An Annual Gathering
The Ajahn Chah Memorial Week at Wat Nong Pah Pong
by Ajahn Siripañño (published in the Forest Sangha newsletter No 89, January 2010)
Every year during the week leading up to the anniversary of Ajahn Chah's death on 16 January, there is a great gathering at his monastery Wat Nong Pah Pong in north-east Thailand when many of his disciples come together for six days of Dhamma practice.
12 January 2009, and all over Thailand motorbikes, cars, pickup trucks, minivans, and tour buses are making their way to the north-eastern province of Ubon, heading for a certain monastery - Wat Nong Pah Pong. Those making the journey are looking to spend a week imbibing the spirit and teachings of a forest master now long gone: Ajahn Chah. Most have never met him in person, but the books, tapes and first-hand accounts of his life have inspired them enough to make changes in their own lives; to take up meditation; and now join the annual pilgrimage to where it all began and take part in a week of communal Dhamma practice.
The name of the event translates as 'Dhamma practice festival in honour of the Teacher'. Actually, the word ngan - here translated as 'festival' - usually means work. But it can also mean any kind of event or celebration: birthdays, weddings, funerals, festivals - any kind of activity really. The Ajahn Chah ngan combines many things: the serious spiritual work of keeping precepts, meditating and listening to Dhamma Talks; socializing with old friends and having fun making new ones…. This is against the backdrop of re-affirming ones' dedication to living in line with the teachings of the Lord Buddha, and more recently Ajahn Chah, or Luang Por ('venerable father') as he is affectionately known. Of the thousands who arrive from near and far, some come to practise and hear the Dhamma, some to give and participate in large measure or small, and some come just to check out the scene, and enjoy the free food available for all.
Luang Por Chah passed away on 16 January 1992, and every year since his funeral on that date the following year, a gathering has taken place at his monastery Wat Pah Pong. The number of participants keeps increasing. This year saw over a thousand monks and novices and five thousand laypeople put up mosquito nets (and, more and more these days, tents) all over the monastery, doing their best to let go of the outside world and focus their hearts on a different dimension. With Luang Por's teachings as the conduit, the practice turns one inwards - to taste peace, know truth and find oneself.
Tan Ajahn Liem, the abbot of Wat Pah Pong (and these days himself referred to as 'Luang Por') is sitting under his kuti (simple dwelling place) receiving some monks as they arrive to pay their respects. A man of few words, he gives the young monks advice and encouragement like a warm father:
'It just got a bit colder, but it's not too bad. Last night was about fifteen degrees. It'll take a couple of days for the body to adjust, that's all. If you put your sleeping sheet directly on the hay it will be warmer. A plastic groundsheet will stop your body heat from getting trapped in the hollow stalks, so you'll be colder. We have plenty of toilets these days, so you should be comfortable … not like before. There's space to put up your mosquito nets behind the Uposatha Hall. Around the Chedi (Thai for stupa, or pagoda) is full of laypeople these days, so it's not so appropriate. How many of you came? For the next few days you should surrender to the schedule. This will help eradicate unwholesome states of mind such as arrogance and conceit, and the need to have things your own way. Otherwise you will always fall under the sway of defilements and craving. It takes effort, though - viriyena dukkhamacceti: "suffering is overcome through effort". But if you practice correctly your hearts will experience the happiness of inner peace….'
He pauses and looks up: 'Have you set up your bowls for the meal yet? No? Off you go then. It's almost time.'
The monks and novices head for the eating hall, directly behind the main sala (meeting hall), which is now slowly filling with white-clothed lay people. The women far outnumber the men. Before the meal every day the Eight Precepts are given and there is a half-hour Dhamma Talk. On this, the first day, it is Luang Por Liem, like a welcoming host, who gives the introductory talk. He stresses that initially we have come out of faith in the Buddha and Luang Por Chah, but that in order to carry out their teachings we need to develop true sati - true mindfulness:
'We are all just part of nature: the body must change and return to its origins. When we think in this way the mind will tend to seclusion, rather than clinging to views and conceit. Dwelling secluded in body and mind, we are able to see the true nature of reality. And so we won't fall under the sway of things that can obsess the mind and wrong views which stain the mind. The body is just a natural resource we can make use of - not a being, not a person, animal or individual. If we understand this the mind will feel cool and happy, not anxious and confused. If we strive in this way we will attain the goal we are seeking.
