Forest SanghaNewsletterApril 1992

Ajahn Chah Passes Away; Venerable Thitapanno
50th Day Commemoration; Ven. Nyanaviro
A Noble Life: 17.6.1918 to 16.1.1992
A Niche in the Woods; Aj. Viradhammo
Life of a Forest Monk (Pt III); Luang Por Jun
Work in Hammer Woods; Mike Holmes
Staying Alive; Ajahn Sucitto

Being Nobody; Aj Sumedho
Why Are We Here; Aj Chah
Brightness; Aj Sucitto


Staying Alive

Much of the content of this Newsletter speaks for itself: accounts of the passing away of a master of the Dhamma, and tributes that honour him with wise reflection on his life and his teachings. How fine that wisdom is that knows, while bowing in gratitude and deep respect, that the true quality of the master is not born and does not pass away!

Nor can it be defined as ultimately his. If it was, it couldn't be taught; it wouldn't be Dhamma. Then reverence for the special quality of a teacher could actually become an excuse for the disciple not to fulfill the teaching. However, as the Buddha said before his own passing away, it is in sustaining the Dhamma in the testing ground of this world that we pay the highest homage to the teacher.

Luang Por Chah drove people to come alive from the near-death, the stillbirth of delusion, to the life of the Dhamma which is called the Deathless. And he did that in many ways to many people. Now there are over one hundred monasteries founded in his name that thousands of monastic and lay disciples can make use of. Naturally it was impossible for Luang Por himself to be present at all of these; so one of his most significant gifts has been the establishment of a style and training that would carry out his teaching. This kind of education takes place in the dynamic of situations: in the monasteries a strong sense of Sangha was always a basic ingredient, and an austere lifestyle - such fundamentals placed communal responsibility and personal resilience at the heart of the practice. Then, the refinement of behaviour and the hardiness needed for forest life; the solitude of the forest and the populous melee of the festival days and Sangha functions; the effects of rousing exhortations and energy-sapping heat - always accompanied by the reminder to patiently endure - these created the crucible for the alchemy of the noble birth. The Master, benevolent, human and super-human, was the example of the fruit of the practice that kept the heart alive through those trials, until, for some, there was indeed a precious coming alive.

The practice of nursing his paralysed body never lacked for volunteers and created a situation for tremendous devotion, patience, and mindfulness.
Coming alive to Dhamma entails a struggle like that of awakening from a drugged sleep, or carrying a heavy load to a place of rest; it's like the pangs of birth, accompanied by the same sense of urgency. But then there is the long test of staying alive: something learned not through a moment of insight, nor through the dropping away of frustration, doubt or impatience, but through the arising of the faith and compassion to bear with conventional life for the welfare of others. Something in us could choose to escape from the responsibilities of training problematic beginners, from attending to the daily round of the same old chanting, chores and the influx of visitors whose only interest might be to ask for a good luck token or take a few photographs. When the 'great insights' have happened, who wants to live with a heart attentive to this plane of existence? Whose Dhamma can stay alive through the inevitable complaining of the world, the disappointments of disciples going astray and the going nowhere-ness of samsara? Staying alive is as tough as being born. Even the sense of progress, personal or collective, has to be abandoned. That's what it comes down to, when the major work projects are completed, the new ideas have become old established views, and the youthful energies start to wane.

So I think of the last decade Luang Por Chah's life as a reflection on what it takes to stay alive. Some people criticised the Sangha for holding the Master to a degraded level of physical existence for so long (neat judgements are dangerously attractive!). However, the practice of nursing his paralysed body never lacked for volunteers and created a situation for tremendous devotion, patience, and mindfulness. Such grand-heartedness is exactly what is needed to bring the True Life into this conditioned realm. Moreover the results of that quality of practice transcend the decay of the world: whenever we use conditions to keep the Dhamma alive, however unsatisfactory they may be, there is a mind that doesn't complain, and a heart that is willing to give of itself. We can abide peacefully in this outrageous realm of birth and death. There, surely, is the place of no-abiding to which Luang Por directed us.

Ajahn Sucitto