Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Ultimate Remembrance on Wesak Day - Part 3

From Part 2

Looking back, although it was heart-wrenching to take care of my dying mum for one whole month; I did learned many things, and realized how blessed we are to be surrounded, loved and supported by so many compassionate monks and nuns, wise people, caring friends and relatives.

Few useful skills (perishable without constant practice though) I picked up were:

• How to take care of dying person
• How to feed someone who has difficulty swallowing
• How to deal with incontinence
• How to change adult diapers
• How to move or flip disabled person to prevent pressure sores
• How to clean & dress open bed sores
• How to deal with necrotic skin, tissues and deep cavities
• How to deal with buildup of fluids in the lungs of disabled person
• How to inject a person with a syringe
• What drugs to use for pain management & prevent foaming in the mouth

Some of these skills were later put to use to care for my 15 years old dog Rambo who died of old age 2 months after my mum passing.

This whole episode has helped me practice patience, determination, loving kindness and equanimity more.

I take this chance to convey our heartfelt thanks and deep appreciation to:

Ven U. Nyanaramsi , Bro Chim and members of SJBA who helped me through such a difficult moment in my life.

The Bhante from Buddhist Maha Vihara who came to chant for my mum before her passing.

Dr Tan Ho Soon, Sister Yvette and members of Nalanda Buddhist Society who came to my house on such a short notice to guide, comfort and support us.

The nuns and members from my Aunts’ Pu Mern Buddhist Association who came and chanted on my mum’s funeral.

Dr Felicia and the nurses from Hospis Malaysia. I salute your noble profession and for being such outstanding people helping the dying and grieving.

My old friend and coach Vince Choo, whose touching gesture of support I shall never forget.  Also Kate, Daniel, Chui, Fidael, Dan, Rizan, Chief Rodney and everyone from my gym and the global fraternity of Crazy Monkey who either came, called or messaged me. Thank you guys for your love and concern.

My mentor and partner Shaun Tan (Sen Ze), his wife Jasmin, my partner Brian Chong (Goldfries) and my fellow social media marketers: Geri, Cocoa, Eng Jin, Steven, Chooi Keng, Chew, Vicky and everyone who conveyed their sympathies to me.

My old friend Quenna Leong and her husband Eric who first introduced me to Buddhism in 2005. You guys never cease to inspire me. Sorry for not keeping in touch more often than I like to.

My daughter's Godmother, Li Li who constantly asked about my well being and encouraged me to be strong for my mum and family. Thank you for being there for me despite the distant between us.

My old friends Gharzali and Farid, you guys proved that there are no barriers to friendship and caring for one another. I salute you both and thanks for being there for me.

The lovely flowers from my ex-Boss Ben Tan of MCL Bhd and Teresa Chong whom I've just met.

All my friends, ex-colleagues and relatives who came and offered their support and sympathies, esp to Ah Fui who came all the way from JB, Kenneth, Kelly, Carlson, Cojack, Vincent and BH Ong.

Sorry if I missed anyone but under the circumstances, it was Wesak Day 1 year ago and I’m not getting any younger – another reminder of impermanence. Sigh..

May you all be blessed with good health, peace and joy and may your good deeds bring you happiness now and hereafter.

Lastly, thank you very much Mother for giving us the ultimate remembrance on Wesak Day to cherish the noble qualities of The Buddha that you exemplified so well in your life.

From Part 2

Part 1

The Ultimate Remembrance on Wesak Day - Part 2

From Part 1

I composed myself and called Bro Kelvin of the Malaysian Buddhist Co-operative Society. Having dealt with overly commercialized undertakers in the past, Bro Kelvin is the most caring and responsible undertaker I’ve ever met. But he told me he was fully tied up yesterday, so I took a chance. I was surprised when he said, ahh now I have people available. What a relief! It was as if my mum waited till Bro Kelvin is available before she passes on.

I went to the Police Station to lodge a report to facilitate the Death Cert. After that, I have 2 choices: to proceed back home and wait for Bro Kelvin and Sis Didi or proceed to a temple since it is Wesak Day. My mind thought of Maha Vihara Brickfields but common sense told me the road would be congested with the float parade. I then drove to Subang Jaya Buddhist Association (SJBA), where the most fantastic turn of events happened.

As expected, SJBA was still packed with devotees even around 9pm. Cars were parked rows along both side of the roads till far away. I made a u-turn from the temple and all of sudden, a car drove away near the front gate – parking is available for me near the FRONT GATE of the temple on Wesak Day!

I walked in and saw rows of devotees still lining up for blessings from the monks. There were many oil lamps on the tables and it gave the temple an air of festivity and an ambience of hope and positivity. I bought a small flower pot, wrote my mum name on it and place it on the altar. For Buddhists, the flower reminds us of impermanence (anicca), that as beautiful as it is, it too will wither, become scentless and dry up.

Since the monks were still busy blessing devotees, I then bought an oil lamp to place on the table. The light from the oil lamp symbolizes wisdom to dispel the darkness of ignorance. All the tables were fully packed with oil lamps but when I turned around after buying the lamp, an empty slot was available on the FIRST ROW of the table facing The Buddha image. By now, I was deeply inspired by all these turn of fortunate events and thought: wow mum, you really did made an impact somehow somewhere.