'We have a good opportunity, so try to do it: renounce and abandon the things that cause you worry. The Buddha taught us to abandon all worldly dhammas. We can't even depend on our friends and relatives. Ultimately we have to build our own inner refuge.'
He outlines the daily routine, emphasizing the need to be harmonious and helpful as we will be spending a week living together in such large numbers. Meditation, too, is taught in brief:
'Breathe in and out. See that it's just nature doing it's job. Breath coming in and going out. When we understand that our awareness of this is an aspect of our mind, we see that even this is a sankhatadhamma (a conditioned phenomenon). There is no self in there. The mind experiences the breath. The mind has no physical matter, yet that is where dukkha (suffering) arises. All mental states are impermanent, so develop the quality of patient endurance with regard to all mental states, good and bad. Usually we get lost in our moods, and this keeps us away from the correct path of practice….
'Whatever posture you are in you are grounded on the earth. Keep this deep awareness (Thai: poo roo) in mind all the time. This way you won't think of the body as a self. It will lead to a pure happiness arising in the mind. Instead of delighting in those things which deceive us - things people run to like insects drawn to a flame - cultivate faith in the Buddha's awakening….
'Develop yourself internally with your mind and externally with your actions. You all know the duties regarding the lodgings and toilets. They are communal property, not owned by anyone, including the abbot. People who are mindful keep a place clean and well maintained.'
Knowing it's almost nine o'clock, he concludes: 'Now it's time to provide our bodies with the sustenance we need to carry us through the next day and night, so I will end there. I wish to express my gladness that you have all come, and encourage you to make a firm determination to practise with integrity this week.'
For the rest of the day, monks and laypeople arrive at Wat Pah Pong in a constant stream. Luang Por Liem receives incoming Sangha members under his kuti all day, and by evening he still has not had a chance to find his own spot in the forest to put up his mosquito net and lay down a bed of straw like everyone else. He is just slipping away when a monk approaches him quickly to say that Ajahn Sumedho has arrived to pay respects.
He returns to his seat, first putting on his robe, and the large group of Western bhikkhus, including Ajahn Sumedho, bows three times. The two old friends chat for a while, enquiring after each other's health, and Luang Por Liem asks about the various branch monasteries in England. They have known each other for almost 40 years. Practising together in the old days, travelling on tudong, and serving their teacher - theirs is a lifelong bond, bound up with much mutual warmth and respect. All over the monastery similar scenes are taking place: monks who have spent time together in the past are now meeting again. Paying respects and catching up, like childhood friends.
After about half an hour there is a pause and Luang Por Liem, a little sheepishly, excuses himself. 'It will be getting dark soon, I still haven't put up my net.' There are smiles all round and the visitors again bow three times. Luang Por Liem disappears into the twilight of the forest.
By the evening of the first day, several hundred monks have arrived and the number of laypeople is over three thousand. There are free food distribution tents set up - over a hundred different stalls and marquees sponsored by individuals, branch monasteries, government offices and other groups. For the next week, almost round the clock there will be all kinds of food and drink available for anyone who wants it. Luang Por Kampan Thitadhammo mentioned this in the talk he gave on 15 January:
'It's as if the whole country is coming together here. This is the result of Luang Por's life. Just look at the food tents. It's like a wholesome cycle of goodness. People come here to hear the Dhamma. Then they give food to others. Other people come to eat, but in doing so they get to listen to the Dhamma. Then they in turn want to give.'
Some locals, unable to sponsor a tent for the whole week, simply drive their pickup into the monastery with the back full of some kind of tasty snack. Parking it just inside the monastery gate, they hand out their offerings to passers-by. In not too long the food is gone and they drive off, happy to have been a part of the event and to have taken the family on such a fun outing.
