|Forest Sangha Newsletter||July 1992|
Life of Forest Monk (Pt IV)
Question: Luang Por, could you tell us about the practice and training for the Sangha and the laity once your monastery was firmly established?
Q: Luang Por, do you mean different levels of sila for the monks, the nuns, and the laity?
Q: Luang Por, could you tell us more about the Observance Days and the practice in everyday life at your monastery?
* (e.g. to walk with downcast gaze,to walk in silence,
to wear one's robes neatly, to accept alms-food
with attention on the bowl.)
Later on, we had a nun from Wat Pah Pong ask permission to come and stay. We built a separate place for nuns to live, and I began to train men and women to live the holy life. At certain times of the year, all of us would go to Wat Pah Pong to pay respects to Luang Por Chah. Sometimes he would come to visit us.
Some monks would determine silence, others not to sleep, or only eating what one collected on alms round.
Q: Would you go to visit Ajahn Chah often?|
A: Yes. In those early years, I would still go to Wat Pah Pong at least once a month as I still had duties to perform there, such as training the young monks. As things became busier at my monastery, I had few opportunities to visit Wat Pah Pong and so became less involved with the activities there.
Q: When you would go, would you stay for very long, Luang Por?
Once when I returned to Wat Pah Pong, I was surprised to see that some of the new monks there couldn't learn their chanting correctly - their pronunciation was a bit off. Luang Por Chah didn't make this a problem. He said the mistakes in pronunciation and wording can be overlooked as long as we kept the essence of the chanting in our practice, meaning we weren't scholar-monks, we were there to practise. Sometimes scholar-monks would come to visit and would transgress the rules of the Vinaya, only because they didn't realise what they were doing. I remember going on alms round with one of these monks who had completed his eighth or ninth level of study. As we went through the forest, he was curious to know the names of the different plants and trees. He would casually break off branches and leaves to look at them.** Ajahn Chah didn't say anything - he just smiled. The lay people following behind knew about these things, but nobody said anything. This exemplified what Ajahn Chah used to say in his desanas about studying the scriptures and memorising the words without knowing the practice.
** (These actions - entailing the damage of plant life
- are transgressions against the bhikkhus' training rules.)
As time progressed Luang Por Chah was invited to open many branch monasteries. He would visit them in turn and offer his support.
Q: Luang Por, could I ask about the Observance Days and the entering of the Vassa?|
A: We would always begin the Vassa with the traditional ceremony of pledging to stay within the monastery and setting the boundaries for the rains. We would set special dhutanga [austere] practices for ourselves and these would be proclaimed before the Sangha as we publicly made a determination to keep them. We would write the details of each monk's dhutanga determination down on a blackboard in the sala.
Some monks would determine silence, others not to sleep, or only eating what one collected on alms round, or eating just plain white rice with salt. Emphasis was placed on speaking very little, and noble silence was broken only when necessary. Sometimes Ajahn Chah would decline the special dishes offered him by the laity and say: 'Give it to the third monk in the line; he's vowed only to eat what is offered into his alms bowl.' In this way, he showed lots of metta for those making a determination in their practice. But he would forbid the laity from seeking out the monks who ate only what was placed in their alms bowl to ensure they had enough food. 'Don't worry about him,' he'd say, 'he won't die. Even if he doesn't receive any food on pindabaht, there's plenty of rice, and if there's no rice, there's always water! All you're doing is feeding the defilements.' At the end of the Vassa, we would formally ask forgiveness from Luang Por Chah.
Q: So you've talked about the least strict and the Middle Way; what is the strictest practice regarding eating only what is put into the alms-bowl?
Q: Luang Por, would Ajahn Chah have any special practices of sitting in samadhi for long periods of time - the 'sitters' practice', for example?
Q: Regarding the 'sitters' practice', Luang Por, Ajahn Chah wouldn't allow you to get up and leave when you wanted, would he?|
A: That's right. Ajahn Chah had us do everything together. If we would stand, we would all stand together; if we sat, we sat together. Some monks found sitting so difficult that they would continue to stand, which was all right. We practised together in this way until dawn. Everyone did this together. No one would be given permission to go back to his kuti and go to sleep. In later years after I left Wat Pah Pong, some monks would ask to be excused at midnight and would be given permission. I would allow this at my monastery as well. But although I have lessened the severity, it isn't taken for granted that anyone would be allowed to stop at midnight. I usually stay up until midnight and then ask permission from the Sangha to go and rest; I encourage the monks and laity to keep the Wan Phra sittings for as long as they can. If they need to go and rest, they can do so, but they should return for the morning chanting at 3.00am. In the past, we didn't have laity from the city coming as we do now. Our practice was more inspiring before they came because they all fall asleep before midnight; now the old diligent villagers have been affected by this and are drawn into this practice of laziness and don't manage to stay awake much longer.
Q: Do you still have this practice at your monastery in Bung Kao Luang, Luang Por?
Q: So, Luang Por, you make them sit all night or do you give them permission to alternate between postures?
Q: Then you always do things together, is that right?
to be continued....