On 8 May 2011, Tzu Chi Foundation (Singapore Branch) held its first ever outdoor Buddha Day Ceremony. Scores of volunteers arrived early in the morning at Yio Chu Kang Stadium to make preparations.
It was a clear cloudless day with temperatures rising up to 35.3°C in the afternoon. According to the weather station, it was one of the hottest days in 2011, much hotter than the average highest daily temperature of 31.6°C.
At 1pm, the 1152 volunteers who made up the Walking Meditation procession started their final rehearsal. Their hope was to present the grandest and most uniform formation to the six thousand audiences in the evening. Armed with caps and burning passion, the volunteers braved the blinding sun and repeated the rehearsals over and over again, even though a few were eventually overcame by the heat and had to be taken off the field to be treated by the medical staffs.
Amidst the procession contingent stood a petite volunteer, her face turned crimson red by the scorching sun. Despite just recently recovered from a serious ailment, she endured through the rehearsals every step of the way together with the contingent, down till nightfall when the Buddha Day Ceremony came to successful completion.
“I give thanks to my illness, for it is this fated poor health that bestowed upon me the time to participate in the Walking Meditation and the Buddha Day Ceremony,” said Sister Loy heartily. But anyone who knows Sister Loy understands that for her to go through this entire Buddha Day Ceremony is anything but an easy task.
Firm vows to battle sickness
During the Lunar New Year this year, Sister Loy unfortunately contracted shingles. The shingles spread from the back of her neck to the left half of her body. Despite being hospitalized for a few days, her condition did not seem to show any improvement.
The shingles caused the affected areas across her left chest up till her neck to become extremely sensitive. It was agonizingly painful when touched, especially when waking up or going to bed, or even during changing of clothes. At times, it was so painful that she had to support herself with her hands.
For months, the doctors were unable to come up with a cure, and she ended up on a diet of painkillers. Even after seeking help from a TCM physician, her condition remained unchanged. The affliction stiffened her body; her legs became weak, and she could no longer lift her hands. Even simple activities like walking became a strenuous task for her. Under this constant torment, she lost her appetite and became increasingly thinner by the day. In the end, she applied for extended leave from work.
After hearing news that Tzu Chi Singapore is going to hold the annual Buddha Day Ceremony outdoor for the first time, the volunteer leader of her community, Sister Lim Chwee Lian, immediately told her to make it a point to attend, knowing she seldom had the chance to participate in the past years.
Working in a hair salon, Sister Loy toils for long hours every day with just one rest day each week. Since her rest days seldom fall on a weekend, in all of her ten over years in Tzu Chi, she only had one or two chances to participate in the event. So after hearing Sister Lim’s news, she told herself that since she is not working due to her illness, she has to treasure this rare chance to participate in the Ceremony.
“I was just discharged from the hospital when I went for my first Walking Meditation rehearsal in Jing Si Hall. I still remember Sister Sim Chwee Guat got very concerned about me when she saw me wobbling from behind.”
“Every time I did the Walking Meditation, I will ‘plead’ my shingles to ‘cooperate’ with me and don’t give me too much pain,” Sister Loy said deeply.
Still, Sister Loy, enduring the stinging pain while making unstable footsteps, performed the Walking Meditation over and over again, acknowledging that it required substantial willpower for her to continue on.
Not bearing to watch her suffer, Sister Lim took her to see another Chinese sensei before the Buddha Day Ceremony. After three consultations and with a combination of both oral and topical medication, Sister Loy’s condition improved significantly. She was finally able to fulfill her long-awaited wish of participating in the Buddha Day Ceremony.
Hardships of single-parenthood
Sister Loy was born premature in 1959, weighing only three pounds when she was delivered. Back in the 50s, with the then limited and undeveloped medical care, even the doctors did not hold much hope about saving her. It was a miracle that she survived, though her constitution was very weak then.
Her mother passed away when she was 12. A year later, she was diagnosed with white blood cells disease. Her white blood cells count was often too low that she had to go for regular blood transfusions at the hospital. Shortly afterwards, she was diagnosed with Graves’ disease (hyperthyroidism). Besides taking daily medications, she now needs to visit the hospital on a regular basis. Getting sick had became a routine for her.
She got married at age 21 but went through a rocky marriage. She got divorced a year later, and left with her few months old son to live by herself. She found someone to take care of her son, and begin her laborious toils to make ends meet. It was only when her son turned 12 that she got him back to live with her.
Sow kindness, gather love
About 17 years ago at a friend’s funeral, Sister Loy got to know a male volunteer who introduced her to Tzu Chi and encouraged her to donate to charity and to do good deeds. A few days later while collecting her donations, the volunteer gave her a few cassettes of Master Cheng Yen’s teaching. Although he left Tzu Chi afterwards, Sister Loy has gotten to know Sister Loke Soon Heng, and became a member of Tzu Chi through her.
