Forest SanghaNewsletterJuly 1990

Consciousness and Sensitivity; Ajahn Sumedho
Making Our Minds Up; Anagarika
Self-Training; Ajahn Chah
Living with Luang Por; Several Reflections


To the Spiritual Friend

This issue of the Newsletter is dedicated to Venerable Ajahn Chah (Than Chao Khun Bodhinayana Thera). On June 17th, the occasion of his 72nd birthday, many of his disciples will have gathered at the monasteries founded in his name to express their gratitude and respect in chanting, in Dhamma reflections and in the stillness of meditation. At Amaravati this day was also the occasion for three women to receive the Going Forth (Pabbajja) as ten-precept siladhara, in the presence of a Sangha from five of the monasteries in our immediate 'family'. In Going Forth into the Sangha one is seeking to live in a mutually supportive relationship, which is an opportunity for us all to reflect on the qualities of the Kalyanamitta, the spiritual friend.

Bearing with the difficulties of an untrained mind requires faith and a strong heart. At first glance the monastic life can seem emotionally sterile, with no feeling or warmth, but its support is of a practical rather than showy nature. The finest quality of spiritual friends is not that they are particularly effusive, but that they understand from their own experience that the defilements are not-self. From such detachment, compassion as well as wisdom naturally springs. And as we live in relationship, these qualities in others catalyse and strengthen them in ourself. On the path of insight, it is through detachment and dispassion that we become a good friend to others - and, most remarkably, to ourselves.

It is because Ajahn Chah so exemplified the qualities of a spiritual friend, and could give birth to that friend in one's own heart, that he is referred to as 'Luang Por'. The term means literally 'Venerable Father', but it can convey untranslatable dimensions of affection, devotion and respect.

It's just as well that I'm not perfect - otherwise you might think that the Buddha was to be found anywhere outside of your mind.
The formation of a cult around a teacher would be very much against the way of the Buddha and the wishes of Ajahn Chah himself. He always regarded himself as a simple forest monk who, aware of his many human weaknesses, had surrendered himself to living under the Vinaya discipline to become one of the many disciples of the Buddha. His practice had great faith in the Buddha and a devotion that brought forth immense effort and resourcefulness. As a teacher he imparted these qualities to those who wished to receive his guidance, but without making any personal claims.

Jack Kornfield, who trained as a bhikkhu under Ajahn Chah, tells of an occasion when he was having a lot of irritation with Wat Pah Pong, himself and Ajahn Chah. Going to see the Master, he let forth a diatribe against the monastery and the style of practice, finally criticising Ajahn Chah for some of his 'unenlightened' idiosyncrasies. Ajahn Chah was not living up to what Jack felt an enlightened master should look like. Luang Por laughed and replied: 'Good. It's just as well that I'm not perfect - otherwise you might think that the Buddha was to be found anywhere outside of your mind. Go back to your kuti and meditate.' With wisdom and humour, Ajahn Chah could even use his own limitations as a means of pointing to where the Dhamma is to be found.

It was also the case that his means of causing someone to review their own attachments could be stern. Just as it's not always so right to be strict, it's not always so kind to be sweet. A spiritual friend points out that the highest form of refuge is not any person, but one's own practice, independent of circumstances. Although not-self, there are loving-kindness, joyousness and wisdom in the heart. We should aspire to grow beyond seeking them elsewhere.

As long as we take even the Kalyanamitta to be outside of ourselves, eventually we're going to suffer when they leave, die or fail to live up to our image of them. The Kalyanamitta is always present in the pure and compassionate heart that is the result of years of letting go - in the detachment, dispassion and that cessation of self-view that allows the mind to rest in inner stillness. For those going forth, one can have no higher wish than that they realise that for and in themselves - and bring it forth in the hearts of others.

Kindred Sayings Vol. V: Chap. XLV; 1 (ii)

Ajahn Sucitto

'It is the whole, not the half, of the holy life - this friendship, this association, this intimacy with what is lovely. Of a monk who is a friend, an associate, an intimate of what is lovely we may expect this - that he will develop the Ariyan eightfold way, that he will make much of the Ariyan eightfold way.

'And how, Ananda, does such a monk develop and make much of the Ariyan eightfold way?

'Herein, Ananda, he cultivates right view ...right aim...right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration, which is based on detachment, on dispassion, on cessation which ends in self-surrender....

'It is by this method, Ananda, that you are to understand how the whole of this holy life consists in friendship, in association, in intimacy with what is lovely.'