Sifu’s funeral was today.
The entirety of Hong Kong’s Buddhist community turned out, including representatives of Tung Lin Kok Yuen, to bid Elder Rong Ling farewell at a renowned funeral parlor in Hung Hom, Universal Parlor. The master had passed away on the 10th of this month. The ceremony began extremely early in the morning and continued well into the afternoon, with his body taken to Kwun Yam Temple to be cremated. The ceremony was suitably grand, with all Buddhist leaders and abbots of note in the city, including those of Po Lin Monastery, Tung Lin Kok Yuen, and others, leading the chanting of Mahayana sutras and dharanis to accompany his swift rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha.
What makes a good funeral, especially for someone who was unequivocally respected and beloved? In my opinion, the funeral should be somber yet not suffused with sadness or despair, because the wise beseech their followers before their deaths that they should live happily and productively, free from the paralysis of unresolved grief. It should impart to everybody the weight of the departed’s life and what they represented. It should align with how tradition has shaped ceremony and ritual for figures preceding them. In all these respects, I felt that today’s sendoff for Ven. Rong Ling was extremely appropriate and fitting, doing justice to the organizers, the attendees and the deceased himself. I would even unironically use the word magnificent.
Realistically, Ven. Rong Ling was unable to receive guests or even communicate by 2016. Now, he is truly gone. Yet I do not dwell on his passing, or how I will never be able to see him again. Furthermore, in regard to the fierce attachment that so many feel to Sifu, I am concerned that there can be a certain self-indulgence and self-pity to such sentiments that are unbefitting of a serious Buddhist disciple. The uncritical overstimulation of sorrow betrays a lack of mindfulness. I know in my bones that Sifu would not be too pleased with those that feel strong and persistent attachment, unable to let go.
People are too quick to assume that the more you hang around someone, the closer your bond. This can be true, but is rarely so. Two people can live together for years and despise each other, or not learn anything about one another or themselves. I think it is extremely important that all of us that admired Ven. Rong Ling think very seriously about how, as a Vinaya Master, he advised us to live our lives, to carry ourselves, to behave ethically and kindly.
Still, I know that his funeral has stirred up many to recall their affection and respect for him. It has prompted those that knew him and know of him to reflect on his compassion and wisdom. Such thoughts and reminiscences inevitably mean that we will miss him very much. This, I’m sure, he would understand and comfort us about.
This is my favorite image of Sifu – I found it in a collection of my older photos. Here, he is waving goodbye at our small entrouage. I took it just as we were farewelling him during a routine 2010 visit, two years after he had overseen my refuge taking and five lay vows ceremony. I have another photo with him that a Dharma Sister took several years later, when we were at a cafe in Causeway Bay and he was looking (with some befuddlement) at the new tech I was showing him on a tablet. I have fond memories of that day, but somehow, I treasure this one more. I think it is because of his expression.
When I think of him, I see him here. Up in the mountains of Lantau Island, where he made his home at Kwun Yam Temple. Welcoming guests from all around, because the guest hall of the temple was always one of his favorite spots to listen to disciples.
People come to him in the spirit of pilgrimage. And he is always smiling. It is a beautiful smile. I think that smile tugs at the heartstrings more than his illusory death.