[83] Ten Reflections On A Pure Land Practitioner’s Departure

Notice Of Departure

In the midst of Āmítuófó’s name (阿弥陀佛) being played, Sis. Lai Yien departed peacefully this morning (6 April 2020), right after applying the Blessed Sand (金光明沙) and putting on the Rebirth Blanket (往生被) by family members.

Sis. Khuan Heng, Sis. Maureen and Bro. Chin Kiat are at her home now to practise post-departure support-chanting (往生助念) till encoffining (入殓) in the evening. As there is a limit to the number of participants allowed for gathering, please do not join in. However, do dedicate merits to offer more blessings for Lai Yien.

Due to the current COVID-19 measures, there will be only 2 PPF sessions of wake support-chanting tomorrow, in earlier afternoon and in later afternoon. To make it easier to manage, they will be open only to those who had been doing support-chanting more often for Lai Yien recently, at the hospital and/or at home, with registration required to ensure there are not too many participants.

We would like to take this opportunity to express gratitude especially to Khuan Heng, Chin Kiat, Maureen and Jacqueline, for their tremendous efforts in close support of Lai Yien during her journey, offering her and her family much guidance and encouragement, also coordinating the support of other fellow Purelanders below, (in no particular order) –

Khuan Heng, Chin Kiat, Maureen, Jacqueline, Davizon, Mee Nah, Bro. Kee, Chor Luang, Meau Chyou, Pauline, Helen, Melinda, Lai Peng, Steph, Sherry-Ann, Edmund, Eunice, Joyce, Choi Pheng, Karen, Catherine, Kim Har, Wendy, Chiew Thian, Wah Khoon, Pui Fun and WY.

As explained to Lai Yien several times personally to encourage her, there is no reason she cannot reach Pure Land, as she had nurtured her Three Provisions for more than 10 years already. She definitely has Faith and Aspiration, and with your support, has had ample Practice together. Although there were naturally some moments of exasperation, on the whole and repeatedly, she expressed confidence in reaching Pure Land. With your dedicated merits, may she attain a higher grade of birth in Pure Land!

Lai Yien repeated twice that she was like the tree leaning to the West, as mentioned in the first verse above. It gave her great assurance. More on this teaching can be seen at https://purelanders.com/2015/01/23/how-to-fall-definitely-accordingly-to-the-west and https://purelanders.com/2020/01/30/can-diligent-pure-land-practitioners-with-great-pain-when-departing-reach-pure-land.

南无阿弥陀佛 Námó Āmítuófó

[1] Remembering Sis. Lai Yien

Today, 8 April 2020, is Sis. Lai Yien’s cremation day. With all her efforts and all your merits dedicated, may she attain a higher grade of birth in Pure Land! As far back as I can remember, she was one of the first to join us at Pureland Practice Fellowship, when it was founded in 2008. I even made a mental note that she was one of the more elderly Purelanders. I also mention regularly that PPF aims to guide one another to Pure Land. Even if we are all gone, may the next generation take over this mission. 12 years later, Lai Yien is the first of PPF’s Purelanders to be sent off by us together.

I would like to again thank all Purelanders who have assisted in her journey in person, with guidance, encouragement and support-chanting at her home, hospital and wake – Khuan Heng, Chin Kiat, Maureen, Jacqueline, Davizon, Mee Nah, Bro. Kee, Chor Luang, Meau Chyou, Pauline, Helen, Melinda, Lai Peng, Steph, Sherry-Ann, Edmund, Eunice, Joyce, Choi Pheng, Karen, Catherine, Kim Har, Wendy, Chiew Thian, Wah Khoon, Pui Fun and WY.

Her spiritual affinity with all of us was also made possible by her diligent attendance of our classes, retreats and weekly PPF sessions over the years. For those who have been away for some time, when we gather at PPF or in class again, I sincerely hope you will join us again, in walking the path to Pure Land with continual learning and group practice. There is much more to learn, and there is much merits we can create together for dedicating to everyone.

Having 28 fellow Purelanders working together was amazing, especially heartening when it is a somewhat ‘risky’ period with COVID-19 going on. Everyone who came was especially courageous and selfless in walking the Bodhisattva path. It was very moving, and for this, we ought to be healthily proud of our collective efforts as Lai Yien’s spiritual friends.

