This article was first published in Singapore Tzu Chi World Journal 7/2004, and is reproduced here with permission from Tzu Chi Foundation Singapore Branch.
The True Meaning of Life
I wish to leave a small footprint to prove my existence in this world once before.
Hopefully this little Christian footprint, loaded with unselfish love and compassion for all, would reflect my tiny contribution to the humanity to whom I am part of. --
Dr Ling Sing Yew
How do people react when they faced with life threatening dilemma? Some may give up all hope, angry, frighten and cursing fate. There are some who may even choose to give up their lives. Yet, some choose to face the gruesome reality optimistically, using their sufferings as life example to encourage others to cherish their life and seize the happiness of being alive.
Dr Ling Sing Yew of Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) of Singapore is one who demonstrates great courage and cherishes life to its fullest, even when he is in a state of great predicament.
Dr Ling was diagnosed with Pancreas Cancer in August 2002. He underwent surgery and chemotherapy that afflicted great pains that is physically and emotionally unbearable.
Whenever Dr Ling felt better during the process of treatment, he would not miss any opportunity to a medical mission to serve the poor and the sufferings. Within a year after his first operation, he has participated in seven medical missions and has been to Taiwan, Hongkong and Malaysia where he shared his life experience with TIMA members in these countries.
However as days passed, Dr Ling's illness seemed to have taken a toll on him. Dr Ling passed away peacefully on 14 July 2004.
The following is an extract of Dr Ling's speech during Singapore Tzu Chi Branch Volunteers' Training Session on 23 May 2004 :
Now, someone once asked me : What kind of life would I like to have, now that I'm afflicted with this sickness? Whatever remaining valuable time you may have, wouldn't you want to safeguard it jealously, spend and splurge on all you have one last time, give it a last fling and extracting the last best juices of life pleasures you could possibly get?
But to me, life is more than a personal wanton of pleasure and delights, with no regards to whom you have hurt or exploit. To me, one's life is so short, so fleeting and so insignificant when compared to our universe from which God has created.
I wish to leave a small footprint to prove my existence in this world once before. Hopefully this little Christian footprint, loaded with unselfish love and compassion for all, would reflect my tiny contribution to the humanity to whom I am part of.
This is the legacy I wish to leave behind. May my Holy Father be my pillars and refuge and protect me always.
The Buddha said, "One only lives as long as one breathes." Human beings do not have the ability to control the length of their own lives, nor can they prevent their own deaths. Since this life is impermanent, we should cherish it, use it, and enrich it. Let the goodness, beauty and truth of this inconstant, precious life illuminate the true value of life.
Master Cheng Yen also said : "The length of time is measured by what one has achieved in that lifetime. Therefore, compete with time. Do not let it slip by unproductively."
And this is the kind of life I now want to have.
To me as a Christian, I believe one's life should be like a candle. When your candle of life is lit, it radiates off holy light and warmth to the people around me. In the world that can be at times cold and dark, the light would shine through and provide us with directions and warmth in our lives. The warmth gives us a vital spiritual life with great compassion and universal love. How unfortunate would lives be if we could not receive both its life and soul-saving elements of the candle of life. We would be in darkness and become a flock of lost sheep, wondering aimlessly in life of evil realms full of sufferings, hatred and discontentment.
But, to achieve merits in life, one's candle must be able to light up to bless not only you, but others as well. What's the use of having a beautiful, fat and long candle when it cannot be used? Lives to such people with unlit candles would be a lost cause to humanity.
I am blessed because I think my candle of life can be lit up, bringing light and warmth to the people around me. I am so contented and happy to reflect back my life, and I believe I have not wasted it all.
I have my fair share of up-and-down in my Christian faith. Luckily, my Christian fraternity has always been around to help guide and realign my Christian path back to God. I am now very much in close fellowship with my holy God. My Tzu Chi brothers and sisters have also shown me the ways of moral path, giving me ample opportunities to serve the needy and the sufferings without asking for anything in return. Yet, strangely, I feel a return. The return I get is the special "gift of inner peace and joy."
The only problem of my candle of life is that it may be short. I do wish to have a longer candle to shine more for you and me. But my Holy God has His plan and I would trust and obey Him, and hold on to his promises. I constantly remind myself of Psalm 23 of Holy Bible, "This Lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need .... Even when I walk through the dark valley of death, I will not be afraid, for He is close beside me; His rod and his staff protect and comfort me."
But for you, Tzu Chi members, your candles of lives, under the teaching of Master Cheng Yen, are long, strong, gracious and beautiful. Just make sure you light up your candles of lives with your heart and soul. Never let any ill-wind blow off this light of life and hope. Let your fire of candle bring forth strong light and warm to cheer and love the suffering world. Let it stay a longer distance and last indefinitely, by passing on these candles of light from one generation of Tzu Chi to the next.
So, let pass it on, the candle of light, from one person to another, from one nation to another and from one generation to the next. May the world be blessed, now and forever Master Cheng Yen encourages all Tzu Chi members to maintain a clear heart and work together to purify this society of ours.