My husband Huang Xixun was chairman of the Baltimore City Taiwanese Association in the United States. He passed away in a very special, auspicious manner. I can only use the word “unfathomable” to describe what happened during that time.
My husband read very few Buddhist books and practiced Amitabha-recitation only a short time. He was not a vegetarian and passed away before he could take refuge in the Three Gems. When my friends heard how he departed, they asked me to write it all down to share with others, so they could take heart and have greater faith in their own rebirth in the Western Pure Land.
Huang Xixun was born in 1934, in Ziguan town of Kaohsiung County, Taiwan. He graduated from National Taiwan University Medical College in 1961 and furthered his studies in the U.S. In 1966, he accepted an offer of employment from the Baltimore Medical Center and was responsible for establishing a “community health center.” The facility was located in the city’s slums, where drug-trafficking, murder, robbery and similar incidents happen virtually every day.
Under Xixun’s management, the center was a huge success and was listed as a model for community health centers nationwide. He not only provided medical services to the community, but helped numerous juvenile delinquents get their lives back on track.
Xixun had always been healthy and energetic. However, in October 1991, a chest x-ray revealed a large tumor about two centimeters in diameter: It was diagnosed as glandular-type lung cancer. This kind of cancer is very difficult to treat. Normally, the patient has about three to six months to live following discovery of the tumor.
We went to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for surgery, only to find that the cancer had already spread to other parts of the chest. The doctor decided to remove the entire left lung and cut off two ribs. As a result, Xixun had to make adjustments in his breathing, speech and movements. The wound remained very painful.
Then came chemotherapy. As the drugs used were highly toxic and had powerful side effects, my husband’s stomach hurt intensely, like being stabbed with a knife. He also suffered severe vomiting and didn’t feel like eating at all. That left him with little energy. His life became hell. Though he always had a strong will to live, a few times he even said “perhaps it’s better to die.”
In the spring of 1992, Xixun had to take early retirement because of his illness. The announcement prompted a flood of thank-you letters, including a commendation from the governor of Maryland State. The mayor of Baltimore even declared March 12 “Dr. Huang Xixun Day” in the city.
By October 1993, the cancer had spread to my husband’s brain and spinal cord. The doctors who examined the brain x-ray all shook their heads. The surface of his brain was covered with large clusters of innumerable cancer cells. At this point, the disease was virtually untreatable. However, the doctors decided to open a hole in Xixun’s head, into which they inserted a small tube to inject chemotherapy drugs. They did that three to five times, but to no avail. So they gave up.
Around Christmas 1993, Xixun underwent radiotherapy treatment. The doctors decided to perform brain irradiation with the highest dosage. However, they told us frankly that radiotherapy would only keep things under control for two to six months at most. If his condition worsened, they would not be able to repeat the procedure.
Because of the spinal tumor, Xixun could not walk or stand and lost control of his bowel movements. There was nothing more that the doctors or Western medicine could do. What was left was to go home, rest and await his fate.
The blow of the terminal illness on Xixun was indescribable. The surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and their attendant torments made him feel utterly miserable. When he shed tears, we cried with him; when he tossed and turned in bed, unable to sleep, so did I. My heart ached to see him suffering so.
We had lived in Baltimore for more than 30 years, so we had many Chinese and American friends. When they heard about Xixun’s illness, they came to offer help and spiritual support. Naturally, many people sent us books that discuss religion and the issue of life and death.
The one book my husband read carefully was the Amitabha Sutra. At the time, the cancer cells had spread to his brain and he was undergoing chemotherapy. His mental functions began to deteriorate; especially in the evenings, the nurse found him giving irrelevant answers to questions. He was no longer able, like normal people, to concentrate during his reading. However, he told me that “every page of the Amitabha Sutra was full of little figures of Amitabha Buddha.”
In December 1993, we received a poster depicting the Three Sacred Beings of the Western Land of Bliss (Amitabha Buddha, and Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta) and a porcelain statue of Amitabha. We began to make reverences to Amitabha Buddha regularly, every morning and evening. It wasn’t until we read Huang Nianzu’s Record of Heartfelt Thoughts that we became aware of the benefits of reciting Amitabha’s name and the marvelous nature of Pure Land practice. We started to remind ourselves to do as much Amitabha-recitation as possible. If we didn’t have time, we would listen to the chanting device.
I often read the Infinite Life Sutra to my husband. When I reached the part about “undergoing transformational rebirth in the lotus flowers of the jeweled ponds,” I would say to him, “When you arrive in the Western Land of Bliss, you must let us know so we won’t worry. Many people are helping you gain rebirth there. Do you know that?”
He said, “I will let you know. Please rest assured!”
By September 1994, his health had deteriorated. He was often lethargic. When he slept, I would sit next to him and practice Amitabha-recitation. When the American nurses weren’t otherwise occupied, they would sit beside his bed and pray for him.
Twelve days before he passed away, Xixun was unable to eat anything. He couldn’t even swallow water. He had written an instruction: “If and when I cannot eat on my own, I do not want to be fed by artificial means. Do not use artificial methods to prolong my life.”
On October 10, Xixun was sleeping around 7 p.m. and I was reciting Amitabha’s name beside him. I asked Amitabha Buddha to help him pass away peacefully, without obstruction, and to receive him into the Western Land of Bliss. When he woke up about half an hour later, he told me he had dreamt of Amitabha Buddha. He said, “Amitabha told me that he knew I was a good person. He said I had saved many lives and done many good deeds. Many Bodhisattvas and people were now venerating the Buddha, reciting Amitabha’s name and dedicating merit on my behalf. When the time came, he would certainly come receive me.”
