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Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Tuesday, 21 April 2015 12:04

Poor Memory Is No Obstacle in Practising the Sutra

Written by  Tan Kim Hion, KL & Selangor / Translated by Chong Pei Fen

Tan See Teck seized the opportunity to partake in the sutra adaptation performance despite his health conditions. His greatest challenge is his poor memory. [Photograph by Lim Chin Tong]

As the Water Repentance sutra adaptation performance is fast approaching, Tan See Teck and wife practise the hand gestures at home daily in addition to attending group practices. It is See Teck’s earnest hope to propagate the Dharma through the performance.


 
Seize the great affinity
 
A slim stature Tan See Teck and wife, Cheang Paik Fun, are both Dharma Expressionists* for the Compassionate Samadhi Water Repentance (or Water Repentance in short) sutra adaptation performance to be staged on July 4 and 5, 2015. With full anticipation for the performance, See Teck said, “July is just two months away, of course we must practise more diligently and not only during our free time, as time is running out!”
 
To Paik Fun, who can only understand spoken Mandarin, the best way to self-practice is by referring to the “doll images” (illustrations of sign language gestures) and related videos. Besides practising at home, she would also practise the hand gestures in her office during break time. Worried that she would forget the lyrics, she would sing the songs even though her pronunciation in Mandarin is not perfect.
 
See Teck revealed, “Although I can read and understand Mandarin, I cannot teach my wife. Instead, I always have to consult her for hand gestures and movements. I have very poor memory and would forget what I have learnt after a night’s sleep.”
 
He added that he has faced memory problems since young, and during his schooling days, he had to learn by rote. But even with his deteriorating memory, he is determined to partake in the performance. He said, “Only now at age 60 do I come by such large-scale sutra adaptation performance. How can I miss this precious affinity? I may not have another chance even in my next life!” said See Teck, who knew that he would only have regrets if he lets the opportunity slip by him.
 
Nothing is impossible to a willing heart
 
See Teck recalled that 13 years ago, while waiting to donate his bone marrow to a compatible patient in the US through Tzu Chi’s bone marrow bank, he was suddenly informed of the patient’s demise. He cried his heart out, and the profound understanding of how a precious opportunity could vanish in the next instant has since urged him to seize every opportunity to contribute.
 
Thus, despite some volunteers’ concerns that it would be too taxing for him, as he has ankylosing arthritis, he accepted the role as a Dharma Expressionist happily and assured them that he could cope with all the movements, like turning, kneeling and squatting down in the performance. He only has difficulty turning his head 90 degrees.
 
He said, “I have no problem enduring the pain in my waist and legs after a long bend or squat, but my memory problem is giving me trouble.” To overcome his weakness, he practises the hand gestures diligently every day, and keeps repeating the cycle of learning-forgetting-relearning perseveringly.
 
In fact, he had participated in the sutra adaptation performance in the 2011 Tzu Chi’s Year-end Blessing Ceremony and was able to give a satisfactory performance through diligent practices. He admitted that he worried not about staging the performance, but was afraid that he could not be a performer.
 
In October 2014, he noticed an irregular heartbeat and fatigue. Sometimes, when he rushed to Tzu Chi’s community centre for practices after work, his heartbeats would even spike up to 120 beats per minute. He would feel extremely tired within half an hour of practice and had to excuse himself for some rest.
 
Once, a volunteer who thought that he was idling away said jokingly, “You have been practising only one gesture throughout, that is, sleeping!” He smiled but knew that he needed to see a doctor. After diagnosis, the specialist informed that he had hyper-parathyroid gland and suggested surgery to prevent possible harm to his heart, kidneys and other organs.
 
See Teck was hesitant initially and wanted to opt for medical treatment instead. But Paik Fun reminded him that if his conditions worsened and he had to undergo surgical treatment in June or July, then he would really miss the performance. Thus, in March 2015, See Teck finally decided to go for surgical treatment.
 
Feel blessed to have the Dharma as guidance
 
To volunteers’ surprise, See Teck was already there with them at the community centre for rehearsal three days after being discharged from hospital. He explained that it was just a minor surgery but the rehearsal was a major event. He did not want to miss any chance to practise and was afraid that his absence would affect the standing positions of other performers.
 
