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 XII - A Short Biography Of Venerable Acharn Kow
While writing about stubborn determination and anger, at some length, we thought how it would be good to relate the story of one Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhu who was a follower of Venerable Acharn Mun in the middle period of his teaching. For this is a story that illustrates the Dhamma teaching about stubborn determination and anger when directed against one’s own kilesas. This Bhikkhu was Venerable Acharn Kow, and he was strongly imbued with both of these factors in his practice of Dhamma and still has them up to the present time. But we should explain to the reader that this Bhikkhu is someone of significance at present, and he is also still alive. If we were to mention his name, practically everyone would know it throughout Thailand. But his name will not be revealed for the reason already given, and because it is generally the practice of Dhutanga Bhikkhus not to want their names mentioned in such circumstances.
Venerable Acharn Kow had a very resolute character and liked to put his whole strength into whatever he did. He has been like this since he was a lay person and when he was ordained he carried these characteristics over with him, and the longer he was ordained in Buddhism, which is a true religion and teaches people to act truly in whatever they do, the more he felt impressed by the principles of Dhamma. It seems that before he was ordained he had a wife and family, but he became disillusioned and weary with the round of samsara and resolved to train himself so as to attain Nibbana in this life, unless he died in the meantime. Therefore as soon as he was ordained he went searching for an Acariya who was fully conversant with the ways of inward meditation (citta–bhavana).
Before he went the way of the practice of Kammatthana, it seems that he had many things which disturbed him and acted as a discouragement and an obstacle, things which came from practically everybody he met, both from lay people and Bhikkhus. All of them said that nowadays it was beyond all possibility to attain the Path, Fruition and Nibbana and that it was long past the era when this could be done. That however rightly and properly one were to practise the way of the Dhamma and Vinaya one would not be able to attain the result of reaching the goal as one may hope to. That the practice of meditation makes people mad and whoever wants to go mad should go out and practise it. That if one wants to be a good person like we villagers, one should not drive oneself mad by going the way of Kammatthana. That in this age there are no Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhus apart from those who sold magic yantras, mantras, methods of magic, lockets which have magic properties, magic potions for influencing others, ways of making people impervious to bullets and knives, knowledge of auspicious times and astrology. But that as far as finding Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhus who actually practise the way of Dhutanga, there were none left nowadays. That he must therefore not waste his time and tire himself to no purpose, for to get to a state of ease and happiness in that way was impossible.
These were some of the many obstacles which blocked the path of those who wanted to practise the way of the Dhutangas in those days. But Venerable Acharn Kow was not prepared to listen to any of them, although he did not object or argue with them for it would not have been useful to either side. But deep within himself he considered that —
“These people and these Acariyas are not the owners of the Buddhist religion, they are not the owners of the Path, Fruition and Nibbana, nor have they any power to make anyone else go mad, such that I could believe what they say. I have faith only in the Lord Buddha, in the Dhamma and in the Sangha of Savaka Arahants as being truly worthy within the Triple World. Those who spoke, trying to persuade me and to stop me, so that I would not go the way of Kammatthana and practise its various methods are not amongst those who are truly worthy at all. Just by looking at their behaviour and manners, which they display, one can know whether they are truly wise or fools and generally what their characteristics are like. Therefore, their objections and their wanting to stop me are things which would be a waste of time for me even to consider. So now I must go away to practise the way of Kammatthana as soon as I can without considering anything else, and I must search for true things, which accord with the basic principles of Dhamma which have been handed down to us. This I must do until I reach the absolute limit of my strength and ability, and if this Kammatthana Bhikkhu, which in this case is myself, should chance to die, then I willingly give my life and entrust myself to the supreme Dhamma.”
When he was ready to set out on his “Dhutanga” wanderings, there were at the same time many lay people and all the other Bhikkhus gathered together in the monastery, and just before he went he spoke in truth from his heart to those who had tried to stop him so as to leave no doubt as to his intentions, saying:
“When I have gone from here, unless I can teach myself to attain the ultimate level of citta and Dhamma I shall not return to show my face amongst you again. I am ready to die for the sake of knowing and seeing into Dhamma with clarity and insight but not for anything else. Please remember this that I have said, just in case I have the right characteristics to enable me to return and meet you again and you will not have forgotten. So the only likelihood of my meeting you again will be in such circumstances, as I have already said.”
He said this at a time when there were many people, both highly respected Acariyas and lay people from his village who had faith in them as being very wise and learned, all of them trying to stop him going away.
“At that time my heart seemed so strong it could crush a diamond into powder in an instant, and it seemed as if I could leap into the sky and walk about up there for all of them to see. This was probably due to pride and high spirits in my heart — as if it was shining out brightly for all those people to see and telling them: ‘See here, the diamond radiance in this heart, can’t you see it? Are you all stupid enough to disparage me, saying that I will go mad by delving into strange things? My heart is not in the same sphere as all of yours, such that you can gather it up into your clan to die worthlessly in the way a dog dies. I am not prepared to die in the way that all of you would lead me to go towards death right now, for I intend to die in the way that the Lord Buddha taught us, by not leaving any ‘seed’ of becoming remaining whatsoever. I have already died in your way countless times so that it is impossible to tell in how many cemeteries I have ended my days. But although I may not be able to know this with my own higher knowing faculty (ñana), I have faith in the Lord Buddha and his teaching, for his higher knowing faculty was supreme and unequalled’.”
As soon as he was ready he said farewell and took his leave of all the Acariyas and learned people and walked away through a large crowd of lay followers. He then set out for That Phanom on foot through forest and thick jungle, following paths worn by people and buffalo carts, for in those days there were no roads, not even the roughest dirt roads, but only a foot path. There were also many wild animals of all sorts in large numbers throughout the forest with plenty of elephants and tigers everywhere, because there were no villages and not many people about as there are nowadays, with people and villages everywhere. The forest was also the original true forest and there was real danger that if one lost one’s way one would have no food and may die in the forest, for often one could walk all day without meeting anyone or seeing any sign of habitation.
Venerable Acharn Kow walked through the forests and jungles until he reached That Phanom and from there he walked on to Udorn Thani and thence up to Nongkhai, searching for Venerable Acharn Mun whom he learnt was spending the vassa (rains period) in the district of Tha Bo.
“I was only able to spend a short time training with him before he went away from us to Chiang Mai and disappeared into silence,”
“Then I felt a sense of hopelessness for a while because I had no teacher to teach and lead me. But when I heard that Venerable Acharn Mun had gone to stay and practise the way in the Chiang Mai district I set out to follow him by wandering in the Dhutanga Kammatthana way, going along the bank of the Mekong river until I reached the province of Chiang Mai. Then I wandered about in the various districts of Chiang Mai with peace and happiness.”
The places where Venerable Acharn Kow stayed and practised were deep in the forests and hills and far away from any villages. At the same time Venerable Acharn Mun was also wandering about in that area, but it was not easy to find him because he always liked to take off on his own away from his colleagues and he would not readily let anyone meet him. However, Acharn Kow went on following him relentlessly, until finally he managed to meet him and to receive genuine instruction and training. But Venerable Acharn Mun would not let anybody stay with him for he liked to live alone.
Venerable Acharn Kow said that he always tried to stay close by Venerable Acharn Mun so that he could go and see him and learn from him when it was necessary. Whenever he went to him to discuss and learn about any aspect of Dhamma Venerable Acharn Mun had metta for him and taught him to the utmost of his ability without holding or hiding anything — but he would never let anybody stay with him. However, Acharn Kow said that he was quite content that Venerable Acharn had metta for him and taught him at those times when it was necessary for him to go and ask questions of him. Then once he had cleared up his problems, he paid his respects and left to go and practise what he had learnt on his own — he was thus going back and forth quite often. When he had stayed there for a long time, for some years, Venerable Acharn Mun very kindly let him stay for the Vassa period with him. Acharn Kow was so glad and so happy when Venerable Acharn Mun told him that he felt as if he could float in the air, for after trying for so many years he had at last succeeded. From then on he stayed regularly with Venerable Acharn during the vassa.
The practice and development of his citta bhavana (meditation) seems to have gained strength steadily after he went to stay in the Chiang Mai district, and with a skilled teacher to guide and teach him continually, his heart seemed as if it was about to leap up into the sky so strong was his happiness and contentment in the Dhamma that arose in his heart. No longer was there any unhappiness, lack of good cheer or sadness due to instability of heart, sometimes up and sometimes down, as happened when he was staying in other places. From day to day his heart steadily progressed both in samadhi and in wisdom and he became engrossed in striving day and night without ever becoming satiated.
A Large Elephant Pays Him a Visit
At one time Venerable Acharn Kow was spending the vassa period in the same place with another Bhikkhu. Late one night it was very quiet and he was sitting in meditation in a small hut. At the same time there was a large elephant whose owner let it loose to wander in the forest and find its own food in that area. He did not know where it had come from but it slowly walked closer towards the back of his hut. Right behind his hut there was a large boulder blocking the way, so the elephant could not get close up to him. When it got to the boulder it stretched out its trunk into the hut until it touched his klod and the mosquito net above his head while he was sitting in meditation. The sound of its breathing while it was sniffing him was loud and he felt it cool on his head while his klod and mosquito net swung back and forth. Meanwhile the Acharn sat repeating the parikamma “Buddho”, putting everything he had got into it and entrusting his heart and life to the genuine “Buddho”, not having anything else to rely upon. The large elephant then stood there quietly for about two hours as if it were waiting to catch him when he moved, ready to tear him to pieces. Once in a while he heard its breath sniffing him from outside the mosquito net. When it finally moved, it drew back and walked to the western end of his hut and reached into a basket of sour tamarinds at the side of a tree which lay people had brought him to clean the lid of his bowl and started to eat them making a loud noise crunching them up like they were delicious. Acharn Kow thought,
“Those tamarinds for cleaning my bowl lid are going to be cleaned out and there will be none left for sure. If the owner of this big belly comes to the end of them and cannot find any more, it is sure to come into my hut and find me and tear me to bits. So I had better go out and speak to it and tell it some things that it should know, because this animal knows the language of people quite well since it has lived with people for a long time. When I go out to speak to it, it will be more likely to listen to what I say than to be stubborn and difficult. If it is stubborn and belligerent it will probably kill me, but even if I don’t go out and talk to it, once it has eaten all the tamarinds it is bound to come this way and find me. If it is going to kill me there is also no escape because it is late at night and it is too dark for me to see where I am going.”
Having come to this decision he left his small hut and stood hiding behind a tree in front of it and started to speak to the elephant saying:
“Big brother, your small brother would like to say a few words to you, please listen to what I have to say to you now.”
As soon as the elephant heard the sound of his voice it went completely still and quiet without making a move. Then Acharn Kow spoke to it in a mild, persuasive manner, saying:
“Big brother, you have been brought up by people who have looked after you at their homes until now you have become fully domesticated. You are thus fully aware of the ways of people, including their language which they talk to each other and which they have used to teach you for many years. You know all these things very well, in fact even better than some people know them. Therefore you, big brother, should know the customs and laws of people and you should not just do anything that you feel like doing as it suits your fancy. Because in doing some things, even though they suit your own inclinations, if they are also contrary to the ways of people and you upset people, they may harm you, or depending on what you do, they may even kill you. For people are far more intelligent than all other animals in the world and all of them fear people more than any other animal. You big brother are also in subjection to people, so you should pay respect to people who are more clever than yourself. If you are even a little bit stubborn or difficult they beat you on the head with a hook which is painful, and if you are very bad they will probably kill you.”
“Please don’t forget what your little brother has taught you with sympathy for you — and now I will give you the five sila, for your little brother is a Bhikkhu. You should keep them well, then when you die you will go to a state of happiness, and at least you should be born as a human being with merit and the virtue of Dhamma in your heart. But if you are born higher than that you may go to the heaven realms or Brahmaloka or higher still, all of which are far superior to being born as an animal like an elephant or a horse which people use to draw carts or to drag logs about while being beaten with whips, all of which is nothing but torment and trouble throughout one’s life until one dies without having any chance to get free from this burden, which is such as you have to put up with at present.”
“Big brother, please listen carefully and make a true resolve to accept the moral precepts.
They are firstly, “Panatipata” — you must not kill people or animals deliberately by using your strength and ability to do so — and also, you must not maltreat or oppress others, whether people or animals. For to do these things is evil.
Secondly, “Adinnadana” — you must not steal or take things for yourself which belong to others and which others are keeping in reserve for their own use — such as the tamarinds in that basket which big brother was eating up just now. For they were given by people to me for cleaning the lid of my bowl. But I do not take offence at this, for I don’t want you to make any evil kamma at all. I just mentioned it to show how it was something which had an owner. If things such as that are not given to you, you should not eat them, nor should you walk over them and trample them down and damage them.
Thirdly, “Kamesu–miccacara” — you must not have sexual intercourse with any animal which has a mate for this would be wrong doing. If you have sexual intercourse, it should be only with one who has no mate, no owner, for this is not wrong doing. Fourthly “Musavada” — you must not lie or deceive. Let your actions and behaviour be true and straight forward and not deceitful such that they give a wrong impression and fool others, which would be wrong and evil. Fifthly “Sura–meraya–majja–pamadatthana” — you must not take anything which causes intoxication or drunkenness such as alcoholic liquors. To do so is wrong and evil.”
“You must keep these precepts, for if you don’t you can fall into hell when you die, and there you will have to put up with great suffering for long periods of time, for aeons, before you reach the end of the kamma that led you to hell and you can rise out of it. But even after getting free from hell, there would still be the remainder of your evil kamma which would lead you to life after life as a ghost, a demon or an animal, suffering the results of the evil kamma you made, before you could be born as a person which is very difficult to attain because of the evil kamma which oppresses you and holds you down.
Therefore big brother, you must remember well what I have said and practise what I have taught you. Then you will get free from life as an animal and will be born as a human being or a Devata in your next life for sure. That is all I have to teach you and I hope that big brother will be glad to do these things. Now, you may go about to find a place to rest or something to eat as you feel like it. Your younger brother will now go and practise his meditation and he will share some of his virtue with you and spread out metta to his big brother so that you will never be lacking in happiness. Now elder brother it is time for you to go elsewhere.”
It was most remarkable that for the whole of the time that he was teaching this large elephant it stood absolutely still, as if it were made of rock. It did not fidget or move at all but stood motionless until he had finished speaking. Then as soon as he had given the sila and his blessings and told it to go it began to move its huge body making a noise like an earthquake while it drew back, turned around and went off. It walked away in a deliberate, thoughtful manner, as if it truly understood everything it had heard. Thinking about this incident I cannot help feeling a lot of sympathy for one whose body was that of an animal, but whose heart was that of a human being, able to appreciate the teaching on good and evil which it had received without being obstinate or arrogant, as one would expect with such a large and strong animal. In fact it was very mild mannered and appreciative of the moral teaching throughout — and as soon as Venerable Acharn told him it was time to go he immediately turned around and went away. While listening to his teaching it also listened attentively until it almost stopped breathing, just like those who listen to a Dhamma talk given to Bhikkhus — with full respect for Dhamma.
For these two reasons it makes one think and fills one with wonder, for it is not only that the elephant was an animal and was interested in listening, for if any people had been there listening they would have been enraptured and carried away by the talk of Venerable Acariya Kow. For he used the most sweet and honied language with such skill that it would be rare to find anyone else who could do this, and equally rare to listen to it. So the elephant listened with rapt attention, not fidgeting or even moving its ears until he had finished giving his Dhamma talk and told it to go when it obeyed and went to find something to eat in the manner of a rare and noble animal. It makes one reflect even more deeply how, whether human or animal, if something is experienced which brings satisfaction, it tends to make their hearing clear and lucid and their sight bright as though the night becomes day. Then the heart is in a state of absorption with “piti” — satisfaction and joyful gladness — in the enchanting words, of the type which are always desirable and of which one can never have enough, because they are things which are greatly valued by the heart.
Venerable Acharn Kow went on flattering the big elephant for quite a long time, until he was fascinated and mesmerised by the sweet, mild words, the flavour of which were heard deep inside — for example:
“Big brother, you are very strong, whereas I am small and my strength cannot compare with yours — so I feel afraid of you.”
Such flattery is one of the most powerful ways of enchantment, and he talked like this until the great elephant went into a trance while standing there, oblivious of everything else. It would even have been glad to disgorge the sour tamarinds that it had swallowed, to put them back in the basket for its charming little brother, without keeping even the taste of them. For this act was a disgrace to the dignity of an intelligent and noble elephant — a walking store of virtue. Once its belly was full of Venerable Acharn’s teachings it went off to find food and never again came to bother him throughout the rest of the vassa period, going to other places to find food — and this was quite remarkable, that the heart of an animal should have so much understanding. After the vassa, Venerable Acharn also went away wandering wherever he felt it would be good to go for the purpose of practising the way of Dhamma ever higher and higher.
His Way of Practice
Venerable Acharn Kow was an earnest Kammatthana Bhikkhu who was characteristically resolute and courageous and whatever he did, he did truly. When he was staying in the hills, he got the lay supporters to make up three places for walking cankama. The first one he used for giving homage (puja) to the Lord Buddha, the second to the Dhamma and the third to the Savaka Sangha of the Lord. He would walk cankama on these three paths at different times of the day according to a fixed schedule which he kept to quite strictly. As soon as he had finished his meal in the morning he would go and walk cankama on the first path paying homage to the Buddha and he would continue until about mid-day. At two o’clock in the afternoon he would start walking on the path paying homage to the Dhamma and continue until 4 p.m. when it was time to sweep the grounds and bathe. When he had finished doing all his normal and necessary duties he would start to walk cankama on the path for paying homage to the Sangha and go on until 10 or 11 p.m., after which he would rest, sitting in meditation practice for a while and then lie down and sleep. As soon as he woke up he would start doing his samadhi meditation practice again until dawn when he walked cankama until it was time for him to go on pindapata.
