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 XVI - The Customs Of Kammatthana Bhikkhus

The Tradition of Respect and Reverence for Their Teachers and for Each Other

It is a tradition amongst Kammatthana Bhikkhus to have great respect and reverence for their leaders. When eating food, if the leader has not started eating, the others wait until he has begun. Then they begin from the next most senior, going down the line to the most junior. If the teacher, the Acariya, or the Chief Bhikkhu is not present, they then pay respect to the next most senior.

This is generally the way they have practised in most kammatthana monasteries, right up to the present day and there does not appear to have been any change in it. But how it will be in the future is rather uncertain, because the world is changing rapidly and as they say, “progressing”, day by day, and it may be that Kammatthana Bhikkhus will also change and “progress” in the same direction as the rest of the world. For everyone wants “progress” — and the Bhikkhus and Samaneras are people with hearts and minds, the same as everyone else, and it would be rather strange if they did not want “progress” in the same way as all the others. As for the senior Bhikkhus, they are very old and have enough long years of experience in the ways of the world, and of Dhamma, and whatever “progress” or “regress” takes place, they are probably not capable of knowing much about it. They are mostly old and venerable, looking after their monasteries where they want to take their last breath and reach the end of the life of the kilesas, and they are passing away day by day. As for myself, writing this book, I am in a different situation, for I just go on writing, which is like the old Venerable ones, but without thinking whether any of the Bhikkhus will be interested in it or not. I just keep on writing, as if my ears and eyes are closed to anything else, so please don’t take offence at any of it. While you are reading, please just skip over any sentences or paragraphs which are not essential and could be left out. You can save time and put it to use in doing other things which are more valuable and more essential. Then you will be someone who knows the value of time!

In the case of Venerable Acharn Mun, before he started eating he contemplated for a long time, as if he were doing a meditation practice. Some days in the evening, or at night, when it was opportune, he would with metta tell us about the contemplative investigation (vicarana–paccavekkhana) which is used at the time of eating food. He said:

“Dhamma always tends to become apparent while eating. Sometimes it brings various skilful ways which stick fast in one’s mind so that one follows and thinks about them for many days. At other times it can give rise to revulsion and weariness for the food in one’s bowl; which can reach the point where the citta is so disenchanted with food that there is no desire to eat.” Here, he is referring to the time when he was practising the way very strictly and putting everything he had got into it. He went on to say: “When any perceptions arise which conflict with Dhamma, one must use an effective method to overcome and cure those kilesas, which are tired of oneself (food), with one’s full strength, so that the citta will be able to accept this method and go down into its natural state of Truth — which is the middle way. Otherwise, the citta would never agree to eat food at all, for it sees the food in the bowl as being nothing but “s…”. At such a time, being compelled to eat is rather like someone who is forced to go to the charnel ground to admire the beauty of the dead bodies. I had to investigate with all my strength to find a way to cure this kind of kilesa, which I had never truly met before and which was obscuring my understanding. This I did in the same way as contemplating the “beautiful” and seeing it as loathsome. The citta was then able to return to its normal state and I could then eat as usual. After that I had to use many different ways in association with it, such as, to set up comprehension (knowing), to set up circumspection, to set up fear and to set up strength and determination, and to change them about as required.”

“But the fact that the citta displayed a state of knowing those characteristics which arose was good in one way. For it made my sati–pa??a skilful, adaptable, and fit for use in all sorts of different ways to keep up with the endless tricks of the kilesas which deceive and lead one astray. The more my citta gained bold, venturesome and energetic tendencies, the less I was able to investigate (vicarana) in the more usual ways. I had to go for those kilesas which are impostors until I could get right at them. Therefore I am always able to speak with full confidence and say that the best and most important weapons in one’s investigations into all forms of Dhamma, both gross and subtle are sati and pa??a. With these two superb instruments present I did not lose out easily to the kilesas — as in the investigation into the food in my bowl, to see it as loathsome for the purpose of cutting away at the concern and delusion associated with taste; and so that the food is seen as mere elementary materials, or as just those conditions (Dhamma) that I had to depend on to live from day to day. But when this happened and I saw it in this way in my citta while doing the investigation, it changed and became wearied and averse — which increased until it became revulsion, so strong that I could not fight against it and go on eating. As if such foods had never been things that supported life and nourished the material elements (dhatu) and the khandhas. This kind of aversion is the way of the world and it is in this same way that people everywhere have aversion. This aversion conceals Dhamma and it is not the ‘Middle Way’ which the Lord taught us to follow.”

He went on to say:

“It was this kind of aversion that, in the time of the Buddha, made some of the Bhikkhus so averse towards themselves that they themselves hired someone to come and kill them — which is the wrong way of aversion. This is also the kind of aversion that causes a cramped, clogged up state internally, in which the heart has no room to move nor freedom. In this state the heart manages to produce a kilesa of a subtle kind without realising it and it believes in it completely. But I was able to catch and arrest the tricks of this kilesa which arose when I became averse to food. For my sati and pa??a were already well up to dealing with its tricks and the disguises which it displayed, as well as its offspring’s and many relatives, spreading out into aversion for parts of the body, for life and existence.”

“After I had investigated and found out what this aversion was all about, my citta went calm and quieted down, and true seeing of a particular kind arose in its place. Since then I have always upheld that Dhamma as a basic principle and this aversion as a lesson to be learned. For, regardless of however I investigated, inwardly or outwardly, widespread or narrowly confined, grossly or subtly, and to whatever extent, I had to have a strategy of both retreating and going forward to attack. In other words, investigating and reviewing, going forwards and backwards in order to get thoroughly and circumspectly into the subtleties of whatever I was dealing with.”

“After that occasion, when I became averse to eating food, I never again let myself go free of control to contemplate in the usual way of people. The exceptional nature of what I came to know at that time sharpened my sati and pa??a considerably — as a knife is sharpened on a grindstone — making me lose all complacency in everything. Apart from investigating and reviewing with sati and pa??a in this way, un?til I was satisfied that I could not find anything within myself that contra?dicted this knowledge, the result that came from such investigations was an absolute and intimate certainty of heart in every aspect of Dhamma. This is why I am able to speak with full confidence and certainty and to be absolutely sure that whatever you go after you will get. If you go after stupidity you will just get stupidity; if you go after cleverness you will get cleverness; if you go after greed you will just get greed; if you go after anger you will just get a heart full of anger. Go after evil and you get evil, go after good and you get good. Or, in more detail, look for demerit and you just get demerit; look for merit and you just get merit; look for hell and you just get hell, that which burns you up; look for heaven, and you get heaven. But even if you look for Nibbana you still cannot get free from striving and searching, which is no other than the fundamental causes — which are: “searching and acting”. For there have been those who have sought and got the results that come from these causes of “searching and acting”, long ages before we were born — in fact we may reckon ever since the earth gave rise to animals and people — as we conventionally suppose. So, blindly and stupidly to deny evil, happiness and dukkha, is to obstruct our own way forward, to make ourselves stupid and to waste our time — to what purpose?”

