Someone asked Master Cheng Yen, “How did you view life when your foster father passed away?”
The Master answers:
The incident prompted me to recognize the true value of life. I was a child during the Second World War. During wartime, I only had rice with salt for meals and I was hiding from air raids almost every day. I deeply felt the sorrow of human beings killing each other and the war filled my mind with a lot of questions about life. After the war, the nation slowly recovered and progressed into prosperity and peace. However, my father suddenly had a cerebral haemorrhage. He was a very healthy person, yet, he just collapsed all of a sudden and was declared dead 24 hours later. His funeral was also conducted within 24 hours. Although the funeral procession was quite grand, everyone just returned home after his body was buried, and that was it. His passing on shocked me as to how short and fragile life could be. My late father did not leave a single word and just passed away like that. It made me wonder what life is all about.
After the death of my father, I started to search for the origin of life, and I got involved in religion. I visited Catholic churches and Christian churches, and then a friend took me to a monastery to hold a seven-day puja for my late father. During the seven days, the Master chanted the scriptures and I followed him. Every sentence in the sutra had touched my heart and made me understand that this world is impermanent. This kind of impermanence made me realize how precious life is and that I should cherish it deeply. As for what attitude I should adopt to live in this world and how to live out the true meaning of life, these questions made me start to ponder deeply.
Turning the sufferings of separation with loved ones to great love for all sentient beings
Even if you have a happy family, the people you love and dedicate your life to are only a few. It is so painful to have such intimate relationships, yet such relationships can be very short-lived! My father was only 51 years old when he died. The time we had together before he passed away was so short. I was unable to cry due to the indescribable bitterness in me because I lost my father who loved me so much. I was suffering to the extreme and my heart felt empty. When I finally calmed down, everything that I saw made me feel like crying. Everything that I heard also made me very suffering. That is why it is so hard to talk about love. If a family could give me a lot of love, I may still be very miserable in the end, because no matter how close the family is, we will have to be separated someday in the future.
That is why I felt that it is not worth it to spend our lifetime this way. Although we give and receive a lot of love in life, still what is the true meaning of life? Therefore, I thought, instead of confining my love to a small area, it is better to extend the love to all sentient beings on Earth in order to be truly at ease and liberated. The death of my father had a profound impact on how I view life.