The local hospitals provide first aid tents as well as traditional Thai massage and reflexology for the Sangha members. Last year there was free dental treatment and this year eye tests and glasses were offered in a marquee just opposite Luang Por's Chedi. Over the years the scope of the gathering has broadened - as well as the range of participants. Lay supporters from Abhayagiri monastery in California won the hearts of everyone when they prepared and served American snacks from a food tent they set up a few years ago. Professionals and teachers from Bangkok come and camp around the Chedi, as well as members of what the Thais call 'Hi So'(from the English 'high society') - slang for the aristocracy and well-heeled elite, who genuinely want to put down much of the superficiality and stress of modern life and reconnect with something more meaningful and peaceful. Some tents may be fancier than others, but everyone keeps the Eight Precepts and most stick diligently to the schedule - sharing together in the predawn chill of morning chanting, queuing for food and toilets and splashing down with a bucket of cold water to bathe. It is no small matter for some.
Every year more schoolchildren come in large groups. All wearing white - girls camping in one area, boys in another - they have all the playful energy of teenagers everywhere. But a genuine sense of respect and decorum is also there, as if they know that although it's not as much fun as a usual school trip, somehow it's important, and it's only a few days after all.
It's 2.45 a.m. Way too early. But from the high bell tower to the north of the eating hall, the repetitive striking shatters the stillness. It's time for morning chanting. You do have a choice though: you could try to find an excuse to stay bundled up in a heap of robes on the cosy bed of straw. You're still a bit weak from that diarrhea a few days ago … your throat seems to hurt a bit - wouldn't want to get sick on day two … with so many monks no one else would really notice if you weren't there… but it's useless. Only the previous day, in a talk to the Sangha Ajahn Anek had reminded everyone that in Luang Por's time everyone was at morning chanting, and not all wrapped up in brown shawls and blankets either. Then you had to sit with your right shoulder exposed, patiently enduring the cold weather and practising anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing). You imagine Luang Por Chah's presence standing next to where you are lying curled, looking down stony-faced: 'Eugh! Is this how you practice?' Spitting out some red betel-nut juice he turns around and disappears into the void. You don't really have a choice.
By 3.05 the sala is mostly full with monks sitting, as is the eating hall. With the exception of one monk known for his eccentricity who has crafted himself a Mexican-style poncho, almost no bhikkhus are wrapped in blankets as they were the previous morning. Ajahn Anek's words have had the desired effect and the new generation of monks seems keen to show their fighting spirit.
The laypeople, who somehow seem to have more enthusiasm for morning chanting than do the monks, have gathered en masse, and the women - mae awks as they are known in the local dialect - fill the sala and flow back out along a wide concrete road. At 3.15 the old grandfather clock chimes and one of the senior monks rings a bell: 'Gra-ahp' he says over the microphone: Thai for 'It's time to bow and chant'. 'Yo so-oh Bhagava …' The monk with the microphone tries to push the pace and raise the pitch, but the massed ranks of mae awks have the strength of numbers and the chanting stays slow and low. Some find the whole thing tedious; others are filled with devotion and inspiration. For 45 minutes these ancient Pali words and their modern Thai translation are recited line by line, to a slightly sing-song melody that is written only in the hearts of those who know it and who learned it themselves by listening and following along from the time they first came to the monastery.
From 4 until 4.45 there is a period of meditation. Fighting the cold and fatigue, for many it's nothing but a struggle not to wrap up, fall asleep, or both. Others seem to have found an equanimity of body and mind. Seated on the hard granite floor, they embody the peace and wisdom of the Buddhas; still and silent, aware and knowing. Breath going in, breath going out.
By 5 a.m. the monks are setting up the eating hall, sweeping, mopping, and putting out tissues, water and spittoons. Next they prepare their bowls and put on their robes for almsround. A senior monk has the microphone and is going through some of the points of etiquette for almsround: wearing one's robes properly, walking with eyes downcast, not swinging the arms and body about, keeping silent, and many other minor points of practice. Some newly-ordained monks and novices may still be learning all this. Others will have heard it year-in, year-out. Yet somehow it has a freshness every time and an immediate relevance. These minor training rules and the small points of monastic etiquette, collectively called korwat in Thai, were given huge importance by Luang Por Chah as the way to begin training the mind: by letting go of doing things one's own way and being mindful to do things the prescribed way. The Buddha laid down these principles over 2500 years ago, and Luang Por knew their value.