“If it is true as we suppose that human beings are more clever than animals, then that view must be seen as absolutely meaningless. Being born and then dying uselessly because our own stupidity kills us, as if we were our own executioners. There! That’s the truth, and those who are ready to think about this should hurry up and do so. Don’t just sit about in dull self-satisfaction, merely standing, walking, sitting and lying about gathering more stupidity and living vainly. For when you die you will have wasted all your time as well as all the food, the cloth and all the other things which the lay people donate. For they are anxious to make merit so as to help and support those who have been ordained out of faith and hope for the final goal, and have also set themselves to get rid of all the kilesas and to expel them entirely from their hearts. But when the sati–pa??a in one’s heart is no greater than a grain of sand it is no more able to kill off any of the kilesas than the bite of a flea or a mosquito. For what reason should the kilesas die when sati–pa??a and the effort one is putting forth are still so meagre? What is going to kill them? This makes me feel at present that I have about come to the end of my sati–pa??a in sympathy with all of you!”

At the end of his talk, Venerable Acharn probably felt vexed and frustrated, so he “aimed a blow” at us, so that he would not spoil the status of one who was supreme in the circle of the Sasana in this present age.

Steadily and continually contemplating with sati–pa??a present, even while taking food, is what makes it possible for the illuminating flow of Dhamma to shine forth and arise whenever it will; for there is no special time for it to arise. As Venerable Acharn Mun so graciously instructed us, telling us about both what things are wrong and what are right and it seemed to act as a method which developed sati–pa??a in those who were interested.

In regard to the feeling of weariness of eating which arises from the contemplation of food just before starting to eat, even some of the white robed upasikas were rather like Venerable Acharn in this, but I won’t go further into this just now. But there is one case which is worth considering, at the time when Venerable Acharn was staying at Wat Nong Peu in Sakol Nakhon. There was an upasika who came and told him how she had been unable to take any food for two or three days, because of her revulsion and weariness for food as well as for all parts of her body, and of other people’s also. She had become wearied of food, of the body and of life in all situations associated with the body. She was unable to sleep, and when she looked at any food, which previously she had always thought of as being sustenance for the body and mind, she saw it instead, as being so repulsive that she could not bring herself to take it and swallow it. When she looked at her own body and the bodies of other people, they seemed utterly repulsive throughout, as if they were living corpses in a charnel ground, decaying all the time — and there was no part she could find that was not utterly repulsive and corpse like. Apart from being wearied of food, she was also tired of herself, of her clothes and everything she used in the place where she slept. She was tired of living, tired of the whole world and she could find nothing which she liked or loved and which could persuade her that it was worth staying with it. In all postures of the body she was always spitting, which was because of the “vision of loathsomeness” (patikula–sa??a) that was waiting there to remind her the whole time.

Venerable Acharn then taught her with metta and explained her situation to her, by talking directly and forcefully, which went straight to her heart so that the upasika realised and accepted that her understanding and ways of thought had been completely wrong and had deceived her into going beyond the limits of what is reasonable in Dhamma. She herself said:

“From the time that I paid respect to Venerable Acharn to receive his teaching and he asked me about what had happened, I had faith in him and told him and I have practised what he taught me, continually ever since. As for those experiences, they disappeared and have never returned again.”

This story is worth thinking about for those who practise the way and who tend to have strange experiences. For this happens with a few people who frequently have such experiences, both those which are right and true as well as those which are wrong and false. If they have no Acariya who is readily available, to advise and guide them, they may easily get wrong ideas and views, while at the same time believing that they are right. This is why sati–pa??a is such an important aspect of Dhamma for those who practise the way of Dhamma at all levels and one should never let it be far away from oneself.

The way of practice in which people are too relaxed, easy and comfortable, which lacks precision and does not go into the detail of what is being done in the practice, may make them appear as sad and miserable in the eyes of others and a spectacle that arouses pity. This is because of their slick and facile knowledge and understanding, and because of their tendency to spread it about to others without having first thought about it and examined it with circumspection before bringing it out and putting it to use. The practice and the results which such people get will not become outstanding, but will deteriorate, because their careless lack of circumspection gets into their practice and breaks it up.

The foregoing paragraph is something which those who practise Dhamma should take to heart and pay special attention to; and unless it is truly beyond the scope of their sati–pa??a, they should not let it happen. This is due to the fact that Dhamma is not the same as the “world” for it is very much more subtle and profound. The standards which the world upholds in thinking, speaking and acting are not wrong. But if those who practise the way of Dhamma refuse to accord with Dhamma and go about thinking, speaking and acting in the manner of the “world”, they are at once grievously wrong. Because the standards of the “world” and of Dhamma are quite different in regard to their gross vulgarity and subtle sublimity. For example, in the “world” they learn and teach things in various grades and levels in accordance with existing regulations and traditions, and when they are tested and examined they must receive a certificate or diploma to show and prove that they have passed such and such levels of learning. This makes it easy and convenient to find work which is associated with those subjects they have learnt and it gives them status and a good name in accordance with those conventions of the world which the world has decreed. But to practise the way of Dhamma by thinking, speaking and acting in the manner of people in the “world”, such as, in the above example, by taking examinations, and by one’s marks to establish that one has passed such and such a level — or that one has reached samadhi samapatti, or Arahatta–magga and Arahatta–phala, would be to go contrary to the nature and customs of those who practise Dhamma. Then Dhamma would be turned into a thing of the world; in fact, even more coarse and vulgar than the normal way of the world. Instead of attracting people and eliciting their praises, due to the ways and actions of those who practise this Dhamma, it makes them wearied of it and disheartened.

In order for them to maintain a state of harmony and virtue, those who practise with the intention of attaining Dhamma which is a state of peace and certainty in themselves, should get into the way of calm. Even those who have attained the level of Arahatta–phala and know by way of: sanditthiko, or paccattam veditabbo vi??uhi,  in their purity of heart, never make any outward display, like people in the world — which only comes from craving and “hunger”. So in this way they uphold the honour, both of themselves and of Buddhism in the most subtle and gentle way without becoming involved in any disturbance. For such disturbance “creates waves that wash over the banks”, and this is nothing but the “way of the world”, entirely, where there is none of the truth of Dhamma, not even the “outer skin”, despite the claims of those who do this sort of thing. This is also what is meant by the “wearisome Dhamma”.

Is it possible for other people to know who has accomplished Dhamma?

Yes it is possible, by the way of reasoning, when answers are given to questions when two people who equally practise the way and who are of equal attainment talk together. It is also possible to know by the way that someone explains Dhamma in the field of practice concerning citta–bhavana. And it is also possible to know by the Dhamma explanation given to someone who has come to ask and learn about some point or aspect in his practice of citta–bhavana where he is stuck and cannot see his way through. This obstacle is at his own level of development and the explanation will be given at the same level until he understands and his doubts about that point are cleared away.

As an example of this, someone who practises the way may be stuck at the point where he is dealing with avijja and he is truly in the position where he can get free from avijja, but he does not know how the citta should act toward it so that it can get free from it at that moment. Someone who has already gone free from avijja will probably answer him at once and with ease, and the one who is ready to walk free from the realm of avijja will gradually understand the meaning of what he is told — or he may understand and go right through to freedom at that moment, due to the skilful way in which he is given the essential data to clear the way. But if the citta of the Teacher has not yet attained freedom he will not be able to explain rightly or truly concerning this question about avijja; and this is so even if he has learnt all about avijja. Because the avijja that he has learnt and remembered is not the same as the true nature of avijja — they are not one and the same thing at all. One who knows the true avijja has no doubts about it even though he may not have studied and learnt about its cunning deceptive tricks which are so widespread and many, nor would he be fascinated by and attached to avijja.

