二十多年前的一個夏日，我騎著腳踏車回家，發現一輛救護車停在我家門前。 我不在時，父親在後院絆倒了。 他的頭撞到了水泥人行道的邊緣，昏了過去。送到醫院後才發現他大腦出血。 當晚腦部手術後倖存下來，但幾個月後在醫院感染肺炎而過世。 那年的夏天我不到20歲，大學第二年剛結束，秋季將進入大三。 接下來的幾個月，為了照顧父親和辦葬禮我休學一個學期。 當冬季回到學校恢復課程時，我感到與世隔絕。 父親的死亡對我影響深大。
回到學校感覺自己像是一位站在上方往下看這個世界的旁觀者。看到自己也看到每個人忙碌著上課和參加社交活動。大多數20歲出頭的人都過著美好的時光，享受著青春和年輕人的自由。 我沒有參與感，我並不憂鬱， 只是好奇又質疑生命的意義。 我在佛教中找到了答案。 在南加州時常去的寺廟裡，我是那裡最年輕的常客。 周邊的朋友不明白為什麼我對佛教很感興趣。 佛教讓我找到生命的意義。 爸爸過世後我和家人時常去寺廟，不久後就參加法總的佛教青年會。 畢業後，開始工作、參加佛教青年會的活動等等。結了婚之後搬到Ukiah萬佛聖城附近。
八年前的一個夏日，晚餐後，我的同修Steven開始從尤凱亞開車回太陽谷，一個大約三個小時的車程。他在矽谷工作，隔日的早上需要上班。兩小時後我打電話給他，當時是晚上九點半。我們正在講話時，他突然說他輪胎漏氣了，他要把車開到高速公路邊。 他說他會打電話給AAA幫他換輪胎。 那是我們最後一次的對話。 隨後打電話給他都沒接。 那晚我無法入睡，也找不到他，就上網查看了高速公路的交通狀況。不知道為什麼半夜會出現紅色警告，也就是交通大堵塞，意味著有了嚴重的事故。 當時的我還不知道他與這個嚴重事故有關。
我試著唸大悲咒。 那時我並不太擔心，畢竟只是輪胎洩氣了。 但不知道為什麼就是無法專心，突然記不起已熟念的大悲咒。 我持著觀世音菩薩的名號，漸漸入睡。 幾個小時後，已經凌晨 5 點，醒了過來，還沒有收到他任何的來電或簡訊。 那時候我不知該怎麼辦，認為這不是緊急情況，就沒有撥打 911。 前晚掛斷電話之前，他曾告訴我他已經開到Hayward附近。後來我決定打電話給Hayward警察局報個失踪案。那時才六點鐘，警察局要到早上七、八點才開門。 我就打了電話給他在柏克萊的好朋友 Jason Tseng 。 Jason同意去Hayward附近的高速公路找找看。Jason沒有找到他。
後來我打電話給警察局，報他失蹤了。 警察局的人建議我打電話給加州公路巡邏局（CHP）。 我打電話給加州公路巡邏局，他們告訴我會有人回我電話。
後來我們得知前晚和我掛斷電話後，Steven打了電話給AAA。 當他停在高速公路路肩等待 AAA 時，他坐在駕駛座，繫著安全帶，閃著警告燈，一輛大型的休閒越野車（SUV）以高速從他的後方撞上。目擊者報了警，不幸剛被送到醫院急診室他就亡故。 撞他的司機是一名三十歲的女性， 在處方藥品和大麻的影響下駕車，撞上停在路邊的Steven。
接下來的日子是一片模糊。 處在驚訝和悲傷的情緒中，同時被無數的法師、朋友、家人的關懷和支持所包圍。我第一次經歷了無法控制的情緒，觸碰到埋在心裡最深處的情緒。我曾經很困惑為什麼有些人會無法控制的發脾氣。我想我現在明白了。 有些痛苦是非常深的，情緒是未經過修煉而保護自己的一種自然反應。 情緒上的痛與身體上的痛其實非常相似。 它像身體上的一個新傷口，需要立即的關注，它也特別敏感，受不了粗糙的處理，需要細心的對待。連續幾週我無法忍受太大的音量，人們的說話聲或消防車的警報聲，會在我的身體裡迴盪，顫抖。我從來沒有經歷過這種不尋常的敏感度，後來它逐漸消失。
二十歲前失去了父親，三十多歲失去了丈夫，我的一生經歷感覺在上一堂加速的課。 這改變人生的課程帶來了各方面的教訓和成長。 我發現內心深處隱藏著一些強烈的情緒，只有在強而有力的打擊下才會浮現。既然好無選擇，我在六個月的時間裡，不做其他的事，好好面對以及修復這些內心的脆弱。
另一個教訓是要學習生活不帶負面的情緒，不將自己的痛苦轉移到別人身上。 雖然傷口的痛仍然存在，但每天我會試著不以身，語、意上造成對別人的傷害。 我不一定記得大家曾經對我付出的關心和照顧，但我會盡量不添加別人在世界上的苦。
一位曾經也失去過親人的法師跟我分享她誦華嚴經。 也有其他法師鼓勵我念大乘經。 在我父親和我同修過世後，我每天都誦法華經。法華經真的可以讓人不低沉，而可以提升精神。 我想分享幾段法華經文：
佛告諸比丘，未來世中，若有善男子、善女人，聞妙法華經提婆達多品，淨心信敬，不生疑惑者，不墮地獄，餓鬼，畜生，生十方佛前，所生之處，常聞此經。若生人天中，受勝妙樂，若在佛前，蓮華化生。 妙法蓮華經給了我很多的安慰和精神提拔。上加速的課程可能有時會很艱難，甚至會有要被淹沒的感覺，但在短時間內也能收穫很多。 年輕時曾經面對親人意外的亡故給了我不尋常的成長和成熟的機會。常聽說， 想成佛，法華經不可少！今天我想加一句，心情低落的人，可嘗試誦法華經！
An Accelerated Course 一堂加速的課程
Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Venerable Master, Dharma Masters and all Dharma friends, Amitofo! My name is Amy Chang-Chien. Tonight is my turn to tie Dharma affinities.
The recent passing of Dharma Master Heng Hsien and Ocean Epstein triggered memories of losing people who were closest to me.
Many schools and colleges offer accelerated courses — courses that pack one year’s worth of learning material into a semester or a quarter. Facing unexpected deaths, life can feel like an accelerated class.
One summer day, more than 20 years ago, I came home on a bicycle and found an ambulance sitting in front of my house. While I was out, my father had tripped and fell in our backyard. He hit his head on the edge of a concrete sidewalk and passed out. Later in the hospital, it was discovered he had cerebral hemorrhage (internal brain bleeding). He survived the brain surgery that night but succumbed to pneumonia months later in a hospital. That summer I was not yet 20 years old, a sophomore going onto junior year in college. I took a leave of absence from school to tend to him during his months of illness and eventual funeral. When I returned in the winter to rejoin school, I felt disconnected. My father’s death had a profound impact on me.
