Forest Sangha Newsletter July 1995

A Temple Arises; Ajahn Amaro
Conducting the Orchestra of Form; George Sharp
Renunciation & Devotion: Stalk & Fragrance; Ajahn Munindo
Growing the Dhamma Tree; Lay Supporter
Supporting the Project; Krishna Padayachi
Sutta Class: Morality, Transformation & Liberation; Ajahn Sucitto
In Memory of Luang Por Jun: Pt. 1; Sister Sanghamitta
The temple: A space for Right Ritual; Ajahn Sucitto

Signs of Change:


In Memory of Luang Por Jun - Pt. 1

Sister Sanghamitta shares some of her memories of Luang Por Jun

Luang Por Jun Intaviro, who passed away on April 2nd in Ubon was an elder disciple and close friend of Ajahn Chah. Since he is my 'spiritual father', and I spent about half of my monastic life in his monasteries, I'd like to share some of my memories of him as an expression of my love and gratitude to him.

Luang Por Jun was born into a Thai farmer's family in Klang Yai village, Khuang Nai district of Ubon province on July 30th in 1922. As a young man he did various jobs. In his teens he went to Ubon and worked for an American missionary and his wife as an 'odd-job-man', he did everything: cooking, gardening, laundry - everything. Of course the missionaries would try to convert him and came quite close to doing so; but then the war came and so they had to leave Ubon and he set up his own laundry.

He was always a 'ladies-man'. When he was in his teens, he lived with a woman whom he called his wife. They had two children. The daughter died and the son is now living as a monk. Afterwards he become a monk for a vassa (rains retreat) or two then dis-robed but didn't return to his wife, going instead to Bangkok where he was variously employed.

  • 1922 Born on July 30th in Bahn Klang Yai, Ubon Rajathani to a farming family.
  • 1944 Completed compulsory military service.
  • 1947 Entered Sri That monastery, in his home village; passed 2nd level of Dhamma studies.
  • 1948 Back to lay life.
  • 1952 Second ordination as a monk; passed 3rd level of Dhamma studies.
  • 1957 Moved to Klang monastery, Ubon, to prepare for Pali examinations.
  • 1960 To Wat Pah Pong monasery to practise meditation, living under Ajahn Chah.
  • 1966 Return to Klang Yai to establish Wat Pah Beung Luang, a branch of Wat Pah Pong.
  • 1995 Passed away on April 2nd in Ubon.
  • During that period he had a chance to experience and contemplate the glamour and glitter of the world. He began to see how unfair life was, how poor people get taken advantage of and how difficult it was to just stay alive. He became very disillusioned by lay life and so decided to ordain again. This time he made a public determination to remain a bhikkhu for life. None of his old friends believed that he could stick to this commitment, knowing his worldly nature and 'soft spots'.

    For his second ordination he went to his home village, where he spent about four years serving his preceptor and helping with building and other such work. In 1957, he was sent off to Ubon city to study Pali. But after the second Vassa of intensive study, he was completely disenchanted with this way since it did not seem to bring the results he was looking for. His strong determination began to fade away. Then he met an elder monk who was on his way to Wat Nong Pah Pong to practise in the forest and meditate under the guidance of a good teacher there. Ajahn Jun immediately decided to go along with this elder monk and when he reached Wat Nong Pah Pong, he asked Tan Ajahn Chah who was abbot there, for permission to spend the Vassa and join the community.

    Not everyone likes to be told that there is more to be done than believing in rites and rituals, and that reciting panca sila like a parrot, without keeping the precepts in daily life, is of no value.

    Tan Ajahn Chah first tested him to see if he was really sincere and willing to give himself fully to the forest practice and standard of Vinaya. As it is with those coming from other monasteries, he was examined in the presence of the other monks and they fully checked out his belongings. Like most of the village or city monks, he used to have money, so first he had to give up everything he had previously bought with his own money, mosquito net, robes etc., and at the end of the examination only his bathing cloth and sabong (lower robe) were left.

    The monk in charge of the stores brought him an old shabby robe - but he was quite happy finally to be accepted by Ajahn Chah. During the next several years, he remained at Wat Pah Pong and went on tudong a few times. Eventually he became the assistant abbot in charge of training the young bhikkhus and novices there.

    In the year 1966, Ajahn Jun returned to his home village with a few forest monks to set up the second branch monastery of Wat Nong Pah Pong. Now, Wat Nong Pah Pong has more than 135 branches all over the country. But the forest-tradition is not appreciated and respected everywhere in Thailand, since it goes against the mainstream of society. Not everyone likes to be told that there is more to be done than believing in rites and rituals, and that reciting panca sila like a parrot, without keeping the precepts in daily life, is of no value. So, for Ajahn Jun, returning to his home village was a real challenge.