This is the same as someone who knows the true Abhidhamma, for even though he may not have learnt it or studied it widely, he has no doubts about it and he is not fascinated by, nor attached to it. This is very different from someone who studies avijja and studies the Abhidhamma but who does not know the true basis of either of them. On the other hand, if he has both learnt and known them truly, he will understand them even though nobody told him anything. Because the one who does not understand and the one who understands these forms of Dhamma are actors on the same stage. So he has reached the end of that path which wants to know and to see what those forms of Dhamma are like. This is like the owner of a cow who is looking for it and wants to find it. Then he sees the footprints of the cow and becomes fascinated and attached to following up its footprints. He goes on without giving up until he reaches the cow. But as soon as he has found the cow he immediately stops following its footprints.

When you, who read this come across some “forest eloquence”, I hope you will excuse me, for I am strongly imbued with the “forest” and its wild ways, and lack of any rules or principles. Because within the forest Bhikkhus, there is nothing but the “wild Dhamma” that makes one’s head spin and hardly any of the kind that makes one feel delighted. So please practise it by yourselves until you realise it for yourselves. You will then become convinced and feel a satisfaction that you have accomplished something, far more than you ever will by reading and listening to others. Because the understanding which comes from what others say, or from the text books is all within the field of discursive commentary. Before it is accepted and the heart can agree to believe it, there must be an intense internal struggle and a testing criticism of what has been heard or read. Sometimes one can even lose out to oneself, believing that oneself has the upper hand, because deciding or weighing up what one has heard or read is one’s own opinion. For, generally speaking, we who follow the way (Sasana) tend to send our thoughts out externally rather than going inwardly and the results which we get, tend to be in the direction of loss to oneself all the time.

The method which Venerable Acharn used to cure his own citta and that woman’s also, making it turn away from the seeing of loathsomeness (patikula–sa??a) which made him wearied of food, of life, and living in physical existence in his own body, which was the same as he taught that woman also, is a thing of great interest to all those who are liable to come across this problem which they may have to face up to one day. Therefore I shall relate some of what Venerable Acharn said as far as I can remember it.

Venerable Acharn said how that woman felt about food much in the same way as he had done. For he did the contemplation of the loathsomeness of food, both in regard to the fresh food mixed up in his bowl, and the old food mixed up in his body, and he compared the two together, taking the internal food as the basis of the comparison of loathsomeness. After having done this contemplation and comparing them together in full force and for long enough, the food in his bowl gradually seemed to change its nature from that which is wholesome and fit to eat until it became just as loathsome as the food inside the body. This was seen with absolute clarity and gave rise to a feeling of disenchantment and weariness which steadily increased. But fortunately at that time he was living alone, which meant that he was able to get down to examining this phenomena and to correct it with all his strength of ability over quite a long period of time. His citta then steadily gave way, accepted the truth, and he was able to eat normally.

But the way he did this will be described later when we come to the way he taught that woman, for the basic Dhamma is the same in both cases. It seems however that after this experience, Venerable Acharn was able to see the extraordinary versatility of the citta and how it can adapt to an endless variety of states and situations. This led him to improve the carefulness and thoroughness with which he did his investigation or research, beyond what he had been used to, with the aim of gaining greater subtlety and precision. He did this by using the method of changing about, using many tactics to attack the problem from different angles and levels, until he was satisfied and certain about it and no room was left for any mistakes to remain. His citta therefore must have continued to become steadily more clever and skilled at investigating without ever stopping.

When Venerable Acharn went to stay at Wat Nong Peu, the above-mentioned woman came to him and told him of her experiences which were very like those which he also had experienced, so he took the opportunity to explain the situation to her. All the Bhikkhus and Samaneras in the Wat left whatever they were doing and also came to listen to this special Dhamma talk, which he gave by using his own experiences as the basis of his explanation. He said:

“This kind of thing that this lady has experienced, I also have experienced, and I have understood the tricky deceptiveness of the kilesas of the kind which act as impostors, disguising and obscuring their nature. To illustrate this: ‘they are like great thieves who act as though they are good people in high society. Their clothes are good and they dress elegantly and stylishly as if they were Lord Sakka, the king of the gods, or Lady Sugata from heaven and walking amongst people in society at all levels, without arousing any suspicions at all, that they are in fact beings from hell in the guise of people. So they can live and go about in comfort in a bold and stately manner, as though they were people of great wisdom, purity and impeccability — and this makes them difficult to catch out.’ Because the function or organisation that produces such phenomena are beyond the ability of most people to notice and to question. Only those who have keen discernment, skilled wisdom, and who have been trained to know the tricks of these entities, especially in this particular way, can see through them; even as a police detective is fully up to the tricks of such a rogue and can catch him and bring him to justice. But with other people they play on their vanity until they have squeezed everything out of them.”

“Such is the character of this group of kilesas. They wait their chance and penetrate into the Dhamma teaching of loathsomeness where wisdom has not yet reached nor penetrated, wherever they can. As for the intended purpose of the Dhamma practice, which investigates to see food as loathsome, its purpose is to cut off the greed and delusion associated with food which binds the citta to anxiety and melancholy states. But the practice of seeing loathsomeness is not intended to make people fast until they commit suicide, which is the way of these kilesas, for they overshadow the place where Dhamma is located so that they can go about doing what they want to do by going the way of the world, which is dragged along to aid and support them.”

“But loathsomeness is also a factor of Dhamma, which means that whatever is loathsome is to be known as loathsome. As for those things that one has to depend on in this life, one just has to accept that one has got to depend on them throughout the life of these khandhas. So on the one hand, there is the body which is a loathsome thing, and on the other hand there is food which is a loathsome thing also. As they are both loathsome they can come together in harmony and there is no cause for them to reject each other. One should not separate the two and refuse to take food, which is a mistaken view that follows the lead of those kilesas, of the kind which act as impostors, disguising and obscuring their own nature. But the one who does the investigation is the heart and it is quite separate and apart from those loathsome things, and is not soiled or stained by them in any way that should give rise to such disaffection and loathing that it cannot even consider them.”

“Dhamma is always just sufficient and suitable in every aspect of Dhamma, and all the techniques of investigation into any part or thing is all for the purpose of getting Dhamma — which is a state of sufficiency, satisfaction, and not going against the grain. But investigating against the grain until food, the body and the heart cannot agree together, is precisely the way of the kilesas, and there is no doubt as to whether it is something that one should take up and go on developing or not. In fact one must then go on investigating until the external and the internal loathsomeness can be brought together while the heart remains happily in the middle.”

