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....

Chapter IV - More About Training

& Venerable Acharn Mun’s Talk

Some Bhikkhus go and sit in meditation practice on the edge of a deep chasm, which is enough to make them concerned in case they should fall. But these Bhikkhus are not afraid and have to do this as their method of training. If such a Bhikkhu should forget himself so that he loses mindfulness, he accepts the fact that he may fall into the gorge and die, but he does this because when he does his meditation practice in the normal way he cannot control his citta and make it remain still. It likes to become involved with things here and there and to be agitated by them, creating a lot of Dukkha for himself without letting up for a moment.

Both people and animals are afraid of death in the same way, so when they are put into a truly tight situation, such as going and sitting on the edge of a deep chasm, the citta has got to work and it does not need anything else to force it, for death is what the citta always instinctively fears most. At such a time, the citta fights against death with determination and it calls up mindfulness to be present the whole time, not allowing the citta to go elsewhere. He has mindfulness to help and support him at every moment and when the citta is well protected with mindfulness, it does not slip quietly away to other things which are appealing to the emotions and which have been its enemies in the past. Then before long the citta will be able to drop into concentration and calm. Those Bhikkhus who have used this method have attained results which are satisfying to the heart, in the same way as with those other methods.

Methods in which something is used as a goad, to arouse the fear of death, are very important and valuable. Therefore the work of looking after one’s life by having mindfulness present and aware of oneself, causes results in the direction of Dhamma to arise in one’s heart. In other words, one comes to see clearly how the restless, boisterous citta calms down and tends toward samadhi, and one does not have to wait a long time for this.

Some Bhikkhus go and sit and do their meditation practice in a cave. When they hear the roar of a tiger they notice that the citta does not feel in the least afraid, nor does it give way and go into samadhi as they want it to. Therefore they must look for a method of intimidating the citta, such as going out and sitting in front of the cave so that when the tiger comes there the citta will be afraid and quickly concentrate, calm down and look for a safe place free from fear where the tiger cannot touch it. So the citta then becomes calm and goes down into samadhi.

Generally speaking, those Kammatthana Bhikkhus who have gained strength of heart at such a time as the citta is afraid and go on training themselves until the citta has dropped into a state of calm, feel quite sure that nothing that is dangerous can do them any harm at that time. But whatever the truth of this may be, they are not concerned, for they only think of it as being for the important task of gaining strength of heart then and in the future also. Even if they were to die at that time, they are ready to accept it and make the sacrifice, because their faith in Dhamma is greater than their fear of death.

This is why those who are truly intent on the essential meaning of Dhamma like to search for places and methods to train themselves in various ways without letting up. Because they have consistently seen results by direct experience from such places and methods. It is like making a small investment and getting a large profit from it which causes one much pleasure and should induce one to go on doing the same thing continually, without becoming either lazy or bored; as well as undercutting any uncertainty and doubt that may remain, about doing such things, as to whether they bring results or not. Because at every stage of the work, these practices give rise to the most obvious results which are self-evident.

One can sit in meditation practice in front of a cave, wander in the hills and sit in practice on rocky outcrops, wander in the manner of kammatthana at night so as to meet a tiger, sit in practice in a place where tigers frequently pass by, or walk cankama and sit in practice competing with the roars of tigers round about, but all of these have just the purpose of helping the citta to concentrate and go down into a state of calm much faster than it would normally do so. Or, to arouse wisdom in contemplation of the nature of wild animals as aspects of Dhamma, for the purpose of getting free from one’s “upadana” — ­attachment — to life and death and steadily getting rid of the longing — yearning for all sorts of things which are related to the citta. That’s the way! But not in any way for the destruction of oneself.

Those who aspire to get free from all aspects of dukkha based on birth and death, generally think and act in the above ways. Even the Lord Buddha, the foremost in the “Three Worlds” used the methods of abandoning his life by fasting, when he ate nothing for forty nine days, which is similar to the foregoing methods. For it is a method which needs strength and resolution in order to defeat the enemy within. But when the Lord saw that it was the wrong way he stopped. Then he turned and made an unshakeable resolve that he would sit and develop the anapanasati kammatthana until he knew Dhamma (Enlightenment), which was his original purpose. He further resolved that if he did not come to know Dhamma in a way that would satisfy his purpose, then he would sacrifice his life in sitting and doing this meditation practice until he died, without moving from that place. This indicates that if he had not truly known Dhamma while sitting in that place developing anapanasati under the shade of the great Bodhi tree, it would have been the last move of the Lord’s life, for even while he was unsure of the way, there was no other way for him to go.

When one thinks about those who are the best and highest examples to the world whether it be the Lord Buddha and the Savakas through to the teachers (Acariya) or those ordinary people everywhere who practise Dhamma, they do things, whatever these things may be which are remarkable and which are very different from the usual ways of people, and they make an undying impression.

Thus, the Kammatthana Bhikkhus work and strive and train them­selves in various ways according to what suits each one’s nature and ability. They do not do it for excitement, nor for what is bordering on the conceit that they are more skilled, brave or able than their teacher — or anybody else. Because they have the pure intention of seeking the essential meaning and Dhamma to lead them on to freedom from dukkha by using these methods. This is how they work and struggle according to their strength and ability which is not even equal to the dust off the feet of the Lord Buddha when he concentrated his effort by his readiness to sacrifice his life. When it comes to this, how could they think that their efforts were superior to the teacher’s and how could they do the practice for the purpose of being able to show off to the world when their efforts are not worth the dust from the feet of the Lord Buddha?

If we think of the way of practice of the Lord Buddha and how he did things and compare it with ourselves who are always falling and failing and making only a little effort and afraid that we may go beyond the teacher — the Lord Buddha. This is shameful and the most disgraceful attitude.

I also am very clever at being afraid in this way, whereas in other ways which are bad I am not clever and not afraid. This is the way of ordinary people who go head first into those things which the wise warn us about, things which we should not want to go into. But those things which they advise us to do and to go into head first we avoid and are afraid of diving into. When I think about it I become angry with myself for being so clever at going in for the wrong things. The readers should not think that I am a good example or many of them may become people who go in for the wrong things also.

Those Dhutanga Bhikkhus who looked for various ways of training themselves as already described, did these things from the beginning when they first received the teaching from Venerable Acharn Mun when he was still young, and they continued to practise what he taught right up to the present. They did not slacken and give up for they saw it as an inheritance which he had bestowed on them with “metta” and taught them in a heart felt way. So each of them tried to hold to the teaching with reverence and the faith that: “This is the practice which he has done himself from which he has gained results that have become his heart’s refuge. This is also the best which he has selected from his own experience which was resolute, full of punch and ­vitality, which he has chosen to show for those who are resolute in Dhamma to take hold of as a method for continually teaching, training and disciplining themselves in the future.”

They say that when Venerable Acharn Mun was young he practised with great determination and his teaching was very vigorous and full of punch, and he also had the faculty of knowing other people’s cittas (paracittavijja). Even when he was almost seventy two years old, which was when I went to train under him, his teaching was still full of punch. In fact, when I first went to Venerable Acharn and heard his teaching, I was almost unable to pay attention because I was so afraid. But at the same time I had great reverence and faith in him and had to submit to the truths that he showed me in everything that he said, each time, for it was impossible to deny them. When Venerable Acharn gave a Dhamma talk about the methods of using discipline to train the heart it was much more frightening, both in the sound of his voice which was loud and rhetoric, and also in the way in which he pointed with his finger while saying:

“Over there, are the forests! Over there, are the hills! They are the right places for a citta which writhes and turns about and is difficult to train. Don’t get involved in things, in friends or others in this Wat or elsewhere. One who practises the way must know his own character and he must know the way to train himself. If he does not know his own character, even if he went on working at his practice until he died he still would not get the results which he should. When his heart is obstinate he must be resolute in making effort and heavy handed with discipline. Whoever is afraid of tigers should go and stay in the forests and hills with them. Whoever is afraid of ghosts should go and stay in the cremation ground with various types of dead ghosts until the heart has become one with the ghosts! Then one will be able to say that the citta has submitted to the discipline.”

“If someone, who goes to stay in the forest is not yet unafraid in the face of the tigers, he must not give way and leave the forest; and if those who are afraid of ghosts have not lost their fear of them, they should not leave the cremation ground. They must consider the forests and hills as being places of death for those who are afraid of tigers, and the graveyard as being the place of death for those who are afraid of ghosts. But until they have got rid of fear in whatever it is they are afraid of, they must not leave so that the fear could laugh and make a mockery of them, for this would make them ashamed of themselves for the rest of their lives without having any way to right themselves.”

