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Wednesday, 10 January 2018 15:04

The Exam Called Life

Written by  Tan Kim Hion, KL & Selangor / Translated by Lim Wen Xin

Riyani from Indonesia felt strongly that it is neither the completion nor graduation. Rather, she got an invisible transcript of life, and it is all on her to decide how she would fare. [Photograph by Lee Kwee Yap]

“Though today is the last day of the course, to me this isn’t graduation. Rather, I have just been given an invisible sheet of my transcript of life, and my homework has just begun…” A volunteer-in-training, Riyani Agustina Widjaja, commented at the end of the last volunteer training session in 2017. To her, she now has an invisible blank sheet of her transcript of life, and it is up to her to create her worth.


At the end of the volunteer training session on August 31, 2017, the 39-year-old Riyani Agustina Widjaja, a volunteer, who originated from Jakarta, Indonesia, vowed to move forward courageously and resolutely on the Bodhisattva Path.

“If I hadn’t joined Tzu Chi, hadn’t listened to Master’s Dharma talks at dawn, hadn’t practised the Dharma, I would have remained as before, that is, one who neither understood the meaning nor direction of life.”

Riyani recalled her life in the past where she had been passing time aimlessly. Although she lived a worry-free life, she was unhappy.

Suffering depression in a comfortable life

Riyani admitted that she had neither suffered nor starved. As the youngest child of four and the only daughter in a wealthy family, she was the apple of their eyes; everyone doted on her. Her life was a breeze. Twelve years ago, she got married and relocated to Malaysia where she continued to live relaxingly. Other than assisting her husband and bringing up their elder daughter, she started her own business running a tour company that handled Indonesian tour groups travelling to Malaysia.

In 2010, Riyani’s cousin gave her a booklet of Jing Si Aphorisms in Mandarin, published by Tzu Chi KL & Selangor. She is an Indonesian Chinese, who was English-educated and could only recognize limited Mandarin characters. The words of wisdom intrigued her so deeply that she phoned the numbers at the back of the booklet, requesting for an English version of it. The staff at the branch office then connected her to the community volunteers, and she learnt about Tzu Chi.

Since she became a monthly donor of Tzu Chi, she had always wanted to participate in the activities. However, as health issues troubled her, the wish was never fulfilled. In recalling, she commented, “I was diagnosed with depression in 2011. How did I get it? I wasn’t sure. What I could remember was that I was concerned as I faced some minor difficulties with my business and my daughter was disobedient. I began to have sleepless nights and eventually insomnia.”

Riyani had difficulty falling asleep over an extended period of time. It was so severe that taking sleeping pills did not help. She started to imagine things, thought life was pointless and considered ending her life. Realizing such depressing moods were not right, she consulted a professional and was diagnosed with depression tendency, putting her on medication.

For someone who lived a smooth life, had a happy family, and shopped regularly to reward herself for her hard work, how could Riyani get depression over such insignificant issues?

She could not identify the cause of her disorder; she only knew that she would feel strangely scared, anxious and worried for no reason every day when she woke up. Her pulse raced, her emotions tensed and she panicked.

She recollected, “Thinking back, I have never encountered any setbacks or disappointments. Hence when I faced one, I couldn’t overcome it. Instead, I took it negatively. Fortunately, a few months later, my life changer appeared.”

Riyani was grateful that she was pregnant then. For the sake of her baby, she adamantly quit taking the pills despite being warned by her friends otherwise. She believed that her baby’s health was more important than hers and did not want to affect the development of her baby.

Found her way in the Dharma

The prompt arrival of the healthy baby girl meant that Riyani had no time to dwell on unimportant matters. In the midst of taking care of her two girls and running a business, her life was progressively on track again. However, she did not hesitate to share that she would get certain tumbling emotions deep down somewhere that made her anxious sometimes.

Worried that her depression would recur, Riyani accepted a volunteer’s invitation curiously to understand the Dharma by signing up for the study group of Dharma as Water and its stage adaptation. Verses and verses of the sutra that were translated into English rooted in her mind. She learnt about the karmic law of cause and effect, and understood that nothing but karma would stay with one when one dies. She cherished the opportunity to learn the Dharma, even though she could not understand it fully; but she felt it had been very helpful.

While practising for the stage adaptation, she met her second life changer in Lee Lay Sim, a community volunteer. Without a language barrier, they became close and would share their problems and attend rehearsals for the stage adaptation of the Dharma as Water at KL Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall together. Under Lay Sim’s encouragement, Riyani took baby steps to join home visits and recycling, and eventually agreed to become a volunteer-in-training.

In the two years of training, Riyani learnt a lot and found the long sought-after direction of life after participating in the Dharma study sessions for the English-speaking volunteers. Upon listening to Master Cheng Yen’s Dharma talks, she suddenly realized that understanding the Dharma was better than chanting it, and that practising the Dharma was better than understanding it. She realized that true Dharma learning is to practise the Buddha’s teachings, to go among the masses to benefit others and herself, and to grow from experience.

Riyani discovered that since she began practising the Dharma in her day-to-day life, it was as if her heart had been cleansed with clear water. After listening to Master explaining the “Burning House of the Three Realms” in the Lotus Sutra, she was awakened by the insights that sentient beings are heavily defiled by ignorance and continue to enjoy themselves without noticing surrounding dangers. She pondered, did she not behave like these ignorant children whose hearts were clouded and deeply troubled?

She shared, “I took it for granted that everyone treated me well. I also thought my life should forever be expected and unobstructed, hence couldn’t even overcome a small problem.”

Through participating in the weekly Dharma study for English-speaking volunteers and self-reflection, she saw her unsatisfied heart and bad habits, such as, being hot-tempered, scolding and caning her daughter, arguing with her husband, and even treating her family members rudely.