Some nights he would sit in meditation practice the whole night without getting up from his seat until dawn. Even normally when he sat in samadhi meditation, it seems that his heart was very bright after he had finished. But at those times when he sat all night in meditation the material world disappeared entirely from his awareness, and even his physical body seemed to have gone as well. It was altogether a most remarkable and wonderful thing right from the time that he sat down to examine painful feeling (dukkha–vedana) until it died away and ceased due to his examination of the citta taking it deep into a subtle and intimate state of calm. At this point the only thing that was apparent to him was “knowing”, just this alone, which brought to him a most subtle and gentle calm and happiness which was quite indescribable. There were no supporting conditions (arammana) present in the citta however subtle. This means the same thing as saying that the elements of existence (loka–dhatu) disappeared simultaneously with the disappearance of the supporting conditions. This state remained until the citta drew up and out of it, after which the supporting conditions which were the usual companions of the citta returned gradually, bit by bit. Afterwards he would continue working at his practice in the normal way.
When the citta has integrated and gone down into a state of calm, even though it remains in this state for several hours there is no feeling of it being a long time such as it would normally appear to be. This must surely be the state of “Eka citta, eka dhamma” just within the heart itself alone without there being anything else to form a duality. When it arises out of this state it is then possible to know that the citta integrated into a state of calm and remained there for so long, for so many hours.
“On whatever night the citta went into meditation practice without any difficulty and attained calm easily, even if I sat the whole night through in meditation, it seemed as if I had only been sitting for two or three hours. There was nothing to oppress or obstruct it,”
Venerable Acharn Kow tended to encounter dangerous situations in connection with elephants more than anything else. He said,
“Soon after the previous encounter I again met another large elephant in the Mae Pang district of Lampang Province, and this time I was almost unable to save myself. This one was a true wild, forest elephant and not one that had lived with and been looked after by people like the previous one.”
It was at night and Acharn Kow was walking cankama when he heard the sound of it going through the jungle making a lot of noise breaking branches and crashing about. It was coming towards him and getting closer every minute and there was no time for him to run away from it. Then he thought how, normally forest elephants are afraid of fire, so he quickly left the cankama path and went to get all the remaining candles that he had from the place where he was staying and stuck them into the ground all along by the side of his cankama path and lit them as fast as he could. To any person who saw it this would be a beautiful, peaceful sight, but it is hardly possible to say how an elephant would react to it. Then as soon as he had finished setting up the candles the elephant had almost got there, giving him no possible way of escape. All he could do was to set up a “true resolve” (sacca–adhitthana) that the supernatural power of the Lord Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha may come and help him and protect him, a servant of the Lord Buddha, against this huge elephant. By that time the elephant had got there and it stopped about two meters away from him at one side of his cankama path and stood there without a move, its two ears spread out. It was clearly visible in the candle light and he said that its huge body was as large as a hill.
Meanwhile, Acharn Kow started walking cankama going back and forth as if he was not concerned about the elephant at all — although in fact he was very afraid of it, so that he could hardly breathe. When he first saw it walking towards him, so strong and aggressive, all that he could think of was to take hold of the “Buddho” symbol and to hold on to it tenaciously, just thinking of this as the one who guarantees life, but apart from this he did not think or see anything. He would not even let his thoughts go out to this giant elephant as large as a hill which had come and was standing by the side of his cankama path, for he was afraid that his citta may slip away from “Buddho” which was his best refuge at that time. “Buddho” and the citta then became one and the same thing until the heart lost all fear and there remained just “knowing” and the repetition of “Buddho” which were blended into one. Meanwhile the elephant just stood there like a mountain, looking at him without fidgeting or moving, its ears spread wide as if to indicate that it was not ready to accept any friendly advances. This accorded with the manner in which it walked towards Venerable Acharn when it first approached him, for it came straight for him without hesitating, and it acted as if it intended to crush him and kill him — but when it reached him it just stood there like a lifeless dummy.
As soon as the citta and “Buddho” went inward and came together, becoming one and the same thing, Acharn Kow lost all fear. In fact he became positively bold and daring so that he could have walked right up to the elephant without the least feeling of fear. But he thought about it and realised that to walk right up to such a wild jungle animal would be an act of carelessness based on conceit, which one should not do. So he kept on walking cankama fearlessly with bold courage in competition with the standing elephant, as if there was nothing that could happen that would be any danger to him.
From when it first came, the elephant must have stood there for about an hour, by which time the candles, which were long, and long lasting, were almost finished. Some had already gone out and the rest would not last much longer when the elephant backed away, turned round and walked off by the way it had come. After which it went looking for food in the forest around that area where it could be heard breaking branches and treading on dead wood making a lot of noise.
This was the first time that Venerable Acharn Kow saw for himself the extraordinary power of the citta and of “Buddho”. For he was in a critical situation without any way to escape or hide and there was no alternative but to face up to it and use these methods — but even if he had died, he would have had to accept it, for he had no choice. It seems that this experience made him fully confident that whatever happened, if the citta and “Buddho”, or its equivalent, had become intimately blended together in a natural way, nothing could possibly do any harm to him. He said that he became absolutely convinced of this and has remained so ever since.
It was also very strange how the elephant, instead of becoming wild and violent when it reached him, just stood there, its ears spread wide, apparently quite calm, watching him walking cankama going back and forth without getting tired of it. Then once it had seen enough it drew back, turned round and went its way searching for food, its manner showing that its stomach had lost all its aggression. One cannot help feeling sympathy for this elephant any less than for the previous one which was a domesticated animal and knew the language of people quite well. But this elephant had been a forest animal since it was born and it must have been over a hundred years old. As it was most unlikely that this one would know the language of people, Venerable Acharn did not speak to it at all and he just went on walking cankama. Also, unlike the first elephant, this one did not have a halter around its neck and the villagers later on told him that it was a wild elephant and had been a leader of the pack for a long time — but why it should have been wandering about on its own at this time nobody could say; maybe it just left the pack for a short time. Even after the elephant had gone, the Acariya went on walking cankama with wonder in his heart while realising the value of that elephant which had come and helped his citta to see the wonderful nature of Dhamma in connection with fear and fearlessness. For this time it enabled him to get to know about it with absolute clarity, leaving no room for any doubt at all.
Therefore it would not be wrong to look on this elephant as being like a Deva elephant or like one sent by the Devas. Because normally, forest elephants are not used to people, nor do they act peacefully towards them, unless they are truly overpowered and cannot attack, when they will quickly flee and try to escape and save themselves. “But this one,” Venerable Acharn said, “Came walking straight towards me with its eyes wide open of its own free will without any one compelling it in any way at all, and it came right up close, well within the light of the candles that I had set in place. But it did not come up and squash me or tear me to pieces; nor was it startled and frightened by the fire of the candles, for it did not run away into the forest to save itself from the fire. Instead, after walking up to me in a bold, imposing manner, like it was the ‘boss’, it just stood there for over an hour, not aggressively, nor afraid, after which it went away in a normal manner. This is what made me think about this animal with amazement so that I have not forgotten it to this day. From that time on, wherever I went wandering and wherever I stayed, I was not afraid, because my heart had full faith in Dhamma from then on. For as it says in the Dhammapada, ‘Dhamma guards those who practise the way’, and it certainly does not discard them, letting them die buried in mud or water like an old log of wood.”
Fighting the Kilesas
“Knowledge of the citta and of Dhamma which reaches the heart is most likely to be found at those times when one is in a critical situation. If the situation is not really critical the citta tends to play-act as if it is so, causing one to become excited and agitated by endless kinds of kilesas which one could hardly keep up with and cure. In fact one is likely to let them inundate oneself while seeing them in full view right there, as if one was quite unable to restrain them or to follow and cure them so that they may fall away and disappear. But when the situation is truly critical and one is genuinely driven into a corner the citta and Dhamma become strong — though where the strength comes from is hard to say. The heart then bows down and submits, accepting oneself and Dhamma with faith and without any resistance. Then if one decides to make it act in any way, or to take hold of any aspect of Dhamma, it accepts and does just that without any opposition. This is probably due to the fear of death, which could in fact take place if it was uncooperative. So the citta becomes compliant and “easy to teach”, without being stubborn at such a time.”
“This is probably the reason why Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhus like going into the forests and hills, even though they are afraid of death and one part of the heart does not want to go to such places. My citta was like this, but how it is with other people’s cittas I cannot say — although if they are determined and fully committed to training themselves so as to get to the causes and reach the results of this way in truth, it should be much the same for them as well. Because the citta is the dwelling place of both Dhamma and the kilesas, which make all people feel full of courage or fear and good or evil respectively, in the same way. Training in accordance with causes, the results of which are the purpose and aim of Dhamma, is therefore able to make all the various kinds of kilesas surrender and vanish until they have all gone without leaving any trace or seed that could grow again.”
“For myself, I have rather coarse and rough characteristics, so I tend to have confidence in strict discipline and rough methods to enable me to counteract the kilesas which are those gross forms of nature which I have within me. Like that time when the large elephant came walking up to me while I was walking cankama. That was a time when I clearly saw the kilesas as well as the Dhamma of the Lord Buddha within my heart. Normally the citta which has kilesas that dominate and are in charge of the heart is very difficult to discipline and train. Sometimes those who set out to kill and destroy them end up dying before they succeed in doing so because of the mean tenacity at the core of the asavas which have been squatting there within us and feeding on us for long ages. But as soon as I got to the point where there was no escape when that great elephant came to help me, the most stubborn kilesas which had been so clever in resisting my efforts all went into hiding, though where they went I don’t know.
Then it became easy to instruct the heart so that when I ordered it to be like this or that, and when I wanted it to remain fixed to an aspect of Dhamma it immediately agreed and did so. It was as if oil had been put in the machinery so that there was virtually no friction as there had been before.”
“As soon as the kilesas went away from the heart the Dhamma which had already been developed and was just waiting there arose at the same moment and shone forth brightly — and also, courage and fearlessness towards everything immediately arose within the heart. All this that I had longed for, for so long was there for me to see and admire to my hearts content. Meanwhile the fear of death had gone — where to I don’t know, but it enabled me to see quite clearly that fear is a type of kilesa which has always appeared quite openly. As soon as the fear which had been oppressing and deceiving my heart disappeared — or even though it may not have entirely disappeared — it made me see quite clearly at that moment how baneful a thing it is. After this, whenever fear should arise, as it may at times, I knew that what I had experienced and seen was enough to act as a reminder for me to know that: ‘This fear is not my friend and benefactor, but an enemy who has come in the guise of a friend.’ So it could no longer make my heart have confidence in it as it used to and I should endeavour to drive it out every time it arises throughout my life of striving for Dhamma, until the essential nature of this enemy which comes as though it were a friend, is at an end and has entirely disappeared from my heart. Only then can I relax and be happy and free from all kinds of concerns and anxieties.”
“It seems to me that if only we can be anxious to take refuge in Dhamma, to have interest in Dhamma, to love and attend closely to Dhamma and practise Dhamma truly in the way that the Lord showed us with complete certainty and true metta, the knowing and seeing of Dhamma at its various levels, which the immediate followers of the Lord Buddha during his lifetime knew and saw, will not be a puzzle that is beyond our capability, which so many suppose it to be. We will then certainly be able to experience Dhamma as a matter of course, in the same way as they knew and saw it at the time of the Lord Buddha.”
“The reason why the time, place and people in this present age are so contrary to those at the time of the Lord Buddha, in so far as the ways of the path and fruition are concerned, is because we ourselves act in ways that oppose our own development by wanting results without being interested in causes. These causes are the ways in which we usually behave and practise that may be right or wrong in various aspects. Whereas what we ought to do, is to adjust and alter our actions of body, speech and mind as necessary, to make them conform to Dhamma — which is the way of action leading to the Path, Fruition and Nibbana. If we constantly examine and test ourselves against the standard of Dhamma for the purpose of attaining whatever we have set our hearts on, we will at least succeed in attaining that purpose to our satisfaction at whatever level it may be, depending on the strength of each one’s mindfulness and wisdom. Because the age when the Lord Buddha taught and this present age, are both ages in which the kilesas should be corrected and cured by means of Dhamma — and also dispersed and got rid of by Dhamma. This is like various kinds of disease that have always been prevalent in all ages and which have always been curable by using the right remedy.”
“I have had faith in this for a long time and the longer I go on practising, the stronger does it become buried in my heart where nothing can remove it; and the more do I hear the words which Venerable Acharn Mun used to teach me, which went deep into my heart at the time when I stayed with him. This firm faith went deeper and deeper into my heart until it became one with my heart — like he used to teach us:
‘In watching the kilesas and searching for Dhamma none of you should overlook the heart which is the place where the kilesas and all Dhamma dwells. Both the kilesas and Dhamma are to be found only in the heart and not elsewhere in any time or place whatsoever, for they arise in the heart, develop in the heart and die away in the heart — the only one that knows this. Trying to cure the kilesas elsewhere and searching for Dhamma in other places is useless, and even if you were to spend the rest of your lives doing so, you would never come across them as they truly are. Even after dying and being reborn many times you would only come across kilesas that have arisen from the heart, which means that you would experience the discontent and suffering that comes from them. But if you search for Dhamma in the heart, the day will come when you start to find it, and this will then increase steadily, depending on the intensity with which you strive for it. But both place and time are also conditions which can promote or suppress the kilesas and Dhamma, respectively causing them to develop or deteriorate.’
‘Thus, for instance, forms and sounds are conditions which promote the kilesas which are already in the heart, causing them to develop and increase. On the other hand, going to practise the way in the hills and forests is for the purpose of promoting the Dhamma which dwells in the heart, causing it to increase greatly.’
‘The real kilesas and Dhamma are within the heart, whereas the conditions which increase or suppress them are to be found everywhere both internally and externally. This is why the Acariyas teach their followers to avoid and to get away from things which are enticing and disturbing to the heart, things that tend to make those kilesas which are already within them become demanding and audacious — such as many things which are experienced through the senses. In addition, they also teach their followers to go wandering and staying in peaceful places where there is solitude so that they can much more easily disperse their various kilesas by means of their efforts to practise the way, thus diminishing the round of birth and death (vatta) within their hearts by using these methods.’
‘For this reason, to search for a suitable place for the purpose of striving to practise the way, is the most appropriate and right way for one who is ordained and hopes to attain freedom from Dukkha in his heart. For this is the right way which follows the basic principles of the Dhamma that the Lord Buddha formulated for his followers after seeing clearly for himself what things were dangers to this purpose. Because staying at times in ordinary places and at other times in unusual and lonely places, the attitude or feeling about the place which is in one’s heart, always changes with the place and it is quite inconstant. But when one stays long enough in a place, the citta becomes over familiar with that place.
Those who are reflective and watchful of themselves will know immediately once this happens and will quickly change and move to another place so as to find the right conditions to prevent themselves relaxing to the point of carelessness. For this would give an opportunity for the kilesas to muster their strength so as to bring about one’s ruin without one’s being aware of what is happening. But when one corrects the situation right away, without being careless or indifferent to it, the kilesas are not likely to have any chance to build themselves up and gain enough strength to ruin the citta and the Dhamma which is together with them in this one heart — and one is then able to go on without deteriorating.’
‘Those who train themselves to see what is dangerous must be able to have mindfulness (sati) continually present to reflect and know, as an adjunct of the heart, without slipping away into forgetful indulgence — and to be able to do this is indeed good. Not slipping away into forgetful indulgence, is a barrier against many kinds of kilesas which have not yet arisen and it gives them no opportunity to arise. As for those that are still there, which have not yet been entirely cured, it prevents them from becoming more arrogant, and it also makes one try to get rid of them with unrelenting mindfulness, wisdom, faith and effort.’
‘Any place where the citta is afraid and where it has mindfulness to watch and guard oneself well is a charnel ground for the cremation of all the kilesas by means of the ascetic Dhamma — which is the making of effort that has mindfulness and wisdom as the means of burning them up to destruction. Whether by the jhanas, by samadhi, by pañña (wisdom), by vimutti (liberation), by the kilesas losing their power, by the kilesas dying away steadily without having regard to place or time or by the kilesas dying away entirely and completely from one’s heart, it will happen, and it will be absolutely clear to one’s heart in that place where one practises in the right way, and where it is well suited to one who strives with zeal in everything in all ways. There is nowhere else where all the kilesas arise and cease, and one must keep it in mind and take it to heart that: The place where Dhamma thrives, is where the kilesas will deteriorate and die away entirely. What we call ‘That place’, those who practise the way should always know, is in the ‘heart’ alone and nowhere else.’
‘Therefore we should struggle to cut the kilesas to pieces and destroy them without fear or favour on the battlefield — which is the heart — while depending on a suitable environment as a supporting condition to enable us to be victorious, to gain salvation and to reach the highest point of human attainment by the persistence of our own zeal and striving. We must not go astray and be uncertain of the way, thinking that the kilesas and the great mass of our own dukkha are to be found anywhere else but within the sphere of the heart alone. In my own practice, from the first beginnings, which were rather haphazard because I had no teacher who was able to teach and train me properly, until I became a teacher myself with my own followers, I have never seen this mass of dukkha anywhere but in the heart. Nor have I ever seen any strange and wonderful things surpassing the imagination, the likes of which I had never known or seen before in any place whatsoever except in the heart alone, which is the abode of all Dhamma and all the kilesas as well. But it is dukkha and its cause (Samudaya) in the heart of each one of us, that have such power over everything in the three worlds.
