Forest Sangha Newsletter April 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


Life of a Forest Monk (Pt III)

The continuing account of the life and times of Luang Por Jun, a senior disciple of Ven. Ajahn Chah.

On tudong there were many opportunities and experiences to facilitate the arising of wisdom. In mountains, forest, caves, and all different places one can see and experience Dhamma. The insights, and understanding that arise through seeing different provinces and different people shows how everything is really the same everywhere - it is only the outward appearances that differ. Ajahn Chah always gave me the opportunity to consider this reflection wherever we were. He always encouraged me to be open to dhammas that revealed the true nature of all things.

My own nature was not one that was peaceful, and I didn't find it easy to sit in meditation and examine my mind states. My strength was more from learning from the observation of external stimuli, like seeing the things that happened outside the monastery and then contemplating it. In this way the mind gained peace without any turmoil or chaos of investigating these things directly. We develop concentration and then wisdom arises. Regarding myself, I had to search for this peace by using wisdom to bring things inward for contemplation to see truth. Once we begin to know and realise things for ourselves we can understand the Dhamma in all places, no matter where we are. Ajahn Tongrut* once said, 'The Dhamma isn't in the forest, it isn't over there in a cave, it's behind you.' Now I know what he meant. The Dhamma is often passed over because we go off looking for it elsewhere and pass over it. It's right here, right now, the very place where we're at.

*one of Ajahn Chah's mentors, known for his eccentric means of demonstrating points of Dhamma.

The Buddha was the same. He travelled around in the beginning looking for teachers. He starved himself and practised extreme asceticism. One can't say that this was wrong, because these things were the Buddha's teachers before he realised the truth. Making a mistake can teach us. We have opportunities to rectify our mistakes and learn from them if we are shown the right way to do it.

He wants to be finished but he will never finish. Let him keep at it!

How many times did you go on tudong with Luang Por Chah?

Only once. Not all of Luang Por Chah's monks had the opportunity to go tudong with him. Ajahn Teeang lived with Ajahn Chah before I did but never had the opportunity to go tudong with him - I was very fortunate and learned a great deal. I remember how my feet split open on that first tudong. We came to a village with a very stony road and he offered me his own sandals to wear until we got onto a better road.

On my second tudong I went with several other monks.

Did you have any novices or pahkows with you, Luang Por?

No, just the monks. We went to a mountain Ajahn Chah had spoken about called Lang Kuh mountain. It was very high and not an easy climb. When we got to the top the clouds were around our knees.

What province was that, Luang Por?

It was in Nong Kai province in Ampher Beung Gan. We stayed there for three days, though we had planned to stay for four or five days. We had to fast.

Weren't there any villages nearby, Luang Por?

No, it was too high up. We were afraid we wouldn't have enough strength to climb down. The first day we climbed up when we finished our meal. It took the entire morning to get to the top. We wanted to stay longer but because of the problem with alms we could only stay for three days.

My third tudong was through some of the districts in Ubon with a novice and a Cambodian boy. So I only did three tudongs - two on my own and one with Ajahn Chah. Enough to know what it was about and understand how to practise outside the monastery.

My nature is to keep busy and stay active. I had done some building work and always had plans going around in my mind. Ajahn Chah understood this, so he put me in charge of the work in the monastery. I wasn't ready for this responsibility but Ajahn Chah let me get on with it. 'Just let him go, let him do it.' Ajahn Chah laughed, 'He wants to be finished but he will never finish. Let him keep at it!'

Normally Luang Por Chah would have one do the opposite of what one wanted to do. Isn't this right, Luang Por?

Yes, always the opposite. If we followed our wishes, Ajahn Chah would say that was the way of the world, and we were always encouraged to go against the way of the world. He would use the old example of the five basic precepts as guidelines for not following desire, and therefore going against what the flow of humanity. Going against that flow is like going upstream. After the Buddha's enlightenment he established the five precepts as a way of going against desire. Learn to resist. If you want to go, then don't go. If we want to lie down, we should stand, if we want to stand we should start walking, and so go against the defilements. This is called the period of training. Once we have this training, then we are free to live by conventions without being affected by the ways of the world. If we don't have this training then we continue to follow our defilements. Wishing to separate ourselves from the world isn't the right training either. In ancient India the caste system divided people from each other and this didn't make the world a better place.

In the early development of Wat Pah Pong it was only accessible via a narrow path that was just big enough for one or two people to pass through at a time. As time progressed the fruits of Dhamma and sila begin to manifest, with Ajahn Chah leading us in the practice and training our lives. The lay supporters began to come more often, some of them even came from the surrounding villages to hear the Dhamma. Pretty soon they built a wider road to the monastery and supporters in a nearby village asked Ajahn Chah to establish a branch monastery there.

I trained with Luang Por Chah at Wat Pah Pong for seven Vassas. A family from my home village came to Wat Pah Pong to practise and later asked me to return to my village for a visit. I was quite enthusiastic to go back and tell them about Ajahn Chah and his way of practice. Looking back I think this must have been quite courageous, because I genuinely wanted to sort things out and train the monks in my home village to understand the discipline as Ajahn Chah had trained me, and get them on the right path.