Wat Pah Pong has about a dozen alms routes that wind through the surrounding villages. But when a thousand or so bhikkhus are in need of some sustenance, it's the nearby town of Warin and the city of Ubon that provide much of the additionally-required calories. As dawn approaches, the monks head out of the monastery gates, each with an alms-bowl and some with two if they are attending a senior bhikkhu. Lining the road to the left, right and directly in front of the gate is a motley fleet of assorted vehicles: draughty buses and pickups and, for the lucky ones, warm minivans. The monks swarm aboard, and wait. At an unseen signal, suddenly engines rev and wheels roll, and the parade of vehicles heads for various markets and residential areas. When they arrive at their destination the monks form lines of up to fifty or more and walk along pre-designated routes. People of all ages line the way and make their offerings, doing their bit for the ngan. The food is simple but bountiful, and by the end of the almsround each monk may have emptied his full bowl up to a dozen or more times: sticky rice, boiled eggs, instant noodles, orange drinks, tinned fish, bananas, coconut sweets … staples of the modern Isan (north-east Thai) diet woven into this hallowed Isan custom - offering food to the monks at dawn. No amount of economic crisis, it seems, can deprive people of this simple joy. And no matter how often one has taken part in this act of giving and receiving it remains a little mysterious, and quite magical.
The buses and pickups return with the monks and countless baskets brimming with food. There are still two hours until the Sangha will eat, and as they walk past the food tents the novices and young monks glance enviously at laypeople nibbling away on breakfast snacks. The more senior monks keep their eyes down, having by now learned that watching someone else eat, while you are cold and hungry, makes neither you nor the other person feel any better.
Everyone gathers at 8 a.m. in the main sala for the daily taking of the Precepts. A Desana (Dhamma Talk) then follows, inevitably covering familiar ground: our debt of gratitude to Luang Por; the importance of sila (virtuous conduct) as the basis of happiness and the stepping stone to samadhi and pa??a (concentration and wisdom); meditation and the need to see through the illusory nature of our thoughts and moods; to go beyond desire by establishing a peaceful mind and taste that special happiness the Buddhas praised and that Luang Por experienced for himself, doing everything he could for us to be able to do so as well.
'Careful not to take too much food; think of all the people still behind you … A purse has been found with some money and keys. If you think it's yours come and claim it, but you have to say what colour it is and how much money is in there … Remember not to store food in your mosquito nets. Ants will come for it - and you'll be tempted to eat after midday….'
After the meal, once the Sangha have washed and dried their bowls, Luang Por Liem gives a fifteen minute exhortation, with speakers hooked up in both the monks' and nuns' eating halls, encouraging us all to reflect on our duties as samanas, recluses who have gone forth from the household life into homelessness: from cleaning toilets to realizing Nibbana and everything in between.
By 10.30 the sun is filtering through the tall trees and slowly warming up the forest - time for most people to have a quick lie-down before the 1 p.m. gathering for meditation and more Dhamma instruction. These days the Sangha gathers in the Uposatha Hall, or bot (a Thai short form of the Pali word uposatha), the building where Sangha rituals such as ordinations take place. The bot is jam-packed with monks and the heat and stuffiness builds up. Heads begin to nod, then droop entirely. At 2 p.m. a senior monk gives a talk. A frequent refrain in these afternoon talks particularly aimed at the monks is how tough it was living at Wat Pah Pong in the early days. All requisites, including food, were scare. You couldn't even pick your own food, as it was ladled into your bowl for you. There was rarely a sweet drink in the afternoon, and chores were physically draining, including hauling water from a well to fill jars for toilets, bathing and foot washing. Then there was sweeping, cleaning and general maintenance. If something was broken you tried to fix it, and if it couldn't be repaired you went without. Requesting a new one wasn't an option. But it's the love and respect for Luang Por Chah that comes across most vividly from these elder-most senior monks, as expressed in a talk from Ajahn Anek:
'Luang Por wished us well from head to toe. Even if our minds didn't like what he was teaching us, our actions had to comply. We were like children bathing in a cesspit. Our loving father comes along and says, "Children, what are you doing that for?" "Its fun." "Get out. Now!" And Dad reaches in and pulls us out and gets water to clean us. And pulling us out is no easy job. Some Ajahns leave their disciples to wallow in the cesspit. But Luang Por never did. With just his instruction he was able to extract poison from our hearts. It was like taking a bitter medicine which tasted awful, but we knew it would save our lives….
