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 XV - Kammatthana Bhikkhus’ Ways Of Behaviour
Behaving in Economic Ways
The Dhutanga Bhikkhus and in particular Venerable Acharn Mun, always tend to be fastidiously careful and economical with their possessions and things which they use. Venerable Acharn was never wasteful and this he maintained without exception throughout. However, many of the requisites he had, and other things which were helpful in his way of life, he never used them in an ostentatious way and he always kept up these practices consistently. But when it came to giving help to other Bhikkhus, whatever he had and however much, he was ready to give all of it, and he was never seen to keep back and accumulate things. He used to give things away to help the Bhikkhus, novices, the elder monks, Upasakas, the poor lay followers and others who came to see him, and it seemed to all of us who knew him that his citta was brimful with metta and compassion for the whole world without limit.
As for the requisites and other things that he himself wore and used, he acted in a different way, for he acted as if he was a destitute Bhikkhu, as if he had nothing of any value on him at all. His three robes and bathing cloth were all worn and torn and one could see that they were made up of bits and pieces put together and patched and mended all over. When one first saw them one could not help feeling a bit upset and sorry, because it was so unusual to see such a thing in the Sangha in Thailand. In fact Venerable Acharn was probably the first to do such a thing nowadays, for he tried to keep on patching and mending his robes until there was hardly anything but patches left. Until the substance of the original cloth had become rotten and entirely disappeared and it looked as if it was a robe made up entirely of patches of new cloth sewn together. Thus the robe, being made of bits of cloth of different shades of colour, appeared mottled like the stripes of a tiger or the spots of a leopard. When the robe finally became unfit to wear, he still would not throw it away, but used it first as a towel or as foot rags, and afterwards for other things where it would still be of some value. Until finally it was torn to bits and so broken up that there was nothing more that one could do with it. Only then would he agree to throw it away.
Whatever cloth it was — whether his three principle robes which he wore, or any other cloth that he used, if it was torn it had to be patched up and mended until finally it became offensive in the sight of most people. For people had never seen anyone act like this in Thailand where there has always been plenty of the necessities of life. So people forget themselves and naturally tend to be extravagant and opulent, even amongst the poor. But Venerable Acharn was never concerned about other people blaming and praising him for acting in this way. Even with the various utensils and other things which were used in the monastery, such as the bamboo buckets (for scooping up water), tin cans, water scoops and all sorts of other things. For when any of them were damaged he would take them and mend them or adapt them to some new purpose where they would be of some use until they finally reached a state where they were beyond recovery when he would consent to throw them away.
In looking after his possessions and other things which were used either in the Wat or the hut where he stayed he was very strict. For everything had to be put away properly or arranged in an orderly and tidy manner, not just thrown down anywhere so that they may be lost or get in the way and be a nuisance about the place. If in putting anything away after using it, someone put it in the wrong place or improperly, he would ask and find out who had done it and then immediately rebuke and scold him and teach him not to do that again.
Once there was a Bhikkhu who had some doubts in his mind, or maybe he just wanted to find out how Venerable Acharn would react, and he asked him:
“As far as your possessions and the other things are concerned it is not important, but when it comes to your outer robe (sanghati) your inner robe (civara) and the skirt robe (sabong) which are a Bhikkhu’s most important requisites, Venerable Acharn should use the new robes which the lay supporters give, so as to respond to their gifts of faith. For Venerable Acharn is not hard up nor without support and people often come here with faith and give all the requisites. As for your old robes, you should throw them out so that others who want them could take them as objects of reverence, so please give them away. But you should not keep using them until they are all torn and patched up everywhere so that they give a mottled appearance like a leopard walking past a market place which is how it is at present. For when your followers see you like this they feel uncomfortable and ashamed in the face of the villagers who come here all the time to pay homage and give dana to Venerable Acharn.
For they all give plenty of dana willingly, of all kinds every time, and it is not as though we were so hard up that you need to be very economical in the use of your robes, patching and mending them as you do at present. This makes us feel too ashamed for Venerable Acharn and we would rather that you did not do this. In fact we would like Venerable Acharn to act in a way which is more appropriate to your renown as an Acariya who teaches people from all over the country.”
“I have made this request to Venerable Acharn with sincere respect, faith and affection. But when I see Venerable Acharn wearing robes and using things which are torn, worn out, all patched up and mended the whole time without ever changing them for new ones, even when we have got them, it makes me feel inferior and ashamed in the face of the lay people. As if my Teacher has no value. Please forgive me if what I have said is wrong or improper in any way, but I have done so with the best of intentions and only because I have the greatest reverence and respect for Venerable Acharn.”
After he had finished speaking and respectfully saluted, Venerable Acharn sat quietly, almost as if he had not heard, and all the other Bhikkhus kept quiet and still, waiting. Then Venerable Acharn began to speak in a calm level voice, saying:
“The Lord Buddha was supremely clever and wise and the bliss which he discovered and which comes from wisdom was superior to everything known in the worlds. The Buddha was the first to discover it, and the teaching which he gave to those companions who were also seeking the way, was “beyond the clouds” — in other words, beyond all conventional suppositions (sammuti). Nobody else could practise the way and teach as the Lord did, for the Dhamma Teaching (Sasana–Dhamma) which came from his mouth is a “middle way Dhamma” (Majjhima–Dhamma), which is always appropriate and well suited to people in all ages and places. It did not conflict with the truth which would have made it blameworthy to his associates who were looking for a reasoned teaching to show them how to go onwards for the purpose of salvation and safety by following this teaching.”
“In his practice, the Lord did everything with carefulness and circumspection. In his experience of Dhamma, he experienced it with the carefulness and circumspection of Dhamma. So that the teaching which he taught was also done with carefulness and circumspection in accordance with the principles of the Sasada — the Great Teacher, who was the first Teacher, and it has never been found to be deficient or defective in any of its parts as the religious teaching (Sasana–Dhamma) of the Lord. Therefore, if we who are just practising this teaching, compare what we are doing with the energetic striving and the accompanying difficulties and torments which the Lord endured for the sake of his followers, all of us would appear weak and flabby, just waiting to eat our next meal, for we do not have any great difficulties to contend with at all. Just think about the Lord and how he led the Savakas to practise the way!
Did he lead them to be conceited, proud and playful, or to be content and satisfied with what they have got and glad to have whatever happens to come in the way of requisites and other things that are of use? Did he lead them into ways of plentiful abundance of things as if turning them into living corpses possessed by the kilesas and tanha, or into the way of having few possessions and freedom from all worry? Did he lead them by being thrifty and by curbing those desires which draw them on and inundate their hearts so that they are never satisfied and never have enough? Or by being extravagant and distracted because of carelessness and lack of mindfulness?”
“This is enough for you to be able to see that those Bhikkhus who turn themselves into such conceited and extravagant people are difficult to look after, both for themselves and for other people. They have big mouths and large stomachs, and even though the lay supporters are many and generous, they cannot keep up with the kilesas in the hearts of such Bhikkhus.”
“Keeping and looking after things which are of such a nature that one can see potentials for further use and value in them, and being economical and thrifty in all forms of wealth so that they will always last a long time by not disturbing them and speculating with them and opening a possibility of their all being lost, and this is the way that people who are rational and clever act and do things. Such people are not conceited, puffed up and vain, nor do they show off without having any real substance in themselves. For to be like that would lead to their wealth being all frittered and wasted away however much they started out with. None of that which should have brought them enough profit to form the root and basis of life and future virtue would remain and they would not even have the pittance of a poor man who has an economical nature and trains himself to be thrifty.”
“But those who laid down roots and a basis of behaviour which is good and gracious and which gives the world a way to think and to set up basic principles about wealth and the citta from that time on were not wastefully extravagant. They were not spendthrifts, led on by ambition without ever being able to restrain themselves all through their lives. For whoever is foolish enough to promote such strange thoughts and to act on them will become a dead person of the kind who has no graveyard to go to and leading all his progeny to go the same way also.”
Venerable Acharn then asked that Bhikkhu:
“Have you ever seen how a monkey takes food which is given to it by a person, and how it eats the food?”
“Yes, I have seen it, but I have never noticed how it takes the food nor how it eats it.”
To which Venerable Acharn replied:
“You haven’t even noticed how a monkey eats and you are not able to answer me on this point. Then why is it that you are bringing into question the way that I use my requisites, without putting forward any good reasons which would be worth listening to? I am always ready to listen to words of both praise and criticism, because the Dhamma of the Lord Buddha is to be found everywhere and even words of praise and criticism are Dhamma if one examines them impartially and lets them be Dhamma. But if one does not examine them properly, they become the ‘way of the world’ and a cause of delusion — both words of praise and of blame.”
“You have not even noticed the way of living and eating of the monkeys sufficiently to know something of their nature, so how can you know anything about the way of living and utilising things of the Lord Buddha and the Savakas and the way they practised in their capacity as the Great Teacher (Sasada) and the Sons of the Sakya who can be a sure refuge to the world.”
“Do you want to hear some of the ways in which the natures of monkeys are different from those of people, or not? If you don’t want to hear about the nature of monkeys to add to your mindfulness and wisdom, but want to fly up into the sky to know about the Aryan ways and customs of the Sasana, I am afraid it would be climbing up too high and I don’t want to give any such explanation to you.”
“I have never heard anyone talk about the nature and characteristics of monkeys,” the Bhikkhu replied. “But when Venerable Acharn asked me about it I became curious and I would like to know how they are different from human beings. Before now I have seen them often in passing, but I got tired of them and did not like to look at them, because they are animals which by nature are disorderly and they cannot keep still and live quietly together. But I don’t know anything more profound than this about them.”
After this Venerable Acharn Mun went on to explain to this Bhikkhu about the nature of monkeys saying:
“Monkeys are like people who have disorderly habits and who don’t like living quietly and peacefully in the manner and way of Dhamma as gentle people do. They are animals who like to act playfully, and this is true whether small or large and male or female, and this trait runs through the whole of the monkey family. Their inconsequential playfulness knows no bounds or limits — like people who have never been trained in moral ways. Even when they become old and grey or white-haired like wool, they never know the meaning of calm and peace, what causes it and how, and one can never trust them even when they have been brought up and lived with people the whole time until they become adults. For their natures and characteristics remain unchanged and they show no interest in taking up and assuming any human characteristics at all. They were born as monkeys, they live as monkeys and they die as monkeys and they never pick up any other traits.”
“People who take up and assume the characteristics of the monkeys as their own are therefore much worse, evil and violent than monkeys, and they cause a lot of trouble and do widespread harm in the world, far beyond what monkeys are capable of doing. When I was staying in a cave where lots of monkeys were milling about, I saw for myself what they were like. This was when I first went out wandering and doing the ascetic practices (Dhutanga) and I had not learnt enough about the nature of these animals. When they came around searching for food in front of the mouth of the cave where I was staying, they were, at first, afraid. But after they had seen enough of me to realise that I was not dangerous to them they came by looking for food almost every day.”
“Seeing these monkeys coming in large numbers, I felt sorry for them as they swarmed about climbing up and down in the area in front of the cave. There were both large and small ones and none of them were interested in this person. After I had eaten my food in the morning, I would give them what was left over, sharing it out between them. When it was time for them to come, there were bananas, rice and fruit of various kinds which I laid out on an outcrop of rock so that they could come and take it themselves. As soon as I had finished putting it out and turned my back, they all went for the food, scrambling and fighting each other for it in complete confusion and turmoil without any thought or fear of me at all. The next day they came earlier and waited for me to put out food for them. After only two or three days of this they showed themselves up for what they really were in no uncertain way without any deference to me, or fear.
They all came in, jumping all over the place and searching for food where I was staying until all my possessions were scattered all over the place. This happened while I was away getting food on pindapata, but also, when I was there, some of them even came up baring their teeth as if they were about to bite me while moving their mouths and twisting their eyebrows into a menacing expression, trying to frighten me. As if to say, “we monkeys are much quicker and more slick than human beings, and people cannot compete with us. If you don’t want to be hurt you better not cause any trouble or we are likely to jump on you without warning.” I had to use various ways to scare them off until they all decided to go away from that district. After that I learned not to give food to any of the monkeys even though I felt sorry for them, nor did I make any gesture indicating intimacy with them, in the way that I had previously done. Therefore they never came and bothered me any more.”
“These are animals that cannot be trusted at all. Even if one feels sorry for them and looks after them well, they are still monkeys who are restlessly playful and tricky, who know nothing of virtue nor recognise that one is helping them. When I gave food out to them, they all ran and crowded around me in a most obnoxious way. They were so greedy for the food that some of them almost bit my hand, for they quickly came in snatching and grabbing while jumping excitedly about. It was really a loathsome spectacle to see the way they crowded around while shouting “gork gack” and trying to intimidate me, even while I was giving them food out of kindness. Monkeys are really the most dreadful and irritating animals.”
“Have you ever noticed what those monkeys are like that people look after at home and, when one stretches one’s hand out to give some food to them, how they react, both to this food and to the person giving it?”
The Bhikkhu replied, saying: “I don’t know, because all I did was give them food and did not notice while doing so how they reacted or what characteristics they displayed.”