For they are able to block the way which leads to the Path, Fruition and Nibbana completely. Even when we consider the means, or ‘tools’ for digging out and clearing away dukkha and its cause so that the Path, Fruition and Nibbana may be clearly revealed, there is nothing in the three worlds which is able to do this better than ‘Nirodha’ and Magga (the Path), which are within the same heart — just this is the whole story. One must not long for other times, places or people, for this is a hazard and thing which wastes a lot of time and slows one’s development without being of any value at all. Thinking like this, rather than thinking about the kilesas and Dhamma which are within one’s heart contradicts the purpose and aim of the Great Teacher — the Lord Buddha — who bestowed his Dhamma teaching on the world — a teaching which is correct and suitable in all respects at all times.’
“This, in essence, is the teaching which Venerable Acharn Mun taught in a fully reasoned way while I was living with him in Chiang Mai Province. This I can remember quite clearly for it is buried in my heart and I have no uncertainty, nor have I forgotten any of it right up to the present day.”
Sometimes Venerable Acharn Kow had questions which he asked Venerable Acharn Mun who answered by admonishing him saying,
“Why do you ask questions like this just as you feel like it without having first considered the principles of Dhamma to see in what direction the truth should be.”
One such question he asked was:
“At the time of the Lord Buddha, according to his biography and other writings, there were a large number who attained the Path, Fruition and Nibbana and quickly as well. There were far more than attain to it nowadays, for few people manage to get there now and far less than in those days. Also, those who do attain nowadays, seem to do so much slower.”
Venerable Acharn Mun immediately asked him,
“How do you know that there are hardly any who attain the Path, Fruition and Nibbana nowadays, and that those who do, only do so much more slowly as you say?”
Acharn Kow replied,
“Well, I have never heard of people attaining Nibbana like they used to in those days, in accordance with what is written in the old books, when many attained Nibbana simultaneously each time the Lord Buddha gave them a talk on Dhamma, and many others did so, going out to practise the way on their own. It also seems that they attained very quickly and easily and it is a joy to read about the results which they attained. But nowadays people strive until they almost die without seeing the type of results which one feels should come from such effort — which causes those who practise to become discouraged and to become weak in striving?”
Venerable Acharn Mun then asked him:
“In the old books, does it say whether in those days all those who practised the way attained quickly and easily, or were there those who practised the way with difficulty, some gaining understanding slowly and some quickly, as well as those who practised the way easily, some gaining understanding slowly and some quickly — which would accord with their levels and characteristics, which are very different in different types of people?”
Venerable Acharn Kow answered saying:
“Yes, they did vary quite considerably and they certainly did not all attain quickly and easily, and there were those who practised with difficulty, some of whom attained slowly and some quickly. But I still feel that it was very different from the situation nowadays even though there were various classes of people, as there still are nowadays.”
Venerable Acharn Mun then explained:
“This difference comes from the leaders and how correctly and precisely they can lead the way; as well as from the power of the virtuous characteristics (vasana) of the Lord Buddha and the Savakas who followed the Buddha, which, when compared with us nowadays is so different as to be almost beyond comparison. An additional thing is the interest that people have in Dhamma nowadays, which is so different from the time of the Lord Buddha. Even the characteristics of people which are derived from their background in this life are very different nowadays from what they were in those days. So when there are all these differences, that the results should be the same is not really possible. But there is no need for us to talk about other people and ages, which would take a very long time and be tiresome. For in ourselves, we display a coarseness which disturbs us all the time, even though we are ordained monks who believe that we have zeal and are striving, sometimes by walking cankama and sometimes by sitting in samadhi bhavana. But these are just the bodily activities, whereas the heart is not striving in any way that corresponds to these activities at all. All it is doing is thinking in ways that accumulate the kilesas and disturb the heart all the time, while we believe that we are striving by means of these activities. When this is the case, the result is bound to disturb and trouble the heart regardless of when or where we are. Thus we conclude that we have been striving to our utmost and that we have not gained the results which we should have. But in fact we have been walking cankama and sitting in samadhi and at the same time gathering and accumulating poison which does nothing but harm to us without our being in the least aware of it. This is how we do not strive truly and properly as it should be done.”
“Therefore there is really no comparison between the time of the Lord Buddha when their striving was genuine and they were truly concerned to gain freedom from dukkha, as against this present age where we just play, like children with their toys. In fact, the more we try to make comparisons, the more do we show off our kilesas and incompetence. For myself, even though I live in this age of insincerity and deceit, I do not agree with your criticising the Buddhist religion, as well as yourself as you did just now. If you still see that you have some virtue and truth left within you, you should try to act in accordance with the plan of action that the Lord Buddha taught so rightly. But not in accordance with the plan of action in which the kilesas lead you and drag you along in their way in everything you do, all the time and every day — even while you believe that you are actually striving in the way of Dhamma. The Path, Fruition and Nibbana is a universal treasure and the Lord Buddha taught that it may be acquired by anybody, a treasure that will be for your satisfaction one day for sure, as long as you do not keep thinking how difficult it is and how slow your attainment comes, which is nothing but an obstruction in your way.”
“When we practise and strive in the manner of someone who feels that his body will break up if he keeps on doing it, because he is so weak, lazy and irresolute, it seems to me that we are like lazy inconsequential fools who think they are going to bore a hole through a mountain using a small auger, and they are very anxious to do this within the time of a single day. It is so ludicrous that those who are truly wise with sharp wisdom and who really do strive, just laugh at it. We should think and look at the manner of striving of those who were sons of the Sakya — the Savakas of the Buddha at the time of the Buddha, and see how they acted, and then compare it with our own striving which is like someone who goes to the shore and just smacks the sea with his hand, which is enough to make us feel sorry and disheartened that his longing for Nibbana is only to the extent of getting his hands wet! Look, think and see how the kilesas are like an ocean and the efforts we make are like the water on our hands — how far apart are they? People in this age of just “wetting their hands in the ocean” make little in the way of effort, yet their intention is to get free from the realm of samsara. Then when this does not happen as they expect it to, they find some excuse to blame the religion (Sasana), the time, the place and the people of this or that period of time. They are not in the least ashamed of the way in which they display their own incompetence and stupidity so that those Acariyas who are truly wise and skilled feel disheartened and laugh wryly, saying that there is no way in which they can do anything about such people.”
“To invest only a small amount of capital in a manner that is useless and then to expect the most enormous returns on one’s investment is the way of an incompetent fool who builds his own charnel ground for cremating himself and remains submerged in the mass of his own dukkha. So the round of samsara never weakens its hold on him so that he could feel that he may get free one day.”
“The question that you asked me which was in effect praising the teaching of Buddhism (Sasana–Dhamma) and praising the age, the place and the people at the time of the Lord Buddha, while at the same time criticising the teaching, the age, the place and people nowadays were the words of praise and blame of an incompetent fool who puts obstructions in his own path until he cannot find a way to crawl out to safety. It was the question of someone who was incompetent, the question of someone who puts thorns in his own path to obstruct himself and not a question which was designed to clear the way and make it free of obstacles so that he can go ahead with confidence due to being interested in freeing himself from the kilesas by means of the Svakkhata Dhamma (Well Taught Dhamma) which is the ‘middle way’ that was given impartially to all those beings in the world who have enough interest to practise the way rightly ever since its origins.”
“If you will only have the mindfulness and wisdom to shed all these things from yourself you would be worthy of some admiration. This is like sickness and diseases which people get, both serious and mild. When people want to cure themselves and they take the right remedy they are likely to feel calm and easy and the cure is effective. But if they are not interested in looking after themselves and overcoming the disease, it will probably get worse and can become dangerous — except for minor complaints such as the common cold or minor skin troubles which cure themselves without special attention.”
“The ‘kilesa’ diseases, which are not in the class of self-healing minor ailments, must be treated with medicine, and the medicine is the Dhamma–way of striving following the pattern which the ‘Sons of the Sakya, the Buddha Savakas’ practised. One may be fully confident that this remedy will quell and get rid of all the kilesas whether strong or mild or however else they may be. If you were only to think in this kind of way I should feel more at ease about you and I could admire you for being someone who has clever ways of thinking and one who can have some confidence in his own ability to be able to pass beyond the realm of samsara as well as having faith in the ability of the Lord Buddha and his religious Teaching (Sasana–Dhamma) and faith that he penetrated Dhamma with his intuitive ability, and spread it abroad as the Sasana Dhamma in a proper manner. And that this was a ‘Dhamma of Salvation’ (Niyyanika–Dhamma), truly able to lead beings to freedom. Not blaming and criticising himself saying that his kilesas are very thick so that he can only learn Dhamma slowly, while at the same time having no interest in curing them. Not blaming the Lord Buddha, saying that he did not formulate and teach Dhamma in a way that was equally suitable for his own time and for all other ages as well. Nor blaming the Dhamma, saying that it is incapable, or not penetrating enough, to cure the kilesas of beings in this modern age in the way it did at the time of the Lord Buddha.”
Venerable Acharn Mun continued, saying: “
I am not denying the fact that the strength of people’s kilesas are different from what they used to be, and I agree that people at the time of the Lord Buddha had them far less than people do nowadays. The mode of teaching was also very different from what it is nowadays, as also were those who taught the way, and they were ‘seers’ in most cases, with great understanding and true seeing. For the Great Teacher was the Leader of the Savakas in formulating and teaching Dhamma to his followers and others. The teaching was therefore never wrong and never deviated from the truth, for it came straight from the heart of the Lord and from the hearts of his followers which were completely purified. From this purity of heart they drew out Dhamma and taught others in language that was fresh and direct without there being anything hidden or mixed in with it that was wrong or distorted.”
“Those who listened to this Dhamma were intent on the truth and they had fully committed themselves to it. So the situation was entirely suitable on both sides and the results came stage by stage, being self-evident to them and fulfilling the expectations of these people who were looking for truth. Therefore they had no problems and questions which could interfere with their development. So it was that in those days, many people attained Magga–phala each time the Great Teacher or his Savaka Followers gave Dhamma teaching, whereas nowadays hardly anybody can attain. It is as though saying that people are no longer people and Dhamma is no longer Dhamma, so there are no results coming from it. But in fact people are people and Dhamma is Dhamma as they always were, but people are not interested in Dhamma now, so the Dhamma that enters into them does not reach the heart. The result is that people remain just people and Dhamma remains just Dhamma, which is not likely to be of much use in bringing about the final attainment. Even if a large number of people were taught and listened to an exposition of the whole Ti–pitaka, it would be just like pouring water over the back of a dog — it immediately shakes it all off until there is none left. In this way the Dhamma has no meaning in the hearts of people, much as water is of no consequence on the back of a dog.”
Venerable Acharn Mun then asked Venerable Acharn Kow:
“When you asked that question just now, was your heart like a dog’s back? Or what was it like that you blindly put blame just on the Dhamma alone, saying that it had not brought results to yourself for attaining the Path, Fruition and Nibbana the easy way — like it did in the time of the Lord Buddha without thinking about your own heart which was shaking off the Dhamma from itself faster than a dog could shake water off its back? If you will only reflect back and think about your own faults and failings, I think that some Dhamma will find a place to seep into your heart and remain there, not merely flowing through it like water flowing down a channel without any reservoir or storage place — which is how you are at present.”
“Whether the people at the time of the Lord Buddha had few or many kilesas was just a matter of their own virtue or evil which does not effect us or make any difficulties for us nowadays. People nowadays have their own kilesas of various kinds which create trouble for themselves until there is hardly anywhere in the world where they can live normally. If people have not enough interest in curing themselves so that the world has some freedom from this trouble and freedom from the ‘fire’ with which they ‘burn’ each other, merely blaming and praising others, in whatever age they lived is not likely to be of any use at all. This is also true if each one of them is not interested in directing his blame and praise towards himself — towards this one who is creating the ‘fire’ to ‘burn’ himself and others causing all sorts of trouble now — in the present. For, turning one’s praise and blame towards oneself is the way to break the ‘fires’ of lust (raga), hate and delusion apart from each other whenever they are in consort together — at least, to the extent of having a way to go towards some degree of calm and happiness, so that one is not ‘roasted’ by these ‘fires’ beyond one’s endurance. This is the way it should be in the world of human beings who are far more clever than any other species in the world.”
Venerable Acharn Kow said,
“Venerable Acharn Mun used to scold and blame me very fiercely for asking such questions which had no practical solution, although I did not ask such questions very often. But when Venerable Acharn took up these questions and analysed them, it was as if they were like thorns and splinters obstructing the Sasana, himself and myself as well, for which there is no available cure. It made me feel and see where I was at fault and I would feel uneasy about it for many days, even though in fact I had no doubt that people nowadays could practise Dhamma. But Venerable Acharn would still scold me and ‘shred’ me with his fierce way of talking which I reckon was right and suitable for someone like myself who was always talking and could not be quiet and contented. On the other hand, this was also good in that I used to hear Dhamma from him, of a kind which went straight to my heart. In fact, what I have already told you is not more than a fraction of the deep, spirited and fiery Dhamma which he delivered, for it was deeper than the ocean and more fiery than the fire of hell. He would also bring up the questions which I had asked him in the past to stir me up time after time. Sometimes he would do this right in the middle of a meeting when all the others were gathered there to hear Dhamma and he would reveal my evil ways, talking about my wrong views (miccha–ditthi) and likening me to Devadatta destroying the Sasana.
He would ‘tear me into pieces’, until there was nothing left that was good, and he would go on like this for a long time, not letting up easily, until some of the other Bhikkhus began to wonder about it. Afterwards they would come and ask me whether it was truly as Venerable Acharn said. I had to explain how the questions I asked were not a true indication of my attitude, but that it was just a method of getting him to talk Dhamma. For normally, if nobody asks him some outlandish question he does not speak Dhamma to us. But I suppose I was rather stupid in the questions that I used, for I jumped in with both feet and gave him the hammer to hit me over the head with. Maybe I should have asked a more normal and less inflammatory question so that I could listen to Dhamma that was more sweet and soothing.”
Generally speaking it was in fact as Venerable Acharn Kow said, for if Venerable Acharn Mun was asked questions that were not in any way strange or outlandish, he would just answer in a normal way. Then even though it was Dhamma, his way of speaking was smooth and normal and it made no lasting impression on one’s heart. But when he was asked a strange, outlandish question he became quite animated and the import of the Dhamma which he brought forth was truly satisfying — as we have already described in the “Biography of Venerable Acharn Mun”.
In truth, Venerable Acharn Mun had no doubts about Venerable Acharn Kow’s views, although the way in which he scolded him made it appear as though he was doubtful. But in fact it was just his way of teaching Dhamma which was the way of a skilled Acariya. For he would change his attitude and style of teaching in all sorts of ways to arouse and wake up the rest of us who were listening so as to make us think about and ponder his teachings which would act as a reminder to us for a long time. Otherwise we would remain supine, clinging to our own stupidity with no interest in thinking about anything at all — like a frog sitting and looking at a lotus flower without any purpose. But as soon as Venerable Acharn “rapped us on the head with his knuckles”, it was as though our ears and eyes became brighter. It is in the nature of those Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhus who followed Venerable Acharn Mun that they liked being stirred up and “rapped on the head” frequently to hold their attention and make them think.
But if he talked in a smooth and even manner they would listen quiescently, with nothing to arouse and catch the heart to make it excited, concerned and a bit frightened. Their hearts then tended to go to sleep inwardly when there was no method nor anything else which was capable of making their minds active and thoughtful. Then various kinds of kilesas which had been waiting to take over were likely to find an opportunity to get out and go about causing trouble and disturbing their attention, because the method of teaching was not equal to the ability of the kilesas.
But when they got an unusual form of teaching from Venerable Acharn Mun because he had been asked a question that warranted such a way of teaching, their mindfulness and wisdom was stirred up and became brighter and sharper. Therefore although in asking Venerable Acharn Mun questions, Acharn Kow was partly right and partly wrong, they were Dhamma questions from which he could expect to gain a lot of value in the same way as he had often done so in the past.
Venerable Acharn Kow said that the first year that he spent the rains period (vassa) with Venerable Acharn Mun in the Chiang Mai district, an indescribable enthusiasm (piti) and joy arose. This was an appropriate reward for the several years in which he had tried to follow Venerable Acharn, for even though he had heard his teaching at times in various places, he only stayed for brief periods which were not truly satisfying. After staying for a short while he would be driven away by Venerable Acharn who told him that they must stay in separate places. But when an opportunity came and his meritorious tendencies (vasana) were helpful he was allowed to stay for a rains period with Venerable Acharn.
This made him very happy and he increased his striving greatly until he was hardly taking any sleep at all, sometimes spending the whole night striving at his meditation practice. Then one day his citta became fully integrated and went down into a state of calm where it had a complete rest for some time before it withdrew and rose up out of it. He was filled with wonder at this brightness of the heart which went beyond what he had ever reached before and it made him completely absorbed in Dhamma until the light of dawn appeared. That night he did not sleep at all. In the morning he got up at the usual time and went about his duties, helping to clean and arrange things at Venerable Acharn’s hut and taking his bowl, robes and other things to his place where he ate food in the sala.