“This is the right way and accords with the intended purpose of Dhamma, without any one-sided bias such as you have at present. In this way, loathsomeness is an instrument of Dhamma for curing that self-forgetfulness which assumes that: ‘This thing is beautiful’ and ‘that thing is wonderfully tasty. How I love to eat it!’ But once the investigation has been done until the citta has gone beyond this type of self-forgetfulness, who would want to dig up and carry all this loathsomeness into Nibbana? For all this is just the path leading to Nibbana — which is Dhamma that has no attachment or relationship with anything in the relative universe (sammuti). When the citta is attached to beauty, then one should take up the Dhamma of loathsomeness to cure it; when attached to hate one should take up the Dhamma of metta to cure it; and when it is attached to greed, one should investigate one’s own selfishness and self-opinionatedness until one sees it clearly, to cure it. But when one is attached to delusion — well — what is called delusion is very deep and profound and I can only give a brief explanation here, enough to point out the direction, which is to take up the Opanayika–Dhamma — that is, to investigate and look at one’s own heart that is sunk in delusion concerning those things with which it is involved.

This is the way to know oneself and steadily to bring about a cure. If one gets caught up in anger then one should examine this anger which is an inward fire, burning oneself up first before spreading out to burn up other people. One should do so until one can see how baneful, wrong and harmful one’s anger is. When one examines such things to cure them by going right to the spot where they are located, they gradually weaken and die away on their own because there is nothing left to support them, but only that which cools the passions. Where then can the kilesas get their food from to keep them well fed and fat so that they may live long into the future. When also there is nobody there who is ready to help them and develop them, they are surely bound to die like an animal without an owner.”

“Have you ever seen in the story of the Lord Buddha and the Savakas how they acted? Did they promote or destroy the kilesas? What kind of result did they get from this; was it not something wonderful? And where is it possible to find people in the world who are their equal? But why then do we do nothing but promoting, supporting and looking after the kilesas with such an excessive concern for their well being while taking no interest nor giving a thought about ourselves, even when we are about to die. We want to have houses, buildings, department stores, halls, hundreds of storeys high, and all sorts of clothing, decorations and adornments; we even want to take the stars in the sky to decorate and beautify ourselves, to scintillate, catch the eye and touch the heart of the kilesas — which are insatiable. We want to amass money, silver and gold in a heap reaching to the sky so that from all points of the compass we can see this mass of wealth, belonging just to ‘oneself alone’.

Even when the place where one stays is so full of one’s wealth, that there is nowhere left for the owner to live, to rest, to lie down and sleep, one accepts and puts up with the difficulties and inconvenience. All one asks is to have and to get whatever will satisfy the heart of the kilesas. As to having a wife or husband, however many women or men there are in the world, one wants to go about gathering them all up, so that they belong to oneself alone. Nor does one want to let anyone else become involved and be a nuisance, for that would upset the kilesas with their great greed, who are the masters of the world sitting on top of the heart.”

“Well, what are you going to do? Are you going to go on fasting until you die by doing these counterfeit practices of seeing loathsomeness or are you ready to do what is reasonable, which is Dhamma with sati and pa??a to watch and to make sure that all aspects of the practice are done appropriately in the right proportions. I have also gone through just these experiences until everything seemed offensive and hateful. Therefore I can thus speak with full understanding without any shame or fear of anyone saying I am mad or anything else. This is the nature of the underlying or hidden knowledge of Dhamma and you must understand it from now on. Amongst those who practise bhavana and who get various kinds of knowledge and understanding arising in them, there are some cases in which a foreign Dhamma arises in them and they have nobody to warn and correct them until they become objects of pity in the eyes of Buddhists and other people as well, just due to this kind of knowledge.”

“You however, are fortunate in that you have someone to warn you before you reach the point where you are ready to starve yourself to death. Or, to go about yelling out that you are disgusted with food, with your own body and with this world, which is full of things which are loathsome covering the ground which you always have to depend on so as to have a place to lie down, set up your pillow and your mosquito net — and how all these things emanate a bad and pervasive stench. In fact that stench does not exist. But it arises out of memory and thought which deceives you until it becomes a firmly fixed belief buried deeply and from which it is difficult to extricate yourself.”

This is an appropriate summary of the answer which he gave to that woman who put her problem to him in the form of a question. Now, there is a bit more to it before finishing this story.

As soon as Venerable Acharn finished speaking Dhamma to that woman she smiled brightly as if she was no longer the same person who had come to him burdened down with a load of suffering because of her aversion and disgust. This is all I can remember of the incident but I am afraid it is only a small part of it which is most unfortunate. For this Dhamma talk which told me things that I had never heard before from any other source, only came about by chance when Venerable Acharn talked to this woman who brought her problems to him. Before this nobody had ever come to put this problem to him in circumstances where I was able to listen to such inspiring Dhamma. So I have called it, “Dhamma to Inspire the Heart,” because it took hold of my heart, it was so indescribably elegant and the truth that he was displaying went right home. From that time on he never again brought up this subject to display to anyone else.

The Routine of Chanting

The routine that is followed is close to the mode of practice as done by Venerable Acharn Sao and Venerable Acharn Mun. This means that under normal circumstances there is no formal meeting for the purpose of paying respect and chanting. The only exception are those days when the Patimokkha is chanted, and then the regular chants are recited before the recitation of the Patimokkha, every time. But on other days, even if there is a meeting for the Acariya to teach and train the Bhikkhus, when the time comes the Bhikkhus assemble together and the Acariya goes straight into his explanation of Dhamma in the traditional way of those who practise.

Before and after the teaching by the Acariya, anyone who has an unresolved question in his heart may ask him as he feels like it. As soon as he has finished asking, the Acariya starts to explain and resolve the problem until the questioner understands clearly. Then after the Acariya has given his talk, if there are no other questions or business to be discussed, they all pay their respects, the meeting ends and then all return, each one to wherever he is staying.

As far as I know, the reason why Venerable Acharn did not institute any of the regular morning or evening chants when he called a meeting, was that he intended the Bhikkhus and Samaneras to practise these chants and others on their own, as it suited them. He left it up to them to chant much, little or extensively in the texts as they liked and for as long as they liked, according to whatever each one found to be helpful and convenient. Therefore the practice of chanting which they did depended entirely on what each individual wanted to do, and it was a form of bhavana which each one did in himself, because they did their recollection of the chants internally and silently, without making a loud noise as is the case when they all do it together. Some of them were very good at it and could go on chanting for several hours. They used to say that they became pleasantly engrossed in the various aspects of Dhamma which they recited and it could take a long time before they got through the suttas which they chanted. Of the many chants that they knew they would choose whichever they felt like doing, whether the short suttas or the long ones.

In the days of Venerable Acharn Sao and Venerable Acharn Mun they very much liked chanting and each time they would go on for a long time. While chanting, the citta is not involved in anything else and one is happily absorbed in the aspects of Dhamma which one is chanting until the citta becomes calm and peaceful. Venerable Acharn Sao and Venerable Acharn Mun used to do a lot of chanting as they had always done since they first learnt them and they went on doing so until the end of their lives when they became very weak and sick and could no longer keep it up. When Venerable Acharn started chanting, one could hear a gentle murmuring noise going on continuously without any breaks or hesitation until he reached the end of his chanting after a long time, and then he would go on by sitting in samadhi bhavana until it was time for him to rest. So one can say doing the regular chanting was truly part of his routine.

