Cultivation in the Face of Impermanence and Illness

Husband and wife, Zhu Ming Ren and Lu Chuan Qing, have been involved in Tzu Chi activities for nearly twenty years. Having participated in the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation, they had the opportunity to learn the teachings and deeply repented their past wrongdoings. The challenges of illness and impermanence have made them more vigilant of their actions and thoughts; in addition, they treasure every opportunity to practice the Dharma and sow seeds of goodness in their lives.


“I have always treasured the opportunity to be involved in the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation. After starting chemotherapy, my memory worsened significantly and my responses became slower. I now tend to forget many things.” Yet, Lu insisted on participating in the adaptation, never giving up, and focused on finding ways to solve her problems. “I wake up in the middle of the night to learn sign language because it is the quietest time. With my mind at its clearest, I will practice for around one to two hours.” Thus was the perseverance and willpower that Lu displayed, maximizing the opportunity to repent deeply and purify her mind.

Lu is one of the pioneering members in Singapore to be certified a Tzu Chi Commissioner, and has been with Tzu Chi for two decades now. When the Singapore chapter was enthusiastically preparing for the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation, she took on the role of facilitator for the study sessions. Because she had to look after her grandchildren, she had less time to participate in Tzu Chi’s activities, therefore she treasured the opportunity to attend every single study and practice session.

Righteousness is Not an Excuse to Hurt Others

Lu Chuan Qing sincerely feels that the “Dharma as Water” stage adaptation is the best Dharma that Master Cheng Yen could bestow on her disciples. Looking back on her past, she realized that every sentence in the “Water Repentance” text resounded deeply in her heart. She reflected on her previous proclivity for expressing anger so readily and recalled how, in order to prove that she was right, she would be unreasonable and unrelenting in her attitude towards others.

Lu shares how unyielding she was in the past with two examples. In her younger days, Lu had a sworn sister. She once quarreled with her over something her sister had said that did not go down well with her. Her mother slapped her because of this, and Lu left the house for a week in a huff. In another instance, she relates how in the past, people used to get water from public taps, and every family had to fetch their own water. Once, a Malay neighbor bullied her due to her youth and did not allow her to fetch water, so they started squabbling. She did not understand a word of Malay, yet she actually quarrelled with that particular neighbour for an hour.

Throughout these years, Lu realized that she had forged bad affinities with many people, and her heart was not happy. After getting married, she remained unreasonable, not even sparing her father-in-law. This went on until she joined Tzu Chi, whereupon she changed her attitude towards her parents and in-laws. Having understood that being filial and doing good cannot wait, in 1992, she returned to Hualien, and was fortunate to receive a teaching of Master Cheng Yen: humility that comes from one’s heart, and being considerate to others, are truly meritorious acts. In addition, her temper also gradually changed for the better after listening to Sister Ji Jing Yang and Brother Hong Wu Zheng’s sharing in the audio “Du (渡)”. She felt embarrassed even as she said: “(Though I ) Repent, but my negative habituations resurface; sometimes the more I want to change, the worse my temper becomes.”

Good Roots Alleviate Suffering

Lu describes how in her younger days, she could not leave the house without makeup, and her clothes had to be different from others. In addition, she had to doll up her children before they could go out.

The verses from the adaptation: “I repent my impure attachments and desires, my greed for fame, wealth and power…”made Lu reflect on her own delusions. In the past, her father’s business had failed and he had borrowed money from loansharks who frequently came up to their doorstep demanding repayment. Feeling indignant that the poor are often bullied by the rich, she became biased against wealthy people. For the sake of her self-esteem, Lu told herself that she wanted to have a lot of money after marriage and never let others have the opportunity to think otherwise.

Due to her humble beginnings, Lu had felt very fortunate that there was meat on the table at every meal after her marriage. She recalled how 34 years ago, when her husband Zhu Ming Ren had adopted vegetarianism after becoming influenced by a particular Buddhist organization, she even suspected that he had been hexed. She went so far as to seek out advice from mediums and spirits, and even asked for a divorce.

As she needed a good reason to file for divorce, she followed her husband to the organization to gather the answers for her cause. There however, she was shaken upon hearing a devotee share how, if one consumes two hundred grams of meat from another being now, one will have to repay with five hundred grams of one’s own flesh in the future as the Law of Karma never fails. At that point she made the decision to be vegetarian, but not before indulging in a week’s worth of various exotic meats. Recalling this, she felt that she was very ignorant then.

