Three Encounters With King Yama, Then Rebirth in the Pure Land Through Amitabha-Recitation
By Liu Aiping
My father, Liu Yutian, a native of Laiyang in Shandong Province, was a retired official of the county secretariat. He passed away on March 12, 2014, aged 86.
When he was alive, my father did not believe in Buddhism. He was never seriously sick. In the spring of 2013, he fell down. He no longer went out, afraid of another fall. Even so, he fell again while going to the toilet. After that he just lay in bed, reluctant to get down and move about.
My father encountered King Yama, lord of the netherworld, three times. The first was in September 2013. He telephoned and asked me to go home to see him. When I arrived, he told me: ”Daughter, King Yama has called for me.” At the time I had been practicing Amitabha-recitation exclusively for two years and was seeking rebirth in the Land of Bliss. Though I constantly urged my father to have faith in Amitabha and recite his name, he never listened. I got scared after hearing that King Yama had come for him.
“When I have gone,” said my father, “you must remember to hire a musical troupe” – a local custom to see off the deceased. I had a flash of inspiration. “I agree,” I said, “but you have to promise me one thing in return.” “What?” “You must recite Amitabha’s name with me and resolve to be reborn in the Land of Bliss.” “All right,” he said, “you teach me how.”
I happily taught my father how to make the resolution and practice Amitabha-recitation, and even sent him an Amitabha-recitation device. “From now on, every day you should recite Amitabha’s name along with the device,” I urged him. “Once you pass away, I will hire a troupe to play ‘Namo Amitabha Buddha’ for you.” My father nodded. I then asked, “Dad, did King Yama tell you how much time you have left?” “I still have six months,” he replied. I didn’t take his remarks too seriously.
A few days later, I went back to see him and asked, “Dad, have you been reciting Amitabha’s name?” He immediately sat on the sofa and, joining his palms together, recited “Amitabha.” “You’ve come on an inspection visit,” he said, as though I was asking him to recite for me. After my mother’s death, my father had found another partner; we called her “Auntie.” I said to her, “You should practice Amitabha-recitation with my father every day. It would be very beneficial for you.” Auntie promised me to turn on the recitation device so my father could recite.
Several months passed like the blink of an eye. One day, my father called and said King Yama had showed up a second time, telling him he had only three months left. I said to my father, “You didn’t recite, right? If you had recited Namo Amitabha Buddha, you would be like a child of Amitabha. In normal times Amitabha Buddha would look after you, and when your life ends, he will come and welcome you to the Land of Bliss. If you recite off and on, your phone line to Amitabha Buddha is cut off. He is unable to look after you, so King Yama came instead. You still have three months, right? Make it a priority to recite and seek rebirth in the Pure Land!” My father was just saying nice words. Even after seeing King Yama twice, he still wasn’t reciting.
Every night, I knelt before an image of Amitabha Buddha. I recited for an hour and dedicated the merit to my father, asking Amitabha Buddha to help him believe, recite and aspire to rebirth in the Land of Bliss. “My dad is old,” I would say. “If his life ends, please deliver him to the Land of Bliss. And if his time is not yet up, please don’t let him suffer.” As a matter of fact, though my father lay in bed every day, unable to get up, when I asked him if he was suffering, he said no. He just didn’t feel much like eating.
After some time, my father telephoned again and asked me to come. I was startled by his appearance – his face was so red. I thought he had a fever, and was about to rush him to hospital. He told me that King Yama had come again and informed him that his time was up. My father went on: “I didn’t do anything bad. Why is he coming to get me? I don’t want to go.” In fact, his face was so red because he was scared!
I said to him, “Hell is before you, and you still don’t recite Amitabha’s name. Since you don’t want to go to the sublime Land of Bliss, you might as well go to King Yama’s place!” “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go,” he insisted. “I want to go to Amitabha Buddha’s Land of Bliss.” I told him, “There is no time, as King Yama has called you to go right away. If you don’t recite Amitabha’s name now, it will be too late. Even if you can’t recite, follow the recitation device. It’s all right to recite in your mind.” So I helped my father with Amitabha-recitation. Approximately 10 hours later, his red face slowly started to return to its original color.
After a few days my father could neither eat nor drink. We sent him to the hospital, where doctors did a routine check and put him on a drip. We took turns to look after him and agreed that the recitation device be kept on at all times. The next morning, I prepared some sesame congee for my father. When he finished eating I asked him if there was anyone he wanted to see. He shook his head. After 8 o’clock, the doctor came to his room. He decided to insert a stomach tube and injected fruit juice and rice to provide nutrition. Auntie went home for a juice blender and the doctor began making some preparations.
By this time, my father was exhaling but not inhaling. I accelerated my Amitabha-recitation. My father waved his hands frantically in the air. Thinking his karmic creditors had arrived, I said to him: “Dad, hurry up and recite Amitabha Buddha’s name. Go to his Land of Bliss. You don’t need to stay in samsara and suffer anymore. In the Pure Land, you will forever be free from old age, illness and death. You will be able to go wherever you want, eat whatever you wish. Family members will never be separated again. Dad, hurry and recite with me, otherwise you won’t have another chance.”
My father moved his lips weakly and started to recite. It was a true miracle. He had been bed-ridden for six months and never brushed his teeth, but a sweet scent was coming from his mouth. I told him, “When Amitabha Buddha arrives with a big lotus flower to receive you, get on it quickly and follow him to the Land of Bliss. Don’t hesitate …” I recited continuously and told my father to get onto Amitabha’s lotus flower. When the medical personnel came, his had no heartbeat; his breath had ceased as well. I continued my Amitabha-recitation, until Auntie and my sister brought my father’s old clothes and put them on him. Then we accompanied him into the morgue.
Next day, before the incineration, we had a final look at my father. His face was pink; it didn’t have the complexion of a dead person. The same day we sent the ashes to his hometown. I honored my promise by hiring musicians to play, and broadcasting “Namo Amitabha Buddha” as a condolence music for my father’s relatives. Many people joined in the singing.
Not long after my father’s passing, my granddaughter (9 years old at the time and an Amitabha-reciter) told her mother, “Last night I was sitting on a lotus flower and went to the Land of Bliss. Just as I was speaking with Amitabha Buddha, I heard somebody call me. When I turned around, I saw it was Great Grandfather” (my father). Her mother asked her, “Was he sitting on a lotus flower?” “No,” she replied, “he was standing on the flower, and his clothes were so beautiful!”
Namo Amitabha Buddha!
(English translation by Householder Jingfa, edited by Householder Jingtu)
- Recitation of Amitabha’s name, relying on his Fundamental Vow (the 18th)
- Rebirth of ordinary beings in the Pure Land’s Realm of Rewards
- Rebirth assured in the present lifetime
- Non-retrogression achieved in this lifetime
The 18th Vow of Amitabha Buddha
If, when I achieve Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, wish to be reborn in my land and recite my name, even ten times, should fail to be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excepted are those who commit the five gravest transgressions or slander the correct Dharma.
Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings