Thursday, March 22, 2007
Child Abandonment From the Inside III
The Temple and the Abandoned Baby
It is obvious, of course, that the children adopted from China's orphanages are those that were reported and brought to the orphanage by members of the surrounding community. But not every child found makes it to the orphanage. An unknown number die before they can be safe-harbored with a family, or the orphanage.
I read the following story many times, trying to decide if I should publish it. It is heart-breaking to read. I feel both anger and pity for the players involved, and my heart breaks for the small child. But I have encountered the attitudes and ideas portrayed by this story many times, and feel it brings understanding to the vast cultural differences between many in China and ourselves.
I don't want the reader to conclude that these attitudes are universal, but they are wide-spread and even common. This story occurs frequently enough, in one form or another, to be informative.
Temples are solitude in the common people’s eyes. Every old yellow gate seems to prevent all the worldly worries from getting inside the temples.
On the morning this Sunday, it was so cold that every breath turned into fog immediately. The monk students came out of the gate to find that there was a baby girl lying on the floor. Her face had turned red because of the cold weather. She lay crying hard to the sky. A brave person picked up the baby and went inside. He put her in front of the King Palace, right before the fat laughing Buddha.
It was September 20th in lunar calendar which is October 19th in solar calendar.
All the monks surrounded the baby who was laid on the bluestone floor and crying all the time. I watched the baby’s little fat face and her crying mouth, thinking that she might have a wet diaper. Then I opened the baby’s wrapping cloth and found that there was a red envelope ,which had 20 RMB in it, and another piece of paper with words on it, stating: “Born on Sep. 2nd in lunar calendar.” She was only 18 days old.
A half bag of dried whole milk powder, which was not especially for babies, was tied to the baby’s wrist. There were other things too, including a milk bottle filled with milk, a clean diaper which was in fact a piece of rag, and a small sweater bound around the baby with a cord. That is all that was with the baby, nothing else. Apparently, the baby’s mother was very poor.
I exchanged the baby’s diaper for a new one and examined her belly button. She was very healthy. Her little bright eyes stared at me and sucked the cloth with her mouth. I looked at her and adored her for no reason. Then I knew I was going to take care of her. Out of impulse, I rushed to the magnetic phone and called the temple where my monk tutor was. He was the director of the Buddhist Association and busy out ata meeting then. So the driver, Mr. Sun, answered my phone.
Before I had finished telling what had happened to him, Mr. Sun yelled “Please leave that baby alone. Now the family plan is implemented everywhere. If the temple is going to adopt the baby girl, then all the extra babies will be sent to the temple. What’s more, the people working in the Family Planning Office searched the temple yesterday.” I was stunned and felt confused. What had the Family Planing to do with the temple? And then Mr. Sun shouted at me again, “You’d better not be so kind hearted. No one can take care of such an issue. Leave the baby where it was. Just don’t send her to the temple. That’s kind enough.” I hung up and was unable to move. It’s a life. Can it be treated badly just because it’s abandoned?
The abandoned baby was held by several nuns to keep warm in their room. These nuns are all grandmothers of their own grandchildren. They came here to be nuns for unknown reasons. Though they are old, they have just lately begun to shave their heads. The abandoned baby was lying on the bed with one of the nuns and was hungrily drinking the milk.
An old nun who has no teeth left pointed to the baby and said: “This is the bean milk that the man who is keeping the King Palace brought to the baby. You see, she has a good appetite, doesn’t she”? “Bean milk? Isn’t there a half bag of milk powder”? I asked. “That man said that bean milk has more nutrition than milk powder,” answered the nun. How ridiculous it is. The nun was going to argue with me. Seeing the happy face that the baby girl had when she was drinking the bean milk, I gave up defending myself with this old nun who just shaved her head and couldn’t speak clearly. In the evening, I went to the old nun’s room to see the baby girl and told them again that the baby girl should be sent to the orphanage. I had a bad feeling this time. I could not turn my eyes off the abandoned baby and repeated that she should be taken good care of. When I was about to leave, there came a senior secular who submitted to Buddhist discipline while still wearing her hair. She appeared very smart and capable. Her husband has retired and teaches at the temple. Our teacher’s wife went along with her husband and is working in the temple now, being the attendant of the service department here. She holds Buddhist sutras every day. Though she came here for the Buddhist discipline, she cared for everything and gave her opinions as she wanted. Thus, in order to avoid a confrontation with her, I didn’t say anything more and left the abandoned baby girl and went back to my room.
