Chiu-Nan Lai, Ph.D.
Last June, my third sister asked my father, who had been quiet for some time during his recuperation from illness, what he was thinking. He replied that he was contemplating how to leave safely. At the beginning of August, he gradually grew weaker and began to eat less and less. My sisters and mother, who had been taking care of him, could not bear to see my father grow increasingly thin, and kept asking him to eat and drink more. Later, he clenched his teeth and refused to eat or drink. I sensed what was coming because I remembered what John Robbins shared about the dying process of Scott Nearing, a renowned author and pioneer of living the simple life. Scott was then 100 years old, and was in good health without any illness or pain. One day, he started to drink only vegetable and fruit juices, and one month later, only water. A few weeks later, he wouldn’t even drink water. His wife Helen, who was then about 90 years old, understood his intention, and told him: “If you want to go, I won’t stop you. After all, I will be following after you”. Scott nodded, took another breath, and then passed away. Three days ago, he was already conversing with friends and relatives in the spiritual world.
During the morning and afternoon of August 24, my family members heard my father spoke loudly “Quickly! Quickly!” a few times. My fourth sister had just returned home from out of town the night before she came home to assist a spiritual teacher to perform prayers for my father. My father had also asked her to return home. At about 10 p.m. that night, my father’s breathing grew faster. As my fourth sister was helping him with his oxygen mask, she continuously whispered in his ears to take refuge in the triple gems, to think that his spiritual teacher is just besides him, and to generate bodhicitta to help suffering sentient beings. She also reminded him to rejoice that he had met with precious teachings that will enable him to attain liberation, that he had met spiritual teachers who had attained liberation, and that he had given his six daughters precious human lives and led them into Dharma. She told him that he can now enter into retreat and let go of everything. My sister could feel that his heart quietened down, and his breathing changed. Forty minutes later, she removed his oxygen mask, he exhaled once, and didn’t inhale again after that. At that time, my fourth sister performed the Medicine Buddha prayer and other practices from the prayer book. Mother held back her tears, and chanted the name of Amitabha Buddha. My second sister was originally very sad, but because she saw Avalokiteshrava receiving my father just before he stopped breathing, she focused on chanting the Buddha’s name for my father. A few years ago, my father had told my fourth sister that he hoped that when he was dying, she would be at his side to assist.
When the visiting spiritual teacher, heard that my father had stopped breathing, he immediately came to perform prayers all night for my father. He also instructed my younger sisters to clear all the stuff on the dresses of father’s bedroom, and put offerings of fresh flowers, water, and fruits. The next morning, he continued to perform the prayers. Before he left, he said that father was still in meditative concentration, and asked them not to disturb him. My third sister and fifth sister, who had rush back home, also recited the King of Prayers and the Vajrasattva Mantra for him. They felt that my father was still around, and could feel his love.
On August 24, I was in Santa Barbara and was preparing to leave for Denver two days later, and then to Crestone for the five-day workshop. Around 9 p.m. that night (Denver time, 10 p.m.), I sent my usual prayers to father. What I saw instead was a bright light, and tears of gratitude kept flowing. At the same time, I couldn’t help smiling. Forty minutes later, my phone rang and was informed that dad had passed away. I returned to my seat, and continued to send my prayers to my father. I eart involuntarily laughed out loud a few times, and understood that all was well with my father and that I need not worry. On August 26, I followed my original plan to return to my parent’s home. At the airport, I heard my father’s voice: “I am just waiting for you to return”. Before my father’s injury, he would always personally pick up his daughters from the airport. Back home, the atmosphere was peaceful and joyous. I took leave from my father, and then went on to Crestone. Two sisters drove me to Crestone, while another two stayed at home to accompany mother. My sixth sister was attending classes in California, and couldn’t home. That night, my father finished his meditation, and his consciousness left his body. Mother smelled a fragrant odor from the adjacent room. Similarly, my fourth sister smelled a fragrant odor in father’s bedroom, and she had initially thought that other people had sprayed some air freshener.