Before getting to know Tzu Chi, Sister Loy devoted everything onto her son. Her strict discipline caused their relationship to become tensed and rigid.
Master Cheng Yen once remarked, “When the child grows up, he must let go (of the hand holding him); but more often, it is the parents who are unable to let go.” Sister Loy said she understands the Master’s words but she just could not bring herself to do it.
Once when she was feeling troubled thinking about her son, a colleague asked her, “You say you can’t let go now. But if one day you are gone, do you think you could still not let him be independent?”
Deciding that it was the right thing to do, she began trusting her son more and wished the best for him. Although easier said than done, she realized that once she let go, her son actually finds it easier to get close to her again.
After learning about Tzu Chi, Sister Loy began pledging donations to support its local missions, using her weekly rest days to go around collecting donations for Tzu Chi. This went on for several years.
In 2004, her father passed away. Sister Loke Soon Heng came for the wake and brought along the Tzu Chi funeral couplet with her. Looking at the couplet hanging high above the funeral hall, Sister Loy realized that there is so much more she has yet to contribute. Subsequently, using the mornings of her rest days, she joined Tzu Chi’s volunteer service to Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital to give haircuts to the hospital residents and went around collecting donations in the afternoons. It was also during this period of service that she got to know zealous volunteers Sister Bianca Chau and Sister Samantha Cheung.
After the 4-in-1 community structure was implemented and with much frequent contacts with fellow volunteers living in the same neighbourhood, Sister Loy started participating in the community fellowship sessions occasionally. She even helped out with the door-to-door publicity at night sometimes. However due to her working hours, she is still unable to attend the major activities of the branch.
She watched on enviously as everyone else commits to Tzu Chi’s charitable services, and silently hoped that one day she can contribute side by side with everyone else.
Inspiring words of wisdom
In 2009, Sister Loy went on a root-searching trip to Taiwan. She arrived on the island of Formosa feeling all excited, and was deeply moved by the warm welcomes and attentive care of the volunteer brothers and sisters over there.
Listening to their introductions of Tzu Chi missions and the sharing of touching stories, she started to realize the magnitude of the good deeds done by Tzu Chi, and came to a better understanding of Tzu Chi’s influence in bringing out kindness in people and in working for a more harmonious society.
During the camp courses in Taipei, Taiwan was besieged by the Typhoon Morakot, the deadliest typhoon to impact Taiwan in recorded history.
Stranded in Taipei and unable to travel to Tzu Chi’s birthplace in the eastern coast, she was resigned to attend talks everyday without having the chance to meet Master Cheng Yen. Though disappointed, she understood that the Master was busy with the disaster relief efforts and prayed for aid to reach the disaster victims soon.
When it was time for her to leave Taiwan, she received a bookmark souvenir written with Master Cheng Yen’s aphorism: “We should lead the busy life of a Bodhisattva rather than pass our days aimlessly.” At that instant, it dawned on her that the Master wanted her to stop procrastinating and take control of her life. With renewed determination, she promised herself then that when she goes back to Singapore, she will look for a job with more flexible hours so she that can dedicate more time to volunteer.
She kept thinking about how she was going to arrange time for Tzu Chi from her everyday routine. Because of the nature of her salon work, she could not have rest days on weekends. And so, when she went for her interviews, she insisted on a 5-day work week. She also insisted on attending her volunteer trainings which were held four times yearly, even if she needed to take unpaid leave for it. To her disbelief, her current boss actually agreed to her requests upon seeing how determined she was.
Now, besides the volunteer trainings which she is certain to attend, she tries her best to turn up for the other activities as well which include zonal fellowships, case visits, door-to-door publicity, study groups, etc.
During this period, she saw Sister Bianca Chau continued to participate actively in her volunteer duties despite suffering from the relapse of her cancer. Filled with both admiration and respect, she vowed to also become a cadre and take on higher responsibilities and hopefully move on to become a Tzu Chi commissioner one day. Her son who has since grown up also fully supports her decision.
On 30 Mar 2011, Sister Bianca Chau passed on at the age of 50. Sister Loy joined the chanting session at her wake that night and while watching her tightly wrapped, yet to be encoffined body, a flood of mixed emotions overwhelmed her.
Thinking back on the times she spent together with Sister Bianca doing volunteer services, and watching her short life end so abruptly, she is once again reminded of the impermanence of life and the limited time one may have.
“At that moment, I felt if we don’t make good use of our life, we really won’t have enough time,” she mused.
Sister Loy’s sickness made her realize the fragility of life. It allowed her to learn from it, and be thankful that the sickness granted her the opportunity to participate in the Buddha Day Ceremony.
She expressed that once she has fully recovered, she will get underway to find a simple job and she will work hard in dedicating herself to the volunteer duties of Tzu Chi, and follow in the path of Bodhisattva steadfastly.