One dayin late August, I was exploring the boundaries of Namibia, alone by car and armed only with a map. Just as I have reached the border of Northern Namibia by the second day, I had to cancel the trip and return immediately after receiving an unexpected message informing of Venerable Zongxian’s critical condition due to cancer.
Unwavering Faith In The Face Of Death
On 2nd September, I arrived at Ven. Zongxian’s hometown in Haifeng, Shanwei Guangdong Province. The disciple that had been caring for him by the bed said “He refused all medical treatments". Ven. Zongxian’s personality, being as stubborn as a bull, is beneficial for self-cultivation, however, it is less tactful when it comes to influencing fellow beings to be free from suffering. He was lying on bed with a sallow complexion and peritoneal swelling, yet he makes not a single sound despite in great pain. At this critical juncture, his belief never falters while facing death unflinchingly, bravely and firmly with the Western Pureland in sight.
Rejecting treatments and facing death is just like two armies meeting face to face on a narrow path, the courageous party wins. One can’t help but admire his attitude of treating everything philosophically and remaining unfearful in the face of death. He had unwavering belief in Amitabha’s vows that one will live in pureland after death.
Living in this world, one’s life and death are predestined. The length of one’s life differs from the other. To the ruler of Trayastriṃśa, who is a role model for people who believe and support Dharma, a century on earth is only a day in Trayastriṃśa. We are all passer-by in the journey of the ephemeral life, so why argue over the length of one’s lifespan?
This reminds me of the passing of the late director of ACC Lesotho, Lay You Guoyu. In early May,after he was diagnosed by the doctor that the cancer cells had spread to his brain, he determinedly chose to give up treatment, entrusting his life to Amitabha, facing his call of death peacefully.
“Smile through the journey to underworld, walk in happiness for Amitabha calls". This is another example of unfaltering belief at a critical juncture, with his last wish to be buried under a tree in Lesotho ACC. After Ven. Zongxian was cremated, his ashes were scattered around Lianhua Temple. Indeed, it may be said:
Perceive life with joy, take things lightly,
Learn to let go and be free from suffering
Pureland as hometown,
Amitabha as loving father,
Unwavering belief, a spiritual bond.
Bold To Take Up, Wise To Let Go
The canonization of Mother Teresa,is a recognition of our model of holiness. Then again, look around us, exemplary beings are everywhere.
In 2001, while establishing Amitofo Care Centre (ACC), Venerable Benkong (then Harold Lemke, born in New Jersey, United States) and I went to Blantyre, Malawi. Despite a series of challenges that arose from registering the organisation, acquiring of the land, to renting a shabby house with little renovation (on the land next to the now existing ACC Malawi), he faced them with equanimity. Believing that he could shoulder the responsibility, I left him alone in Malawi, entrusting him the task of overcoming challenges of the construction of orphanage and adoption of orphans. Meanwhile, I went to Ghana and Nigeria. As the Africa Buddhist Institute founded in 1994 had its first batch of monks recruited from West Africa Congo, I hoped to set up ACC in western Africa as well.
Ven. Benkong has a gentle disposition with strong organization skill, he was my translator for six years while in South Africa. Before Malawi ACC first started, Ven. Benkong began to conduct classes, train cadres, and went on to observe and comprehend tribal life in rural areas. On top of that, he travelled around to learn from other orphanages in Malawi.
However, I was in Nigeria for only six months, when I heard that Ven. Benkong contracted malaria which had developed into A, B, C Hepatitis. Initially, I dismissed the news, thinking that Malaria was nothing more than a minor disease. Ten days later, I received a fax informing that Ven. Benkong had lost twenty kilograms. I immediately set off to visit him. My first sight of Ven. Benkong told me that he was gravely ill, scrawny with sallow skin. He was also suffering from diarrhoea accompanied with non-stopped throwing up. Yet, he refused to give up before completing the mission.
What an indefatigable man!
Although Malaria and Hepatitis are not terminal illnesses, they are certainly life-threatening. Cases of delayed treatment leading to meningitis and/or kidney inflammation and eventually death are extremely prevalent. Without hesitation, I bought air tickets and brought him to South Africa for immediate treatment.
These ordinary people who do not fear death, who vowed their lives to serve the suffering humanity in Africa, have set a role model for ACC.