An Unexpected Bodhisattva

To Tzu Chi volunteers, he is more like a true, benevolent friend who has a lot to teach them than a cancer patient who needs help from others.

In the vicinity of a park in Hemei, Zhanghu, central Taiwan, there stood a small, squat house. Mr. Wang, wearing a surgical mask, looked out expectantly in front of his house while A-hui, a woman who lived with him, swept up fallen leaves from an old banyan tree nearby. Wang broke into a big smile as soon as he saw a small party of Tzu Chi volunteers approaching his home. He said, “I knew you were coming today, so I waited for you here.” Before he had even finished his sentence, he went into his house and moved out some chairs for the volunteers.

Wang and the visitors sat down in the yard and struck up an easy conversation. It had been raining on and off for several days, and the humidity drew the mosquitoes out. Wang said apologetically, “Sorry I can’t invite you in. My house is too small to accommodate you all. I apologize for letting you sit outside and be exposed to the sun and mosquitoes.”

Volunteer Shi Qiao-xin (施喬馨) immediately said, “It feels good to be out in the sun. There’s been so much rain lately, I feel like I’m growing mold.”

“How have you been feeling?” volunteer Wang Zhen-xiong (王振雄) asked as he moved closer to Wang.

Wang took Zhen-xiong’s hand, guided it to feel his abdomen, and remarked with a smile, “My belly is hard and a little swollen, and there are sores in my mouth because I just had a chemo session. Other than that, I’m fine. I exercise at the park in the morning and evening, walking or riding a bike. And I keep regular hours.”

Wang has throat and liver cancer. His oldest daughter has a chronic illness and his second daughter suffers from a mental disease. Both of them live out of town and need other people’s care. They are in no position to look after their own father. Luckily, Wang’s companion, A-hui, has stood by him like a rock through his difficulties. Her daughter also treats Wang like her own father and often comes to check on them and bring them things.

Zhen-xiong asked, “When is your next hospital visit?”

“One and a half months from now,” he replied.

Wang then went on to tell the volunteers that during his last chemo treatment at the hospital, he ran into a depressed woman suffering from terminal cancer. “I said to her, ‘Since we can’t change the reality of our illnesses, we must try to accept it and live in peace with the cancer cells. Life goes on whether we’re happy or not, so we might as well enjoy it.’ I also told her husband, ‘People who are sick tend to be more emotionally unstable. Make allowances for your wife. There is no storm that doesn’t pass.’”

Shi gave him a big thumbs-up. “You’re really something. You’re a patient yourself and yet instead of looking to others to comfort you, you cheer others up and encourage them to go on. Here’s a ‘like’ for you!”

A good example

Zhen-xiong recalled the first time he met Wang. In September 2015, he went with other volunteers to Changhua Christian Hospital to visit Wang, who had been referred to Tzu Chi as a potential care recipient, and make an assessment of his situation. The volunteers could not find him in his ward, so they asked a nurse where he was. Following her directions, they found him in a rest area. Pushing an IV pole, he was going around consoling and cheering up other patients and encouraging them to make the best of every day.

Wang recognized the Tzu Chi uniform of the volunteers, who had also brought him some fruit. “You must be looking for me. Please come to my room.”

Zhen-xiong talked about his first impression of Wang. “He struck me as very optimistic and upbeat. He didn’t look like a terminal cancer patient in need of help.”

Following their assessment, Tzu Chi decided to give Wang long-term aid. Zhen-xiong got to know Wang better in the process of visiting and caring for him, and the two men became good friends. “He’s such a good influence on me,” Zhen-xiong observed. “He faces the ravages of illness with optimism. He lives in earnest knowing that his days are probably numbered. He helps me realize that cancer doesn’t have to be a nightmare. It all depends on how you look at it.”

Zhen-xiong needed some optimism in his own life, since he had had his fair share of challenges to face. His father died of lung cancer in 2013. After Zhen-xiong took care of his father’s funeral, his only son was diagnosed with brain cancer. Despite surgery and chemotherapy, his beloved son passed away just four months later. A senior in college at the time, he did not even get to finish his last semester in school.

“Both my wife and I worked,” Zhen-xiong recalled, his voice choked with emotion. “To make it easier for us, our son would get up early to fix breakfast for our entire family and then take his two younger sisters to school. In winter he’d even warm our bed by lying in it so that we could fall asleep snug and warm.” When Zhen-xiong’s wife had a car accident and was hospitalized, their son got up early as usual, prepared breakfast, took his sisters to school, and then went to the hospital to take care of his mom.

He had always been a mature, endearing son. That made it doubly hard for the couple to come to terms with his passing. Zhen-xiong and his wife cried for a whole month. One of their daughters was a member of the Tzu Chi Collegiate Association. Her heart went out to her parents when she saw them engulfed by such sadness, so she asked some volunteers to bring them into Tzu Chi, hoping that volunteer work would take their minds off their grief.

Through his involvement with the foundation over the past three years, Zhen-xiong has come to better understand the karmic law of cause and effect. “Our son came to this life to repay a debt of gratitude to us. He did what he was here to do, so he left. We should all let him go in peace and give him our blessings.” Zhen-xiong thanks his son for leading him to Buddhism. He also thanks Master Cheng Yen for her guidance and his fellow volunteers for learning and practicing the Buddha’s teachings with him. He is grateful to Wang, too, for inspiring him with his optimistic and upbeat outlook on life. “Life is impermanent. Nothing lasts forever. Every person, every living creature in the world can be our teacher. [Mr. Wang] is like a bodhisattva who, through the way he deals with his affliction, has taught us so much.”

Fall 2016