Venerable Acharn continued with his explanation, saying:
“It makes little difference who gives food to this class of animal, for they are mainly interested in what they are going to get right now. Their eyes will be fixed firmly on the food while they jump up and down. But in a level open place they run back and forth with their hands stretched out to snatch the food from the hand of the person who is feeding them. Once they have got hold of it they quickly peel it, tear it open and eat it immediately while their eyes roll about looking here and there restlessly as well as looking at the fruit in their hands while breaking it apart, biting, chewing and swallowing it. If they see that there is still some food left in that person’s hand and a chance that they may get some more, they quickly chew up what they have got, stuffing it in their checks while keeping their eyes on his hand and stretching out their hands to ask for more. If he gives them some more food they quickly eat and swallow some and stuff some in their checks again, and any that is left over they just throw away. Then they stretch out their hands again, asking for more! Their begging can never be satisfied however much one gives them and they will go on and on until there is none left. Only then do they stop and turn to chewing up the food stored in their checks.”
“Monkeys are very extravagant and wasteful animals and they are never satisfied with what a person gives them while they can get more out of him. Even though their stomachs are quite small, like other animals of the same body size, yet their greed, extravagance and wastefulness are so great that it is hard to find any other animal to equal them.”
“You will probably understand that I brought up the ways of the monkeys as a kind of simile for comparison with your request for me to dispose of my old possessions and change them for new ones, even though the old ones are still usable. In other words you are asking me to act like those monkeys, and to accept monkeys as the great teacher (Sasada), to teach me in place of the Sasana of the Lord Buddha who knew what was appropriate and sufficient in all things. Because the manner of acting which you asked me to practise is the way that the monkeys act which accords with their animal nature which knows nothing of what is meant by Dhamma. But someone who knows something of what is meant by Dhamma should think and consider his own position as well as the position of Dhamma in regard to what is appropriate for him to do or not do.”
“To speak with the intention of promoting what is good is praiseworthy, but the value in your intention is not compatible with the loss of Dhamma which would be incurred. This means such forms of Dhamma as, being content with little, for this Dhamma has always brought calm and peace to the world since long ago. This is because it is a form of Dhamma well suited to those in the world who are contented and glad to keep within bounds, and who have limiting conditions in their hearts which they should cherish and keep close to and strive to practise and follow gladly, not letting the value, the essence, which comes from the Dhamma slip away and be lost, to their regret.”
“You should think deeply and carefully about the Sasana, and about the owner of the Sasana (the Buddha) as to what sort of person he was. Did the Lord go along with the way of the world; or what way did he go? In teaching the Sasana, how did he teach so that the world was ready and willing to accept and pay homage to him and to follow him in practice right down to the present day in people such as ourselves here. The Sasana–Dhamma which he taught continually in all its details is the complete and perfect ‘Svakkhata–Dhamma’ (Supremely Taught Dhamma). It is also the ‘Niyyanika–Dhamma’ — the Dhamma which can reduce and eliminates dukkha, and anxiety both great and small entirely in anyone who practises properly, following his teaching in a full and complete manner.”
“Moreover, you should think deeply and carefully in accordance with the principles of the Sasana, whether someone who turns himself into a wealthy, opulent and famous person who excites the envy of people in the world in this age has more or less dukkha and worry both in his heart and body than someone who lives a steady unassuming life, doing what is necessary in accordance with his circumstances. I am not very well educated, but it seems obvious to me that the one who becomes opulent, puffing himself up bigger than the world, is going the right way to kill himself without realising that he is his own executioner.”
“When people think of going beyond what is sufficient and reasonable, they are bound to make ever increasing trouble and disturbances for themselves until they cannot find any calm and peace of body or mind. For they always feel uncertain about the future, so that then the heart must think how to increase and inflate their businesses more and more whatever kind of business it may be, until they have no time to rest and take it easy. They are like water which is turbid and muddy and cannot be used for washing or anything else. So their minds and bodies must go round and round like a machine to achieve or get what they set out for. If they cannot, they become anxious and perturbed, because their efforts cannot keep up with their desires, like water flowing over the river banks. When they cannot get what they want by straight and honourable means, they will go in for crooked and dishonourable ways.
Whenever they can steal, they steal; whenever they can snatch and grab, they snatch and grab; whenever they can hold up anyone at gunpoint to rob them, they do so; whenever they can cheat, blackmail, hold to ransom, or even kill people, they do so. They have no shame or fear of the world’s opinion of them, nor are they afraid of doing evil things and the Kamma they make, because they are driven by their overpowering desires. Finally they are caught by the authorities and put away in jail where they experience the results of their own greedy desires. Or else they may be killed before they are caught by the authorities, and thrown away into the jungle or into a swamp and nothing more is heard of them, the body having disappeared for ever, which is more degraded than an animal and is a sorry and inhuman way to end.”
“This is the evil of monkey ways; for they are animals which are always in want and never satisfied with anything, even though their mouths and stomachs are relatively no larger than those of other animals. But monkeys will die for the desire in their hearts rather than from hunger for food, and when anyone takes up those ways which lead to self-destruction, such as those which the monkeys use, whether a Bhikkhu or lay person, they must be abnormal and quite different from normal people in the world who have a sense of what is enough.”
“If a Bhikkhu is like this, he will strive to find and get the various requisites of a monk (including money) in all sorts of ways with a restless intent instead of having a sense of shame or an interest in the Dhamma and Vinaya which is the good and proper way for one who has gone forth (Samana). This is what makes the lay followers and supporters feel disillusioned and fed up, and wherever such a Bhikkhu goes the lay people avoid him, even though they have plenty of faith in Dhamma in their hearts. But they avoid him and keep away from him because they cannot stand the tricky ways of begging and bothering them in asking for money or other things, of this skilled and clever Bhikkhu.”
Venerable Acharn asked the Bhikkhu:
“Do you know what that Bhikkhu was skilled and clever at doing?”
“I don’t know,”
So Venerable Acharn told him:
“He was skilled just in asking for things all the time. For if any Bhikkhu becomes extravagantly minded, with many wants and desires and he goes about searching for personal wealth, he will be like this in everything, having no shame in what he is doing. He just has the intention and the fixed aim of getting money, saying: ‘Please give me that.’ In fact his meditation practice is the repetition of ‘Please give me that,’ and nothing else. He has no need of reciting the chants or meditating by holding in mind a word or a long saying like all the others who practise meditation. He just has this one saying — which has caused enough disturbance in the world already. If he goes on doing this much more it will surely break up the world!”
Venerable Acariya asked him:
“Do you want that short saying? It will bring you the Path and Fruition easily in a way that none of the Savakas ever attained to it.”
“No I don’t want it,”
“because it is a saying which destroys both the religion and people.”
“If you don’t want it,”
said Venerable Acharn,
“then why are you asking me to behave like a monkey? For this saying is one that has come from nowhere but the monkeys, having been adapted for us in this short saying.”
“Please forgive me for putting forward my wrong ideas,”
said the Bhikkhu.
“I did so because I thought that it would be more convenient and comfortable for Venerable Acharn without it being harmful to you or to the practice of Dhamma in the Sasana. If I had thought that it was in line with the way of the monkeys which are such careless, conceited animals as Venerable Acharn has explained, I should not have said anything. Because I had no intention of doing any harm in making this request of Venerable Acharn.”
Venerable Acharn replied: “Even though you did not think of going in that direction, yet what you asked me to do pointed quite clearly in that direction.”
“There is no need for us to go about asking or telling others to follow suit in everything they do. It is enough for us to see and hear the things which are happening all the time right in front of us, for they are the things that teach us quite well enough for us to be able to hold them in mind as examples. Those things which can make people good, or bad, are to be found almost everywhere and there is no need to go to college to learn how to pick them up. The good things turn those who take them up and practise them into good people who can progress and develop, whereas the bad things lead those who do them to deterioration and ruin, and there is no need to broadcast and advertise this to make people believe that this happens. For example, a person or family which tends to be wasteful and thriftless will also tend to cause the same characteristics in other members of the family until the whole family becomes wasteful and thriftless. Then whatever income they get is never enough to cover what they spend, because each member of the family has become addicted to spending money in the same way and none of them have any interest in being economical or saving. Even the water in a canal can be dried up when it flows away without stopping.”
“Let us compare one family that practises economy and looks after their wealth, spending with reason as their guiding principle against another family who are wasteful and thriftless and have the tendency of spending without restraint; and let us see which one of them has more peace and contentment, and which has more trouble and worry. I can say for sure that, a family which has principles has security. They will have much more contentment and happiness in their own family circle and in their relations with the rest of the world than the family which has a disease for which there is no remedy and no doctor to cure it — in other words, the disease of having no restraint in spending and no ability to save. But quite apart from the happiness and contentment for themselves and their family, there is the question of bringing up their own children and the way they influence other children and people who are associated with them; and how they should turn them into good people who have a good name and restraint in their behaviour and in their use of the requisites of living of all kinds including the care and protection of their various forms of wealth so that it may act as a firm foundation for them for a long time into the future. As for those people and families who have no self-control or moderation in looking after themselves, not only will they be anxious and troubled in the present, but they are likely to influence their children and relatives in the same way, causing disruption and disrepute in their family, relatives and friends, for a long time to come.”
“I have never seen anyone who is without a guiding principle in his heart yet who keeps his property and wealth intact and in good order. But I have often seen how such a person goes to loss and ruin; how his debts and mortgages load him down and ruin him until he has nothing left that he can call his own. From where can such a person establish anything to make a well based recovery which people could admire?”
“If people have nothing to force their minds — as well as their bodies and speech — to behave as they should, nor enough restraint to weigh up the situation when their many emotional impulses (arammana) arise in their minds, as is bound to happen with everyone, they will be quite unable to control themselves and to avoid being submerged by them even though they may be intelligent and highly educated. This is because they have acted in those ways of self-destruction such as I have already mentioned. They are neither good nor praiseworthy and those sages who are truly wise are most careful to avoid them — more so than anything else which may cause them harm, whether from the actions of other people or things. At the same time, such wise people try to maintain themselves in the ways of virtue the whole time, never yielding and letting themselves go in whatever way their impulses and circumstances suggest, unlike those cases which we can see for ourselves who are in a pitiful miserable state, and there are many more of them than there are of people who are worthy of respect and admiration.
Even worse are those who like to have various traits of character and then act out their characteristics, making out that these are what they are; keeping up with the latest trends and fashions without ever thinking whether they are of any real value, or whether there is any penalty in doing such things before they do them. Such people just happen to see or hear these things by chance and they are all set ready to grasp them quickly and take them up and act them out, and then to make out that they are big or important or wealthy, whatever accords with their conceit — which is just how the monkeys act. They can write out their own death warrant in full, but there is no doubt that they will only be able to jump a few steps before falling into the chasm followed by a swarm of flies.”
“In saying this, I am not doing so for the purpose of blaming the world, or any particular person or group, but I am saying it because it is the truth which may be seen and known clearly with one’s eyes and heart within the affairs of us human beings. Nobody can rightly deny that if anyone acts and behaves in the way I have described, they will go to ruin and it’s a one way street; in other words, they have signed their own receipt and their own death warrant, even while they still talk big, bragging about how clever and well informed they are, what a good background they come from with plenty of money, counted in millions which they have made for themselves — although nobody knows where it could have come from. But their destruction takes place so easily — like someone who keeps untold wealth in his own house; it only needs his house to catch fire for all of it to be destroyed within one or two hours and all he has left is a lot of ashes.”
“I have endeavoured to learn and practise the Dhamma of the Lord Buddha from the time I was ordained up to the present time — which is many years now and the more I have learned and practised this way, the more I have come to see my own stupidity. Instead of becoming clever and gaining strange and unusual knowledge to contradict the Dhamma of the Lord, saying that it is untrue, that it is not well taught Dhamma (Svakkhata–Dhamma) and not the ‘Dhamma which leads to liberation’ (Niyyanika–Dhamma) as it is claimed in some texts and by some people, whatever the level of Dhamma and in whatever aspect, the more I have practised it the more faith I have gained in it, causing me to accept it all completely. I have no knowledge which makes me feel confident that I could boast and say that I can contradict the Dhamma of the Lord. In every part of all of the books of the Ti–Pitaka there is nothing but the Lord giving teaching about the stupidity of people and other beings who make the boast that they are so skilled and clever in what they know, yet they cannot even compete with a frightened monkey which is looking for a way to hide from people.
If you say that people such as ourselves are more clever than the monkeys, we must know what things are dangerous and harmful to us and keep away from them and diminish their hold over us, and we must not be reckless and over self-confident about these things. Wherever I look I see only people bragging about how clever they are at doing evil things which are harmful both to themselves and everyone else. Nobody seems to be clever and wise enough to be able to avoid and get away from these blameworthy things so as not to become intimate with them and to turn them into close companions all the time by day and night and in all activities. For this makes them become ever more firmly embedded so that they will never be able to get away from them enough to look into their hearts and see Dhamma there, which can then flow out into bodily actions and speech to give them some peace.”
