that I got from Teacher Shi’an’s ‘Destination Pureland’ course, and am most grateful that he shared the following summary, which helped a lot:
BGRAM Steps To Follow At Deathbed
 Bowing thrice (礼佛三拜) (or with joined palms towards Buddha image) – if possible, or do on patient’s behalf
 Guidance Text (开示文)
 Repentance Verse (忏悔文)
 Āmítuófó’s Name (阿弥陀佛)
 Merits’ Dedication (回向文)
I followed the above steps and reminded my Mum to not be mindful of pain and discomfort; to only be mindful of Āmítuófó’s name wholeheartedly. I recited Āmítuófó’s name near her ears as often as I could when I visited her. However, she seemed too weak to recite with me and was mostly asleep. [Note: Some incorrectly assume that chanting by the dying must be aloud. It is not so. Following Āmítuófó’s name in the mind with sincere listening is also mindfulness of Āmítuófó. As the dying are usually very weak, verbal chanting is usually not possible when very near departure.] I continued to encourage her, telling her that since she has been reciting Āmítuófó’s name in everyday life, her name is already registered in Pure Land on a lotus flower. She would open her eyes and nod very gently.
When she was in a critical condition, the doctors transferred her to a care room. I quickly covered her with the Rebirth Blanket (往生被) and sprinkled some Blessed Sand Of Golden Light (金光明沙) on her, according to the instructions in the Pure Land Passport. (These external aids are for offering protective blessings.) My Mum was having a fever and looked quite uneasy. She kept brushing off the blanket. My siblings and I would put it back and recite Āmítuófó’s name, reminding her to follow our recitation too. Too weak to recite verbally then, after quite a while, she fell asleep peacefully.
My brother urged my sister and I to go home as it was past midnight. We planned to take over him early in the morning, so that he could also get some rest. After we left, my brother continued to recite Āmítuófó’s name. However, he later switched to recite ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ as he has been reciting the mantra to share the merits with my Mum all this while. [Note: On hindsight, as she was already used to Āmítuófó’s name, it would be better to have continual reciting of it. This is so as what the patient is used to is more important than what the support-chanter is used to. With a different chant, if not familiar, it will be hard for the patient to follow. However, the chanting still creates merits for offering. It is ultimately the Three Provisions (三资粮) expressed verbally or silently (with the most direct being by mindful of Āmítuófó’s name) that leads to Pure Land. The mantra will also work if recited with the Three Provisions.]
My brother said that after reciting for about an hour or so, as he saw Mum sleeping very peacefully, he sat down to rest for a while and dozed off. When he woke up after a few minutes, she was no longer breathing, but she looked very peaceful, unlike before. [Note: There should be allowing of patients to rest naturally. However, for those about to depart, at possibly any time, it is best to have at least soft ongoing chanting in the background, to provide a guide.]
He did not touch her as I had earlier shared with my siblings on why there should not be premature touching of the deceased (which might cause great pain). I had also shared this with Mum when she was well. We had communicated with the doctors and nurses about not touching Mum’s body for at least six hours (as reduced from the ideal eight hours). However, the doctors shared that the new ruling is they can only agree for up to two hours for religious purposes. (However, there can be more flexibility, depending on the situation.) We all rushed down to recite Āmítuófó’s name for the time allocated. While waiting for the undertaker to arrive and for administrative work to be done, we continued to recite too.
Later that morning, I met Mr. Ng from Vimalakirti Buddhist Centre (Funeral Service) at the wake area. He told me that my Mum’s body was soft and supple when the undertakers changed and cleaned her. (This is an auspicious sign, of having peace and bliss, of body and mind, with possible birth in Pure Land.) Although we did not experience any other auspicious signs, I was relieved to hear that. My Mum really suffered a lot during her last 17 days. We are glad that she passed on peacefully. Teacher Shi’an also advised me to continue to practise the following during the wake.
BGRAAM Steps To Follow At Wake
 Bowing thrice (or with joined palms towards Buddha image)
 Guidance Text
 Repentance Verse
 Āmítuójīng (阿弥陀经)
 Āmítuófó’s Name
 Merits’ Dedication
I practised all the above during the wake. I will continue to be mindful of Āmítuófó’s name, recite Āmítuójīng and dedicate merits to my Mum and all sentient beings. My Mum was a fantastic Mother. She always spared a thought for others, and did not wish to cause inconvenience for others. Hence, I could not help feeling that she chose to pass on without our presence, as it could be a very painful experience for some of us. I sincerely wish that my Mum will make it to Pure Land, along with all sentient beings, at the end of their retribution bodies in this life. Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó… I would also like to express my gratitude to Teacher Shi’an for his guidance and advice during this difficult time. Āmítuófó.
17 December, 2020