Homes for the aged are a promising project

Short Talks From Venerable Master Chin Kung

Today, due to technological and medical advances, we are able to prolong our life spans. But in actuality, the length of our life span is determined by the quality of our practice and the accumulation of good deeds in our past lives. The aging population is becoming a serious problem in today’s society. Consequently, in many countries we see the establishment of retirement centers and homes for the aged. For example, in Australia, we have visited some of these retirement villages.

In Buddhism, we are taught to pay great attention to the care and provision for the aged, which is the practice of the Three Conditions. The First Condition, teaches us to be filial and respectful towards our parents, teachers, and elders, to be compassionate and not kill any living being and to practice the Ten Good Conducts. So, establishing homes for the aged is adopting and practicing this first condition, which is the foundation in Buddhism. If we do not truly put our efforts into practicing the teachings, but simply chant the Buddha’s name, we will be unable to be born into the Western Pure Land or to achieve in any forms of practice. Thus, providing for the aged is the core and of the utmost importance in Buddhism. 

But today, most people believe that Homes for the Aged are a futile endeavor because after we reach old age, we will die. Thus, it is more promising to build children’s homes or educational institutions. But this kind of thinking is wrong. Are homes for the aged promising projects? The answer lies in the people not the project. In Singapore, the government encourages every religious organization to build homes for the aged and for children, to care for those in need. This matter is of great concern to us and we hope to teach the aged how to improve their current lives as well as their future ones. In this way, these projects to provide for the elderiy will truly be hopeful and promising.

In 1983, when I was in San Francisco, I visited a successfully run center for over four hundred senior citizens, with an adjoining kindergarten, sponsored by a Jewish businessperson. This gave me the idea that Buddhist way places, in the twenty-first century, should follow this model. From this, arose the concept for what has become Amitabha Villages. The residents of these Villages will primarily be retired citiens who have fulfilled their duties and responsibilities in this life and who, are now ready to prepare for their next life, which hopefully will be more meaningful than this one. Thus, senior citizens are to be provided with the opportunity to learn of Buddhism as well as religions. They will be able to listen to lectures on the sutras to help them become awakened. We are to lead them in Buddha name chanting. In this way, they will feel that this would be the happiest time of their lives. The Chinese have a saying that when we are young we should cultivate and accumulate good fortunes and virtues. In our youth, we should exert ourselves to serve people and the community in accumulating good fortunes. In our latter years, we should enjoy our good fortunes. But, if we have nothing to do, then we give rise to wandering thoughts and afflictions. This is what westerners call old age, the time when we are waiting to die. This idea is very different from that of the Chinese. Thus, Buddhist and religious education is very important.

We need to explain to them the conditions in the six realms and the wondrous adornment of the Buddhalands throughout the universe and especially that of the Western Pure Land. We can also teach them of the learning, practice and achievement of Buddha Amitabha when he was in the Causal ground, of the praises from all Buddhas and the wonderful benefits received when we are born into the Pure Land. We need to help fill their days with hope, to bring spirit into their lives, to truly help them see through to the reality of life, to let go of all attachments and worldly cares and to live their lives with joy and freedom. In this way, they will be able to transcend the cycle of birth and death in the six realms, the ten dharma realms, to be born into the Western Pure Land and become Buddhas.

If just one person in our way place was to become a Buddha, then all of the investment and work would have not been wasted. Nothing is more promising and wondrous than this. Homes for the Aged are the number one way places of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and of the twenty-first century. We can introduce our ideas, methods and practice to religious groups. We hope all religions will emphasize the idea to provide for the aged, to help senior citizens become Buddhas or to enjoy their good for tunes by being born into Heaven.

Mahayana Buddhism tells us that anyone in this world is capable of being born into the Pure Land and of becoming Non-Regressive Buddhas. As long as we understand the principles and methods and practice properly, everyone will attain achievement. As the ancient patriarchs said, “If a thousand people practice, a thousand people will be born into the Western Pure Land”. If we are able to achieve in this most difficult matter of becoming Buddhas, then we can easily achieve being born into Heaven. Virtually, every religious practitioner yearns to born into Heaven, thus, we should put our hearts and effort into helping them to achieve their aspirations.

If we wish to be born into Heaven then we need to help others to be born there. As Buddhist practitioners, hoping to born into the Pure Land, we need to help others to born there. In this way, we will accumulate great merits and virtues and immeasurable adornment. By doing so we would have accomplished something meaningful and not have wasted this life. But in order to achieve this, we need to deeply understand the teachings.

Having practiced Buddhism for forty-seven years and lectured for forty, I feel most strongly about this. In the past, many practitioners were able to attain achievement because they delved deeply and persistently for a long time into one method of studying the teachings and reciting sutras. Thus, they were able to establish unwavering belief and determination as their foundation. Buddha Shakyamuni is our best role model in that he lectured daily. The students continually spent their time in studying and discussing the teachings. Therefore, nothing was able to interfere with their concentration. They were able to achieve on the path to Enlightenment.