But when we look at this present age — which is an age of “clever” people, the Kammatthana Bhikkhus, both those in the past and ourselves have all derived from the world of people, so we may also be “clever” and have different ideas from those in the past. Such as changing things and taking an easy way out — who knows? Therefore, paying homage and chanting which is a blessing of great benefit and a most appropriate virtue for oneself and others which the Teacher or Acariya has recommended, may suffer a change in those who think that it is a waste of time and out of date. They may be afraid that it is liable to reduce and diminish the weakness and laziness which is steadily piling up on top of their hearts and that this will cut off the pleasure which is their nature and habit to derive all the time from such weakness and laziness. But for those who endeavour to strive and scramble up by doing the practice which has been taught to them, may they continue to uphold and exalt it, which is the appropriate response to the metta and compassion with which the Acariyas have always tried to train and teach their followers. One can see how this is true at those times when one of the Bhikkhus who had come under the umbrella of Venerable Acharn’s metta, acted or behaved wrongly in some way either outwardly or inwardly. He would tell him off soundly and teach him whatever was needed in relation to what he had done; he would not leave him to “pickle” in that state until he started to “stink”.

Various Customs and Ceremonies

I hope the reader will not mind me telling the whole truth in regard to this subject. Because Kammatthana Bhikkhus of this lineage tend to be rather old fashioned about the various ceremonies and customs of society. So when they are invited to any functions or ceremonies, they are usually seen to be rather awkward and to appear to be embarrassed in ceremonial functions, such as, at funerals and the chanting that is done when they are invited out to eat in people’s homes. When a group of them are invited out, whether all Kammatthana Bhikkhus, or mixed with other Bhikkhus who are experienced and skilled in the ceremonies, the Kammatthana Bhikkhus are shown up by their awkward and ungraceful ways. Sometimes the host cannot help feeling ashamed in the face of all the guests who have come to honour him by taking time off to come to the ceremony. But the Kammatthana Bhikkhus are not used to the ways of society and all the formalities of these functions. For they have never had much occasion to get involved in society and their ceremonies, their time having been spent mostly in the forests and hills, and amongst villagers and hill people, who never have much in the way of ceremonies and formalities. So when they are invited to various functions in the towns and cities they generally behave in ways that are not right for the occasion in the way that the world conventionally expects.

They do not know what hand they should use to hold the “holy thread”, or to sprinkle “holy water”, to hold the ceremonial fan or to take the pamsukula cloth with, so as to conform to the custom. Some have even been known to hold the ceremonial fan the wrong way round — with the front side towards them and the back to the audience. Then their own followers and the rest of the people who have come cannot bear to see it and must look elsewhere for they feel ashamed. But the Bhikkhu himself is relaxed and at ease as if nothing at all is wrong while the lay people cannot stand it and are burying their heads in shame.

Kammatthana Bhikkhus are like this, and I who am writing this am particularly prone to this sort of thing. For I am invited out frequently and I often let down my hosts and followers in this way. Generally when I am in Bangkok I am invited to funerals and other ceremonies and I plead with them not to invite me because I am almost bound to let them down with some faux pas or slip ups. Even so they won’t listen and still invite me along, and in the end that’s exactly what happens. But they don’t learn, for they still go on eagerly inviting me out, all the time. Although my followers may be ready to put up with their Acariya putting them to shame, he himself cannot put up with it, and so I don’t like going to such functions. One can think of it as being like catching a wild monkey and letting it loose in society. How could it ever act gracefully and graciously? It is bound to end up causing embarrassment to all concerned including itself.

However much this happens, the Kammatthana Bhikkhus do not remember how to do these things and they still keep on doing them all wrong, right up to the present day at every function they have to go to. When I think of my companions in Dhamma and all the Acariyas who may be invited out to various functions in the towns and cities, I cannot help feeling embarrassed in anticipation of what they may do. For whatever happens I can say for sure that the Kammatthana Bhikkhus of this lineage are bound to be like this when they are invited out, because I know very well how old fashioned and backward they are which is due to their never having learnt how to do all these things. So whenever they are invited out to any of these functions they are always bound to be like fish out of water practically every time and it makes no difference whether they have been in the order for a few or many years. Sometimes after the function has ended and the Bhikkhu is leaving the place, one of his lay followers who feels upset by his behaviour may go up to him and ask him very quietly, “Why did you do that? I felt really full of shame.” But he does not even know what he has done wrong, so that the lay follower must quietly whisper to him and tell him what he should have done and how he must not do it in that way again because it is wrong and the others will all laugh at him. They talk together, saying: “Today I also felt very embarrassed when I saw him doing..., for the Bhikkhus here have never acted in that way.” But the next time he goes out he makes some other blunder; in fact they are worse than children in this respect for they don’t know or remember the right way to do these things. This is the manner of the Kammatthana Bhikkhus of this lineage when they are invited out to perform in such functions and ceremonies.

But when it comes to the Vinaya which is the traditional manner of behaviour and morality for Bhikkhus, they seem to be quite capable of putting it into practice correctly and precisely without making any mistakes like they do in ceremonial functions which are the traditional ways of behaviour that people in the world accept as being right. In fact it is praiseworthy that they do not become attached to these worldly traditions nor take any fixed attitude towards them in their hearts. Sometimes their companions ask them teasingly about some of their faux pas, like the case of the Bhikkhu whom they saw holding the ceremonial fan back to front, with the decorated side facing himself, while he closed his eyes and gave the sila (moral precepts) to the lay people, quite unconcerned and contented within himself. The other Bhikkhus who saw this could not help seeing the funny side of it, but they had no way of telling him what was wrong because he was too far away from them. They just had to put up with their embarrassment and sit quietly until the end of the ceremony.

When they left the place they said to him teasingly:

“Ho! Today you gave a wonderful performance didn’t you? Those who could bear to look at it almost died of shame.”

That Bhikkhu didn’t know what they were talking about and asked, “What wonderful performance?” So they told him: “You were holding the fan the wrong way round and you closed your eyes and gave the sila completely unconcerned. If I didn’t think it was a wonderful performance I would be really stupid, so I must commend you for upholding the honour of Kammatthana.” The Bhikkhu looked a bit puzzled, smiled gently and said, “Did I really do that? I’m afraid I didn’t think about which way round the fan was facing. All I knew was that I should take up the fan and hold it in front of me.”

This is the way of those who are Kammatthana monks, for they are liable to make embarrassing mistakes wherever and whenever they go out to ceremonial functions. If it is claimed that they show up deficiencies in this manner, they can do nothing but accept it, because in fact it is true; and I who am writing this here also made such mistakes many times in the past. This is due to the main emphasis of training which for Kammatthana monks is quite different from that of others. However, in regard to the Vinaya discipline, the Kammatthana monks are quite strict and they are not afraid or disturbed when they go amongst other people in general. For they keep on training themselves and practising the way in all situations. As for the various customs and ceremonial functions, they rarely go to any, and they are not the kind of things which they find interesting. Therefore in such functions they always tend to be out of step and awkward. I, who am writing this have also done such things which have been embarrassing and upsetting. But I still keep on doing such things right up to the present day.

