A Mother and Daughter’s Spiritual Path

Living an ordinary life studded with challenges, Tay Lee Khim may have undergone much trials and tribulations, yet armed with a firm belief in the karmic law of cause and effect, she joyfully accepts what comes her way as she works out her karma. The simple act of reciting the Buddha’s name has helped her in overcoming the problems presented by her painful knees and her daughter’s epileptic condition. Today, Tay wants to re-prioritise her life, and harbours the hope that her daughter can help fulfil a small wish of hers to follow a vegetarian fast.


With a silent recitation of “Amitabha Buddha”in her heart, sign language facilitator Tay Lee Khim distracts herself from the pain in her knees as she gets up from a kneeling position. A participant in the “Dharma as Water”stage adaptation in an area downstage, Tay who is about fifty years old, carefully follows the beat of the music as she sings out the lyrics of the adaptation, and when the instruction to “kneel” or “rise” is given, she would slowly get into position with much difficulty.

Despite the use of knee pads, Tay experiences unbearable pain. Her doctor had advised her that only an operation could lessen the pain that she had been suffering from for such a long time. Yet, Tay had never considered that option, choosing instead to rely on her knee pads as she continues with the rehearsals for the stage adaptation. “I want to bring others into the Dharma by my participation in the Dharma assembly. There will be a big turnout for the adaptation and I can give them this opportunity to get to know the Dharma. To accomplish my goal, I depend on the Buddha’s blessing, as one should not delay the performance of good deeds.

When she was first asked to take on the responsibility of a sign language facilitator, Tay did not know that it involved the repeated actions of kneeling. Due to her knee problems, she had even wanted to give up at one point. Subsequently, with the encouragement of the main sign language coordinator, Lin Zhen Quan, she persevered on.

A Single Mother’s Struggles

After ten years of marriage, while Tay’s children were still young, she underwent a divorce. Though she had never worked before, the law of impermanence had brought a drastic change to her life, necessitating that she muster up courage to find work for the sake of her herself and her three children.

Tay has worked in many jobs over the years; as a stall assistant, she used to work 18 hours a day and was never absent, save for sick leave and an off day on the first day of the Chinese lunar new year. Later, she worked in a shop selling foodstuffs, and was even sent to the hospital’s emergency room a few times because of breathing difficulties caused by a food allergy.

Though she was living in straitened circumstances, Tay never forgot to give to the needy. When she received her first salary from her retail job, she donated away some three hundred dollars of her commission to Tzu Chi. “I felt that it wasn’t really what I deserved, it was additional wages give to me.”With an open mind and an easily contented heart, Tay persevered till her children were finally all grown up. In addition, where she used to view her husband’s abandonment of the family with resignation and helplessness, she now felt only gratitude.

“In the past I would ask in which area I did not measure up and tell him (her husband) that I was willing to change…” Tay momentarily sobbed as the emotions welled up and touched a raw nerve. “Fortunately, I had Buddhism and did not seek to end my life. Now I feel that all that I went through were the karma I had to face. We must believe in cause and effect; I repent the negative karma I accumulated in countless lives past, but I’m also grateful (to have the opportunity to resolve it). When our negative karma ripens, we have to accept it.

Changing a Thought with Wisdom

Tay lives in a small apartment and with the small confines of one room and a hall, the dining room serves a dual function as both a dining area and area for entertaining visitors. Yet the limited space has never been a concern for her as she invites volunteers to her house to practice their hand signs.

Tay’s 24 year old daughter often accompanies her to the practice sessions held at the Tzu Chi Free Clinic or at the neighbourhood parks, quietly watching the volunteers as they practice their hand signs.

When her daughter was just one and a half years of age, she contracted chicken pox and subsequently developed hepatitis. Though she eventually recovered, the illness resulted in her intellectual development being worse off than children of her same age group. While before the illness, she could engage in childish babble and take small steps, she had to relearn everything after it. Then when she was eight or nine years of age, the epileptic fits began without any warning, and they have continued to be part of her life since then. Tay had now accepted with calmness, that her daughter needs to rely on long-term medication to keep her illness under control.

