|Forest Sangha Newsletter||April 1993|
Reflections on Luang Por Chah's Funeral
I took my seat one day in the new eating hall, finding myself sandwiched between old friends, some of whom I had not seen for nigh on fifteen years, and surrounded by an enormous sea of monks.
The hall was filled, as was the entire central area of the monastery, up to where the forest began. One brown wave amongst some 2,000 others that day. As we ate, I thought of where I might escape to wash my bowl afterwards - to avoid all the rush and confusion - but then I realised 'Why do you need to be so clever, to always be different? Why not just jump in and be like all the others?'
And how delicious that was; surely there was a great bustle and a blur of water splashes, soap powder, brown robes and bodies, but we moved around each other with good humour and deference, and one could see right there, that if we take the trouble to go into the rough and tumble of life with mindfulness and a good heart, peace, joy and the delight of communal harmony are the qualities that can be coaxed forth from it.
It was like an epic movie unfolding in slow motion before our eyes ...
In the Ajahn Chah style, we can hear teachings whenever we are ready to listen, and as the flames and smoke billowed out of the chedi, it caused me to reflect. When the heart is properly prepared with patience, resolve and restraint, there is the strength to contain the power of the passions as they flare up. But with uninspected cracks, or weaknesses in the system, we end up with an enormous mess. One was reminded to prepare the 'container' of the heart with as much skilfulness as one can muster. It is true that we can't afford to take our time over practice, but it is also true that we mustn't try to rush it.
We sat among the women on a mat on the sun-baked earth. Having been told to be there early, we arrived at 10 am (6 hours before the expected arrival of their Majesties, the King and Queen of Thailand). Even then it was hard to find a place, but we squeezed our way in just behind the white-robed, shaven-headed maechees and in front of the white-clothed upasikas. People sat quietly. There were occasional questions: 'Where do you come from?' 'Why are you wearing brown?' The reply: '10 precepts, Amaravati, disciples of Ajahn Sumedho,' seemed to satisfy most. From time to time, Thai herbal sweets were passed around, and at midday some of the laywomen brought out picnics of sticky rice and vegetables. And we all just sat. When more people came, space was made somehow. We all squashed up together - no-one seemed to mind. In front, hundreds of maechees: behind, as far as the eye could see, thousands and thousands of women ... a few lay down to rest (many had been up at 3 am for morning puja) - most just sat. It was hot, but there was a breeze and when the sun came through the trees at the hottest part of the day, two of the maechees lent us an umbrella, and themselves shared one in front of us. It was like an epic movie unfolding in slow motion before our eyes: the splendour of the chedi; thousands of bhikkhus; the stewards in white; the soldiers; the journalists with their official armbands; the first-aid team in their starched white aprons ... Then, at 4 pm - the King and Queen with their retinue! A surge of delight went through the crowd, as they appeared and quickly ascended the steps into the chedi itself - and was repeated as they re-emerged to take their places in the pavilion opposite. Then it was time for everyone to start moving and pay their respects to Luang Por Chah and place small offerings by the entrance to the chedi.
The Abbot Departs
The night wind arrives,
as the abbot departs.
Forest leaves pour down
like tears or monsoon rain,
confusing the moths.
In a monastery without monks,
old women sit through the night.
After the chanting
and the observances,
long after the monks return,
old women sit through the night.
The wind races on.
Patches of moonlight moving,
becoming dancing ghosts
on the forest floor.
Bamboo and branches snapping,
and around one small light
the moths circle on.
D a n i e l B a r n e s
Wat Pah Nanachat 16.01.93
This poem was written the night before news of the passing away of Luang Por Chah was known.