Then I walked to the main shrine hall and asked one of the worker/volunteer there if there is any monk available to follow me home to chant for my departed mum. The Bro asked me to wait and he approached one of the monk. He signaled me to come over but the monk told me he has to attend another funeral after he finished blessing the devotees. Disappointed, I bowed my head in respect and thank them nevertheless. They asked me to stay on for a simple blessing since it is Wesak Day. As the crowd dwindled after me being the last batch of devotees seeking blessing, someone told me that Bhante (term Buddhists use to address a monk) is now available because the other person canceled his request.

I was so happy that I managed to find a monk to chant for my departed mum on Wesak Day. Bhante told me to wait for him to refresh and change then he will go with me. Some of the workers in SJBA told me to take good care of this monk because he has been chanting and blessing devotees non-stop from morning till night. Give him a glass of warm water, said another. I nodded and tell myself to be extra mindful of Bhante’s condition, while feeling truly blessed by his deep compassion. In the car, I introduced myself to the monk and another SJBA lay person who followed along. The monk told me his name is Nyanaramsi  and he is the Chief Abbot of SJBA. The other lay person introduced himself as Bro Chim, and he is the President of SJBA. I was awestruck! My goodness, I managed to get both the Chief Abbot and the President of SJBA to come to my house to chant for my departed mum on Wesak Day! Talk about my mum’s good blessings even in her passing.

When Venerable Nyanaramsi reached my home, the first thing my Sis asked was where did I found this monk because he radiates such noticeable peace and serenity. We served Bhante a glass of warm water and he sat down besides my departed mum to start chanting. Despite his apparent weariness, he spoke gently and calmly encouraging us to try and understand what we are chanting. Bro Chim told us that although Bhante is very tired, he was moved by my filial piety to come and chant for our late mum out of great compassion. That meant a lot to me because my mum has been my role model and pillar of strength my whole life.

Then Bhante lead us in chanting selected verses for my departed mum using a booklet prepared by SJBA for Buddhist Funeral / Wake Service. I particularly liked this book because it contains Paticcasamuppada Patha – The Law of Dependent Origination (see the image near the end if you don't have the patience to read), which to me is one of best ‘empirical’ explanation of how we came to being, and the reason why I love Buddhism so much. Chanting the verses from this sutta did managed to lessen my grief and put some sense into what we are experiencing now. As I fetched Venerable Nyanaramsi back, he asked if I have any monk chanting for my late mum tomorrow and offered to come again. I was deeply touched by his compassionate gesture. Bhante came the next day and not only chanted but even taught us few basic steps in meditation. Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu! Another graphical version of Paticcasamuppada Patha.

We also have the honor and privilege of meeting and knowing Dr Tan Ho Soon, who is the founder of Nalanda Buddhist Society and Nalanda Institute Malaysia. Dr Tan came to my house on the kind request by my friend, Sis Yvette Wong to share the Dhamma with my then dying mother. I didn’t know he was such a prominent Buddhist leader and teacher when he came over to my house but his gentle and polite demeanor was very exemplary. He taught me Hiri (shame) and Ottapa (moral dread): 2 basic things that help Buddhist from breaking the precepts which resonate with me till today. And he has one the most powerful and penetrating chant I’ve ever heard. When he came and chanted on my mum’s funeral, tears flow freely from our eyes, especially from my Dad. I realized that we are both Widowers now. Bro Tan said that living and dying are but both ends on the same string. It is nature of impermanence as long as we are stuck in this endless round of rebirths and sufferings call Samsara.

From Part 1

To Part 3

The Ultimate Remembrance on Wesak Day - Part 1

This is probably my most difficult blog entry to date. It took me exactly a year to sit down and write this since my beloved mum Chan Yoke Lan passed away on Wesak Day 2011.

She has been undergoing treatments for cervical cancer the last 7 years. Last April, her condition deteriorated so quickly that it made her unable to walk, stand, talk, eat & drink within just a few days. Little did I know then all these are signs of active dying.

My mum condition deteriorated the month I resigned from my taxing job. It was as if she doesn’t want to burden me earlier when I was tied up with my demanding job. This is her most admirable trait: she is always thinking of us first.

Instead of talking about her battle with cancer, let me share about the extraordinary events that happened from the time she was dying till after she passed away.

On the eve of Wesak Day last year, the Dr Felicia from Hospis Malaysia came to check on my Mum and failed to detect her pulse and vital signs. Dr Felicia said my mum is unlikely to make it pass the night and asked us to be mentally prepared. Despite being told as early as April that my mum is dying, this news still struck us like a sword piercing our hearts.  I still long and hope that she can stay with us longer. There are so many things I wanted to do for her that I didn’t get the chance to.

But surprisingly, she did not pass away on Wesak Eve. We waited and waited and kept vigil by her bedside, watching her labored in slow gasping breath. As it passed midnight into Wesak Day, we realized that it must be quite significant for my mum to bypass the Doctor’s prediction and survived into a very auspicious day.