When Joy is Exhausted, it is Sorrow’s Turn

One verse in the text states: “The sutras state that there are three types of retribution. Firstly, present life retribution; secondly next life retribution. Then there is future life retribution; all will surely come to pass.”

“In the past, I had three abortions. So I had to go through three operations because of cancer. I have accepted all this willingly and joyfully, because this is my karmic retribution.” Knowing how the Law of Karma never fails, Lu calmly accepts come what may.

In 2010, her cancer recurred for the third time. Lu underwent a total of 17 chemotherapy sessions. Her husband Zhu Ming Ren, who had been by her side for close to half a century, could never understand why when Lu was ill, she would choose to go hungry just because of swallowing difficulties. Only when he really went through the test of impermanence, did he finally understand his wife’s feelings and what she had to go through.

In March 2013, Zhu’s son invited him for a day of fun at the theme park. Forgetting his age, Zhu went for a roller coaster ride with his son. After alighting, he felt unwell and started vomiting. He then self-medicated with pain killers and anti-emetics. However, he experienced severe headache two weeks later, and was sent to the doctor immediately. He was diagnosed to be suffering from bleeding in his brain, and there was a small aneurysm which needed to be operated on to prevent his condition from worsening.

“Repent that hell is a dark and truly sorrowful place, we do not know how long in evil realms we must remain…” Zhu went through five hours of emergency surgery and in his unconscious state, the vision of demons having a tug-of-war with angels remained vivid in his mind.

“I felt that I was only in the operating theatre for ten minutes, yet it was like going through the six realms once. I really had a brief encounter with impermanence, and I am grateful for receiving blessings from so many people.” After his close encounter with death, Zhu made mindful attempts to understand every word in the “Water Repentance” text. Being English educated, he did not understand a word of Chinese. Studying the text was one big challenge for him. In order to strengthen his understanding, he made use of every opportunity to learn. “When I am on duty in the Jing Si Hall, I will ask the sister who is on duty with me to explain the meaning of the text to me.”

Deep understanding often comes from personal experiences. While presenting the adaptation on stage, is it not true that Zhu and Lu are also re-enacting their own lives? Recalling the many wrongdoings they had committed throughout their lives, the feeling of fear arose in their hearts after they had studied and understood the teachings in the text. They reflected on the bad karma committed via the body, speech and mind, and it is through this effort that one discards one’s negative habituations.

Zhu Ming Ren (first from left) and Lu Chuan Qing (second from left) joined the Singapore chapter of Tzu Chi in its early years, and are the first batch of certified commissioners. (Photo Provided by the archival team)Zhu Ming Ren (first from left) and Lu Chuan Qing (second from left) joined the Singapore chapter of Tzu Chi in its early years, and are the first batch of certified commissioners. (Photo Provided by the archival team) In June 2013, during a sharing session, Zhu related how during his operation, he felt as if he was experiencing the six realms in his unconscious state. After his close brush with impermanence, he vowed to cherish the time he has to cultivate diligently. (Photo by Ong Soh Chin)In June 2013, during a sharing session, Zhu related how during his operation, he felt as if he was experiencing the six realms in his unconscious state. After his close brush with impermanence, he vowed to cherish the time he has to cultivate diligently. (Photo by Ong Soh Chin) Memorizing the Chinese lyrics of the stage adaptation is a big challenge for the English educated Zhu, who asked fellow volunteers to explain the meanings to him. This enabled him understand every word he sang while performing the sign language in tandem. (Photo by Wong Twee Hee)Memorizing the Chinese lyrics of the stage adaptation is a big challenge for the English educated Zhu, who asked fellow volunteers to explain the meanings to him. This enabled him understand every word he sang while performing the sign language in tandem. (Photo by Wong Twee Hee) After recovering from his operation, Zhu immediately resumed his volunteering activities at Tzu Chi. (Photo by Lee Kwong Seng)After recovering from his operation, Zhu immediately resumed his volunteering activities at Tzu Chi. (Photo by Lee Kwong Seng)

(By Li Wan Jun; Translated by Ho Xin Qin,10/2/2014)

Share