Having got to this point, I shall tell the story of how a Kammatthana monk lost out once, to show how the ways of the forests and towns are different. In about the year 2476/7 BE (1933/4 CE) there was a Kammatthana Bhikkhu, and it seems that since he was ordained he had never gone into the towns and cities. He liked staying in the forest all the time and had never studied the books and taken examinations like most other Bhikkhus do. He had only learnt the Five Kammatthanas and the thirty two parts of the body from his teacher, after which he did the practice in the forest in company with his teacher and some companions, by using these methods to fix his attention firmly in samadhi bhavana. He was already forty years old and afraid that his body and mind (sankhara) would not remain in a condition to support his practice for much longer and that he may die before he had attained. One day a friend who was also practising the way came and talked to him saying how he had heard that there were many Kammatthana Bhikkhus in Korat (the district of Nakhon Ratchasima) in fact more than usual, and there were many places that were suitable for doing the practice in the forests and hills south and west of Korat such as Kao Brig and Kao Yai. These places were very quiet and secluded, and very well suited to the development of samadhi bhavana. As soon as he heard this from his friend he wanted to go there and agreed to go along with him, considering that he was a guide who would lead him there.

When they got to Korat, they went to stay in Wat Salawan which was a new wat, having recently been built up and the Abbot was Venerable Acharn Sing (Khantiagamo). In the morning this Bhikkhu and his friend went out on the pindapata round in the town of Korat with the other Bhikkhus. It happened that day that one of the lay followers giving food put a wrapped up package of something in his bowl which he had never come across before, because he was a countryman from the Northeast of Thailand (Isan) and there was little likelihood of his having come across anything like this. Soon after this package was put in his bowl he began to have grave doubts about it, because whenever he took off the lid of his bowl to receive food he was assailed by a strange and powerful smell. He was not bold enough to actually say anything about it to anyone, but it made him suspicious that the lay people who gave the food may have played a trick on him. He thought:

“Can they really do this to me? I am a Bhikkhu who is free of malice and any desire to harm others whether people or animals and I have dedicated myself to this practice of striving for the Path, Fruition and Nibbana. It is not right for them to do such despicable things to Bhikkhus like me. Maybe some Bhikkhus did some bad things making themselves objects of loathing to the lay people which made them do this.”

He went on brooding over it all the rest of the time he was on pindapata. Meanwhile the offensive smell continued to assail his nose every time he took off the lid from his bowl to receive gifts of food. He tried not to lose his composure so as to avoid showing anything outwardly to the people because he was a newcomer and when he came across anything like this he should put up with it. But as soon as he left the residential area he couldn’t stand it any longer, so he opened his bowl and took out the offending package to have a look at what it was that had been troubling him all the time. When he opened the package of durian fruit which they had wrapped up and given to him with saddha, he couldn’t help exclaiming:

“For heaven’s sake, I thought it was..... which was giving out such a bad smell, that they had wrapped up to teach the Bhikkhus a lesson. And there I was, angry, disheartened and sorry all the way along, and all the time it was just this rotten jackfruit, three years and four months old influencing me until my heart turned away from the ways of a Bhikkhu and became such that I hardly had any sati for quite some time.”

At the same time he threw the package of rotten jackfruit (which was in fact durian) into the ditch at the side of the road and then walked on happily and unconcerned and quite free of his previous doubts. He just made a mental note of how the fruit here seemed to be different from what he was used to, thinking:

“This rotten jackfruit is not like those I have seen at home, for however rotten the ones at home were, they never gave out such a strong and unbearable smell like the ones here. Whoever put it in my bowl, even though they had no bad intention towards the Bhikkhus, they must have been very unperceptive and inattentive to be able to put such a useless rotten jackfruit in the bowl of a Bhikkhu, making him put up with the smell while walking along.”

He must have been thinking a lot about this incident, because he told the Bhikkhu who came with him all about it that afternoon, starting off by saying: “Why is it that this province and the one we have just come from have such different climates even though they are both part of Isan (the Northeastern region), so that even the same kinds of fruit have quite a different smell?”

“What fruits are different and in what way?”

the other Bhikkhu asked him.

“The jackfruit at home, even when they have become completely rotten and inedible don’t give off a very bad smell, whereas although I haven’t seen the ripe ones, those that they put in our bowls this morning — you must have got some as well — they had such a bad smell, I couldn’t stand it all the way back to the Wat and I threw it away in the ditch. Didn’t they give you some of this jackfruit also? You must have got some as you were in front of me.”

“What they put in our bowls this morning eh!? That wasn’t jackfruit! Good grief! It seems that you have never seen a durian before, and that was what you threw into the ditch, was it?”

“Yes, because I couldn’t stand it any longer, why should I go on carrying it about?”

The other Bhikkhu said:

“For heaven’s sake! Don’t you know what a durian is? What they put in your bowl this morning was durian — the most expensive fruit in Thailand. People who are poor and unfortunate can cry their eyes out for the taste of it, but you just throw it away. And the people who gave it, went out of their way to get it and put it in your bowl with true saddha. Why did you throw it away? You should have at least asked someone else about it before throwing away something valuable like that. Haven’t you ever seen durian before?”

“No, this is the first time I have come across it — this morning, and I almost fainted with the smell. People may say it’s wonderful and special as much as they like but I have a nose and it’s not going to let anyone fool me about it. This morning I knew it with my own nose until I couldn’t stand it any longer and threw it away, so how can you praise it as being ripe and wonderful. You ought to know that the nose of a person is not the same as that of a dog. For the nose of a dog would tell it one thing, but people are more clever than dogs and that they should take up a dog’s understanding in place of the understanding of a person, I cannot agree with. This fruit is just like....., and regardless of how expensive it may be I wouldn’t accept it even if it was given freely to me. Otherwise why should I have thrown it away — only because I couldn’t stand it and so I took this way out.”

The other Bhikkhu smiled in an amused way and said:

“You can’t have been born complete. You see something good and valuable and don’t know that it is good — in fact you think it is false. I can’t think of any other way to explain it to you.”

The “rotten jackfruit” Bhikkhu just smiled, but the way he spoke was quite adamant, and he took no notice of what the other Bhikkhu said in praise of the durian which he was given.

From what has been said up to now, it is likely that the reader will think that the true Kammatthana Bhikkhu is ready to listen to what others have to say at any time. But in some cases they will not listen to anyone, and then they are likely to argue forcefully while firmly maintaining their standpoint — such as the above “rotten jackfruit” Bhikkhu. So it seems that the forest people and Bhikkhus are very different from the people and Bhikkhus who live in the villages and towns, to the extent that in coming across a durian, he could think that it was a rotten jackfruit and then throw it away in the ditch. If he had been more observant and thoughtful, appropriate to the blame he levelled at others, saying that they were unobservant and inattentive, he might have tried carrying it in his bowl with the lid closed until he got back to the Wat and could ask someone else about it before throwing it away. For the way he did it was the way of one who has no wisdom.