“Have you ever thought about how subtle and profound is the Dhamma teaching (Sasana–Dhamma) of the Lord Buddha? As far as most of us are concerned, we can only use our hearts which are full of dirty, filthy kilesas to fathom out the Dhamma of the Lord and all we get is blaming and criticism arising within us, saying: ‘Dhamma is difficult to practise and those who practise Dhamma must go against the way of the world if they are going to practise at all. The Lord Buddha taught Dhamma but it seems to me that it does not accord with the true nature of the world. For the teaching says that, if one does good one gets good, if one does evil one gets evil — but I have done good until I have almost died, yet I don’t see any good from it at all. But there are plenty of other people who don’t seem to have done good in any way, yet they are rich millionaires with vast wealth who have gone far beyond me while I have been doing good all the time.
So I don’t see how the Dhamma can be true as it has been taught. And again, if there is any truth in it about evil, why does it appear that those who do evil seem to get away with it, whereas in times of necessity, those who have done good don’t seem to be helped by the merit they have made. So there are probably no such things as good and evil, nor hell, heaven and Nibbana, for if there are, where are they? Those people who have died, both good and evil, just disappear and never seem to come back to tell us about it. Or, to let us know enough so that we may feel confident and desire to make merit, to give dana, to guard our morality and to practise some meditation, so that when we die we can all go to heaven and Nibbana’.”
“These are the kind of things which are attached to our hearts and which arise when we try to penetrate the Dhamma of the Lord Buddha because the ‘world’ likes this kind of thing. But, doing it in this way there is no hope of acquiring and firmly establishing those good things which are portrayed in Dhamma — because the kilesas don’t care for Dhamma — they just care for the kilesas and nothing else. So all that is acquired is more filthy kilesas.”
“The Dhamma was never taught for those people who are just waiting ready to contradict and destroy Dhamma by using various kinds of thoughts and views. But it was taught for those people who search for the proof of the truth as derived from the true Dhamma. Therefore it is not the Dhamma of complaining, of guesswork or speculation, like that of most of us who look deeply into Dhamma with a heart that is unclean; and then reach down and draw up a lot of filth which we sniff at and lay the blame on Dhamma with a lack of sincerity. After which the heart, based on that ground says: ‘I can think and speak quite freely.’ But it doesn’t know that the odour which it smells is its own filth and there isn’t any Dhamma which they can blame anywhere near it. However much people blame and find fault with Dhamma causes no disturbance to Dhamma at all. All that happens is that they will get back a lot of disturbance in themselves which comes from their own thoughts and speech, even as they think with self-satisfaction how: ‘We are privileged because we can dispute and criticise Dhamma with a clear conscience.’ ”
“Dhamma is very precise and subtle and it is difficult for those hearts which have kilesas such as ours and yours to penetrate and reach it, as we have already explained above. Therefore although your intention was good in making this request of me, it also brought up an important aspect of Dhamma concealed within it. For thriftiness, economy, contentment and satisfaction with little are all factors of mind (dhamma) which mean the same thing as, being careful and not forgetting oneself. And those who practise these Dhammas are sure to be able to conduct and look after themselves in a way that is admirable, regardless of whether they are ordained members of the Sangha or lay people. A Bhikkhu, even though he has the greatest of good fortune with large numbers of people who have faith in him and praise him — or alternatively, a lay person who is more or less wealthy, if they are not full of pride and vanity nor easily forget themselves in their good fortune, they can still turn their external wealth to good use in a way that depends on the basic nature of this wealth. Then it can promote the happiness and contentment of the owner as well as bringing honours to him. His wealth thus acts like a true friend who is always there, ready to stand by him in times of suffering and great necessity. It does not then become an enemy, an agent which harms him and spoils him, which is so often the case amongst those who are careless and thoughtless and never mend their ways enough to have some peace, calm and gracefulness.
Those who are under the influence of these Dhamma virtues and have them as part of their natures are the kind of people who are looked upon as being gracious and dignified by all normal people. They differ greatly from those who like to put on contrived airs and display fashions and fancies that excite the kilesas making normal people feel dizzy and off balance when they see them. As for those people who do these things, they think that they are beautiful and splendid like Devatas up in the sky and undoubtedly superior to all others! But when normal people see them they just get a headache and feel upset and off balance.”
“You should think about these two forms of behaviour by comparing them so as to get to know them. In what ways do they differ from each other? Compare these two opposing Dhammas with what I have already talked about above, and to make it clear I shall give a brief explanation of what is meant by ‘being provident’, ‘being economical’, ‘being contented (santosa)’ and ‘wanting of little’; please listen carefully.”
“Providence, or being provident means that a person takes an interest in and looks after all his valuable and useful possessions, not letting them go to rack and ruin due to a careless lack of interest, and not acting like a wasteful spendthrift. When he makes use of them he is careful not to spoil them when there is no need for it, so that they are not wasted; for each one of these things, whatever its nature, has come to him by working for it, or by searching for it. It didn’t come on its own such that he can afford to look on it as being of little value.”
“Being economical is what comes from the heart of a person who is fond of and pays attention to the things he uses, and who looks after those things which are of value to him by being careful with them. He doesn’t use them and then throw them down anywhere in a careless manner, but puts them away carefully and properly after having used them. He is not extravagant in his living and spending, yet he does not make out that he is hard up while he still has enough goods and wealth to live reasonably well. Nor does he forget himself when he has plenty of wealth, but he tries to turn that wealth to good advantage in whatever way is suitable according to the nature of his wealth. He is not miserly and tight-fisted but gives support and charity in the same way as others do. Or, maybe he gives a lot more when there is a valid reason for it, because the practice of being provident and economical are the ways of behaviour (dhamma) of those wise ones who always act with reason in regard to themselves and all those things which they become associated with everywhere round about them. Therefore, such a person who is provident and economical does not tend to go in any direction which would make him open to blame or criticism, but instead, his way of doing things brings him nothing but praise and admiration.”
“A person who is provident and economical is also one who looks carefully at all aspects of social intercourse, business and whatever else he deals with. He is not easily caught out by enticing things which enter the doors of the senses and stir up the kilesas and he practises self-restraint and patience with the changing, unstable underlying falsehoods in the world of society, by means of shrewd judgement (vicarana–ñana). He does not easily get excited about false, deceptive and scary things which catch the attention, but he is well contented (santosa) and satisfied with whatever wealth he has and does not like going about wild with excitement, jumping into this and colliding with that, under the influence of a heart that is brim full of raga tanha — but he acts towards everything in an even handed, consistent way.”
“I will give you examples from lay life to illustrate the value of those principles of Dhamma and how necessary they are to the hearts of people in the world. Thus, people who are married have each other as a constant and valuable possession, and they should be glad and contented with it; not letting their minds go wild, jumping about all over the place and wandering out to fall in love with other peoples husbands and wives or other people down the street in disregard of the Dhamma of contentment. In other words, being husband and wife to each other respectively is a long standing and valuable possession that both of them have. So even though they may be attracted to others to some extent which is the characteristic way of ordinary people (puthujjana), who like to pick on anything as it suits their fancy and are never satisfied, the Dhamma of contentment must firmly force them to withstand these parasitic emotional attractions (arammana) all the time. It must not allow their minds and bodies to go out to such things, bringing them “home” so that they get involved in their valuable and long standing possessions. For these things will become enemies in their town, their home or between husband and wife, causing the break up of their family and the dissipation of their valuable possessions until all is lost. Close friends will become strangers and the happiness which overshadowed them due to the Dhamma of contentment which was protecting them will break up and dissolve into nothing.”
“In order that the Dhamma of contentment shall be fundamental in one’s life and heart, one must not be interested or concerned with anything other than one’s own existing possessions which belong to one. For even though there is greater wealth out there which does not belong to one, one should not make it any concern of one’s own, for one has got rid of most of the greed and covetousness that wants to get what belongs to others. Then oneself and one’s family will be happy throughout and there will be no break up in one’s family because they all gladly accept the limiting bounds within which they live. Husband, wife and their children will also have some peace and happiness and a feeling of confidence in each other without having any doubts or suspicions to cause trouble. They will feel quite confident that their possessions and things of value are truly their own without any of them being like parasites which go about twisting and altering everything. For there will just be their whole family unit and their possessions will be entirely their own, so that each and all of them will feel well disposed and peaceful because the Dhamma of contentment protects and looks after the stability of oneself and one’s family, so that they may have value and worth in their hearts.”
“As for ‘wanting of little’, this is a form of Dhamma which is much more subtle than ‘contentment’. But both of them are a pair of Dhamma factors which should grace each family and young men and women in particular who should keep their behaviour within the bounds of what is proper. In other words, a young man and woman who love each other should keep it that way without having any others hanging on in their hearts which can cause their marriage partner to feel upset, slighted and inferior, with thoughts such as: “Let him or her go to that other one, I don’t see any point keeping this up, for it will only be a tiresome lot of trouble to remain faithful any longer. For when two people love each other, it must remain ‘each other’, without involving a third party, whether man or woman, and they must remain faithful to each other from when they first come together, right through to the end of their lives without getting excited about anyone but their own partner.
Each of them only loves the one person and their hearts should be joined together in harmony to the end of their lives. Any others who just wait to break up their close relationship, they look upon as being parasites. If two people truly live together as husband and wife to each other and that is all, even though a Devata, an Angel, should come along, they would not become intimate with it, because it is not theirs and not what they truly value, for they only feel happy and confident with each other. Anything more than this is not — ‘being satisfied with little’ — amongst those who want peace and happiness in their family, which both husband and wife can view with full confidence.”
“When we have considered the meaning of being provident, of economy, of contentment, and wanting little, we should also consider their opposites for comparison. Then we shall see the full significance of both sides and how valuable and worthy or baneful and disreputable they are, respectively. Then, anyone who values reason and truth may be led to examine them, and choose, and practise whichever of them he finds suitable.”
“Thus, conceit, pride and vanity in goods and emotional attachments; being wasteful and extravagant; having one, then thinking that one would like to have two, then three..., not being satisfied in what one has already got; and wanting plenty in everything; all of this is an enemy to oneself and others, and all of these things are enemies of Dhamma. Going in opposition to Dhamma, such as being improvident, is a way which leads only to deterioration and loss. Even if someone wants peace, happiness and development, they are not likely to get it by destroying Dhamma in this way, simply because it is the wrong way. With either a Bhikkhu or a lay person, if they go the wrong way it is bound to lead them to deterioration and distress. Because Dhamma is the ‘centre line’ of the road along which one must go for gain and increase. This is true both for those who are ordained as well as lay people, and even though there are some differences between the two, they are not much and generally speaking these things, such as ‘being satisfied and wanting little’, are the same for all. It is just that Bhikkhus go the ways of Bhikkhus and lay people act in the ways of lay people. In both cases the results should be those of peace and happiness which accord with the causes, or actions, which people do.”
“The Savakas, in the time of the Lord Buddha, who are ‘Sangham saranam gacchami’ — our Refuge — in most cases practised the way of contentment with what they had got and satisfaction with little. Their fear and concern about privations, difficulties and survival was much less than their fear of not knowing and seeing Dhamma. Because they were afraid that they may not come to know and see Dhamma, they tried hard to make the greatest efforts and put everything they had got into their striving to know and to see — and therefore they came to know and to see Dhamma to their hearts content.”
“But as for ourselves, we are only afraid of poverty and privations, afraid that it will be difficult and tormenting, and afraid that we may die. If anything is lacking we cant stand it, we feel depressed, deficient and sorry, and we can’t get down to making the effort to practise the way. In our hearts there is nothing but kilesas and the fear of death all the time and everywhere, and Dhamma cannot get down into this state because the kilesas bar the way and there is no path for it to penetrate and get in.”
“Wherever we go or stay, if there are lay people, relatives and friends who come round with faith, followed up by large food carriers and many dishes of food with plenty of sweet and savoury things, our hearts are happy and contented because they are made fresh and cool by food. We smile and applaud with contentment, saying: ‘The atmosphere is very good here, it is fine and clear and has a good feel about it, so my meditation practice goes well and comfortably without my having to force it against the grain, and I am steadily becoming more and more calm.’ But what is the truth? Is his meditation really going well or is he finding comfort in lying down and sleeping? It is not easy to be sure for a Bhikkhu who likes this kind of ‘atmosphere’. Because being able to eat a lot, lying down and sleeping well and much, all go together as inseparable states. I once did this sort of thing so I know about it well. If one then goes to a place which is really suitable for meditation, due to its being free from disturbing things, but lacking in ‘atmosphere’ — meaning little food because there are no large food carriers walking behind, then one’s ‘atmospheric’ mood finds it difficult, one can’t put up with it, one complains to the lay people saying:
‘Oh how difficult the ‘atmosphere’ in this place is, I cannot stand it here, its too oppressive and I can’t breath freely, so I cant get calm in meditation and my heart (citta) is difficult to control. This is quite different from what I am used to and I cannot stand this atmosphere which is so heavy and oppressive and I must say farewell to you good lay people and leave today.’