When Venerable Acharn came from the place where he did his meditation practice it seemed that he watched Acharn Kow unusually closely. Acharn Kow himself noticed this and felt very self-conscious and afraid that he may have done something or other wrong. After a short while Venerable Acharn said to him:
“How is your meditation practice going now? Last night your citta was much brighter than it has been in the past, ever since you have been staying with me. This is how you must do it! This is the right way for one who searches for Dhamma. Now do you know where Dhamma is? Last night where was that brightness?”
“The brightness was in my heart sir,”
but he felt afraid and ashamed until he almost started shivering, for he had never before been praised and asked a question at the same time like this.
“Where had the Dhamma been before this that you could not see it?”
asked Venerable Acharn.
“That which you have seen is Dhamma and you must always know it in this way from now on. Dhamma is in the heart and in the future you must guard the level of your citta and the level of your striving so that they are kept well up and you must not let them deteriorate. For this is the ground of the citta, the ground of the Dhamma, the ground of your faith in Dhamma and the ground of the Path, Fruition and Nibbana — all of them are just there. You must be confident and resolute in your striving if you want to transcend dukkha; and in doing this, you have got to do it just there, for it is absolutely certain that there is nowhere else where you can get free from it but just this one place.”
“You must not indulge in wishful thinking, for you are no longer blind and there is no need to do so. Last night I sent the flow of my citta out to look at you and I saw your citta brightly illuminating everything round you, and every time I sent my citta out to look it was the same way throughout the night. Because I also took no sleep last night at all; part of the time I spent in samadhi bhavana, part of the time receiving Deva guests and part in sending my citta to see how you were getting on, and it went on like this until dawn without having any realisation of the time. As soon as I came out of bhavana I had to ask you about it, because I have always wanted to know about my fellows in Dhamma. Was it peaceful, was it blissful this time?”
Venerable Acharn Kow said that he remained silent, not daring to answer Venerable Acharn —
“For he had already looked right through me until he could see my lungs and liver and everything else, so what would be the use of telling him. From then on I was much more afraid of Venerable Acharn and I was much more careful where he was concerned. Even before this I was quite sure that he could know the minds and hearts of people just as he wished. But that night I experienced it for myself which made me that much more certain and I became very afraid of him in a way that is hard to describe.”
From that day on he was able to fix the state of his heart firmly and develop it steadily, more and more and bit by bit, without any deterioration or backsliding at all. He said:
“Venerable Acharn Mun used to goad me quite frequently. Any self-indulgence and I would be told off immediately and he would get fierce and scold me much more quickly than before. In fact his frequent exhortation and reminders were methods of helping me to look after my citta and Dhamma and to make me more afraid of deteriorating and backsliding.”
“From that time on I continued to spend every vassa period with Venerable Acharn. After the Vassa I would then go out wandering to practise the way in various places, wherever I found it to be suitable for striving. Venerable Acharn Mun would also go off, but in a different direction so as to be on his own, for he did not like going out with any of the Bhikkhus attached to him. So the Bhikkhus all went out in different directions, each as he felt inclined. But whenever some internal problem arose in their hearts, they would make for Venerable Acharn to ask him about it so that he would unravel it and clear the problem which he did every time.”
The Elimination of Avijja
In this way it seems that the striving by way of the heart of Venerable Acharn Kow progressed steadily. His mindfulness and wisdom gradually and steadily spread and branched out until it was infused into the heart and they became one and the same thing. Whatever his bodily posture or activity, he maintained his effort with mindfulness and wisdom present in his striving for Dhamma, and it seems that his heart was bold and courageous having lost all fear of those things which arouse and maintain thoughts and emotional states (arammana), which used to be his enemies. He was also certain of the path leading to freedom from Dukkha and he had no doubts about it even though he had as yet not actually attained freedom.
One evening after he had swept the ground he left the hut where he was living to go for a wash. He saw the rice growing in the fields and how it was golden yellow and almost ripe. This immediately made him think and question:
“This rice has sprouted and grown because there is a seed which caused it to grow. The heart that endlessly leads one to birth, and death should also have something that acts as a seed within it in the same way as the rice plants. If that seed in the heart is not destroyed entirely, it is bound to lead to further births and deaths going on endlessly. Now what is this seed in the heart? What could it be but the kilesas, avijja, tanha and upadana?”
He went on thinking and searching into this problem, holding up avijja as the target of his research, examining it, going towards the future, then returning towards the past, going forward and then backwards, with intense interest, wanting to know the true nature of avijja. He went on searching and investigating in the field of avijja and the heart, throughout the night without let up. At dawn, just as it was beginning to get light his wisdom was able to break through to a conclusion. Then avijja fell away from the heart without any remainder — and the contemplation of the rice stopped at that point when the rice was ripe never to sprout again. His investigation into the citta also stopped as soon as avijja fell down, after which the citta became ripe in the same way as the rice became ripe. At this point it was clearly evident to him that the citta had stopped creating any more births into the various realms of existence. What remained made him full of admiration and satisfaction and this was the complete and utter purity of the citta in his hut in the midst of the mountains where he was supported and taken care of by the forest people.
As soon as the citta had managed to go beyond the tangled jungles of the “round of kilesas” (kilesa–vatta) there arose the most wonderful thing to him alone as the dawn came. Then the sun began to shine its rays on the forest while the heart began to get brighter and brighter as it left the realm of avijja and went towards the wonder of Dhamma where it reached vimutti — freedom at the same time the sun rose. It truly was a most auspicious and wonderful occasion.
After this supreme, auspicious and blessed moment had gone by, it was time for him to go pindapata. While he was walking away from this place of such great blessings he looked back at the little hut which had provided him with such happiness and such wonders, and he looked all around him and saw how everything appeared to have become superb and blessed in sympathy with the heart which was entirely and completely wonderful throughout — although in fact all these things were just there in accordance with their own nature as usual.
While on pindapata his heart was filled with Dhamma and when he looked at the local people of the forests and hills, who had looked after him, it seemed almost as if all of them were beings who had come down from the heavens. In his citta he reflected on how good, how virtuous and valuable they had been to him, so much so that it would be impossible to describe the extent of their virtue. Metta and compassion arose in him for these “heavenly” forest people and he could not help but spread out the metta in his citta as a dedication to them as he passed by them all along the way until he reached the vicinity of the place where he was staying which was a place of such happiness.
While he was arranging the Deva–like food which the hill people had put into his bowl his heart was full of Dhamma. He did not turn his thoughts to the food as he had always done in the past, letting it bring him some pleasure, but he merely ate it as that which the body depended upon for its maintenance. He said:
“Since the day I was born this was the first time that I had ever experienced the body and mind (dhatu–khandha) in perfect harmony with the citta–heart, but it is quite impossible to explain it. All I can say is that it was the most wonderful and unique experience and it became the most outstanding event of my life which left a deep and lasting impression on my heart.”
“After this world shaking event when the sky and ground collapsed and the ‘Wheel of Samsara’ (vatta–cakka) in the heart broke up and disappeared, all the elements and khandhas as well as every part and aspect of the citta were each and all free to conform to their own natural state. They were no longer enslaved and forced into service by anything, so the five Indriya and the six Ayatana would continue to function and do their duties without any dispute or contention disturbing them, which had previously been their normal state, until such time as the elements and khandhas are no more.” (The dispute which he refers to is the disharmony between internal and external things when they come together, which gives rise to gladness or sorrow that then turns into the arising of sukha and dukkha. All these are interconnected like the links of an endless chain going on forever.) “The disputes within the citta, which are far more numerous and disturbing than those externally in the world, all stopped and were peacefully settled from the moment the ‘court of justice’ was built and completed in the heart.”
“This endless tendency to create inappropriate disputes, which used to seize the citta and use it as a floor on which to dance, to quarrel and to argue, never giving it any time to be calm and quiet, because avijja/tanha — the boss — directed and ordered it to work to cause turmoil and confusion of countless different kinds, then all dissolved into a joyful harmonious state of calm and peace. It turned into a world that is free and empty within the citta, where the superb and most excellent Truths of Dhamma (Vijja–Dhamma) are produced and arise for the delectation of the realm of the ‘citta–king’ in place of the former state of anti–Dhamma.”
“Affairs, both externally and internally then proceeded smoothly in accordance with Dhamma without being harassed and disturbed by an enemy. So the eyes saw, the ears heard, the nose smelt, the tongue tasted, the body felt things cold or hot, soft or hard, and the heart received and knew the various supporters of perceptions (arammana) in the normal way without distorting and altering everything as it used to, by making out that right is wrong, that being shackled is freedom, that what is bad is good, that ghosts are people, that virtuous Bhikkhus are evil ghosts (Preta) and conversely that evil ghosts are good people. For this is what the Lord of anti–Dhamma, who had the power to dictate actions used to do when he was in power. ‘Now I can sit down and rest peacefully and whether I live or die I have complete happiness. This one, here, is genuinely out of dukkha and out of danger without any thread of attachment of any sort by which it is bound’.”
This was the aphorism that Venerable Acharn Kow exclaimed in his heart at that time.
Venerable Acharn Kow was another of Venerable Acharn Mun’s followers who stripped away all dukkha and got rid of all dangers from his heart in Chiang Mai province. He said:
“The place where I practised the way until I reached freedom from dukkha within me, the little hut which gave me shelter where I could practise and strive and also rest my body, the place where I walked cankama, the place where I sat in samadhi meditation by day and night, and the village where I went out for pindapata to get food for maintaining the body, while staying in that district, all made a great impression on me which went deep into my heart in an inexplicable way and far more so than any other place. This has remained buried in my heart right up to the present day and my memory of it has never become faded or indistinct nor has it become insipid or commonplace. From the moment when the ‘Wheel of Samsara’ (vatta–cakka) was demolished and fell away from my heart, destroyed by striving, that place changed and became the abode of supreme happiness in all situations at all times.
It is as if I were in the presence of the Lord Buddha at the place of his Enlightenment and everywhere where he practised striving for Dhamma, and all uncertainty about the Lord Buddha was swept away. Even though he entered Parinibbana a long time ago as reckoned by the usual conventions of time, yet it is as if the impression of him is permanently imprinted on my heart without fading after the time of his Parinibbana. All uncertainty about Dhamma was swept away as to whether it is much or little, profound or shallow, and gross or subtle, which the Lord bestowed on all beings. He saw that all of those Dhammas are permanently established in this one heart and that it is completely filled with Dhamma, not being deficient in any part. All doubt and uncertainty disappeared concerning the Savaka Sangha, who are Supatipanno and who are pure. For these three ‘Jewels’ (Ratana) are fused into one in the heart which lives with Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, each of which are pure and integrated together as one Dhamma.”
“From that one moment I became completely contented and had no concerns or anxieties and there was nothing that could act as a burden and deceive my heart. Whatever situation I am in, I am my own master in that situation and nothing remains that orders me about or creeps in and ask for its share to eat and to use — like a parasite — as it used to when I was living with a beggar all the time, without realising it. Now it wanted this! Then it wanted that! All the time this is how it was in all situations.”
Where this Acariya talks of “wanting this” and “wanting that”, he is talking about the kilesas which makes one (feel) deficient, in want and never having enough — for this is the way their inherent nature works. Once they have become powerful and established their position over the heart of a person or animal they are bound to demand or beg incessantly, for this is their natural way of acting. They do so by inciting one to think like this, to speak like that or to act in various ways according to their power, incessantly. If one doesn’t have the Dhamma to block this “leakage” which comes from the stubborn demanding and begging of this gang of kilesas, one is likely to be divided up or spoiled so that they can “eat one up”, until there is nothing left.
It can even get to the point where one has not enough virtue left to keep one going on in one’s present state of life to enable one to be born again in the future as a good person with moral principles. Whatever form of life and situation one is then born into, it is bound to be the wrong place and the wrong situation. Where one will not be able to get the contentment of heart in one’s state of birth that one ought to get from a life in which one has made the effort throughout one’s life to be born into such a state of contentment. Then one may be said to have both lost one’s “capital” as well as getting no “interest” from it. In other words, one who is heedless and complacent gives power just to the kilesas to take charge of the house and look after the citta without any protection or resistance to them at all. Then they grab and take until he has nothing left, as we have already described above.
But one who has got rid of all his debts and put an end to the untidy mess in his heart continues to live happily in all situations in his khandhas, in which he lives. When their life is at an end he drops the burden of the khandhas and there remains just the purity of “Buddho” as his treasure, throughout. This is the ultimate and eternal end of all dukkha — a wonderful ending and a moment which has ultimate value, greater than anything in the three realms of existence in the universe. It is quite different from existence in all relative worlds of supposition (sammuti) where, in their various ways, beings want birth, or at least, most of them do so — and with their eyes wide open, and they are not in the least interested to consider the dukkha which is bound to come as a consequence of that birth.
The truth is that birth and dukkha cannot be separated and dukkha is still bound to be there even in those cases where it is minimal. The wisest of men are therefore afraid of birth more than death. Which is in contrast to most of us who fear death more than birth, while in fact death is only a result of its basic cause which is birth. This fear of death is a fear that is in complete opposition to the basic principles of nature and it comes about because people have no interest in searching and tracing out the truth about death, therefore they resist it, and dukkha is with them all the time.
If the wisest of men had kilesas of the kind which would make them ridicule and laugh at other’s foolishness, they would probably not be able to contain themselves and may have to let it all out to their heart’s content when they see almost everyone in the world setting themselves against the truth with determination. And this they do without ever looking around or searching for the basic principles of truth. But in fact these men are truly wise and worthy to be so-called, and they do not act in the usual way of the world. In fact they generally have “metta” and compassion for the world and give help by teaching the way. As for those who are beyond all hope, they let them go their way as there is nothing that they can do to help them.
Venerable Acharn Kow was one who transcended all the fear and danger that he used to have in samsara and he reached Nibbana while still alive (Saupadisesa–Nibbana) when living in a place called “Roang Cod” in the Phrao district of Chiang Mai Province, in his sixteenth or seventeenth vassa. I cannot remember which, but I know that it was the beginning of the harvest time just after the end of the vassa period. He related all this in a manner which touched the heart one evening when we talked Dhamma together from 8 p.m. until after midnight and nobody came to disturb us for the whole of this time. Because of this we were able to talk Dhamma freely on both sides, right through to the final conclusion — which was the final result that arose from our practice of Dhamma. We started from the basic A. B. C. of our respective practices, which meant the basic training that we did which was rather mixed up, at times slipping back and scrambling up again, at times falling into a bad state, or a state that alternated between bad and good, and sometimes getting into a state of satisfaction or dejection which resulted from the ups and downs of the practices which we used in our initial training. We then went on right through until we reached the ultimate and final point of the citta and of Dhamma of each of us.
The result of our talk was very satisfactory and I have taken the opportunity of including it in this book so that those who read it and are interested in attaining Dhamma may use it as a field for investigation and contemplation and then decide what is suitable in it for them to use depending on their own characteristics. The result which is one’s intended purpose and which comes from such a discriminating choice is likely to be a smooth and steady development that is right and appropriate, depending on how strongly one tries to do it. Because, Venerable Acharn Kow is completely qualified to be a source from which things of great value can arise for those in the world who frequently associate with him.
He is neither deficient in his behaviour which he displays outwardly, nor in his inward knowing of the way of Dhamma which is a “diamond of the first water” buried mysteriously within him. Such a thing cannot be found easily and if one has not narrowly escaped death one is not likely to be able to know it. I have secretly given him the name of “Diamond of the First Water,” in the sphere of Kammatthana, following the line from Venerable Acharn Mun for the last thirty years without being afraid that people will call me mad — because this arose from my own faith. Venerable Acharn Kow is still alive at present (BE 2520/CE 1977) and spreads out metta and warmth to many Bhikkhus and Novices as well as to lay people in all parts of Thailand who never stop going to pay homage and doing puja to him and to listen to his teaching. In his monastery they realise the difficulties that he must put up with, for he is already very old and they have had to arrange suitable times when people may visit him, pay homage to him and listen to his teaching so that he may have enough time to rest and recuperate and be of value to the world for a long time. Otherwise he may “break up” before he reaches his natural time.
The receiving of visitors and the interaction between those Bhikkhus who are acknowledged teachers and the many lay people who come from all over the place to visit them is in most cases very debilitating and somewhat of an ordeal for these teachers for the whole time while these visitors are with them. For these visitors come with all sorts of preconceived views and attitudes and generally they are very anxious to get confirmation of what they want in their own hearts. They never think of the difficulties and the disturbance that they cause in the teacher’s normal daily routine, which means that they are often more disturbed than the water in a well or pond. If the teacher shows no sympathy for them they feel resentful and think that he dislikes them, that he is conceited and does not welcome guests as a Bhikkhu should do, for the purpose of overcoming his conceit and his dislike of others. Moreover, they then build up a dislike of him within their hearts and they spread this about telling everybody, which leads to endless harm. Those Bhikkhus who should be praised and respected and who are of great value to the lay people, may then become Bhikkhus who are under accusation without any court that can try the case and pass judgement.
The fact of the matter is that Bhikkhus are ordained for the purpose of bringing benefit both to themselves and to the world and not for remaining quiet, easy-going and unconcerned. In any one day they do various different kinds of work at different times and they rarely have any spare time. For they must find some time for helping the world in various ways; they must find time for helping the Bhikkhus and Novices who they are looking after as well as other Bhikkhus whom they chance to meet; and they must find time for looking after their own bodies and hearts so that they may last long and continue to be of value to the world for a long time to come. Both by day and night body and heart go round and round like a flywheel with hardly any time left to rest and relax. When one thinks about it, even the machines which we use, such as motor cars, have a rest at times, or they need time off for maintenance and repair to keep them running properly, otherwise they break down and deteriorate rapidly.
