On 21 April 2018, over 20 Tzu Chi volunteers gathered in the music room at Dover Park Hospice to conduct a mini Buddha Bathing Ceremony for Tzu Chi volunteer Yip Ah Sin, a terminal cancer patient.
Outside the music room, a group of volunteers chatted with wheelchair bound Yip, who was dressed in a pink patient robe. A long surgical scar on her collar bone was vaguely visible under her robe. Yip, who had just taken her medicine, appeared drowsy and dozed off after chatting with the volunteers for just a short while. Her breathing was quick and shallow.
Currently a trainee Tzu Chi Commissioner, Yip became a donating member under Chan Lin Yoke and joined the ranks of the volunteers after participating in Tzu Chi's Dharma as Water Stage Adaptation in 2013. In mid 2017, Yip found herself to be constantly short of breath. After going through an X-ray, she discovered that there were signs of fluid in her lungs, and later, she was diagnosed with thymic carcinoma, a rare type of cancer.
By the end of last year, Yip’s physical condition improved a lot after undergoing chemotherapy, and she began actively participating in Tzu Chi’s activities. In February 2018, she went through another round of surgery to remove her tumour. However, she was not that lucky this time as her cancer cells have spread to her heart. Her doctor told her that there was nothing else he could do to improve her condition.
Taking refuge in the Triple Gem
A Tzu Chi community volunteer leader, Rosalind Ong, said that the volunteers had conducted a number of mini scale Bathing Buddha ceremonies for their aid/care recipients before. After learning that Yip’s condition was not optimistic, the community group leaders started planning for such a ceremony for her, with the hope of giving her blessings.
“It has been her wish all these while to follow the footsteps of our Master,” said Ong.
Yip was initially recommended for volunteer certification (and to take refuge in Master Cheng Yen) in Tzu Chi Taiwan at the end of this year. Unfortunately, the sudden deterioration of her health made that impossible.
The Buddha Bathing Ceremony was participated by Yip’s children, siblings, other relatives and friends. Prior to the ceremony, the host, Chong Kam Ngo, gave an explanation of the meaning and purpose of “bathing” the Buddha to Yip’s family. As the ceremony music was played, the volunteers began softly chanting the Buddha’s name, and Yip was pushed in her wheelchair to the front of a lucite Buddha statue. Then they held a glass bowl filled with clear water and a plate of fragrant flowers close to her to let her perform the Buddha Bathing ritual.
With a soft but firm voice, she said her prayers aloud. She prayed for world peace, a world free from disaster and good health for everyone. After that, her friends and family members took turns to perform the ritual. The simply ceremony was replete with solemnity.
After the ceremony, the younger family members took turns to serve tea to Yip. As her children knelt before her, they expressed their love and repentance towards her. Yip specifically reminded her son to look after his younger sister well (after her passing) and also told the latter to follow her elder brother's guidance. Many present were moved to tears by the scene of familial love and warmth. Then, Yip’s children gave her a bouquet of flowers to celebrate Mother’s Day in advance.
Vowed to walk the Bodhisattva Path life after life
The Deputy CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore, Susi Zhao, told Yip that her wish to take refuge in the Triple Gem has been fulfilled, and Master Cheng Yen had given her the Dharma name, “Ming Yuan”. Yip beamed with joy upon hearing the wonderful news.
Zhao also shared that Sister Ming Yuan was her role model. She recalled an incident that took place in the Jing Si bookstore, where Yip was perspiring while busy putting price tags on the goods. Concerned that she might overtax herself, a staff at the bookstore asked her to take a rest. But Yip insisted that she was not tired and didn’t want a break. Her reply made the staff anxious, and the latter had no choice but to tell her sternly: “I want you to take a rest. Can you please take a sit?” Unable to reject further, Yip took a seat to rest.
Volunteer leader of the Central Zone Andrew Lim said that when Yip was still undergoing treatment, she insisted on volunteering with Tzu Chi each week except for the one week she was having chemotherapy. She could often be spotted in various Tzu Chi events and activities, including home visits, community recycling day, “Save for a good cause” event, or helping out at the Jing Si bookstore.
Andrew gave Yip his blessing that she would be reborn to this world again and continue to be a good disciple of Master Cheng Yen. Before he could finish his sentence, Yip nodded her head profusely and said resolutely, “That’s right, (I want to follow Master) life after life!”
The volunteers also took the opportunity to enliven the atmosphere with some lively songs. They formed a circle around Yip and started performing some popular Tzu Chi sign language songs. The ad hoc music session was held to lift her spirit, and she responded happily by doing the sign language together with the volunteers. Wearing a bright and cheery smile, she no longer appeared drowsy.
Yip’s eldest brother, Yip Keng Luen was very grateful to Tzu Chi volunteers for fulfilling his sister’s last wish.
“Her condition is not very optimistic. I’m thankful that the volunteers have specially made time to hold this event. I’m really happy. All that matters is that she is happy,” said Yip Keng Luen.
Yip became quite frail after the surgery, and she was no longer able to volunteer like before; however, her heart was bound to Tzu Chi. Once, she requested for a temporary leave from the hospital and got her son to drive her to the Tzu Chi recycling point in her neighbourhood, because she missed her volunteer friends badly.
“We try to support her on whatever she wants to do, as long as she is happy,” said Yip’s eldest son, Kelvin Ser.
He had already come to terms that his mother was going to pass on soon, and did his best to support and accompany her on the last leg of her journey.
As Dharma Master Cheng Yen says, “Although we cannot control the length of our life, we can decide on its depth and scope.” At the final stage of her life, Yip did not experience much agony despite being a terminal cancer patient. Instead, she seized every opportunity do good by serving as a Tzu Chi volunteer.