He is grateful that his illness was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed him to fulfil his wish to retire early and focus on Tzu Chi work. Touched by his fortitude and willpower, fellow volunteers have fondly called him the “undeterred-even-by-death Bodhisattva”.
 
To See Teck, it is a great blessing to encounter Tzu Chi and Master Cheng Yen in this lifetime. Over the past 20 years or so, he has experienced the joy of giving, and he appreciates the Master’s daily Dharma discourse, which helps dispel our worries and guides us towards the right path. He will not be overcome by difficulties and give up the performance, just as how he has trodden on the Tzu Chi path resolutely.
 
He shared, “I cannot hold back tears every time I perform the song, ‘Life after Life on the Path to Enlightenment’. I feel blessed to have the Dharma as guidance so that I will not go astray in this, and future lifetimes.”
 
See Teck performs every song mindfully and strives to perfect every single gesture because he knows that the performance is to promulgate the Dharma through body language. It is also hoped that everyone can experience the compassion of the Buddha and find peace in their hearts.
 
Practise together and thankful for each other
 
Paik Fun does not have as much insight into the Dharma as See Teck does, but through her participation in the performance, she has gradually understood that the true purpose of Dharma learning is to dispel one’s habitual tendencies and purify one’s heart. She revealed that she used to be quick-tempered and would throw tantrums on the husband whenever she was frustrated; but See Teck, who is a “Mr Nice Guy”, would always be tolerant and patient with her.
 
She confessed, “Lately, I started to think of the times when See Teck sent me to Tzu Chi’s activities and waited for me to go home. I used to take it for granted and had never really appreciated him. But now, after his retirement, he chauffeurs me to work daily; and when I practise the hand gestures on the way, I always feel deeply grateful for having such a good husband.”
 
She added that with a sense of gratitude, her heart is always calm and she is less irritable. She would patiently guide and correct See Teck’s mistakes during their practices at home. See Teck, on the other hand, is thankful to Paik Fun for her timely guidance because he would not realize his mistakes if he was to practise before a mirror.
 
With mutual gratitude, they cherish each other and their happiness is evident in their smiles.
 
 
* Sign language was originally a form of silent communication among the mute. Tzu Chi has adopted the sign language to promulgate the wondrous Dharma. Thus, in Tzu Chi, the group of people who expresses the meaning of the lyrics of the song composition (based on the sutra) through beautiful subtle hand movements is called the “Dharma Expressionist”.
 
 

 
Tan See Teck and Cheang Paik Fun practise hand gestures at home daily. Although Paik Fun faces language barrier and See Teck suffers from ankylosing arthritis, they are determined to join the performance. [Photograph by Gary Kong Yuen Foo]   Tan See Teck, who suffers from ankylosing arthritis, overcomes the pain and numbness in his legs after a long squat or kneeling with willpower. [Photograph by Gary Kong Yuen Foo]

Tan See Teck and Cheang Paik Fun practise hand gestures at home daily. Although Paik Fun faces language barrier and See Teck suffers from ankylosing arthritis, they are determined to join the performance. [Photograph by Gary Kong Yuen Foo]
 
Tan See Teck, who suffers from ankylosing arthritis, overcomes the pain and numbness in his legs after a long squat or kneeling with willpower. [Photograph by Gary Kong Yuen Foo]
 
Besides practising at home, Tan See Teck and Cheang Paik Fun also grabbed every opportunity to practise with fellow volunteers at Tzu Chi’s community centre. [Photograph by Lim Kar Guan]   Cheang Paik Fun always sings the song while practising so that she can remember the lyrics and hand gestures. [Photograph by Lim Kar Guan]

Besides practising at home, Tan See Teck and Cheang Paik Fun also grabbed every opportunity to practise with fellow volunteers at Tzu Chi’s community centre. [Photograph by Lim Kar Guan]
 
 
Cheang Paik Fun always sings the song while practising so that she can remember the lyrics and hand gestures. [Photograph by Lim Kar Guan]
 
Tan See Teck (2nd left) feels blessed to be able to participate in this large-scale sutra adaptation performance in this lifetime. [Photograph by Lim Chin Tong]    

Tan See Teck (2nd left) feels blessed to be able to participate in this large-scale sutra adaptation performance in this lifetime. [Photograph by Lim Chin Tong]