The Teachings of Phra Ajaan Mun Bhuridatta Thera
by Phra Ajaan Mun Bhuridatta Thera | 1995 | 9,299 words
Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu Copyright © 1995 Metta Forest Monastery PO Box 1409, Valley Center, CA 92082 For free distribution only. You may reprint this work for free distribution. You may re-format and redistribute this work for use on computers and computer networks provided that you charge no fees for its distribution or us...
Phra Ajaan Mun Bhuridatta Thera was born in 1870 in Baan Kham Bong, a farming village in Ubon Ratchathani province, northeastern Thailand. Ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1893, he spent the remainder of his life wandering through Thailand, Burma, and Laos, dwelling for the most part in the forest, engaged in the practice of meditation. He attracted an enormous following of students and, together with his teacher, Phra Ajaan Sao Kantasilo, was responsible for the establishment of the forest ascetic tradition that has now spread throughout Thailand and to several countries abroad. He passed away in 1949 at Wat Suddhavasa, Sakon Nakhorn province.
Much has been written about his life, but very little was recorded of his teachings during his lifetime. Most of his teachings he left in the form of people: the students whose lives were profoundly shaped by the experience of living and practicing meditation under his guidance. One of the pieces that was recorded is translated here. A Heart Released (Muttodaya) is a record of passages from his sermons, made during the years 1944-45 by two monks who were staying under his guidance, and edited by a third monk, an ecclesiastical official who frequently visited him for instruction in meditation. The first edition of the book was printed with his permission for free distribution to the public. The title of the book was taken from a comment made by the Ven. Chao Khun Upali Gunupamacariya (Jan Siricando) who, after listening to a sermon delivered by Phra Ajaan Mun on the root themes of meditation, praised the sermon as having been delivered with muttodaya -- a heart released -- and as conveying the heart of release.
The unusual style of Phra Ajaan Muns sermons may be explained in part by the fact that in the days before his ordination he was skilled in a popular form of informal village entertainment called maw lam. Maw lam is a contest in extemporaneous rhyming, usually reproducing the war between the sexes, in which the battle of wits can become quite fierce. Much use is made of word play: riddles, puns, innuendoes, metaphors, and simple playing with the sounds of words. The sense of language that Ajaan Mun developed in maw lam he carried over into his teachings after becoming a monk. Often he would teach his students in extemporaneous puns and rhymes. This sort of word play he even applied to the Pali language, and a number of instances can be cited in Muttodaya: in S 3, the pun on the word dhatu, which can mean both physical element and speech element (phoneme); the use of the phonemes na mo ba dha (the basic elements in the phrase namo buddhaya, homage to the Buddha) to stand for the four physical elements; the play on namo and mano in S 4; the use of the Patthana as an image for the mind in S 5; the extraction of the word santo (peaceful) from pavessanto in S 13 and S 16; the grammatical pun on loke in S 14 and santo in S 13; the threes in S 12; the eights in S 16; and so on.
This sort of rhetorical style has gone out of fashion in the West and is going out of style today even in Thailand, but in the Thailand of Ajaan Muns time it was held in high regard as a sign of quick intelligence and a subtle mind. Ajaan Mun was able to use it with finesse as an effective teaching method, forcing his students to become more quick witted and alert to implications, correspondences, multiple levels of meaning, and the elusiveness of language; to be less dogmatic in their attachments to the meanings of words, and less inclined to look for the truth in terms of language. As Ajaan Mun once told a pair of visiting monks who were proud of their command of the medieval text, The Path of Purification, the niddesa (analytical expositions) on virtue, concentration, and discernment contained in that work were simply nidana (fables or stories). If they wanted to know the truth of virtue, concentration, and discernment, they would have to bring these qualities into being in their own hearts and minds.