Venerable Acariya Mun's Path of Practice
by Acariya Maha Boowa Ñanasampanno | 256,801 words
This book includes many things that may not be easy to understand for the reader who is not familiar with the theory and practice of Theravada Buddhism. This book is a translation of the Dhutanga practices of Venerable Acharn Mun Bhuridatta....
The word “Kammatthana” is a technical term. Although it is given a special significance in the way of Dhamma as practised by those who are Dhutanga Bhikkhus. But the true basis of kammatthana is to be found in everyone — in men, women, those who are ordained and lay people, for it refers to such things as hair of the head, hair of the body, and the rest. Some people may not have understood the full meaning of the word “kammatthana” or “Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhu”. But this book will be concerned only with the way of practice of Dhutanga Kammatthana as derived from Venerable Acharn Mun (Bhuridatta Thera). Outside of this I am not well versed or experienced in other ways of practice, only having a passing acquaintance with them without ever having had a chance to become familiar with them. However, concerning those ways in which Venerable Acharn Mun led his followers I understand them quite well, having seen, heard, and practised them. But before writing about this, some explanation of the word kammatthana will be given, for it is the basis of the way of practice of Kammatthana Bhikkhus and this will serve as a guide to show how it conforms to the practices which will be described later on.
The word “kammatthana” has been well known among Buddhists for a long time and the accepted meaning is: “the place of work (or basis of work).” But the “work” here is a very important work and means the work of demolishing the world of birth (bhava). Demolishing (future) births, kilesas, tanha, and the removal and destruction of all avijja from our hearts. All this is in order that we may be free from dukkha. In other words, free from birth, old age, pain and death, for these are the bridges that link us to the round of samsara (vatta), which is never easy for any beings to go beyond, free. This is the meaning of “work” in this context rather than any other meaning, such as work as is usually done in the world. The result that comes from putting this work into practice, even before reaching the final goal, is happiness in the present and in future lives. Therefore those Bhikkhus who are interested and who practise these ways of Dhamma are usually known as Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhus, a title of respect given with sincerity by fellow Buddhists.
A form of kammatthana which has been very important since the time of the Buddha, and is taught by the Upajjhaya (Preceptor) at the time of ordination, consists of five parts of the body: “Kesa — hair of the head; Loma — hair of the body; Nakha — nails; Danta — teeth; Taco — skin; in both forward and reverse order.” These are taught so that the one who has been ordained should grasp them as a method of contemplation, going back and forth over them, time after time until skill is gained and one of them, or all five, are known thoroughly. For these five are important parts of the bodies of all men and women.
But that which is called the “kammatthana”, which is the “supporting object” (arammana) of any particular citta, is of many kinds, and according to the texts, which can be consulted by those who are interested, there are forty such objects. The main reason why there are so many different kinds of kammatthana is to allow those who are interested in practising to choose one or more which are suitable to their characters, for the characteristics of people differ. This is similar to diseases, which are of many kinds and therefore require different medicines to treat them.
The method is to take up one of those objects and to repeat its name (parikamma–bhavana) in any bodily position that is suitable or appropriate. For example, repeating, Kesa… Kesa… Kesa… Kesa…, or Loma… Loma… Loma… Loma…, having mindfulness to maintain constant control, and not letting the heart wander elsewhere, while being aware of the particular Dhamma object, the name of which one is repeating, and not frequently changing about between several Dhamma objects — which is characteristic of one who is halfhearted and desultory. One should continue in this way until either truly experiencing the results or truly knowing that the object does not suit one’s character, before changing to a new object.
One who truly knows that a particular object suits his character should take hold of it as the heart’s guide and continue to persevere without weakening until he experiences the results more and more and goes forward into the ground of Dhamma where it becomes necessary for him to change the object of Dhamma — which he will know for himself.
The result that comes from practising with these or any other kinds of Dhamma that suit one’s character, is an increasing happiness and calm within the heart which one has never experienced before. This calmness of heart begins at the lowest level, which is the attainment of calm for only a few moments. Then it increases to a moderate duration, and finally to a state of calm for as long as one wants to rest, and to withdraw from it as one wishes. This last state of calm is both much more subtle, deep and intimate than the others.
While the citta is calm it can let go of all those emotional disturbances which normally trouble it in various ways and then there remains only the “knowing” and “brightness” which are innate qualities of the heart, as well as happiness which arises from the calm, and accords with the level of the heart. There is nothing else there, because at this moment the citta is without any objective support (arammana) and it is its own self and alone. Even if there are subtle kinds of kilesas within it they do not show themselves, for it is like still, clear, unclouded water in which any remaining sediment has settled to the bottom and does not make the water muddy, so that it is clear and clean and fit to be used for drinking, washing or anything else.
The heart which is without any objective support is peaceful in itself and for however long it stays alone it will be happy, wonderful, meaningful and of great value causing “the owner” to admire it long and much while it remains in that state. In that it is both meaningful and wonderful it never becomes insipid even long afterwards. This is because the heart which is profound and wonderful is already within oneself, so that when it is cleansed and one goes inside and truly reaches it even for only a moment, it immediately shows one by direct experience how wonderful it is. But if one lets it go, letting it slip out of one’s hands, and it deteriorates due to not truly going back to the method of practice or trying to develop it further, it will cause one to long for it and to feel very upset that one cannot get back to that state of the citta. It is probably for this reason, that at the time of the Buddha, the heart of one of the Savakas developed and deteriorated up to six times, until he became very disappointed and sorry because of his longing. But finally he became one of the Savaka Arahants because exertion and striving acted as a bridge that made the link, enabling him to penetrate and reach the Deathless (Amata) Dhamma — which is the realm of happiness. This he did by relying upon the Kammatthana Dhamma as the way to go forward.
Of the countless Buddhas and Savaka Arahants of each Buddha who have attained Parinibbana throughout the immeasurable past, including those of the Lord Buddha, the Samana Gotama and his Savakas who passed on a few thousand years ago, all of them did so and arose up to the state of Buddha and the state of Arahant by using one or more of these kammatthanas — such as the five Kammatthanas. Not even one of them realised Dhamma without a kammatthana, so one may reasonably claim that kammatthana is the birthplace of all the Exalted Ones. This is because, before it is possible for the rupa and nama of a Bhikkhu or a lay person to develop and metamorphose from the state of an ordinary person (puthujjana) into that of a Noble person (Ariya puggala) from the lowest to the highest level, he must have a Kammatthana Dhamma as the device that will “wash him clean”, and the device that will in various ways, process and alter his thinking and understanding that are the background of his citta which has the “seeds” of vatta embedded within it, and will scatter them so that they disperse and disappear entirely. Then it will alter and become the “Buddha–heart” and an entirely new sphere of heart arises in complete purity.
