Question: What single thing most impressed you about Luang Por Chah - please give us some examples from your experiences with him.
Answer: Well, a few things. One of the most impressive things was the way that Luang Por Chah could wield authority without being authoritarian. He was a very good leader but not someone who had to dominate people. I never lived with him that much so I had few contacts with him. Maybe the very first time I had any exchange with him was when I was an anagarika and he was staying at Wat Pah Nanachat for a few days. As an anagarika, I was the upatthak (attendant) for Ajahn Pabhakaro, who was the abbot of the monastery. So my job was to get his robes and bowl ready for bindapat (alms round) in the morning. I never found it easy to get up early in the morning. I still don't. Morning is not my natural time. I can do it as an act of will but I have to make the effort.
One day, about April or May 1978, when Luang Por was staying with us, I woke up and saw light coming through the gaps between the planks in the walls. I thought, 'Wow, the moon is really bright tonight.' Then I looked at the clock and saw that it was one o'clock. I thought, 'My clock must have stopped.' Then I realised, 'That's not the moon; that's the sun.' So I leapt up, threw my clothes on and raced down the path. When I got to the back of the sala, all the other people had already gone out for bindapat, but Ajahn Pabhakaro and Luang Por, who were going out on a closer bindapat, still hadn't gone. So I thought, 'O.K., I've still got time. Maybe they didn't notice.' So I started fussing around and realised that it was twenty-five past and they were going to leave at half past. So I got their robes, hoping they didn't notice that I arrived late and had missed the morning chanting and sitting. While I was down by Ajahn Chah's feet, tying up the bottom end of his robes, he said something in Thai, which I couldn't understand. I looked up, slightly anxiously, toward Ajahn Pabhaakaro for translation. Ajahn Chah had a big grin on his face, an incredibly friendly loving smile. Then Ajahn Pabhakaro translated, 'Sleep is delicious.' That was the first time in my life that I did something wrong and instead of being criticised or punished there was an incredibly loving attitude. It was at that point that something in my heart knew that Buddhism was really something different.
He was also very flexible. He had no respect for time. And he didn't have any respect for logical consistency. He could change his mind or change his approach in a finger-snap. A couple of years later, when Ajahn Sumedho was starting up Chithurst monastery, I was thinking of going back to England to visit my family. I got a telegram saying my father was very ill with a heart attack. So I zoomed down from Roi-Et and came to Wat Pa Pong to pay respects to Luang Por and to ask his advice. I felt I should go to England soon, but my question was how should I go about this? My Thai was pretty poor. On that occasion, Ajahn Jagaro was there translating.
So I went to Luang Por and explained that I only had one Rains Retreat as a monk and that I was from England and that my family lived quite near Chithurst and that my father just had a heart attack and was very sick, and what did he think I should do? He went into this long speech, about twenty minutes, and I didn't really catch much of it. At the end, Ajahn Jagaro said, "Well, he said four things. 'Go to England and when your visit to your family is finished, go and pay your respects to Ajahn Sumedho and then come straight back to Thailand.' And the second thing he said was, 'Go to England. Go and stay with your family and when your business with your family is finished, go to stay with Ajahn Sumedho for a year and then after that year you can come back to Thailand.' And the third thing he said was, 'Go to England, stay with your family, when your business with your family is finished, go stay with Ajahn Sumedho and help him out. If it gets too difficult, you can come back to Thailand if you really want to.' And the fourth thing he said was, 'Go to England, when the business with the family is finished, go and stay with Ajahn Sumedho and don't come back.'" The whole talk was delivered with exactly the same expression. It wasn't like any one option was preferential. As he was speaking it, each one was an absolutely sincere piece of advice, a directive: "Do this. These are your instructions. Follow them to the letter!" And he wasn't trying to be clever. It was obvious that he was being absolutely straightforward. This characteristic came forth in many different situations.
Connected to that was his quality of being transparent as a person. Someone once asked me to take a message to him, telling him that some people had just arrived at the sala and could he come. So I went to his kuti and he was just on his ratan bench underneath his kuti. He was just sitting there with his eyes closed and there was no one else around. I went up and kneeled in front of him and he didn't open his eyes, so I thought, "Hmm, I wonder what I should do?"' I waited a few minutes and still he didn't open his eyes. Some important Ajahn was waiting, so I said (in Thai), "Excuse me." Then he opened his eyes and it was like there was absolutely nobody there. It wasn't like he was asleep; the eyes came open but there was no expression on his face. It was completely empty. He looked at me, and I looked at him and said, "Luang Por, Ajahn Chu asked me to bring a message that some people have come to the sala and would it be possible for you to come and receive them."
