The Tzu Chi Free Clinic is situated at the Redhill neighbourhood which has a high proportion of elderly folks. Over the past seven years, the clinic has played a critical role in safeguarding the health of these seniors. Since April 2014, Tzu Chi has further expanded its services to provide medical home care services for those in the neighbourhood who face mobility issues.
Over the long period of interaction, volunteers have built up strong bonds of trust and closeness with their beneficiaries. With the upcoming events marking the birth of Shakyamuni Buddha, Mother’s Day as well as Tzu Chi’s 49th anniversary, they took the opportunity to invite beneficiaries under the care of the charity and medical teams to the free clinic, where the celebrations were to be held. In the afternoon of 23 April 2015, two sessions of a small-scale Buddha Bathing Ceremony was organized by the charity and medical teams. In all, 24 beneficiaries, 10 of their family members and 4 other elderly folks from the neighbourhood attended the solemn and dignified event which left a deep impression in the hearts of the elderly participants and washed away their troubles.
A Long-Awaited Wish to Recover
At 12 noon, volunteer Zhang Ai Ping who had overall responsibility for the activity, held a pre-event briefing for 37 fellow volunteers and 9 medical volunteers. She specially arranged for 9 volunteers to transport the beneficiaries to the event venue.
“Is Grandpa Ho in?” Volunteer Ni Can Yan called out while knocking softly on the door.
“He has made his way downstairs to wait (for you) way in advance,” replied his spouse.
Upon seeing the breathless volunteer arrive at the little garden below the block, a smile lit up Grandpa Ho’s face as he could not conceal his excitement. Grandpa Ho suffered a stroke eight years ago and is wheelchair-bound. Before his stroke, he would often participate in the Bright Hill Temple’s Vesak Day activity known as “three steps and a bow of respect.” However, it is now no longer convenient for him to venture outdoors and he can only offer prayers to Guan Yin Bodhisattva at home.
At the doors of Tzu Chi Free Clinic, an orderly line of volunteers waited to welcome the participants. Ni lead Grandpa Ho towards the crystal Buddha statue, and as he gazed intently upon it, she explained to him that the Buddha is known as the Great Awakened One.
“(I feel) very peaceful and comforted; seeing the Buddha’s image has brought me comfort.” Having participated in the Buddha Bathing Ceremony, Grandpa Ho’s wish had finally come true. He expressed how he hoped that he would recover from his stroke quickly so that he could make his way to future similar events by himself. As he lived nearby, he hoped that with the aid of a motorised wheelchair, he could come over by himself next year.
Expressing Gratitude Through Flowers
On that day, volunteers had also prepared carnations for attendees who wished to express gratitude to anyone they had in mind. Seventy-year-old Liu De Cai and his fifty-year-old son Liu Bing Hong, both Tzu Chi beneficiaries, were present that day. The senior Liu is divorced from his wife; over the last twenty years, he had been a single parent to his son. He has only just retired and now depends on his Central Provident Fund (CPF) to get by. His son on the other hand, is unable to find work due to his mental state. The younger Liu wanders around outdoors the whole day and this causes his father much worry.
Though Bing Hong cannot sit still for long, his father often brings him to attend the charity distribution events at Jing Si Hall, where he will sit down quietly to watch the programme. Whenever he sees the volunteers, Bing Hong will even take the initiative to enquire about Master Cheng Yen.
“My hope is that by participating in the Buddha Bathing ritual, his mental state will become clearer and his body will become healthier!” The elder Liu believes that his son has an affinity with the Buddha as Bing Hong often buys Buddha images and photographs which he will then display at home. With his guidance, his son can now bathe himself and carry out tasks such as sweeping and mopping the floor; it is his wish that one day, his son can live independently and fend for himself.
During the period set aside for attendees to express appreciation to anyone they had in mind, Bing Hong presented flowers to his father on the urging of volunteers. “Thank you, dad.” Though his speech was not clear, the simple utterance was sufficient for his father. The elderly Liu was moved to say, “These (carnations) are from my son. (I feel) so joyful, this experience is a first for me!”