From midnight, the morning passes into noon, then into evening and my mum is still breathing, defying all odds. My daughter became very restless from staying at home the last few days so I took her out for a quick dinner. After we came home, I went upstairs to change and I heard my Sister yelled “Come down! Come down!”

I ran downstairs and rushed into my mum bedside and saw she her struggling to breathe. All of sudden, she OPENED HER EYES WIDE (she has been unconscious the last few days). I held her hands and kept telling her to think of The Buddha, encouraging her to reflect on the pure and peaceful qualities of The Buddha. I asked her to imagine she is The Buddha and The Buddha is her because all of us have potential to gain enlightenment, hoping to set her mind in right direction. It was extremely hard for me to stay calm and not cry at this moment because I don’t want to trigger any longings or regrets that may risk rebirth in the lower realms. As I whispered gently to her “ you are The Buddha, The Buddha is you”, she closed her eyes slowly, took 3 long breathe, and passed away on Wesak Day 2011 around 8pm.

By this time, I couldn’t hold back, tears were streaming down my eyes, but I resisted from wailing or crying out loud. I realized at this moment just how shallow is my practice when face with Dukkha (suffering) of this magnitude. I knelt in front of her, recalling all her good deeds: being a filial daughter, faithful wife, loving mother, caring and gentle person (she never raise her voice), resilient and patience despite her condition and most of all, putting all of us first before her.  I then recalled whatever good deeds that I have performed and dedicate it to her by chanting the transference of merits.

My Sister noticed that our departed mum has a very peaceful and serene look on her face, almost as if she is smiling while sleeping. That gave me some degree of comfort.

Continue to Part 2..

Part 3

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tranquilising ourselves with over-consumption

Saw these profound quotes below in my Facebook today so I share it here.

"The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquilising ourselves with over-consumption is not the way." Thich Nhat Hanh

"There is a deep malaise in society. When we put a young person in this society without trying to protect him, he receives violence, hatred, fear, and insecurity every day, and eventually he gets sick. Our conversations, TV programs, advertisements, newspapers, and magazines all water the seeds of suffering in young people, and in not-so-young people as well. We feel a kind of vacuum in ourselves, and we try to fill it by eating, reading, talking, smoking, drinking, watching TV, going to the movies, or even overworking. Taking refuge in these things only make us feel hungrier and less satisfied, and we want to ingest even more. We need some guidelines, some preventive medicine, to protect ourselves, so we can become healthy again. We have to find a cure for our illness. We have to find something that is good, beautiful, and true in which we can take refuge."
Thich Nhat Hanh

Noticed how we all (myself included) tends to seek external comfort (sensual desire) of all kinds to cover up our disatisfaction in life, which is inherent in all conditioned existence. Dukkha is inescapable in Samsara.

For me, that refuge is to be found from the Triple Gem (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha), and walking the Middle Way till we exit from Samsara. Fortunately, walking the Path itself does provide some relief to our sufferings. Buddhism is about happiness now and happiness hereafter. It's ok if you don't understand this, or disagree with it. Buddhism is best to be experienced, not studied.

Sincerely, Charles.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Keeping The Five Precepts

Last night was a very special and happy occasion for me. I finally managed to do something that was on my mind for many years, ever since I became a Buddhist in 2005 - I brought my Dad to listen to the Dhamma for the first time at Subang Jaya Buddhist Association (SJBA).

The Speaker, Dr Chan Kah Yein is a very skillful and knowledgeable Dhamma practitioner who explained to us the meaning of keeping the Five Precepts. She started with summarizing the teachings of The Buddhas: Avoid Evil, Do Good, Purify The Mind - Dhammapada 183.

And from 'Avoid Evil' she broke down the Five Precepts for us. Since my Dad has problem sitting on the floor, he sat on a chair behind me while I sat on the floor. I turned my head and saw him listening attentively and it brought such joy to my heart.

Even though I thought I knew the Five Precepts quite well (pride is such a bad thing), I've learned few interesting things tonight:

1. The Five Precepts can be summarized into the Golden Rule, which was first taught by The Buddha to his son, Rahula. This rule is useful for those of us who have trouble remembering or understanding the Five Precepts in detail. My understanding of the Golden Rule is before we say or do anything, we must first ask ourselves: "Will this brings harm to myself or others?"
Dr Chan also mentioned about putting ourselves in the other person's shoes so that we only don't do things to others that we don't want done to ourselves, such as killing living beings.

2. Precepts are rules to training that leads to peace and harmony, within ourselves and those around us. It will lead to happiness all around us if everybody keep the precepts diligently.

3. If we break the precepts, it is not because it is impossible to keep it, but because we have not develop the wisdom to keep it. With enough wisdom, we should be able to keep all the precepts. I really can relate to this because I did managed to keep the precepts in the past by exercising options which at first might seem unpleasant, difficult, silly or doesn't look like a choice at all. But if it's possible to do, then I suppose it is a choice after all. Only our attachment and defilement prevent us from making those wise choices. It could also be because we have not try hard enough or think deep enough before making a choice.

I look forward to attending next Friday Dhamma talk with my Dad again.