“If one has respect for oneself and for the religion (Sasana) in a true-hearted way, one must not let all sorts of fears arise and lie there where they can excrete their filth down over the heart. One must quickly grab them and pull them down and trample on them and destroy them by work and effort which is replete with patient endurance.”

“One who is afraid of death will be accompanied by death through various future lives without seeing an end of it; and one who is afraid of tigers will always have images of tigers coming to deceive him and frighten him. It is similar with one who is afraid of ghosts, for he will have images of ghosts of various kinds coming to deceive him wherever he goes, until he cannot live, eat, lie down or sleep in peace. Even if he happens to see a leaf fall from a tree, his thoughts would deceive him into thinking that it was a ghost coming to haunt him, and this does happen. One is a false person and one’s timidity and fear spoil oneself. Wherever one goes or stays one is bound to be timid and mistrustful due to the fear which the citta thinks up and imagines to deceive itself. Then one cannot find anything that is genuine and true at all.”

“However frightened the heart may be, a person must learn to face up to fear by the methods of testing and disciplining himself until he gets to know the truth about fear. If he is afraid of tigers he must learn and get to know this fear of tigers by experience, by means of mindfulness and wisdom supported by patient endurance; until a bold fearlessness arises and he can jump up and go looking for the tiger, while the tiger is not bold enough to do anything about it!”

“If he is afraid of ghosts he must learn and get to know about his own fear and about ghosts and what in fact ghosts really are. In truth the ghost is nothing but his own heart which haunts him with his own thoughts which make him afraid. Ghosts live with ghosts, people live with people and they do not interfere with each other. If he examines this thoroughly he should just live in peace. But he must not restlessly agitate his heart — for what do you think — would it be happiness? Why then do those who practise the way not know that the citta deceives them, and if they don’t know this, how can they get to know the true meaning of Dhamma?”

“I have been practising the way for a long time, for forty or fifty years or more. Fear, I have been afraid; Boldness, I have been bold; Love, I have loved; Hate, I have hated; Detestation, I have detested; Anger, I have been angry — all this because I have a heart, I am not a dead man, or monk. But I have tried with my utmost ability to train myself without ever slipping back or giving way. Those things which used to be in charge and overpowering crumbled away under the power of the work and diligence of the one who is not afraid to die. Nothing can get into my heart and hide there secretly and unnoticed, and wherever I stay I live easy without any worry. Nothing comes now in the way it used to, to stir up and cause the fallacies of fear, boldness, love, hate, detestation and anger to arise, which are all involved in the mass of fire of the kilesas which burn the heart.”

“What else could bring this result about but the training and discipline of the heart to make it live in submission to reason, which is the ‘meaning’ of ‘Dhamma’. All of you who have come here for teaching with the desire of eliminating all kilesas of every kind, by what means will you do this if not by training and disciplining yourselves with work and effort as already mentioned. To bring about the ending of all kilesas, such as fear for example, there is only this one way in which you must train and discipline your hearts that are at present wantonly ­playing and arrogantly running after emotionally exciting things (arammana) which they arouse to think about and imagine, to deceive yourselves. The Lord Buddha and all the Savakas were able to gain freedom from all ‘Dukkha’, only by this one way of training and disciplining the heart and there is no other way that is adequate to enable us to escape.”

“As for waiting for fear, laziness and feebleness to clear the way for getting free from ‘Dukkha’, this you should never expect. For in a while you would die, empty and putrescent, a stain on the religion and a bad smell also; and do not entertain doubt for a long time, it wastes a lot of time uselessly. The Dhamma of the Lord Buddha is not a Dhamma that pets you and treats you gently and softly and deceitfully. But if anyone has faith in the reasoning which the Lord has given us and is dedicated to the practice of it in such a way that he is ready to give his life for it without the slightest fear that Dhamma will lead him to loss and ruin, and if he sets himself to get rid of those things which are his enemies and which are obstacles to his heart, such as fear, he will soon reach the “shore of happiness”. For training and disci­­­plining himself with this Dhamma is the only way to get free from ‘Dukkha’, there is no other.”

“How should one think about those places where timid Bhikkhus go and stay and complain that they are frightening, even though the local villagers think of them as being normal and they are not afraid? On the other hand there are some places where I went to stay and practise, and all the local villagers were afraid of these places and they did not want to let me go and stay there, for fear that the tigers would take me and eat me. But I was not concerned about the tigers, nor about the villagers who told me that the tigers were very fierce. My lack of concern was not boasting that I had no fear of tigers, which in the eyes of the world are fearful animals. I was also afraid of them, but I was not afraid of them in a submissive servile way in which a timid Bhikkhu is afraid. On the contrary, my fear was the fear of a warrior, that : “Here danger is everywhere and it is bound to be an important place for developing myself. Whether I live or die I submit to my kamma which is the way of nature. If a tiger has no meat to eat — or thinks that the meat of a Bhikkhu is sweeter or more tasty than its normal food and it wants some, then I submit to it. But I must hold to Dhamma — in other words, to courage and renunciation for the sake of Dhamma — the whole time, without letting go of it until my last breath. This will be appropriate to the status of a Kammatthana Bhikkhu who is searching for Dhamma with genuine faith in merit (puñña) and kamma and who upholds the honour of the Sasana.” Having made this resolve and relinquished everything to Dhamma I then turned to the work of the heart with unwavering effort without giving up. The more I heard the tigers roaring to each other in the immediate vicinity, the more I turn­ed and made intimate contact with Dhamma, going deeply into it as if the heart and Dhamma were unified, together as one. The longer I went on fighting the battle between the tigers, and Dhamma which was the goal I was aiming for, the more I saw the wonder of the heart and Dhamma arise, displacing any thoughts about the tigers coming to eat me which would only have wasted a lot of time. But a timid person is like a young child who has learnt little and takes hold of fire to play with so that he burns himself. When a timid person is unable to find the way out he brings up thoughts of tigers or ghosts and then brings up fear to burn his own heart without knowing how to right the situation — like the child playing with fire.”

“Sometimes the practice both internally and externally comes across obstacles one after another. If then one’s heart is not truly firm and courageous one is bound to fall down in an incompetent manner. In other words, the heart is troubled and obsessed with its own problems and while they remain unsolved, dukkha goes on piling up until they are solved, each of them, one by one. So ease and contentment of heart comes sporadically, and in the body there arises sickness and pain. For the body is the concern of the heart which is responsible for protecting and restoring it, and the heart must keep a watch on it and judge what is necessary and look after it according to the circumstances. In some places the atmosphere is very heavy making it hard to breathe, which is bound to have an effect on the body and mind. But one has to put up with it and stay there until one can look for more suitable conditions and one may have to endure the discomfort of it for many days.”

“At the time when Venerable Acharn Sao and I first went out far away to practise, people did not know anything about kammatthana. The bare poverty and lack of everything focused on us two ‘warriors’. For the hill people were not interested like they are nowadays, and how a Bhikkhu lived, slept, ate and what requisites he used was of no interest to the hill people. You must not think that I became the Acariya that is here now by means of ease and plenty steadily building up results. In fact we had to struggle and strive and practise with suffering and hardship constantly while almost losing our lives.”

“Food! We only had bare rice to eat, see! It was like this much more often than when we had chilli and fish that they normally ate. The villagers had no lack of their normal foods, but they did not understand the manner in which Kammatthana Bhikkhus ate. At the most they used to put in one or two bananas as was customary in putting food in the bowl, and once in a while they may include a packet of chilli and salt. Sometimes they would give some chilli pounded up with salted raw fish, but we only found this out after we got back to where we were staying and opened the packet. We had to put it aside because we could not eat it, as there was no lay person available to cook it for us.”

“Generally it was like this for Kammatthana Bhikkhus at that time everywhere they went. It was only after living in a place for a long time, until we came to know their characteristics and they came to know ours, that they came to ask questions so that we got to know each other better. After that we would leave and go wandering to practise the way in another place where we thought it would be suitable. Then at the new place where we went, the same thing would happen all over again.”

“For the place where we rested and slept we had to accept whatever was available by force of necessity, as we had done in various other places already. If it was the dry season it was more comfortable and convenient for we could find dry grasses and leaves to lay down where we slept, enough to make it soft to rest one’s head on so one could lie down and sleep from time to time.”

“In some villages there were good people who, as soon as they saw a Bhikkhu come and stay in the vicinity of the village would go out and ask them whether everything was all right and what their intentions were, whether they were going to stay or move on and how long they intended to stay. We would then tell them something about what we were doing so that they could get some understanding of it. Then they would get together and make up a shelter where we could live, enough to ward off sun and wind, and a rough platform on which we could rest and sleep at times. Also a place for walking ‘cankama’ which would be enough to make it convenient for doing the practice.”