'Luang Por's teaching spread far and wide: Patiently endure. Endure with patience. Dare to be patient. Dare to endure. Khanti paramam tapo titikkha: Patient endurance is the supreme incinerator of defilements. Khanti, or patient endurance, is like a fire that no coal or electricity could ever produce. We chant tapo ca brahmacariyanca - the austerities of leading the Holy Life. These are the austerities that can burn up our defilements.
'One aspect of this is the morning and evening chanting … Please give up your own preferences and be present for these activities. If during morning chanting there are no monks, but for the meal there are loads, it feels a bit strange doesn't it? Between following your own preferences, or the opinion of society, or the Dhamma - which is better? These days notions of personal liberty have so filled people's minds that they have no room for Dhamma any more. Luang Por is still with us in spirit. So I ask everyone to please meet together in harmony, so that if Luang Por were here in person he would be happy ….'
The Sangha pays respects to the senior monk who has given the talk and an announcement is made to go to the eating hall for the afternoon drink … 'if there is one'. It's a slightly tongue-in-cheek reminder that we shouldn't take anything for granted. These days though, there is always something available. Tea, cocoa, freshly-squeezed sugarcane and orange juice; drinks containing aloe vera chunks and other afternoon-allowable 'medicinal' nibbles: sugarcane lumps, candied ginger and a kind of bitter-sour laxative fruit known as samor. The laypeople too have had their fill of afternoon Dhamma, and those keeping the Eight Precepts partake in similar fare.
Everyone is encouraged to take part in a group walking meditation circumambulation around the Chedi - the monument to Luang Por Chah where his crystallized bones, revered by many as holy relics, are kept. All too soon it is almost 6 p.m. and the bell is ringing for evening chanting. The relentlessness of the schedule is a reflection of Luang Por's training methods: keep everyone pushing against their own preferences and desires in order to go beyond them; surrender to the communal routine and allow the sense of self to dissolve into a group identity, and beyond that to experience the sense of being nothing other than nature arising and passing away; have constant reminders and teachings so that the Dhamma seeps into one's mind - and the transformation from being one who suffers through clinging, to one who is free through letting go, can take place.
The first hour of the evening session is silent meditation. The January air is crisp and cool and it is the mosquitoes' feeding time. The sala is full, and all around it and stretching into the forest are men and women wrapped in white, some young though most older, simply sitting, being aware of the in- and the out-breath. Inside the Chedi too people are meditating, finding warmth in the enclosed space and inspiration from being so physically close to Luang Por's remains. As they sit, groups of people, families, children, stream in and out and pay respects - three bows - before heading off, perhaps to get some noodles at the food tents, or maybe just going home. Over in the sala the chanting begins, and the voice of the monk leading it drifts into the Chedi from a nearby loudspeaker. Many of the meditators stay motionless, but most slowly open their eyes, and shift their posture from cross-legged to kneeling in the traditional Thai way for chanting. By some kind of unvoiced mutual consent they agree that the monks' pitch is a little too high and settle for something a few tones lower - creating an eerie discord which echoes hauntingly around the inside of the chamber.
Outside it's noticeably colder. By the time the evening Desana starts around 8 p.m. the northern wind has picked up, adding to the talk the flavour of khanti - patient endurance. This was always one of Luang Por's favourite themes anyway, one reflects. The monks giving the week's evening talks are Luang Por Chah's most senior disciples. They know how to inject lightness and humour into their teachings; stories of Luang Por abound, as well as humorous anecdotes from their own lives. The language used is mainly central Thai, but those monks who are native to the north-east will often switch abruptly to the local Isan dialect - a language full of puns, wordplay and innuendo - much to the delight of the local crowd. Dhammapada verses, old sayings, and nearly-forgotten proverbs are given an airing, complete with the Ajahn's personal commentary. Isan is not a written language, and listening to these old monks one gets a sense of the power of an oral tradition. Even if none of Luang Por's teachings had been recorded we would still be able to enjoy them today, from the minds and through the voices of the disciples he touched. The Buddha's teachings were not written down for several centuries, yet they managed to survive in a similar way.