Did you want to go back because you thought about changing things at the village monastery?

Yes, that's right. The different ceremonies and traditions were being done for the wrong reason and I wanted them to see the right practice. Remembering my past life with these people I had a feeling of metta towards them and hoped I could show them something beyond the empty rituals and ceremonies they revered so deeply.

The time came for me to leave, and Ajahn Chah said to me: 'I really don't want you to go. You're one with lots of saddha (faith) and are very useful to have around. By staying with me here, we become partners in cultivating the paramitas (transcendent virtues). But it's normal to want to go away. I was the same after understanding the truth - as I began to think of my home village, I too wanted to take the teaching back there and cultivate the beautiful. It doesn't mean that one has begun worrying about one's village, it means one wants to correct things that are wrong. When we see the beautiful then we are moved to want to help in this way. I can't forbid you from going, you'll be useful to others. So go, we will be separated eventually by death anyway, and here we have the opportunity to be separated in a different way. Cultivate the Dhamma for those still submerged in darkness. I will learn to manage without you. Do your best, keep the Vinaya, and if you run out of bullets you can always return here to replenish your ammunition.**

**Ajahn Chah often used military metaphors to express the sense of powerful application to eliminating ignorance and attachments.

At this time Luang Pot Ginerlee*** visited and I told him what I was intending to do. He replied, 'Is that really a good way to think? When you go back to your village it will be really difficult. Even the Buddha waited a long time before he went back to his own village, are you sure you can handle it?' I wasn't sure, but I felt quite courageous and wanted to give it a try, and if it proved too difficult I was prepared to come back. The Ajahn then warned me: 'Be careful of your old friends that you used to have a good time with. These are the ones that can lead you to ruin. Whatever you love, whatever you hold near and dear, these are the things that will cause you the greatest suffering.' He was right.

Returning to my home village was a constant challenge. I gave my life to the village, and the constant contentiousness sometimes caused me to have thoughts of resentment. But it became a part of my practice, helping others and myself at the same time. At first, they didn't understand anything about my way of practice. A hundred years earlier, a forest master who had lived with Ajahn Sao**** lived at this monastery, but his disciples from that day had all died out.

***Another one of Ajahn Chah's mentors
****the teacher of Ven. Ajahn Mun

The monastery had a history of being deserted and re-established several times. My way of doing things was completely opposite to the way the village monks did things, they asked where I had studied my way of practice, and wondered why I had learned this sort of teaching. They accused me of being a Dhammayut and belonging to another sect, and then blamed me for trying to destroy old customs and rituals as well as the peace and harmony in the village. I did my best to explain myself, and fortunately I often had the opportunity to go and consult Luang Por Chah. He was a source of encouragement and support. I went in the year 25O9 (1966), and had Ajahn Toon with me that first Vassa.

How many monks went with you that first Vassa, Luang Por?

I had taken two other monks and a novice with me. Ajahn Toon was with me, and he had been around for some time and knew the routine and the practice quite well. He was a good companion. He offered good support and helped when we had conflicts with the monks in the monastery.

Which monks were those, Luang Por?

The monastery where I was staying had previously been a village wat. Three monks were there when I arrived, and I tried to explain the discipline and the practice to them, and gave them the opportunity to train and practise as we were practising. I also gave them the opportunity to go elsewhere, too. We got on with living there, and I gave talks and desanas [Dhamma talksl. Of course our practice went against their ways, and this was noticed by the lay supporters. It created turmoil for the village monks and became increasingly difficult for them. They complained to the village chief, telling him that they just could not live with me and accused me of criticising them. I told the village chief that I wasn't criticising anyone - that we were just living as specified in the Vinaya, and leaving it up to the other monks to decide how to practise. I explained how I had once lived the same way myself, and had learned to correct my old ways. It was entirely up to the monks to give up their old ways if they wished to do so. The two junior monks decided to disrobe, and the third, the abbot, who was actually my cousin, stayed on to train and practise with us.

We asked to extend the monastery's boundaries to include a small forest and ancient burial ground, and at first the laity agreed. When they heard desanas against their defilements, they began to resist and became contentious. There was also a large lake nearby that we asked to be annexed to the monastery. Some people sided against this, and this became another bone of contention for them. The sala was too small so we tore it apart and built another. We received criticism for this also. I told them to neither blame nor praise us, and continued to make alterations where necessary. Many saw the good of these changes and continued to support us, but others would tear down the fence around the monastery after they went out drinking, or steal the fish living in the pond. They would come at night and we would chase them away - sometimes I had to pretend to be really fierce and would brandish a large samurai sword at them. I would wave my torch at them and yell, 'Let's get em! Let's get 'em!!' It was just a threat, I wouldn't have really hurt them, but the novices and I gave them quite a fright chasing them through the dark!

At first, there was nothing but contentiousness and strife. It took ten years before the village monks would live with us harmoniously. We continued to be kind to them and treat them with respect. Ajahn Chah had a similar problem with the abbot at the village monastery near Wat Pah Pong, who was critical and abusive. He just endured it.

to be continued....