When Xixun said these words, he was at ease and confident, no longer afraid he might not be able to go to the Land of Bliss. I too was most grateful for Amitabha Buddha’s great compassion as well as his promise to Xixun of deliverance.
My husband did not experience much pain in the final ten days. During the last three days, he was unable to speak, but his mind was clear. We recited Amitabha’s name in his ear and asked him to recite along with us in his heart.
I asked him, “Did you recite with us?” He nodded.
I asked again, “Is Amitabha here yet?” He shook his head.
About 4 p.m. on October 14, I tried to massage Xixun. I found that his hands and feet were cold; his breathing was also very weak. When I massaged his head, it turned – and he passed away.
Our son and I quickly chanted Amitabha’s name aloud in Xixun’s ear so he could follow us in recitation. I found that his head was hot. About half an hour later, I went outside to offer incense to Amitabha Buddha and to ask him and the Bodhisattvas to come and lead Xixun to the Pure Land.
Around eight o’clock, I was reciting Amitabha’s name with my eyes closed. A bright beam of shifting, multi-colored light suddenly appeared before me and enveloped Xixun’s bed. I felt a strong force sucking me to the outside. Afraid to open my eyes or to think of anything else, I recited Amitabha’s name wholeheartedly. My eyes were closed, but I could see everything clearly. The Buddha light contained pale-pink, light-purple, gold and light-blue colors. The strongest, most dazzling color was white. This light resembled the sparkle of the highest-quality diamonds. The entire beam of Buddha light was like an intricately woven pattern, ever-changing and multi-colored.
We recited Amitabha’s name until about 2:30 the next morning. Seven or eight others joined us in doing so. As I recited with my eyes closed, a big, white lotus suddenly appeared in front of me. Then Xixun’s golden transformation body emerged. I only saw the upper body (sitting posture), but his features were very clear. He seemed much younger, as though in his thirties. He looked proper and solemn. He was attractive in appearance, like the very image of a Buddha.
Back on January 16, 1994, his 60th birthday, my husband had dreamt of the Western Land of Bliss while taking a nap. “The whole world is full of light,” he said. “The trees emit light, the ground gives off light and the sky is also full of light. This place makes people feel very happy; it looks splendid, beautiful.”
On March Xixun saw Amitabha Buddha in a dream. Amitabha told him not to fear death. He said death was just like deep sleep and it was not painful at all. As Xixun was a doctor, he had seen many cancer patients undergo agonizing deaths. Amitabha Buddha, with his great mercy and compassion, untied this psychological knot for Xixun.
At first my husband was reluctant to leave us. During this period, he dreamt of Amitabha again. The Buddha asked him, “Are you ready to come?” Xixun said, “I have not made up my mind.” He encountered Amitabha in his dreams a few more times after that. Each time, though, he did not give the Buddha a definite answer.
One day in early September, my husband dreamt that Amitabha Buddha held a grand welcoming party for him. The next day he told me, “Last night’s welcoming party was simply amazing. The Bodhisattvas and lotus flowers were so beautiful. Amitabha told me there were about 500 Bodhisattvas at the gathering.” He went on, “The Western Pure Land is truly magnificent. I have to go there. I don’t need to think about it anymore.”
After his dream of the welcoming assembly, Xixun often saw the Three Sacred Beings of the Land of Bliss approach him from the picture frame, with many Bodhisattvas following Amitabha Buddha. He also often saw a halo above my head and our son’s head when we were reciting Amitabha’s name.
When the cancer cells were found to have spread to Xixun’s brain in November 1993, the doctors said he would at most have two or three months to live. Yet he lived for nearly a year.
Reflecting on all these remarkable things, I can only use the word “miracle” to describe them. Somehow, in this vast universe, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are looking after and blessing us. Perhaps we can say that Xixun had come to deliver us. If he did not get sick, my son and I would never have come into contact with the Dharma, and we would not have made so many enthusiastic and selfless Buddhist friends. They are mentors sent by Amitabha Buddha to help us. From the bottom of my heart, I thank Amitabha Buddha and all these kind people who assisted us.
(Shi Cui’e, Buddhist Wisdom News of America, Vol. 37)
He read few sutras and recited Amitabha’s name
Just a short while;
He was no vegetarian and did not
Take refuge in the Three Gems.
But Amitabha’s name contains boundless virtue;
To be received by him is a miracle.
Earnestly reading the Amitabha Sutra,
He saw numerous Buddha images therein.
In his first dream, he beheld the Pure Land’s majesty,
Its ground and skies filled with light.
In his second Amitabha comforted him in person, saying,
“Fear not death, it’s just like deep sleep.”
In a third reverie, Amitabha asked him repeatedly
If he was ready to go with him.
In the fourth dream, Amitabha staged a welcome assembly,
Graced by the presence of 500 Bodhisattvas.
From then on his mind was set;
He truly wanted rebirth and let go of worldly things.
Many times he saw Amitabha and the sacred assembly,
As well as the light emitted during Amitabha-recitation.
In his fifth dream, Amitabha gave a personal assurance:
“When you depart, all the holy beings will come receive you.”
The Buddha light of welcome has countless colors;
It is intricate, remarkable beyond description.
Dazzling were the light’s patterns,
Ever-changing and beyond comprehension.
Then appeared a big, white lotus of great purity,
Carrying the practitioner’s golden transformation body.
His appearance was youthful and dignified,
Indistinguishable from that of a Buddha.
However extraordinary, such events
Are easily achieved through Amitabha’s power.
May all who hear of this account delight in it;
May they be resolute in their aspiration to rebirth,
No longer troubled by doubt.
– English translation by Dharma Master Weitong