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End-of-Life Care Program at Dharma Drum Singapore

In July, at the peak of this hot summer, Ven. Chang Chuo paid a special visit to the Dharma Drum Singapore campus. The director of Dharma Drum’s Social Care Department, Ven. Chang Chuo was invited to teach as part of an end-of-life care program based around dharma and Buddhist concepts. The majority of the participants were already practicing Buddhists who reported that they pay a great deal of attention to this issue. The hope in offering this course was that the participants could develop concepts related to end-of-life care from the viewpoint of dharma. And, putting these concepts and strategies into practice, they could not only learn how to better care for others, but also help themselves in the process.

A number of volunteers graciously donated their time to help support the participants. During this two-day program, the volunteers were kept busy with a number of different responsibilities. For example, the volunteers prepared lunch, fruit, and snacks, and cleaned up after each activity. It was really hard work! For his part, the venerable led the participants to worship before and after lunch. The atmosphere of these services was solemn and reverent. Two of the participants came to the program with their mothers -- one of them shared that his grandmother was of very advanced age, and so they came not only to learn dharma, but also to make suitable preparations for his grandmother’s end-of-life caring. His clear devotion touched everyone in attendance.

The program’s talks and teachings revolved around the subject of life and death, connecting various concepts of Buddhadharma to this process and our journey through it. Some of the topics included were fundamental Buddhist teachings, such as the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination, and the Buddha’s awakening, the Four Noble Truths. Additionally, Buddhist topics dealing directly with end-of-life were addressed and expanded on. These included the Five Aggregates (that is, form, feeling, perception, volitional action, and consciousness), the Disintegration of Six Boundaries (earth, water, wind, fire, emptiness, and sense), the loss of the function of body and mind, the process which occurs between death and birth, karma, and of course the relationship between end-of-life caring and meditation.

In his teaching, the venerable did not only allude to Buddhist doctrine, but also shared some personal experiences and short stories. During the break, the venerable asked some feedback of the participants. One woman remarked that she was impressed by the program – that it had taught her that we should care for those approaching the end of their lives with an open and genuine heart. We get sympathy due to compassion. She promised to remember this wisdom and carry it with her.

Another said she regretted very much that, due to her family’s not having learned Buddhadharma, she had not practiced compassionate end-of-life care with her relatives. Having said this she took a vow that, if she sees someone nearing the end of their lives, she will offer herself as an advisor and confidante to give them and their loved ones the care of counseling.

"We can also learn the following from Ven. Chang Chou’s teaching: those loved ones who practice end-of-life caring can accomplish what the doctor can’t." These two very different approaches complement one another, and together make up a holistic, compassionate treatment to ease our loved ones in their passing; by chanting Buddha’s name and depending on Buddhadharma, it can help the dying find physical and mental stability as they part from this life. When we do deathbed chanting, we can imagine we are saying farewell to a future Buddha to go to a pure land to practice, and who will then further go into the Saha universe to benefit all sentient beings. In the realization of this practice, one not only cultivates virtue and merit but also tremendously benefits oneself and others. This practice, in its intertwining of compassion, caring, and benefit for all beings, demonstrates the true spirit of Bodhisattva.

Reported by Liu Changxing (劉常行)
Translated by Frances Liu (劉珮如)
Edited by Matthew Stoia

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