I felt like a bystander, floating above, observing myself attending school. I watched people busily going around to classes and clubs. Most people in their early twenties were having a good time, enjoying youth and the freedom of being a young adult. I didn’t feel engaged. I was not depressed. I was inquisitive and questioned the meaning of life. I found my answers in Buddhism. After my father died, my family frequently went to the monastery — I was the youngest regular there. My friends couldn’t understand why I found Buddhism intriguing. Buddhist principles gave sense and meaning to my life. I continued to go to the temple, soon I got introduced to Dharma Realm Buddhist Youth, DRBY. After graduating, I worked, went to DRBY Dharma events, married, and later moved to Ukiah to be close to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
One summer day 8 years ago, after dinner, my husband Steven got on the road, to drive from Ukiah to Sunnyvale. He worked in Silicon Valley and needed to drive back for work the next morning. Two hours into this 3-hr drive, I called him to see how he was doing, it was 9:30pm. While we were talking, he suddenly said he got a flat tire and he was pulling over to the side of the freeway. He said he would call AAA to help him change the tire. That was the last time we spoke. Subsequent calls to him went unanswered. Unable to sleep, I checked the traffic condition of the freeway. I wondered why in the middle of night there was a red Sigalert, meaning that he was stuck in heavy traffic due to a severe accident. Little did I know at the time that he was the Sigalart.
I tried to recite the Great Compassion Mantra that night. I wasn’t too worried, after all, it was just a flat tire. But my mind couldn’t concentrate, for whatever reason I couldn’t remember how to recite something that I knew so well. I recited Guan Yin Bodhisattva’s name instead and fell asleep. A few hours later I woke up at 5am, wondering why he hasn’t returned any of my messages. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t call 911 because it was not an emergency. He had told me that he was near Hayward before we hung up. I decided to call the Hayward police and report a missing person. It was only 6am, too early, the police department did not open until 7 or 8am. I called a good friend of his, Jason Tseng, in Berkeley. Jason agreed to go look for him on the freeway near Hayward. He didn’t find him.
Later I got through to the police department and reported him missing. The police suggested that I call California Highway Patrol (CHP). I called CHP and they told me that someone would call me back.
