* Buddhist Reflections on the Spiritual Life
for Ven Ajahn Chah
* An anthology of teachings by
English-speaking disciples of Ajahn Chah
* Source: dhammatalks.net, holybooks.com
D E D I C A T I O N
Yo Dhammam desesi, Adhikalyanam,
The Buddha has pointed out the way:
beautiful in the beginning, beautiful in the middle,
and beautiful in the end.
Each morning in Theravada Buddhist monasteries around the world, the above stanza is chanted as part of 'The Homage to the Triple Gem'. It could just as well be said of the teaching example of Meditation Master, The Venerable Ajahn Chah.
Ajahn Chah, or Luang Por as his disciples called him, possessed that uniquely beautiful quality of being: a quality visible only to a heart seeking The Way of Truth.
'Beautiful in the beginning', in Ajahn Chah's case, was his commitment to the life of a renunciant monk (dhutanga bhikkhu). He cultivated impeccable discipline and displayed consistent, daring effort to confront all situations, especially those from which he was inclined to turn away. He gave himself completely to the training and eventually the Way became clear.
'Beautiful in the middle' was the selfless sharing of his realisation with all who came to be near him. Regardless of personal discomfort, he ceaselessly offered his body, speech and mind to assist his disciples, lay and ordained alike, to enter the Way. He said of his own teaching method, that it is the example that counts -- not just the words. Those who were able to spend time with him know full well that this is so.
And 'beautiful in the end' remains. It is that radiant confidence of heart in thousands of individuals who now walk the Way; that verified faith which most profoundly expresses Dhammam Saranam Gacchami -- 'I go for refuge to the Truth of the Way Things Are.' Without having seen an example of the Way in another, such awakening of confidence might not have taken place; hence it is said 'No gift excels the gift of Dhamma.'
I N T R O D U C T I O N
No amount of words can possibly honour a gift
as precious as the Way of Truth itself.
Lives lived in harmony with this
however, may do so.
This book is about a community of people endeavouring to do justice to the gift they have received. More precisely, it is a collection of transcribed talks, letters and essays offered by disciples of Luang Por Chah, who are now living at various monasteries around the world. These teachings have been gathered specifically for this publication. It seemed appropriate that a book published in the West to honour the Venerable Ajahn Chah's life should reflect the results of his years of teaching. These are some of the fruits of what he spent his life nurturing. Although some editing was required so that the oral teachings might be accessible in the written form, it is hoped that the spirit of the original presentation has been preserved: that is, the spirit of the living Truth.
The Buddha said that nobody else can walk the Way for us -- but they can point out the way we should go. The directions given will be different for each of us, depending on how far we must go and from where we are starting. There were occasions when people questioned Ajahn Chah about apparent contradictions in his advice. He replied that if he was standing at the end of a road and saw someone coming towards him veering off to the left, he would tell them to go right. If they were veering to the right he would tell them to move left. The instructions were different, but the ultimate direction was the same.
Style and emphasis also vary when the Teaching is presented by different individuals. This will become obvious as the reader progresses through this book. The reader may also come across inconsistencies and contradictions. If this is so, it should be remembered that such discrepancies are in appearance only. These words are not presented as the Truth itself but as reflections offered for consideration.
Many people have benefitted from Ajahn Chah's ability to point out the Way; and many of these same people have participated in offering this book in commemoration of their teacher. One of the deepest forms of gratitude is that which springs forth from a true appreciation for the beauty of the Way; it is with such gratitude that this offering is made. It is the wish of all who have contributed, that the readers may see, understand, and follow the Way about which all these words have been written.
E V A M
A note on hierarchy and the order of presentation
The Buddha instructed that repect should always be shown to those monks who have been in the Order the longest. This holds true regardless of other qualities any individual may possess. Hence, the sequence of this presentation is determined solely with respect for seniority in the bhikkhu-sangha.
These talks are not offered as a progressive teaching. Accordingly, it is recommended that readers feel free to select and read, re-read or omit as they wish.
