Sister Chân Thuần Khánh offers touching recollections and reflections on her mother.
Mother is as silent and faithful as the source Noon, wind blowing the sand along an empty beach Regardless of the rains and raging storms mother is still there, peaceful as the breath.
I cannot remember when I wrote this verse for my mum. Perhaps it was long ago, when I was still a young novice. Every time I accompanied mum to Dieu Tram Temple for a visit, there was always a younger sister who would playfully murmur into my ear: “Dear Su Co, it seems that Mệ looks younger and more joyful than you!”. My younger sisters called my mum “Mệ” (Granny), as it is how Huế people usually address the elderly. I wanted to write and tell a story about my mum, yet I was unsure how to begin since there has been so much sadness, joy, suffering and happiness during her lifetime. Seeing the traits of joy, freshness and innocence; hearing her cheerful laughter, it is hard to believe that she has been through countless obstacles, hardship, difficulties and suffering in her life.
When I was a little more than 10 years old, I used to stare at my mum with popping eyes when she recommended: “When you are out there on the street, you should be joyful and smile to everyone. Even if you have been starving for three days, you should still be kind to others. The person standing in front of you could be in more hardship than you are. You may not have material things to offer, but you do have your smiles”. I grew up to be a person who smiles a lot, thanks to my mum’s words and her way of being.
My mum can’t read or write. When she was pregnant with me, her fifth child, she carried a kerosene lamp to attend only two or three free lessons given by a village teacher in an evening class. When my father passed away, he was survived by my mum and seven children. He also left behind these heartfelt words to her: “First, do not allow the children to follow my fishing career. Second, try your best to give them all an education”.
That year, when he passed away, my mum was 38 years old. With his departure, she did not even have an opportunity to dream about those mysterious yet fascinating letters, even though her love for reading had never faded. Her children, one after another, completed their education and became the first young people in my village to acquire the university degrees of MD, engineering, and teaching. We are our mother’s pride. For a long time, we had the intention to show her how to read, yet no one has really gotten down to doing it yet.
Once, my third brother, Phong, a school teacher, came home to visit our mum. While having an afternoon nap in a hammock, he heard my mum’s voice, spelling things out, slowly, word by word, from the “Mother’s Daily Chanting Book” (Brother Nguyen Tinh had compiled a few sutras and chants, printed them out in a large font and offered a copy to her as a gift when he visited my mum, together with a few other monastic siblings on one occasion). My brother Phong sat up, and stole a look at her, to make sure it was her. She was too absorbed in the spelling to see that her son was crying. He cried, and all of us cried when he recounted that story to us.
Later, every time I came home for a visit, my mum would proudly tell me: “I have learned the Three Refuges” by heart, or “Recently in Dieu Tram, I have been able to chant along with the brothers and sisters the whole of the Refuge chant”. I cheerfully praised her and encouraged her to continue. I was happy with her happiness, my heart was full of joy, just like when I was able to learn the Shurangama mantra by heart during my early days at the temple.
About 6 months ago, my mum was a little anxious: “ The Beginning Anew chant is very long, do you think I would be able to memorise it?” I smiled and with a confident and a matter of fact voice (while my heart swelled with love), said: “ Of course you will, as you have done many others. Just take your time to learn each verse, you have already learned to read without any problem”. Mum is elderly. Each night, she still offers incense to the Buddha and ancestors, praying for their support in order to become a monastic in her next life.
My younger sibling and I have both ordained as monastics. Every time our neighbors told my mum she was full of merit to have two monastic children, she would tell them that we are now children of the Buddha, and not hers anymore.
I am well aware that practicing in order to nourish and refresh the vigorous joy of life in my heart, is something that I have learned and inherited from my mother. As long as the door is open, the light will surely find ways to flood in. As long as our heart is open, love and faith will forever light up our eyes and every path we tread. I vow to continue and to keep my mum’s smiles alive so that my heart is bathed in that wholesome fresh stream.
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