This is a true story about a Singaporean disciple of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche facing death. I cut and paste it here to share. It is a very good teaching for all of us… in many ways.
I’m sending this story on behalf of Cheau Ho, the wife of Tay Tuang Mee (TM). TM had just passed away on 23 March 2006. His wife would like to thank everybody who had been around to support them. She would also like to convey her special thanks to Emily for her ability to relate Rinpoche’s instructions to her in such a calm and clear voice and for reporting so accurately about TM’s condition to Rinpoche.
With the help of my Dharma friends Frank Lee and Ng Ching Ee, I have written this story based on Cheau Ho’s account of what had happened. It is our wish that the story would serve as an inspiration to all readers and motivates everyone to practice hard.
Cheau Ho would like to request that all merits be dedicated to TM, for him to meet Rinpoche again as soon as he has taken rebirth and continue to receive teachings from him.
Please feel free to circulate it to whoever whom you think may benefit from it.
Best wishes, Jing Rui
I never imagined that this would happen. Just two months ago I was still thinking to myself, “Though it’s been taught that life is full of suffering, things are actually going quite well for me.” Little did I expect that just two months down the road, everything in my life changed drastically – my husband, my spiritual friend, the loving father of my two young kids, left us all in a sudden.
On 24 Feb 2006, TM was diagnosed to have jaundice. On 27 Feb 2006, he was admitted to the hospital for cirrhosis (hardening of liver).
We immediately sent email to our root guru, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, to request for his advice. We were not sure if Rinpoche would read the email, as he was undergoing retreat at that time.
Just within a week, the doctor informed us that TM’s kidney was failing too. We were told that TM may need to go through dialysis. This made me really anxious and afraid, as I was aware that dialysis was a very painful process and I really did not want TM to go through such torment.
I frantically sent several emails to Rinpoche again, requesting him to help TM. However, we still did not receive any reply. Feeling very desperate, I suggested to TM that we could approach other teachers/Rinpoches to help him. However, TM rejected the suggestion. He said firmly, “All the blessings and teachings given by Rinpoche (root guru) would be enough for me. If all these still don’t help, then nothing else could work.”
Not long after that, I received a phone call from Ang, who passed me the message that Rinpoche asked me to call him up. I called Rinpoche and we spoke through the help of Emily. (Rinpoche was not able to speak directly to me as he was still in retreat.) I was advised to offer $1000 to the giving of life (animal release) in the name of TM.
I still vividly remember that on the morning before the animal release, the doctor warned me that TM’s kidney was in pretty bad shape.
To our surprise, on the same day after the animal release, we were informed that TM’s kidney unexpectedly responded to the medication and turned around. Furthermore, the liver condition had stabilized!
Meanwhile, Rinpoche also requested OT Rinpoche (Orgyen Topgyal Rinpoche) to conduct a Amitayus Drubchen for TM.
By the third week of March 2006, TM’s lungs were infected (pneumonia) and he had to rely on the ventilator to breathe. I felt extremely helpless as I watched TM’s situation deteriorate day by day. I was at my wits’ end. As I walked along the same corridor to see the doctor everyday, my heart was thumping madly, my head was swirling and my body felt so light that it as if I was floating. Everyday, it was as though I was walking on the road to hell. I felt like I was going crazy.
Rinpoche was my only source of hope then, and I desperately clung on to this source of hope. It was only until now then I realized that Rinpoche had been dropping me many hints that TM was not going to make it.
Rinpoche told me several times that the MO (divination) was not good. However, I was not ready to listen to this. Everyday, I kept begging Rinpoche to do more pujas for TM. I was literally trying to “squeeze out” some hope or good news from Rinpoche.
Seeing my denial, Rinpoche tried to wake me up, “I should really tell you the truth. The MO is really no good. You have found the best doctor and we have done a lot of pujas for him. You have done the best for him in Singapore, and I have done the best for him in India.”