Currently in Singapore, lectures are given two hours a day, seven days a week. However, even this is not enough. Today, people do not have great for tune. Since they need to work to support their families, it is commendable when they are able to come and listen to the two-hour lectures. Thus, the latter years are the best time to practice Buddhism. Having raised their children and retired from work, they have nothing else to worry about. This is the best time for them to settle down and dedicate most of their time and efforts to cultivation. If we see and understand this clearly, we would put forth our full efforts to help them to achieve.

I have asked Mr. Bock-Guan Lee, president of the Amitabha Buddhist Society, to require the employees and volunteers of the Amitabha Village to listen to lectures daily and to participate in the chanting in the cultivation hall. In caring for the elders, they need to be trained to be filial toward them as they would be toward their own parents and respect them as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. This concept is not found in other homes for the aged.

At the village, there will be a lecture hall with two hours of lectures daily and a cultivation hall with continuous twenty-four hour Buddha name chanting. Everyone does not need to chant twenty-four hours a day. When tired, take a break. When rested, resume chanting. If they are unable to sleep at night, they may go to the cultivation hall to chant and thus, they will not give rise to wandering thoughts. In this way, there will always be people in the cultivation hall.

Entertainment such as folk dances, concerts and plays will be arranged at least once a week to entertain the elders. I believe that everyone will live a quiet and happy life. The Amitabha Village will be one big happy family.

If we do it properly, the management, our practice, etc. will result in achievement in three to five years, or if longer, eight to ten years. This is similar to the achievements detailed in historical records and biographies of eminent left home and laypeople. Our retirement years are the most suitable time for practice. Therefore, providing homes for the aged is
a promising project, not a futile endeavor. We need to instill hope into these endeavors and to introduce this concept to all religious groups, to work together to enhance the quality of life for all sentient beings. We should do this wholeheartedly.

When we help others to enhance their lives, we enhance ours as well. When we help others to become Buddhas, we will become Buddhas ourselves. When we help others to be born into the Heavens, there is no reason for us to not be born there also. Thus, nothing is fixed in either worldly or Buddhist teachings. Good or bad, fortune or misfortune, it lies in a moment of thought. We can turn our thoughts from bad to good, futile to hopeful. Everything lies in a moment of thought. Therefore, we need to delve deeply into the teachings and practice them in our daily lives.

All the Buddha’s teachings arise from our selfnature with its innate wisdom and virtuous capabilities. To practice this virtuous nature, we first care and provide for the aged. Eventually, all of us age. If we respect and care for the elders, then when we become old, others will respect and care for us. If we do not respect elders, then others will not respect us when we become old. This is cause and effect. The Buddha taught us that the merit from taking care of parents is equal to that of making offerings to Buddhas. He also taught us that we have two living Buddhas in our family, our parents. If we are not filial and caring towards our parents, but instead make offerings to Buddhas, they simply will not accept them, as they are not sincerely given. Therefore, we need to practice filial piety and respect for our parents, teachers and elders.

Today in Singapore, our tasks include, first, the establishment of the Amitabha Village, to provide care for the aged. Second, the training of young venerables. Third, the unification of all religions and races, to respect, care and help each other in creating a happy, prosperous, stable society and a peaceful world. We do not want to give rise to selfish thoughts because selfishness only results in the deterioration of moral standards leading to a chaotic society. Only looking after our self-interests ensures our being born into the lower three realms. Giving them up ensures our transcending the three lower realms, the six realms and ultimately the Ten Dharma Realms. Every rising thought of a truly awakened being is for others.

The Buddha taught us that our minds can encompass the universe, our minds are all the Buddha Lands. There are bad people in this world. But if we can help them to become good, to change their deviated viewpoints to proper ones, to cease committing wrongdoings and instead to practice good deeds, then we have succeeded. We hope that all sentient beings will become Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in this lifetime. By treating others with the mind of sincerity, purity, equality, awakening and compassion, then even the most malevolent person will be transformed by us. If not, then we have not done enough, for we are still intermingling selfishness with sincerity. compassion, then even the most malevolent person will be transformed by us. If not, then we have not done enough, for we are still intermingling selfishness with sincerity.

We should see through to the true reality/ let go of all afflictions and accord with conditions. It is also very important to let go of our narrow-mindedness and biased thinking, to accord with sentient beings and to be joyful in their meritorious deeds. It would be wrong to continue to do things our own way. We may not see our own faults, while others can. When they criticize us, we need to honestly reflect, strive to improve and be grateful for their help. We should live our lives in gratitude, putting our hearts and efforts into helping our society and benefiting all sentient beings. We should not mind what others do but rather maintain our purity of mind to achieve the perfect merit.

We see many people practicing good deeds in the expectation of immediate rewards. When these rewards are not immediately forthcoming, these people are unable to maintain their purity of mind. What they practiced will only help them to be born into the three good realms. Pure merits are those that help us to be born into the Western Pure Land. There is a great difference.

Monks and nuns should strive to be good role models for all monks and nuns. Lay people should strive to be good role models for all lay people. Way places should strive to be good role models for all other way places. Our Amitabha Village should strive to be a good role model for all Homes for the Aged. This indeed will be a most wonderful and promising project. We should treasure every opportunity to accomplish this goal.