So one gets out quickly to find a place where the ‘atmosphere’ is good and suitable so that one can do one’s meditation practice. There, what do you think of that! What do you think of a Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhu whose meditation is influenced by the ‘atmosphere’ and whose citta goes down into calm when the ‘atmosphere’ is good? But as soon as the food carriers are not immediately evident, the ‘atmosphere’ becomes oppressive and his citta will not become calm in meditation. Supposing that all sorts of things become deficient or unavailable all together, what will the ‘atmosphere’ be like then? I think he would soon die because there wouldn’t be any ‘atmosphere’ left to breathe; but what do you think about this ‘kammatthana atmosphere’, do you like it? I think its remarkable!”
“If you want to see the real Tathagata and the real Arahants in a way that is quite clear and obvious to your heart, without any restriction and limitation due to time and place, you must look into and examine these questions of deficiency and lack, as well as plenty, of all those things you need and use, so as to see that such conditions are normal. And to see that you should depend on these things only to the extent that they are an aid in penetrating and reaching the intended purpose. But you should not be emotionally involved (arammana) with any of them more than you are with Dhamma — which is the intended purpose, the goal of your endeavours. Contentment and the wanting of little is the way that all the Noble followers of the Buddha went. Whereas extravagance and wanting plenty is the way of the ‘Atmosphere Kammatthana Bhikkhus’ which I have described above, and they will never be able to get free from dukkha while their hearts are firmly attached to those things.”
“Eliminating anxiety and worry for those things of various kinds which we are associated with, is for the purpose of weakening the emotional attachments (arammana) for them, which are kilesas, each of its own kind. Anyone who has not yet seen the value of Dhamma in the form of contentment and wanting little, and other such things, has still not seen the value of Dhamma enough to want to scramble up with determination, patience and forbearance. Instead he will be anxious about his mouth and stomach, afraid of having to put up with difficulties and afraid that these things will lead to his death. Finally he will end up inundated with concern about his mouth and stomach which have always been causing him anxiety. If in doing the practice of Dhamma, we are not prepared to let go of our emotional attachments (arammana) to these things, there is no way for us to get free from all the kilesas. Because all these things which we have been talking about are the means by which the kilesas tie us up. You should realise that concern for such things is what inundates those who practise the way, by means of attachment and longing, until they reach a point where they cannot get themselves out of it. Or else, they may not realise that the kilesas are strong enough within them so that they should be concerned about getting rid of them, enough to make them go out to a suitable place to enable them to get rid of some of these kilesas which are bearing down on their hearts. But instead, they become possessive of those kilesas, afraid that if they vanish from their hearts it will leave nothing to bring them any fun, nothing to ‘scratch’. They are therefore bound to remain involved in a mess with these things.”
“Thinking and speaking of these things makes me feel very sorry and disheartened at the manner in which we who practise the way do not see freedom from dukkha, which is Dhamma, as being more valuable than the kilesas which have always been tormenting our hearts. For we think anxiously about our mouths and stomachs as being more important than letting go for the sake of freedom. But those who delight in Dhamma and see how resolute and courageous the Acariya is in his practice, feel ever more inclined to strive with determination in their own practice. This is as it should be for those who have come to learn and train for the purpose of Dhamma and its meaning, and for truly getting free from and dispersing the kilesas and the load of dukkha from their hearts. Such a Bhikkhu may think: ‘He (the Acariya) is a person; I am a person. He has a heart; so have I. He can put up with these difficulties; so can I. He has reached a high state; I shall endeavour to reach it also without retreating and giving way to let the kilesas laugh and mock at me. He has attained freedom; I shall also go on trying to gain freedom, by following him, until I do so, for his kilesas were just in his heart in the same way as mine are, and they are not a heap which is piling up and increasing before and behind me like a mountain or a jungle.’ I am quite certain that someone who has strong interest and intention to follow the training and do the practice for himself and for true Dhamma in the foregoing manner, is bound to be able to attain freedom one day sooner or later, for sure.”
“The way I act in regard to my requisites and other things of various sorts, such as patching and darning, or adapting things to make use of them and repairing things as necessary, is because I have seen the value of having these mental attitudes (dhamma) as habitual characteristics. And because I am anxious for my friends in Dhamma and followers, that they may otherwise not have any way of practice left in the future. For in this age the tendency is to practise kammatthana in lazy, easy, self-indulgent ways. They tend to do everything in such a manner that — once the food is cooked they immediately eat the lot, and spoil everything. In other words, as soon as the food is about cooked it is all eaten up by their mouths, stomachs and the fire all together, without leaving anything over for tomorrow. (The meaning here is that, as soon as they leave the meditation practice there is no Dhamma value left, such as calm and peace. It is all blown away completely, by emotional attachments — arammana).”
“I believe quite firmly that those things which I do are in accordance with the Noble (Ariya) actions and Noble customs which they have always practised. Because they are actions which are done with an awareness of danger, without forgetting oneself. They are not done in the manner of the monkeys who eat something, then throw it away and look around for something new with no thought for that which they had before as to whether there is still some of it left which is good to eat as food. People who are rather mad in their excitement with the latest fads, fashions and fancies are like this. How can they ever have any basic principles in their hearts to give them guidance to look after their possessions and wealth. Their shirts, trousers and other clothing, they wear once or twice and then throw them away saying: ‘These are too old to wear, they are out of date and not in fashion now.’ After which they go looking for new ones, as if money flowed into their pockets of itself, like the water in the ocean.”
“They never think how even though they get the most expensive and special things to wear, to decorate and display themselves, they still remain a person — the same person as the one who is presently so full of vanity. From where will they get anything of supreme and undying (sara) value? As for putting on those decorative clothes, what matters is that they remain the same person as they were before. Their characters, whether good or bad remain virtually unchanged — unless, that is, they change themselves with those practices which bring them virtue and value by doing them. Because the virtue and value in people is dependent only on their knowledge, skill and behaviour and there is nothing at all in their dress and decoration to delude and hypnotise them so that they forget themselves in their excitement. Unless that is, they do it to deceive other people whose sight is dim and deluded, like rabbits that are frightened by a loud noise and run away until their legs almost break. But I cannot see that there is anything praiseworthy in it so that one may say: ‘Their virtue and value has increased at all by wearing those expensive clothes and opulent things which they keep changing several times a day.’ ”
“What in fact such people inescapably get from doing this sort of thing is damage to their own character, bad habits, as well as a ‘leaking heart’, a heart without principles or basis, and they can never be themselves as they truly are with a good set of guiding principles. This leads them to create their own destruction as well as that of their society and future generations who pick up the same deluded ways, perpetuating them into the future. This is the evil result which is sure to come from doing such things; but those who act in this way are bound to see it for themselves. There is no need to have a committee to judge and to decide to make it difficult for them, as they do when there is a conflict of interests, for they will know what things are evil, and what are good. They will also know the meaning of dukkha and sukha, and all this they will know in themselves, and there is no need for anyone to tell them.”
“This is like the practice of Dhamma, for those who have already done the practice and gained satisfactory results from it, and teach and point out the right way for those who follow. But if their followers look for trouble, saying that the way is difficult, too old fashioned and out of date, and they have no confidence in following their teacher, nor in doing the practice with full commitment of heart, then the way is blocked — like a dead person who knows no good or evil, no happiness or sorrow at all. In the next stage, when such people become teachers, their pupils will behave like monkeys without any restraint or rules of behaviour to give them some discipline. Whatever they want to do they will be free to do and to follow the ways of animals, which know no language. But we are people and Bhikkhus, and we cannot stay in the same world if they act like this, so they will have to be driven out to live in a charnel ground with the dead, or to live in the jungles with the monkeys and apes. But they are not likely to consent to this because they consider that they are people who are still alive and not yet dead, that they are human and not monkeys and so cannot live in such places. In the end they become people who are always contentious and discordant both in the world and Dhamma, and they make themselves objectionable and disliked by society as well as causing a lot of concern and trouble.”
“The manner of practising Dhamma in which they do a bit here and a bit there without ever getting down to it properly is what obstructs and hinders the field of practice. Then they become ‘kammatthana parasites’ in the field of practice, hidden amongst the others who are their companions and who are fully committed and determined to do the practice properly. These parasites do not want to go away from the others to let them get free from their (parasites) dirty stinking mud, because there are people who come to visit them, wanting to ask and learn about Dhamma and these parasites can then talk to them, boastfully claiming that they are Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhus in the line of Venerable Acharn Mun and Venerable Acharn Sao. Then they trade on the names of their teacher and the Acariyas, making use of them continually. They stink worse than rotting fish in the market.”
“In saying this, I am not blaming you, nor saying what kind of Kammatthana Bhikkhu you are. But I must point out any cases of moral teaching which are appropriate to my companions and those who have accepted me as their Acariya, so that they may know the way to avoid and evade such issues and how to choose ways of action which are entirely good and appropriate. The result will then be for all of you to some extent.”
“I am getting very old now and I am concerned as to how my followers in Dhamma will keep up the tradition of doing things in the way that I have taught them. As for that question which you asked me, there was nothing wrong with it so far as the relationship of teacher and pupil is concerned. Because our welfare is interrelated, and when one sees one’s teacher do things which one is afraid may make difficulties for him, out of respect, affection and complete trust in him in all things, one wants to make it more easy and convenient for him. So one talks about it with him with the intention and hope that it will bring benefit to him.
Therefore I don’t look on it as being wrong in any way that you asked me to do those things. But, in order to uphold the Aryan tradition so that it may remain harmonious, undisturbed and fully satisfying in the future, both for ourselves and for those who follow as in future generations, so that they may take up what we do as a basis to be followed in practice, I respectfully ask my companions in Dhamma to commit yourselves to the practices of being provident, being economical, being contented and satisfied with little, and doing it with sincerity in regard to all your requisites to maintain the tradition and to be someone who goes the way of practice smoothly and consistently. Then all the kilesas and their tricks will not create unreasonable amounts of trouble for you, because you will have the Dhutanga practices to counter them and weaken them constantly. These four articles of Dhamma are very important in the field of practice and I ask you to please realise this in your hearts.”
“As long as someone has these four Dhammas in his heart, he will be calm and at peace both in his heart and in his outward activities, and no stain or blemish will become attached to him while this is so. Then wherever he goes or stays he will be happy, his body, speech and heart being calm and peaceful and no danger to anyone. The external activities and behaviour of a Bhikkhu who has these Dhammas in his heart is pleasant to see, inducing peace in the hearts of his companions, and other people of all classes as well as the Devatas, Indra, Brahma, the Nagas and Garudas and all the rest. So all of you should please take good note of these things in your hearts and endeavour to practise them so that you will gain the results of them. But you must never weaken or give up these Dhammas which are at the heart of all the Venerable Ariya Bhikkhus, for they cherish them and constantly uphold them in their lives and hearts. As for other, ordinary people, they may have different ideas and understandings. Therefore, in order to be exactly right and certain, you must take hold of the saying: Sangham saranam gacchami (I take refuge in the Sangha), and make it firm and strong in your hearts, for those four Dhammas, and the ‘Sangha refuge’, are of equal value and importance.”
The question and request of that Bhikkhu for Venerable Acharn to give way and take it more easily, turned into a long and fiery Dhamma talk. His way of teaching Dhamma is very difficult for anyone else to equal. For all his skilful ways of fiery criticism and mild, moderate talk were all of essential importance to those who were listening intently with open hearts. None of the Bhikkhus who were sitting listening to him ever thought or said that Venerable Acharn spoke in a fiery, angry manner by bringing up the kilesas as an emotional support (arammana), or even that they were used as the means of producing such talk. In fact, they all spoke in the same way, saying how: “This talk of Venerable Acharn today went right to my heart in the most direct way. This is how it ought to be! When he is calm and not roused up one can never hear a talk like this. Only when someone makes a request of Venerable Acharn as in this case, does he seem to give a talk which is to me a joy to hear with the fine flavour of truth. If anyone has anything to ask the teacher, he should not remain quiet, for he rarely gives such a talk as this which was so good to hear.” After Venerable Acharn’s desana the Bhikkhus gathered in small groups and talked together like this, as they usually did after a talk on Dhamma.
In fact this was quite true, for if nobody said anything or asked any questions which he could use, he would give a normal Dhamma talk, but even though it concerned the higher aspects of Dhamma, it lacked the fire and force of those occasions when he had a question or incident to act as the focus of his talk. I used to like listening to this kind of talk, which went right home to the heart. Because my nature was always rather coarse and unsubtle, and if I was not “hit hard” by it, some of the Dhamma would never reach my heart, and even though it was very high, my heart rarely picked up much in the way of useful teachings as it would in a talk such as the foregoing one.
The Size of the Almsbowl
Amongst the Bhikkhus in Thailand the bowl is considered to be an important requisite which no Buddhist Monk should be without. In fact it is always considered to be an essential requisite from the day of their ordination right to the end of their life in the Sangha.
But there are many types of bowls and many sizes as well, within the limitations specified in the Vinaya rules. In particular, amongst those Bhikkhus who follow in the line of Venerable Acharn Mun it is generally thought that the bowl should be of medium to large size. This comes from the way in which they like to go wandering as ascetics in the forests and mountains as it suits their inclination, for they do not like staying fixed in any one place outside the rainy season (vassa). When they go wandering, they walk barefoot, and go wherever they feel inclined, and those requisites which are necessary they have to carry along with them, but they do not take much. What they carry generally consists of the bowl, the three robes (sanghati, civara and sabong), a bathing cloth, an umbrella tent (klod), a mosquito net, a kettle of water, a water filter, a razor, sandals, some small candles, and a candle lantern which is made of a piece of white cloth, sewn up to form a tube and two circular pieces made of metal, the top one being an open ring. A candle is then mounted on the bottom end and when lit, it gives light for walking cankama at night and for going anywhere round about the place where they are staying. So it acts in place of the more usual types of lantern.