“Wherever we went, generally if we stayed there long enough the villagers would come and make up a place to live and other things, and they would come to have a true faith in us. When the time came for us to leave they wouldn’t want us to go and they would complain that they were going to miss us very much. But we always had to do what was necessary for ourselves, so we had to return constantly to the practice of wandering. Because living all the time in one place is not very good and our work would tend not to develop as it should. Staying for a while and then moving on is a way to rouse oneself and keep oneself constantly alert. I found this to be very good for my own character and my work developed well.”

“Going wandering in the manner of ‘Dhutanga’ in a variety of places without having any fixed destination nor any signposts to define the place or the time, both of which tie one up, is for myself a way that is unencumbered and full of ease of heart. As for others I cannot say, but if it is done for the sake of not being cluttered up, messy and disorderly, it should come to the same thing. Always moving on, then staying in whatever place one sees to be suitable for practising the way without any concern or worries. Responsible only for oneself; one’s body, life and breath being part of oneself and the practice of the way being also a part of oneself. Even the Path, Fruit and Nibbana, which should be within one’s reach, depends on the practice which is done by oneself — the one who causes it to arise. Going about and staying here and there, and practising the way for the sake of Dhamma, in the manner which is mentioned above, thus depends on oneself to search for what suits the one who should be able to attain and reach Dhamma which is the goal that it aims for and longs for with every breath.”

“When one is quite sure that in making conditions suitable everything depends on oneself, then one must go to whatever place is suitable and do whatever practice or training and discipline are suited to one’s own state. Then even if one does not want to go there, one must; if one does not want to stay there, one must; if one does not want to do the practice because one finds it difficult, one must; and if one does not want to do some ascetic discipline when one ought, one still must do it. Even if one does not want to put up with poverty and lack of everything including the four requisites, one must put up with it because one wants to be a good person, one wants to know and see Dhamma and one wants to gain freedom from Dukkha. But if one brings the kilesas to the fore, letting them lead the way, it will be just like it has always been!”

“A short while ago we talked about fear — such as not wanting to stay in lonely places for fear of tigers. This is the way of the kilesas which always hold one back, not wanting to let one go to those places where it is right to go, where one can practise in the traditional manner of the ‘Aryans’ who have led the way and destroyed these kilesas. But they (kilesas) want to lead one to go and stay in those places which are full of people and restless confusion, like those places where people have fun and enjoyment, such as the music halls, the theatre and other places where there is singing, music and entertainment of various kinds. This is the way the kilesas lead one on! They can catch the hearts of people and draw them away from morality (sila) and Dhamma so easily, and they can catch the heart of a Kammatthana Bhikkhu and draw him away from the forest which is the place where he does the practice. Or, they may not let him go into the forest for fear of tigers, ghosts and other things, and then pull him back into the trap — into the sphere of the halls of entertainment just as they like. After which they finish him off completely.”

“It should be quite obvious to us that if we let the kilesas lead the way, the result will be that they stamp their imprint on the heart in the way I’ve just described. I have therefore tried to oppose them consistently and never to give way, but to resist those kilesas which always lie in wait to tie up our hearts whenever they get a chance. Thus it was that I went to places where people in the world do not want to go and where the kilesas do not like to go. I did things which the world does not like doing, nor did the kilesas, and I trained and disciplined the heart — the heart that is liked by the world which cherishes the kilesas, not wanting to let it be trained and disciplined all the time by wandering in the way of Kammatthana to all sorts of places. Wandering in accordance with that faculty which sees what is right by way of Dhamma to bring one results of calm and peace of heart; and also to bring one enough cleverness and wisdom to know what is the true basic structure of the main army and the supporting units of the kilesas, and ­exactly where they are located all the time. And furthermore to keep going on in this way until mindfulness and wisdom have become strong enough to be able to keep up with them and to sort and divide them out in such a way that those which are good may remain and those which are evil must be destroyed and no quarter is asked or given. The main thing that helped in this task was the practice of wandering and the places where this was done, which have already been described, and these have an importance which must never be underestimated.”

“I always praise and think highly of those who practise the way in the foregoing manner, because this is the straight and direct way to the Path, the Fruition and Nibbana as it always has been and will be. But those who can only think of tigers coming to eat them as food as soon as they enter the forest make me feel weary and sorrowful and tired of teaching them. I don’t want to teach them for it is a waste of time and effort, and it is better to conserve my time and energy for teaching those who are genuinely interested and who are earnest and resolute. Then the Dhamma can be of use to the world, which is appropriate to Dhamma as being that aspect of nature which is so valuable.”

“When I see anyone coming to me for teaching, whose character is weak and flabby as if his bones were about to fall out of his body even though he is physically strong and well, I feel sorry, like looking at someone who is sick, who appears to be in a serious, critical condition and beyond hope of a cure by medicine. Then the Dhamma in my heart with which for a long time I have used for teaching people — in fact since I first started — all runs away and hides but where it goes to I don’t know. All that remains is mere knowing which one cannot make any use of. I think maybe the Dhamma is afraid of the influence of such complete weakness and flabbiness, which is more than it can stand, so it all runs away and disappears. Then I have nothing left which I can bring out and show him and I can only sit unable to think, looking at the heart and unable to say anything. Why should this happen? If one compares this with a doctor, he would probably have come to the end of his resources to cure such a severe fever, and with such a person as this I also probably come to the end of my resources to cure this disease of weakness and flabbiness which is beyond the possibility of trying to force him and drive him to a cure. So the Dhamma disappears into hiding and I have nothing left which I can say to him.”

“All you who have come here for training, have you ever thought how the sickness of being afraid of tigers and ghosts is also the kind of sickness that Dhamma is afraid of? It does not dare to face up to this sickness, so if you want to let Dhamma have a way in which it can stay with you, instead of running away and disappearing into hiding, you should make a complete change of heart into a new state. This change of heart need not be very much, for it is enough merely to see something of the virtues and faults of yourself, who is at present so timid. This can be done by thinking how the Lord Buddha, the Savakas and all the Acariyas were true warriors. So at least I must fight against that which I am afraid of at the present time. If I should believe that this fear is sacred, such that when I fight it and treat it badly and drive it out of my heart I would die, I must consider why it is that none of those who have trained themselves and ill treated fear, such as this fear that I have in my heart at present, and who have driven it out of their hearts ever seem to have died from it. Why then am I so afraid? And right now won’t I reach the stage of being driven mad by this fear? But if I don’t know this for myself, nobody else can know it. So how should I act now and practise for the best — or do I resist and go completely mad with this fear from now on?”

“In this, the evidence points quite clearly to the fact that the Lord Buddha, the Savakas and all the Acariyas — and in particular the one who is now teaching me to clean out my fear did not die from being eaten by tigers; and those who have already attained Parinibbana did not go there because the tigers eat them, but because of : “Anicca vata sankhara…”. As for myself, why then should I think that the tigers are the only ones who are waiting to act as undertakers with my corpse — as if the world was full of tigers just waiting to act as undertakers to human cadavers even though I have never seen even one tiger waiting to take the body of someone who has died. I’ve only ever seen “people” coming in various ways to carry out the funeral ceremonies, cremations and such things and gathering up the bones and disposing of them suitably.”

“After such contemplation I think that the fear will be prepared to leave, complete with its family, relatives and descendants who have long established their roots and dwellings securely in the heart. They will move out and scatter, fearfully shivering in despair, because they have no way to fight against a warrior who has the latest weapons, so they will go until there are none left. After that, nothing will ever again come trespassing, stirring up trouble and causing fear to arise.”

“In seizing each type of kilesa and removing it from the heart, if one does not have the method of mindfulness and wisdom as tools to aid one in suppressing them, but only anger to act in a threatening menacing way so as to frighten them it is no use at all. One should know that the kilesas are not like a stupid dog which runs away in confusion to the pleasure of the person who frightens it, but instead they are the cleverness and sharp wit of that base and vile nature that perches and preys on the heart of a person. The more one threatens them without having the tools of mindfulness and wisdom which truly frighten them, the more it is as if one were just making them laugh a lot and have fun biting into and eating the heart away; until it can no longer be called the heart of a person and it becomes the heart of an animal, a ghost or a demon entirely.”

“You must not think that the kilesas are afraid of such things as the force of barbarity or ferocity, for such force only comes from the kilesas themselves who provide it and they suggest that one should thus intimidate them. So it is good fun for them and they laugh every time one threatens them, because they see that one is stupid to the point that one does not understand that such threats are the kilesas themselves and this is just their kind of business.”