Applying Buddha’s teachings in her daily life

Riyani was soft and gentle to outsiders but harsh and tough when dealing with family.

Once, she unknowingly provoked her husband, and she insisted that she was right and felt wronged. When talking to Lay Sim, who gently enquired if she had said something wrong, Riyani was suddenly reminded of Master Cheng Yen’s words of wisdom: “The person who is right should apologize to the person who isn’t.” She pondered, despite having learnt the Dharma, why couldn’t she do as preached, that is, treat her family members gently, softly and respectfully?

So, she apologized to her husband and sought forgiveness. She also promised him that she would speak to him as gently as she would to others. Her husband was taken aback.

Riyani was not a person who would apologize easily, especially when she was right. Instead, she would demand justice and fight till the end. Now, she will apologize willingly and had regained family harmony.

She also stopped beating and scolding her eldest daughter. Every time she was mad, she would take a deep breath and analyse what was right and wrong to her girl in a pleasant manner.

Her family witnessed her change, hence was very supportive of her doing Tzu Chi. The eldest daughter even said to her, “Mum, I want to be like you when I grow up, to be a Tzu Chi volunteer.”

Her daughter’s words touched her profoundly and made her realize that her daughter may not listen to her big principles but through leading by example, she had unexpectedly changed her daughter too. Since then, she demanded herself to do better and set a good example for her daughter.

Riyani wished more people could attend the Master’s Dharma talks at dawn. In August 2016, she resolutely shouldered the responsibility to be the person-in-charge for the Dharma study sessions for English-speaking volunteers for the Tzu Chi community centre in Setapak. She would turn up every Saturday morning, come rain or shine, and listen to Taiwanese volunteer, Joe Huang’s sharing of the essence of Master Cheng Yen’s whole week Dharma talks, via video-conferencing facility.

Appreciate the affinity with Tzu Chi

Riyani was grateful that she attended the volunteer training this year, for she had learnt a lot from the programmes and through volunteers’ sharing, and she could better understand that besides listening to the Dharma, one should also put the teachings into practice. As she gave, she noticed many people outside her world are in dire straits.

She related, “There was an Indian care recipient with seven children. Her husband had heart disease and the family depended on her mother-in-law for financial support. How did this poor family raise seven kids? Yet, they did not give up and gave their best to live. Sometimes, I would think of them and wonder if they still have food. Looking back at myself, who couldn’t sleep because of a minute issue, I was really over-anxious.”

Know your blessings, cherish them, and sow more blessings. Not only does Riyani devote herself to join home visits to care recipients and recycling, but she also decided to be a vegetarian to save the Earth in April 2016, when she travelled to Taiwan for the 4-in-1 cadre training camp together with fellow volunteers. Her mother was against the idea as she was worried that the kids would not get enough nutrients, but she thought otherwise and said firmly, “We have to turn vegetarians for our children, as it is the fastest way to save the Earth. There is only one Earth. If it is destroyed, our children will not have a home anymore. Isn’t that worrying? We cannot create trouble for them because of our cravings and appetite.”

Her perseverance received support from her husband and kids. Since then, there was neither fish nor meat on the dining table, only vegetarian meals. She felt that being a vegetarian was not tough as all she had to do was to curb her cravings. She also urged her friends to become vegetarians and wished that everyone would not kill and lead to the destruction of the Earth.

Riyani would return to Taiwan this year-end to be certified by Master Cheng Yen as a Tzu Chi Commissioner. Instead of being anxious about the extra responsibilities, she believed that the recognition would be her driving force and unshakable undertaking to answer the call of “emulating the Buddha’s compassion and upholding the Master’s conviction”, no excuses, no slacking. She strongly believed that becoming a Tzu Chi Commissioner is to do what Master Cheng Yen do, and to go amongst the people to purify minds.

She said, “There are more bad people than good in this world. I can no longer afford to be my old self who was helped and guided by others. I hope to be someone else’s life changer, to get more people to walk the Bodhisattva Path and to do good deeds together.”

Riyani smiled for she had chosen Tzu Chi this life, and had found the direction in her life. She felt fortunate to have met the Master and to follow fellow Tzu Chi members on the Bodhisattva Path. She would appreciate and cherish this precious affinity.

It dawned on Riyani that she has only begun to work on the homework of life. The blank and invisible transcript of life is ready in her heart. On whether she will pass this exam called life, she is filled with confidence, “As long as I follow in Master’s footsteps and lead by example, I will surely not fail.”

 

 

Riyani (middle) and Lee Lay Sim (right) are seen here on a home visit. When Riyani saw her helpless fellow countrywoman, a stroke patient (left), she immediately gave her her support. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]   Volunteer Lee Lay Sim (3rd left) is Riyani’s (4th left) life changer. They would frequently attend Tzu Chi’s activities together. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]

Riyani (middle) and Lee Lay Sim (right) are seen here on a home visit. When Riyani saw her helpless fellow countrywoman, a stroke patient (left), she immediately gave her her support. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
 
Volunteer Lee Lay Sim (3rd left) is Riyani’s (4th left) life changer. They would frequently attend Tzu Chi’s activities together. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
 
As long as time allows, Riyani would bring her two daughters to the community recycling centre to help out. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]   The Dharma study session for the English-speaking volunteers enlightened Riyani. In order to allow more volunteers from the English Group to listen to the Dharma, she took up the responsibility to be the person-in-charge of the Dharma study session of Tzu Chi Setapak Community Centre. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]

As long as time allows, Riyani would bring her two daughters to the community recycling centre to help out. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
 
 
The Dharma study session for the English-speaking volunteers enlightened Riyani. In order to allow more volunteers from the English Group to listen to the Dharma, she took up the responsibility to be the person-in-charge of the Dharma study session of Tzu Chi Setapak Community Centre. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]