on a visit to Luang Por Maha Amorn
Luang Por Maha Amorn (Phra Mongkonkittithada) was one of the most senior disciples of Ajahn Chah. He had ordained as a novice since his early teens and came to the forest monk's training in Wat Nong Pah Pong after extensive Pali studies in Bangkok in the late sixties - roughly the time when also Luang Por Sumedho joined Ajahn Chah. For many years Luang Por Maha Amorn was the preceptor conducting the ordinations for the western monks training at Wat Pah Nanachat. Regularly the monks went to see him and pay respects to him, and always received heartfelt advice on many levels of Buddhist practice, many times embellished with beutiful traditional stories or similes and never lacking the link from the present days, twenty years after Ajahn Chah has passed away, to the times when the older generation of monks were still living under the challenging conditions of monastic life in Wat Pah Pong in the old days, when Luang Por Chah was still vigorously teaching. On November 27th, 2010 Luang Por Maha Amorn passed away after a short unexpected hospital stay, a few weeks before his 80th birthday. The following is an excerpt of his advice to a group of monks from Wat Pah Nanachat visiting on November 17, 2008 at Wat Pah Vivek Dhammachah, Ubon Rachathani together with the parents of one of the monks.
Being respectful and showing humility
Today you have all come to visit me and make offerings, together with Nando's parents. This is a wholesome display of respect and humility, which are qualities that lead to the development of the heart and mind. This kind of polite and respectful behavior is exactly in line with the Buddha's teachings and the suttas. In one particular sutta - the Mangala Sutta - the Buddha explains the way to behave in order for us to be happy. You may know this sutta, and today I will use one verse in particular as a theme. It goes:
'Garavo ca nivato ca
Santutthi ca katanyuta
Being respectful and showing humility,
Knowing contentment in life.
Paying back the debt of gratitude we have towards others,
And frequently listening to the Buddha's teachings.
These are the highest blessings.'
These qualities lead us to developing a wholesome mind - a cool and happy heart. The disciples of the Buddha and the great enlightened masters would always come to pay their respects. And you can also go and make offerings at certain places such as the holy sites or in temples. Respect can also be shown through the keeping of the monastic rules and regulations - doing everything correctly, which is how to develop your life in line with the Dhamma, or Truth, which leads to growth and benefit.
Luang Por Chah taught that developing one's life in line with Dhamma is like driving along a road. You can reach your destination because you have a car and driver, you know the traffic rules, and you follow them. In the same way children respect their parents; junior monks respect the senior monks; disciples come and pay their respects to their preceptor. This is what the Buddha taught us to do. What we are doing is developing wholesome qualities that develop the mind.
All of you monks ordained in order to practice the Dhamma. That means taking on and putting the teachings of the Krooba Ajahns (the venerated teachers of the Thai forest tradition)into practice. If you don't do this, it's what we call a 'vipatti' - a failing. It's like the car on the road: it has to follow the road, and in just the same way, those of you who have ordained should follow the korwat and the monastic routine. The vinaya is like our road which we have to follow. The Buddha instructed us to do so. Some of the rules are injunctions to do things in certain ways, while some of them are prohibitions. So we can divide up the rules like that: some things to do, some not to do: our basic 227 precepts.
Similarly with the Dhamma, which will arise through practicing the vinaya. Vinaya and Dhamma are all bound up with the Dhamma - everything has to be practiced correctly. Some people take the view that all we should do is practice Dhamma - that there's no need for all these rules - but that's like people driving a car and not sticking to the road - just deciding to go cross-country, through the fields. Could you get anywhere that way? Probably not.
So now, the Ajahns who have come today will be safe wherever they go because they understand the qualities of respect and the importance of the rules and regulations and they know the debt of gratitude that they have to their teachers. When I give them teachings, they listen and put them into practice.
So this verse from the Mangala Sutta is my particular teaching for today. And spiritual life is about correcting our faults and making little adjustments to the way we do things - we have to erase our faults and then correct them. It's like the white liquid correction pen you have these days which you cover over your mistakes with, and then you can write the correction over that: it's the same with our lives. Remember that you can't see yourselves as clearly as other people see you. When you look, you eyes only see ahead, but everyone else can see you from all angles. So whenever someone points something out, you should listen...
Like our robes: when our robes get dirty we have to wash them; but as long as they are not dirty, we don't have to. The thing is, though, that our robes are always getting dirty because we use them a lot - so we do always have to wash them.
So cleanse your minds regularly. You know, with Dhamma, many people study it: they read Dhamma, talk about Dhamma etc. But those who actually put Dhamma into practice are very few, which is why the world is such a confused place today - that's what Ajhan Chah used to say. It's like soap and washing powder and detergents: we have these things, but it's not enough - we actually have to use them.
Do listen to the things others tell you, but you don't have to believe everything straight away, because remember, maybe somebody is telling you something out of anger. Luang Por Chah used to say,
'It's like this: imagine someone comes up to you and says, "Hey your face is all black- it's really ugly just like a bear or a black dog!" Just be calm and patient. Go and find a mirror, or something to see your reflection in. Take a look. Is it black or not? If it is, you need to wash your face, so just wash it. If it's not black, then just let it go - so what? It's just what someone said to you - no problem.'
With practicing Dhamma, it's all about adjusting and correcting you hearts and minds. The body is like a car, and your mind is like the driver. Today you were able to come here because you had a driver. You are in Wat Pah Nanachat, you have a car, you tell the driver the way to go, and if he's any good he takes you here. It would be nice if we could just send our minds, but we can't do that - we have to come with our bodies. But really, the mind is what's important....