On August 29, we followed the instructions of a spiritual teacher in terms of the time and direction with which to move the body out of the house. A few friends who had come for the funeral also smelled the fragrance. Even two weeks later, when the son of my father’s old friends visited to ask about him, all three smelled the fragrance (incense smell) simultaneously. Another son of my father’s friend dreamt of my father when he lay down to sleep at about 11 p.m. on the night of August 24. He had previously dreamt of only a few people in his life—when his grandfather passed away, and his classmate. When he woke up, the first thought that came to his mind was that his bedroom should be arranged according to Fengshui principles. After he did that, his sleep improved. This young man had only seen my father a few times, and did not believe in Fengshui before this. His mother said that he seems to be a completely changed person. In his work, he felt that someone is helping him, and he believed that it was my father.
After my father passed away, my sisters and I had different ways to communicate with him. Mother did not dream of him, nor did she receive other news. Hence, she was feeling unsettled. On September 3, my fifth sister was clearing my father’s wardrobe, and suddenly found my father’s old diary in the drawer. Prior to this, some of my other sisters had emptied this drawer, but never saw the diary. Even mother had never seen this diary. This diary documented his life experiences in the one year between 1947 when he was a teaching assistant at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou to the year after when he moved to Southern Taiwan to work in Tainan Sugar Experimental Institute. Mother married dad in Tainan in the middle of 1949 after overcoming much difficulties. During that period when they were apart, they communicated only by mail.
After the diary appeared, my fourth sister disclosed that she had prayed to my father to communicate with mother. This diary enabled mother to read father’s thoughts and feelings.
From the diary, we learned that since his youth, father had strong aspirations to constantly improve himself. He continually motivated himself to do his best in learning and in his work. After his graduate studies in the U.S., he returned to Taiwan at the age of 33. He began to contemplate on the meaning of life. Through a friend, he came to know of Venerable Yinshun, and this completely changed his perspective of life. That year, my father formally took refuge in the Triple Gems, and became a vegetarian. As a result, my sisters and I grew up listening to him on how we have to be considerate when we deal with others, and how we have to treasure and protect lives. When I later went into cancer research, he reminded me to be mindful of my intentions and not to conduct research out of fame and fortune. Because of his influence, my academic life has taken a very different path from those of my peers. All said, my sisters and I have been greatly influenced by my father in our job choices and the way we interact with people and situations.
Originally, my father’s health was very good and did not need to consult doctors or take medicine. Three years ago, at the age of 79 years, he fell from his bicycle and broke his hipbone and suffered henceforth. One of his spiritual teachers gave him a discourse at our home for five hours, and instructed him to recite the Diamond Sutra daily, along with other homework. He said that to attain liberation, we need to endure hardship; such was the case with other enlightened beings. We learned a lot from my father. It was because of his illness that we encountered the book “Energy Medicine,” and meeting Dr. Mitchell May. As a result, there were Chinese translations of “Energy Medicine” and distribution of products by Dr. Mitchell May’s company. In the past three years, Dr. Mitchell May has been a very popular instructor at our workshops.
My father graduated with a Ph.D in agriculture from the University of Michigan. When he encountered information on organic farming, he was inspired to promote organic farming. He had written a few articles on this topic and the Lapis Lazuli Light magazine had published one of his articles that he had written many years ago. He had special insights in the area of energy measurement—the energy pendulum, house energizer, and crystal water-energizer were the result of his careful investigation and research. They helped many people protect against the harmful electromagnetic waves and microwaves around them. I am one of these beneficiaries.
Someone once wrote that before we were born, we had different perspectives on the choices we would make for our life experiences. We would not choose an easy lifestyle as the most important criterion; rather, aspire for a life that allows us to develop quickly and to exhaust our past karma speedily. Given father’s perseverance, he must have selected an “express class”. His life and death bear testimony that his efforts have value. People who want to have a good death experience need to prepare for their entire life. Thoughts that arise every moment are creating life’s experiences, including that at death. After my father passed away, mother said this: “If we endeavour to do our best in benefiting others while we are alive, the rest is not important”.