To remember this occasion, do feel free to message or email me your reflections [as now compiled below], on your lessons learnt, for me to compile to share with all later. In the mean time, do stay well, remember to Niànfó, and dedicate merits to the world.

南无阿弥陀佛 Námó Āmítuófó

[2] Thank You For The Opportunity

I was filled with 法喜 (Dharma joy) on the night before I went to do support-chanting for Sis. Lai Yien at her home, and also on that morning itself, from 11 am till 2 pm. Why? I was so grateful that amidst COVID-19 (before the circuit breaker) and with the halting of all Dharma assemblies, including Niànfó assemblies (e.g. cancellation of 佛三 etc.), she gave me the golden opportunity to practise 念佛供修 (group cultivation of Niànfó). In addition was the fact that she had been like an elder sister to me. I always asked her about very ‘chim’ (deep) Chinese Dharma words.

I personally thanked her for the opportunity she gave us. Her house had become my way place (道场), and my fellow support-chanting PPF friends were my fellow 净土法门 (Pure Land Dharma Door) travelling companions, and Sis. Lai Yien was like a Bodhisattva who was using her impending end of this life’s journey to do one more 佛事 (Buddhist matter or Buddha’s task), to deliver sentient beings (度众生) – herself and us. I wished and hoped that Lai Yien, with our support-chanting, would use her successful rebirth in Āmítuófó’s Pure Land to convince more people to believe in 净土法门, to have deep and steadfast faith in Āmítuófó, with unwavering aspiration for rebirth in his Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss, and to practise Niànfó. I register my heartfelt thanks to her, all the PPF friends, 老师 (Lǎoshī) and WY.

Āmítuófó, Wah Khoon

[3] Gratitude For Guidance And Advice

I’m very grateful we have Teacher Shi’an’s meticulous guidance and consistent wise advice for our efforts to assist Sis. Lai Yien’s journey to Āmítuófó’s Pure Land.

Āmítuófó, Jacqueline

[4] Thank You For Being You

Dear Sis. Lai Yien, we may or may not have met but when I came to know of your condition, you have been in my thoughts ever since. Realistically, I wasn’t expecting you to get better, but all I wished for, was for you to walk the path of least suffering and eventually, rising and connecting to Āmítuófó.

And I am so glad that you did it. Although I may not be physically close enough to watch you liberate, but I do know that you have impacted many people’s lives. Thank you, for being you and being present in our lives. You will be in my Niànfó thoughts and may you be with Āmítuófó always. Rest easy with Niànfó.

Āmítuófó, Estella

[5] So Blessed With Much Support-Chanting

When Lǎoshī told me the Dharma brother who had stage 4 lung cancer survived, I was optimistic that Sis. Lai Yien would also have a speedy recovery. (He is a Purelander too, and was earlier invited by Lǎoshī to meet Lai Yien to offer advice.) I am sure most people like me when suffering a serious illness would first hope for a miraculous recovery with blessings from Āmítuófó as after all, Āmítuófó is the Great King Of Healers (大医王). But when I saw her for the first time in her home together with sister Jacqueline, I was taken aback by how much weight she had lost. She was alert and not so weak, but she could only take 2 to 3 tiny sips of amla water before she felt discomfort. Reality then sunk in that she may not survive long. We practised Niànfó together with her for 15 mins, and I was happy when she said that she still do 早课 (Morning Chanting), even though there was a bag attached to her, which must be quite uncomfortable. Many Dharma brothers and sisters tirelessly continued to do Niànfó for her, with Fàngshēng (放生) activities organised for her too. She even contribute her red packet for Fàngshēng, which was really wonderful!

At my second support-chanting at the hospital, I noticed that she seemed quite stressed for a while, though I could not hear what she was saying to a support-chanter. I became concerned that it could be my chanting that upset her. Was I too loud? I was immersed in following the Niànfó device’s intonations. But with Lǎoshī and WY’s comforting words telling her to focus sincerely on Niànfó, and not focus on any discomfort, she soon became calm again. I left the hospital after that and asked sister Jacqueline if it was my loud chanting that upset her, and she assured that it was not. Sis. Lai Yien is so blessed with so many Dharma brothers and sisters doing support-chanting for her, and with her own faith and aspiration, and her diligence in Niànfó, she will definitely be reborn in Āmítuófó’s Pure Land.