One thing, though: cars need breaks. Imagine someone were to bring a brand new car, a really top model; new and very fancy, but it had no breaks. Would you go for a ride? I wouldn't get in it - too dangerous - you'd crash into the first truck coming your way. The car breaks is a simile for one's friends in the holy life - your Ajahns, fellow monastics and all the people who teach you. It's just like the example of the soap and washing powder again. Today Nando has brought me some genkanoon dye which we use for washing our robes. It's something that goes in deep - and the jack-fruit dye is special: it doesn't just wash robes, but it dyes them, bringing them to the proper color. It even has medicinal properties, helping prevent infections.
Life is about action: doing. Doing the right thing. We shouldn't listen to the teachings and then just sit there - we have to dwell on the Dhamma correctly, figure out what is good, and do whatever we think is really best. And when the Sangha is practicing well, it's living in line with the Buddha's teachings.
So today I'd like to share this short reflection with you, and may you all be well and develop in virtue, meditation and wisdom, in line with the Buddha's way.
This is my offering for you for now.
A Mother's Love for her Child
…during the further conversation Luang Por recited the following poem for the monk and his parents, which he had written by himself:
A mother won't feel her own hunger until her child is full.
A mother won't feel drowsy till her child is fast asleep.
A mother won't feel cold herself until her child is warm.
A mother won't feel the heat until the child is cool.
A mother won't provide for herself before tending to her child.
A mother is never too poor to buy the things her child needs.
Becoming a deva
… the group continued chatting informally for a while, when Luang Por carried on:
We have the word in Thai 'teh-wa-da'from 'devata', which means angel or celestial being.
What it means to be an angel is to be a good person - one who has good qualities. Even just a smile. Someone who knows how to smile - that's what being angelic is. You become a deva. If your mind is unwholesome it's like being a demon or a hungry ghost.
Life is like having an empty bottle or an empty house. Things can go into it. The important thing is to know what's dangerous - if you have an empty or abandoned house, ghosts can easily come into it, sit in the chairs, and make a mess of the place. So we have to make sure that it's only devas that come into our house, and that happens when we keep our mind wholesome.
And in our tradition, it's taught that devas used to like to come and listen to the Buddha's teaching, which is why in Thai temples, around the shrine, you'll see devas, either pictures or images. There are demons and ghosts in our Thai Buddhist tradition as well, but these beings don't draw close when the teachings are being given. They don't resonate with truth - they just keep far away.
But the devas are always smiling. They're always peaceful and happy. So that's how you become a deva, or a deva-like person.
… continuing the conversation Luang Por further quoted another Dhamma saying by himself:
Wanting a lot you'll suffer a lot.
Wanting little you'll suffer little.
With wanting's end comes suffering's end.
With more grasping comes more suffering.
When grasping ends, suffering ends.
The Noble Eightfold Path
…eventually one of the monks in the group who had been ordained by Luang Por as the preceptor, stayed on to spend the night at Wat Pah Vivek to receive some more teachings, as he was going to return to England soon. Luang Por asked him what he usually taught when teaching Dhamma for the lay groups. The monk replied that he emphasizes the five precepts, teaches mindfulness of breathing, and explains the Eightfold Path. Luang Por replied:
The summary of the Eightfold Path is sila, samadhi and panya: virtue, mediation and wisdom. What does the Noble Eightfold Path mean? You must explain it as a single path with eight factors, aspects, or qualities: 'ariya-maggo' : the Noble Path with eight factors. But it is one path.
What does 'ariya-maggo' mean? The path of the Noble Ones; the path leading to the Noble Ones; the path that takes one to the state of nobility - enlightenment; the path leading to Buddhahood. The path of the enlightened ones.
Like the path that a teacher walks in life; it's the path that takes you to other teachers. The path that leads you to being a teacher. It's the path that the Noble Ones have trodden, the path leading to the Noble Ones, and the path that leads one to that noble state.
It is the path of sila, samadhi and panya.
Luang Por Chah emphasized virtue, but also said not to worry too much about your precepts. S?la, the precepts that one keeps, is not cows and buffalos that you keep locked up in a pen somewhere. Why should you keep the precepts? What's the use of looking after them? Actually it's yourselves you should be looking after. Look after your actions of body and speech, you will do everything correctly - you won't have to look after your precepts, because your virtue will arise naturally.
Precepts aren't like livestock that you raise: you don't have to keep worrying about them. You virtue is in place already, and you should just look after yourselves.
Once, Luang Por Chah took me on alms round in town, and we walked past the market. There was a sign saying:
Please keep the place clean. (Literally in Thai, 'please look after the cleanliness')
Both Luang Por and I saw it and he looked at me and asked, 'Have they got that sign right?' So I look at it and said, 'Yes, it's a good sign, Luang Por.' He replied:
'Dhamma practitioners should be very subtle with how we speak. Why look after the cleanliness? It's the dirt we should be paying close attention to. Cleanliness is good - no need to look after it. Look after the dirt.'
Doing good, or 'punya', has three bases, the 'punyakiriyavatthu'. You know these, right? Dana (generosity), sila (virtue) and bhavana (mental development or meditation).
This is the wellspring or the font of all that is meritorious. Generosity is the foundation, virtue comes in the middle and meditation is the higher level. And they lead from one to another. Generosity is the first step - you have to give up, renounce. If you don't renounce, you can't survive in the holy life. Give up material things, then renounce on an internal level. Giving up greed, hatred and delusion is the best. Luang Por Chah used to say, 'What offering is the most meritorious? The offering of greed, hatred and delusion. But don't give it to anyone - just throw it away: Let go.'
The second level, sila, is about taking care and looking after yourself.
The third level is training your mind: bringing it to a higher state, making it firm and resilient. Strength of mind leads to wisdom….
See yourself as you really are.
Tell yourself the things you really need to hear.
Using your life in the best possible way:
The truth of nature becomes clear.