You are asleep the second your head hits the straw mattress. One day merges seamlessly into another - all too soon that monk in the bell tower is doing his thing and you find yourself heading back to the sala for morning chanting. Each day is a little easier though. The floor seems less hard. It's a bit warmer, too. The mind is uplifted, buoyed by the company of so many people sharing the space and practising in the same way. Surely that's what it is … though maybe it's something else….
16 January: the big day arrives. As if to acknowledge one of the most unique aspects of Luang Por's legacy, the international Sangha, the morning Dhamma Talk will be given by Ajahn Jayasaro, who is English. The evening programme will feature Dhamma Talks to be given right throughout the night, but the first one - the prime-time slot - will be from Luang Por Sumedho.
17 years to the day have passed since Luang Por passed away. He was cremated on the same day one year later. The main event of the day is a mass circumambulation of the Chedi by the whole assembly. The numbers will swell to many hundreds more, boosted by people who have come just for this event. With the whole Sangha and all the laypeople gathered together like a sea of brown robes followed by a white foamy wake, the effect is quite magical. Beginning in the main sala, the assembly walks in complete silence, everyone holding a small set of candles, flowers and incense, for the few hundred metres until reaching the Chedi which the procession then circumambulates. As everyone gathers round the Chedi, a senior monk reads out a dedication to Luang Por and everyone follows, reciting line by line. The Sangha leads the way up the steps and into the Chedi. Each person places their little offering, then bows and makes way for another.
In the evening, Luang Por Sumedho begins his Desana. Before moving to loftier dhammas, he too entertains the crowd with some warm old memories. He recalls how Luang Por used to teach the Dhamma for hours on end, cracking jokes and telling stories which would have everyone in stitches - except for one person: Venerable Sumedho, this newly arrived American monk squirming in pain on the cement floor unable to understand a word. They've heard it before, but again it brings smiles. These stories though, are not told just to get a few laughs. They capture the spirit of a bygone era for those of us who never heard Luang Por Chah teach, and they prepare the minds of the listeners to hear and be more likely to truly receive the essence of the Dhamma: that all is uncertain, unstable, and that happiness comes from letting go.
Which is just the insight you need in order to last through a whole night of Dhamma Talks. This all-night talks routine seems to be a unique feature of the Wat Pah Pong tradition - and you have to be seriously dedicated to hearing Dhamma to even want, let alone be able, to sit on a hard floor for ten hours. Understanding the language too, is a distinct advantage. Most people nip off for a small rest at some point in the evening; but some seem to sit motionless throughout, in a kind of 'Desana trance'. The first couple of speakers talk for about an hour; after that it's half an hour each. So, altogether fifteen or so Dhamma Talks ring throughout the forest on loudspeakers right through till dawn. A bell is struck to let any speaker who's getting a bit carried away know that his 30 minutes are up. The style of Desana is usually unstructured, which is typical of the Thai forest tradition. Anyone who miscalculates his allotted time therefore can easily wrap it up and make way for the next speaker when he hears the bell. The last speaker is still going at full speed at 5 a.m. as the monks, one last time, begin to set up the eating hall and then stream out the gates towards the waiting armada of almsround road transport.
On this last morning the Sangha and laity gather in the sala one final time, to take leave and ask forgiveness of the most senior monks. After a week of remembrance dedicated to Luang Por Chah, it seems fitting that the endnote is an acknowledgement of our present-day teachers. Luang Por Liem, appointed by Luang Por Chah to be his successor as abbot of Wat Pah Pong, receives the traditional offerings of toothwoods - wooden toothbrushes made from a bitter vine that the monks meticulously fashion in advance and bring to the gathering to give to senior Ajahns as a token of respect.