Bhikkhus are not like stones and cement which are mixed up together and used in various places in the construction of buildings and houses as the chief builder or architect sees fit for his purpose. Therefore they are bound to get tired or exhausted and must have enough time to rest and relax for the strain of continued work, so that they can have some ease of body and heart.
Generally, when lay people visit a Bhikkhu, they are likely to come complete with their tendencies of character, pretensions, conceits and problems quite uninhibited. So they make trouble for the Bhikkhu by unloading their complaints and criticisms, expecting him to agree with them and to act accordingly, without ever considering whether it is morally right or wrong. This is due to their fundamental trait of having no interest in reason or morals — which are the first things that should be considered. Whenever any desire or want arises which requires the help of a Bhikkhu, they never think how the ways and customs of Bhikkhus and lay people differ — for the Bhikkhus have the principles of Dhamma and Vinaya to guide and direct their actions. So the ways and customs of Bhikkhus are the Dhamma and Vinaya which shows them what they should do, and they must always think of what is right or wrong, good or evil and consider whether any proposed thing should or should not be done.
But lay people have no “Dhamma or Vinaya” within them to act as a guiding principle to control their actions and so, generally speaking, they tend to rely on what they like and want as their guide. Thus, when they try to get a Bhikkhu involved in their affairs he is quite likely to be troubled or harmed, even though they have no intention of doing this. Or he may be harmed indirectly by frequent requests — such as asking him to give them a number for the state lottery — which is an activity that conflicts with the Bhikkhu’s Dhamma and Vinaya.
Or by asking Bhikkhus to make love potions which cause a man and woman to love each other; asking Bhikkhus to tell them an auspicious time when they will have good luck and become wealthy — or for any one of a thousand other purposes; asking Bhikkhus to do their horoscope and to advise them about their affairs; asking for magic spells and sayings to make them invulnerable to bullets, knives, pointed weapons and clubs; asking for “holy water” to be sprinkled on them to annul perils, danger from enemies and bad luck; and all sorts of other things such as these. For all these things conflict with the characteristics and customs (which means the Dhamma and Vinaya) of any Bhikkhu who gives in to them, and the more he is an Acariya, a Teacher whom people respect and have faith in, the more he is troubled by all these things, which we have just described — and all sorts of other things of the same kind which would take all day to describe. In particular, a Dhutanga Bhikkhu who is intent on gaining understanding, Dhamma and freedom, following the lineage of Venerable Acharn Mun is not in the least interested in all these kinds of things. In fact they look on them as being enemies to the right way of progress and as things which increase the delusions of people.
In the worst case these things could lead to the destruction of the Bhikkhu and of the religion (Sasana) for all to see, if, for example people started calling them “lottery number Bhikkhus” and the “lottery number religion”, or “love potion Bhikkhus and religion” — and the rest. This would make the Bhikkhus and the religion seem disreputable and it would cause its value to deteriorate steadily and inevitably. This is the kind of result that can come from doing these things.
In all this that I have said above, I have no intention of blaming those good and faithful devotees of Dhamma — nor those who go to visit Bhikkhus to search for Dhamma. But it is necessary to let people know what is the right form of behaviour between Bhikkhus and lay people who have never been completely separate from each other — and how they should act and relate together so that both may have contentment and live without friction. This is how it should be and it accords with their mutual good intentions and the interdependence that has always existed between them — and also the way that both sides are concerned about the promotion and well being of Buddhism.
It is important that we Buddhists should clearly understand that the monastery is an important place in the sphere of Buddhism. It is also an important place to all Buddhists who can hardly avoid having good and exalted thoughts arising within their hearts whenever they go into a monastery or go past one. This is because “the monastery” has always been a sacred place since the remote past, regardless of whether it is in the villages or forests. For the monastery is the place where the citta and all things sacred come together, as well as arousing the good and high aspirations of endless Buddhists, leaving nowhere for them to leak away and deteriorate. The monastery may be run down and in a state of disrepair or well appointed and beautiful, but in the hearts of those everywhere who have faith in Buddhism there will be a constant attitude of respect and homage for it.
For these reasons, whenever Buddhists go into a Buddhist monastery and for whatever purpose, they should be self-controlled and make sure that their behaviour is sufficiently modest and suitable. This also includes the clothes that people wear and they should be very careful to make sure that they conform to their status as “children of the Buddha” who are going into a place which is high and sacred and which has been glorified by the Lord Buddha, the Great Teacher of the “Three Worlds”. This is especially important in the “forest monastery”, where Bhikkhus are a bit like the monkeys and apes in the forest who have never had the opportunity and fortune to have seen and learnt to admire the material progress and the latest cultural developments that have taken place in cities and towns.
When they see people coming to the monastery wearing some of the latest fashions they feel unusually disturbed and apprehensive — almost dizzy and feverish. It may also give them a sudden fright which they have not experienced before, because they are used to living in the forest until they have become part of it and in such an environment it is not easy to imagine such things. So when they suddenly see such strange and unusual things, their eyes withdraw from Dhamma and the citta displays an abnormal state which fluctuates unsteadily which — tends to induce a melancholy depression.
Most forest Dhutanga Bhikkhus say that they have this same kind of reaction and we should sympathise with them. Even if someone merely explains to them how the towns and villages have developed in material things and culture and how they are developing all the time nowadays equally within the country as well as abroad, within the towns and in the countryside, in the village monasteries and those in the forest, and in normal places where people live, as well as in the forests and hills, they would most likely not believe it. In fact they would probably just have a feeling of repugnance and loathing for it all, and a feeling of apprehension as well as dejection and sorrow — until the person who was telling them would be unable to find any way to cure the fear and horror that they feel. So it’s a pity that they are so primitive and so far away from all this development and civilisation — isn’t it?
The monastery where Venerable Acharn Kow stays, is located in the forests and hills. A place that is well suited to the complete development of meditation and the practice of Dhamma, for it is full of boulders, cliffs and forests with pleasant, shady trees. It seems that Venerable Acharn Kow always tried to avoid and evade all the accoutrements of civilisation which we have already mentioned. If one were to call him uncivilised like most of the Dhutanga Bhikkhus it should not be considered as criticism. Because his Dhamma quality is very exalted — and I feel that he has gone beyond all that should be deserving of criticism. But presumably he may still have the habits left within him of being very watchful and afraid of the dangers in the forest, for even though his Dhamma virtue is at the highest level he will not have been able to let go of all his latent habitual tendencies. This may be in accordance with the Dhamma saying of the Lord, that — the original habitual tendencies cannot be entirely got rid of by the Savakas and only the Lord Buddha was able to get rid of his latent habitual tendencies (nissaya) completely, as well as his good characteristics (vasana).
Whenever many people come causing a lot of disturbance with no good purpose or value in it, Venerable Acharn Kow gets away quickly and disappears into the forest or into a crevice between the rocks of a hill in his monastery until all has quieted down in the evening or after night has fallen, before returning to his residence. When he was asked why he escaped and disappeared in this way, he answered, saying:
“My Dhamma is not much and it cannot withstand the strong flowing current of the world and I have to run away and hide. If I did not do this, but stayed and put up with it, my Dhamma would surely break up and disintegrate, so I must go wherever I can look after myself. For even though I do not have the ability to help these people, I should at least think about helping myself.”
To the best of my knowledge, Venerable Acharn Kow has a lot of metta and generally gives a great deal of help to other people. But on those occasions when he escapes and goes into hiding it is probably because it is beyond his ability to put up with them — as he himself has said. Those who cause trouble and harm are the majority of people, though whether they do it intentionally or not is hard to know, but they do so continually. As for those who try to uphold and maintain Sila–Dhamma and virtue, they are few and they are hardly able to withstand the burden of doing so, and are normally bound to run into many difficulties.
Generally speaking, lay people tend to watch the Bhikkhus much more than themselves. When they go to a place where they should have faith and pay respect, their manner and speech tends to be quite offensive in the eyes and ears of an observer. It makes those Bhikkhus who are observant realise how it is their habitual tendency to let themselves go, without restraint and carelessly, while having no thought for how they might appear to other people, or how it is with themselves — this is what makes it difficult.
More About His Way of Practice
When Venerable Acharn Kow was living in the forests and hills and he became unwell, he was never much concerned about finding medicaments to cure himself. He tended to rely upon the “Dhamma remedy” much more than any other way, for it was effective both in the body and the citta at the same time. He could grasp the problem and fix his attention on it and reflect upon it for a long time — much longer than usual. He managed to overcome fevers many times by this method of medication, until he became quite confident of this process of reflective investigation whenever he felt ill. It started from the time when his citta attained samadhi, or in other words, when he had a calm and cool heart. Whenever he had any fever he would set up a determination to fight it unwaveringly by meditating with a completely resolute heart which is the method that brought him clearly visible results in the past. At first he relied upon Venerable Acharn Mun to guide him continually in the method of doing this when he had a fever, by recalling Venerable Acharn Mun’s experience in which he said how that, when his heart gained unusually great strength it nearly always came from severe sickness and pain. The more painful and sick he was, the more easily would mindfulness and wisdom go round and round the body, quickly going to each event and change of characteristics as it arose during the illness. There was no need for him to compel himself to look into the body and there was no interest at all in whether he would be cured or die. For his concern was to strive to know the truth of all the painful feelings that arose and “swooped down” on him at that time, using the mindfulness and wisdom which he had been developing by continuous training until he had become expert at it.
Sometimes Venerable Acharn Mun would go to Venerable Acharn Kow when he had a fever and talk to him to make him think by asking a pointed question, saying:
“Have you ever thought how in your past lives you have experienced pain and suffering much more acute than this, just prior to the time you died? Even ordinary people in the world who have learnt nothing of Dhamma can put up with the suffering of an ordinary fever. Some of them even retain good mindfulness and seemly behaviour — better than many Bhikkhus. For they do not groan and moan and restlessly move around, flinging their arms about while twisting and writhing, like some unworthy Bhikkhus who really speaking should not be Buddhists at all, and they should not be in such a position that they taint and soil the religion of the Buddha. For even though these worthy people may be in great pain and suffering they still have enough mindfulness to control their manners so that they are seemly and respectable, which is quite admirable. I once saw a sick lay man whose children had come to ask me to visit their father who was beyond hope of recovery. They said that their father wanted to meet me and see me and pay his last respects to me which would give him something to keep in mind and to raise up his heart when he came to the time of his death.
When I got to the house, as soon as their father saw me walking up to the place where he was lying down, he managed somehow to sit up by himself and quickly too, his face beaming and happy. He did this despite his illness and despite the fact that normally he could not sit up without assistance — in fact all symptoms of his fever and illness had disappeared, but there were enough indications left to show that he was in fact seriously ill. He bowed down and paid homage with cheerfulness and joy in his heart and his manners and general behaviour were seemly and beautiful — which startled and perplexed everyone else in his home. They all wondered and talked saying: ‘How did he get up by himself when normally to move a little bit to a new position while lying prostrate we have to help him all the way with great care, for fear that otherwise he may be hurt or faint or die right then. But as soon as he saw you coming, Venerable Acharn, he got up like a new person — no longer like one who is about to die any time.’ They were amazed, for they had never seen anything like it before. They came and told me this and that he died shortly after I left him and that he was fully conscious right up to the last moment and he seemed to die peacefully as if he had got to some state of happiness.”
“But as for yourself, your fever is not severe like that man’s, so why are you so careless and inattentive that you are not examining and investigating your situation. Or is it your laziness that is weighing your heart down and so making your body weak and flabby. If many Kammatthana Bhikkhus went like this, people would criticise the way of Buddhism, and the way of Kammatthana would fall apart. None of them would be able to put up with difficulties because they would all be weak and flabby. Their Kammatthana would also be weak and flabby, just waiting on the block for the kilesas to come and chop them up and make salad of them. The Lord Buddha did not give the teaching of mindfulness and wisdom for lazy, weak and flabby people who merely look at their sickness without thinking, searching and investigating in terms of Dhamma in the way that has been taught to us. For whether such a weak and lazy person gets better or dies from his illness is of no consequence — in fact it’s no more worthy than the death of a rat. You must not bring the beliefs and knowledge of a pig into the Sasana and the circle of Kammatthana Bhikkhus.
For a pig just waits for the ‘chopping block’ quite unconcerned. It makes me feel ashamed in the face of those lay people who are more worthy than such Bhikkhus; and ashamed in the face of the rats who die peacefully and better than such Bhikkhus who have a fever and become weak and lazy, and die without any mindfulness and wisdom to look after themselves. You should try doing some investigation to see whether the Dhamma truths (Sacca–Dhamma) — such as the truth of Dukkha — which the wise say are Dhamma of the highest truth — are in fact true and how true and where the truth in them is to be found. Or, does the truth dwell in carelessness, weakness and laziness which you are promoting at present? For this is just promoting the cause of dukkha (Samudaya) so that it accumulates in the citta making it stupid and preventing you from rising out of it. It is not the way of the Path (Magga) — which leads one to nothing but freedom from dukkha.”
“I am prepared to claim that I have gained strength of heart when I have been very sick by examining the dukkha that arose within me, until I saw the place where it arose and established itself and also its dying away and ceasing, by means of true mindfulness and wisdom, quite clearly. The citta that knows the truth of dukkha and becomes calm and peaceful does not go about looking for something to change its state, but instead, remains firmly within the truth and is ‘one’ and single. There is nothing in it to cause trouble or unseemly actions, nor can anything strange or false get into it to cause any doubt or uncertainty. Then painful feelings cease completely, or else, even if they don’t, they are still quite unable to overcome the citta. Each of them would then be true, each in its own sphere. This is when the Dhamma Truths are the highest truths, and this is how they are true. In other words, you live with that citta which has mindfulness and wisdom everywhere about oneself due to having done the practice of investigation. Not due to laziness and weakness, nor due to sitting or lying down on top of mindfulness and wisdom, the tools which are capable of curing the kilesas.”
“Here is a simile to help you understand. If you take a stone and throw it at someone’s head it can cause injury and maybe kill him. But you can also make valuable use of that stone for sharpening knives, or other purposes. Accordingly, someone who uses it to damage or kill himself is a fool, whereas one who uses it for a good purpose to help himself in desirable ways is clever. Mindfulness and wisdom are like this, for they can be used wrongly to think and work out ways of doing things that are morally not right. Such as being clever in the wrong way, in one’s work and business. Clever in robbery and banditry. Being slick and quicker than a monkey so that others cannot follow what one is up to — which usually turns to evil because of using mindfulness and wisdom in wrong ways.”
“But one can use mindfulness and wisdom in the right way, as in one’s livelihood, by using it in such things as building work, in carpentry, in writing or in repair work of various kinds in which one is skilled. Or one may use it to cure one’s kilesas and tanha which are sticky and stuck firmly to the hub of the wheel of the round of samsara (vatta) which leads one round to birth and then on to death repeatedly and unceasingly, until they have all gone from the heart. Then one becomes purified and reaches the state of freedom (vimutti), Nibbana, maybe today, or this month or year, or in this lifetime, for it is not beyond the ability of human beings to do this, as we may see by the example of those clever people who have done so from the Lord Buddha up to the present day.”
“Wisdom brings endless benefits to anyone who has enough interest and incentive to use contemplative thought without fixing any bounds or limits to it. Because mindfulness and wisdom have never deceived and led anyone into a state of despair with no way out, making them afraid that they will have too much mindfulness and wisdom and that it will turn them into someone who is good at breaking up and destroying whatever Dhamma they had within them, as well as their chance of attaining freedom, and that they would be swamped and overcome while they were only half way there.”
“The wisest of people have always praised mindfulness and wisdom ever since ancient times, saying that they are the most exalted things and are never out of date. You should therefore think and search and dig up mindfulness and wisdom and promote them as the means and method of defending yourself and destroying the enemy within you completely and finally. Then you will see the most excellent and precious sphere of heart that has always been there within yourself since endless ages past. This Dhamma that I am teaching to you comes entirely from the Dhamma that I have looked into and experienced as a result. It is not based on guesswork — like scratching without being able to locate where the irritation is — for what I teach comes from what I have known and seen and been, with no uncertainty.”
“Those who want to get free from dukkha, yet are afraid of the dukkha that arises within them and refuse to investigate will never be able to get free from dukkha. Because the way to Nibbana has to depend on “Dukkha” and the “Origin of Dukkha” (Samudaya) to walk the Path (Magga), the means of going onwards. The Lord Buddha and every one of the Savaka Arahants attained the fulfilment of the Path, Fruition and Nibbana by way of the Four Noble Truths (Ariya–Sacca–Dhamma). There was not one of them that did not pass through these four Noble Truths completely — and now, some of these Noble Truths are displaying their truths within your body and heart quite openly and clearly. You must investigate those truths, using mindfulness and wisdom to get to know them clearly and genuinely. You must not sit or lie down merely gazing at them or you will become an invalid in the field of the Dhamma Truths which have always been true since the beginning of the world.”
“If we Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhus cannot face the truth which is displaying itself so clearly to us, who else will ever be able to face it and know it? Because those in Kammatthana circles are closer and more intimate with the Dhamma Truths than those in other circles elsewhere and they should be able to know and realise them first, before all others. In other circles elsewhere outside of Kammatthana, even though they will also have the Dhamma Truths as an inherent part of the body and mind, yet they differ in that they avoid doing any investigation which would lead them to understanding them in a different way. This is due to their disposition and opportunity which influences them variously in different ways.”