In the early morning the next day, after finishing the courses, I went to see the baby girl. The old nun stood in front of the door, and said to me smilingly, “Someone came from outside and took the baby girl.” “Was it the welfare institute”? I asked. She replied “If it’s the welfare, we have to pay 400 RMB for the baby’s living expenses per month. This time the person asked for no money”. Then I felt worried. “What on earth is that guy? How come the welfare institute would charge money for keeping an abandoned baby? You must have misunderstood.” “It’s true that the welfare institute charges money. Last year when they took away another abandoned baby, I saw the abbot give them some money. Now it’s better this time. That guy asked for no money.” I asked again, “Where did the guy come from?” “They were very nice to send a car to take the baby.” She had few teeth in her mouth and it’s really hard to understand what she had said. “Who told that guy?” “It was the teacher’s wife. She is very capable. Soon after she promised to ask someone to adopt the baby, she made a phone call and then came the guy immediately. She is really capable.” Watching the nun, I knew that she could not tell give any useful information. According to my limited experience, I guessed that that guy must have come from the welfare institute. The nun might not know it. So I thought that the baby girl must have been in the welfare institute. Before I fell to sleep, I was thinking that someday when the baby girl has grown up, I would take her as my disciple.”
The weather in the north is variable. A few days later, a cold current approached. The monk students all put on their winter clothes. The maple leaves in the temple were hit by the frost and fell to the floor. I was busy with my courses during these few days and almost forgot the baby girl who was abandoned by her mother. Days went as usual. Visitors came and went. Smart sparrows had their nest built on the roof beam of the Jade Buddhist Palace and fed their children there.
One day at noon, my monk tutor and Mr. Sun, the driver, came to the Buddhist College. A truck came along with them, and it was full of juice drinks which were put in some boxes. They were for the monk students. When waiting for the abbot, they were chatting with each other. I was busy washing an apple for my tutor. Suddenly, I heard them say that a baby died. It caused my attention. “Why did you say that a baby died? What is it about?” Then the room became silent. Mr. Sun said, “It was the abandoned baby girl who you called and asked to send back last time.” I felt shocked. “Wasn’t she sent to the welfare institute? Why was she still in the temple?”
My heart broke. Mr. Sun continued, “There is no welfare institute in such a small town. Someone here called the monk tutor saying that the Buddhist College wanted us to take the baby away. Our tutor is the senior director of the association. He would definitely do the favor for the Buddhist College. So I drove here early that morning and took the baby away. I gave her to the tutor and he even praised that the baby was so cute. He couldn’t decide whether to keep it or not, so he asked the two old nuns who do the cooking in the temple to take care of the baby. The baby was put on the bed and no one kept an eye on her. A few days later, she died.” I got angry. “How come she died a few days later? I checked the baby and she was healthy. Was she suffocated by the quilt?” “There was no quilt. It was just a small piece of rag. She couldn’t have suffocated”. I raised my voice, “Did anybody send her to the hospital immediately? What was the cause of her death?” “When the old nun held the baby later, she was already dead. The nun was shaking and crying. She was about to send the baby to the hospital. But when I got there and touched the baby, I knew it was too late, so we didn’t send her to the hospital. Honestly, I am already the father of two children. I have some experience. The baby must have died from the cold.”
“She was just a few days old and needed to be kept warm by somebody. The old nun had her own business. She did not have time to feed her or change the diaper for her, causing her to stay wet. And there was no quilt. She was meant to die. The major reason was because she was an abandoned baby. Who would like to take care of her?” I asked, “Why not send her to the welfare institute? Why would you take her? Weren’t you afraid of the search by the Family Planning?” Mr. Sun lowed down his head and said a moment later, “The tutor is the director of the association. We have to respect him. I did tell the tutor not to keep the baby, but the tutor praised that the baby girl was cute, and she would grow up to be a beautiful lady if she was to be brought up by the nuns. So she stayed. After the baby died, the nuns only kept crying. It’s me who is so smart to send the baby to the mountain behind the temple. I bought her a small coffin which cost me 10 RMB, and then 20 RMB more to have her buried. In the evening, the temple prayed for the baby for free and gave her a memorial tablet writing ‘Nameless Baby.’ We’ve done what we could”.
The tutor was eating the apple and appeared kindly.
I could not say a word and had tears rolling down.
Coming to the Buddhist College, I had longed to learn the Buddhist doctrine in order to save the misery of people in this world. I was active in the class and recited the lection by heart. I gave speeches passionately! I was ambitious and full of hope. Every day I was ready to graduate from the Buddhist College and begin my salvation through charity to people in the miserable world. Every time I came into someone, “Amitabha Buddha” is what I said.
Poor baby girl! How many good deeds have you done to come into this world. Unfortunately, you chose the wrong mother, a woman who just abandoned you. Worse still, you were born in the wrong time, even the temple, which was supposed to be your best chance, but that could not save your life. This is what you’ve gone through.—been to this world for little more than 20 days. You died so quickly. Maybe you had done something wrong in your last life, and this life you had to pay back. Hope that you, a nameless baby, learn under the ground what had happened to you, and don’t come to this world once again.