After a few words of farewell and one last blessing the 2009 memorial gathering is over. The last meal is taken and followed by a mass exodus. Thousands of mosquito nets are taken down and tents dismantled; vans are loaded; as many as 15 people crammed in to the back of a pickup truck for journeys of up to several hundred kilometres. Rubbish is collected and areas swept. In the eating hall the spittoons are dried one last time, the water bottles bagged up for recycling, the sitting mats put away. Within a few hours the monastery feels deserted. Only the resident community of forty or so monks and the nuns in their own section remain, doing the final clear up.
The following day is a Sunday. In the afternoon some visitors including a couple from Bangkok stop by Wat Pah Pong to pay respects, and hopefully make some offerings to Luang Por Liem. A lone monk sweeps the concrete road around the Chedi, and not a trace remains of the thousands of residents over the previous week or the mass circumambulation the day before. Not someone who seems too interested in taking a break after a hard day's night, Luang Por Liem is in town looking for building materials. He won't be long though, the group is told. Sure enough, within half an hour he is back:
'I went in to town to get some pipes. We are building more toilets for next year's gathering. More and more people seem to come. More people means more waste. It's natural. If we can see the body as part of nature - natural elements and not a self - then peace will arise in the heart. This peace leads to true happiness….'
Extracts from an 8.00 a.m. Dhamma talk given by Ajahn Jayasaro:
… It's been seventeen years now since Luang Por left us, although actually that is not quite true. Luang Por never left us - we are the ones who leave him behind. Every time we think, say, or do something that he pointed out the danger in we leave him behind. There are so many of his teachings around, books, tapes etc. His Dhamma is still with us. But we frequently leave his teachings behind, sometimes turning our backs on the Dhamma entirely. Luang Por Chah is not with us today, but the question is, are we still with Luang Por Chah?
... Not having Right Understanding (samma ditthi) is what will prevent true happiness from arising. We won't see the true nature of the world: the fact that dukkha is everywhere. The good news is that true happiness can also be found. It is not about suppressing the happiness that we can experience through the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind, but rather asking ourselves if that is true happiness. Is that what we need ultimately? Sensory happiness makes us waste our time, and diverts our interest away from developing ourselves to find that true happiness.
Say you had enough money to go abroad and you flew to some other country. Then from the airport you went straight to a hotel, checked in and went to your room, closed the windows and stayed there for two weeks. You then went back to the airport and flew home. Would that be unwholesome? No. But it would be a pity, a wasted opportunity. Being born as a human being, but only being interested in the pleasure of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch and thoughts, is a similar waste. It's really like living in a dark room.
… Luang Por Chah taught us that our real task in life is to cultivate a healthy shame and fear of losing our mindfulness (sati). We must always strive to maintain sati. If we have sati, it's like we have an Ajahn with us. We feel warm and safe: whenever we make our mind steady, wisdom is ready to arise. Without sati we will always be slaves of our environment and simply follow whatever thoughts and moods arise….
Extracts from an 8.00 a.m. Dhamma talk given by Luang Por Bundit:
… Every second our thoughts and moods are teaching us. People without Right Understanding think, 'Why is it so hot?' or 'Why is it so cold?' But it's just nature doing it's job. We don't have to make such a big deal out of it. If we don't understand the world, we will always experience dukkha. Disappointments will be difficult to accept and we'll always be living for our hopes and dreams.
… People used to come to pay respects to Luang Por Chah and would complain they didn't have time to practise, that they were too busy looking after their children and everything else. 'Do you have time to breathe?' he would ask. 'Yes.' 'Well then, practice like that!'
… Take up the five primary meditation objects that preceptors give the newly-ordained as a theme for contemplation: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth and skin. Doing this will help free us from being slaves to the body and all the usual concerns regarding beautification and health, and obsession with treatments and therapy. … Luang Por taught us to abandon everything. He repeated it again and again. … In the old days there were no doubts about the correct practice, but now everyone has a different opinion about Luang Por's teachings.
… So learn to choose the pure things in life. If you know those things which are pure and lead to peace, then you will bear witness to the truth yourself. No one can do it for you, or verify the fruit of your practice. It's paccattam - to be experienced individually.
… Well, that is enough for today, I'm sure everyone is is very hungry. Learn to choose Dhamma teachings the way you choose the fish you eat. A fish has scales, bones, intestines, and flesh. Whether you choose the flesh is up to you.