“But the Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhu is in a special situation, in that everything is complete for him to progress and to walk towards the truth which is apparent within him all the time. If you have the blood of a warrior who is worthy of the name given by the Great Teacher which is: ‘the True Sakyaputta Buddhajinorasa (Son of the Sakya, the Victorious Buddha)’, you must try to investigate so as to realise the truth clearly. This truth of painful feeling, is announcing its presence within you in a clear and unmistakable manner in your body and mind right now. Don’t let the painful feeling and this opportunity pass by uselessly. But instead, I want you to take out the truth from that painful feeling and bring it up to mindfulness and wisdom. Then mark it well, define it and let it be known and bury it in the heart firmly and indelibly. From then on, it may act as an example to show that out of these four aspects of Truth which the Lord Buddha proclaimed throughout his teaching, I have now gained a clear understanding of this first Truth, the Truth of Dukkha by means of my mindfulness and wisdom and there is no longer any room left for doubt. But rather, I will endeavour to promote and to make that Truth develop steadily and increasingly, until every bit of doubt has disappeared.”
“If you strive to do what I have just taught you, even if that fever that you have becomes increasingly strong in your body, it will be as though you yourself are perfectly well and fit. In other words, your heart is not disturbed, apprehensive and shivering, nor caught up following the characteristics of pleasure and pain which arise in such circumstances. But you will have a steady sense of pride and satisfaction which will come from what you have known and seen in a calm, steady manner. You will not display any outward behaviour, restlessly moving and changing about as the fever gets worse or better. This is what is meant by learning Dhamma for the Truth, and the wisest people have all learnt it in this way.
They do not wishfully imagine other types of feelings as they would like it to be — thinking how they would like this or that kind of feeling according to their desires — all of which just accumulates the “cause of dukkha” so that it increases and grows much stronger instead of going the way one should want it to go. You must take this to heart and remember it well and go on investigating to find the meaning of Dhamma which is the Truth that is within yourself. This is the basic ground which each should be able to know by himself, for I am just the one who teaches the way to do it. But as to whether the pupils are fearless and valiant or weak and flabby depends entirely on those who do the investigation and no one else has any say in this at all. Well now! For yourself, you are a pupil and you have a Teacher who teaches you, so you must act in a suitable way as befits this situation. You must not lie down inert, like a rag for wiping peoples feet, letting the kilesas rise up and walk all over you to beat you out flat. This would be disastrous and bring nothing but trouble in the future — now don’t say I haven’t warned you!”
Venerable Acharn Kow said:
“When Venerable Acharn Mun gave me this Dhamma talk, it was like a violent storm that comes and then passes away and disappears. I felt as if I would float up into the air with rapture (piti), joy and ‘heartfulness’ from this teaching which was so skilled and penetrating and came entirely from his sympathy (metta), and nothing else could have been so valuable to me at that time. As soon as he had gone I took up the practice of the methods in which Venerable Acharn Mun had so kindly instructed me, and I started to examine and unravel the problems of the painful feeling which was presently apparent to the utmost of my ability, without any tendency to want to give up doing so, or any other forms of weakness at all.” “While I was doing this investigation of painful feeling after Venerable Acharn had gone, it was if he were still there sitting with me waiting to see and waiting to show me how to do it and to help me the whole time. But more than that it gave me strength of heart to increase my fight with painful feeling.”
“While doing the investigation I tried to separate dukkha out from the khandhas. In other words, the body and all its parts I put into one heap (khandha); memory (sañña) which stands by to define or determine, thereby deceiving us, I divided into a second heap; sankhara, which is thinking and imagining I put into a third heap; and the citta I put separately into a special category. Then I investigated, I compared, I looked for causes and results from the start to the end of the dukkha which was making itself apparent in my body, milling around in confusion. But I did not think about whether the dukkha would die away and I would survive or whether it would get worse and I would die, for what I was absolutely determined to get to know for my purpose at that time was the truth of all these things. In particular I most wanted to find out what in fact the ‘Truth of Dukkha’ (Dukkha–Sacca) was. Why should it have such power as to be able to shake up and disturb the hearts of all beings throughout the world without exception? This is the case, both when dukkha arises in normal circumstances due to all sorts of different causes, and also when they reach the end of their lives and they are just about to leave this life and go to a new state. All sentient beings of every kind feel very apprehensive at this time and none are ever bold and fearless enough to face up to it and accept it — except when they have to face it because there is no other alternative and no way out. If there was anyway to avoid it they would be bound to escape to the other end of the world to get away from it — just because of the fear of death.”
“I am also one of these sentient beings in the world who are timid and frightened of dukkha, so what should I do about this dukkha that I am now experiencing in order that I may be bold and fearless, with the truth as my witness. Well! I must contend with dukkha by using mindfulness and wisdom following the teaching and method of the Great Teacher and my own teacher as well. A short time ago, Venerable Acharn Mun had the metta to teach me in a way that went to my heart and left me no room for doubt. For he taught me that I should fight using mindfulness and wisdom by separating and analysing these heaps (khandha) and examining them to see them quite clearly. Right now, what Khandha is this painful feeling (dukkha–vedana)? Is it ‘form’ (rupa)? Or memory (sañña)? Or thought and imagination (sankhara)? Or is it consciousness (viññana)? And can it be the citta? If it cannot be, then why do I make out that the painful feeling is me? — That I am painful? — That it is truly me? Am I really this painful feeling? — Or what else am I? I must find out the truth of this today. So if the painful feeling does not stop and I have not come to know this painful feeling quite clearly with true mindfulness and wisdom I shall go on sitting here in meditation until I die if necessary. But I will definitely not get up from this place just to let the painful feeling laugh and mock and ridicule me.”
“From then on, mindfulness and wisdom went about chopping up and analysing in what became a life or death struggle, and this battle between the citta and painful feeling went on for five hours. After this I knew the truth of the khandhas and I was able to know each one on its own. But in particular I knew the feeling group (vedana–khandha) most clearly by means of wisdom.” The painful feeling then died away immediately, once the investigation had gone round everywhere about himself completely and thoroughly. He said that from that time on an unshakeable faith in the validity of the Noble Truths arose in him, based upon the Truth of Dukkha. “From then on I knew the truth of it without any doubt or uncertainty.”
“From that time on, whenever I got a fever or any other sickness my heart had a way to contend with it and to get on top of it by the way of mindfulness and wisdom — not falling into a weak and flabby state of illness. For generally, my heart gained strength in times of pain and sickness, because these are times of serious concern and maybe truly a matter of life and death as well. The Dhamma which I used to believe in as if it were a plaything, without realising it, which is the usual characteristic of an ordinary person (puthujjana) at normal times when he is not in any special difficulties, then displayed the truth for me to see clearly at that time while investigating the painful feeling all round. The pain then ceased, and the heart became concentrated and went down and reached the base of samadhi. All doubts and problems with regard to the body and mind then ceased while they were at rest, until the citta arose up out of it, which took several hours. Whatever else needed to be investigated would be dealt with in the future with ruthless regard for the Truth which had already been seen.”
Venerable Acharn Kow said:
“When the citta became concentrated, went down and reached the basis of samadhi due to the powerful influence of the investigation, the fever ceased immediately and did not return again. It was quite extraordinary how this could happen.”
In regard to this, the writer believes what Acharn Kow said without question, because he also has done such investigations in a similar manner and has experienced the same kind of results. This makes me feel fully confident that the “Dhamma remedy” is quite able to take care of sickness in subtle and strange ways and to appreciate those who do the practice and have tendencies of character in this direction.
Most of the Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhus like to do such investigations as a remedy for their own body and mind (dhatu–khandha) when they become seriously ill with painful fevers. But they like doing it quietly, on their own and they do not readily tell other people about it — except amongst their friends who are also doing the practice in the same way and who have similar characters. With them they can talk intimately about these things.
It must be understood however, that in talking about curing diseases by the method of meditation in the foregoing paragraphs, this does not mean that all diseases can be cured by such methods. Even the Bhikkhus are by no means sure which diseases can be cured in this way and which cannot. But they are not inattentive or negligent in regard to whatever happens and to whatever changes take place within themselves. Even when it happens that the body is going to die due to a disease, they must also make sure that some of the diseases of the citta die at the same time by using the power of the Dhamma remedy, and this means some of the “kilesas” and “asavas” which are the diseases of the citta. Therefore they are relentless in their investigations into the various diseases that arise, both in the body and in the citta. Because they are confident that this is an important and necessary duty in connection with their khandhas and citta — which they must investigate and accept responsibility for, right up to the last moment.
Venerable Acharn Kow always liked to deal with his fevers by using the Dhamma remedy. At one time he was staying in a hilly part of Sakon Nakhon Province which at that time was infested with malaria. One day after he had finished eating his food he immediately began to feel feverish and shivery. He wrapped himself in several blankets to keep warm, to no avail. He looked about for a warm place but it was useless, so he gave up trying to get warm by external means. Then he decided to overcome the external feelings of cold internally by the way of Dhamma which he had already used with success in the past. He told the other Bhikkhus who were with him, to go away and leave him alone and to wait until they saw that he had opened the door of his little hut before coming to see him again. After all the Bhikkhus had gone he began to get down to the practice of investigation of painful feelings in the way that he had done it before. It seems that he started about 9 o’clock in the morning and went on until 3 o’clock in the afternoon when he succeeded. The fever died away and he was cured right there; and then the citta became concentrated and went down and reached its natural level where it rested for about two hours. Finally at about 6 o’clock in the evening he left the place where he had been practising samadhi meditation, with a buoyancy of body and heart without anything left to cause him trouble. The fever had completely gone and his citta had become bright and skilled with wisdom, exalted and famous within himself — and he has lived with the Vihara–Dhamma since then, right up to the present.
Venerable Acharn Kow is resourceful and absolutely resolute in striving and it would be hard to find anyone else to equal him. Now he is old and frail, but when it comes to striving in the way of Dhamma he is still very skilled and resolute without weakening, much as he always was. When he walks cankama, each time he goes on for five or six hours before taking a rest, and even the young Bhikkhus cannot equal him. Such is the striving of the wisest men who are so very different from the rest of us who tend more to look forward to the time when we can rest our heads on our pillows. As if pillows are more exalted than the Path, Fruition and Nibbana — which, when one looks at it and thinks about it, should make one ashamed of how clever one is in those ways which are completely lacking in essential value.
An unusual and remarkable thing about Acharn Kow is how whenever he thinks about anything, that thing comes in accordance with his thoughts almost every time. For example he may think about an elephant which he had not seen for many years and how it had not been seen here at all — or maybe it had been shot by a hunter. Then in the middle of the night after such thoughts, this elephant would come straight up to his hut and stand there playfully touching and stroking things round about so as to let him know that he had come. After which it would turn and go back to the forests and hills and he would see no more of it for it would not normally return. When he thought about any of the tigers, the same sort of thing would happen. If he thought of a tiger which used to roam about the district and how he had not seen it for ages, and perhaps it had been killed, when he thought of it in the day, that tiger would come at night and wander about the Wat and about where he was staying so as to leave marks to let him know that it was still alive. Then it would go back to the forest and would not stay about there or return again.
He said that it was very strange how whenever he thought of any animals round about, the one he thought of would soon appear, and this happened almost every time. It was as if something went and told those animals to go to him. But a Bhikkhu who is so exalted inwardly as Venerable Acharn Kow must surely have Devas to wait on him all the time, to help him and make things convenient for him and to follow his thoughts and wishes. Then whatever he thinks about, that thing will come to him in answer to his thoughts whatever it may be. Otherwise, why should things come to him right after he thought about them every time, like this? For other people such as ourselves can think about innumerable things and go on thinking over and over again about them without seeing anything coming in answer to our thoughts and desires. At least, nothing which should make us think that we may have some virtue and that we are people who are worthy of reverence like Venerable Acharn Kow.
But then our thoughts are mostly so worthless or evil and disturbing to the heart, which gets nothing but difficulty and torment from them, without seeing anything good concealed within them at all. It is really shameful that our thoughts create nothing but dukkha for us, thousands of times per day until our minds are dull and worn out and incapable of doing any more work.Venerable Acharn Kow has a very large number of followers including Bhikkhus, Samaneras and lay people from all parts of Thailand who regularly come for teaching and training in Sila Dhamma from him. Although nowadays he tries to live quietly and to be on his own much more than he used to, so as to preserve the khandhas and extend their life as far as he can — and also to be of value to those in the world who he should accept and help, and there are very many of them.
After he has finished eating his meal he usually starts walking cankama and working in the ways of Dhamma practice for one or two hours. Then he leaves the path where he walks and goes back to his room where he rests and does meditation practice until two o’clock in the afternoon. If he has no other business to attend to he then walks cankama again and works at his practice until it is time to sweep the paths and clean up the Wat. After this duty he has a wash and then returns to the cankama path and walks while doing his practice until ten or eleven o’clock at night when he stops. From then on he does some chanting and meditation practice until it is time for him to rest his body until about 3 o’clock in the morning. In other words, 3 am is the time when he gets up to do his meditation practice until it is time for him to get ready to go pindapata. After returning from pindapata he takes food to give his body strength to go on living for as long as his vipaka (results of kamma) will let him. This is the daily routine which he strictly adheres to, unless he has other necessary duties which he has to do, such as being invited to go out to various functions which necessitates a break in his routine.
Those who have such exalted Dhamma virtue as Venerable Acharn Kow are not concerned to search for happiness and joy from anything so much as from the Dhamma within their own hearts alone. Their way of living is replete with Dhamma inwardly, and whatever the posture or situation of the body, their hearts are in a constant state of happiness which neither increases nor decreases. For increase and decrease are a pair of opposites which is the way of our world of duality. The reason why they are like this is because they each have a heart which is single and pure throughout and imbued with the “one Dhamma” — alone (ekibhava). This makes no relationship with anything else such that there would be a duality, with one standing out better and more prominent than the other. Therefore there is a peace and happiness in it which cannot be compared with anything else. For the citta which has purity throughout its nature is a citta which has a calm, peace and happiness which is entirely satisfying and there is no desire for anything else to increase or develop it, for it would only cause turbulence and concern in vain without being of any value at all to that citta. So those who possess such a citta like to dwell alone and they have no liking for distractions and disturbances because they are things that trouble the calm and happiness in this natural state which is complete in itself. For such things cause the citta to stir and vibrate and to receive knowledge via the various sense doors.
This is why they like to slip away and live in a way that suits them — which is the most appropriate and right way for their characteristic tendencies. But others, who do not truly understand their ways are likely to think that they do not want to receive guests, or that they do not like people and they slip away to save themselves alone, and they are not interested in teaching and training other people. But in fact the truth is as we have described it above.
As far as teaching goes it is hard to find those who teach with complete purity of heart and filled with metta, without any interest in worldly gain or any recompense at all, such as Venerable Acharn Kow. Because in teaching people of every level every class and every age, they teach with true knowing and true seeing that is completely genuine and aimed at bringing benefit to whoever receives it and they do so with metta in a manner that is unimpeachable. The only exceptions are in those cases when some people go and trouble them with irrelevant and unnecessary things like those we have described above. So they may not receive and teach everyone who comes, because it is not possible for a Bhikkhu to act in wrong ways just to comply with the unreasonable requests of those who do not keep within the limits of what is reasonable and proper. For the Bhikkhu himself would become involved, be in trouble and come to loss together with the one he is sorry for.
For some years Venerable Acharn Kow spent the vassa period in the hills on his own while relying on two or three families of farmers to give him food when he went out on pindapata each day. He said that for those who are ordained, this type of life provides the most happiness and peace of heart for the practice of Dhamma. All one’s time is filled with the effort to practise the way and there are no other burdens or duties to trouble one. One’s time is one’s own, one’s effort is one’s own in every situation and the citta with Dhamma is one’s own in all that one does, and there is nothing to distract one and divide up one’s attention causing it to diminish below what it had been before. One who is ordained and who lives in the present as if tonight is the only night left to him, is not concerned how much longer he is going to live, nor with any of these disturbances, for this that he is doing is of incomparably greater value than anything else.
Venerable Acharn Kow said that when he spent the vassa period by himself in the hills along the borders of Sakon Nakhon and Kalasin Provinces, he lived in a place three or four miles distant from the nearest village. There were many wild animals in that district, including tigers, elephants, wild oxen, red bulls, barking deer, wild boar and deer of various kinds. At night he used to hear these animals calls echoing through the forest, and they would wander in search of food, often coming close to where he was staying almost every night. Sometimes he could see them and they came so close to him he could almost make out what kind of animal it was. Seeing these animals made him feel joyful, with metta and compassion for them.
I cannot remember what year it was that Acharn Kow spent the vassa period in these hills but I know it was soon after Venerable Acharn Mun had died. He said how, in this vassa, when he practised meditation for samadhi it seemed that Venerable Acharn Mun came to visit him constantly throughout that vassa to talk Dhamma to him and give him “friendly Dhamma advice” (Sammodaniya–Dhamma). In doing his routine duties in the vicinity of the cave where he stayed, and in all other activities such as arranging his few possessions, if he did anything improperly, Venerable Acharn would point it out to him every time. Therefore it was just as if he had lived with Venerable Acharn Mun for the whole of that vassa period.
Venerable Acharn Mun came and told him about the customs and traditions of the Dhutanga Bhikkhus who are intent on attaining freedom, saying:
“The various Dhutanga routines should be maintained and done properly in the way that the Lord Buddha prescribed and they should not be altered.”