Námó Āmítuófó, Helen

Reply: It could be due to her older age and weaker constitution that made it harder for her to heal in this life. That said, true and lasting healing is via reaching Āmítuófó’s Pure Land. A few of us checked with her and she mentioned there was no pain throughout, which is remarkable. Of course, there was some discomfort due to the sickness. During the hospital support-chanting that night, she was a little frustrated and disoriented – that’s all. She said she lost track of day and night. It was natural as the light had to be always on, with no window to see outside. We told her that she was discharging for home the next morning. (So, no worries, it had nothing to do with your chanting. If it was too loud, others would had noticed too.) 

南无阿弥陀佛 Námó Āmítuófó

[6] Possible Obstacles To Pure Land?

Question: Is it so that 深信切愿 (deep faith and sincere aspiration) might not be easy to achieve, due to possibility of being overcome by sickness, tiredness and frustration?

Answer: Please see https://purelanders.com/2020/04/10/why-do-many-depart-for-pure-land-upon-death-instead-of-before-death for a detailed answer.

[7] Sister Lai Yien’s Inspiring Journey To Pure Land

Before her departure at the age of 68, when healthy, other than having diligent everyday life practice, Sister Lai Yien had already planned well in advance for her eventual departure. With reference to the teachings in ‘The Pure Land Passport’ (purelanders.com/now), she recorded the essentials on what to do, and with her Rebirth Blanket (往生被) and such, put them in a box for easy access. She also prepared her family members on what to do.

As an example of her diligence, since 2017, she had already recited the Immeasurable Life Sūtra《无量寿经》for about 300 times, even finishing chanting of the Emperor Liáng’s Treasure Repentance Text《梁皇宝忏》one final time, shortly before her departure. All these clearly expressed her strong Faith and Aspiration to reach Āmítuófó’s (阿弥陀佛) Pure Land (净土).

She also developed a personal routine to Niànfó (念佛), without use of guided chanting being played or with prayer beads (念珠). She once told me that when she recited Āmítuófó’s name (阿弥陀佛), she would think of him as her ‘Mummy’ (妈咪), which sounds a little like the first two words of his name. This is aligned to how we should earnestly be mindful of Āmítuófó, as if being our loving ‘Mother’ or ‘Father’, with us as lost ‘children’.

Although she was at first attached to chanting aloud, when she became weaker, she could only practise mentally, but still moving her lips, and often with joined palms in bed. Despite her physical discomfort, lack of strength, with some understandable frustrations and confusions, she persevered to connect to Āmítuófó. Lǎoshī reminded her that when tired, it is alright to recite mentally, or even just listen to Āmítuófó’s name, as sincerely as possible.

Lǎoshī also wrote this Guidance Text (开示文) for reminding her during her critical period – ‘有信愿行,一定能往生。要对佛有100%信心。要100%愿意当下往生,不必等待死亡。要100%厌离病苦,100%欣求极乐。用这种至诚心在心里念佛,一定能感应阿弥陀佛。一切都放下。不念痛,只念佛。越不舒服时,越要诚恳念佛。什么都不想,只是至诚一心念佛求生净土。够至诚时,一定会感应阿弥陀佛来接引。’

(‘With Faith, Aspiration and Practice, you will definitely be reborn in Pure Land. You must have 100% Faith in Āmítuófó. You must have 100% wish to be reborn now, with no need to wait for death. You must have 100% revulsed renunciation of sickness and suffering, and 100% joyful seeking of the Land Of Ultimate Bliss. With this kind of utmost sincerity mindful of Buddha in your mind, you will definitely connect to Āmítuófó. Let go of everything else. Do not be mindful of pain; only be mindful of Āmítuófó. The more discomfort there is, the more must you sincerely Niànfó. Do not think of anything else. Only wholeheartedly Niànfó to seek birth in his Pure Land. When with utmost sincerity, you will definitely connect to Āmítuófó, to receive and guide you.’)

The period from discovery of her sickness to departure took only about four months. During this period, she had good care from her family members, who were also involved in her support-chanting (助念), including after her departure. Remarkably, most likely due to her devoted practices, she did not experience any pain from her cancer. At no point did she struggle or moan in pain. Most of the time, even when exhausted, she was alert.

