Question: What single thing most impressed you about Luang Por Chah - please give us some examples from your experiences with him.
Answer: My experience with him is very limited because I only saw him one time before he got really sick. So I only saw him once when he could still walk and talk and function normally. While I was studying in Scotland he was invited to visit Edinburgh, and he was with Ajahn Sumedho and Ajahn Pabhakaro. He had just arrived that evening, and he stayed overnight and left the following day. There was a meeting with a few people. He didn't give a talk, just questions and answers, and I can't remember what he said but it did leave an impression. I remember him being someone totally at ease and just completely normal in a way. There was nothing really outstanding, he was just someone who was right there. There was no kind of pretence or play-acting, he was just who he was.
It was just a short meeting, a short meditation and afterwards he answered questions. So I only saw him for an hour or so. I was still quite new to practice and Buddhism. I'd only met Ajahn Sumedho before, so it felt like a very important and fortunate thing to be able to meet his teacher as well. I felt very much in awe, you know, 'Ajahn Chah!'
We were waiting for them to arrive and I happened to be just outside in the corridor when he came. I remember feeling quite shy and embarrassed, not knowing how to behave. So I just raised my hands in anjali as he walked past - he was really short and walking with a stick. And he stopped and looked up at me, and then carried on.
Question: Do you remember what year this was in?
Answer: It must have been 1979. I remember him sitting in a chair and just looking around, tapping things with his stick. I felt there was kindness, a good feeling from just being in his presence. It was a long time ago and very brief, but what stands out is that feeling of the goodness of his presence, and that he was someone who was very much at ease.
I've always enjoyed his teachings that have been published in books, like 'Bodhinyana' and 'Taste of Freedom', very inspiring, and there's an apparent simplicity in it, but also a depth and profundity of his wisdom comes across. And even though you can read them many times there's still something that reaches and touches you, something inspiring.
Q: You saw him again in Thailand?
A: Yes, I went to Thailand for the first time eleven years ago. I was already a bhikkhu for nine years, and by that time he was very sick and being looked after in that little hospital kuti. Ajahn Nyanadhammo was there at the time, on the team that was looking after him. We would go once a week on the Wan Phra (observance day) and pay our respects. We would sit around outside and if he was well enough, they would wheel him out in his wheelchair and we would pay respect and do parittas (chanting.)
Q: And did you have the opportunity to go on the routine they do?
A: No, I didn't do that because I wasn't there for very long and I didn't know Thai. I thought it would just be more difficult for the others. I didn't really know what to do.
Q: How did you feel at that time when he couldn't walk or speak?
A: It was sad and it was strange. It was difficult to connect the Luang Por Chah I met when he was alive and still quite vivacious and energetic, with someone who was just like a vegetable, no kind of response there or anything. So it was a bit sad, but also there was still something uplifting about how his parami (perfection of character) and his presence was still so important for so many people, and it kind of kept the Sangha together. There was a sense of the Sangha really coming together, and there was a lot of devotion towards him. A great being really brings that up in people.
Biography Ajahn Chandapalo was born in 1957 in Preston, northwest England, and first encountered Buddhist teachings while studying engineering at Lancaster University. While attending a Vesak ceremony in Manchester in 1978, several months after beginning a regular meditation practice, he saw bhikkhus for the first time, including Ajahn Sumedho. Two years later, after completing a master's degree in biomedical engineering, he arrived at Chithurst monastery and took the 8 precepts. In 1982 he took upasampada with Ajahn Sumedho as preceptor. Since then he has assisted with founding the Devon Vihara, Amaravati and Dhammapala in Switzerland, has spent a year in Thailand, and in 1993 was invited to Santacittarama monastery in Italy. In 1996 he took responsability as senior incumbent, and the following year transferred to the present property near Rieti, 50 Km from Rome.