Then he talked about the Dhutanga practices that he taught his followers to do while he was still alive and he repeated what he said for emphasis, thus:
“In teaching my followers to practise the way throughout right up to the end of my life, I taught those Dhutanga practices which I knew about with certainty — without any doubt at all. Therefore you should take them to heart and practise them with a full and complete commitment — and you should never think that the Sasana is exclusively the treasure of the Lord Buddha or any one of his Savaka followers. For in fact, the Sasana is the treasure of whoever cherishes it and is interested enough to practise the way and thus includes everyone who aims to gain value from the Sasana. The Lord Buddha and all the Savakas retain no part of the Sasana which they gave to the world fully and freely and you should not think that the Lord and the Savakas would dispense both parts which were good as well as parts which were bad or tainted. For when we practise the way, whether we do so rightly or wrongly in any part of it is up to each one of us and in no way does it depend on the Lord Buddha and the Savakas.”
“You have come here to practise the way, and this is your own particular purpose; whether you practise rightly or wrongly is also entirely your own business. Therefore you must be very careful in what you do so as to live contentedly in the Dhamma of one who has seen the truth (Dittha–Dhamma). You will shortly become an Acariya with many followers and you must set a good example to show what is right and seemly so as to be an exalted symbol of righteousness and truth and a blessing to all who follow after you — so that they who follow you will not be disappointed. Being an Acariya is a very important position and one should examine what it means carefully. For if just the Acariya himself goes wrong he may also lead many others in the wrong direction. But if he does what is right, he can equally lead countless others in the right direction. You should therefore examine carefully, all aspects of what it means to be an Acariya with many followers so that others may have an unobstructed, smooth path which will not be false because of taking you as their Acariya to teach them. The word ‘Acariya’ means one who teaches or trains his behaviour which is displayed externally in his actions and manners, in such a way that those who depend on him can hold him up as an example to be followed. It should not be the kind of behaviour which is an external display of what comes from falsehood due to a lack of prior consideration and thought.
The Lord Buddha who we call the ‘Sasada’, the great teacher of the world, was not the ‘Sasada’ only at those times when he was giving a talk on Dhamma to those Buddhists who came to listen to him. For he was the Sasada at all times, in every situation and position and whether reclining on his right side in the ‘Lion posture’, sitting, standing, or going about the place. Even when he was within a Buddhist monastery, he would still be the ‘Sasada’ in all his behaviour in every action and every movement he made, and the Lord never did anything that was uncharacteristic of the Sasada. Therefore one who has mindfulness and wisdom and an inclination towards assessment and contemplation could take every movement and every gesture that the Lord made as a moral example that teaches people over and over again.”
“You should not think that the Lord ever behaved in an abandoned manner, like all people in the world, where they like to adjust and change their manners and behaviour depending on the people and circumstances that they come across. For they behave like this in one place and act like that in another — which is the characteristic behaviour of ghosts and Pretas, even though they are in fact people — good or bad. They are to be found everywhere, and they have not got enough of a presence in them which can be held on to as a firm, stable principle, either for themselves or other people. But the Lord Buddha was not like these people of the world, for he was the Great Teacher in everything he did right up to the day of final Nibbana. Whatever action or characteristic he displayed he was always the ‘Sasada’, never deficient or incapable. So whoever holds to him as their ‘refuge’ — which means a basic principle or example of how one should act and do things — can do so at any time, in whatever they are doing, by following his example, without any doubt as to whether the example of the Lord is suited to this occasion or not. This is why the title of the ‘Great Teacher’ — the ‘Sasada’ — of the Triple world system is well suited to the Lord.
Even when the Lord was about to enter Parinibbana, he did so in the ‘Lion posture’. He did not lie down, as though he had thrown away his limbs and body, careless of them, afraid of death and repeating mantras and magical verses so that he would go to this or that place or realm — which is the way of ordinary people everywhere in the world — but he died and entered Parinibbana, composed, in the ‘Lion posture’. Meanwhile, his heart went through the process of ‘entering Nibbana’ with unwavering courage and discipline — as if he was about to go on living in the world for aeons of time in the future. In fact, the Lord proclaimed that he was the Great Teacher at these final moments by entering Jhana and Nirodha Samapatti and then withdrawing from them until the right moment came and he entered Parinibbana, fully supporting his status as the Great Teacher without any remaining attachments to anything in the Triple world. That was how the ‘Sasada’, the Great Teacher showed an example which was a standard pattern for the world to emulate, and he did this from the moment of his Enlightenment to the time of his Parinibbana. Nor did he diminish or give up any of his standards of behaviour below that required of the ‘Great Teacher’ by behaving in the manner of the average, ordinary person, for he dutifully maintained his position to perfection right to the end.”
“Therefore you should take up the example of the Sasada and put it into practice. For even though you will not be able to match the perfection of the Lord in all respects, it will still be in the category of one who follows the word of the Teacher — not drifting uncontrolled like a boat in a storm adrift in the middle of the ocean which has not put out its anchor. The practice of someone who is ordained, but who has no right and firmly founded basic principle within him is likely to be without any real purpose that can enable him to determine whether he will reach a shore of safety — or whether there will be various dangers ahead. He is like a boat without a rudder and is not likely to be able to sail where he wants to go — and he is likely to drift with the ocean currents which can easily lead him into great danger.”
“The principles of Dhamma and Vinaya, such as the Dhutanga observances, are the ‘rudder’ of the practice which lead it to a safe goal. Therefore you should take hold of them and grasp them firmly, without wavering or vacillating, which would lead those who follow you, who will be many, to uphold this example and go wrong accordingly. The Dhutanga observances are the practices which go straight and directly towards the goal and there is no other practice that can equal them in this. It requires only that those who practise them must also use mindfulness, wisdom, faith and effort in striving to do so. That Dhamma which they are hoping to attain should be within the scope of the Dhutanga practices that have been handed down to us and it is quite certain that they are capable of leading us to it without any doubts or obstacles being able to prevent us. For the Dhutanga observances are the only way which leads to the beyond of dukkha — there is no other way — so you should not feel uncertain or have doubts. This way of Dhamma is also the place where all the methods of practice and development gather together and lead into the process of quenching all dukkha.”
“Those Bhikkhus who have a liking for the Dhutanga observances as their mode of development are those who have love and faith in the Great Teacher, who is the First Teacher. Whereas those Bhikkhus who have taken up the Dhutanga observances as their way of progress are those who have an established tradition and the Great Teacher as their refuge in every situation. Wherever they go or stay they have Dhamma to help and protect them in place of the Sasada. They are not lonely, aimless or unstable, for their principle of heart is the principle of Dhamma and this principle of Dhamma is the heart. Their breath going in and going out is Dhamma and it is intimately blended into a single unity with the heart. These people are the ones who are eternally living with Dhamma and they never become disturbed nor off balance. For yourself, it is true that you do not have anything to worry about, but there are many other people who will associate with you and you should have concern for all those who follow you, both fellows in Dhamma and lay people as well, so that they may feel contented in the practices which they have picked up from you that they are a means of making progress and that they are the right way and correctly portrayed, without error.”
“This is how he taught me!”
He said further that if he slept over the time for him to wake, even just a little, Venerable Acharn Mun would come and point it out to him, saying:
“Don’t trust yourself more than Dhamma, for ‘yourself’ is the round of samsara (vatta). The elements of the body and the khandhas are the result that have come from the round of samsara, right from the beginning. You should only give way to it to the extent that is necessary — but you must not give way to the khandhas more than you have to. For to do so is against the way of a Bhikkhu whose nature is not inert or careless. Sleep and lying down for those who are truly wise, is only for the purpose of giving a temporary relief to the elements of the body and the khandhas and they do not look for pleasure or contentment from easing off the tiredness and weakness of these elements and khandhas. The Bhikkhu who lies down as a Bhikkhu should, must be careful to remind himself of the time to get up — like the mother of a deer who lies down to rest when out looking for food who must be more mindful and careful of herself than normal. To ‘lie down properly’ means, to be careful to set up mindfulness to make the intention to get up at the time that one decides to get up before going to sleep — not lying down in the manner of one who sells off worthless goods, letting the customer give whatever he feels like giving for them. The Bhikkhu who lies down, letting his body go however it will is not a Son of the Sakya, a Buddhist who guards the religion, promoting it in himself and others, but a Bhikkhu who ‘sells things having given up trying, letting the buyer fix the price’.
To lie down properly in the manner of a Bhikkhu who is endowed with sila and Dhamma as religious duties, a Bhikkhu must have a regular pattern of procedure to follow before going to sleep and this habit makes him careful and self-possessed when he lies down properly to sleep. As soon as he wakes up he must get up quickly, not lingering, which is the way of a lazy person who tends to get up late — and who dies immersed in careless indifference, never waking enough to become aware of himself. Lying down in this way is the way of an animal whose self has no meaning in its own life — and it is also the manner of a lazy person who destroys whatever value he has and is unable to rise up and improve himself. This is not the way of the Sasana and it should not be allowed to develop, for it will become a ‘parasite creeper’ growing within the Sasana and within the whole company of Dhutanga Bhikkhus which will be one’s own undoing, for a ‘parasite creeper’ destroys the tree on which it depends. You should think about and compare the two concepts of ‘lying down properly’ as against ‘lying down’ in the usual way which everyone understands. Compare them and search out where they differ and how very different is the meaning in the ‘lying down properly’ of a ‘Son of the Sakya’ as against the ordinary ‘lying down’ of people and animals everywhere.
Therefore, the attitude of a ‘Son of the Sakya’ who sets his mind to ‘lie down properly’ each and every time should be an important duty which cleaves to him, then and at other times also. This is appropriate to one who is said to wear the mantle of mindfulness and who has the wisdom to think with understanding and to use thought and contemplation in everything that happens. Not just thinking, just speaking, just acting, just lying down, just waking up, just eating, just taking his fill, just standing, just walking, just sitting down, all of which are just the behaviour of carelessly relaxing and going beyond the status and basis of a ‘Son of the Sakya’ who should never act in these ways.”
“It is generally understood by people that after the Lord Buddha and each of the Savaka Arahants had entered final Nibbana, they went into oblivion and no longer had any meaning or relationship to oneself and other people. But this Dhamma, which is the basic causal condition that teaches us to practise in the present, is this not the Dhamma of the one who dug deep, searched and brought it up for the World to see and to follow in practice? And the whole body of this Dhamma, how did it remain, and why did it not go into oblivion also? The fact is that both the ‘Buddha’ and ‘Sangha’ are the pure heart which has gone free, beyond the limits of both death and oblivion by virtue of its nature. How could it die, be consigned to oblivion or become meaningless when its very nature does not accord with ‘relative convention’ (sammuti)? When its nature no longer accords with relative convention, it is not subject to the power of death, nor going into oblivion, nor becoming meaningless. Thus, Buddha is ‘Buddha’ in its own right; Dhamma is ‘Dhamma’ in its own right; and Sangha is ‘Sangha’ in its own right; and they are not shaken or disturbed by any of the ideas, attitudes, concepts or thoughts of the relative world of conventions which create and destroy themselves. Therefore the practice of ‘Dhamma which accords with Dhamma’ is the same thing as being face to face with the Lord Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, the whole time that one has ‘Dhamma which accords with Dhamma’ within the heart. Because the knowing of ‘Buddha’, ‘Dhamma’ and ‘Sangha’ by natural principles, must arise in the heart which is the most suitable dwelling place for Dhamma and no other vessel is more appropriate to it.”
This was the teaching with which Venerable Acharn Mun admonished Venerable Acharn Kow in his samadhi meditation practice when he saw that he had erred in some way. As for example, in practising the Dhutanga observances incorrectly or not strictly enough, and waking up from sleep at the wrong time. He said:
“In truth, Venerable Acharn Mun did not admonish me just with the idea that I had done something wrong. But rather with the understanding that: ‘This Acariya will be associated with many people including Bhikkhus, Novices and a large number of lay people in the future.’ Therefore, he advised and admonished me often, so that: ‘This Acariya will become strict and fully conscious in ‘recalling the duties’ so that he will pass them on to all the other Bhikkhus and Novices who come to live in dependence on him for peace and help, and they will be good and worthwhile things’; in the same way as Venerable Acharn Mun led his followers to practise the way.”
Venerable Acharn also taught him that all one’s possessions, such as the bowl, kettle, robes and other things which one uses in one’s dwelling should be put down or put away properly and tidily — including also, such things as rags for wiping one’s feet. If one sees that any of them are not clean enough to be used one should take them and wash them before putting them to further use. After using things one should put them away, or fold them up and put them away tidily — not just leaving them lying about all over the place. If on any one day this Acariya became too absorbed in some other affairs that came and intruded into his life which made him forgetful and careless, he would see Venerable Acharn coming to him in the middle of the night while he was practising samadhi meditation and he would admonish him and teach him and point out the way of Dhamma to him.
He stayed alone in this cave for the whole of that vassa period, and at night he was frequently visited by Venerable Acharn Mun who appeared to him as a nimitta of his meditation practice. Even sometimes in the middle of the day when it was very quiet and he was sitting in meditation, he also saw Venerable Acharn Mun coming to visit him in the same way as he did at night. He said that it was very pleasurable for him to be able to ask Venerable Acharn all sorts of questions to make his understanding quite clear. For he was most proficient in answering questions with great skill and dexterity and he made the answer so clear as to remove all doubt and uncertainty every time. With some types of questions he only had to have a feeling of uncertainty, although he did not think of asking about it. But at night when he did his meditation practice, Venerable Acharn would come and teach him, bringing up that question to explain, as though he had just asked him about it. He said how strange and wonderful it was — but he could not tell anyone else because they would probably pass him off as a “mad kammatthana monk”. But generally speaking, the Dhamma which cures the various kilesas only came from samadhi meditation and it arose from nimittas, such as that of Venerable Acharn Mun coming frequently, to admonish him, to show him the right way and to give him Dhamma teaching. This promoted his mindfulness and wisdom, making him think and consider carefully, leaving no room for carelessness.
He said how the vassa period which he spent in that cave in the desolate jungle, enabled him to develop various skilful methods which arose both internally and externally and very frequently at all times of the day and night, and this was in marked contrast to all other places he had been in. He is one who lives in the present with joy in Dhamma in all postures and situations. Whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down he is filled with the bliss of Dhamma (Dhamma–Piti) in the midst of the Peaceful Dhamma (Santi–Dhamma) that is his basic, original ground, which is completely pure amidst the various kinds of Dhamma which come and go, making contact with the heart, and which then display their meaning in their various ways, refreshing the body and mind and making them joyful. Like a tree which is being cared for and supplied with fertiliser and water, and grows in a suitable climate and environment which always keeps it fresh and moist both in the trunk and throughout all its branches, twigs, leaves and fruit.
Venerable Acharn Kow said how, when the citta has only the present alone with the calm and peace of Dhamma, regardless of how much it gets involved in turbulent, confusing and distracting things, we people still have nothing but happiness while living in the world of involvement with our own khandhas. There is no need to struggle to find happiness and contentment in other places or realms — which would be creating images to deceive ourselves, causing us to become ambitious and to develop craving (tanha) and the “uprising of dukkha” (Samudaya) — the “seed” of dukkha — that would come to “burn our own fingers” and so make for a lot of dukkha and difficulty in vain. Because the happiness which we know, see and live with dwells in “that heart”, and it is a happiness which is already sufficient and complete. This entire world and all other worlds, however many there may be in the universe of samsara then seem as if they did not exist. But that which does exist and which is quite clear and apparent is the citta with Dhamma which seems to cover the whole universe (loka–dhatu) — though to explain this or to make any comparison with it is impossible, because there are no characteristics or data by which one can classify it. For the citta and the “Ultimate Dhamma” (Acchariya–Dhamma) belong to each other and they are not within the realms of convention (sammuti), so there is no basis for making any comparisons or suppositions.
After the end of that vassa period, those lay supporters who had helped him and looked after him with faith in him, invited him to come to where they lived and begged him to have metta for them and to be a Teacher to them, their village and the whole district of Sawang Daen Din in the province of Sakon Nakhon. So he had to leave the place where he had been staying, even though he longed to go on staying there and he had not thought of going elsewhere for a long time. When he had taught the villagers for some time, he took his leave of them and went wandering wherever he felt like going in the manner of the practice of Dhutanga Kammatthana. Sometimes he crossed the Khong River (Mekong) into Laos and stayed on the banks of the river and at other times he crossed back into Thailand. After this he went wandering and practising the way in an area that is mountainous and covered with thick forests called Mor Tong jungle, which is in the districts of Bung Kan and Phon Phisai. In this area there are many places which are good and suitable for practising the way and there were some newly established villages made up of only a few houses. The people there invited him to spend the vassa in that place for their benefit, and as it was a place which suited his temperament, he agreed to stay there for that vassa period.