At about 9 am on 5 April 2020, about 22 hours before she departed the next day at around 11 am, I received a call from her. I was very surprised as she should be too weak to even speak clearly, what more to make a phone call. She wanted to check if BGRAAM has 2 A’s or 2 R’s. It is an acronym we use in Pureland Practice Fellowship, that stands for ‘Bowing to Āmítuófó, Guidance text to guide the departing, Repentance verse, Amitābha Sūtra for introducing the Pure Land teachings, Āmítuófó’s name to be mindful of, and Merits’ dedication for birth in his Pure Land.’ The chanting of the sūtra is usually for those already departed, with Niànfó being the Main Practice (正行) for the dying.

With her, we mainly practised BGRAM, with one less A. What more, she was already very familiar with the Pure Land teachings, she did not need to have the Amitābha Sūtra recited or explained to her. In fact, she had already memorised it long ago. The call was very heartening because it meant that even hours before her departure, spiritual practice to reach Pure Land was on her mind. Her final expression before sealing of her casket was very peaceful, with her looking very comfortable at last. With all her diligence, surely, she should have already reached Pure Land.

While some Purelander friends who spent less time with her might naturally be a little taken aback by her frailty before she departed, having spent much time with her as a close friend, her journey actually strengthened my determination, to keep learning and practising as she did. Her efforts also inspired me on what I should also do, to prepare myself and my family for a smooth departure for Pure Land. Thank you Lai Yien, for your good example, and much gratitude to Lǎoshī and all fellow Purelanders who aided in her journey.

Námó Āmítuófó, Maureen

[8] Thank You For Your Example

With much thanks to Sister Maureen, for her inspiring and comprehensive sharing about Sister Lai Yien and her journey to Pure Land, the following is my part to share… As Lai Yien was used to planning, and diligent in her Dharma learning and practice, she naturally felt confident, and had high expectations of herself, including how things should pan out. However, these expectations, coupled with her character of not wishing to trouble others or to let them down also made her somehow feel more stressed.

[Note 1: Great Master Yìnguāng (印光大师) taught in the ‘Second Great Essential’ (第二大要) of the ‘Three Great Essentials When Approaching Death’《临终三大要》, that ‘Even those who all along have recitation of the name of Buddha as their practice, at this moment (when dying), should also all rely on other persons’ support (for support-chanting: 助念). Then are they able to attain benefits.’ (即使一向来修念佛的,此时也全仰仗别人的相助,才能得力。) Thus, unless we are already all great practitioners, we ought to guide and support one another. Not doing so is to let one another down instead.]

An incident left a deep impression on me. In the evening of her last discharge from hospital, Maureen and I visited her at home after knowing that she decided not to have support-chanting scheduled for the next day. After she relented, we practised some Niànfó (念佛) with her. We reminded her about her trip to Dōnglín Monastery (东林寺) last year (in 2019). She also visited and practised 3-step-1-bow (三步一拜) towards the Dōnglín Big Buddha (东林大佛),  which featured the words ‘Come back, child!’ (回来吧,孩子) at its base. These words urge us to practise mindfulness of Āmítuófó (阿弥陀佛) to reach his Pure Land, as our true home. As Purelanders, to offer support-chanting is to guide one another to reach this home.

Perhaps this struck a chord with her, as she poured out her feelings to explain her moments of exasperation at the hospital. She was frustrated with herself, as she had been practising for more than 10 years, but still could not swiftly depart, thus possibly having some doubt of herself. She also felt that she had troubled many fellow Purelanders who spent much time with her. We again shared with her Guidance Texts (开示文) that she was already familiar with. Thankfully, with her firm Faith and Aspiration that never wavered, and with Āmítuófó’s blessings throughout all the Niànfó, she persevered till the end of her journey, to finally attain her peaceful departure.

[Note 2: Her diligence in everyday life made it easier for her to habitually strive on, all the way on the last lap of her journey. This reminds us of the importance of having regular practice, personally and in groups during retreats and practice sessions. Her Faith and Aspiration were also made firm with continual learning. Her diligent practice also definitely eradicated many karmic obstacles. For example, although she had some expected physical discomfort, there was amazingly no distracting pain at all.]

