In Buddha's embrace
Updated: 2014-06-17 07:05
By Yan Yiqi and Shi Xiaofeng (China Daily USA)
Devout elders find a haven in their twilight years, in a community that takes care of both their physical and spiritual needs. Yan Yiqi and Shi Xiaofeng report from Ningbo, Zhejiang province.
Weng Xiuju, 79, has been living in Guangde Temple for 13 years. As a Buddhist follower, she gets up at 3 am every morning, attends the temple's morning class with other lay Buddhists and helps in the kitchen during meal times.
For Weng, her twilight years will be peaceful and worry-free under the roof of this temple. Her wish: To die in the temple with blessings from the Buddha.
Weng has chosen to spend her last days in the temple not because she has no relatives to take care of her. She has two sons who are successful businessmen in the local area, but she simply wants to relieve them from the burden of taking care of her.
As the nation's shortage of elder care becomes more acute and its population ages, Guangde Temple might provide new options for those who want to spend their old age in comfort.
The temple, located in Ninghai county of Ningbo, Zhejiang province, provides nursing-home services for its believers older than 60.
Currently serving more than 30 elderly residents, the temple managers plan an expansion that will double its current size, and establish an elder-care area that could take in more than 300 people within three years.
By then, it expects to offer a more complete package of care, including nursing, mental health and even hospice facilities.
Shi Youyuan, head abbot of the temple, says it is the temple's responsibility to provide a peaceful environment for its believers that are in need.
"In Buddhism, a happy ending is one of the two most important things in one's life. Therefore, we value the quality of our believers' twilight years. We hope, with our service, more elderly can find peace during the last years of their lives," he says.
Hidden in a small village within Ninghai county, Guangde Temple is far away from any modern city's hustle and bustle.
Surrounded by woods and a river, the temple is an oasis of tranquility for its residents.
Chen Yongge, an expert with Zhejiang Academy of Social Sciences, says that beyond providing the peaceful environment, the temple plays a key role of delivering spiritual comfort to elders as well.
"People tend to neglect the mental health of elders, only thinking about their physical needs. Nursing homes in temples can provide spiritual comfort to them," says Chen.
Weng says that when she came to the temple 13 years ago, she was so sick that doctors said she would not live another year.
With a strict vegetarian diet, care from volunteers, spiritual counseling by the abbot and a quiet living environment, her health has become much better.
"I used to be a heavy burden to my sons when I lived in a hospital. Now I am healthy and they can visit me whenever they are available. I think it is the best choice for us," she says.
Shi says that establishing a nursing home for elderly people serves the purpose of integrating Buddhism into Chinese society.
"In Western countries, Christian churches have strong social power to establish nursing homes and provide hospice care. It should also be practiced in China to relieve social burdens," he says.
According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, China has only 5 million beds in geriatric hospitals and nursing institutes for its approximately 200 million senior citizens, including 37.5 million that have partly lost their ability to function in daily life.
Abbot Shi says the temple will not charge those who want stay in the nursing home.
"The funds are raised through donations from our believers and me giving lectures. People who are willing to stay in the nursing home do not need to pay a penny as long as they can follow our disciplines," he says.
The temple has volunteers helping to take care of the elderly. When the volunteers get old and choose to live in the temple, they will be taken care of by a new generations of volunteers.
Shi says this is a demonstration of give and receive.
For example, 71-year-old Zhang Huifen has been living in the temple for seven years. Before she moved there, she was a volunteer and took care of several elders before they passed away.
Although she is still capable of taking care of herself, volunteers help her clean her room regularly.
"Everyone helps each other here. I like the atmosphere," she says.
Contact the writers through firstname.lastname@example.org
Weng Xiuju (right) and Zhang Huifen spend their twilight years at Guangde Temple in Ningbo, Zhejiang province. Yan Yiqi / China Daily
Shi Youyuan (front), head abbot of Guangde Temple, leads lay Buddhists to worship. Provided to China Daily
Elderly believers attend a spiritual guidance lecture by Shi Youyuan. Provided to China Daily
(China Daily USA 06/17/2014 page9)