    For the first years, there was a lot of contentiousness, and even some resistance from the village monks. A few lay supporters would tell them how strictly the forest bhikkhus kept the Vinaya and of course the village monks did not have the same standard. Conflicts also arose when the lay people reacted to Ajahn Jun's desanas which encouraged them to give up killing, stealing, indulging in drinking, gambling and rites and rituals, like 'lucky money' or asking for lottery numbers. In spite of these difficulties, he managed to bring everything into harmony in his characteristic way. His influence was so deeply felt that now the head monk of the village monastery comes to Wat Pah Beung Kao Luang to give Upasampada (higher ordination) to those who wish to be ordained at the beginning of each Vassa.

    All over Thailand, Luang Por Jun became well known, respected and loved for his sincere practice and integrity, by monks and lay people alike. He was for everyone more than a teacher; he was also a friend, who would continuously push us to understand the True Dhamma in his down-to-earth way. When it came to Vinaya, Luang Por himself had a very strict standard. But even so, he was able to make Vinaya come alive and take on meaning for people, so that the standard could be preserved without a sense of hardness or repression but in a human and creative way. Such was his wisdom.

    Luang Por Jun was also very skilled in pointing out the more subtle aspects of one's practice, especially the things which we often overlook. And since he was very attentive and alert as to how everybody was doing during the day, he could adeptly point out our blind spots or weak points without offending or 'hurting' our feelings. Even when what he had to say was painful it came with so much metta, space and encouragement that we could accept it and smile at our imperfections, rather than denying them, or blaming ourselves or others. Everyone could appreciate this kind of gentle 'feed-back' as a sincere way of supporting them to develop the Path.

    My first experience at Wat Beung Kao Luang was about eleven years ago. I left the home life in December 1983 and went to Wat Pah Nanachat, where I shaved my head and took the eight precepts. Very soon I became interested in staying with a nuns' community and the opportunity arose to go up to Wat Pah Beung Kao Luang, a remote forest monastery about 55 km from Ubon city. I stayed there for three months with Luang Por Jun and his community. In those days there were about sixteen nuns aged between 13 and 86. The two old ones, over 80, were 'retired' and the two senior nuns who managed the community were about 35.

    Luang Por Jun always emphasised communal togetherness. He had an incredible ability and skill to unite people, not only forest and city monks, but also those living within the monastery. He knew just how to encourage us to use communal life as an important part of the practice. Everything was done together; from early morning chanting at 3:30 a.m., the meal, afternoon work, meditation and evening puja. As far as I could observe, it was the same with the monks. They would have periods of hard work; construction, cleaning etc. and everybody would join in and work together with a light and joyful heart.

    I remember in the early days, when the nuns made charcoal - quite heavy work. They would saw off large trunks of old trees into pieces with a three-metre long hand-saw and carry them to an igloo-shaped stove, made of clay and mud. I was very keen to be part of everything and was filled with high ideals about doing things together and about 'equality'. But after half an hour, I would feel completely exhausted, because my body was not used to the hot climate and hard physical work. The nuns would encourage me to go back to the kuti and take a rest, but I would say 'no way' and kept working until I was so exhausted that I had to stop and sit down.

    This helped me to look at myself and the situation, to see clearly how I was conditioned by our Western concept about work and 'self'. For us, work and efficiency is more important than the state of one's mind. We are very goal-oriented. We think we have to live up to the mark and be as good and as strong as everyone else. This sense of self is a great source of our suffering. For the Thais, on the other hand, to just BE and do things together joyfully seems to come first. And for them, it is really natural. Their emphasis is much more on the quality of the heart, 'sanuk sabai' (to feel good), than on the result. It was never a matter of time or efficiency. They would certainly not blame me for being weaker than them; they would simply appreciate my good intention to join in, not minding if I did some lighter work or had a rest once in a while. I learnt quite a lot through the daily activities; not having a concept of separation into 'work time' and 'free time,' or 'communal time' and 'personal time'. I would not even try to explain to my Thai sisters about the rota-system that we use in the West, because it is foreign to their way of thinking. Often we would just keep working on something together, independent of time or our personal preferences.

    After spending about three months at Wat Pah Beung Kao Luang, I went to Sri Lanka, where I took ordination as a dasa sila mata (a ten precept nun), and returned to Ubon after about two years. In Thailand, the nuns are usually dressed in white robes; there are only very few brown-robed nuns in the North and outside Bangkok. Some of them are disciples of Bodhilac, a monk who was defrocked by the Sangha, so if you appear as a nun in brown robes, people think you're either a monk, or a woman in monk's robes, or they assume you're a disciple of Bodhilac - which brings its own reaction.

    But staying with Luang Por and living under his wing was no problem since everyone respected, honoured and trusted him. When curious lay people would ask about my brown robes, he would explain about the Theravada tradition in other countries, such as Sri Lanka or the UK. He was also very keen to take me along for pindapat and always supported me in the practice of 'not having money'.

    (to be concluded in the next issue)