Her journey made me feel even more grateful to have encountered the precious teachings on Āmítuófó. As each of us have different karmic conditions and habits, we cannot be certain how they all play out towards the end, but as long as we have strong Faith, Aspiration and Practice, we will know clearly where we are going to, and therefore never be afraid. Āmítuófó’s blessings will definitely facilitate our eventual smooth departure to reach his Pure Land.

[Note 3: Too much self-confidence might subtly create some obstacles due to expectations which might arise, that do not align with reality exactly. We might have some self-doubt at times, but this is natural as we are unenlightened. This is why we should have complete Faith in Āmítuófó instead, who is fully enlightened, with this dissolving attachments to our own thinking and self-clinging. Letting go of our ‘self’ in this way with sincere Niànfó combines our limited Self-power with Āmítuófó’s great Other-power. Once there is firm connection, replaced by bliss, all distress will disappear.] 

Thanks very much to Lǎoshī for always being there to provide much needed guidance to all of us during Lai Yien’s journey. The guidance ensured that what we did to help her was right. And thanks to all fellow Purelanders, whom we have the affinity to be spiritual friends with. And finally, thanks to Lai Yien, for having taught us many important lessons.

Namo Āmítuófó!
Khuan Heng
(with Lǎoshī’s notes)

[9] Gratitude From Lai Yien’s Family

Dear friends of Lai Yien,

Tomorrow (19 April 2020) is the 14th day of our Mother’s passing. How swiftly time does pass. However, the kindness and friendship you have showered upon her right up to her last days is a fixture for eternity, in the memories of us, her children and her grandchildren. For Lai Yien, her gratitude to you, and hence blessings for you.

Thank you very much for your spiritual support to us during these crucial times. Please take very good care of yourselves in the current (COVID) situation. All the best too.

Warmest regards, 
Eng Wee, Eng Yeow and our families

[10] Moments With Lai Yien

Throughout our support-chanting (助念) with her, Sister Lai Yien was always worried she had bothered us. When she felt that we were tired, she would ‘shoo’ us home to rest. She might have stressed herself with such worries. In the wee hours of a morning in hospital, she felt exasperated, and suddenly threw up her arms and said, ‘I can’t find the way, the direction!’ Sister Mee Nah by her bedside comforted her, reminding her that with sincere Niànfó (念佛) to connect to Āmítuófó (阿弥陀佛), he will come to receive her. There is no need to find another way.

I reflected, that yes indeed, we do not have to find a physical path to Pure Land. With sincere Niànfó, Āmítuófó will come to take us home at the right time. We then recited the Repentance Verse (忏悔文) and Four Great Vows (四弘誓愿) together. She calmed down as we did Niànfó together, with her doing it audibly and clearly. She inspired me to Niànfó more ardently with her at her pace. How can I let her down when she tried so hard not to let us down?

During the Dōnglín Monastery (东林寺) pilgrimage in April last year (in 2019), the 3-step-1-bow (三步一拜) practice at the Pure Land Park (净土苑) was a highlight. I vividly remember Lai Yien was among the first few to return from the prostration upwards to Āmítuófó’s image. She was beaming radiantly with happiness. Due to a physical condition that day, as I could not join in the climb, I curiously asked her on how it was like to be with the big Buddha. Along with various descriptions, her mention of the words ‘回来吧,孩子’ (Come back, child!) reflected her deep Aspiration to go home to be with Āmítuófó.

At a scenic spot at Lúshān Park (庐山公园), when we encountered rows of locks upon locks on a barricade, she broke out in song, ‘Please release me (from Saṃsāra), let me go (to Pure Land)!’ (In the tune of the Engelbert Humperdinck song, ‘Please Release Me’.) This was her lighter side. Maureen will remember this too. A photo shot was sent to her upon return. And this was her reply, ‘Oh, this is where we sang “Please release me, let me go!” Perhaps we can continue the song with these words, “cos I really really 要回家 (want to go home)!”‘ 

On 6 April 2020, the 14th day of the 4th lunar month, Lai Yien really went home. Her departure was almost exactly a year from the last day of the pilgrimage. We have been reminded ever so often of impermanence. What is going to happen the next hour, day, month and year? All we have is now to cherish and live well. Thank you Lai Yien, for the moments we shared, and lessons you have taught me. 

Āmítuófó, Choi Pheng

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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