Therefore, all of the Buddhas have upheld the kammatthana as a vitally important and essential Dhamma, and every one of the “World Teachers” (Sasada) have always praised it highly in the circle of those who followed their religion right up to the present era. This is also the case in the religion of our Samana Gotama who upheld the kammatthana as the pattern and the ancient unchanging tradition to be followed, and he was the first and the foremost and he became the Lord Buddha because of the forty Kammatthanas, of which anapanasati is an example. The Lord Buddha also taught these kammatthanas to his followers and they have come down to us in the present age, and they still act as a bridge, linking beings in the world right up to Nibbana — and they will continue to do so until the end is reached of the power of the inherent good characteristics (vasana) of those who follow the Lord. For these reasons the term “kammatthana” has always been a special form of Dhamma within the circle of the Sasana, and it will always be so.
Someone who has faith in Buddhism but has not yet cultivated and practised the way of kammatthana, yet knows something about the hidden things which are within himself, both good and bad, should not just think how clever he is in his self-knowledge, even if he can remember everything which he has read out of the Ti–Pitaka. Because the Ti–Pitaka is only a balance sheet of the good and evil of those things, or natural phenomena, which are within oneself and it remains like this until it has been recognised by a form of practice in which the kammatthana clearly shows up the way leading to the truth in accordance with the intention of the Lord in revealing Dhamma and teaching the world.
These forty aspects of kammatthana are the cupboard where the Ti–Pitaka is kept. They are the means for the destruction of becoming and birth. They are the tools for destroying the “rotating wheel” (cakka) that leads worldly beings whirling around through birth and death until they neither know their old and new lives, nor their old and new dukkha which is all mixed up with these lives, all of which they cut off completely.
Doing a form of practice which is without any of these Dhammas in any way, to give support and help to it will not lead to the destruction of the kilesas and the mass of Dukkha which are within one, nor will it reduce them, ameliorate them and eradicate them at all. But a practice which has these Dhammas to give some aid and support to it can certainly destroy the mass of Dukkha entirely.
For this reason, one who practises for calm and happiness and for knowing clearly and penetrating into all Dhammas must take hold of these Kammatthana Dhammas as the life-line of his practice all the way through from the lowest to the highest level of Dhamma, this being the freedom (vimutti) of Nibbana. Whoever does the practice to develop virtue in a good and true manner and by whatever method, when he reaches a truly decisive situation — in other words, when he is taking a step up from a lower to a higher ground or level of citta and Dhamma — he will have to turn back and take up one or other of these Kammatthana Dhammas as the means of going on, so that he will be able to pass through and go beyond with ease and safety. Because these Dhammas are where all the Dhamma Truths (Sacca–Dhamma), which have Path, Fruition and Nibbana as their topmost point, are drawn together. All these Dhammas are within the sphere of the Buddha Sasana, and all the Great Teachers (Sasada) of each era have been the first to reveal and teach them, each in the same manner, after which they were handed down successively from teacher to pupil.
Those who are still doubtful of the Buddhas, each of whom revealed and taught Dhamma in the various ages, until we come to the present Great Teacher who is our Lord Buddha, should practise and investigate by the way of the Dhamma of kammatthana, which he also demonstrated, proving it truly by the ways of wisdom until the results arose as he had intended. Then one will know from the knowledge and experience that arises from one’s own practice with complete clarity that the Great Teacher and Dhamma are not different but are one and the same thing. Which accords with the essence of Dhamma that the Lord revealed in brief, thus: “Whoever sees Dhamma sees the Tathagata.” The Dhamma in this saying proclaims all the Tathagatas very clearly and lets us know that the Tathagatas always dwell in Dhamma and are not dependent on time and place. For even though each of the Buddhas entered Parinibbana long ago, as understood in the conventions of the world, the truth in fact is that the Tathagata is just this Dhamma.
All those who have seen Dhamma within the heart with clarity and certainty have no doubts regarding the Tathagatas at all — and what state the Tathagatas dwell in. For although the world understands that once they have entered Nibbana they all disappear into silence and the Great Teacher is no longer there to teach with metta. The truth is that the Dhamma which the Lord bestowed and which causes Enlightenment to arise in his followers is in fact our Great Teacher.
If one has enough interest to want to have the Great Teacher within one’s heart, it can be there at all times, just as if the Lord Buddha was still living. It only depends on the extent to which one is wholehearted in one’s respect and reverence and pays heed to Dhamma which represents the Lord, and to what extent one rates it as more important than other things. For even if the Lord were still alive it would be of no help to one at all if one took no interest in it, and one would still be just as lost as one was before without gaining anything.
So as not to cause regret and remorse to oneself in the future, and to bring contentment of heart both in the present and the future, one should practise and develop oneself by way of the Dhamma that was bestowed on us by the Lord Buddha as his inheritance and which stands in place of him. The results will be the same in all respects, as if the Lord Buddha was still living and there will be no difference in it at all. In other words one will have Dhamma, which is the Great Teacher in one’s heart constantly at all times.
The topic of kammatthana, up to this point, has been considered repeatedly and at length until the reader must be getting tired. So I hope you will excuse my lack of ability once again which leads me to repeat myself sometimes. But to some extent I think that this is necessary, for there might be some who do not yet understand the meaning of kammatthana as they should and by this means they may be able to understand and to learn some of the ways of practice. Then, when they feel they would like to do some practice it will be much easier for them to do so.
From this point on, we will consider the ways of practice that Acharn Mun led his followers to do, which are still done right up to the present day. Doing the practice in the way that he taught is quite difficult because it goes contrary to the ways of the world in bodily actions, speech and mind. The basis of these practices are the thirteen “Dhutangas” and the fourteen “khandha–vatta” (duties), which are mostly methods of practice concerning the physical body from the duties to be done in regard to visiting guests; right up to the forty kammatthanas, which are the methods of practice by way of the heart (mind). These are all interrelated with the various modes of striving.