In this society, most people born and die in the hospitals. To have a peaceful birth and death requires special arrangements and preparations. Lapis Lazuli Light magazine has periodically shared the experiences of home birth. Now is the time to introduce dying at home. Ideally, a person dies in a familiar and warm environment. If the family members cannot take care of the terminally ill person, they can hire someone to do so. In the U.S., there are hospice care services designed to do this. The hospice sends their staff for home visits. Alternatively, the terminally ill can go to the hospice homes, although these homes may not be able to meet the request not to move the body. Ancient traditions in both Eastern and Western cultures suggest that the body be kept for three days. According to Dr. Steiner, after a person stops breathing, it takes three days for the etheric body to separate from the physical body and return to the cosmos. People who had spiritual practice can continue to practice meditation for a few days after they stop breathing. Hence, the general suggestion is that the body should not be moved for a minimum of 8 hours after the person stops breathing, may sometimes be insufficient.
When a person knows that he is going to die soon, it is best for him to see and hear things that will uplift his spirits. These can depend on the person’s religious beliefs or likes. Avoid situations that cause afflictions to arise.
In the few weeks before my father passed away, my sisters would place a Buddha relic pagoda on top of my father’s head and remind him to contemplate on Sakyamuni Buddha as well as his spiritual masters. My sisters would also show him photos of his spiritual teachers, and let him hear the Six-syllable Mantra (“Om Man Padme Hum”) chanted by his teacher. The dying person’s consciousness is especially alert and sensitive. Hence, people who visit him should maintain a peaceful and calm disposition, avoid emotional upheavals, and send the greatest blessings and love to the dying person’s consciousness.
Dr. Steiner said that from the perspective of the spiritual world, death is a new beginning. One should celebrate being successfully released from the physical body. He said that in reality, both the living and dead exist in the universe, except that there are differences in their consciousness. In fact, both sides are frequently communicating, only that many people are not aware. Our intuitions generally come from our consciousness that has no physical form. The moments just before falling asleep and just after waking up are the time when it is easiest to communicate with the spiritual world. The time before falling asleep is optimal for enquiries about our departed relatives, but we need to visualize that these questions are asked by our departed relatives. The first thoughts we have upon waking up are the answers to these questions. Likewise, dreams made before dawn are generally their answers or guidance. Since my father’s demise, some of my sisters frequently dreamed of him, and received guidance from him. My father’s communication to me generally appears in the form of the first thoughts that appear to me when I wake up.
The time and direction of moving the body are very important. Tibetan Geshes are learned about these matters. A highly realized teacher told me that if the time and direction is wrong, the living could be adversely affected in terms of their wealth or health. There is a case where after a person died, his family members had four to five people who also sequentially passed away. To a person with spiritual practice, cremation or sky burials are best in terms of letting the physical body return to what originally belonged to the earth. There is no clinging.
Loved ones of the dead person need time to get over grieving. In psychotherapy, it is said that under attention, these loved ones need to shed 200 hours of tears. Because the body and heart are one, and care of the body can help manage one’s emotions. When husbands and wives live together, they share a common etheric body. Hence, the surviving spouse needs to reestablish a new etheric body. However, this process can involve many discomfort to the body. For instance, there may be discomfort in the heart area. Massage, gentle tapping and other emotional cleansing teachniques can be used. The book “Energy Medicine” mentions a method that involves pressing the forehead while recollecting some painful moments (such as when the loved one stopped breathing). During this process, one should simultaneously observe the body’s reactions, while rotating the eyeballs three times in a clockwise direction and multiple times in an anticlockwise direction until the body is relaxed. Engage in more exercises that raise one’s energy levels. This can shorten the experience of emotional pain. Being in a high-energy place can also accelerate the recovery period. This time, the retreat was held in Crestone, and we stayed there for a few days after my father passed away. I personally experienced the healing effect of this high-energy place.
I am grateful to my father for teaching us this class, and for showing an alternative way of “dying”. Lama Yeshe once said that a spiritually practitioner’s death is like going on a picnic. In the past, I found it hard to imagine this. Now, I know that this is possible.
References: The ultimate healing
Translated by Singapore Lapis Lazuli Light.
Article originally published in Chinese in Lapis Lazuli Light magazine (Nov 2005); available at http://www.lapislazuli.org/TradCh/magazine/200511/20051101.html