Forest Sangha Newsletter October 1995

The Human Family; Ajahn Sumedho
The Sima Ceremony; Ajahn Attapemo
Traceless Traces; Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
In Memory of Luang Por Jun: Pt. 2; Sr. Sanghamitta
Sutta Class; Ajahn Thiradhammo
Less Trust requires More Faith; Ajahn Sucitto
Signs of Change:


In Memory of Luang Por Jun - Part 2

Sister Sanghamitta concludes her reflections on the life of Luang Por Junwho died in Ubon Rajathani on April 2nd this year.

In 1987, I spent the Vassa at Wat Beung Kao Luang. As in most branch monasteries of Wat Nong Pah Pong, the Sangha enters the Vassa with the same ceremony as we do here in the UK, announcing one's commitment to spend the three months in the Wat and taking nissaya (dependence) on the teacher. Those monks and nuns who intend to do some of the dhutanga (austerity) practices would also announce their resolution to do so for one, two or three months. Some of the nuns would keep noble silence, or eat only out of the almsbowl (no separate dishes) and mix all the food together; or they would do the sitters' practice (not to lie down). Some would not eat on Wan Phra, or they would fast for one or two weeks, and so on. I picked up the chan dok bat practice, only to eat what is given in my almsbowl during pindapata.

During the Vassa, the villagers, out of their deep respect for Luang Por Jun and his disciples, would prepare extra food to offer into the bowls during the almsround, since they knew that some of us wouldn't accept any other food later on inside the monastery. But Luang Por was concerned that I might not get enough food. Usually he wouldn't go out for almsround, since he was very weak, and in the early morning he would rest. But one morning, after two weeks, he came along to the village. Since he was the first in line followed by about twenty monks, I did not hear of this directly, but later I learned that he had told the lay people not to put everything into the bhikkhus' bowls, but to make sure that they had some goodies left to give into the nuns' almsbowls (meaning me). He even asked at the house of a relative for them to prepare some special food with eggs and fruit and bring it to the gate of the monastery. On our way back, all of a sudden, a girl with a bicycle arrived out of breath and gave him a bag with food. He turned around and put it straight into my almsbowl! This is only one of the many examples of how Luang Por Jun would always care for everybody, being alert to the nuns' needs, sharing the requisites freely with them, and giving medical support.

Again and again, he would encourage the lay people to practise sincerely, to really work on their defilements and purify their hearts. obvious.

The senior nuns used to tell the story of how, in the early days, when the community was short of food, Luang Por became anxious that the nuns at the end of the line wouldn't get enough to eat. He then asked the laity at the meal time to offer the pots to the junior nuns first and then pass them up the line so that the nuns and novices ate first, followed by the monks and himself last ... a most unconventional and courageous act of his great compassion!
At Wat Beung Kao Luang, the sisters have their own communal life in the nuns' section: a nice Sala (with mosquito screens on the doors and windows - indeed a blessing and privilege, which the monks have to miss!) Every nun has her own kuti, balcony, bathing facilities and lavatory. In those days, they even had electricity - long before Wat Pah Nanachat. Luang Por used to come regularly to give exhortation and encouragement for them to keep practising towards liberation. In the evening, he often gave us the space to do our own practice, walking or sitting meditation. It was up to each individual to decide how they would use their time; but whether one practised in the group or vivek (alone), the atmosphere was very spacious. And, from time to time Luang Por would change the schedule or other things to keep us on our toes, to keep the mai nehr practice alive; mai nehr means 'not sure'. So one wasn't able to sink into habitual ruts for too long.

One day, early in the morning, after the last stroke of the three a.m. bell, Luang Por made an announcement through the loud-speaker and said: "Sister Sanghamitta, make yourself ready, you and Sister Samlee will go along with me and a couple of monks on a trip for two weeks." Within ten minutes, we had to prepare ourselves to travel around the country (up North) for two weeks. And this, at 3 a.m. I really had to let go of any Western conditioning very quickly, about needing to prepare everything perfectly and be in control ... And then, having made everything ready, thinking we were going somewhere, we would have to wait one hour, two, three hours until it began to look like "maybe tomorrow..." On this trip, it was interesting to see how Luang Por not only looked after his own monastery but also, on the way to Chiang Mai, many other branch monasteries. He would drop in on them, often in the middle of nowhere, and talk with the monks and laity, sorting out difficulties and helping to clear up any misunderstandings between them. His light and cheerful way, combined with a strong determination, brought joy and encouragement to people wherever he went. And his ability to sort things out usually helped people to clear away resentments, as well as to re-establish harmony and concord where beforehand there had been conflict.

