When I joined the ‘Destination Pureland: How To Have The Best Rebirth’ course (3rd run) taught by Shi’an, it was two years ago, in 2015. I shared what learnt with my Father, constantly reminding him about Amitābha Buddha’s (Āmítuófó: 阿弥陀佛) Pure Land (净土), urging him to recite Āmítuófó’s name as his daily practice. My sister and her daughters had also been encouraging him to do so, years before I introduced the Pure Land teachings to him. Eventually, after I passed it to him, he signed ‘The Pure Land Pass Card’ (to notify of the wish to have Pure Land practices, when he is approaching life’s end: purelanders.com/card), and carried it with him all the time.
My Father was fit and healthy, with no major illnesses or surgery, although he had high blood pressure and cholesterol at the age of 77. He began coughing on and off since 2016. Although he had stopped smoking for over 20 years, he did smoke for about 30 years before. In early June this year, he noticed there was blood in his phlegm from coughing. We then arranged for a test, and he was diagnosed with stage four of lung cancer, with cancerous cells having spread to other organs, including the brain.
The neurologist suggested a possible treatment but my Father decided not to be treated due to the risks and his age. He was discharged on 23 June with medication, health supplements and a suggested diet for nutrition. His health deteriorated quickly. During the second week, he was so weak that he had to use a wheelchair. In the third week, the left of his body was immobile and his speech was affected. My brother and I took turns to take care of him during the second and third weeks, as my sister who was the main caregiver was away.
During the time spent with him, I shared more of the Dharma with him, reminding him of its fundamental truths, on repentance (忏悔), the Three Provisions (三资粮) and Niànfó (念佛). Shedding tears, he eventually accepted his health conditions. One day, he told me that after his departure, he would prefer sea burial. This surprised me as he was a very traditional Chinese, with the concept that the body must be intact after death. This means that he is no longer so attached to his body, which should make it easier to let it go.
There were some surprises during his last days. Initially, he told me that he preferred to chant the six-syllabled mantra (i.e. Oṃ Maṇi Padme Hūṃ) of Guānyīn Bodhisattva (观音菩萨). I encouraged him to chant Āmítuófó (as support-chanters usually do so too), telling him that he can also meet Guānyīn Bodhisattva in Āmítuófó’s Pure Land. He agreed. He recited the Heart Sūtra《心经》while I wheelchaired him, with me reciting one line, and him continuing with the next… until the end. When he was in delirium, he still recited Āmítuófó’s name loudly and clearly twice. He did not complain about his pain despite me asking. He merely touched the area, as I did Niànfó while touching it gently. Minutes after, he would just fall asleep or become restful. He was on steroids during the last week, and did not take painkillers or injections.
As my eldest brother and his family are Christians, they played gospel music and prayed when they visited my Father. Their church friends had been visiting my Father in groups. One day, two pastors came to his bedside, and wanted to convert him to their faith. My Father finally told them to respect his religion, and thanked them for their concern. This was heard through my Mother. (I was very worried and contacted Shi’an for advice on this tense situation.) To my surprise, on the next day, my Mother stood up and told my eldest brother to respect my Father’s religion. I showed him my Father’s Pure Land Pass Card too, to assert his wishes, which is what should be followed.
The Third Provision of Practice (行) in terms of Niànfó became stronger and more focused without further interruptions. The Niànfó device (念佛机) played all day by his bed, to remind my Father to Niànfó. I regularly assured him that he had already done his best, that he has been a great husband, father and grandfather, to convince him to let go of his attachments, and to sincerely Niànfó, so that we will meet again in Pure Land later.
As my sister’s family and myself have been reciting Āmítuófó with him, I shared the the ‘Three Great Essentials When Approaching Life’s End’《临终三大要》with them…  Guide and console to give rise to right Faith.  Take shifts to recite Āmítuófó’s name to support pure mindfulness, [extending to about three to eight or more hours after departure].  Avoid touching or moving the body and crying. With this opportunity to share, I passed a few Pure Land Passport《净土护照》books (purelanders.com/now) as guides to them, stressing that we must all be united to sincerely help my Father reach Āmítuófó’s Pure Land.
My family decided to admit my Father to a hospice on 20 July. It was just a two-day stay, with my Mother asking for his discharge on 22 July, as it was my Father’s wish to depart at home. With a recommendation, support-chanting (助念) Group A came. My family had placed his bed in the centre of the living room, to allow support-chanters to sit on both sides. While waiting, I played a Niànfó track with my phone (purelanders.com/mp3) and started to Niànfó. A neighbour joined in too. After a while, Group A’s leader arrived and placed Āmítuófó’s picture at the front of the bed.
He gave a few important pointers.  Do not turn on the ceiling fan, as the wind will blow on my Father. If support-chanters feel hot, they should switch on the side standing fan for themselves, as the dying person will be extra sensitive to temperature changes and movements, with them possibly causing much pain.  Thus, do not touch the dying person.  Do not even touch the bed frame, as even slight movements can cause disturbances.  Do not cry in front of the dying person, as this will disturb by causing attachment and/or aversion.