When they are wandering about they keep many of the requisites in the bowl, such as, the outer robe (sanghati), the mosquito net, the razor, the candle lantern and candles. Therefore the bowls which the Dhutanga Bhikkhus use tend to be much larger than those which are normally used in order to accommodate these requisites and to carry them along conveniently when they go from place to place. For once they have filled up the bowl, nearly all their requisites are taken care of and they can sling it over one shoulder and set off walking, with their umbrella tent and a small handbag on the other shoulder. The bowl is heavy, and for those who are not used to it, it may be very difficult or even more than they can stand. But being a Kammatthana Bhikkhu is rather like being a warrior in a war who must just put up with whatever conditions he has to face.
A fairly big bowl is also more convenient to eat from because all the food is put together in the bowl. The rice, savoury and sweet things are all there in one bowl and they have no plates, dishes, spoons or forks. Once they have finished eating, they wash and dry the bowl, making it clean and free from smell. In washing the bowl it is necessary to do it at least three times with fresh water each time. Then after it has been wiped dry, if the sun is out, it is put out to dry completely for a short while before being put away in a suitable place, depending on circumstances; but if the weather is clear, the bowl may be left with the lid off to get rid of any lingering smell that it may have.
The Kammatthana Bhikkhus look after their bowls very carefully. If someone offers to wash and wipe out their bowl, they are reluctant to let them do so if they have never done it before. Because they are afraid of the bowl getting rusty, afraid that it may be put down in a place where it is not safe, afraid that it may knock against hard objects, or that it may drop and hit something hard which may damage or dent it so that rust will start forming there before long. When this happens and rust forms, the whole bowl has to be rubbed down with abrasive stones and emery paper to remove all the black iron oxide both inside and outside until the metal is clean. Then it must be re-oxidised by heating it in a fire and the fire must be replenished five times to accord with the Vinaya rules, after which it may be used. All this means a lot of trouble and hard work, so the Bhikkhus look after their bowls more carefully than any other requisites and they are reluctant to let other people handle them.
When returning from pindapata, people sometimes go and ask the Bhikkhus for their bowls, to carry them back for them. But if they feel uncertain about the person who asks, whether he has ever had any experience in looking after a bowl, they will probably refuse politely, giving some reason or excuse for doing so. They will not readily hand their bowl to anyone until they had taught them how and where to put the bowl down, how to wash it clean and wipe it, and how to look after it generally until that person understands. Then he would be allowed to handle the bowl.
How “Modern Bhikkhus” Want to Change the Rules
Latter is the customary way of looking after the bowl for those kammatthana monks who follow in line from Venerable Acharn Mun. But the world goes the way of change (anicca), so nowadays it is uncertain whether the Dhamma and Vinaya may be altered or changed and made to go the way of anicca in some aspects, or not. From what we have already seen, there is enough cause for concern in some of the external things which are little by little, infiltrating into the sphere of those who practise the way. They are gradually increasing all the time, until they have almost reached the stage where those who practise the way properly and whose hearts are intent on Dhamma will have to move elsewhere because they will not be able to stand it any longer — due to those things which are offensive in their sight and upsetting to their hearts which they would otherwise have to put up with. The decorum of those who practise has already begun to change in the direction of things such as those which we have already mentioned — which is an indication of their nature, their fascination and the peculiar excitement which they arouse in those monks and ourselves. We should have no difficulty in guessing what is the nature of these things! If we do not come to our senses and get back to our original principles, which are the Dhamma, the Vinaya and all the Dhutanga observances which act like protective armour that the Teachers and Acariyas have brought to us, there is reason to fear that we may become Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhus of the “space age” who move so fast, nobody can keep up with them because their speed is so much faster than those who have brought them up.
This is not meant to be a criticism of those Bhikkhus who practise well and properly. But it is said with real concern for the Dhamma, Vinaya, and Dhutanga observances which are done by those of us Bhikkhus who like to change things to suit their fancy, for this sort of thing will draw them down into the “market of self-indulgence”. For in this age there are easy, facile, ways of learning, and we Dhutanga Bhikkhus may want to go fast and we may learn and practise in ways that are quick and expedient and which are far more expedient than the ways of the Great Teacher, or our own Teachers who have brought us up in the ways of practice. Such expediency is like expecting to get results from doing little or nothing; in the end it just leads to hopelessness and delusion. So this lesson in Dhamma is presented in the hope that it will help all of us Dhutanga Bhikkhus to examine all those things in which the heart is indulgent and which are at present creeping in and hiding in the quiet corners of our “monasteries, huts and robes”; and in the hope that by showing them up they will become separated from us, driven out and kept at bay. Then they will never have an opportunity to get together, gain strength and break up our circle of kammatthana, causing its destruction much sooner than it would happen naturally.
However, if we who practise the way are engrossed in external things, much more than inwardly (within ourselves) by making a comparison between ourselves and the principles of Dhamma and Vinaya, it is bound to lead to forgetfulness of “self” so that the way is opened for all sorts of bad, evil and vicious things to creep in and establish a much more disorderly sanctuary (Wat) than was there before. Thereby setting up a “self” within us which is much more obstinate than the one which was originally there, which used to have Dhamma in its heart. Then this new sets about burying it completely until nothing at all can be seen of what used to be there. What used to be Dhamma changes and becomes the ways of the world; what used to be a clever person changes into a stupid person; what used to be a person with mindfulness becomes intoxicated. One who used to be in full control and command of himself becomes a servant with an inferior status, and these changes take place in one and the same person due to the influence of emotional feeling and thought. The body and speech which used to be instruments for doing good, change and become instruments of self-destruction leading to complete and utter ruin, leaving no part — nothing — which could be developed to bring him back and change him into a worthy and consistent person again. This is what happens if the heart changes its state, for then thought and understanding also become different.
Therefore, those who practise the way should prepare themselves to receive their supreme inheritance, to the utmost of their ability in their way of practice. Even if they face the loss of their lives, they must not give up those ways in which they have been accustomed to acting as a warrior. And when they actually reach the end of their lives, because they have been fighting all kinds of kilesas with ascetic practices that are forceful and patient in the face of difficulties, their expectation is that they will reach their end in that last minute still fighting in the midst of the battle. The bodies of those who die in this war against the kilesas will not be stinking, rotten, loathsome corpses which frighten people, but they will be fragrant with a fragrance that diffuses abroad reaching all the directions, as well as above and below. And they will become a centre of attraction drawing the hearts of all people, Devatas, Indra and Brahma, making them feel a satisfaction which causes them to smile joyfully with pleasure and arouses a desire in them to want to meet, see and pay homage to them and to worship their remains as the highest ideal to be constantly recalled and never forgotten away.
In the same way as the Lord Buddha and all the Savakas and Acariyas who reached Nibbana, are the highest ideals which we uphold and bring to mind with homage and veneration. Their relics, bones and ashes are never looked upon as objects of loathing, disgust or fear, but instead, people have the hope and strong faith that such relics or bone remains may come into their possession, so that they may pay homage to them and hold them in the highest veneration, and to bring them to mind every morning and evening and at all other times whatever they may be doing. They do this that they may receive well being and blessings on themselves, their environment and their homes, and also for security, to avoid all dangers that may threaten their lives and bodies. For these are things of value which are held in the highest regard and cherished in all three realms of the Universe.
Therefore, the life and self-nature of those who practise the way should be full of courage and ability in fighting against and chopping down all the various kinds of obstacles, which their kilesa–natures build up as thick, strong barriers against them, until they manage to break through them. I implore all of you to be like this, even as that Bhikkhu who is our Great Acariya, who went along this path and gained victory and came back to the world. He gained freedom; the Sasana then followed, arising and becoming prominent; the world then followed and flourished, because the hearts of the good people were imbued with Dhamma and they waited for an opportunity to give reverence and pay homage. There are still many people like this who become attached to and dependent on those Bhikkhus who lead the way with courage and who act rightly and properly as leaders with ease and elegant skilfulness. The world still has a great hunger for virtue and for truly good people, a hunger which is almost insatiable. But although they may not be able to change their own ways to create an aura of virtue in their minds and bodies, to be a refuge for their hearts, they still want to see those who practise the way and who are worthy of respect and faith, worthy of getting close to and intimate with their Dhamma.
They want to pay respect to them, to venerate them, to look up to them as their ideal without getting satiated. For, in spite of the fact that the world is in a state of confusion and turmoil, whirling about in the evil ways of mankind as it has been for such a long time that people have almost given up hope of being able to search for a way out, yet hope still arises whenever they see anything that seems worth picking up, and they want to pick it up. They see that it is worth grasping, so they want to grasp it. They see that it is worth depending on, so they want to depend on it without ever getting bored or satiated with it — because the experience of happiness is the same everywhere throughout the world. Therefore the practice which is for the sake of one’s own heart, “leading in the right way” (supatipatti), is also right for the hearts of all those in the world who follow in the future.
In this, the Lord Buddha went the way before us. At that time, when the Lord trained and disciplined himself, he was never anxious or concerned with thoughts in his heart as to who he was doing this for. He even made the effort to let go of the Princess, his wife, who was like his own heart to him, together with all such things at that time, and he put all his strength and effort into correcting himself alone. After he had got rid of all anxiety, worry, darkness and obscurity, he reflected and thought back to those things which he had aspired to in the past, and then he set out to do the duty of the Great Teacher, to spread and teach Dhamma to the world. Then all the Savakas walked the same way along the same path which the Great Teacher had prepared for them. In other words, they were interested in applying the teaching to themselves before giving it to others, until such time as they had attained the goal properly, after which they gradually began teaching their companions and others. In this way they followed the Lord, avoiding pitfalls and dangers. Any Bhikkhu who walks the path, following the well established examples of the Lord Buddha and the Savakas is bound to become a living example of the Dhamma inheritance which was bestowed on him — there is no doubt about this. Those who practise the way should therefore take a pride in this joyful (sugato) way.
While discussing the changes in the ways of practice which are tending to diverge from the traditional teachings and to go in the wrong direction, it made me think of the forceful and fiery teaching delivered by Venerable Acharn Mun due to something which shocked him while he was staying at Wat Nong Peu in Sakon Nakhon. This took place one evening after the Wat had been swept and cleaned up and after the Bhikkhus had washed themselves. A number of Bhikkhus had gathered at Venerable Acharn’s hut where he was talking to them about various aspects of Dhamma. On that day his talk turned to the subject of Venerable Acharn Sao and he said:
“Venerable Acharn Sao was a teacher who had great metta for the world as a basic characteristic of his heart. It was far stronger in him than in any of the other Acariyas, in fact he was quite outstanding in this respect, and anyone who had close contact with him was bound to admire and adore him straight away. But as for his teaching to the Bhikkhus, novices and lay people, it was never outstanding or remarkable and it did not have a wide scope and depth like some other Acariyas. He would speak a few sentences and then stop, after which he would sit straight upright, silent, imperturbable and unconcerned, like an image of the Buddha (Buddha–Rupa), without moving a muscle. But what he taught stuck in the hearts of people and those Bhikkhus of the kind who listened and understood, without ever being satiated or bored by it. Having left, they still felt that they wanted to see and hear him speak and they never got tired of it.”
“Everybody spoke in the same way about Venerable Acharn Sao, saying how they loved him and they had so much faith in him. But the pity of it is that none of the Bhikkhus and Samaneras who were his followers tended to be resolute. Nor did they have any firmly established idea of the way to go, either internally or externally such as should be appropriate to those who had an Acariya of such excellence to teach and train them. This was probably because they tended to be too self-forgetful, lackadaisical, proud and conceited in their self-estimation, although they had nothing much to be conceited or complacent about. For they saw that their Acharn was kind and tolerant to them with metta, never scolding them nor pointing out their faults immediately and harassing them like all the other Acariyas did. And this was so, even when they did wrong and faulty things right in front of him, things for which they should have been told off and corrected, at least enough to make the wrong doers have some mindfulness to watch out and to be careful of themselves in the future. Then they would not forget themselves in such a gross way until they became accustomed to it and they would be people whose hearts displayed some admirable characteristics.”
Venerable Acharn Mun stopped for a moment and one of the Bhikkhus took the opportunity to ask a rather impudent question which was completely lacking in skill and appropriateness and the kind of thing which could have come from myself, for I have such tendencies in me right up to the present. He asked:
“Is it true that Venerable Acharn Sao had gained freedom from the kilesas and asavas as everyone says and believes?”
