|Forest Sangha Newsletter||October 1992|
Life of a Forest Monk (Pt V)
These days the saddha (faith and devotion) of both the laity and Sangha members seems to be waning. This is different from how it used to be. For example, take the pre-ordination anagarika period. Men seem to find the three-month anagarika period too difficult, particularly the civil servants and policemen who come to take ordination, they really struggle with their defilements. They have so much worldly knowledge these days, and find it difficult to conform to monastic life after holding a position of power or influence in the world. Particularly in the early years, when Ajahn Chah first began teaching the Dhamma, he had a great influence over those who came into contact with it. Several generations have passed and times have changed in Thailand. Today's generation will listen to the teaching, but most of them don't seem to have the same faith and trust. I began to feel disappointed and I gradually stopped receiving civil servants, as I could see they were not willing to practise in a way that would bear fruit. As for the anagarika period, it is often disregarded these days and some men are only postulants for two or three weeks, usually three months at the most. Even after they've become monks, they don't show a lot of faith in genuine practice. It seems that the most sincere monks are those who come from a distance to find the teaching. The local men become monks for a short time just to follow custom. But those who stay and train long enough become fine monks, suitable to look after the monastery and the branch monasteries.
On several occasions I have found Mahatheras - who hold important positions of administrative power - to be quite obstructive. Even the ecclesiastical head of a province or a district has been known to forbid dhutanga* bhikkus from residing within his jurisdiction. Some of these monks holding positions of power within the Sangha are antagonistic and prevent faith from arising in our supporters. I tried to stand up to this and contend with this as best I could, but at times it was a bit much. After Ajahn Chah received his honorary title and his reputation became more well-known this helped matters tremendously. Whatever the situation, I feel that the saddha is bound to wane regarding practice.
* dhutanga refers to the ascetic practices allowed by the Buddha.
Such monks who live an austere life in the forest,
are often called 'dhutanga' or 'tudong' monks.
Once you are established, then you can gently inform people. I'm sure they will be understanding of our ways.
|Then we had Westerners coming to Thailand to train as monks. This was a great source of inspiration to the monks here, to see men travel across the world to live this way of life with sincerity. This was very exciting for the laity. Soon people came from many places to see these farang monks, and other monasteries wanted to invite them to their ceremonies and hear them speak. When Ajahn Chah was still in good health, he made a special effort to train these Western monks.|
Question: Luang Por, could you tell us your memories of when Ajahn Sumedho first arrived?
Ajahn Sumedho spent one Vassa with me and I remember he was having problems with his foot, so I helped him look after it. I felt sympathy for the Western monks, because they did have to endure many hardships and often only had their inspiration and their sincerity to keep them going. In fact, I often used the farang monks as an example for the Thai monks because of their genuine zeal for the practice.
At one point Ajahn Chah had to become protective with the Western monks, and stopped allowing them to accept invitations to go here and there, because their popularity was beginning to cause problems for their meditation practice.
|Now that I've experienced the way Buddhism is flourishing in the West, I can say that I have been pleased to see how fruitful it is. However, one can't expect everything to be the same as it is in Thailand. It's a different part of the world, and the customs and the climate are so different. But seeing how it is being done, I feel it is doing very well indeed. The changes made are good, and suitable for the Western culture. I ask you to make a constant effort, to reflect on this, and not change the unnecessary. Only change that which is really necessary. Regarding dress and attire, it will be necessary to make some changes; if you don't, then it will make practice difficult because of the climatic conditions here. In other respects, strive to safeguard the tradition. I feel this is possible. It may be objectionable in the beginning, but stay with it. Once you are established, then you can gently inform people. I'm sure they will be understanding of our ways. Like our custom of not touching women: initially one will make some mistakes, because the customs here are different. But once we are well-founded, then more and more people will understand.|
Firstly, we must start with an understanding amongst ourselves. Most importantly, is the relationship with the nuns. This is essential. There must be a mutual support and help that will in turn help others outside to understand.
Q: Luang Por, from what you have observed, what do you feel the monks have to be most careful of?
|Q: Luang Por, what do you feel about the monasteries you have seen here that are already established and those planned for the future?|
A: For the future establishment of new monasteries, I feel it is important to train the leaders well; to make sure they are qualified and competent. Don't be careless and simply follow their requests or willingness to go. The Ajahns should take a close look and test their abilities and knowledge first. Can they teach and give advice to the laity? Then one should keep an observant eye on them by periodic mutual visits. Don't let them be contentious or obstructive. The same applies for the lay people: if they want to have monks in their respective countries and towns, they should come and train first. They should be willing to be told the proper behaviour and relationship to us. It can be done as in Thailand where, say, two or three lay people come to learn to look after monks; how to offer food and the other relevant gestures of respect. Once you make the proper procedures known, I feel it will help things to develop and expand continually.
Q: Luang Por, regarding the heads or leaders of a monastery, what do you see as the appropriate guidelines? For example, how many Vassas should he have?
Abbots can make mistakes you know, myself as well as our teachers. Ever since the time of the Buddha this has been so. Even the Buddha gave open invitation to his disciples and the Sangha to correct him if he made a mistake. If we leave all the decisions to one monk, then there will be some things that get overlooked; therefore we must help to inform each other.