慈濟傳播人文志業基金會
An Unpardonable Sin

One of the most versatile women I’ve ever known, M.G. has so far published three books in Taiwan and mainland China, including the best-selling novel, Emerging From a Mundane World. We first met over four decades ago, when we were both high school seniors. In the two decades after high school, the two of us became busy doing what other young adults typically do—going to college, studying abroad, beginning our careers, getting married, etc. My career in the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs made my life highly mobile. As a result, I was not able to maintain close contact with M.G. The last time I heard about her, I was told that she had left her husband and two sons behind and had gone to study in Japan. Her decision was certainly a mystery to me.

My puzzlement was resolved one day in 2005 when she called me at the Taipei branch of the Tzu Chi Foundation, in which I was then serving as an editor in the Foreign Language Publications Department. She told me that she and her husband had divorced and that unfortunately her two sons could not get along well with their stepmother. What made matters worse was that her elder son, Keith, who had been tormented with jaundice since birth, struggled to lead a fulfilling life despite his physical and mental deficiency. In contrast, her younger son, Sean, was remarkably skilled at almost everything he did. All of this contributed to Keith’s depression.

M.G. had shaved her head and become a nun, so she could hardly help him materially. She asked me if I could offer Keith some help.

I suggested that he could perhaps serve as a volunteer in our department. M.G. agreed with my idea. She hoped Keith would be able to regain some confidence and self-esteem while working with our kind-hearted volunteers. He could read Japanese, and he seemed comfortable with helping to proofread articles for the Japanese-language magazine produced by our department. He worked slowly, but he always turned in his assignments on time. After volunteering for six months, he indeed began to act more cheerful and confident. He came to me one day and told me that he had been hired by a company to work as a warehouseman. I was happy for him that he had found a paying job, and I prayed that his new boss would treat him with forbearance and patience. In the spring of 2009, I went back to work for the Taiwanese foreign service, and I was based in our offices in Europe and the United States. I finally returned home to Taipei in January 2015. M.G. called me a month later to tell me that she had just completed a five-year mission, assigned by her abbess, to mainland China.

“How is your son Keith doing?” I asked eagerly. She calmly told me the terrible news: Keith had become increasingly frustrated and depressed because he had lost one job after another due to his mental and physical impediments. The miserable young man, who regarded himself as a worthless loser in contrast to Sean’s remarkable performances, found temporary escape from his dreadful situation by drinking, which only made his physical condition worse. M.G. could not count how many times an intoxicated Keith had been sent to the emergency ward when he fell and struck his head. But the most unbearable suffering that M.G. had to endure was his suicide attempts.

“He must have felt real anguish and despair. He once even told me that I should be happy for him if he eventually ‘made it,’” M.G. placidly confided.

I admired her for being able to share her excruciating pain with such composure. Buddhist nuns are taught to let go of all attachments to anything in this world, but I knew that her son’s well-being would have been the only thing in the world that she would still have clung to. She seemed to be tranquil in regards to Keith’s death, yet I’m sure her heart was broken. No wonder Master Cheng Yen once said that committing suicide is an unpardonable sin, since anyone who does it not only shows disrespect for life but also commits the crime of torturing one’s beloved parents. As a result, one is doubly guilty.

Life is a gift. It’s a shame that we don’t realize the value of life till it is taken away from us. We should constantly bear the Master’s admonition in mind and never commit this inexcusable sin.

Fall 2016