Those who wholeheartedly take up the life of the Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhu must put up with things which go against their ingrained habits and which have been long buried in their bodies and hearts until they have become (strong) tendencies of character which are very difficult to get rid of. They must strive to get rid of them without weakening or giving up, because the manners and ways of those who are ordained are different from those of lay people in all sorts of ways. For in behaviour, manners, restraint and watchfulness, they must do things in the customary ways of the Bhikkhus, which is that of a calm and seemly manner. Therefore the Dhutanga Bhikkhu should be strict in doing those duties and other practices which he ought to do, so that he may feel contented and easy in himself and be an admirable example which gives confidence to others. For the thirteen Dhutanga observances and the various duties together with all the kammatthanas, are just methods of Dhamma that straighten out the characteristic tendency of being obstinate.
Bhikkhus are derived from lay people and those tendencies of character are bound to be attached to them. If there are no methods of straightening them out, or applying disciplines then it is probable that they will not go beyond the stage of receiving ordination (as a Bhikkhu) and will ruin themselves and also their monasteries and religion. For generally speaking, the tendencies of character of people are such that they like to torment and ruin themselves and others in various ways, and this they do continually without even having to depend on any deliberate intention to do so. This is due to the formation of habits and their ambition which desires all sorts of things, which lead them on. Or because they cannot correctly understand a situation and then jump to conclusions and guess what is right. This opens the way for them to have dukkha and trouble all the time in all situations and seldom to experience the ease and comfort of body and happiness of heart which they desire.
The words, “torment and ruin themselves”, in the above paragraph means various ways of thinking which are harmful to themselves, although within themselves they may or may not know that they are wrong (thoughts) and that they are the fuse which burns leading to damage and destruction for others, until it reaches the point where they spread out into speech and physical action — which may be called a case of persecution and destruction of everything.
Now, we shall go on to describe the ways of practical training of those Bhikkhus who were living with Venerable Acharn (Mun). After this we shall write about what happened to some of his followers after they left Venerable Acharn and went off to practise and to live on their own.
To begin with, those who came to Venerable Acharn Mun’s monastery, for training and the practice of kammatthana were normally taught by him that they should make themselves to be diligent and energetic in doing all the duties and works which a Bhikkhu ought to do. He taught them to be sharp in hearing and seeing, to be nimble and dextrous in movement, to do things quickly and not in a tardy, clumsy manner. He taught them to be resourceful and to use their ingenuity both in external things and internally for the sake of Dhamma in all sorts of ways, and not to remain idle like a lost person. In moving here and there they should have mindfulness present and he taught them to be careful and precise in all circumstances.
In regard to meditation practice Venerable Acharn Mun taught all methods, starting from the five kammatthana as a basis and going on to include the other kammatthana depending on what suited the character of each individual. While listening to his teaching they would also practise samadhi meditation in themselves and there were some whose citta became calm and peaceful while they were listening to his teaching and the state of samadhi arose in them, even though it had never previously been experienced by them since they had started practising the training. Many Bhikkhus and novices who went to be trained by Venerable Acharn gained results from samadhi meditation (bhavana) while sitting and listening to his teaching in various different ways depending on their individual characteristics, but their experiences were hardly ever identical.
Receiving the teaching from Venerable Acharn was a good way to lull the hearts of those who were listening, into both the states of samadhi and wisdom (pañña) in their various ascending levels. Those who had never experienced a state of calm began to get calm, but those who had already experienced some calm increased its depth each time that they listened to his teaching. Those who already had samadhi as their basis would gradually increase the firmness of that basis, whereas, for those who had begun to use wisdom, the teaching was a means of helping to develop their wisdom each time. Finally, for those who had attained the field of wisdom as their basis, at the time they were listening to the teaching it was as if Venerable Acharn helped to clean up the method of mindfulness and wisdom so that it became wider and deeper every time.
After the teaching the Bhikkhus variously went to practise, each in his own place and way. As for resting and sleeping, Venerable Acharn did not lay down any fixed rule or discipline, for he left it up to each one to find out what suited him best. This was because of the differences in the extent of each individual’s strengths and weaknesses in regard to their physical constitution (dhatu–khandha), their ability to put forward effort in developing themselves and the strength of their resolve towards the various aspects of Dhamma. Some took time to rest during the night, while others took a short rest during the day and increased their effort during the night, lying down and sleeping little, or some nights not sleeping at all and putting a lot of effort into their practice. Venerable Acharn, therefore left it to each individual to determine what was convenient for them in resting, sleeping and making efforts in their practice.
Along the path of progress which Venerable Acharn Mun taught, the five kammatthana and the thirteen Dhutanga were considered by him as being very important. In fact they could rightly be called the “life-line” of the Dhutanga Bhikkhus who were his followers.
Whoever came to him for teaching was sure to be taught these kammatthana and the Dhutanga observances within a very short time. If it was during the dry season he would probably teach them to go and stay in the forest under the shade of a tree, saying:
“Those large trees over there are thick with leaves, shady and peaceful, suitable for the practice of bhavana, the weather is good and the place is free from the disturbance and confusion of the world. Those hills are places where your eyes and ears will open in the joy of Dhamma. Over there are caves and overhanging cliffs, all good places to stay and develop the practice and search for peace and happiness of heart. In those wild forests you will be able to get rid of all kinds of laziness and fear. A lazy or timid person should go and live in such a place for it will help him to develop effort and diligence and also to overcome his fear so that he becomes more courageous and bold and relieves the load and pressure on his heart, which has become too heavy.”
“Over on that hill, in that cave, or under that overhanging cliff the air is good, it is right for bhavana and the citta can easily become concentrated and drop into a state of calm. Once the citta has become calm one will be able to see various strange and mysterious things that are beyond the ordinary level of perception. On that hill, in that cave, under that cliff — there are such things out there and anyone who goes to stay there should be careful and self-controlled. They should not carelessly think that because there are no other people and things to be seen or heard, that there is nothing else there. For there are many things which are more mysterious and subtle than the ordinary citta is able to experience. In fact there is far more than the material things which we see about us in this world — but we have no senses which are suitably adapted to display clearly their existence to us in the way we perceive other things in the world. So even though they are there, few or many as it may be, it is as though they did not exist at all.”