Though friends and relatives have tried to persuade Tay to seek the advice of gods and spirits, she says, “I choose to have Right Faith and believe in cause and effect. We must joyfully accept the karma that comes to fruition in our lives.”With this attitude, Tay has taught her daughter to recite the name of Amitabha Buddha whenever she is hit by an epileptic seizure.

The doctor has advised Tay of her bodily degeneration as time passes, and knowing that time is of essence, Tay has temporarily stopped working so that she can participate in the stage adaptation as well as other Tzu Chi activities with her whole heart and soul.

With careful planning, Tay uses her hard-earned savings to tide her over this period. “I’ve been working my whole life, and I feel the time is ripe for me to do something for the sake of my spiritual cultivation. I will look for a job after the stage adaptation concludes, but now, I am focused on the stage adaptation besides caring for my daughter.”Worried that there is no one to care for her daughter, Tay brings her along for the practice sessions whenever possible. She also hopes that her daughter would be influenced by the teachings in the stage adaptation.

In fact, her daughter’s favourite segment of the stage adaptation is “Perfect and Radiant Buddha Nature,”and she can even describe the hand signs that go with the lyrics in this segment.

Supporting a Kind Thought with Purity of Heart

Tay had a wish that she was unable to fulfil thus far: “I deeply repent not being able to keep to a vegetarian fast.”Tay explains that as her daughter loves meat and is often unable to finish her own food, she would consume the rest for her in an effort not to waste food. Hence Tay could not keep to a vegetarian diet every day.

With just 21 days left before the presentation of the stage adaptation, Tzu Chi volunteer Kwek Jing Yi took the opportunity to speak to Tay’s daughter. “Animals are cute, let’s not eat them. Let’s protect them instead. If you love your mother, in the days ahead, you can have a vegetarian diet instead, so that your mom can enter the Dharma with peace in her heart. How about granting this wish of your mother?”

With tears glinting in the corners of her eyes, Tay’s daughter seemed to understand, nodding her head somewhat reluctantly. A few days later, Tay took her daughter to a vegetarian stall and looking at the mock meats, casually asked her daughter, “What type of “meat”would you like?”Unexpectedly, her daughter replied, “Didn't you say you’re not eating meat?”At that instant, Tay felt sense of calm settle in her heart, as she realized that her daughter had understood what was said. Though her daughter had difficulty in differentiating the dishes, and sometimes would order meat by mistake, yet her commitment to fulfil her mother’s wish was evident.

Tay says that listening to the Dharma often, enables one to shed their ignorance. While everyone has desires, what is important is to be self-aware and to change for the better. Speaking of the urgency to discard one’s negative habituations and to repent for our past karma, she adds that after we repent, we must walk the bodhisattva path and seek to liberate others as well. If everyone can do a little good, great kindness can result; disasters will lessen and our hearts will be more at peace. Looking at the jovial and straight talking Tay today, it is evident that her heart is carefree and no longer saddled with worries.

The 24 year old daughter of Tay Khim Lee (right), often follows her mother to the sign language practice sessions, where she can be seen quietly observing the sessions. (Photo by Kwek Jing Yi)The 24 year old daughter of Tay Khim Lee (right), often follows her mother to the sign language practice sessions, where she can be seen quietly observing the sessions. (Photo by Kwek Jing Yi) Here, Tay (in red), together with other sign language facilitators, are seen practicing their sign language in the open air space within a park. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)Here, Tay (in red), together with other sign language facilitators, are seen practicing their sign language in the open air space within a park. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong) Tay (right) treasures the opportunity to engage in various Tzu Chi activities, and enthusiastically helps out in recycling at the Tzu Chi neighbourhood recycling point. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)Tay (right) treasures the opportunity to engage in various Tzu Chi activities, and enthusiastically helps out in recycling at the Tzu Chi neighbourhood recycling point. (Photo by Pua Poo Toong)

(By Kwek Jing Yi; Translated by Shu Yin,10/12/2013)

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