Definition of True Happiness, Learned from Mother Teresa

New York, N.Y. On the second day, I went to Mother’s orphanage. Hundreds of children ran and gathered around me, so they could be hugged. They just wanted ‘skin-ship,’ touching.

I never held so many children in such a short time, I never carried a spoon to such small, tiny mouths that desperately opened like baby birds. Although I was drenched with sweat and dragged my feet back to my room, I was very happy. I returned to my room with a feeling of deep satisfaction and appreciation.

To “the House of People Waiting for Death”

On the last day, I went to the hospice, “the house of people waiting for death,” where the most desperate people were. Mother’s truck goes around Calcutta, bringing back people who are desperately in trouble or people who have become very sick.

In the evening, just as I was about to leave, the truck came back through the gate and I was handed a person they had just brought back. I was so surprised at the weight of the person; it was the weight of a baby’s, so light!

Nursing a Cancer Patient

Sadly, that person had breast cancer and was dying. She was so thin, with only skin and bones. The clothes she wore were draped around her bones. It was dreadful. Her feet bare and their skin hard like an elephant’s as she had been barefoot for so many years.

Her right breast was greatly distorted and ruptured, the lump peeling off from her chest, and a reddish black, fist-sized cancer protruded. The tumor was large and as her body twisted, she groaned in pain. This was my first time to see such a raw cancer, the first time to see someone about to die. My heart pounded.

At this time, no doctor was there. I walked about looking for a bed, finally found one and lay her body down. I then washed her body. There was something like porridge I tried to give it, but she did would accept it. Because she could not sleep straight, I helped her lie cancer side down.

I could not do anything more, so I prayed for her pain to be relieve. I caressed her body and gently massaged her. Several hours passed, then her crying groaning voice became smaller little by little. She moaned, saying something over and over and I also cried, repeating her words. We held hands and wept tears together.

When I later asked the meaning of the words she murmured, I learned she was repeating “Thank you” in the words of the Dalit people. Dalits, once called “Untouchables,” are considered the lowest in the Indian class system.

As I was rubbing all the time, the pain seemed to have ceased for a moment, and she quickly entered into a deep sleep. I lay down on the floor and slept beside her.

To Die Happily

The next morning, I saw her face distorted with pain the night before now more peaceful. This made me feel so happy and calm. The next day I had to return to New York and I left her quietly.

I was told she died a couple of days later, with a very peaceful face. I received a letter of thanks from Mother’s office. Mother Teresa wrote, “Here in our place, they die a very precious death. It is quite different from dying while suffering in a horrible form at the roadside. They die while saying thank you, receiving everyone’s love at these facilities.” It is wonderful to die with a feeling of deep gratitude feeling to others.

I had always thought I knew what happiness was. Basically, I thought:

  1. Being healthy
  2. Having family and friends to love
  3. Loving oneself
  4. Having food
  5. Having a place to live
  6. Not being in trouble with money
  7. Enjoying peace of mind

Yet, when I thought of this person, she did not have any of these things. And yet, she was happy and peaceful without feeling even pain and suffering. She became peaceful How was this possible?

It is because she felt tremendously thankful. I think the core of Human peace and happiness comes from Gratitude. It is clear that she was truly thankful. The only condition that can make true happiness is thankfulness. This is a wonderful aspect given only to humans. 

Everyone in Japan says that they are thankful. But who have had this kind of life experiences? I was deeply thankful for Mother Teresa who taught me and gave me this real experience. My tears flowed. Certainly the lady experienced happiness at the end.  Even her pain was gone. Although she passed away, she became my lifetime teacher.

Soon afterwards, I heard Mother herself died. It was the autumn of 1997. I am deeply grateful to have met Mother Teresa – and the woman who had taught me so much.

Originally published as Vol. 21 in Weekly Biz, April 7, 2018; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz



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About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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