“Therefore those who practise should be careful to behave in a proper and modest manner in every situation and they should at least be calm and emotionally cool. If on the other hand, they have gone beyond this stage, all those who have Deva bodies in their different realms and levels of existence and who live in that region of this world, and elsewhere, will be glad and full of admiration.”
“This world is not void of all sorts of beings both gross and subtle, and even in the bodies of human beings and animals there are many kinds of organisms living in dependence on them; and those who practise to attain freedom from all conditioned things (sabhava–dhamma) in all three realms of existence should therefore, neither affirm nor deny things which they personally know and see, saying that they exist in truth, or that they do not exist and are not true.”
“Even in ordinary material objects there are both gross and subtle things and we still cannot know everything about them. Sometimes a person stumbles into things which can lead to widespread destruction of property and this characteristic is still there in the nature of a person who likes being vain and self-opinionated. For while he goes about in his clumsy, stupid and silly ways with no mindfulness present he can stumble into such things in the belief that there is nothing there at all. But how is it that a thing such as that whose existence he refused to believe in at that time and in that place could cause such destruction? This should be enough to prove to him what habitual tendencies of carelessness he has. That is, of course, unless he has no intention to give way or prove anything. In which case there is no way for him to know the truths which are to be found everywhere in the world and in Dhamma.”
“On that hill, in that cave, and under that overhanging cliff; I have stayed and practised there; they are places that capture the heart and free it from all worry and concern connected with the distractions and disturbances of the world. If you have it in your heart to seek the “realm” of freedom from dukkha, you should search for such places in which to stay, to practise and to put your life and everything into the hands of Dhamma.
Then it will be as though the Great Teacher in person were sitting in front of you in all situations. Both asleep and awake you will be happy and the work connected with the heart will progress steadily and not hesitatingly and desultorily as it does in places that are distracting and disturbing. The Lord Buddha and all the Savaka Arahants made sacrifices and they made the sacrifice of giving their lives to Dhamma in such places. But those who see no harm in the kilesas, tanha, and the round (vatta) of samsara are engrossed in aimlessly wandering and reserving room in the cemetery of birth and death. The way that they go about is that of people who have no destination at the end of the road and they find no pleasure in those places where the Buddha and the Arahants were glad to stay. Here is a charnel ground, and over there a wild jungle! Go and live in such places with the hill and forest people. They are places which in all ways will give you the incentive to work to cut away at the endless process of going the round of samsara (vatta) in your heart, making it weaker at every stage of striving. Those who do such work in a place that is suitable, and with the desire to get rid of the anxiety of coming to birth and death for many more lives, are very different from the ordinary run of people in the world. But in an unsuitable place, even though they walk cankama or sit in meditation for the same amount of time, the results are likely to be very different.
This is because their attentiveness, the closeness with which mindfulness and wisdom follow their minds and the general feeling about things in their surrounding environment are all different; so the results which come from conditions that are different must also be different.”
“One who practises the way and truly takes the Buddha as his refuge should recollect the Dhamma that he gave to us far more than the difficulties and hardships, of which the fear of death is the most important. Others include such things as, lack of the four requisites, such as the food which is attained on the almsround; the difficulty experienced in making the effort to train and discipline the citta which is wild, uncouth and adventurous, for this is its primordial nature; and the hardships involved in walking or sitting in meditation over a long stretch of time, which creates painful feelings that torment both the body and heart.
There are also hardships which are due to the citta refusing to give way and live within the prescribed boundary which is required; the hardships of hunger and weakness due to taking little food, because of not eating for a day or two or fasting for many days accordingly as it suits each individual’s characteristics, so that the work of heart can develop more easily; the hardships of living alone, and loneliness with no friends around nor the teacher who has trained and taught one and shared knowledge and experience together; the hardship of thinking about home, relatives and friends who used to give a sense of warmth and comfort; the hardship of being soaked wet by rain and having to put up with the suffering of having no shelter against the sun and rain; the hardship of feeling cold and numb as well as aches and pains which have come from various causes; the hardship of getting a fever with headache, heat and pain in various parts of the body and having no medicine or means of looking after oneself; the hardship of fearing death while living alone in the forests or mountains without anyone to look after and protect one, and after one has died, nobody to take care of the corpse which would remain for the crows, vultures, dogs and flies to fight over and eat. All these kinds of thought are obstacles on the path toward Nibbana. One must not give way and let them trouble one’s heart, for they can ruin a person and he will not be able to get through to the good.”
“One should realise straight away that these thoughts are the substance of the world of causal uprising (samudaya). They are the key which unlocks dukkha so that it arises and overwhelms the heart until it can find no way out. One who practises must have the courage and endurance to put up with the sun, rain, hunger, and the various kinds of suffering and hardship that arise within the body and heart as well as putting up with the various aches and pains which come to one, both externally and internally and which are accepted by everyone as things that all are bound to have in one way or another.”
“He who practises must train his heart to become firm and strong, to withstand the force of the storms which are always waiting for a chance to arise. They generally arise from the heart itself, where they are poised ready to break in and invade one and disable one’s resolve to work with effort, so that one becomes weak and ineffectual and one’s previous strength, resolve and readiness to put up with difficulties steadily diminishes, until one can no longer progress at all. Finally one comes to a stop, submerged and groping about in dukkha, as one used to be before one started out. Day by day one drifts further away from the Great Teacher (Sasada) and ‘Buddham Saranam Gacchami’ become mere words which any one can repeat. But the important thing is that the truth of the word ‘Buddham’ becomes steadily more insipid and disappears from one’s heart. This is what the Lord called ‘one who has given up; defeated by kilesa–mara,’ which means that he is unable to fight against his own low and baneful thoughts. One who is defeated by khandha–mara gives way and lets the mass of dukkha in his sankharas trample on him and destroy him in vain, without his having the ability to find a way of thinking out how to cure himself by means of mindfulness and wisdom. For he has enough mindfulness and wisdom with which he could escape and get himself out of the situation by using the skilful ways of a warrior to save himself from the abyss.”