“If you really want to frighten the kilesas and to see them flee away before your own eyes, then you must go ahead and practise those methods which have been taught already. In other words, wherever there is more fear and wherever it is strongest, the more should you go there and stay there and the more should you examine and contemplate it without letting up or slackening your efforts. What if you should die? Then you should accept this and submit yourself to Dhamma absolutely without any regrets or longings at all. If you do this sort of thing the home of the kilesas is bound to be ruined and destroyed so that they all have to flee in disorder, confusion and turmoil, worse than a conflagration of the capital city. If you have never seen a capital city all in flame you should try reforming the kilesas using the methods which I have already outlined. Then you will see the kilesas running in panic and complete confusion away from the heart, more so than people when their house is on fire.”

“I have already done this and seen the results of it quite clearly and nobody can come and tell me lies about it. Therefore I can talk about it with full confidence without being afraid of whether anyone will laugh at it, or agree with it, for the story of it is true as I have told it. The Dhamma which I bring out to teach you, with whatever ability I have, comes almost entirely from this kind of practice and if anyone wants me to teach in some other way which I have never practised and of which I have never seen the results, I cannot do it. For it would be unfamiliar and strange and would be talk just for the sake of talking and it could lead others into trouble, and this I will not do. But teaching of the kind that I have taught here, wherever it goes, I can reach it, because I have the complete confidence in myself that I also have done it in this way and I have truly seen results of this kind arise clearly in my heart.”

“Whoever wants to see the kilesas falling from the heart and drifting away from it should try to act and practise in the manner which I have taught here. But if anyone wants to see the kilesas moving in over the heart with their children, relatives and various supplies for their armies, and setting up their houses and work places, and places to discharge their ordure of various sorts onto the heart, then he must go the way of giving in and surrendering to them. So when any of the kilesas stirs and comes out even just a little, he bows in submission and pays homage to it. Such a person will be the owner of becoming and birth — which means, continual birth and death throughout the cycle of the ‘round’ (vattavana). He has no need to escape for he can’t get free from it and go anywhere else even to the end of time, because the way of the kilesas and of those who promote the kilesas is just that of birth and death.”

“This is very different from the way of Dhamma and of those who promote Dhamma in order to cut away the kilesas and the cycle of births and deaths from the heart at every turn of their work, and in this work they do not hesitate to press forward and fight them in the manner of those who are not afraid of death. In such a person who is a fighter, even if the heart has been weak and feeble, it can change and become strong and resolute and it can go on until it changes and becomes a heart that is ‘free from the round’ (vivatta). Once the heart has become ‘free from the round’, there is no need to ask about the various kinds of kilesas for they will all have disappeared entirely.”

“Now which way do you want it to be? Are you going to be a fighter for continuing birth and death, or a fighter for the destruction of becoming and birth by getting rid of all the seeds of it which are buried in all our hearts? You must make up your minds now — don’t put it off. You must not think that your breath is very long — like an electric power line — for its length is only as far as the breath going in and out from the lungs to the nose. You must not delude yourselves into thinking it’s so long that it will go on forever.”

The foregoing is the kind of teaching (ovada) with which Venerable Acharn Mun taught the practising Bhikkhus from time to time. When he taught for the purpose of stirring them up so as to arouse a determined and cheerful attitude towards the practice of Dhamma the nature of what he taught seemed to be much more intense and pointed than normal. With anyone who had not heard him before, it was quite likely that they would be afraid, to the point of shivering, instead of becoming calm while listening, which is what should happen. For it would appear to them as if he was telling them off and threatening them, whereas in truth it was just his method of presenting Dhamma which was suited to the time, place and the people who were listening and taking in what he taught, and there was no hate or anger ­concealed in what he taught at all. But with those who had heard him before, the more they heard him urging them on in Dhamma, and however severe and strong he became, the more their hearts became calm and peaceful. It was as if he helped them to chop up the kilesas within them so that the kilesas were all cleared out of the heart in order that they could see clearly with their eyes and hearts while they were listening. This is the reason why the Bhikkhus who practise the way have always been so interested in listening to the Acariya whom they revere and have faith in, without ever becoming satiated, and it has always been like this right up to the present day.

The revealing of Dhamma in its various parts, on suitable occasions, to those who come for training and teaching is upheld as an important tradition by those who go the way of Kammatthana following in line from Venerable Acharn Mun, which is successively carried down both by the Acariyas and by those who come all the time to practise the way by depending on the teachers. Because the displaying of Dhamma as it applies to the practice in its various levels from the initial stages of samadhi up to the attainment of complete mastery and from the initial stages of wisdom up to the most subtle, is the display of a map or plan of the direct path of the progress of the cittas of the Acariyas. They bring out the teaching from their own knowledge and understanding which is genuinely derived from their own practical experience, so that those who have come to them for training may follow in their footsteps and check in what ways their own hearts do not conform to the teaching. When they are not yet sure about anything they may ask so that the teacher can explain, or amplify, or correct any points where their understanding seems to be faulty, for they do not practise the way in the manner of someone who guesses or assumes what is right and wrong, based only on his own thoughts and views.

Generally, those who practise the way learn Dhamma directly from the Acariya, from the initial stages of training in bhavana right up to the highest levels, by listening and checking frequently with the Acariya. Thus whenever their bhavana gives rise to knowledge and experience of any sort, they go to tell the Acariya so that he can then explain more about it to increase their mindfulness and wisdom each and every time, and also to correct any faults bit by bit, both in their samadhi at each level, and their wisdom in each ground of wisdom.

In the beginning stages of samadhi, the foregoing is not so important, although there are some cases in which a person may get strange knowledge of external things. If this happens the Acariya must be available to explain the way to practise with this kind of samadhi in order that a person of this kind may go on in the right way.

In general, the way to practise samadhi for each individual is to take hold of that basic way which he has been used to practising. Thus, those who have been able to attain calm with any Dhamma object such as anapanasati for example should take up that Dhamma object and go on practising it steadily without weakening or giving up. If then anything strange or unusual happens as a result of this practice they should go and tell the Acariya about it so that he can explain it for them to understand and so that they can go on practising steadily without going wrong. But where wisdom is concerned, its nature is such that it needs to be continually checked between the one who practises the way and his Acariya for it is most complex and intricate. But this will be explained later at the right time.

The Dhutanga Bhikkhus who follow in line from Venerable Acharn Mun have great faith and reverence for their Acariyas — beyond that which they have for their own lives, because they learn Dhamma from the heart of the Acariya so that it becomes their own Dhamma. Or, one could call it a transmission from one heart to another, and this would not be wrong, for in fact this is what happens.

When Bhikkhus who practise the way come together to stay with the Acariya in the place where he is living there are bound to be meetings for training as well as discussions and consultations going on all the time. Anyone who has a personal problem can tell the Acariya and get his guidance on this particular problem whenever there is a suitable opportunity. When the Acariya has explained and cleared up the problem so that the Bhikkhu fully understands, he will go and practise accordingly and try to make his knowledge, his understanding and his practical application accord with what the Acariya has recom­mended. If he has further problems later on he can go again to clear them up when they arise.

Others who are also doing the practice will go along and clear up their problems when they arise, in a similar manner, but they must not hold on to their doubts letting them pile up, for this would delay their progress, or it might even be a danger to them. Because this path is a way along which they have never gone before and it is quite possible for them to make mistakes and go wrong without them realising it.

Those who practise the way all think and understand in this manner, so that if any of them have any questions or problems they will bring them out and ask the Acariya about them, or one of the other Bhikkhus who they think will be able to clear up their problems. For in the circle of those who practise the way they live together as a group, with a genuine concern for and dependence on each other, and not merely living in the same place. For in living together, the associations between each other variously, make for many interrelationships both internally and externally. This is so from the Acariya down, including all those who are going the way of the “Brahma–faring” (Brahmacariya) together. They have respect and love for one another and when there is anything that they should discuss and talk over they are con­­cerned that the knowledge and understanding shall be clearly conveyed to each other without any underlying opinionatedness or conceit. Because of this, their living together is peaceful and harmonious and it is rare that any trouble arises amongst those who practise the way. In fact, in their harmony and cooperation, in their friendliness towards each other by sharing out things given to the Sangha (Sanghavatthu), as well as Dhamma and its meaning in various ways; and in the way that they are ready to submit and give way to each other, it shows how well they can practise the way and how they are worthy of respect. Both the seniors and juniors respect each other in their various ways in accordance with their age in Vassa and the level of their standing in Dhamma without any taint of being haughty and puffed up. For they have nothing but respect and a self-effacing humility and these graceful manners between each other are their normal characteristic behaviour and they live together in complete dependence on each other, as if they were all parts of one body.