Our Acariya, who had always been concerned to try and train his Bhikkhus and Samaneras to be clever and sharp-witted, when he heard this question which was of such a kind as none of them should have been bold and forward enough to ask, just grinned and remained quiet for a while. Then he stared straight at this silly Bhikkhu, whose intention had been pure and good, and he had sympathy, compassion and understanding for him in his silliness and stupidity which it was no use to blame or punish. He started to speak quite gently in the same kind of foolish way as the questioner so as to acknowledge the foolishness and silliness of that Bhikkhu, in the same way as a trained horse responds to the old woman who looks after it. So he said:
“He reached the goal of freedom (vimutti) and Nibbana long ago, since before you were born. What other silly delusions and doubts are you going to ask about? For the way you have learnt to ask questions is most unskilful and lacking in any sort of tact which would indicate that this is a person who has some mindfulness and wisdom in him with which he can cure his kilesas and stupidity to some extent. In such a case as this, the citta lies contented to be buried in stupidity all the time. In doing meditation practice (bhavana), stupidity and drowsy nodding sit like a weight pressing down on his head and never showing any signs of improvement, but just swaying back and forth like a monkey swaying about when watching a person. People who are stupid or clever display their characteristics outwardly, quite clearly enough for others to discern, and you in particular would seem to be so stupid as to be pathetic. While listening to any teaching, the Dhamma is not likely to be able to penetrate down to your heart, and those who teach you will soon get tired of it if they have any wisdom in them. That is, apart from those Acariyas who like to speak out because they have been ordained a long time, and they may not even be able to know what their own situation is.”
After this, Venerable Acharn went on teaching that Bhikkhu with consideration and compassion for him. But it was almost as if that Bhikkhu had asked him this stupid question with the clever underlying purpose of inviting him to teach them Dhamma!
The gist of the Dhamma which he taught at that time was not fiery and strong as it had been in the past, but full of consideration and metta, and his mode of delivery was so tender, gentle, impressive and “catching of heart”, in a way which cannot be explained. As parents may teach their small child with love and compassion until they manage to get their child to see its faults with a soft heart and tears. I can only recall a little of the gist of the Dhamma which he then taught, so I ask your forgiveness for any faults and failings which will be due to my own delusions. What he said was something like this:
“Every day that passes by, it seems to me that my companions in Dhamma, instead of getting more and more clever by following the methods of Dhamma which I have taught, are in fact getting steadily more stupid. But I am getting older every day, and the help I can give to you is getting less and less, and as time goes on I am getting more and more decrepit, weary and tired, the parts of this body are steadily degenerating, and it seems that it just manages to keep on breathing from day to day. Various kinds of food which always used to strengthen the body, have now become enemies to the body, and I no longer have any desire to eat anything, in fact it has turned and become a tiresome habit — almost as if it was glad all the time to take just those things which are medicines. The time when I shall die creeps nearer bit by bit without ever stopping or resting to give some relief to the body and its parts at all. My breath which used to flow in and out easily and automatically, now gets rougher and more difficult all the time, as if it is about to leave me altogether any time it can. But when I look at the results of my teaching which should be apparent in accordance with the intention I have had in training and teaching my companions, what do I see but things that I never thought I should see.
Some of them are so lazy, weak and irresolute; some are so dull, torpid and lacking in any brightness and enthusiasm in doing the practice of Dhamma. Some of them turn and practise things which differ from the basic principles which I have taught them. Some of them display nothing but stupidity and are almost incapable of reasoned thought — such as asking that question about Venerable Acharn Sao a short while ago — which is not the way of those who come to learn and train to attain freedom from dukkha by following the way along which the Great Teacher (Sasada) led us to go. Because this was stupidity of a kind that was too obnoxious to hear and put up with. So it made me very concerned for my companions and followers, that when I die there may be nobody who has both the basic principles in his heart and who puts into practice those methods which will ensure their continuity in the future for posterity.”
“I’m afraid it will be as I have said above, so I make haste to implore my companions who have come together here to learn and train, to do so with urgency in your hearts, for this present situation is not one that can remain stable and last long, in which we can afford to be complacent. As time goes by the lives of each one of us is also going by in the same way and those who are heedless and careless will have nothing much of value to take away with them. As the time passes by in this way, the thing which is bound to remain with oneself in an inseparable way, is the state of unreliability and triviality which has always been firmly rooted in one’s original traits of character. And the result that comes from heedlessness is that of being trapped in the endless and limitless accumulation of dukkha. Then wherever one goes or stays, Mara will be waiting to harass one and cause disturbance leading to dukkha and trouble in all sorts of ways so that nowhere and never can one let go of it. All the time and everywhere, the careless, negligent person has dukkha bound tightly to himself and more tenaciously than his own shadow. This is because of his baneful fault of establishing himself as his own Mara by his failure to realise that carelessness and negligence is harmful, and that it is also Mara, just waiting to destroy and ruin himself.”
“As for one who is not negligent and careless, he will tend to get what is good and beneficial to adorn him and to raise him up. The result of this will be, well-being in the world and contentment in his heart all the time and everywhere; and freedom from dangers and misfortune, accidents and ‘bad luck’ coming to disturb and torment him. In fact, all the results that come to one from not being negligent will be blessings and advantages without exception.”
“I have tried as far as I can to teach all of you in all sorts of different ways and methods, to make yourselves become your own best friends by not being negligent or careless in the work and duties of those who have ‘gone forth’ and who practise the way. Because I know all the time that before long this body of mine will depart from all of you; as they normally understand it in the conventions of this world. But while I am still alive I can still teach and try to select whatever Dhamma is appropriate to the basic level and disposition of those who have been ordained, to teach with the utmost of my ability without hiding or holding back any part of it at all.”
“Therefore, when I see or hear of things which are bad amongst those who have come here to practise the way, such as heedlessness and carelessness, it goes against the aim which I have in mind for all my followers, which is close to my heart. I don’t want to see or hear these things, and I don’t want any of you to have any interest in doing them, because you will get a name for being careless and heedless; and wherever you are careless and heedless it spoils you every time. So you should pay no attention to these bad things at all. I ask all of you please to be considerate to the one who trains and teaches you, who has set himself to do this task with everything he has got in the way of ability, with willingness and metta.”
“Please try your best to train and discipline yourselves with the principles of Dhamma as I have taught them to you repeatedly all the time. Don’t be like the ladles or spoons in the stew pot that know nothing of the taste of the stew at all. Instead, you should be like the tongue that knows all the various tastes of the food which comes to it, knowing what they are immediately. I am always anxious to find out how much of the various kinds of Dhamma which I have been teaching you frequently, have penetrated into your hearts each time I give a talk, both in the sphere of practice, the various kinds of understanding which arise from the sphere of practice, and the knowledge which arises and is absorbed while listening to a Dhamma talk. This is a special kind of practice in which the talk that one is listening to, arouses understanding that accords with what is being said, and the insight that one gains accords with whatever the Teacher is explaining — following in step behind the Teacher the whole time. When this happens, nothing of the talk is lost and one’s mind is free from any distraction which would otherwise break it up and spoil the causes which bring about those insights, making them very much more difficult to arouse — and the reason for this is the creation of obstacles which also obstruct the results. Therefore, in order to get results smoothly and steadily as one wants them, please do those things which cause these results, with complete commitment. The results will then arise of themselves without any need to try and force them — as one must with the causes.”
Here, Venerable Acharn finished his Dhamma talk which was aimed at helping that Bhikkhu whom he felt sorry for. At this point I feel that I should go on to tell you about what happened after this talk, for the reasonings and the principles of Dhamma which Venerable Acharn displayed then may act as a moral that we Buddhists can ponder and keep in mind. If I don’t put it down here the strength and weight of the Dhamma which Venerable Acharn displayed then will be lost. For the subject of this Dhamma concerns that which brings sorrow and regret to those who revere the Sasana–Dhamma and the Acariyas.
How “Modern Bhikkhus” Sell Their Acariya
After Venerable Acharn finished the above talk, another Bhikkhu paid respect to Venerable Acharn and told him about the cremated remains of Venerable Acharn Sao, saying: “Some of the Bhikkhus who are his followers have taken the bony remains and crushed them to a powder and mixed them up with various other powders which they think have supernatural properties. Then they mould them into small Buddha images and sell them in large numbers — and they are asking a high price for each one also! Many people who have reverence for him have bought them without being concerned about whether the cost is low or high. When I found out about this I couldn’t help feeling sorry and upset about it. This is all I have to say.”
Venerable Acharn Mun immediately exclaimed: “Oh–ho! They’ve gone that far have they? Those Bhikkhus who destroy the Sasana and their Teachers and Acariyas have become dogs, biting and gnawing even his bones — in fact worse than dogs. Such people are completely thoughtless and they can’t find any other way to support themselves, so they have to go and bite and gnaw at the bones of their own Acharn. Even dogs know their own master and are not likely to go biting and gnawing at him, but here, they are worse than dogs and don’t even know their own master, so they bite and gnaw up the lot. People of this kind have lost all sense of shame when they can bite and gnaw up the bones of their teacher, their Acariya, and then go out and sell them!”
“Ho!” he exclaimed, pointing his finger at us and moving it from side to side to include every one of us who was sitting there, then in a fierce and fiery manner, he said: “All of you who have come to stay with me here, have you come to stay as Bhikkhus, or to live like dogs? Answer me quickly! If you have come here to be Bhikkhus then you must be concerned with Dhamma and establishing the practice in your hearts. But if you have come here to live like dogs as has been the case up to now, then you will be waiting about to scramble for bones, to bite them and gnaw them, and making a living by selling my bones like those thoughtless people. For that’s the way of those who indulge in dogs’ practices and not the way of Bhikkhus. For they wait about to gnaw the living and to gnaw the dead, never being satisfied and never being ashamed of doing evil in any way at all. With base and mean hearts they wait for the chance to destroy the Sasana and to destroy their own Teacher, their Acariya, quite shamelessly! Who are the clever ones here? Waiting to bite and gnaw my flesh and bones, and to go and sell them, either while I am alive or when I am dead and gone? Quickly! Tell me so that I can give you a title and make your name famous while I am still alive by calling you: ‘The merchant who trades in his Acariya’s bones.’ ”
“Not only do Bhikkhus of this kind act like dogs just waiting to gnaw their Teachers bones, but they also have many other tricks for selling their Acariya. Wherever they go, they like to boast that they are a follower of this or that well known Acariya who is highly respected by large numbers of people, and they do this as a way to gain attention and curry favours. They are the type who chop at the flesh, cut away the skin and gnaw the bones of their Acariyas, to sell and to live on for the rest of their lives. They eat away at him until he dies and go on selling him until there is none left. They eat and sell with complete lack of shame and go on doing so all through the rest of their lives, telling everyone and advertising their sales and they can never stop talking to give their mouths some rest — because the maggots — which are their ambitious cravings — have got into their hearts. Until all the Bhikkhus, novices and lay people who are devoted to sila, Dhamma and the ways of practice are all fed up and tired of them and have no desire to meet them or have any association with them even though they are all followers of the same Acariya. Are there any left here staying with me now who are learning the skills of the dogs in gnawing bones? Any who are doing the dogs’ practice, waiting to bite and gnaw my bones alive or dead?”
Venerable Acharn went on speaking in this manner until we were all benumbed. But even then he still went on, attacking and hitting without ever being specific nor defining his targets, until his listeners were out of their wits, feeling restless and anxious, hot and cold within, and feeling as if they would like to crawl into a hole in the ground. Because of their fear and shame which they could not shake off, as if each of them was the “dog” who was so clever at eating and gnawing his bones — even though this was not the case. After that he went on to describe those Bhikkhus whose hearts were so base and vile and lacking any brightness of Dhamma within them. They had lost all hope in Dhamma, lost all incentive to strive and correct their hearts and lost all interest in finding out about Dhamma, which could change their understanding within themselves and then percolate outward into their behaviour. He went on to say that:
“This is because their hearts have turned against Dhamma and gone entirely towards the world. They depend only on the material things of the world to be their support (arammana) and the dwelling place of their minds (hearts), as well as the things which adorn them with honour and dignity. By various methods of flattery and cajoling speech, they induce those lay people, who have an inherent tendency, which comes from their traditions and ancestry, to have faith in Bhikkhus, to accept and follow them. Then they go around collecting such people as their followers to increase their esteem and reputation for skilled oratory and clever eloquence. They have the power of a strong charismatic character, with many people who respect and have faith in them, and many followers and disciples. One may be sure that the day will come when they forget themselves and their conceit and vanity grows and piles up until they completely lose all sense of proportion. Then day and night, they will spend their whole time, disturbed and agitated by all sorts of things; persuading this person to build this, and that person to construct that, and how much merit will come from it. Even while they are preparing themselves to jump into the hell of creating disturbance and turmoil, the whole time.”
“Such people cannot even establish any stability in themselves by being calm and contented for two moments together, because their hearts and minds are spoilt, their virtue is spoilt, and also because their minds and hearts are always full of those things which accumulate and promote those kilesas typified by worldly, material desires. This makes them persistently agitated and it also makes them go out touring around involving others and begging from Buddhists who have faith, in all sorts of ways to make some contributions for constructing and building this or that sacred structure which is said to have supernatural significance — ‘and rather expensive!’ They do this over and over again in all sorts of ways until we can’t keep up with the tricks and methods of such Bhikkhus as this, who are quite extraordinary.”