Again for a moment there was no expression, just this complete spacious, empty quality in his expression. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, the personality appeared. He made some remark that I didn't quite catch the details of. It was as if suddenly the "person" appeared - it was like watching a being coming into existence. There was an extraordinary quality in that moment, seeing a being that was putting on a mask or putting on a costume, as if to say: "O.K., I'll be Ajahn Chah. I can go play at being Ajahn Chah for these people."' You could see that kind of assuming of the personality, the body, all the characteristics of personhood, just being taken up like he was putting on his robe or he was putting on a role for the sake of emerging and contacting other people. It was very powerful seeing that "something" coming out of nothing. Like seeing a being appearing before your eyes.
Question: Did you ever see him use psychic powers?
Answer: I saw him take his false teeth out. (laughter) That had a very powerful effect. Well, not so much psychic power, but some things really impressed me. Some years ago I was doing a three months solitary retreat in the forest at Cittaviveka, Chithurst Monastery. And during the last month of the retreat there were several people who were close to the monastery who were quite ill: two of the lay supporters, one of the monks living there and also Luang Por Chah. This was in 1988. During that last month, each day for about an hour I would do some chanting, particularly for these four people. My mind doesn't visualise things very easily. I can't conjure up images very easily at all in my mind, but I found that when I would think of these people, first the two lay people, then the monk and then Luang Por at the end. When I brought to mind the two lay people, an image that was quite clear and distinct would come up. Then when I would bring up the image of my monk friend to dedicate the puñña (merit) to him, it was still there, but slightly less distinct. When I tried to think of Luang Por - sharing puñña or sending metta (lovingkindness) to him - I could never get an image at all. My mind would not make him into a person. As soon as I thought of Luang Por, my mind would get extremely bright, but there was no image of a face, just this huge space and great brightness. Every day I did this - for three weeks or a month - and every time it was the same.
I used to do a lot of acting when I was a kid and the last role that I ever played was Jesus. It was in a radio play called 'The Man Born To Be King.' And there was this passage in the play where Jesus is going, with the cross on his shoulder, to get executed, and all of his disciples are weeping, seeing him being whipped, with a big heavy weight on his back. This passage is in the Bible and also I had to say it in the play, so it was in my memory. As Jesus spoke, he turns to the people in the crowd and says, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, weep for yourselves.' And so Luang Por's face kept coming into my mind, saying, 'Look, O.K., this body is sick. It's all very well to be thinking of that, but don't weep for me. You're the one who's in trouble. Do not weep for me, weep for yourself.' This kept coming in to my mind like a teaching.
This other story is one that I heard. I didn't experience it myself. One year after Luang Por Chah had his stroke and was paralysed, Luang Por Sumedho and Ajahn Anando were visiting him. At that time, Anando was very keen on faith healing, laying on hands and this sort of thing. The monks used to keep a 24 hour rota of looking after Luang Por while he was sick, sharing the duties of taking care of him. So while they were there, Anando asked permission to help out with the nursing and so he was on the shift between midnight and three in the morning. During these early morning hours, he was there in Luang Por's room and the other monk was dozing and I guess Luang Por was lying flat on the bed. Now at this time, Luang Por was completely paralysed. He might still have had a little movement in one hand, but he hadn't been able to move his body at all for some years.
In the middle of the night, Anando thought maybe he should do some faith healing on Luang Por. Maybe this would help him. So he sat down next to the bed and put his hands over Luang Por's chest and started to concentrate his mind, gathering healing energy and putting it out through his hands to Luang Por. As he was sitting there, Luang Por sat up in bed - and this is after he hadn't moved for months, if not years - he sat up in bed, looked Anando straight in the eyes, fixed him with a stare for a long time, and then he closed his eyes and sat back down again. As if to say, "Thank you very much, but this is not necessary. Do not weep for me. It's not me that needs the healing - take care of yourselves." So, I don't know if you'd call that psychic power or what.
Lastly, I had a dream of him at the end of 1998. I wouldn't call this psychic power but another kind of teaching. I had been editing a children's fairy tale, a Buddhist story called 'The Pilgrim Kamanita.' I had been working like crazy for about four years, editing it and making a large compendium of footnotes and references. I decided I wanted to get it finished before the winter retreat began. That December I spent many late nights working at it. Finally, at the end of the year, I got it all finished.
That night I had a dream. Me and a couple of other monks are coming to a building and there's Luang Por Chah standing by the doorway; under my arm I've got my manuscript, this book. Then (I'm not quite sure why) I leaned forward, Luang Por took the book out of my hands and looked through it. There was an expression on his face which indicated something like: "Oh, this is obviously something you are very interested in and excited about." He had a critical attitude, that clearly this was a frivolous thing that really had no great consequence. And as he was looking at it with this sort of half-amused and not very impressed expression on his face, the book turned into a cuddly toy, like a little teddy bear or a soft rabbit. But even though it was being demonstrated as being this worthless bit of froth, the way he handled it was with great gentleness and respect. He sat the little soft toy down on a sofa, patted it, and arranged it nicely. Even though it was a little fluffy thing of no great consequence, it still had its place and could be treated respectfully.