Question: What single thing most impressed you about Luang Por Chah with examples according to your experiences.
Answer: Luang Por Chah had a great deal of metta (lovingkindness), so I felt very welcomed by the way he received me at Wat Pah Pong. When I first met him, I felt he was very interested and I felt intuitively that he was a very wise man. Although at the time I couldn't understand Thai very well, still what I saw of how he lived his life and his general way of being was very pleasing to me. As a teacher, he seemed to pick up very quickly where I was at. His teaching was very direct. He never wanted me to spend much time reading or studying, just to practise. He emphasised with everybody 'Patipat' (practice). He told me when I first came to him to put my books away and just read my 'citta', my mind. I was quite happy to do that because I was quite weary of studying Buddhism and I much more wanted to practise it instead of just read about it. This is what he was encouraging me to do.
Even though he was giving a lot of talks - which I couldn't understand for the first two years - he very much emphasised 'Koh Wat' (duties), the way you live in the monastery: paying attention, being mindful with the food and the robes and kuti and the monastery. I found him very much like a mirror that would reflect my state of mind. He always seemed to be completely present. If I'd get carried away with my thoughts and emotions, I found that just being around him I suddenly could let go. I could drop what I was holding on to without even telling him. His presence helped me to see what I was doing and what I was holding on to. So I decided that I would live with him as long as I could since such monks are hard to find. So I stayed with him for ten years at Wat Pah Pong and he would send me to various branch monasteries.
Q: Did you notice that he had any experiences with psychic powers?
A: He'd kind of laugh at all of that. He was very clear on what the Buddha taught so he didn't encourage any kind of attempt to get powers but to just develop awareness in daily life. Not even a lot of samadhi or sitting. It was a more active life style that pointed toward the present - 'paccupatadhamma' - here and now. This is what I was recognizing and how I picked up the teaching. When asked about powers, he just said, 'if they come don't make anything of them. If you don't have them, fine. If you do, don't hold on to them. Don't think you are special because you have powers.'
Q: Did you experience times of being happy and also not so happy with him as a teacher?
A: Yes, he could be very charming and make you feel very good but he could also be very critical and very fierce. But with Luang Por Chah, I always trusted him, so I felt even when he was being critical of me, I could use that. I could see my feelings of anger towards him. One had to conform to everything at Wat Pah Pong and he would give very long desanas (Dhamma talks) in the evening, sometimes four or five hours. And of course, I couldn't understand them. So when he would start to give a talk in Lao, I asked him if I could get up and go back to practice at my kuti. He said, 'No, no, you have to stay and develop patience.' And so I thought I had to do what he said, so I did that. And of course, when you are feeling bored with a lot of pain from sitting so long, you feel anger. And he's the one with all the power; he's the one sitting up in the Dhamma seat and he can decide to stop when he wants to. I'd start feeling all this rage, real anger and I'd start thinking, 'I'm going to leave this monastery, I don't want to be here.' But then it would drop very quickly. It didn't hold, for some reason. I didn't carry it. One time, I remember I was really angry, he'd been talking for a long time and I was so fed up and tired with the whole thing and then at the end of his talk he looked at me and smiled and asked me how I was doing. I said I felt fine, because all that anger and rage had just dropped away. Basically I had so much faith in him that I could allow him to do things that would push me to the edge, to make me see what I was doing. Basically I trusted him, so I never felt like I was used or abused or exploited because I trusted that he was helping me even when I didn't like what he was doing.
Q: What is your point of view about Luang Por Chah's way of teaching?
A: It was about getting to know yourself, to keep looking at your mind, at your citta, so you're aware all the time of what you're feeling. Know your emotion, do not get caught by your own emotion. Keep observing what you're feeling emotionally. I had a lot of emotions coming up about being the only farang (foreigner) there, feeling insecure and not understanding everything very well. Sometimes I'd feel lonely and other times arrogant. I felt that a lot of what they were doing was stupid and I didn't agree with it. But there was this emphasis on knowing yourself, knowing your emotion, to be the one who knows or puru in Thai. The puru style, being the knowing, I found really helpful. I began to see how I was creating my own suffering by holding on to views or by projecting things onto other monks. When I actually reflected on the existing conditions, I saw they were very good. I had food and requisites, a good teacher, and the monks were basically all very good people. So when I really contemplated the actual situation, I saw it was a very good place. Then I could see emotionally I would bring up jealousy or fear, resentment or arrogance and because of the puru style of Luang Por Chah's I could see how I created these things. Once I could see that, I could let go of them. I didn't have to do that. Once I saw that I was the one who created these arom (moods), I could take the position of being the one who knows, the one who is aware. I worked through a lot of emotional habits that way. You know how it can be when you're the only foreigner, you don't know what's happening or what they're thinking. I experienced a lot of fear or paranoia, thinking 'What are they really thinking? Why do they do that?' And yet because of the teaching, the puru, I could see that this was what I made up myself, that my fear or my projection of that monk was what I made. It wasn't that monk. It was what I was making up myself.