Behaviour and Practice in a Forest Monastery

The four requisites which accrue to the monastery in varying quantities from time to time are shared out so that they go to every Bhikkhu and Samanera in the monastery. Excepting only when there are too few things to go all round in which case they are given to those who are in the most need. When more of such things are given on a later occasion they are then distributed after considering who has the greater need and who the lesser and then giving to the former first, but also attempting to distribute some to each of them, according to how much of each requisite each one has.

When someone gives things of various kinds, the Elder (Thera) who is the head Bhikkhu must call the Bhikkhus to come and arrange the things and distribute them to everyone including the Samaneras with a heart of friendliness (metta), as if they were truly his own children. For his love and compassion for the Bhikkhus and Samaneras as well as his attitude and conduct towards them is the same as that of parents for their children. Except in so far as he does not act in the “ways of the world” as parents do who sometimes tease and play with them, but he accords with the usual ways in which love and compassion take place in the Buddhist religion.

The head Bhikkhu considers that he has an important responsibility and duty which he should never neglect, this being to watch and take note of the behaviour and the characters of the Bhikkhus and Samaneras who he is looking after, and to advise, teach, admonish and scold them. Although the Bhikkhus and Samaneras under the Acariya may be very afraid of him, yet they also respect him greatly, love him much and have a lot of faith in him. At the same time, the Acariya also has metta for them and he loves and guards them well.

If any one does anything wrong he must be told so, reproved, taught and well scolded without any fear or favour, because both sides are very close to each other and they look on themselves as being virtually one and the same — a unity, which cannot be separated. Because of this, looking after such a group is easy, because both sides are based on Dhamma.

But if anyone does anything wrong intentionally it is considered by those who practise the way to be a serious matter. For even though the fault may be small it makes the Acariya and the rest of his followers lose confidence in that person, and it is only after he has been sent away from them that they can regain calm and happiness. That the Bhikkhus show such a dislike of one who does wrong things deliberately is in accordance with Dhamma. Because it is the way of people, that when they deliberately do wrong things of little importance it is sure to be only the prelude to wrong doing of great importance in the future. So when they “cut out the tree that has caught fire, while the fire is still small” they are doing the right thing, (samici–kamma) which we should agree with.

As was written in the “Biography of Venerable Acharn Mun”, they generally had meetings to listen to and receive training once every seven days in the Vassa period. But on other days, those who had any doubts could go and ask Venerable Acharn about them when there was a suitable opportunity and he was free. While staying at the Vihara, some of the Bhikkhus would look for a suitable place in the forest, outside the monastery, where they could walk cankama and sit in samadhi bhavana as they felt like it, both in the day time and at night. After the end of the Vassa period, many of them liked to go out far away from the monastery and find a place where they could hang their umbrella tents and where it was suitable for the work of self-development. But when it was time for sweeping the paths and clearings in the monastery (each afternoon) and for doing other routine functions of various kinds, including going on the alms round (pindapata) and eating food, they would normally come and join in with the others.

These Bhikkhus did not fix their times for walking cankama and sitting in samadhi bhavana, for as soon as they were free they just started doing it; and they never had any fixed routine of walking or sitting nor did they determine for how long they would go on working. Some of them sometimes walked from dusk to dawn whereas at other times they may walk from between two to seven hours.

In doing the sitting practice, one who is new to it can sit for about one hour and then gradually increase the time as he gains more skill and ability of heart (citta). But those who have become used to sitting can do so for a long time, and the more the citta has the ground of samadhi, or wisdom, the longer can they sit. Each time they may sit for between three and eight hours and sometimes all night; but walking cankama or sitting in samadhi bhavana for three to five hours is considered normal by those who are used to it and do it regularly. There are no aches, pains, tiredness or stiffness, because their walking or sitting is done entirely for the development of the citta and their interest is in this task and not in being anxious about various aches and pains in the body. Therefore bodily feeling does not bother them as it would when sitting normally, not doing bhavana.

For those Bhikkhus in whom the ground of the citta is at a high level as far as samadhi is concerned, as soon as they have entered into the practice of meditation enough for the citta to drop down into a concentrated state, they can rest there undisturbed for many hours before rising out of it. When this happens, feeling (vedana) is not able to disturb them, and as long as the citta does not rise up out of this state, feeling does not arise. Therefore, the walking or sitting of someone who has a ground or basis of citta is very different from that of someone who still has no ground. Even in the same individual there is a great contrast between his walking cankama and sitting in samadhi when his citta still has no ground in Dhamma at all, and when his citta has such a ground. Thus for example, when one is new to the training, to walk or sit for as much as one hour is very hard, but as soon as the citta has a ground in Dhamma, one is not troubled by painful feeling even after walking or sitting for many hours. This shows us quite clearly that what matters most is associated with the heart rather than the body. And again, when the weather is pleasantly cool, or when a light rain is falling and the body feels comfortable and the citta is quite clear, as soon as one starts doing one’s meditation practice one finds that the citta tends to be different from its usual state both as regards samadhi and wisdom. For the citta can quickly go down and rest there for a long time before rising out of it, and when the citta has completely come out there are no aches or pains in the body at all. Therefore the heart is the important one in the human being.

When these Bhikkhus strove for self-development they did so truly with full commitment to the work of doing this one duty without getting themselves involved in anything else. Their striving therefore went on continuously with causes and results taking place consistently and steadily. The way in which their hearts developed thus became more clear for them to see every time. If this was in samadhi they would know clearly that the citta was able to go deeply into a very subtle state. If it was in the direction of wisdom (pañña), they knew clearly that they had the skilfulness every time that they became involved in any of these “things” (arammana) which are the means of developing investigation (vicara). So the heart gradually emerges and rises out of the “boiling swamp” composed of the various kilesas like the sun arising from the ground (the horizon) to spread its light over the world.

These are the results which make all those who practise the way engrossed in their striving so that they forget whether it is day or night, what day month or year it is, and they forget time and how many hours or minutes have passed because they are just not interested enough to think about them. But the things which they pay close attention to all the time are their strivings with mindfulness and wisdom which will bring victory closer to them all the time they go on striving. For they see freedom from dukkha becoming more and more apparent in the heart which is being opened up. In other words, the various kilesas which cover it up are being removed by mindfulness and wisdom unceasingly. Whether sitting, walking, standing or lying down, all the time it is being opened up, the only exception being while asleep. But as soon as they wake up they start the process of opening up the heart by removing the kilesas from it. This is the nature of their work which is truly as important as their own lives.

All those Acariyas who have done the practice, both those of the past and those who are still living, must have been strong and persistent and they must have experienced a lot of suffering and difficulty due to the training and the ascetic practices, in a similar way, before they were able to become Acariyas teaching other people. Therefore, those who intend and hope to reach Dhamma, in a manner like those Acariyas who have experience and who reveal it for others to hear, should not do the practice of “jumping the queue” and doing as they please in the way that people in the world do things expediently to get results. One ought to know that Dhamma is very different from the world, and if those who practise do not follow the path and pattern of teaching along which the Acariyas lead them, but just do what they think is convenient and easy or quick and, as they say, “jumping the queue” and taking up some modern, up to date, Dhamma which grows in their hearts, there is no hope for them. Because Dhamma does not adapt to ancient or modern times, for “Dhamma” is just “Dhamma”, and the “World” is just the “World” and they have always been thus and they do not change and adapt. The practice of Dhamma therefore, should go the way of enacting those causes which are appropriate and suitable. The results which they should rightly hope for will then be able to arise.

But distorting Dhamma to suit their desires or fancies without any thought of looking to see whether it is appropriate or not is the same as the practice of “jumping the queue”, and the results which they are anxious to attain will be out of line, like a broken queue, or the wrong way round, and useless. Then they will be sorry and assume that although they did the practice until they almost died they did not get results as they should and it would be better not to do any practice at all. The word, “better”, and not doing the practice because of their false understanding, will then become a poison which burns them for a long time, thus becoming a doubly compounded fault. This is nothing but the way to destroy themselves entirely, due to going the easy way and taking short cuts as one likes and doing the practice in the manner of “jumping the queue”.

Therefore I ask you please to take note of and to keep in mind that Dhamma is of such a nature that it has definite laws in regard to both its causes and results. If then, one is going to practise Dhamma in the hope of gaining value and the highest blessings (siri–mangala) from it, one should take good note of the methods of practice, without thinking of acquiring or doing anything which is characterised by an underlying distortion in the sphere of practice. This includes such things as come from the conceit of being an up to date, modern man who wants to spread his views loudly and wants to be the motive force in a reform, all of which leads in the wrong direction.