“But when it comes to the ways of calm and happiness of heart, both for themselves and others, they hardly have any interest at all. Even when they go to stay with a teacher, an Acariya, they only do so as a way to jump on the band-wagon, and as mere ceremony. So that they can claim that they came and stayed and trained under this very prominent and important Acariya, and so that when they leave they will be able to announce this and advertise themselves as widely as is possible. This is how those who practise the way of self-advertisement act with the bloated conceit, thinking that:
‘Now I am clever enough so that my brightness and clarity is sparkling and shining out because I have been living as a close follower who has pleased this important Acariya.’
In a short while he leaves the Acariyas monastery, bright and full of himself, but he has still not tried his hand, his skill, his strength and ability at all. Soon, the new personality he has made for himself makes him want to talk and to say: ‘Whoever wants to try his hand, come here quickly to be trained and become worthy of the knowledge (vijja) which I have just succeeded in attaining. You will get the Path (Magga) and the Fruition (Phala) quickly, which you have been wanting and aspiring to for a long time. I am not just playing and trying to show off how clever I am, for the knowledge I have is truly as I claim.’ So when other people who have Buddhism deeply embedded in their character do not believe what the Bhikkhus say, who can they believe and who can they trust? There is nobody to have faith in but the Bhikkhus, but when they believe in those Bhikkhus of the type who bite and gnaw the bones, flesh and skin of their Teacher, their Acariya as well as the lay people, the way is open for them all to go to ruin with him — which is a sorry thing to happen.”
“This is what I am most afraid of — that this sort of thing which I have described is sure to happen. Because of the base and low state of the minds and hearts of those Bhikkhus who practise like parasites and who just lay in wait to destroy the field of their companions, as well as the hearts and minds of other Buddhists, causing endless destruction and ruin. See how Venerable Acharn Sao died only a few years ago, yet so soon his own followers have turned and become like grubs and worms destroying everything by themselves in all sorts of ways. So I can’t believe that, when the time comes, those followers of mine of the parasitic kind who come to stay here with me temporarily from time to time, will not do the same kind of thing — or worse. As for those Bhikkhus of the kind who are genuine and follow the ways of their Teacher, life will be difficult for them and they will be rejected in the popular esteem of the world. In other words, they will be blamed and criticised because they will all be associated together equally as followers of the teacher.”
“Those who act with such base and evil motives in their hearts and minds can never come to any self-knowledge and understanding at all, right up to the day that they die. This makes me concerned for those who practise the way well and properly, of whom there are a large number. For they will have to put up with whatever disturbance comes from those Bhikkhus who are made of ‘piss and shit’ and go about scattering it all over their companions and causing them to stink as well. I have often talked with concern and anxiety for the circle of those who come to stay here, and what concerns me most are those members who are just waiting to destroy themselves and their companions so that all of them deteriorate and rot away together! Because this type of person is not the type to listen patiently and accept the reasoning concerning good and evil from the Teacher, with strong interest in Dhamma — nor from anyone else for that matter.
Even while they are living and staying with the Acariya they tend to display the characteristics of those who tend towards things which are base and evil and they have shown up themselves for me to see quite clearly. So when they leave their Acariya, I am quite sure that they will display their abilities as much as their skill enables them to do so. Don’t think that I don’t know! Because there are gross and obvious things which don’t need any subtle investigation for one to be able to know and understand. In fact, without even trying I can see them and know them; and I can know every part of them and how they move and act both internally and externally; but I keep it to myself. While they are staying with their Teacher, or while the Teacher is still alive, they try to improve their claws and keep their teeth under cover most of the time, enough to put on a seemly appearance to the world, so that they don’t seem to be too reckless and independent. But as soon as the Teacher is dead and gone, these parasitical Bhikkhus get their chance to display their colours as much as they can in all sorts of ways, without any restraint, because there is nothing left for them to fear which could arouse any remorse or shame in them.”
“When people have completely lost all interest in Dhamma, they are capable of doing all kinds of evil without having any sense of remorse or shame at all. It is people of this kind who are capable of doing great harm to their own companions and to Buddhism (Sasana), by depending on the yellow robe and the requisites of a Dhutanga Kammatthana Bhikkhu as their means of living and destroying themselves. I am very concerned about them because they are inured to their ways and resistant to the remedy. For they are clever with Dhamma theory and it is hard to find anyone to equal those monks who have lost all sense of shame and fear (Hiri–Ottappa–Dhamma) of what the future holds for them within their hearts.”
“I don’t praise those Bhikkhus who act in ways that are not praiseworthy, nor do I blame those who should not be blamed. But I do praise those Bhikkhus who practise well and who should be held in admiration, and I also blame those Bhikkhus who are worthy of blame. For amongst all the Bhikkhus who have come to me and made a formal agreement (patiñana) to be my followers both old and new, there are those who are evil and worthy of blame as well as those who are good and worthy of praise, all mixed together. It has always been like this through the past ages, right up to the present time — some evil and many good. But for those of you who still have hope in Dhamma as being that kind of wealth which you should attain, I ask you please, to take to heart all these aspects of Dhamma which I have displayed here. As for those who are creating a situation of hopelessness for themselves in their own futures and refuse to look at their own faults, they should not stay here to be a burden on the Sasana, the Acariya and all their companions.
They should go out and create their own ruin to their hearts content, for after they die there is no more creating and building, and they can enjoy the results of the kamma which they like so much, all on their own, and nobody else will disturb them by trying to grab some of it for themselves! They will probably have lots of fun on their own, because this kind of kamma result (vipaka) is loathed and greatly feared by the world of good people and they can be sure that nobody will dare to steal any of it, for sure.”
“I have trained and taught you all from when I first started, up to the present day, but now I am old and before long I shall die. I reckon that I have taught you everything, both in external things as well as internal and there is nothing left over with which to make up any more remedies. Any of you who still feel unsatisfied will have to make it up for yourselves. But take care not to alter it and turn it into poison that destroys yourself as well as your companions — as we have seen and heard just now. Apart from this you may go ahead as you will, and with my blessing also.”
When Venerable Acharn finished this talk which came like a thunderbolt, none of the Bhikkhus who were there dared to move or fidget about at all, for they were all rigidly holding themselves still and silent. When he saw how afraid and pitiful they looked, he started to talk Dhamma in a soothing, gentle manner, speaking quite softly, as if it was coming from a completely different person.
“What I have just said was for the purpose of overcoming a powerful and virulent disease which otherwise would spread throughout those who practise the way — much in the same way as an epidemic spreads out and about everywhere on the physical plane. If this happened, good people would not be able to live in such conditions, for it would be like a fire going round the whole world, burning everything.”
“Of course, I have sympathy for those whose intention in coming here is interest and desire for Dhamma. But when Dhamma is revealed to the relative, conventional world, there is no soundproof room available and no way to divide out what ought to be heard by this person and what by that person. So what is taught is bound to be heard by all who are there, regardless of who is guilty, who is innocent, who is good and who is evil in any aspect of the teaching. But you should check for yourself while listening, to see whether you are free from fault or going in the wrong way, or whether you are free of fault and well established in each aspect of the teaching. In this way it is a means of indicating where one is right and where wrong, for the Dhamma which one hears is a bright light showing up and enabling one to see the wrong path and the right path in the way of practice, both in the present and for the future, quite clearly.
This is in conformity with one’s intention in coming here to train and learn so as to attain knowledge and skill for oneself. Because amongst those who are truly interested in Dhamma, there are many who still do not understand the methods of practice. If they do not hear and learn something about them to act as a guide, they are quite likely to see someone else doing wrong, faulty things, and then follow their example without thinking, checking or investigating these things. This way can lead to loss and ruin, even though they have no intention of doing anything wrong. This is especially true if they chance to meet any of those “big sharks” which I described a short while ago, for they will easily be swallowed up, which is most unfortunate and springs from their lack of training and their inability to see through these charlatans.”
From then on he continued speaking in a normal way as if nothing unusual had taken place. This gave all the Bhikkhus a break so that they could get their breath back. For his manner was completely different from what it had been, when they were, as if in a confined closed pot, doing penance to change their wrong views — unable to breath properly while being scorched by the cathartic–Dhamma (Tapa–Dhamma).
When the talk came to an end, one by one they saluted Venerable Acharn and left his hut. Some of them were relaxed and smiling, like prisoners who have just been released, and they gathered in groups to have their usual discussion. But some of the Bhikkhus appeared to be rather angry and one of them blurted out saying:
“Why did you have to go and talk about that? Couldn’t you have chosen something more reasonable and suitable to talk about? You see what happened and how it turned out! I should think that there were some who almost fainted when they were knocked about like that! Before you do that sort of thing, why don’t you ask someone who knows Venerable Acharn’s character well? Then, when you have something good and reasonable to ask him, go ahead. If this sort of thing happens again, that you bring up something to tell Venerable Acharn as bad as you told him today, then I won’t come to these talks. I’ll leave it up to those who are good and clever to receive such a beating on their own.”
The one who told Venerable Acharn said:
“Actually, I never thought that he would take it so strongly as he did, so I told him without thinking anything of it.”
He then went on to say quite reasonably:
“Whoever thinks that he has been scolded unreasonably has not seen his own faults — isn’t that so? But for myself, I wanted him to be even stronger and more heavy handed. Today my citta gave way and went so calm — almost like I was dead. For Venerable Acharn’s talk just suited the disposition of my citta which is so playful and had been going all over the world today. If I try doing the meditation practice on my own, my citta is so stubborn, it jumps all over the place and wont give way and calm down at all, like a herd of monkeys in a cage. But today, as soon as I was hit by Venerable Acharn’s strong Dhamma penetrating into it, my citta had no way of escape, so it gave way and calmed down quite easily.”
Another Bhikkhu said with evident satisfaction.
“Oh, it was really good today, I would like to offer my thanks to you for having the courage to tell him such a thing. After this I wonder if anyone will be able to bring up anything so unusual, controversial and inflammatory to tell him, so that my monkey citta will be able to get a bit of calm and happiness while he beats it and scolds it so strongly. Since I came and first heard Venerable Acharn’s talks I have never heard any which was so important and significant for me as the one today.”
Another of the Bhikkhus then also spoke with satisfaction about this talk.
That day there were many Bhikkhus there who heard Venerable Acharn speak, some were in his hut, but there were others at the side and underneath his hut who had heard the noise and come to see what it was about. They variously had different reactions to what he said. Many were so afraid of him that they almost forgot to breathe. But there were also many who liked to listen to strong and forceful talks, for when they hear this kind of talk their cittas become very calm and unshakeable at such a time.
A number of Bhikkhus, most of whom had recently come to the Wat to stay with Venerable Acharn felt both afraid and ashamed and wanted to crawl into a hole in the ground. Their cittas were hot and burning and they found no joy at all while listening, even though they found nothing to blame in themselves in the Dhamma that he was teaching. In particular my own feelings were turbulent and rather mad — all within my own heart. But the thing which went right home and stuck fast in my heart right up to the present day, was when he said: “Are you learning and practising in the manner of dogs, or in what manner?” Really, this was just because I didn’t want to be a dog, even though I had virtually become one already due to my lack of circumspect wisdom. But I didn’t realise that I had already become a fully fledged dog from the first moment when Venerable Acharn talked about:
“dogs gnawing and eating bones”;
while priding myself with the thought in my heart that,
“I didn’t come to practise so as to become a dog, but to become a complete, fully fledged Bhikkhu — and I didn’t come to practise so as to get hold of his bones at all, but for Dhamma — which means the Path, Fruition and Nibbana.”
From that day when I became a “dog”, secretly — nobody else knew — I didn’t even know myself — but from the moment when I heard what Venerable Acharn said, it became firmly fixed in my heart that I didn’t come to stay and practise with him in the manner of a dog.
I must apologise to the reader for disclosing my gross stupidity, for it seems to me that there was not much virtue left in me, so I want to let it be known how stupid I was. But I ask you please to go on reading with sympathy, because what I have related is the truth.
After this, when Venerable Acharn died and his remains were cremated and the time came to share out his bone relics and requisites so that his followers could use them as reminders and as objects of reverence and puja, I quickly ran off into the forests and hills where nobody knew where I was, thinking how clever I was. How, if I had stayed there until they shared out the remains I would have to accept my share of his requisites and bone relics, then I could not be free from being a dog, like he said. So finally the dog who was far too clever, went off to the hills and forests, not wanting to wait and accept his share of the remains of Venerable Acharn at all. This is an example of how stupid one can become, while at the same time thinking how clever one is. It had gone so far that I was virtually a dog because of that way of thinking, while also understanding that I was a Bhikkhu with a peaceful heart and afraid that I would become a dog. It really is a pitiful, sorry thing that I should interpret those words of Venerable Acharn’s Dhamma talk in this way, causing me to become a complete dog without any thought or reflection at all. For I was still afraid that I could become a dog while having the conceit that I was not one.