Before he guided my family on the support-chanting routine, my sister told him that she had engaged support-chanting Group B the night before already, although she did not inform me. He politely accepted and waited for the group to come. Before leaving, he told me that he and his group members will continue to dedicate merits to my Father. I apologised and thanked him for his time.
When I returned to the house later, both sides of the bed were surrounded by my sister, her daughters, husband, Group B’s leader and another volunteer. The ceiling fan was turned on and the Niànfó was totally different from the usual pace, with it being very slow, which might lead to stray thoughts arising in between. I switched off the ceiling fan and joined in the chanting. My sister immediately turned on the fan again. In that instant, I was devastated, disappointed and felt very sorry for my Father, as he could be in great pain.
As I was worried that my Father might not reach Pure Land, I could not control my tears. Not wishing to disturb my Father, and not wanting to argue, I went home to rest for the night. Strangely, I did not feel well. My right side of the body ached terribly and I had a headache. Perhaps this reflected my Father’s suffering? (Note: The Pure Land Pass Card has an entry stating the person appointed for taking charge of the dying and post-death processes. Perhaps this should be asserted from early on, to prevent potential differences in approach.)
My Father departed hours later, at 12.38 am on 23 July – with a few family members doing support-chanting by his bed. They saw him taking two breaths clearly before departing peacefully. I hurried back and started post-death support-chanting, until beyond 9 am. He was already covered with the Rebirth Blanket (往生被). As learnt in class, before the doctor examined to certify his death, I tapped his crown, to stimulate his consciousness to depart from there for Pure Land, if still within the body. (Note: For those with hair there, they can be tugged slightly, also for stimulation.)
After that, Group B’s leader and another volunteer came to help changing of the clothes and cleaning of the body. With my family helping, I reminded all to be as gentle and to be with as little touching as possible. His body was not very stiff. The support-chanting continued until 2.30 pm. His crown became reddish and his facial expression was with a smile. (This means his consciousness could have just departed from the crown, peacefully and recently.) My family decided not to embalm his body, which was a relief as my Father would not want it.
I was delighted when my sister offered a slot for Pureland Practice Fellowship’s (PPF) support-chanting on 25 July at my Father’s wake. Before the chanting began, I represented my family to offer guidance (开示) to my Father. As I was offering guidance, I spoke with a clear and loud voice, giving confidence to my Father that he can surely reach Pure Land swiftly, if not already. I sincerely and wholeheartedly chanted during the session, wishing Āmítuófó to guide my Father to his Pure Land.
Near the end of the session, I nearly dozed off, as I could be too tired, and the weather was extremely hot. ‘Waking up’, this somehow ‘refreshed’ my mind. Suddenly, I smelled a very pleasant flowery scent. As I was seated near the shrine, I wondered if it was from its flowers, but I was sure it was not, as I had been tidying that area, and they did not smell the same at all. It was a very instant fragrance that faded very quickly. After that, I smelled incense. Again, I wondered about it. It was like sandalwood (檀香), but it was very extraordinary, distinct and pleasant. (This is the auspicious sign [瑞相] of ‘extraordinary fragrance filling the room’ [异香满堂], which arises from connection to Āmítuófó’s great blessings.)
In that very moment, there was a clear vision. I saw a huge right hand reach towards the casket. In the centre of the palm, there was what looked like a ‘lotus imprint’. Immediately next, Āmítuófó appeared smiling at the right of the casket’s head area. As he laid his hand down gently, a big yellow-gold (黄金) lotus flower (莲花) blossomed near his right foot. In a flash, my Father was standing on the lotus. (These are the auspicious signs of seeing the Buddha [见佛] and seeing a lotus flower [见花].) He looked younger, seemingly in his 50s, well and in his prime, without old age or sickness. He was smiling, in what looked like grey Mahāyāna lay clothing (居士服).
I was so delighted to have experienced these details, which quickly disappeared. I continued to Niànfó, till the end of the session, feeling blessed and rejoice. I am very thankful to Shi’an, for his detailed Pure Land teachings, firm guidance and support. I am also grateful to all PPF Purelanders, who attended the chanting for my Father’s wake. I am very touched by their sincerity.
Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó, Āmítuófó…
21 August 2017
[Note: The above excellently exemplifies skilful use of The Pure Land Pass Card, to (prevent and/or) end potential conflicts of interest when approaching the end of life. All it takes is one person, despite the best of his or her intentions, who does not understand, (and thus not adequately respect) the commitment of another to reach Pure Land, to ‘rock the boat’ that leads to it.
Although not a Refuge Certificate (皈依证), signing the card clearly expresses firm Faith in the Pure Land teachings, and the wish for focused Pure Land practice, before and after life’s end. (Signing ‘The Pure Land Passport’s《净土护照》first page has the same function.) May all encourage loved ones to sign the card (and/or book) in time, before potential loss of consciousness or clarity of mind due to sickness.]