Opening One’s Heart to the Dharma
Tan Kok Yat often brings his son along to attend Tzu Chi events and expresses how much he likes taking part in Dharma activities.
“His IQ is very low and he doesn’t know much. Therefore I will definitely bring him along……anywhere will do, (I) just bring him along to let him experience more happiness and less troubles. If I leave him at home, then it is of no benefit (to him) at all!” Tan hopes that by exposing his son to more people and experiences, especially Dharma activities, he can not only divert his son’s attention towards more constructive areas but also lift the gloom of staying cooped up at home.
Tan’s wife is no longer by his side but he cannot bear to let others take care of his son. “This responsibility belongs to a parent; it is not right to thrust this undertaking upon others.” The forty years that Tan has spent taking care of his son has doubtless not been an easy journey. Yet as he clutched the carnations that his son had given him, Tan was able to say lightly, “This is the first-time (receiving flowers from my son). It is enough for me to feel this happiness…..”
Rediscovering Great Love
Holding a lotus lamp in his hand and offering sincere prayers, Robert Choo may be a Christian yet he is no stranger to the Dharma, having entered the monkhood in Thailand for a short period of time in the past. Transportation volunteers had brought him to the venue that day, and at the wrap up of the event, with tears streaming down his face, he spoke of how all religions were the same in that a common thread of love was found within them all. Robert used to be a businessman and he was rather wary of people’s intentions. Since coming into contact with Tzu Chi and experiencing small events in his daily life that has changed his perception, he can now see the goodness in others. A few days ago, a warm-hearted old lady had paid for his meal, and this had made a deep impression on him.
Robert used to live alone, but has recently welcomed a new flatmate. He said that people usually think too much; they ponder over how to make more money, worry over whom to be wary of, and suspect others of taking advantage of them. Today, having seen those who were present show such sincere piety, he rediscovered the values of peace and love in his life and realized that one must treat others as one hopes to be treated. Thus, he wanted to present the carnations he was holding to an elderly neighbour.
Passing the Love On
Experienced home visit volunteer Wang Li Juan also received flowers — from 70-year-old Tzu Chi beneficiary Huang Ju Zhen who sang her praises: “She has loads of love, and treats the elderly very well!” Huang has been under Tzu Chi’s care for more than three years and loves participating in the organization’s activities.
Touched by the hug and flowers she received, a teary Wang decided that she would continue the cycle of love by gifting the flowers back to Huang, so that she could present it to someone else who needed it more. At the close of the event, Huang who was attending this activity for the first time declared that she was grateful to the Master and would participate again next year.
Creating the Right Causes and Conditions
It was the very first time that Zhang Ai Ping had been tasked with planning the small-scale Buddha Bathing Ceremony, and she ensured that no effort was spared. Whether it was transportation issues, preparation of flowers, or seeing to the sequence of offering fragrant water, ensuring that the beneficiaries could experience the dignified sanctity of the ceremony was foremost in her mind. She hoped that the day’s activity would provide them with the opportunity to experience the Dharma, despite any mobility difficulties and challenges they might face.
“I had really hoped to give the elderly as well as those with heavy karma, the opportunity to get close to the Dharma. At the very least, they can bring this seed that has been planted in this lifetime, to the next life.” Zhang, who has worked in the charity and medical teams of Tzu Chi, is happy to note that she has finally realized a long-cherished dream.
This year, the planning committee of the World Peace Interfaith Prayer Ceremony is encouraging more of such mobile, small-scale Buddha Bathing Ceremonies to be organized so that more beneficiaries and volunteers can take part. To this end, Zhang gathered a team of transportation volunteers, and also racked her brains for ways in which to improve the efficiency of the ceremony’s processes in order to save time. She also decided to hold the activity from 2pm to 3pm as this is the period during which the beneficiaries are free. Her team overcame the constraints of space and organized two separate Buddha Bathing ceremonies for the convenience and comfort of the attendees.
The success of the activity was reflected in the positive feedback received. For Zhang, her sights are set on making more of such small-scale Buddha Bathing Ceremonies a reality in the coming year, that more beneficiaries will have the opportunity to experience the Dharma.