But really, one cannot help feeling some sympathy for this Bhikkhu who had never seen durian fruit, due to his having lived in the forest when communications were so very different from what they are now, and he had never had any opportunity to see unusual things, like we have nowadays. This is how the forest Bhikkhus are bound to be when they are invited out into the towns and cities, they still have the characteristics of the forest Bhikkhu who came across a rotten jackfruit. But the type of Kammatthana Bhikkhu who is so clever and up to date that he sets one’s teeth on edge may also be mixed up in them in the same way as are good and evil. Although whether it is too old fashioned or too clever and modern, it is most likely to be inappropriate and unseemly in both cases, because it does not accord with the principles of the “Middle Way of Dhamma”, which is truly sufficient and appropriate. But to be old fashioned like the above Bhikkhu, makes one feel sorry for him.

Discussions of Dhamma

Up to the present time, the conversations that take place between Kammatthana Bhikkhus has always been something that supports faith and is a valuable opportunity for those who are listening to learn. As it says in the Mangala Sutta, “Kalena dhammasakaccha etammangalamuttamam” — (Discussing Dhamma at the right occasion is one of the greatest blessings). Because the behaviour and attitude, which each one of them displays and which is most admirable, comes from their aim of attaining the truth and Dhamma and the value and help that they may get from what they learn by asking questions of each other. It is also regardless of the conventions of who is more senior in the number of vassa (years) they have been in the order.

In regard to the above, I who am writing this would like to express my admiration for the Dhamma conversations (Dhammasakaccha) which they have, and which follow the ways of the truly wise and leads one to have faith in them. This is completely different from the ?manner of those — of whom merely to see them makes one feel dis?heartened — and as time goes on, they are becoming more and more wide?spread to the point where some Bhikkhus have called such conferences as they indulge in: “Conferences of spittle in flood”.

If however there is a Dhamma conference which conforms to the ways of “Dhamma conversation” (Dhammasakaccha), it should reach a reasoned conclusion and full acceptance. This is said with full knowledge of the fact that we Buddhists still variously have kilesas in us, but we are also intent on the truth and Dhamma. So when I know of good or evil of any kind, I have put down whatever comments and criticisms come from other people. For when one only criticises oneself, it is not likely to do much in the way of stirring up one’s kilesa of self-opinionatedness and one has to depend on other people to help one do this. If one is intent on truly cleaning out the bad things within oneself, one should be able to get value from both praise and blame. Therefore I have written about both what is right and good as well as what is wrong and evil in Kammatthana Bhikkhus, because I hope that value will be gained from both sides. But I am certainly not offering criticism for the purpose of bringing discredit and harm to anyone at all.

What makes the Dhamma conversation of the Kammatthana Bhikkhus really praiseworthy is their intended purpose, which is to pick up hints and teachings from the True Dhamma which each of them gives forth without any conceit or opinionatedness at all, even though they variously still have kilesas within them. For they talk based on the ground level (bhumi) of their cittas and of the Dhamma which arises out of the citta bhavana, which they have been practising. So they may talk about Khanika Samadhi, or Upacara Samadhi, or Appana Samadhi, depending on what level their practice has reached. And if they have any doubts, they ask about them one after another, while those who understand answer them and clear each problem one by one until they fully understand.

It is much the same in the field of pa??a which has different levels in the same way as samadhi. For if any of them has a problem concerning pa??a at any particular level, in connection with whatever they are currently investigating and they cannot get past this point, one who understands or who has already gone past this point will explain it point by point. He will explain it just where this Bhikkhu is unsure of the way, until he understands it in the same way as the other levels which he has already understood.

These Dhamma conversations amongst Kammatthana Bhikkhus which take place in accordance with the various levels of Dhamma are quite delightful, because the questions come out of the heart of the questioner who has been doing the practice and has experienced various things, and the answer also comes from the heart of one who has done the practice and experienced the same sort of things. Both of them have seen for themselves the true facts which have come from their practice, and this is an opportunity for them to go on gaining more and more from it. One day one Bhikkhu talks about one thing; another day or time another Bhikkhu talks about another thing. So they keep changing about continually passing on what they know to others. Because different Bhikkhus practise differently and know about different aspects of the practice, both inwardly and externally.

In these Dhamma conversations which arise from knowing within the heart, even though the one who explains his situation and asks questions may be very much junior to the other in years (vassa), he tells his story and asks his questions with a sure confidence and a certainty in what he knows and asks about. He has no fear, nervousness or anxiety, apprehensive that the other Bhikkhu will question him or pick holes in what he has said. He just speaks and asks in accordance with the way he feels, and both sides are ready to accept whatever is reasonable. If at any point the reasoning is still unacceptable, they go over that point, hammering out the meaning until it is properly understood. Then they can go beyond it, without either side gaining or losing any status or virtue, which is what happens when the “way of the world” is hidden in Dhamma, for then it departs from the hope of gaining understanding from each other. But the correct way is, that whether right or wrong in any way, the one who reveals himself or asks the questions does so in whatever way he feels to be appropriate and which explains what he has experienced, without being afraid of being wrong

. Those who are listening to him set themselves to listen to the point which that Bhikkhu has brought up as a question and they are not interested in anything more than the Dhamma question which is right before them. Whoever is talking and listening, all of them are willing to listen attentively to the Dhamma of each other from beginning to end in an even manner, without showing any sign of boredom, contempt or dissatisfaction with the level of citta and Dhamma of each other. All of them talk together with a purity of heart, with a real hope that they may gain knowledge and assistance from each other. When the one who has brought up his story and asked his question gets some disagreement at any point from those who are listening to him, this point must become a problem for his homework, a problem which he must immediately start thinking about so as to correct it and adjust his understanding until he feels sure about it and until the problem has been resolved to his full satisfaction and does not contradict the Acariya who showed him the way. In addition, he must understand the question in the way the Acariya has explained it, before he can let go of it and pass beyond it. Generally speaking, any of them who meet with disagreement do not feel disheartened about it, but rather tend to become even more interested and concerned about such a question.

In this way, the Dhamma conversation amongst those who also practise in this same way is likely to bring blessings to them, even as it says in the verse of Dhamma:

“Dhamma conversation at the right time is one of the greatest blessings.”

But conversation which is an enemy or which destroys what is expressed in the foregoing Dhamma verse, which in Pali is: “Kalena dhammasakaccha etammangalamuttamam,” is likely to be of the kind which arouses the kilesas or the type which takes pride in the kilesas rather than being directed towards anything useful in Dhamma. But this that I have written just accords with the ways of the forest. So please don’t take it too seriously because the word “forest” or “the wilderness” proclaims its nature without needing to say any more.

Whatever will bring benefit to oneself by way of Dhamma, in any way, is a way that one should try to scoop up with all one’s strength and effort. For even though the way may be subject to the criticism and blame of others who have kilesas of the kind which like to criticise so as to raise up themselves, or to destroy others, rather than for the sake of Dhamma, they will not be able to eradicate that way. If it was possible for them to eradicate that way or method, the Lord Buddha who practised the way in the midst of the exponents of all sorts of different views and opinions, which should be called “the storehouse of kilesas”, would most likely not have been able to slip through them and become the Great Teacher of all us Buddhists. Only truth can triumph over all falsehood, which means that because of truth one can triumph over self and the world. One cannot get away from truth, and those who are firmly connected to Buddhism should also be firmly committed to truth — which is the heart of Buddhism.