“Whatever enemies there may be in the sphere of the world, none of them have such a subtle and penetrating power as the enemies within the heart — the kilesas and tanha. These enemies are a very heavy burden for people who tend to be weak, lazy and not much good at thinking and reasoning so that whenever anything happens to them they just wait and lose out without trying to think for themselves of a way of fighting and striving to get out of it.”
“This is the type of character which the kilesa–mara delight in and whoever wants to be their favourite should train themselves in this way and accumulate such characteristics so as to become their most favoured servant, the kind who never emerges and lifts his face up to see the light of the meaning of Dhamma — that which can lead them to final freedom from dukkha. Under whatever conditions they are born in the future they will then submit their hearts to the kilesas — their hearts which are worthy as an offering to the very highest — but the kilesas are the ones that always have the power of command over Dhamma in their hearts. When one thinks about this, it is very sad to see even Bhikkhus who are of the type that practise the way, giving in to such vile influences without using any mindfulness and wisdom to pull themselves up a bit. Enough at least to breathe and live with the peace of Dhamma as should be the case with those who practise the way, going into the hills and caves, carrying the ‘klod’ and bowl, to practise and develop their bhavana. But you who have come here to train and practise in this way, are you then going to give way to the kilesas and tanha and let them walk all over you and destroy you and then chant the funeral ceremony for you as they feel like it? If so, then the teacher’s heart will break and he will surely die before his pupils do.”
In talking about Venerable Acharn Mun’s methods of teaching, it is difficult to catch and display his characteristic ways, for they were the methods of a sage who was clever and penetrating and who lived in this present age. So I feel sorry how in writing “The Biography of Venerable Acharn Mun” and also in this book of the “Dhutanga Practice in the Line of Venerable Acharn”, I do not have a good enough memory, nor enough ability to conform to his greatness. So I am unable to dig down and find the real essence of his words and Dhamma which matters most in his teaching, so as to present it for you to read, in a way that is fully satisfying and is also appropriate to Venerable Acharn, who deserved to be called “one who is replete in Dhamma” — which is my opinion. But if I am wrong I apologise.
In teaching the Bhikkhus, Venerable Acharn laid great stress on the Dhutanga observances and he laid special emphasis on that of living in secluded places such as the forests, hills, caves and overhanging cliffs. It seemed to me that he constantly stressed this group of Dhutangas almost every time that he taught us. If he did not mention these places at the beginning of his talk, he would do so in a summary at the end. This was consistent with one who practised the way and liked to live in the forests and hills throughout his life and whose ordination was genuine and true.
His teaching rarely, if ever, let the essence of Dhamma become separated from the Dhutanga practices. As soon as he had finished leading the Bhikkhus on a tour to admire the forests, the hills, the caves and overhanging cliffs, which are delightful places, he would take them (in his talk) to the village on the pindapata round for various Dhamma lessons. He would teach them the way the robes should be worn and how they should behave in a proper, restrained manner. Not looking here, there and all over the place which is the manner of someone who has no mindfulness present, but looking in a self-controlled manner, quiet, modest and with mindfulness present in every move that they make. Meanwhile their hearts should ponder whatever Dhamma it has been their habit to practise and develop. Pindpata is always considered to be a very important duty for the Dhutanga Bhikkhus who follow the way of Venerable Acharn Mun and they should never miss it, except only when they do not eat food, in which case it is not necessary to go. He taught that when going on pindapata they should make an effort to work internally without letting up, both while going out and returning to the place where they are staying, and while they are arranging their food, putting it into the bowl and eating it with the hand. Also how, before eating, they should examine reflectively, using the repetition of the “patisankha yoniso” as the basis, with whatever skill each one has in accordance with the basic level of his mindfulness and wisdom.
This should be done for at least one minute before beginning to eat in a modest, reserved manner while being mindful both of oneself and the bowl. The food which is in the bowl is of many kinds and it appears in various forms, characteristics and colours. When it is all together in the bowl, what does one feel about it? One should wait and watch for the deceitful trickery of the heart displaying itself in various ways while eating. Set your mindfulness and wisdom to wait and watch and to check both the hunger that may be produced in an unnatural way, which is the work of tanha (fiery eyes and a monkey mind), and also the tricks of the mind which may think how if the food is mixed together in various ways its taste will be altered accordingly. By contemplating in this way the mind becomes revolted, disgusted and disinterested and has no desire to eat, for it goes against the natural inclinations of one who does this practice to correct himself in all ways and to get rid of all impurities in his heart.
The method of investigation or contemplation which each individual uses depends on where the skill of each one lies. It may be in contemplating loathsomeness or in contemplating the elements, or any other way which reduces and gets rid of the kilesas, tanha and self-forgetfulness. These are all correct and proper ways for each individual to practise variously as it suits his skill and ability while taking food. While eating one should make one’s task be that of having mindfulness present in every process, by watching the interaction between the citta and the food which is taken and contacts the sensitive taste organs and body (dhatu–khandha) generally while chewing and swallowing it.
One must not let the citta get out of hand and become obsessed with the tastes of various kinds of food — which is self-forgetfulness. For there is one kind of hunger that is due to the physical reaction of the body getting weak and wanting something to cure it, and there is also another kind that is due to the overruling power of craving (tanha) — the agitation of the heart looking for pleasure. The former is considered to be a normal state of the khandhas and even the Arahant can have it, like everyone else. But one must always be cautious and watchful of the latter kind and keep it under control, for if one is unconcerned and disinterested and lets it go its own way without restraint, it will lead one to ruin. Because it is the kind of desire which is under the controlling power of craving which floods everything, everywhere, and is never satisfied.
One who practises the way must have constant mindfulness and wisdom close to the heart to watch over this process of taking food every time he does so, so that his heart will be able to get used to examining and guarding himself in various situations while standing, walking, sitting, lying down, eating and all others, including the various activities around the monastery such as sweeping the ground. These are duties that the monks should do without letting go of their mindfulness and wisdom which are factors of their Dhamma work. For without them in the heart, in whatever they do they become mere performing puppets for whom their work has no meaning — for they have no awareness of themselves.
After the meal the bowl should be washed, wiped dry and if the sun is out, it should be put in the sun for a short while before putting it away in its right place. After that they turn to other things such as the walking meditation, sitting in samadhi bhavana or other kinds of work. After eating it is usually better to work at the walking meditation rather than sitting, because the activity gets rid of drowsiness better than other methods. But any day that one goes without food one will be able to sit and practise meditation at any time and in any posture without much likelihood of being troubled by drowsiness.
Therefore, those who are suited to this way of practice, often like to fast. Sometimes they fast for a few days, sometimes for many, sometimes for two or three days, up to nineteen or twenty days, or a whole month and in some cases taking no food at all except water. Although after fasting for several days in most cases they will take a food drink such as Ovaltine (if it is available), which is enough to relieve physical weakness. They do not take it every day, but only on those days when they feel very tired and weak.
In the days when Venerable Acharn Mun was a teacher, there was no question of milk, Ovaltine, white sugar, cocoa, coffee, or anything of this sort. One could not even find any pictures of such things to gaze at when one felt hungry — although looking at them could hardly cure one’s hunger. It was very different from the present day, for now there is an abundance of everything until it has become a case of opulence more than of starvation and lack. It is probably for this reason that we Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhus find it very difficult to follow the way of Venerable Acharn Mun and complain out loud that the citta does not become concentrated and calm and it is very troublesome. It is like this all the time and almost everywhere, but truly, how can it be expected to get calm (and here you must excuse me if I put down the truth of the matter); for in the morning they go on the alms round and they return with the bowl filled with sweet and savoury foods, and sometimes carrying an extra food container, and when they arrive at the assembly hall the food carriers are put down in rows. But there is no way you can avoid accepting it — for it is only given out of faith by people who have the purpose of making merit by doing good acts and who have made an effort to come from all sorts of places, both far and near in order to share in the merit from the Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhus with smiles and happy expressions. However much they give they are not afraid of having nothing left, because the power of faith leads them on to better themselves.
Up to this point it is troublesome enough, but then at midday, or in the afternoon and evening, there is ice, orange juice, soft drinks, cocoa, coffee, sugar cane juice, sugar, lots of everything coming until there is no way of consuming it and one just gives up — inundated!
Such Dhutanga Bhikkhus are therefore very rich but their meditation practice is not good. They are sluggish and tired, like a heavily laden ship just waiting and admiring the water without yet having left port. Therefore those who aim for the “shore” of Nibbana are very careful, watchful and strict with themselves and are not thinking only of their mouths and stomachs, nor how difficult and hard it is, for they strive and persevere and fight against the obstacles which bar the way. They are not careless with things, nor with the food, the requisites for monks and other things which they are given. For even if there is much they take only a little, knowing what is the right amount.
It is much the same with those who give up lying down, who reduce the amount of food they take or those who go on fast, for they are all methods of leading them to calm and happiness of heart. For those who find that fasting suits them, however long they go on fasting their hearts become increasingly calm and clear and their leve steadily goes up and becomes more subtle. Calm is then attained much more quickly and easily than usual, and when they withdraw from it to think and research by way of wisdom their hearts will be skilful, agile and daring and whatever they investigate they can penetrate throughout just as the heart wishes. As for hunger and tiredness, instead of being a trouble and torment to the body and mind, it becomes a smooth and pleasant way for them to progress each time that they reduce the amount of food they take or go on fast.
Those whose natures are suited to this way will always try to strive and do the practice by fasting, and contentment with few things, in the foregoing way, even while they are in the midst of an abundance of the four requisites. Because they look on it as just that which is enough to sustain life from day to day, whereas the essential thing is the Dhamma in the heart. This they hold on to in a resolute unwavering manner, with their lives as the guarantee that they would never consent to backslide or let go of it. For those who practise and who are prepared to die for the essential meaning and Dhamma which truly leads to the Path, Fruition and Nibbana, everywhere is suitable for doing the work of bhavana. This is their aim and they are not concerned about whatever sufferings and difficulties there may be. If they are deficient or lacking in anything they submit their hearts to Dhamma, which is the way that frees them from all Dukkha entirely, and has nothing secreted in it that could turn it into falsehood. Thus, whether they are walking, standing, sitting or lying down, they work all the time as if they were in the presence of the Lord Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha in all situations, excepting only when they sleep. But with this one exception they spend the whole of their time in gaining freedom from the kilesas — those things which bind up and entangle them in various ways. They purge their hearts of these kilesas without giving up or losing heart — as if they were about to destroy the kilesas and get rid of them from their hearts at that moment leaving none remaining to cause them any more trouble.
Those whose tendencies of character are suited to this method, will practise this way with urgency and no slackening or weakening of effort which could let some kilesas, amongst those that have already been got rid of return, take heart and laugh in ridicule and brighten with power over the heart once again. As for the kilesas which still remain, these Bhikkhus strive to go on fighting against them until they reach the state of victory.
Those whose tendencies are suited to a particular way and who have wholeheartedly set themselves to reach the goal of Dhamma are most likely to strengthen their efforts in the foregoing way. For instance, those who find reducing the amount of food they take to be the right way for their character will always try to use this in association with their way of practice and they are not likely to give up this method the whole way through until they reach the end of the path or until they reach a state in which the body becomes weak. In which case they may ease up and take more food as the situation demands and then later on reduce it as they did before, alternating in this way to suit circumstances.
Those who find that doing a lot of the walking meditation suits their nature, will always try to work in the mode of walking rather than any other bodily attitude. Even though they may change in between times to other attitudes, it will be just for a physical change of posture, after which they will revert back to walking which they have found to give more results than other ways.
Those who find that frequently sitting in practice suits them better than other ways will try to work in this way more than others, only adopting other bodily attitudes for a temporary change of posture. It is similar for those who find that much standing or lying down suits them, they mostly use those methods, all of which depend on the skill of each individual. Even the place in which they work must also suit their individual temperaments differently, for some like and gain heart from wide open spaces and a good climate such as being out in the open in the evening or the middle of the night. Others gain heart from living in caves, on hill tops or mountain slopes, in open forest or by a pond or other bodies of water, but that from which they gain heart best differs from person to person. In any case, those who practise the way and who aim for self-development will know their own temperaments quite well and will always try to work in whatever posture and place that they find to be suited to the nature of their own hearts.
Venerable Acharn Mun taught all his followers how to practise the way, both inwardly and externally in precise detail. He taught every aspect of Dhamma at all levels and all the practical methods of applying it, in a manner which was well reasoned, most impressive and heart reaching. Those who had received enough training from him and who wished to increase their efforts on their own would respectfully take leave of him and go out to find a place that was secluded and peaceful. Each would choose a district which suited his temperament and then find a place to stay. In other words, those who liked staying in hilly country, for example, would make for such a district and find a suitable place to stay and practise which was to their liking. But it is most important that there should be water available for washing, drinking and other uses and this must not be lacking, for one can fast and go without food for several days at a time, but one cannot go without water; and water, unlike food, does not load down the body so that it becomes an enemy to the heart’s work. So there is no need to give up taking water which would only cause unnecessary hardship for water is most essential to the existence of the body.
Therefore, the search for a suitable place to work must take into account whether water is available as a prime consideration. Even if one must obtain it from a source as far as one kilometre away, it is still satisfactory, for it is not very difficult to carry it that far. As for the almsround, if there is a village of more than about four houses it is quite enough for a single Dhutanga Bhikkhu. This is not really a problem because a Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhu is not concerned normally whether the food is sweet or savoury or whatever else. For whatever he gets on pindapata he is satisfied with, even if it is only plain rice with nothing else for days. Because at times he has fasted and at times had plenty until he has become used to it.
This may sound like boasting, but it is true and accords with what is experienced daily by those living the way of kammatthana. I also have experienced and grown accustomed to this way of life, but I never found any revulsion for it arising in me. Sometimes there is reason to speak in a boastful way to one’s followers about one’s poverty and lack of things even though people in the world tend to feel ashamed of such a state. People generally dislike talking about their own or their family’s poverty and lack of things for it is considered to be very shameful. But amongst Kammatthana Bhikkhus one can boast about it without fear that anyone is going to laugh at you.
I can write about this without any feeling of shame because the Kammatthana Bhikkhu’s way of life has been a life of poverty and paucity since the time of the teacher who started the lineage. It was Venerable Acharn Mun who founded the present lineage by going this way himself to start with. Then it was taken up by his followers and by their followers who tend to practise the way of abstention and hardship.
Being ready to accept some hunger patiently and willingly comes from the work of developing the heart, and the heart is found to be much more at ease than when one takes food in the usual way. The body and heart are then far less sluggish and inert — for those are the characteristics of laziness which is all embracing and which leaves one with no desire to do any work on the way of the heart in any direction. The end result of this is to let the heart go its own way — eating plenty under the influence of craving (tanha) which is in command. On such a day one neither wants to see or think about the place for doing the walking practice, for one just wants to lay down with one’s head close to the pillow — and if one lies down all day, this is just what the “big boss” wants. To persist in writing a lot is to advertise oneself a lot as being a Kammatthana Bhikkhu of special importance on that subject — so it is best to stop at this point.
When one thinks about it, the hearts of Kammatthana Bhikkhus, of other people and of ourselves are probably very similar. The more we are allowed to go according to our desires the more we like it and have fun thinking about all sorts of things without end and without taking note of any facts or science or text books at all. The whole story is the story of hell and we are satisfied to open and read this story by day and night, all the time without ever getting bored or satiated with it. As if that was not sufficient, we are even bold enough to grab the power to take hell as our playground where we can have fun and laughter without any concern or fear of the Lord of Hell. This is what can happen when the kilesas take charge of the heart.
The Kammatthana Bhikkhu uses various ways to discipline his audacious heart; sometimes by going on fast, or by abstaining from lying down, by going up into the hills, staying in a cave or under overhanging cliffs, and sometimes he sits in samadhi to discipline his desire to indulge in thinking and imagining. He must use whatever method he can to discipline his heart and overcome its obstinate refusal to give way; enough so that he can relax and live contentedly from day to day. Generally speaking, until they have attained a higher level of the citta which brings constant satisfaction to them, they will probably train it in the way that has been described above. In particular, I have seen Venerable Acharn Mun recommend to those who followed him to go and practise in this way. When they left him these Bhikkhus would then go up into the hills or into a cave for the purpose of training the heart in the ways which I have described here.
Some nights they didn’t lie down to sleep and rest the body at all because the citta liked to go wandering and they had to work at samadhi bhavana so as to tie it down. But when they went up into the hills they were also bound to rely on those things which arouse fear to help them subdue and discipline the citta — such as tigers! Animals such as this are considered to be very effective in disciplining the citta of the Kammatthana Bhikkhu. As soon as he hears only one roar on the side of that hill over there the heart gets ready to submit and stay close by, not daring to display any of its playful fantasies as it usually does.
Sometimes the roar of this great teacher who is so strong and powerful, breaks out close by. Then it seems as if one forgets to breathe and immediately one forgets the theme of the kilesas which have been indulging in wild fantasies with abandoned playfulness. They all disappear entirely and all that remains is fear and a shivering body. Sometimes, because of the intense fear, it seems as if one’s breath really does stop and although the weather is cold, the body gets hot and soaked with sweat. This is most appropriate for a citta which is so bold and stubborn and which does not want to listen to the sound of Dhamma and its meaning and which refuses to be taught. But now, all at once the citta is ready to believe in the Buddha and to submit to the extent of entrusting one’s life into the hands of the Lord immediately. One is not then likely to go on thinking about the tigers any more, because to force oneself to think at all would increase the fear so much that one could go mad.
The fear of going mad and the fear of death are very powerful influences which then force one to turn the mind to “Buddho” “Buddho”, internally; and having done this for a long time, the word “Buddho” and the heart can become infused together as one. From then on, the heart starts to become quiet and still until there remains only the one state of knowing and nothing else. All fear disappears, as though it had been plucked off and thrown away, and in place of it, courage and boldness arise without any thought of fear or of anything in the whole universe.
Then, the citta sees in a heartfelt way how baneful a thing is this fear of tigers and also how great is the value of the Lord Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. The heart is then stable, no longer wavering, vacillating and going back and forth in association with any objects which tend to arouse an emotional response (arammana). What remains is a calm happy state and a heart which is full of courage and firm strength so that the citta can change round completely and become an intimate friend of its enemy — the tiger. In fact one even feels that one would like to jump on its back and play with it, as with an intimate friend, without thinking whether it would do one any harm in the way one had thought before when one was so afraid. It also seems as if the heart can be a friend of all the living beings in the forest without a thought that any of the animals or any of the more mysterious things could be bold enough to be a danger to one. In fact one thinks that the various wild animals truly cannot do any harm to one. Because the one that would do the harm is the citta (of the animal) which initiates the thought which leads to action, but now, one’s own citta has power over them which will tend to weaken their power and the strength of their will.
Wherever he stays, whether in the forest, in the hills, under an overhanging cliff, in jungle, on a mountain side or various forest dwellings, generally speaking the Kammatthana Bhikkhu will look for a place that arouses fear in order to help him to arouse the effort to do his work more easily. Wild animals, such as tigers, are very effective in helping him to arouse effort and therefore he likes them, while at the same time being very afraid of them. He likes tigers because they help to arouse fear very quickly. Merely seeing their footprints on a path, in front of a cave or elsewhere causes the dormant fear which is deep within him to arise immediately, making for a feeling of insecurity and uncertainty in the place where he is staying. Then, whatever he is doing, the whole time he feels as if they are about to visit him, so his heart remains in a state of watchfulness. As soon as the state of watchfulness has arisen, the state of diligent striving is already within him. Because, when he is afraid, his heart must turn and recollect Dhamma as his refuge, or use whatever opposes and limits that fear at the same time as it arises. However long he goes on recalling Dhamma, he will be doing work which increases the strength of his mindfulness, wisdom and diligence in all ways.
Therefore, whether they like tigers or fear them, for those who have the intention to gain the teaching of Dhamma from them, both are things which support and promote this purpose. So they immediately gain strength of heart from them whenever they are present — even though one would hardly think that such a thing was possible, but the fact of the matter is that many Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhus have gained results in this way. All of this is due to the courage that comes from renunciation. If one is going to die, then so be it, for at that moment of time one has no regrets about one’s life.
When we are truly up against it with no way out and we cannot find any other refuge, we must try and think of how to help ourselves. Dhamma is by nature the most valuable and productive refuge and when we submit to it and it enters our hearts as the refuge of the heart, then at any time when we are in the greatest need of a refuge the Dhamma gives results which show themselves to us, immediately right before our eyes and in the heart, which gives us no room for doubt whatsoever.
Even though those who have never done this nor experienced anything of this sort may doubt it and say that it is impossible yet someone who has himself done it has the experience of it clearly and obviously evident to himself, even though others may neither agree nor accept it. Which of them is right is for the critics to decide. But the one who has experienced these things with his own heart is not likely to criticise them.
This is what really matters, for those things which one has clearly experienced for oneself are beyond question to oneself — such as the experience of Dhamma of the Lord Buddha to a greater or lesser extent. For the Lord and the Savakas there is no question of doubt anywhere in any of its aspects, but for someone who has not yet had any experience to confirm it there is no way to avoid some doubts arising. Thus for example, the Dhamma teachings that: “The Noble Truths are true things, good and evil are true things, the heavens and hells truly exist, and Nibbana is true”. In the special case of the Lord and the Savakas, they have no doubts because they have the experience and are enlightened. For others who have no experience, it is likely that questions, doubts and arguments will arise. But, for those who have the experience for themselves, all questions cease automatically.
Summarising the above; the whole of the Dhamma which the Lord Buddha revealed with complete truth has come down both to those who experienced it as it is, and they have complete faith and submit their lives to Dhamma, and also to those who neither know, see nor believe and who deny that Dhamma is truth. Since the time of the Lord, right up to the present, nobody has been able to display objectively what is the truth of this. Because Dhamma is not like external objects in the world whose nature can be determined by picking them up and examining them. For it can only be experienced with “sanditthiko” (knowing by one’s own direct experience) in accordance with the natural ability of each person who does the practice and works it out for himself. Therefore, the results which come from the training and discipline which each person undertakes are not common property which can be shared by others who have not worked to find out the truth which is within the ability of human beings to do, each one for himself.
The Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhu who trains himself by putting his life at risk should do this as a way to test the truth of both himself and Dhamma. By doing this he will not exceed the limits of what is taught in the traditional Buddhist teachings (Sasana–Dhamma). For what has been described above are the methods by which Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhus have always tended to train themselves and the practices which are variously seen to be suited to the characteristics of each one individually. As well as the corresponding results which thereby come to them. They do not act in a haphazard way and this is not written in a merely speculative way, for even I who am writing this have struggled up by the methods which are described here.
Those who practise and who follow this way have variously progressed and seen the results of it in accordance with their strength, which are enough to give proof and confirmation to them that: “The self-training and discipline by the various methods mentioned here is not worthless, such that causes are done without any of the promised results coming in response to them. But they are forms of practice that are full of meaning, or in other words, the results which one rightly hopes for are those which are accepted as normal in the field of practice of those whose practice is always excellent and impeccable.”
Nowadays many people say that the Lord Buddha has gone into final Enlightenment (Parinibbana) and that the Path, Fruit and Enlightenment have accordingly been influenced so that they are not able to bring forth their flower and fruit fully to those who practise the way as: “Dhammanu Dhammapatipanno” — “those who practise Dhamma in the proper way in accordance with Dhamma are said by the Lord to be those who give praise to the Tathagata.”
But such views as this are not to be found in the “well taught” (svakkhata) Dhamma nor will they ever be part of the Dhamma of the Lord. Because there is no absolute and sacred power apart from Dhamma, which has been “well taught”. And Dhamma is that nature which gives equality to all things. Therefore, those who have faith in Dhamma as their basis do not remain inactive and careless in striving to search for the attainment of virtue for themselves. From the first steps right up to the final cessation of dukkha they work with effort in various ways in accordance with their strength and the direction in which their abilities lie.
Amongst all the various methods, the Dhutanga Bhikkhu will most likely search for a way to cure or to restrain the defilements (kilesa) within him step by step in whatever way he has the most ability. Thus for instance one who is timid may use the method of taking the tigers as his teacher, to help him in his training and discipline, by making the effort to go into the forests and hills which are fearful places and a suitable battleground for getting rid of the fear in his heart — which is one of the most important kilesas.
It is normal for the feelings of the citta to change in accordance with the endless things that it contacts. Thus, living in a village or a town with many men and women causes it to have feelings of one sort. But going to live in wild hills and jungles or in lonely places such as a cremation ground or forests where there are many tigers causes different kinds of feelings to arise.