About a year after Venerable Acharn died I began to recognise my foolishness and how I had so cleverly and completely misunderstood what he said that it was more than one could expect him to pardon. What led me to see how foolish I had been, before it was too late, so that the Guardian of Hell had to take my name off his list which was like “breaking up hell”, was thinking back and recalling the virtues of Venerable Acharn on various occasions and doing so all the time regardless of whatever else I was doing. This went on until it suddenly struck me with a jolt:
“Oh–ho! Buddhists who pay homage to the Lord Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, do so to a Buddha image, to the requisites and the places of significance in the life of the Lord. They also pay homage to the Dhamma which is printed in books and written on palm leaf manuscripts and elsewhere; and they pay homage to the Sangha who are the representatives of the Lord and uphold his name and his ways of practice right through to the elimination of the kilesas. The homage and respect which they pay the Lord is most appropriate and excellent, and the form of their traditions is an ideal example, for us Buddhists who follow after them, to grasp and uphold as a good, flawless and blameless example. It is for this reason that I should accept the requisites and bone relics of Venerable Acharn Mun, and keep them and honour them and pay the highest respect to them, in the same way that all his other followers have done. For they stand in the place of Venerable Acharn, to whom I gave the greatest respect and love, so that I would have willingly sacrificed everything for him without regret.”
“Why have I been afraid of becoming a dog? Oh–ho! Haven’t I already become a dog in the guise of a self-opinionated Bhikkhu, because of the damage done by my own stupidity from the moment when I heard that talk of Venerable Acharn’s? So I’m smart and clever, but I don’t know what it is that makes one become a dog, a Bhikkhu or a human being. Thinking I was so clever has turned me into a dog, except that I don’t have a tail as most dogs do. This is a really sorry state that I am in, and there is no way I can ask for forgiveness, for it is too late already. Venerable Acharn Mun who had so much metta for me and who was afraid I would become a dog has already gone into Parinibbana. For what Venerable Acharn taught in that talk I refused to accept and instead I got it all wrong and turned it into the ideas of a dog, and even though he spoke so strongly against this, I still would not listen. What a thing to happen! “Anicca vata sankhara”.
How the sankharas can deceive a Bhikkhu, turning him into a dog before his very eyes. “Upadavayadhammino”. Right now I have been as a dog in the guise of a Bhikkhu. “Uppajjhitva nirujjhanti”. Having been born as a dog, by what various means and methods will I be able to get rid of the state of being a dog. Quickly! Think, search, for a way to get rid of this state; don’t waste time or dawdle about as if I was a Bhikkhu, when in fact at this moment I am a dog! “Tesam Vupasamo Sukho”. By stopping and getting rid of all thoughts which led me to become a dog, the dog within me will die away and my heart will automatically become happy as it disappears.”
Having fully realised my faulty ways, I paid respects to Venerable Acharn and asked for pardon with fullness of heart and then hurried about to ask for some of his bone remains which they had set aside for the general public to pay homage to for the time being. Once the construction of the Uposatha hall in Wat Suddhavasa in Sakol Nakhon Province was completed, they were to be placed under the Buddha–rupa. Venerable Phra Kru Udom Dhammaguna (Acharn Maha Tong–suk, Sucitto), the Abbot of Wat Suddhavasa was very kind and friendly to this foolish Bhikkhu. But even after I had been given some of the relics of Venerable Acharn and felt satisfied with them, they also acted as a reminder — as if the results of the kamma (vipaka) of that dog were still clinging to me and I couldn’t get rid of them. In particular, when I got the bone relics, I was hoping from day to day that they would turn into Arahant Dhatu. But at the same time there was something which made me realise all the time that Venerable Acharn’s bone relics would never become Dhatu while they were under the influence of that kamma of mine which came from the time when I insulted him with my stupidity. If they no longer remained in my possession, there is no doubt that they could easily become Dhatu.
It was most strange and wonderful how, when they were shared out to other people to pay respect to with puja, his bone relics very soon turned into Dhatu. This is so different from what happens when they are in the possession of one who is infected with the great evil of a lot of self-destroying wisdom so that he had no faith. But this is what happened to me, and this kamma has still not gone, nor does it disperse easily. Even those relics of Venerable Acharn which I was keeping have gone gradually, despite my full-hearted respect and devotion for him — until now I have reverted to my former state. In other words, by myself, empty handed, as if this were the same old dog — which in truth suits my level and status. Nowadays when I try to find any bone relics or Dhatu, of Venerable Acharn it is quit hopeless and I have no way to get any of them to pay respect and reverence to. In the end this has enabled me to live free from concern, like someone who lives contentedly without hope, even though my heart is still restlessly wanting to get some relics.
So I keep reminding myself, saying:
“Now do you believe? This is kamma which you can see clearly with your own eyes and you don’t have to go and ask anyone else about it.”
This is how I have been teaching myself to be mindful, by the use of irony, so that in the future, however I may think about all the things we do think about, I shall not do so with conceit and pride in my skills and ability, while seeing only one side of the thing in question without going over it many times and seeing it from all sorts of angles and directions — which is the way that those who are truly clever, have always used.
Since that time, even though I have seen and fully accepted my fault, there is still some remaining disharmony in my heart in connection with the bone relics of Venerable Acharn. It is not easy to overcome and get rid of like ordinary forms of good and evil which are experienced by people. This is what they call mano–kamma (kamma made by mind) and before this happened I thought it gave rise to results in the same way as other forms of kamma which we do in connection with the five doors of sense. It never impressed me as being anything much, before this incident, but once it became clear to me how it was between me and the relics of Venerable Acharn, all doubts that I had in regard to kamma disappeared entirely concerning the way that kamma gives rise to results and what kind of results also. Anyone who makes kamma should be able to know this for himself, provided that he does not forget all about it, although he may not care to talk about it to other people.
The talk that Venerable Acharn Mun gave on that day was given with the full intention and metta of rendering the utmost assistance to all of us in a manner which is difficult to explain. He helped us by closing off all those paths which led to such vile, despicable and evil ways, for fear that they may overflow and stain and spoil that which is still good and useful. He helped us to close those paths with the utmost vigour and skill, because to take the bone relics of one’s Teacher and sell them is a most loathsome and despicable thing to do for a Kammatthana Bhikkhu who has been trained well. Once he knows what is good and evil in this he is not likely to do such a thing. So Venerable Acharn likened the doing of such a thing to the actions of a dog. Because this was a case of biting and gnawing in the manner of animals who know nothing of merit and evil, or the virtue and vice which is the basis of human behaviour and ways of practical interrelationships. When we don’t do such things as “biting” and “gnawing” like dogs, then we cannot become dogs — that’s all!
But in the special case of one who was not quite all there and who distorted what was said, twisting it completely into his own characteristic thoughts by being afraid that, taking the bone relics of Venerable Acharn as a basis for paying respect and puja would result in his becoming a dog, it finally turned him into a dog, due to his own stupidity. So I implore all of you who read this not to grasp hold of one facet or aspect of your thoughts and understanding about anything and then go and take this as a guide to your actions. For this will lead you to become someone who is not circumspect, not seeing all sides of a situation, and to have mistakes and faults which may be handed down to many other people. But when one’s thoughts and understanding have been tested and thoroughly examined in detail, they will probably be the kind of thoughts which are suitable for putting into action in all things. Such thoughts are not likely to be at fault either in the world or in Dhamma. Even if it only concerns one’s own practice for one’s own development one should promote such modes of thought so that one will not make mistakes leading to sorrow in the future. So those who have faith in Buddhism should have circumspection imbued with reason in their practice of the Buddhist teachings. Then whatever they do in the world, or in Dhamma, will not be wrong or mistaken, going in a direction at variance with their intentions. Because the principles of Buddhism are controlled by reason in every part and every sentence throughout the whole of the Dhamma which is constantly proclaimed and taught in this religion.
There are some people who have a belief in Buddhism, and although this is the same Dhamma teaching of the Lord Buddha as it has always been, yet they practise in different ways, that look different and are characteristically different, while apparently keeping close to Buddhism as the guarantor of the correctness of what they are doing — until some others can no longer accept it and disagree with them. This is something which should be thought about by those Buddhists who clearly understand the reasoning behind the principles of Dhamma. So that the way they act and do things shall not be erratic, unstable and unreliable, but in harmony with the principles of the Sasana Dhamma — which is the teaching that is truly derived from the Sasada — the Great Teacher — both in the causes which it teaches us to perform, and the results that come from them, which do not contradict each other — unlike what is always happening amongst those who are Buddhists.
If one thinks and examines carefully about the major tenets and the lesser teachings of Buddhism, even though there may be some disagreements between the different branches of Dhamma and their characteristic manner of doing things, it is probably not so much as to cause great annoyance and disaffection, such as we can see happening now. One can almost say that this, thinking about the principles of the Sasana, is a “home remedy” in the war of words amongst Buddhists who are like people throwing water at each other at the New Year festival of Songkran, without any thought as to whether the time and place is appropriate, even though both sides are full of the best intentions in regard to the Sasana. From this we can see some of the faults and deficiencies in us Buddhists who go about doing the practice following our own understanding and inclinations rather than being firmly grounded in the principles of Dhamma which point out the direction we should go like a compass needle.
Ways and Manners of Eating
In what I have already written, I have mentioned the bowl and the size of bowl which is used by Kammatthana Bhikkhus. The bowl is considered to be a very important requisite both when living normally and also when going out wandering in secluded places to practise the Samana Dhamma (Dhamma of a recluse). Under normal conditions, if a Kammatthana Bhikkhu is going to eat food, he must go for pindapata as part of his daily routine, and these Bhikkhus always eat out of the bowl. When they go out wandering in the kammatthana way, they use the bowl to keep their various possessions in, much in the same way as lay people take along a suitcase when they go travelling. If there are several Kammatthana Bhikkhus staying together in a dwelling or monastery they will normally eat together after returning from pindapata. In this case, or when there are several Bhikkhus going out wandering together, after returning to the place where they are staying, the normal practice is to take the food out of their bowls and put it all together on trays, after which it is shared out evenly to all of them.
After this, if there are any lay people present, the Bhikkhus give thanks (anumodana) by chanting the “Yatha... Sabbi...,” after which they start eating from the bowl by hand. But generally they tend to give anumodana in the village, after they have received all the pindapata food, in a small shelter which the villagers have constructed in a suitable place — or sometimes two places for this purpose. The Bhikkhus sit down here and give the anumodana, after which they return to where they are staying, in which case the villagers do not follow them, they just put all the food of all kinds into their bowls and leave them alone.
After the Bhikkhus have arranged the food in their bowls and before they start eating, they make themselves calm. Then they contemplate the food by recollection (paccavekkhana) of its purpose, using the “Patisangkha yoniso...,” verse which points out the nature of the various different kinds of food which are in one’s bowl, by way of anicca, dukkha and anatta, by way of patikulasañña (loathsomeness), and by way of the dhatu (elements of existence). Whichever one of these is used will depend on the skill and ability of each individual to use as he is able to. This is done for at least one minute, after which they dip their hands into their bowls and start to eat in a controlled and seemly manner while being mindful of the process of eating food.
While eating they do not chatter or talk except when it becomes necessary, in which case they make themselves fully self-conscious before speaking, they say what has to be said and then stop. Before speaking they wait until they have had time to swallow any food that they may have in the mouth and then speak clearly, not mumbling, which would be an ill mannered way of speaking while eating. While speaking they fix their attention on speaking until they have finished saying what is necessary. Then they resume eating in a seemly and proper manner as before, with mindfulness watching over the process of chewing and eating the whole time, to make sure that they are not making loud and unseemly noises of crunching and munching which would be bad manners and characteristic of carelessness and greed.
They keep their eyes on the bowl and their thoughts mindfully associated with what is in the bowl, not looking all about the place at other things while eating — which is the way of those who forget themselves and lack mindfulness. While they are eating, they contemplate whatever aspect of Dhamma suits their ability, such as, by taking the food as a supporting basis (arammana), or sometimes other forms of Dhamma which they are used to investigating as the supporting basis of their contemplation. But usually they contemplate the food that they are eating rather than other forms of Dhamma.
Eating food in a careful, self-controlled manner with mindfulness present, while contemplating with wisdom, will probably give rise to some unusual experiences quite often while eating. Sometimes a feeling of weariness and disaffection with eating can arise so that one has got to stop eating for a short while — or stop entirely. This is because the “taste” of Dhamma which arises at that time is so greatly superior to the dull fascination that one has in the food one is eating.
The process of picking up the food and putting it in one’s mouth should be done with mindfulness present the whole time, just the same as in any other forms of practice. For eating food is one of the primary routines in the Bhikkhu’s life and not inferior to any of the others as a means of steadily getting rid of the kilesas within them. If they are not careful and they become so fascinated by the taste of the food that they forget themselves, their eating turns into the “way of the world” and it cannot then be considered as one of the regular routines of a Bhikkhu who aspires to see where danger lies in everything which is within his ability to experience in his total environment and in all situations. Therefore, all the true Acariyas, such as Venerable Acharn Mun, have always looked upon the process of eating food as being a most important routine. When they eat food the Bhikkhus all eat together, and however many of them there may be, it seems to each one as if he is alone with no other Bhikkhus present, because they do not talk together and each one of them is concerned only with his own practice, self-controlled and peaceful. This comes from their belief that eating food is a routine in which they should take some interest, for it is an aspect of Dhamma in the same way as all the other routines that they follow.