Therefore Dhamma conversation and any of the ways of practising Dhamma, when they are actually done, can make the kilesas afraid and dispel them from the heart. So doing those things is a blessing to oneself, although the kilesas will not see it as a blessing — though this is not a problem. But generally we tend to make ourselves a blessing to the kilesas rather than to ourselves and we should beware of this kind of blessing if it arises frequently, because it may be dragging us down even while we think we are progressing. This is the way of those who are crooks, who cheat, rob or swindle to gain the wealth of others and turn it into their own wealth and blessing, thinking that they are clever and have a lot of merit and virtue. They pride themselves that they must have powerful and good tendencies of kamma, which has brought them a heap of money as big as a mountain and they pore over their accounts of the money they have in the bank every day without fail. But in truth, the whole of this is only a “blessing” which lasts as long as they are still breathing, a “blessing of clay” stuck to their heads which will lead them to ruin and disintegration. All those who are wise and know the way, have no doubt whatsoever as to what kind of “blessing” this is.

To judge what is a true blessing, the Acariyas have taught that one should judge one’s motives for doing whatever actions one does, to see in what way they tend at all times throughout the day, and day by day. These actions will manifest in one’s body, speech and mind variously on each occasion, and whether they give rise to blessings or the opposite, which are the results that come from them, will depend on and accord with these actions, which cannot be separated from those results.

From what has been said above, the blessing of Dhamma talk which accords with the characteristics of happiness (sukha–lakkhana) in the heart, would seem to be a joyful thing in those who practise the Dhamma, which they talk about in the manner of Dhammasakaccha. This is the result which each of them gets and which accords with the above Dhamma verse and it is a method which steadily brings relief and dispels the kilesas within them.

There are times when it so happens that a number of the Bhikkhus come from the hills and the forests which give them happiness and contentment of heart and they all meet together at the same time. An occasion such as this is a good opportunity for them to discuss various aspects of Dhamma together, in addition to which they have a longing to do so, for this is a rare occasion that only happens once in a long time. To begin with there will generally be questions from the more junior Bhikkhus, with the most senior Bhikkhus starting off the proceedings with some preliminary talk and asking the first Bhikkhu to start off with the way of practice — which means his citta bhavana as he has experienced it. When he has finished giving an account of his practice, the senior Bhikkhu may sometimes question him and make some comments and add some Dhamma explanations to correct him in some places and to emphasise the Dhamma which he had understood correctly, so as to bring out its full scope and implications. The other Bhikkhus whose turn had not yet come would be sitting quietly while listening with calm hearts so as to pick up ways and means from the talk between the first questioner and the one who is waiting to explain.

This conversation which takes place is most strange and wonderful, for one would never have thought that the Dhamma could be practised by different people in so many different ways with such a variety of different experiences in all sorts of ways and directions. Yet, when they talk it turns out that it can all be interpreted in terms of Dhamma, such as I have experienced in some aspects. As if our hearts were all together as one, and the Dhamma is also one and the same. For the Dhamma has many aspects, and the heart has many spheres, and since each person has a heart one should hardly expect there to be such unanimity and harmony as in fact there is. But whether they speak of the Bhuta and ghosts, of the Devata, about the Dhamma Truths in some of its aspects, about the methods of pa??a (wisdom) in some of its aspects, or about various different kinds of kilesas, they can all understand each other, as if they all saw it together at the same moment. Therefore all those present, whether sitting and listening, whether talking or asking questions, or those who were listening to make a critical evaluation, all of them would probably gain something useful and valuable from the question in the same way as if the Bhikkhu who was making comments was pointing at each one of them for them alone to hear individually.

The only exceptions would depend on the ability of each one of them who was listening, for depending on the level of their ability, they may or may not be able to understand some parts of it. But when they listen to the explanations which are directly in answer to the questions and problems which are put forward, all of them who are listening are able to gain value from them, because all of them are in the same basic situation that should enable them to gain value equally. This is like those instances which we can read about in the texts when the Lord Buddha was setting right and elucidating a question concerning Dhamma which someone had asked him. At the same time there were others present who were able to benefit from what he taught, even to the extent of attaining the Path, Fruition and Nibbana in some cases, although it was someone else’s question and the answer was given to that person. This can happen because Dhamma is neutral and quite impartial to the world. So it can give value to anyone who is able to receive it, regardless of the time or place of those people who are in the right basic situation to be able to accept it.

A Dhamma conversation which takes place at a time when several Bhikkhus are sitting together is likely to be of value to all who hear it. However there are many types of question or problem which may be about external or internal things of endless varieties, some of which can be made public and others which should not, for they may be difficult or inappropriate to discuss in public. But whatever type of question it is, the questioner should know for himself whether it is the type which may be revealed for others to hear, or whether it should be reserved for an opportunity when he can discuss it privately with his Teacher at a suitable time.

All these questions or problems are concerned only with citta bhavana. For when one is practising the way all the time in all sorts of situations, in the spheres of both samadhi and pa??a, questions and problems are bound to arise all the time, regardless of one’s situation. When problems or Dhamma of some kinds arise from the heart, the “owner” will know the answer for himself right away. There are other kinds which, when they arise, the “owner” will have to spend some time investigating them before he understands and can pass them by, one by one. But there are also other kinds of problems which arise and the “owner” has no knowledge of how to cure and correct them, so he must depend on someone else to help and advise him. Some of the problems that arise concern things which are critical and dangerous and he must solve them quickly. If he cannot deal with them himself, he must hurry off to find a Teacher — an Acariya — who can help and correct him, otherwise if he just leaves it alone it may lead him into false delusions and spoil him entirely.

But whatever problem arises, mindfulness and wisdom are factors of Dhamma that are essential in every case for curing or promoting the problems which arise in oneself. One must bring mindfulness and wisdom in to test and examine, so as to become quite certain that one understands where one thinks one is right or wrong, by way of reason. But not by understanding or mere fancy which is based on one’s own emotional bias and which one then grasps and holds on to, believing it to be true. Before one is ready to accept the answer to each problem, it must be proved by wisdom using the ways of reason. This is why Kammatthana Bhikkhus go in search of the Acariyas and respect them and have faith in them and listen closely to what they say, which is quite different from the way of study Bhikkhus. Because the questions and problems which arise from citta–bhavana are specific and important and they must be dealt with only by an Acariya who has gone through the same things himself, for him to be able to resolve them. Someone who has never practised bhavana cannot be expected to resolve them, even though he may have studied the texts extensively, for the problems that arise from citta bhavana are, generally speaking, not directly in line with what is learnt by study.

Supposing a problem is described in a concealed and roundabout fashion, one cannot say that it is completely at variance with what is learnt by study, but nor can one say that it is the same thing. This is why there are great difficulties for those who have never gone beyond the level of study to investigate and find the truth. For talk of this kind, as I have described it, will probably not be understood by those who have never come across it before and never practised bhavana. In fact they are quite likely to laugh at it while saying that this is just the uneducated way of those who live in the wilds and that it lacks any basis. But the truth is as I have described it amongst those who practise the way. As for those Bhikkhus who have had some results from the principles of bhavana, they will immediately understand as soon as the truth is revealed to them.

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