Question: What single thing most impressed you about Luang Por Chah with examples according to your experiences.
Answer: I arrived at Wat Pah Pong in December of 1978. It was the uposatha (observance) day. I was already an anagarika but I hadn't shaved my head. I had been travelling. One of the western monks, Than Pamutto took me to his kuti and shaved my head and then we went to pay respects to Luang Por. The moment I saw him, I had a very strong feeling that he would be my teacher and that I didn't need to go anywhere else. Before I left England, Ajahn Sumedho gave me a piece of advice. He said, 'don't look for the perfect monastery, it doesn't exist.' Even so I got a little side-tracked and went to stay with another teacher for a few days. But then I came back to Wat Pah Pong and thought now I can stop travelling. I felt Luang Por was unlike anybody I had ever met before. I felt he was the only totally normal person I had ever met and everyone else was a bit abnormal compared to him. It felt as if I'd spent my whole life listening to people singing just a little bit out of tune and this was the first time I'd ever heard someone sing in tune. Or like I grew up in a country that only had plastic flowers and then one day I finally saw a real flower. 'Ah, so that's what a real flower is. I've only ever seen plastic flowers before.' Plastic flowers can be beautiful, but nothing like real flowers.
Q: Ajahn Chah couldn't speak English, and you, when you came, couldn't speak Thai, so how did you learn from him?
A: The teaching that you receive in Desana (a Dhamma talk) and in other verbal teachings is only one part of what you get from a teacher. From the very first day, the thing that I received from Ajahn Chah and the thing that impressed me most was this very strong confidence that he was an enlightened being, and therefore enlightenment is real and possible. I had that belief before, from books I'd read and to a certain extent from other teachers, but it was only when I met Ajahn Chah that this became really grounded in my being, this confidence that the path to Nibbana can still be followed and that it is possible to realise all the fruits of holy life. So I was impressed with who Ajahn Chah was, his being, as much as his teaching. Of course I was very inspired by his teachings and there are many teachings that I treasure and have made great use of in my practice.
When you become a monk, you go through periods of feeling very positive and you can also go through periods where you feel discouraged and you feel very unhappy. I think if you look closely at what sustains you when you feel down, it's not so much the wise teachings and reflections as much as the faith that what you're doing is really meaningful, that the path of practice does lead to Nibbana. I've never had any disrobing doubts since I became a monk. Other monks who have understood or studied the teachings more than I have disrobed. It didn't help them. But because I had the presence of Ajahn Chah, and afterwards the memory of Ajahn Chah, it seemed to me there's no alternative, there's nothing else that makes sense except to be a monk and to follow this path.
I also loved his being and how he expressed himself, his voice. If you gave Ajahn Chah a newspaper to read, or just some names from a telephone directory, I could still listen to him talking for hours because of his voice and who he is as much as the actual words he speaks.
Q: How long did you stay with him?
A: I arrived in late 1978 and I can't say that I spent that long a time with him. In the early 80's he became seriously ill. After my first pansa (rain retreat), which I spent at Wat Nah Pho, I really wanted to be his upatak (attendant) and this was one reason why I learned Thai because I thought it would give me a better chance. There was a rota system and he was going to spend some time in Wat Pah Gud Wai and I was chosen as one of the upatak to go to Wat Pah Gud Wai. That was a time I remember very fondly. Because it wasn't such a big monastery as Wat Pah Pong it was easier to get close to Ajahn Chah. At Wat Pah Pong there were so many monks and quite a lot of competition to be close to Ajahn Chah, and sometimes when I saw that, I just wanted to withdraw. I didn't want to fight anybody to be upatak or anything. I was shy that way.
Then he went back to Wat Pah Pong and he told me to stay and look after the Abbot of Wat Pah Gud Wai. So I stayed, but then on uposatha days, I walked to Wat Pah Pong, which is about 7 or 8 kilometres away. After the meal I went to Ajahn Chah's kuti. Sometimes he'd go upstairs and rest, and I would massage his feet and tell him what I was doing. After Patimokka I'd go back to Wat Pah Gud Wai.
Ajahn Chah was very famous with many, many disciples, monks and lay people. It wasn't so easy to have quiet time with him but again, for some reason, it didn't really trouble me because he told us what to do; he was quite clear. I felt happy just knowing he was there and that if I wanted to go and see him, I could. But really I didn't need to go often.
Q: Do you have any experience of psychic power?
A: I believe that he had many psychic powers but I think it's important that his policy was not to stress this or talk about it in public. So if one of his disciples had psychic powers, then in private he would discuss it with them. But if a monk had no samadhi or psychic power and they asked him about it, he would be very stern, 'it's none of your business.' If you asked him about things that were beyond your own level, he often wouldn't answer, or he'd say, 'it's just a waste of time.' He could be very stern in that way. There are many occasions, especially in the early years, when he showed these psychic powers. Other times maybe it's just the faith of the disciple who just 'upathan' (imagination). I don't think you can always say 'upathan'; there are definite occasions when it's clearly true, I think. So I have real belief that Ajahn Chah had psychic powers. For me it's not such an exciting thing, not as much as his wisdom, lovingkindness and purity, and the fact that he would never show any defilements in his conduct.