About 10 minutes later, I got a call from the Alameda County Sheriff’s coroner. I was told Steven was killed in a car accident last night and they have his body, that I would need to call a mortuary to arrange for pick up. The caller was a coroner who spoke firmly and coldly. I went into shock immediately, I couldn’t believe what I heard yet I understood every word that came through the phone.
Later we found out not long after I hung up, Steven had called AAA. While parked on the shoulder of the freeway waiting for AAA, seated in the driver seat with his seat belt on and hazard lights blinking, a large SUV hit his car from behind at full highway speed. Eyewitnesses called the police, tragically he died as he arrived at the hospital emergency room. They arrested the driver, a woman in her early thirties for driving under the influence of prescription drugs and marijuana and hitting Steven parked on the side of the freeway.
The next days and weeks went by in a blur. A blur of shock and grief, surrounded by an outpour of care and support from many Dharma masters, friends and family. For the first time in my life I experienced uncontrollable emotions, emotions that run so deep that I didn’t realize I had. It used to baffle me why some people could lose their temper and get so mad. Now I think I understand. Some pains are very deep and emotions are untrained responses for protecting oneself. Emotional pain is very similar to physical pain. Like a new wound on your body, it wants your immediate attention. It is super sensitive and cannot stand being handled roughly. Severe emotional trauma needs to be dealt with gently. For weeks I couldn’t stand noises, the sound of people talking and the siren of a fire truck would reverberate throughout my body. I’ve never experienced this kind of unusual sensitivity, which gradually went away.
Having lost my father before I turned twenty, and lost a husband in my thirties, my life feels like an accelerated course. There were many lessons from this life changing course. I discovered emotions that I didn’t know existed, buried so deep that only a sudden forceful impact could bring them to the surface. With no choice, I faced some of my deepest vulnerabilities. I withdrew from everything for 6 months to focus on nothing but my inner self.
Another lesson of this accelerated course is one should always be ready. You never know what will happen in the next moment, even if you do daily recitation. People knew Steven had the gentlest temper and biggest smile. It’s true, I’ve never seen him lose temper. After he died, a DRBY friend asked me what he did as his daily practice. I told her he bowed 12 times in the morning, 3 times to the Buddhas, 3 times to the Venerable Master, and 3 times each to his parents. He recited the Shurangama mantra, the Great Compassion mantra and the ten small mantras. While driving to work every day, he would recite the Great Compassion mantra 21 times. Even a person diligent in practice couldn’t escape his karmic fate, so we have to be ready at any moment.
Another lesson is learning how to carry on life on without negativities, especially not passing one’s own pains onto others. Although sometimes the pain of loss is still there, but every day I try not to do any harm through speech, actions, and thoughts. Everyday I may not remember the care and concern people extended to me during difficult times, at least I try not to add to the pains and suffering in the world.
A Dharma Master who also lost someone dear shared with me that she recites the Avatamsaka Sutra. Several others also encouraged me to recite the Great Vehicle sutras. During the time after my father’s passing and after my husband’s passing, I read the Lotus Sutra daily. The Lotus Sutra has lifted me up day after day and year after year without fail. I would like to share some passages from the sutra.
“Medicine King, you should know that after the Thus Come One has entered into nirvana, if there are those who can copy, uphold, read and recite this sutra, offer alms to it and expound it for others, then the Thus Come One will cover them with his robe, and they will also be protected and kept in mind by the Buddhas who are now present in other regions. Such persons possess the power of great faith, the power of aspiration, the power of good roots. You should know that such person lodge in the same place as the Thus Come One, and the Thus Come One pats them on the head with his hand.”
“The Buddha told the Bhikshus, in the future if there are good men or good women who, on hearing the Devadatta chapter of the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Dharma, believe and revere it with a pure mind, and harbor no doubts, they will not fall into the hells or the realms of hungry ghosts or animals, but will be born in the presence of the Buddhas of the ten directions, and in the place where they are born they will constantly hear this sutra. Should they be reborn among humans and heavenly beings, they will receive exceedingly wonderful delights, and if they are born in the presence of a Buddha, they will be born by transformation from lotus flowers.”
In the past years, I found passages from the Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Dharma very comforting and uplifting. Taking an accelerated class could feel difficult and even drowning at times but one also stands to gain a lot in a short time. This accelerated course of life on facing deaths of close ones has given me unusual opportunities to grow and mature. It is said that those who wish to become Buddhas should study the Lotus Sutra. Today I would like to add, those who are feeling down, should try to recite the Lotus Sutra!