Those of the greatest wisdom practised and gained experience to begin with, and then chose what was suitable, rejecting what was unsuitable with penetrating wisdom, before they revealed Dhamma to others in the name of the “Svakkhata Dhamma” (The Rightly Taught Dhamma), which is right and complete and always suitable in all ages. So that in whatever place and age, the Dhamma is entirely acceptable and complete in word and meaning. From this we can understand that the Dhamma is already complete and entire, both in its causal aspect and the ensuing results and it is fit to be followed and practised without any doubt and uncertainty. The results that come from this ­practice are always a steadily increasing happiness and all one hopes for, from the level of the Dhamma of virtuous behaviour (Kalyana–Dhamma) upwards to the levels of Ariya Dhamma. Or, if we speak in terms of the class of people who get these results, it includes the virtuous person (kalyanajana) and the noble person (ariyajana) going up through the various levels to the Arahant (Arahatta–puggala) and there is nothing lacking on the path of the virtue which arises from the “middle way” (majjhima) of practice.

Those who have practised the “middle way” in accordance with the principles of Dhamma have always pointed out that it consists of sila, samadhi and pañña. In other words, whenever one should have sila (moral behaviour), one should pay attention to sila; whenever one should have samadhi — calm of heart — one should pay attention to doing the samadhi practice so as to arouse it; and whenever one should have pañña (wisdom) one should develop pañña so that it arises. But one must neither promote exclusively, nor reject any one of these three and thus spoiling it, for this would be to reject and spoil oneself, because sila, samadhi and pañña are Dhamma treasures which are interrelated with each other.

Those who practise the way should pay equal attention to sila, samadhi and pañña and whenever it is appropriate to develop any of these Dhammas they should do so. For they are not things which should be rejected or chosen just as one feels inclined, which would be a wrong interpretation of Dhamma. These three factors are not three piles of treasure all having value in the same way, like silver, gold and the finest diamonds, so that one may just choose this one and reject that one. But because sila, samadhi and pañña are Dhamma qualities which are linked to the practice of those who need these Dhamma qualities, they should practise in such a way that they may be brought into action in a harmonious manner as and when there is need for either sila, or samadhi or pañña respectively. In other words, “sila” is the ground of someone who maintains sila to look after himself all the time, whereas “samadhi” and “pañña” should be practised in whatever way suits his ability so that they may grow in strength, for they are a pair which help each other so that neither of them may be deficient in any way. The way of practice in connection with these two Dhammas is as follows: “If samadhi has not yet been achieved at all, one should try to attain it by way of a “preparatory meditation” (parikamma–bhavana), or by any other method which both suits one’s temperament and is able to cause samadhi to arise. But if one already has some ability with samadhi, one should also develop insight wisdom (vipassana–pañña) when one has the chance to do so after the citta rises out of samadhi and it has sufficient strength for it.”

In doing that investigation with pañña, one should analyse the ­elements (dhatu) and khandhas, such as the body (rupa–khandha), breaking it apart and investigating its nature, going through it forwards and backwards, in and out, again and again while keeping to the way of seeing the loathsomeness of it all, or the way of seeing it all as the “Ti–lakkhana” (anicca, dukkha, anatta), until one becomes skilled and proficient at doing so. After this one rests the citta in samadhi in the way that one has been accustomed to doing so. In this way, samadhi and pañña may be practised in an evenly balanced way without doing too little of that Dhamma and too much of this one. Because both samadhi and pañña are Dhammas which help the citta to develop steadily without any deterioration or slackening. Therefore one who practises the way should pay attention to both of them in an even, balanced way, from the beginning to the end of his training and practice for reaching the Path, Fruition and Nibbana.

Neither sila, samadhi, nor pañña are Dhammas that are out of date nor past their time, but in fact, they are Dhammas which are always suitable and appropriate in every era, every age. They are always unlimited by time (anantakala) and there is no time, place or person that can ever force these Dhammas to change into some other form. They are Dhammas which are suitable to counter every kind of kilesa that exist in the hearts of beings and there is nothing else that is more suitable to do this. Therefore, those who practise the way should act properly with these Dhammas which will lead them to cure all the various kinds of kilesas so that they fall away from the heart bit by bit.

Sila, samadhi and pañña are the sharpest, most penetrating Dhammas in the teaching of Buddhism and they are used as the tools for curing the kilesas of all kinds so that they are completely eliminated. There is not a single one of the kilesas which can have more power than these Dhammas, all three of which are interconnected and one cannot single out any one of them which is able to cure all the kilesas on its own — they must all function together.

In writing this book — “The Practice of the Dhutanga Bhikkhus” — it seems as if it is becoming rather disorderly and confusing and may cause the readers to feel a bit confused as well. But this comes from the fact that the practice of these Bhikkhus has many aspects and all of them are also included under the heading of “The Dhutanga Bhikkhu’s Practice”. Therefore each of the different aspects of practice which each Bhikkhu who takes up the training uses to discipline himself, must be considered separately and explained. Even the ways in which Bhikkhus train themselves by living in the forest has not yet been completed, but it reached a point where it became necessary to turn to other aspects of the training which are derived from living in the forest, which led on to yet other things. So I hope the reader will forgive me for treating some of the topics out of order, but I had to do it this way for the reasons given above.

More About Training and Discipline

Now we will continue with the various ways of training and discipline as used by these Bhikkhus.

When they use any particular method of applying discipline to them­­selves and they feel that it gives them more strength of heart than other methods, they pay attention to it from then on without slackening or giving up until they are quite sure that the citta no longer displays any resistance and opinionated obstinacy towards it. Thus, when they go to stay in such places as have been described before and they feel quite normal in such places, just as they would anywhere else, they have reached the point where they can stop practising that form of discipline and go on doing their practice in more normal ways.

If they have already managed to train and discipline the citta, the result must be of the foregoing kind, such that wherever they live it is satisfactory to them and they do not upset themselves in various ways, such as by the fear of tigers or ghosts. But also, once they have disciplined themselves, even though the citta does not display any fear like it used to, if they find that they have contentment of heart when staying in any particular place, they will generally prefer to stay in such a place as their normal dwelling place the whole time.

This is not different from the way they acted in the time of the Lord Buddha, for the Savakas preferred to live in whatever manner suited their natural inclinations. Thus, some preferred to live in the forests and hills, so they stayed in such places for the remainder of their lives; for example, Venerable Aññakondañña who only came out of the forests and hills when he was near to the time of his death (Nibbana) and went to see the Lord Buddha to pay his last respects before finally entering Nibbana. None of the younger Bhikkhus or Samaneras, in the place where the Lord was staying, had ever seen him before, wearing his robes dyed with red earth, there being no dark brown or ­yellow dye from the jack fruit tree available in the deep forests and jun­gles. So they were uncertain about him, thinking that he was an old wandering monk, — “and where did he get those robes from?” — So they went to see the Lord Buddha and in accordance with their thoughts they said: “Lord please forgive us for troubling you, but we wish to know where this old wandering monk has come from with robes of such a frightful colour. They are red, as if they had been dyed in blood, or what else we don’t know?”

The Lord saw the wrong attitude of these young Bhikkhus and Samaneras who had such doubts that they did not respect this Maha Thera so he spoke to them immediately, saying: “This is Venerable Aññakondañña, the elder brother of all of you and the first of the Savakas of the Tathagata to reach Dhamma. You must remember your elder brother and keep this in mind from now on, for Venerable Aññakondañña has been an Arahant since the beginning of the Sasana of the Tathagata. He has always behaved and practised in the right manner (samici–kamma), habitually living in the forest and hills and having no liking for the involvement and turbulence of crowds of people. But now his body is old and beyond the point where it can be cured with medicines so he left the forest to come and see the Tathagata and to pay his last respects, for before long he will enter Nibbana. It is rare to find any of the ‘sons’ of the Tathagata who have an inherent liking for living in the forests and hills such as Venerable Aññakondañña has. So all of you should remember well that the Bhikkhu who has just left the Tathagata is Venerable Aññakondañña, the first and eldest of the sons of the Tathagata and the most senior of all of you — and not the old wandering monk as all of you thought.”

As soon as the Lord Buddha had explained the facts about Venerable Aññakondañña to them, the young Bhikkhus and Samaneras felt sorry and saw their fault in speaking improperly about him to the Great Teacher, without having properly considered the matter beforehand. There also arose great faith and respect in them for Venerable Aññakondañña, as well as feelings of regret that he had gone away before they had learnt about him from their Great Teacher.

In so far as the Bhikkhu’s liking for living in the forest and hills is concerned, the above story is very like that of those who practised following the way of Venerable Acharn Mun. The main difference is that Venerable Aññakondañña was an Arahant who is known to all Buddhists. But as for those who are followers of Venerable Acharn Mun, right up to the present day, whatever kinds of Bhikkhus they may be, whether in fact they are like Venerable Aññakondañña or only puthujjanas, I cannot say, so I have just said what I can about it.