A Short Biography of
VENERABLE AJAHN CHAH
VENERABLE AJAHN CHAH was born on June 17, 1918 in a small village near the town of
After finishing his basic schooling, he spent three years as a novice before returning to lay life to help his parents on the farm. At the age of twenty, however, he decided to resume monastic life, and on April 26, 1939 he received upasampada (bhikkhu ordination).
Ajahn Chah's early monastic life followed a traditional pattern, of studying Buddhist teachings and the Pali scriptural language. In his fifth year his father fell seriously ill and died, a blunt reminder of the frailty and precariousness of human life. It caused him to think deeply about life's real purpose, for although he had studied extensively and gained some proficiency in Pali, he seemed no nearer to a personal understanding of the end of suffering. Feelings of disenchantment set in, and finally (in 1946) he abandoned his studies and set off on mendicant pilgrimage.
He walked some 400 km to
At this time Ajahn Chah was wrestling with a crucial problem. He had studied the teachings on morality, meditation and wisdom, which the texts presented in minute and refined detail, but he could not see how they could actually be put into practice. Ajahn Mun told him that although the teachings are indeed extensive, at their heart they are very simple. With mindfulness established, if it is seen that everything arises in the heart-mind . . . right there is the true path of practice. This succinct and direct teaching was a revelation for Ajahn Chah, and transformed his approach to practice. The Way was clear.
For the next seven years Ajahn Chah practised in the style of the austere Forest Tradition, wandering through the countryside in quest of quiet and secluded places for developing meditation. He lived in tiger- and cobra-infested jungles, using reflections on death to penetrate to the true meaning of life. On one occasion he practised in a cremation ground, to challenge and eventually overcome his fear of death. Then, as he sat cold and drenched in a rain storm, he faced the utter desolation and loneliness of a homeless monk.
In 1954, after years of wandering, he was invited back to his home village. He settled close by, in a fever-ridden, haunted forest called 'Pah Pong'. Despite the hardships of malaria, poor shelter and sparse food, disciples gathered around him in increasing numbers. The monastery which is now known as Wat Pah Pong began there, and eventually branch monasteries were also established elsewhere.
In 1967 an American monk came to stay at Wat Pah Pong. The newly ordained Venerable Sumedho had just spent his fist vassa ('Rains' retreat) practising intensive meditation at a monastery near the Laotian border. Although his efforts had borne some fruit, Venerable Sumedho realised that he needed a teacher who could train him in all aspects of monastic life. By chance, one of Ajahn Chah's monks -- one who happened to speak a little English! -- visited the monastery where Venerable Sumedho was staying. Upon hearing about Ajahn Chah, he asked to take leave of his preceptor, and went back to Wat Pah Pong with the monk.
Ajahn Chah willingly accepted the new disciple, but insisted that he receive no special allowances for being a Westerner. He would have to eat the same simple alms food and practise in the same way as any other monk at Wat Pah Pong.
The training there was quite harsh and forbidding. Ajahn Chah often pushed his monks to their limits, to test their powers of endurance so that they would develop patience and resolution. He sometimes initiated long and seemingly pointless work projects, in order to frustrate their attachment to tranquillity. The emphasis was always on surrender to the way things are, and great stress was placed upon strict observance of the vinaya.
In the course of events, other Westerners came through Wat Pah Pong. By the time Venerable Sumedho was a bhikkhu of five vassas, and Ajahn Chah considered him competent enough to teach, some of these new monks had also decided to stay and train there.
In the hot season of 1975, Venerable Sumedho and a handful of Western bhikkhus spent some time living in a forest not far from Wat Pah Pong. The local villagers there asked them to stay on, and Ajahn Chah consented. Thus Wat Pah Nanachat ('International Forest Monastery') came into being, and Venerable Sumedho became the abbot of the first monastery in
In 1977, Ajahn Chah was invited to visit
He returned to
After this trip, and again in 1981, Ajahn Chah spent the 'Rains' away from Wat Pah Pong, since his health was failing due to the debilitating effects of diabetes. As his illness worsened, he would use his body as a teaching, a living example of the impermanence of all things. He constantly reminded people to endeavour to find a true refuge within themselves, since he would not be able to teach for very much longer.
Before the end of the 'Rains' of 1981, he was taken to