While he was staying and practising Dhamma in the hills of the Phon Phisai district, he said that he was fascinated and glad at heart to see all the different kinds of animals there and he had much metta for them. The animals he saw included: wild fowl, pheasant, all sorts of birds like hornbill and peacock, as well as animals like the palm civet, barking deer, wild boar, ordinary deer, monkeys of various kinds, gibbon apes, wild dogs, tigers, leopards, elephants, wild oxen, and red bulls, each of which were far more prolific than elsewhere. They wandered about in packs by day and night and he could hear their cries echoing loudly through the forest, each group coming regularly at the same time every day. Some days when he went out walking for pindapata, he would see a large tiger walking most gracefully in the forest ahead of him. It was quite close to him, walking fearlessly, proud and dignified which is its nature. He said that when it was walking in the forest ahead of him where there was a clearing, it was beautiful to see the way it walked. The first time he saw it, it glanced at him just momentarily and went on walking without looking back at him again as though it was not in the least afraid of him. But inwardly it was probably careful and watchful, which is in character for an animal that has good mindfulness and is inherently cautious and that does not easily let go and become fascinated with anything. As for the Acariya, he had no thought of fear of the tiger because he had seen them before on many occasions and he had heard them growling and roaring so often while staying in the forests in all sorts of places where it was quite normal for such animals to live all the time, so he was quite accustomed to them and had no fear of them.
One evening while he was sitting and teaching the way of Kammatthana to the Bhikkhus who were staying with him, who were about three or four in all. He said that they heard three large, playful and reckless tigers roaring, each one in a different direction. After that they heard them growling threateningly at each other with some fighting and then they went completely quiet. After a while they heard them growling and fighting close by. At first they heard them playing and fighting beyond the area where the Bhikkhus were staying and then when they became quiet it seemed as if they had gone elsewhere. But wherever they may have gone when they were quiet, at about 9 p.m., they mutually decided to move in under the floor of the small meeting hall (sala) where the Bhikkhus were sitting in samadhi, listening to the Dhamma teaching. The floor of the sala was just over one meter above the ground and the sound of these tigers roaring and growling and fighting together was such that the Acariya had to shout at them, saying:
“Hey! My three fiends! Don’t make such a noise; the Bhikkhus are listening to a talk on Dhamma. This is bad and evil and you could end up in hell — don’t say I didn’t tell you. For this is not the place for being boisterously noisy and you should all go away and roar and growl elsewhere. This is a monastery for Bhikkhus who like to develop calm, unlike yourselves — so go and roar somewhere else to your hearts content, where nobody will come to disturb you. In this place, the Bhikkhus practise the way of Dhamma and they do not give you permission to make a lot of noise and disturbance.”
As soon as they heard Venerable Acharn Kow shouting at them they went quiet and still for a short while, but then they could still hear them, as if they were whispering to each other quietly under the sala. Saying: “We better not make much noise, the Bhikkhus are annoyed and shouting at us, so we must talk quietly or it will be bad and evil and we may soon end up with sores on our heads.” But after a while they again started growling and playfully fighting each other and they did not seem to want to go elsewhere, as Venerable Acharn had told them — and they mutually decided that under the floor of the sala was the place for them to play and have fun from dusk until midnight when they all went away. Meanwhile the Bhikkhus remained sitting there doing their samadhi practice after Venerable Acharn had finished his teaching while the three large tigers were playing and fighting and growling and making a lot of noise under the sala until they went into the forest at midnight. After which, the Bhikkhus left and went, each one to the place where he was staying.
This incident was most strange and unusual. For, as Venerable Acharn Kow said, he had been wandering about in the way of Kammatthana in the forests in all sorts of places and different districts for many years and he had never before known or heard of tigers coming so close in a friendly manner, as if they had been close friends of the Bhikkhus for a long time. Normally, tigers are afraid of people by instinct, even though they are so powerful that they make people more afraid of them than almost any other animal. But generally, tigers are more afraid of people than people are afraid of tigers, and they avoid and keep away from people. Yet these three tigers seemed to be not only, not afraid of people, but they even went to the extent of taking possession of the space under the floor of the small sala to play and have fun together while a lot of Bhikkhus were gathered right above them. It seems that they were not in the least afraid of the Bhikkhus who were people, much the same as other people everywhere.
This was quite remarkable, for such animals know nothing of Sila–Dhamma (morality), which all people know about, yet their behaviour in coming into close proximity to the Bhikkhus made it look almost as if these tigers had a good understanding of Sila–Dhamma, which they put into practice in the way that people do. They never once displayed any menacing behaviour towards the Bhikkhus, although they probably did so towards each other in the knowledge that they all understood what their intentions were. While listening to Venerable Acharn Kow telling me about this incident I felt as if my hair was standing on end with fear, even though it took place a long time ago — which was silly. Foolish, silly people are like this, for even if the Acariyas tell them stories of all sorts of things that have happened, which have a moral of Dhamma buried in them, foolish and incompetent people are not likely to listen for the purpose of extracting the moral teaching from it. Instead, they stick just to the thread of the story itself which shows their lack of skill. Like the writer who showed fear shamelessly in front of Venerable Acharn Kow while listening to his story. But in addition, the writer is also displaying his timidity in this book for those who read to laugh at him — which is bad enough! But having read this, please be careful and don’t let this kind of story penetrate into your heart to haunt it, or many of you are likely to become timid and silly people also!
Venerable Acharn Kow said how most of the Bhikkhus who listened to his teaching on that night, and sat doing samadhi bhavana, were stirred up and frightened both at that time and after they left the sala also. Their eyes and ears were wide open when they heard the “three great teachers” coming to give them training and to help Venerable Acharn by staying under the sala. For their normal characteristic behaviour mixed with playfulness made the Bhikkhus who were sitting in bhavana frightened and rigid. They did not dare to let their cittas wander out and away freely, for fear that these three teachers would decide to jump up and give them “instructions” on the floor of the sala in various ways.
But it was most praiseworthy and good of these three animals that they did nothing that was excessive or violent or beyond what was reasonable such as getting onto the floor of the sala. They knew what their basic situation in life was, and to some extent what that of the Bhikkhus was, and they did not go beyond what was proper for them in their situation for their activities were all gentle and harmonious — then they left and went away. After that they never came back again, although the district where the Bhikkhus were staying was a place where tigers and all sorts of other animals wandered about. There was never a night without some tigers wandering about the area, because it was a most suitable environment for all sorts of forest animals to stay in. For it was all hills and jungles and very extensive, so that if someone were to walk right through it, it would take him several days. There were all sorts of animals there, as we explained above, but there were large numbers of each type. There were many herds of elephants and packs of wild boars and each group was composed of many animals — and they were not much afraid of people.
The year that Venerable Acharn Kow stayed there, all sorts of skilful ways and methods arose in him and he often had to warn and remind the other Bhikkhus who were with him not to be careless in maintaining the Dhutanga observances. For they were living in the middle of many things which made it necessary for them to be careful, by depending on the Dhutanga observances as their life line, with the Dhamma and Vinaya as that to which they fully entrusted themselves in both life and death. In this way, they could live happily without being scared and apprehensive of all sorts of things which might otherwise make them jump with fright. They ate very little food — just enough to act as a “medicine” which supported their bodies and minds (dhatu–khandha) and kept them going from day to day. For there were few faithful lay supporters, the village having been recently formed with only a few houses and it had still not become firmly established. But it was the intention of these Bhikkhus, who had pledged themselves in Dhamma, to train themselves to put up with difficulties for the sake of the Dhamma of living inwardly in a state of peace. So they were not much concerned about their living conditions, nor whether they got a lot of food on pindapata, for such things would otherwise become an obstacle in the way of what they were trying to do.
As for medicines and remedies for sickness, they had confidence in putting up with the pain and fighting the sickness by striving hard in samadhi bhavana. They also thought of their friends — the animals who lived in the forest about them — and took them as an example, for they never had any medicines available to them; nor were they born in a hospital with doctors and midwives to aid them. Yet here they were! Animals of all sorts, quite able to keep their family lines going, and in large numbers too! And they never show any grief or disheartenment at their lack of medical attention from doctors, nurses and all sorts of medicines and medical devices and machines. Whereas, the Bhikkhus are of human birth and are “Sons of the Sakya” — the lineage of the Buddha. The Great Teacher, whose name resounds throughout the “Triple Universe”, and who learnt everything in the “books” of the three levels of existence by means of endurance (khanti), effort (viriya), wisdom, skill and ability in all ways. Never was he caught at a loss, unable to find a way out, nor was he ever weak and lazy and inclined to give up. But if we Bhikkhus retreat, shedding tears just because of the suffering and hardships of the aches and pains as in fever of sickness, which is a natural condition for these khandhas, we are bound to lose out and go “bankrupt”, and we will not be able to guide ourselves or the religion properly. For unless we are courageous and firm, putting up with conditions (sabhava) as we find them — having, living and experiencing them all with mindfulness and wisdom to assess and know each and every event which comes into association with us, there is no way to save oneself and escape to a lasting and safe haven.
When the citta has been trained in the right way it will find joy in Dhamma, gladly guiding oneself into the methods of the “Path and Fruition” without changing course or creating obstacles to cause more trouble to oneself. The practice of the way will then steadily progress without slipping backwards and feeling disheartened, that one has no refuge either outwardly or inwardly. For one will have the “heart with Dhamma” to cleanse, to soothe and to protect and look after one, causing one to feel affectionate warmth and peace of heart. Then wherever one goes or stays one is inherently content (Sugato) in the manner of those who are followers of the Tathagata, without any signs of being hard up and impoverished in their hearts. This is how those Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhus who are intent on Dhamma, go about and live. So they can stay anywhere and go anywhere, for they are prepared to put up with hardship and hunger while remaining contented and free from anxiety about anything, with Dhamma as the object of attachment (arammana) of their hearts.
It may be difficult for the reader to accept some of the things that happen in connection with the forest animals that like to come and live close to Bhikkhus. Therefore, to begin with it may be better to think about the domestic animals which people like to look after with metta in their homes and in the monasteries where they go for sanctuary. In the monasteries, the number of animals such as dogs and birds which want to live in the monasteries increases every day, until there is hardly any room left — or trees left for the birds — where they can all stay.
Having thought about the domestic animals with which we are all familiar, we may go on to consider the various kinds of forest animals which tend to hang around and live about the places and monasteries where Dhutanga Bhikkhus stay. The writer has already written much about these animals in the “Biography of Venerable Acharn Mun,” and elsewhere in this present book also, where many incidents are related of animals coming to live near the Bhikkhus all the time and they all know by their own experiences that these stories are true.
This is something we should think about from the viewpoint of Dhamma, for it is the principle of nature of giving peace, and it is a “Dhamma” that is inherently suited to all beings of all kinds in this world. Nor is it necessary that any of these animals should understand what this “Dhamma” is. But that which manifests in their experience makes all beings glad and happy to accept it, everywhere throughout the world, and none of them are ever averse to it. This thing is the natural Dhamma which manifests as calm and happiness, as peace, as trust and confidence, as good will, as metta, as affection and compassion, and as tolerance in which others are free to come or go as they will, without fear or danger.
These are some of the things which flow from this Dhamma, and animals of all kinds like it and readily accept it without any need to go to any school to be taught about it. Because the citta and the outflow of Dhamma are a pair which should be together, far more than the possession of any external titles, rank or authority, which are like ornaments added to oneself that can dissolve and disappear depending on circumstances which are fickle and uncertain. Therefore, even though the animals have never known what Dhamma is, they will generally search on their own for those things which they naturally like and tend to accept readily, like the way in which stray dogs go and stay in a monastery, and forest animals go and live by Dhutanga Bhikkhus. Because the animals understand that Dhamma — which means peace and security — is to be found in that place, so they search for it in their own way. Even those people who have never had any interest in Dhamma, know those places which are secure and safe and they like to go wandering having fun and playing in such places. This has been the case right through from ancient times to the present, because it would not be safe to act like this in other places.
This explanation should be enough for us to understand how Dhamma and the place where people live and practise Dhamma is the place where animals and people everywhere feel confidence and freedom from danger. So they tend to relax and dispense with their usual caution, and there are some who go so far as to forget themselves completely, without thinking how other people feel about it and whether their behaviour is appropriate to Bhikkhus who are the “treasure” of their country. For those who practise Dhamma, generally know what is good and what is evil. They know good people and bad people, good animals and bad, in the same way as people do everywhere. So people should think of others and how they also cherish their “treasure”, and they should not let go of all restraint everywhere. For there are always limits and bounds within which people and animals should remain, each in its own situation and they should not mix up their relative modes of behaviour until one cannot tell who is who, because they are all behaving in the same way.
Venerable Acharn Kow liked wandering about searching for secluded places and he frequently moved from place to place. Normally he liked to wander in the manner of Dhutanga practice in the forest and hills where he was staying, and he also liked to change the place where he did his practice very frequently. Thus for example, he would go to stay in a certain place as his base, but in the morning he would go off somewhere else to do his practice. Then in the afternoon or evening he would go to another place, and at night he would wander off to yet another place — all in the vicinity of his “base”. He used to change the direction he went in, sometimes going far and sometimes close by. At times he would change to another cave, moving from the cave which was his “base” and he would go up to the top of the hill or to a rocky outcrop, returning to his base dwelling late at night.
He said that the reason he acted like this was because when he was in confusion and disturbed while curing his defilements (kilesas), he found that by changing his situation in various ways, such as this, wisdom would arise all the time. Then none of the defilements were able to get a grip on him, because they were up against the skilful ways of mindfulness and wisdom which beat them into a corner, trapping them in various ways so that they were forced out and got rid of time after time. If he had stayed in just one place he would have got used to that place and settled down there, but the kilesas would not become used to it nor settle down and they would keep increasing regardless of whether he was used to anything or not. So he had to change about and alter his methods and his environment very frequently in order to keep up with the deceptive tricks of the kilesas which plant themselves and develop and increase and fight against oneself incessantly without ever taking time off for a rest. If there is any respite from them, it is only in deep dreamless sleep; otherwise they are working all the time. Because of this, in striving to develop oneself, if one relaxes, weakens one efforts and puts off doing the practice, letting time slip by, it encourages the kilesas which laugh and gain heart! By changing one’s place and methods of practice very frequently, one can see one’s losses and gains against the kilesas, which gives them no chance to feel satisfied that they are the sole master in charge.
His reasoning was most intriguing and what he said was an excellent example for those who do not let the kilesas rise up and walk all over them due to an easy going over confidence ruining every move that the citta makes.
Venerable Acharn Kow liked to wander in the districts of Phu Singh, Phu Wua, Phu Lanka, Dong Mor Tong, in the districts of Ampere Seka and Ampere Phon Phisai in Nong Khai Province; as well as Ampere Ban Phaeng in Nakhon Phanom Province. In these places there are plenty of hills such as Phu Singh, Phu Wua and Phu Lanka, which are all good places and most suitable for the practice and development of Dhamma. But they are far away from villages — too far to go pindapata, so it is necessary to have some people who take turns to bring food. All these places were full of wild animals of all sorts, including tigers, elephants, wild oxen and red oxen, amongst many others. In the afternoon and evening one could hear their calls and roars echoing throughout the forest. Anyone who had not truly overcome death would find it difficult to stay there, because there were many tigers in those places, far more than in other parts of the forest, and they were not afraid of people. Some nights while walking cankama and developing his practice, one of the tigers would creep up and crouch down to watch Venerable Acharn walking, without any fear of him at all. But it never did anything to him and it may have just wondered what he was up to, so it crept close to sniff and have a look.
As soon as Venerable Acharn Kow heard an unusual sound that he could not place he shone his flashlight there, to see a great tiger leap away, sometimes right close in front of him. Even after that he was able to go on walking cankama and doing his practice, without any fear or thoughts that the tiger would come back and jump on him, maul him and eat him. Because his faith in Dhamma was stronger than fear of the tiger, so he was able to persist and keep on doing his practice. Sometimes he would climb up the hillside in the evening from where he could see large herds of elephants which were going for a walk along a large area of rocky outcrop which stretched for miles. As it was not covered by forest he could see the elephants quite clearly, both large and small going out to search for food. He said that while watching this herd of elephants who were having fun teasing each other and playing together, he went on happily looking at them, quite absorbed until the late evening and it got too dark to see. For they liked to tease each other and play together in the same way as people do.
Venerable Acharn Kow had a streak of very strong determination in his character, which may be seen from what we have written about him already. He had no difficulty in sitting in meditation practice all night and there was nothing that prevented him from doing so. For sitting in meditation practice from dusk to dawn is no small thing, and unless one is the kind of person who has a heart full of courageous determination, so firm that it seems as if it could cut through a diamond, one cannot do it. So we should give him our heartfelt praise and admiration. It is in ways such as this that he is fully capable of being a teacher, an Acariya, to his followers, enabling them to gain peace, ever since he started teaching, up to the present day. He has absolute certainty in himself that he has reached the end of becoming and birth, and this is completely self-evident to him, even though he is still “wearing” the five khandhas. When it reaches the time for him to let go of the khandhas he will be in the state of ultimate happiness (Paramam–Sukham) in all respects and he will be totally free of all responsibilities and concerns.
This brief biography of one of the most important and outstanding of Venerable Acharn Mun’s followers, is now completed. Those who read this should think about it and try to reckon who this Acariya is. At present he is still alive and he is revered by a large number of Bhikkhus, Novices and lay people, but I shall not disclose his name for fear that it may cause a lot of disturbance for him. For he has gone beyond all forms of worldly concerns entirely and is endowed with nothing but pure Dhamma — as well as his five khandhas which cause him trouble and disturbance all the time — and I have no doubts about him that he is anything other than what is portrayed here.
May good fortune and blessings come to all of you who read this short biography of this most wonderful man. For as long as you do not fall back or give up your striving in the practice which leads to Dhamma, one day you will also praise the pure treasure of Dhamma — the refuge of your heart — even as this Acariya does in his own heart. This is bound to be the case, which is in conformity with the Dhamma as being the treasure of everybody who practises in the “Right Way” (Samici–Kamma).