Those Bhikkhus who are determined to train and discipline themselves by living in the forest and hills and by using the method of reducing their food, take less than normal all the time. In saying that they reduce their food, this means that they eat little, that they do not eat what the body wants, nor under the dictation of craving (tanha) which may infiltrate into them at times. Thus they may try eating 70% or 60%, maybe going down to 40% of normal until they find what suits them, or in some circumstances they may increase and then reduce their food intake. But they try all the time to maintain a reduced diet; or maybe they look upon it as a practice which goes together as a partner with all the other methods of practice which they do for long periods of time — for one or two or many months, as it suits their practice of citta–bhavana and the physical body without going too far so that they become sick and too weak with hunger. Therefore they try to aid and promote their striving until the body shows untoward reactions, or until the citta improves to such an extent that they no longer need the aid of this method of training and discipline. In which case they can go on smoothly and steadily, and they may even be able to give up taking so little food. But this depends on each individual case and it is not the invariable rule.

As far as we know, all those Bhikkhus who have ever gained strength of heart from any particular method will hold to that method and they are never likely to let it go into degradation. For however high their strength of heart may become, they will generally have developed special skills and techniques on the path along which they have been going all the time, and it is as if they see the value of it and always think of that method with heartfelt appreciation. If one thinks of that method as though it were a person, one would say that one appreciates the value and virtue of that one who has been of such great value to oneself. Or again, if one thinks of it in terms of Dhamma, one would recollect the value of that Dhamma which has been of such value to oneself, like the Lord Buddha who bowed in homage to the Dhamma for example.

When reducing food intake, the eating of only a little makes all parts of the body become light. Its strength decreases so that it does not bother the citta, which makes the practice of bhavana more easy and the attainment of calm to be quicker than it normally would be, when one does not reduce food. (This applies only to those whose nature suits this practice).

In doing the practice of bhavana while taking little food, the heart does not usually have its ups and downs in connection with calm. This differs from its normal state in the early stages of practice when one does not reduce food and the citta is at such a level of development that it still needs training. When one takes little food, walking cankama is easy, sitting in samadhi one feels contented and both during the day and at night one’s bhavana will generally give similar results. Whereas normally, when walking cankama and sitting in samadhi, night is the time when the bodily constitution is more subtle and it always tend to go better than during the day. But for the person who likes eating little, both times give similar results.

If one fasts for many days, feelings of hunger and weakness arise often, but the citta tends to be much more subtle than when one only reduces one’s food intake, and both in samadhi and pañña one has much more skill and dexterity.

In fasting, the Bhikkhus generally start by fasting for a short time and then gradually increase the time until they are fasting for long periods. In other words, to begin with they fast between two and five days to try it out. But as soon as they see that they get good results in their bhavana, they increase the time steadily to eight or nine days at a time, depending on circumstances.

In the period when they are fasting they continue with the work of bhavana and they also keep a watch on the citta and the body. If they see that they are altogether in a good state they continue alternately fasting at times and eating food at times. As they steadily increase their fasting they may go on for many days at a time, some reaching fifteen or eighteen days, and there are some who continue fasting for a month when the situation is favourable. While fasting like this, if the body feels very weak, they may take a little milk on some days.

For those who find that fasting suits their nature, while fasting there is great value to be gained of many different kinds, as follows. After the first two nights of fasting one no longer gets tired or sleepy, and after several nights have passed this becomes stronger so that sleepiness is no longer a disturbance. Wherever one sits, the body remains erect like a post without nodding or fidgeting at all. Mindfulness (sati) is good and doesn’t slip away, there is little absent-mindedness and the longer one goes on, the better mindfulness becomes so that one almost never forgets oneself. When thoughts about anything arise in the citta, one’s mindfulness immediately catches up with them almost every time, without even having to set up the resolve not to let one’s mindfulness slip away forgetfully, for it remains there on its own quite naturally. This may be because the fasting which one does is for the purpose of striving for one’s development and because one has set up one’s mindfulness and continually maintained it from the first day one went on fast. Therefore one’s mindfulness does not tend to slip and be forgotten at the beginning of the fast, nor for the remainder of it, however many days it may go on.

The work of bhavana then tends to go on smoothly and skilfully all the time and in every way, both in samadhi and pañña. When one wants to rest the citta down in samadhi one can do so, as one wants to. When one wants to investigate by way of pañña after the citta has arisen out of samadhi, pañña will be of the kind that becomes steadily more skilful as one goes on, and it will not be sluggish and inert as it usually is when one does the practice of investigation. In all the various attitudes and postures of the body mindfulness will be present and one is not easily distracted or led away by anything. When one investigates anything that happens to arise, the heart catches up with it very quickly and can understand it clearly and much faster than usual. Then the body has hardly any of the normal aches and pains and it feels unusually light. The citta will also be able to see dangers with ease and it does not tend to oppose the truth and be very stubborn as it used to.

Those who are at the level of samadhi will then be calm in all bodily situations and postures; and those who are at the level of pañña will always be possessed of contemplation and thought, analysing causes and results in those things of endless kinds which they encounter. The citta is then engrossed in doing the investigation by looking into every one of the dhamma, meanwhile all trace of tiredness and fatigue has disappeared, as if they were eating food as normal.

If any feelings of tiredness, hunger or weakness arise, it will only come when the citta withdraws from samadhi, or when the citta takes a rest from doing the investigation, or again when one comes out of samadhi to change the attitude or posture of the body, then one is likely to feel it. The reason for there being no feelings of hunger or weakness when the citta enters samadhi and when investigating all the dhammas, is because the citta is completely engrossed in samadhi and pañña and it has no interest in paying attention to the physical body. Therefore in effect, there is no bodily feeling at that time.

When the day comes that one decides to eat food, a dispute arises between the citta and the body-mind group (khandhas) and they cannot agree together. The body-mind group say that they are weak and want food and supporting nutritional aids to sustain life. On the other hand the citta says that while fasting, the practice of bhavana is good and the heart is calm, clear and not disturbed by all sorts of things, but as soon as one has eaten bhavana deteriorates. For, once one is full of food one thinks only of one’s pillow and sleeping instead of Dhamma and its subtle meanings as happens when one is fasting. Therefore it does not want to eat, because after eating, bhavana does not go properly, whereas the body will be strong, which is good. Thus, between the citta and the body-mind group there is a dispute of this kind.

The “owner” must decide which way to go. To fast at times and to eat well at times is a good way. For the citta gains benefits while the body knows how to put up with deprivation, without taking more and more nourishment until it becomes excessive, which is the way of animals, only eating and sleeping all the time. One cannot stand too much fasting for the body is bound to start breaking up. On the other hand, to fill up with food makes one lazy so that one goes looking for one’s pillow, rather than for Dhamma and its meaning, as happens when one fasts. Thus it is that fasting has many benefits as described above.

The time when one is fasting is the time for increasing one’s effort to its maximum capacity in all positions and postures of the body. One sleeps little; one sleeps just for a short time which is enough for the needs of the body, but it gets rid of all nodding and drowsiness. For those whose nature is suited to this method, it will enable them to see both samadhi and pañña for themselves, right there, in the present.

The feelings of hunger that arise strongly at times will only persist for the first two or three days, after that it diminishes for many days, but the feeling of weakness tends to increase. The citta then becomes steadily more subtle and skilful from the first day of the fast onwards. It is this which, when the time comes to eat food again, causes the citta to be sorry and to want to go on fasting. But the physical body feels that it can not stand it any longer, so one must give way to it to some extent, otherwise it will cease to function properly, and the body-mind group will fall apart before the kilesas are cured and got rid of. So one must apply the remedy, for if one were to follow the desires of one’s heart, the body would almost certainly not survive. But if one were to give way entirely and let the body have just what it wants, the heart would not be likely to “drink” Dhamma as it should be able to and as one intends that it should.

Fasting gives results which are quite evident, both in samadhi and pañña, which leads one to reflect upon the Lord Buddha when he practised his most rigorous austerities and took no food, with the intention of gaining Enlightenment just by fasting, without any striving by way of the heart. While he was doing this, no results were to be seen, but when he took the sweet rice-milk which Lady Sujata brought and gave him, even though he had taken some food that evening, every part of his body still remained bright, light and vibrant. Then that same night, as soon as the Lord developed mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati), which is work done by way of the heart, it enabled the Lord to gain Enlightenment that night. It seems likely that the effect on the Lord’s body which came from the fasting he had done was a help to his heart in that it prevented the body from being too much of a burden on the heart at that time. Even though the Lord censured fasting, saying that it was not the way that he attained Enlightenment, it is probable that he did not intend this to include fasting for the purpose of aiding the work of development in the sphere of the heart. It is likely that he meant only, fasting as the sole means of attaining Enlightenment — which is the wrong way. Be­cause the attainment of Enlightenment, or reaching Dhamma, refers to the heart as being the important one and not the body at all, due to the fact that the kilesas dwell only in the heart and not in the body.