This quality of Luang Por Jun's could also be felt in his desanas (talks). In the meetings at Wat Pah Pong, such as for Luang Por Chah's birthday, and later the ceremonies around the funeral - his talks were not only inspiring but he was also able to say things which nobody else had the courage or sensitivity to speak about; and he did so in a way that they could receive. This was one of his real gifts - his ability to bring difficulties to light, to say what was needed when something wasn't right in the community - whether in his own monastery or at Wat Nong Pah Pong - and it is one of the many reasons why he was so well-loved and respected.

The tradition in the Wat Nong Pah Pong monasteries is to have all-night vigils on the Wan Phra(Observance days). Often Luang Por would go up on the high seat and give a desana(talk) for several hours; even at times when he was in physical pain. The amazing thing was that it was really refreshing, because he did not lecture, rather when he spoke, pure Dhamma poured out in a joyful way.

In the beginning, I tried hard to understand because my Thai wasn't very good. Sometimes I would get stuck trying to figure out the meaning of the words. Finally, I realised that there was no need to understand verbatim, that I could relax, sit and listen to the flow of Dhamma. In this way, I experienced being showered by pure Dhamma. I was often 'blissed out', so to speak, sitting on the concrete floor with a thin bamboo mat, in the polite posture (no cushion) for four hours or longer with no signs of pain or tiredness. It became just a natural meditative way to enjoy Dhamma and the whole presence and atmosphere around it.

During these all-night sittings, quite a lot of lay people who came regularly on the Wan Phra would sit at the back of the Sala. Often they would help during the day with digging, or cleaning, working hard, so that by midnight some would fall asleep or even snore. Sometimes Luang Por Jun would bring them back to life with a little song, cheer them up with a joke or point out the urgency of getting rid of the 'kilet' (defilements).

One of the wonderful things about Luang Por Jun, as well as Luang Por Chah and all of his disciples, was that, again and again, he would encourage the lay people to practise sincerely, to really work on their defilements and purify their hearts. He would constantly give them the support and encouragement they needed for their spiritual growth.

It is very impressive to see the results of the many, many years of these great spiritual teachers sharing the fruits of their own practice with the lay people. At the ceremonies around Luang Por Chah's passing away - the first seven days, the 50th and 100th day, and the actual funeral after one year - there were hundreds of thousands of lay people and devoted disciples whose very presence expressed their gratitude and respect. In no other Buddhist country have I ever seen so many people meditating, helping each other and working together so peacefully. There was not one penny (baht) to be seen inside the monastery - everything was offered for free distribution - not only food for the monastic Sangha but also food and drinks for any visitors and passing guests etc. No one could get rid of money except by going outside the monastery walls; such was the deep sense of togetherness and maturity of both monks and lay people, in the way that they worked together for that which is good, true and beautiful. There was truly the understanding that we can best express our gratitude and respect for our teachers by putting their teaching into practice.

There are not many of us here now who met Luang Por Jun when he came to Amaravati Buddhist Monastery from July 1989 to June 1990 for a rest. While he was with us, he showed that same openness and interest in the Western Sangha life. His strong silent presence conveyed metta and sati, and his frequent reflections on Dhamma and community life were both a delight and a support for all of us. Also during his time in the UK, he offered his gift for bringing harmony in times of conflict and whenever the situation arose, he was there to help us come together and support each other on the Path. But even more than that, what he did for all of us, for those of us who knew him and those of us who only know of him, was to provide a living testimony of the power of this practice to transform a human being.

In the last years of his life, Luang Por experienced a great deal of illness and pain (stomach ulcer and liver cancer). But even when he had to endure severe physical pain, he always maintained a very calm demeanour. He never complained and even joked with people who came to visit him, "If I live, that's fine, if I die, that's fine too", he would say. Nothing would stop him from talking to the lay people or giving desanas - no illness, pain or tiredness. Often after a long day, he would continue to offer his experience and his knowledge of Dhamma for the benefit of all his devotees.

Luang Por sometimes would say: "Poot mahg roo noi, Poot noi roo mahg!" which means: 'one who speaks a lot doesn't know much and one who speaks little knows much!' So, even if I know only little, I won't speak too much - that's enough for now - Evam.