Still, I was not able to hear Rinpoche’s message. Unable to accept the pending loss of TM, I persistently requested Rinpoche to conduct pujas for TM. Finally, Rinpoche said, “Let’s wait for the MO to turn better before we do anymore puja.”
Now as I recall these messages, I still feel deeply moved by Rinpoche’s kindness. He was so skilful at helping me slowly understand and accept the fact that TM would never come home with me anymore.
At this point, TM was also beginning to lose spirit. Rinpoche encouraged him by saying, “If you can be a bit better, you can come and see me in Taiwan with a bit of hardship.” This really motivated TM to become strong again.
Amid all the fear and anxiety I faced everyday, there were occasionally some encouraging signs. On 19 March 2006, TM told us that he dreamt of dakas coming and bringing him around Orchard Road (where the hospital was located). They even offered him food which was in the form of air. We continued to support TM by reminding him to practice and chanting alongside with him.
By 21 March 2006, TM was gradually running into confusion. Just before he slipped into coma, TM suddenly asked me, “Where is my Vajrasattva?” I told him that it’s ok, I’ll chant Vajrasattva together with him.
When I contacted Rinpoche, he assured me that the “MO did not give up”. He instructed me to start chanting Om Mani Padme Hung for TM and to remind him of his Guru and his teaching.
By then, TM already became unconscious. He tried to pull off his mask and behaved very erratically. It was only when we got him a MP3 player which played the Om Mani Padme Hung chant repeatedly, then he began to calm down. We chanted by his bedside and constantly reminded him of Rinpoche and the teachings he received.
Even in his state of unconsciousness, we noticed that TM kept moving his legs to the Sadhana position. I posted TM the question, “Are you doing Sadhana?” To my surprise, TM nodded his head, even though he was already in coma.
On 22 March 2006, I was informed that TM’s kidney had failed to function and that he had to be fed by tube only.
On 23 March 2006 morning, the doctor requested to see me immediately early in the morning. I had a feeling that the doctor wanted to pull off the plug on the life support system. As such, I called Rinpoche to ask for his advice. Rinpoche told me not to pull off the plug.
I plucked up the courage to visit the doctor, who asked whether or not I wanted to resuscitate TM should his lungs collapse. I checked with the doctor whether or not I would be killing TM. The doctor informed me that TM was now fully reliant on the ventilator and there was no way for him to live on, so should his lungs collapse I would not be killing him. Realizing that there was no other way to sustain TM’s life and hoping to shorten his pain, I told the doctor not to revive TM.
After that, I immediately called Rinpoche to double check if I made the right decision. It surprised me when Rinpoche told me that I should resuscitate TM at least two times and make sure that the doctor does not pull off the plug! Rinpoche also told me very specifically that I must continue to chant Om Mani Padme Hung for TM and keep reading a message to him from Rinpoche.
“Tuang Mee, death is happening to you. But do not worry, this is just another dream. You will see lots of vision and hear all kinds of sound. Just think of your root guru and Avalokiteshvara. Let go of all your attachment to your family and home. Chant Om Mani Padme Hung.”
Following this phone call, I quickly informed the doctor that I’ve changed my mind and I wanted the hospital to resuscitate TM should his lungs collapse.
My relatives and I then took turns to chant Om Mani Padme Hung with TM. I would also read Rinpoche’s message to TM at regular intervals. Having to reading the message was an extremely agonizing and heartbreaking experience for me, as I really could not accept that death was happening to TM. However, upon hindsight, I realized how fortunate TM was – to have his guru tell him that he was dying and reminding him to let go of his attachment. It also helped me gradually to come to terms with the fact that TM was leaving us and I had to let go of him for his own benefit.
It was only after TM’s death then I learnt that on the morning of 23 March 2006, Rinpoche instructed some students, asking them to visualize him as Avalokiteshvara and chant Om Mani Padme Hung to dedicate to TM. He also stated that TM would pass away either on 23 March or 24 March 2006.