However, to the extent that the body is a supporting condition for the kilesas, it can cause them to increase and become strong. This can be the case when, for example, the constitution of the body is at full strength and it displays this fact and is immediately obvious to the well trained heart which knows that, “the khandhas are getting out of hand”. But if there are also kilesas in the heart they are bound to be drawn in so that they flare up. Then one way and another one will not be able to keep up with them and they will lead one down until one is completely submerged in the mud. When the time comes that one’s wits return, one realises what has happened — if one looks. But if one does not look, one will never have any means of knowing what happens, so one gives way and allows the kilesas and the body-mind group (dhatu–khandha) to lead one into whatever they will. This is how the kilesas and the body become associated together. But on their own, the body-mind group are no danger to the citta when the citta is pure.

From the above, one may see that fasting is very helpful for the practice of citta bhavana in some characters. Therefore the Lord did not completely forbid fasting when it was used in connection with bhavana. This may be seen in some of the Vinaya rules concerning fasting, thus: “A Bhikkhu who fasts for the purpose of showing off to the world commits an offence every time he goes on fast, and also, every time he acts in any way for the purpose of showing off his fasting. But if he fasts for the purpose of striving by way of the heart, he may do so. This the Tathagata allows.” This may have been because the Lord saw the value of fasting as an aid to striving by way of the heart in those cases which are characteristically suited to this method. Therefore the Lord gave permission to use it and did not forbid it entirely.

In those whose characteristics are not suited to fasting, if they were to do so it is probable that they would gain no value from it. This is similar to the practice of those forms of kammatthana which do not suit a person’s nature, and here, the saying that one man’s meat is another man’s poison, is quite applicable.

From what I have actually seen, even nowadays there seem to be many people whose nature is well suited to fasting, and this is the reason that I have included this discussion here for the reader to think about. In particular, at Wat Pa Baan Taad which is my own monastery, there are many bhikkhus who like to go on fast often, in fact it is almost as though the whole monastery takes turns to go on fast. This happens all the time and has continued since the monastery was first founded, and it goes on throughout the dry season, the wet season and both in the vassa period and out of it. Nowadays, there are still those who fast in the monastery in the same way, including the English and other western born Bhikkhus who like fasting. For they say that when they fast their bhavana goes better than when they do not, so they do it frequently. This, they also do from their own volition, for there is no compulsion or coercion to fast at all.

The Western Bhikkhus are able to fast quite as well as the Thai Bhikkhus and they can do so for many days at a time, then they eat for one or two days before continuing to fast. Some fast for up to fourteen or fifteen days and they stand up to it well, whereas others go on for nine or ten days. They are quite able to fast like this in the same way as our Thai Bhikkhus do. When asked, they say that while fasting the citta has much less tendency to be restless and uncontrollable. It can then be governed more easily and it is both calm and peaceful and also more stable, and it is not easily distracted or disturbed. Therefore it makes them want to fast often so that the citta may advance as fast as it ought to.

This makes us feel sympathy with them and glad that they have made the effort to come so far across the ocean to become ordained in the Buddha Sasana, to take up the moral precepts and bhavana with hardships and deficiencies. They have to take food which is unfamiliar and to be separated from their home, parents and relatives for many years and they do not complain of being homesick or longing for their country, friends and relatives with whom they had lived in close contact at all.

It would seem that these Western Bhikkhus became ordained with the true purpose of searching for Dhamma and development which accords with their having been born into a race which is intrinsically clever; although they never show any signs of being haughty or conceited. In fact, in all ways they have a humility and modesty which is worthy of respect and in their relations with other Bhikkhus and Samaneras in the monastery they behave well and act properly.

Nearly all the Western Bhikkhus who are in this monastery like to fast, without any persuasion being used. They just see the other Bhikkhus going on fast and ask about it, and when they understand the reasons they try it for themselves, and after that they are regularly seen to be on fast. When they are asked about it they say that their bhavana is better than usual, so from then on they go on fast regularly.

In particular, in the vassa period which is a time that is free from other things, and a time when the Bhikkhus increase their efforts to practise the way in this monastery, there are some days when very few Bhikkhus go out for pindapata and eat food together, for when they do not eat, there is no need to go for pindapata.

Each Bhikkhu fasts for whatever length of time suits him; some go on for four or five days, some go on for longer times up to 12 days or a fortnight or more, until the end of the vassa period. This includes both Thai and foreign Bhikkhus who fast in the same way and for many days equally.

At this monastery, during the vassa period, every seven days there is a Dhamma meeting to aid and promote the effort which is put into developing the way of the heart so that it shall progress in accordance with the favourableness of the prevailing conditions. After the vassa period has ended work and duties become very troublesome in connection with people coming and going for Dhamma, for sila and dana and various good actions (kusala things), which are in the nature of Thai people who are Buddhists. They have been used to doing these things for generations for they have always been considered as the heart of those who are Buddhists right from the beginning. Therefore it is most praiseworthy, for such acts as this are not only good actions giving beneficial results to those who do them, but they are also setting a good precedent for the young people of the next generation to follow.

The self-training methods of the Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhus who follow after Venerable Acharn Mun are many and varied, for they differ in each individual case. In writing about them it is therefore necessary to divide them up into various categories, in accordance with those cases in which the methods of training differed from each other. This is so that you who read this with practical interest can take up and gain value from any of the methods of the Acariyas which you consider to be suitable to your character and your situation in life.

Some of the Acariyas who set out to practise kammatthana with practical interest never experienced the citta dropping into a state of calm and unity for years. But as soon as they learnt about some skilful methods of training and discipline in various ways which were recommended by the Acariyas, and their friends and contemporaries in Dhamma, and took them up and tried them out selectively, to their liking, the citta steadily became calm and peaceful and they were able to establish firm and strong roots of the citta. This was because the method of training was right for their characters; as for example, those who managed to make the citta go down into a concentrated state when fear arose at the sound of tigers roaring in the vicinity of the place where they were staying — which would not otherwise have been possible.

Therefore, the character of the person and the means of Dhamma which are used for training are both important and necessary for all who practise the way in each and every case. Thus, for example, in those whose citta is strong, active and venturesome, who do not easily submit to the Acariya or anyone else, it is necessary for them to be their own Acariya and to train and discipline themselves, using their own methods which are inherently and especially rough and strong.

Some Bhikkhus like to go and live where they are hard pressed and up against it, having to put up with a lack of the four requisites. Sometimes doing without, sometimes having enough, but generally lacking amenities and hard up. And also living in very frightening places to force and drive themselves on. Because people of every class and age have characteristic tendencies which react well to being forced, ever since the day they were born. For there is no way in which we can develop ourselves and prosper by letting go and relaxing. It requires both ourselves and others to help drive us on towards all types of virtue and benefit. This we can see from the way in which our parents got angry at times, scolding and treating us harshly, and also the way that the Acariyas practice towards us and how they normally use words of rebuke and admonishment in close connection with all the Dhamma which they teach and train those who live constantly under their care and guidance. To use only pleasant and soft words in the teaching is not likely to be suitable to all conditions and occasions, because some cases respond well to a “hot and spicy flavour”. So the teaching must have both the harsh and mild methods blended together.

Speaking of rebuke and admonishment makes me think with gratitude of the excellence of Venerable Acharn Mun, for the way in which he used to scold me and the other Bhikkhus at times when we had done something wrong. When he was doing this his attitude and expression was most awe inspiring while castigating and shaping up his followers who had been stupid, so as to make them become true people by using rebuke and admonishment. Looking at those who were being rebuked and admonished made one feel very sorry for them, because they were so frightened that they shivered — like baby birds in the rain — but the result of this was that it remained fixed in the heart for a long time. This is the kind of result that comes from others to help one in one’s training.

As for the results which come from training oneself, those Venerable Ones who have trained themselves to the utmost of their strength and ability will know clearly for themselves what they are. As for instance, those who have gained a complete calm of heart from walking cankama after being afraid, due to the sound of tigers roaring, and then the citta turning round and becoming bold and fearless while still walking, in such a manner as one would not have believed to be ­possible. Because of this, training oneself is a very important way of working, which those who wish to progress in their own development can­not afford to overlook, both in the direction of the world and in the direction of Dhamma.

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