In the afternoon, one of Rinpoche’s students came to visit us. He brought along two lamas who blessed TM and chanted for him. They also brought some precious nectar pills that were blessed by HH Dalai Lama. However, I thought that TM just did not have the merits to consume the nectar pills as he was no longer able to take in any solid food. At that point in time, the nurse brought in a bowl of water to feed TM through the tube. My Dharma brother suddenly thought of a brilliant idea – he crushed the nectar pills and mixed them into the water – and we requested the nurse to feed TM with the “nectar pill solution”.
Just about an hour after TM took the nectar pills, his lungs collapsed for the first time. As instructed by Rinpoche, we got the doctors to resuscitate him. After they managed to revive him, the doctor told me that it was quite a miracle for TM to survive given his current state.
Because of this first collapse, TM was transferred from the common ward into the critical care unit, where he has a room by himself. This allowed us to chant Om Mani Padme Hung loudly inside the room, without having to worry about disturbing other patients. This gave us the conditions to chant for him and even to place an electric prayer wheel above his head. If we did not revive him, TM would have died in the common ward, where we would not have the opportunity to do all these for him.
About two hours later, TM collapsed for the second time. We requested the doctor to resuscitate him again.
At 7pm, TM collapsed for the third time. Not wishing to give up, I requested the doctor to revive him again. However, the doctor told me that nothing else can be done, as they had already set the medicine and the life support machine to the maximum. With support from friends and relatives, I continually chanted for TM and read him Rinpoche’s message.
Finally, at 10.45pm, TM took his final breath. I called Rinpoche but he did not pick up the phone. At that instant, I was very sad and thought that Rinpoche had given up on TM.
However, a few minutes later Rinpoche returned call. I told him that TM had left. Rinpoche said that he knew and he was actually in the midst of doing a puja for TM. As Rinpoche was talking to me, I could hear the sound of bells and chants in the background. Rinpoche also told me that he had to do a Phowa for TM immediately.
About ten minutes later, Rinpoche called me again. He told me that he had done the Phowa for TM and that he was confident that TM will take a good rebirth. Rinpoche then instructed us to chant Namo Amitabha for TM.
We continued to chant for TM for about an hour, before we had to move TM’s body to the funeral parlour. This arrangement was only possible because we followed Rinpoche’s instructions to revive TM, which led him to be transferred to the critical care unit. If we had allowed him to die without reviving him, we would have been asked to move his body immediately.
After we moved to the funeral parlour, we continued to chant into the night. By then, my relatives and I were all physically and emotionally drained. To our surprise, a group of Rinpoche’s students appeared at about 3am to take over the chanting. It was such a great relief to me. It must be due to Rinpoche’s blessing that all the right conditions and support came in at the right time.
After we completed eight hours of chanting, we even saw a rainbow appear on the West side of the sky.
Going through this whole process with TM was a very painful and tormenting experience for me. I am especially thankful to Rinpoche for his strong compassion and kindness to us. He was a shoulder to me during this whole period. He was so skilful at encouraging and motivating me. Rinpoche said that he was more worried for me than for TM and advised me to take care of myself. He told me that TM’s life force was still there. This really gave me the strength to go on, as I thought that only by taking care of myself, then would I be able to take care of TM if he recovered. It was only until later when I was more ready to listen, then Rinpoche explained to me the full picture – that TM’s life force was still there, but his merits to live were already exhausted.
I remember that every time I talked to Rinpoche over the phone, he was always in a puja. I realized that sometimes when Rinpoche used the hand phone during pujas, he was actually answering to urgent calls like mine. I felt very touched, as Rinpoche was not concerned about how other people attending the puja perceived him, he only cared about what people needed from him – in this case, he attended to our need for his guidance and disregarded how other people might view him should they see him constantly using the hand phone during puja. I also felt ashamed of my own expectations that Rinpoche should be very strict during pujas and that I always wondered why Rinpoche would be answering phone calls. I realized how selfless Rinpoche is at helping people!
“The very path you are given is the hindrance.
We love our theology. We love our ideas.
Buddhism is a path of *undoing*.
Removing the dirt is enlightenment.
We do not gain anything.
We *lose everything*.”
– Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche