every home and every community, whether we live in the city, the
countryside, the forests, or the mountains, we are the same in
experiencing happiness and suffering. And so many of us lack a place
of refuge, a field or garden where we can cultivate positive
qualities of heart. We experience this spiritual poverty because we
donít really have commitment; we donít have clear understanding of
what this life is all about and what we ought to be doing. From
childhood and youth until becoming adults, we only learn to seek
enjoyment and take delight in the things of the senses. We never
think that danger will threaten us as we go about our lives, making
a family and so on.
If we donít have land to till and a home to live in, we
are without an external refuge, and our lives are filled with
difficulty and distress. Beyond that, there is the inner lack of not
having sila and Dharma in our lives, of not going to hear teachings
and practice Dharma. As a result, there is little wisdom in our
lives, and everything regresses and degenerates. The Buddha, our
Supreme Teacher, had lovingkindness (metta) for beings. He
led sons and daughters of good family to ordain, to practice and
realize the truth, to establish and spread the sasana to show
people how to live in happiness in their daily lives. He taught the
proper ways to earn a livelihood, to be moderate and thrifty in
managing finances, to act without carelessness in all affairs.
But when we are lacking in both ways, externally in the
material supports for life and internally in spiritual supports as
well, then as time goes by and the number of people grows, the
delusion and the poverty and difficulty become causes for us to grow
further and further estranged from Dharma. We arenít interested in
seeking the Dharma because of our difficult circumstances. Even if
there is a monastery nearby, we donít feel much like going to listen
to teachings because we are obsessed with our poverty and troubles
and the difficulty of merely supporting our lives. But the Lord
Buddha taught that no matter how poor we may be, we should not let
it impoverish our hearts and starve our wisdom. Even if there are
floods inundating our fields, our villages, and our homes to the
point where it is beyond our capability to do save anything, the
Buddha taught us not to let it flood and overcome the heart.
Flooding the heart means that we lose sight of and have no knowledge
of the Dharma.
There is the flood of sensuality, the flood of
becoming, the flood of views, and the flood of ignorance. These
four obscure and envelop the hearts of beings. They are worse than
water that floods our fields, our villages, or our towns. Even if
water floods our fields again and again over the years or fire burns
down our homes, we still have our minds. If our minds have sila and
Dharma, we can use our wisdom and find ways to earn a living and
support ourselves. We can acquire land again and make a new start.
Now when we have our means of livelihood, our homes and
possessions, our minds can be comfortable and upright, and we can
have energy of spirit to help and assist each other. If someone is
able to share food and clothing and provide shelter to those in
need, that is an act of lovingkindness. The way I see it, giving
things in a spirit of lovingkindness is far better than selling them
to make a profit. Those who have metta arenít wishing for anything
for themselves. They only wish for others to live in happiness.
If we really make up our minds and commit
ourselves to the right way, I think there shouldnít be any serious
difficulty. We wonít experience extreme poverty--we wonít be like
earthworms. We still have a skeleton, eyes and ears, arms and legs.
We can eat things like fruit; we donít have to eat dirt, like an
earthworm. If you complain about poverty, if you become mired in
feeling how unfortunate you are, the earthworm will ask, ďDonít feel
too sorry for yourself. Donít you still have arms and legs and
bones? I donít have those things, yet I donít feel poor.Ē The
earthworm will shame us like this.
One day a hog farmer came to see me. He was
complaining, ďOh man, this year itís really too much! The price of
feed is up. The price of pork is down. Iím losing my shirt!Ē
I listened to his laments, then I said, ďDonít
feel too sorry for yourself, Sir. If you were a pig, then youíd have
good reason to feel sorry for yourself. When the price of pork is
high, the pigs are slaughtered. When the price of pork is low, the
pigs are still slaughtered. The pigs really have something to
complain about. The people shouldnít be complaining. Think about
this seriously, please.Ē
He was only worried about the prices he was getting. The pigs have a
lot more to worry about, but we donít consider that. Weíre not being
killed, so we can still try to find a way to get by.
I really believe that if you listen to the
Dharma, contemplating it and understanding it, you can make an end
of your suffering. You know what is right to do, what you need to
do, what you need to use and spend. You can live your life according
to sila and Dharma, applying wisdom to worldly matters. But most of
us are far from that. We donít have morality or Dharma in our lives,
so our lives are filled with discord and friction. There is discord
between husbands and wives, discord between children and parents.
Children donít listen to their parents, just because of lack of
Dharma in the family. People arenít interested in hearing the Dharma
and learning anything, so instead of developing good sense and
skillfulness, they remain mired in ignorance, and the result is
lives of suffering.
The Buddha taught Dharma and set out the way of
practice. He wasnít trying to make our lives difficult. He wanted us
to improve, to become better and more skillful. Itís just that we
donít listen. This is pretty bad. Itís like a little child who
doesnít want to take a bath in the middle of winter because itís too
cold. He starts to stink so much that the parents canít even sleep
at night, so they grab hold of him and give him a bath. That makes
him mad, and he cries and curses his father and mother.
The parents and the child see the situation
differently. For the child, itís too uncomfortable to take a bath in
the winter. For the parents, the childís smell is unbearable. The
two views canít be reconciled. The Buddha didnít simply want to
leave us as we are. He wanted us to be diligent and work hard in
ways that are good and beneficial and to be enthusiastic about the
right path. Instead of being lazy, we have to make efforts. His
teaching is not something that will make us foolish or useless. He
teaches us how to develop and apply wisdom to whatever we are doing,
working, farming, raising a family, managing our finances, being
aware of all aspects of these things. If we live in the world, we
have to pay attention and know the ways of the world. Otherwise we
end up in dire straits.
We live in a place where the Buddha and his
Dharma are familiar to us. But then we get the idea that all we need
to do is go hear teachings and then take it easy, living our lives
as before. That is badly mistaken. How would the Buddha have
attained any knowledge like that? There would never have been a
He taught about the various kinds of wealth: the
wealth of human life, the wealth of the heaven realm, the wealth of
Nirvana. Those with Dharma, even though they are living in the
world, are not poor. Even though they may be poor, they donít suffer
over it. When we live according to Dharma, we feel no distress when
looking back on what we have done. We are only creating good karma.
If we are creating bad karma, then the result later on will be
misery. If we havenít created bad karma, we wonít suffer such
results in the future. But if we donít try to change our habits and
put a stop to wrong actions, our difficulties go on and on, both the
mental distress and the material troubles. So we need to listen and
contemplate, and then we can figure out where the difficulties come
from. Havenít you ever carried things to the fields on a pole over
your shoulders? When the load is too heavy in front, isnít that
uncomfortable to carry? When itís too heavy in back, isnít that
uncomfortable to carry? Which way is balanced and which way is
imbalanced? When youíre doing it, you can see. Dharma is like that.
There is cause and effect, there is common sense. When the load is
balanced, itís easier to carry. We can manage our lives in a
balanced way, with an attitude of moderation. Our family relations
and our work can be smoother. Even if you arenít rich, you can still
have ease of mind; you donít need to suffer over that.
If a family is not hard-working, then they fall
on difficulty, and when they see others with more than they have,
they start to feel covetousness, jealousy, and resentment, and it
may lead to stealing. Then the village becomes an unhappy place.
Itís better to work at benefiting yourselves and your families, for
this life and also for future lives. If your material needs are met
through your efforts, then your mind is happy and at ease, and that
is conducive to listening to Dharma teachings to learn about right
and wrong, virtue and demerit, and to keep on changing your lives
for the better. You can learn to recognize how doing wrong deeds
only creates hardship, and you will give up such actions and keep
improving. Your way of working will change, and your mind will
change too. From being someone ignorant, you will become someone
with knowledge. From being someone with bad habits, you will become
someone with a good heart. You can teach what you know to your
children and grandchildren. This is creating benefit for the future,
by doing what is right in the present. But those without wisdom
donít do anything of benefit in the present, and they only end up
bringing hardship upon themselves. If they become poor, they just
think about gambling. Then that finally leads to becoming thieves.
We havenít died yet, so now is the time to talk
about these things. If you donít hear the Dharma when you are a
human being, there wonít be any other chance. Do you think animals
can be taught the Dharma? Animal life is a lot harder than ours,
being born as a toad or a frog, a pig or a dog, a cobra or a viper,
a squirrel or a rabbit. When people see them, they only think about
killing or beating them, or catching or raising them for food.
We have this opportunity as humans. Itís much
better! Weíre still alive, so now is the time to look into this and
mend our ways. If things are difficult, try to bear with the
difficulty for the time being and live in the right way, until one
day you can do it. Practicing the Dharma is like that.
Iíd like to remind you all of the need for having
a good mind and living your lives in an ethical way. However you may
have been doing things up to now, you should take a look and examine
to see whether that is good or not. If youíve been following wrong
ways, give them up. Give up wrong livelihood. Earn your living in a
good and decent way that doesnít harm others and doesnít harm
yourself or society. When you practice right livelihood, then you
can live with a comfortable mind.
We monks and nuns rely on the layfolk for all our
material needs. And we rely on contemplation so that we are able to
explain the Dharma to the laypeople for their own understanding and
benefit, enabling them to improve their lives. Whatever causes
misery and conflict, you can learn to recognize and remove it. Make
efforts to get along with each other, to have harmony in your
relations rather than exploiting or harming each other.
These days things are pretty bad. Itís hard for
folks to get along. Even when a few people get together for a little
meeting, it doesnít work out. They just look at each otherís faces
three times, and theyíre ready to start killing each other. Why is
it like this? Itís only because people have no sila or Dharma in
In the time of our parents, it was a lot
different. Just the way people looked at each other showed that they
felt love and friendship. Itís not anything like that now. If a
stranger shows up in the village as evening comes, everyone will be
suspicious: ďWhatís he doing coming here at night?Ē Why should we be
afraid of a person coming into the village? If a strange dog comes
into the village, nobody will give it a second thought. So is a
person worse than a dog? ďItís an outsider, a strange person!Ē How
can anyone be an outsider? When someone comes to the village, we
ought to be glad: they are in need of shelter, so they can stay with
us and we can take care of them and help them out. We will have some
But nowadays thereís no tradition of hospitality
and good will anymore. There are only fear and suspicion. In some
villages Iíd say there arenít any people leftóthere are only
animals. Thereís suspicion about everything, possessiveness over
every bush and every inch of ground, just because there is no
morality, no spirituality. When there are no sila and no Dharma,
then we live lives of unease and paranoia. People go to sleep at
night, and soon they wake up, worrying about whatís going on or
about some sound they heard. People in the villages donít get along
or trust each other. Parents and children donít trust each other.
Husband and wife donít trust each other. Whatís going on?
All of this is the result of being far from the
Dharma and living lives bereft of Dharma. So everywhere you look,
itís like this, and life is hard. If a few people show up in the
village and request shelter for the night now, theyíre told to go
find a hotel. Everything is business now. In the past, no one would
think of sending them away like that. The whole village would join
in showing hospitality. People would go and invite their neighbors,
and everyone would bring food and drink to share with the guests.
Now that canít be done. After people eat their dinner, they lock the
Wherever we look in the world now, this is the
way things area going. It means that the non-spiritual (adhammaóďthe
way of darknessĒ??) is proliferating and taking over. We
people are generally not very happy, and we donít trust anyone very
much. Some people even kill their parents now. Husbands and wives
may cut each otherís throats. There is a lot of pain in society, and
itís simply because of this lack of sila and Dharma. So please try
to understand this, and donít discard the principles of virtue. With
virtue and spirituality, human life can be happy. Without them, we
become like animals.
The Buddha was born in the forest. Born in the
forest, he studied Dharma in the forest. He taught Dharma in the
forest, beginning with the Discourse on the Turning of the Wheel of
Dharma. He entered Nirvana in the forest.
Itís important for those of us who live in the
forest to understand the forest. Living in the forest doesnít mean
that our minds become wild, like those of forest animals. Our minds
can become elevated and spiritually noble. This is what the Buddha
said. Living in the city, we live among distraction and disturbance.
In the forest, there is quiet and tranquility. We can contemplate
things clearly and develop wisdom. So we take this quiet and
tranquility as our friend and helper. Such an environment is
conducive to Dharma practice, so we take it as our dwelling place;
we take the mountains and caves for our refuge. Observing natural
phenomena, wisdom comes about in such places. We learn from and
understand trees and everything else, and it brings about a state of
joy. The sounds of nature we hear donít disturb us. We hear the
birds calling, as they will, and it is actually a great enjoyment.
We donít react with any aversion, and we arenít thinking harmful
thoughts. We arenít speaking harshly or acting aggressively towards
anyone or anything. Hearing the sounds of the forest gives delight
to the mind; even as we are hearing sounds, the mind is tranquil.
The sounds of people, on the other hand, are not
peaceful. Even when people speak nicely, it doesnít bring any deep
tranquility to the mind. The sounds that people like, such as music,
are not peaceful. They cause excitement and enjoyment, but there is
no peace in them. When people are together and seeking pleasure in
this way, it will usually lead to mindless and aggressive,
contentious speech, and the condition of disturbance keeps
The sounds of humans are like this. They do not
bring real comfort or happiness, unless words of Dharma are being
spoken. Generally, when people live together in society, they are
speaking out of their own interests, upsetting each other, taking
offense and accusing each other, and the only result is confusion
and upset. Without Dharma, people naturally tend to be like that.
The sounds of humans lead us into delusion. The sounds of music and
the words of songs agitate and confuse the mind. Take a look at
this. Consider the pleasurable sensations that come from listening
to music. People feel itís really something great, that itís so much
fun. They can stand out in the hot sun when theyíre listening to a
music and dance show. They can stand there until theyíre baked to a
crisp, but still they feel theyíre having fun. But then if someone
speaks harshly, criticizing or cursing them, they are unhappy again.
This is how it is with the ordinary sounds of humans. But if the
sounds of humans become the sounds of Dharma, if the mind is Dharma
and we are speaking Dharma, that is something worth listening to,
something to think about, to study and contemplate.
That kind of sound is good, not in any excessive,
unbalanced way, but in a way that brings happiness and tranquility.
The ordinary sounds of humans generally only bring confusion, upset,
and torment. They lead to the arising of lust, anger, and confusion,
and they incite people to be covetous and greedy, to want to harm
and destroy others. But the sounds of the forest arenít like that.
If we hear the cry of a bird, it doesnít cause us to have lust or
We should be using our time to create benefit
right now, in the present. This was the Buddhaís intention: benefit
in this life, benefit in future lives. In this life, from childhood
we need to apply ourselves to study, to learn at least enough to be
able to earn a living, so that we can support ourselves and
eventually establish a family and not live in poverty. But we
generally donít have such a responsible attitude. We only want to
seek enjoyment instead. Wherever thereís a festival, a play, or a
concert, weíre on our way there, even when itís getting near harvest
time. The old folks will drag the grandchildren along to hear the
ďWhere are you off to, Grandmother?Ē
ďIím taking the kids to hear the concert!Ē
I donít know if Grandma is taking the kids, or
the kids are taking her. It doesnít matter how long or difficult a
trip it might be. And they go again and again. They say theyíre
taking the grandchildren to listen, but the truth is they just want
to go themselves. To them, thatís whatís a good time is. If you
invite them to come to the monastery to listen to Dharma and learn
about right and wrong, theyíll say, ďYou go ahead. I want to stay
home and rest,Ē or, ďIíve got a bad headache, my back hurts, my
knees are sore, I really donít feel wellÖ.Ē But if itís a popular
singer or an exciting play, theyíll rush to round up the kids, and
nothing bothers them then.
Thatís how folks are. They make such efforts yet
all theyíre doing is bringing suffering and difficulty on
themselves. Theyíre seeking out darkness, confusion, and
intoxication on this path of delusion. The Buddha is teaching us to
create benefit for ourselves in this life, ultimate benefit,
spiritual welfare. We should do it now, in this life. We should be
seeking out the knowledge that will help us do that, so that we can
live our lives well, making good use of our resources, working with
diligence in ways of right livelihood.
After I ordained, I started practicing, studying
and then practicing, and faith came about. When I first started
practicing, I would think about the lives of beings in the world. It
all seemed very heartrending and pitiful. What was so pitiful about
it? All the rich people would soon die and have to leave their big
houses behind, leaving the children and grandchildren to fight over
the estate. When I saw such things happening, I thought, hmmmÖ It
got to me. It made me feel pity towards rich and poor alike, towards
the wise and the foolishóeveryone living in this world was in the
Reflecting on our bodies, about the condition of
the world and the lives of sentient beings, brings about weariness
and dispassion. Thinking about the ordained life, that we have taken
up this way of life to dwell and practice in the forest, and
developing a constant attitude of disenchantment and dispassion, our
practice will progress. Thinking constantly about the factors of
practice, rapture comes about. The hairs of the body stand on end.
There is a feeling of joy in reflecting on the way we live, in
comparing our lives previously with our lives now.
The Dharma caused such feelings to fill my heart.
I didnít know who to talk to about it. I was awake, and whatever
situations I met, I was awake and alert. It means I had some
knowledge of Dharma. My mind was illumined, and I realized many
things. I experienced bliss, a real satisfaction and delight in my
way of life.
To put it simply, I felt I was different from
others. I was a fully grown, normal man, but I could live in the
forest like this. I didnít have any regrets or see any loss in it.
When I saw others having families, I thought that was truly
regrettable. I looked around and thought, how many people can live
like this? I came to have real faith and trust in path of practice I
had chosen, and this faith has supported me right up to the present.
In the early days of Wat Pah Pong, I had four or
five monks living here with me. We experienced a lot of
difficulties. From what I can see now, most of us Buddhists are
pretty deficient in our practice. These days, when you walk into a
monastery, you only see the kutis, the temple hall, the monastery
grounds, and the monks. But as to what is really the heart of the
Buddhaís way (Buddhasasana), you wonít find that. Iíve spoken
about this often; itís a cause for sadness.
In the past I had one Dharma companion who became more
interested in study than in practice. He pursued the Pali and
Abhidharma studies, going to live in Bangkok after a while, and last
year he finally completed his studies and received a certificate and
titles commensurate with his learning. So now he has a brand name.
Here, I donít have any brand name. I studied outside the models,
contemplating things and practicing, thinking and practicing. So I
didnít get the brand label like the others. In this monastery we had
ordinary monks, people who didnít have a lot of learning but who
were determined to practice.
I originally came to this place at the invitation of my
mother. She was the one who had cared for me and supported me since
my birth, but I hadnít yet gotten an opportunity to repay her
kindness, so I thought this would be the way to do that, coming here
to Wat Pah Pong. I had some connection with this place. When I was a
child, I remember hearing my father say that Ajahn Sao came to stay
here. My father went to hear the Dharma from him. I was a child, but
the memory stayed with me; it stuck in my mind always.
My father never ordained, but he told me how he went to
pay respects to this meditation monk. It was the first time he saw a
monk eating out of his bowl, putting everything together in the one
almsbowlórice, curry, sweet, fish, everything. Heíd never seen such
a thing, and it made him wonder what kind of monk this might be. He
told me about this when I was a little child; that was a meditation
Then he told me about getting Dharma teachings
from Ajahn Sao. It wasnít the ordinary way of teaching; he just
spoke what was on his mind. That was the practice monk who came to
stay here once. So when I went off to practice myself, I always
retained some special feeling about this. And when I would think
back to my home village, I always thought about this forest. Then,
when the time came to return to this area, I came to stay here.
I invited one high-ranking monk from Piboon
district to come stay here too. But he said he couldnít. He came for
a while and said, ďThis is not my place.Ē He told this to the local
people. Another Ajahn came to stay here for a while and left. But I
In those days, this forest was really remote. It
was far from everything, and living here was very hard. There were
mango trees the villagers had planted here, and the fruit often
ripened and went bad. Yams were growing here too, and they would
just rot on the ground. But I wouldnít dare to take any of it. The
forest was really dense. When you arrived here with your bowl, there
wouldnít be any place to put it down. I had to ask the villagers to
clear some spaces in the forest. It was a forest that people didnít
dare enteróthey were very afraid of this place.
Nobody really knew what I was doing here. People
didnít understand the life of a meditation monk. I stayed here like
this for a couple of years, and then the first few monk disciples
followed me here.
We lived very simply and quietly in those days.
We got sick with malaria, all of us nearly dying. But we never went
to a hospital. We already had our safe refuge, relying on the
spiritual power of the Lord Buddha and his teachings. At night it
would be completely silent. Nobody ever came in here. The only sound
you heard was the sound of the insects. The kutis were far apart in
One night, about nine oíclock, I heard someone
walking out of the forest. One monk was extremely ill with fever and
was afraid he would die. He didnít want to die alone in the forest.
I said, ďThatís good. Letís try to find someone who isnít ill to
watch the one who is; how can one sick person take care of another?Ē
That was about it. We didnít have medicine.
We had borapet (an extremely bitter
medicinal vine). We boiled it to drink. When we talked about
ďpreparing a hot drinkĒ in the afternoon, we didnít have to think
much about it; it only meant borapet. Everyone had fever, and
everyone drank borapet. We didnít have anything else, and we didnít
request anything of anyone. If any monks got really sick, I told
them, ďDonít be afraid. Donít worry. If you die, Iíll cremate you
myself. Iíll cremate you right here in the monastery. You wonít need
to go anywhere else.Ē This is how I dealt with it. Speaking like
this gave them strength of mind. There was a lot of fear to deal
Conditions were pretty rough. The laypeople
didnít know much. They would bring us plah rah (fermented
fish, a staple of the local diet), but it was made with raw fish, so
we didnít eat it; I would stir it and take a good look at it to see
what it was made from, and just leave it sitting there.
Things were very hard then, and we donít have
those kinds of conditions these daysónobody knows about it. But
there is some legacy remaining in the practice we have now, in the
monks from those days who are still here. After the rains retreat,
we could go tudong right here within the monastery. We went
and sat deep in the quiet of the forest. From time to time we would
gather, I would give some teaching, and then everyone returned into
the forest to continue meditating, walking and sitting. We practiced
like this in the dry season; we didnít need to go wandering in
search of forests to practice in, because we had the right
conditions here. We maintained the tudong practices right here.
Now, after the rains, everyone wants to take off
somewhere. The result is usually that their practice gets
interrupted. Itís important to keep at it steadily and sincerely so
that you come to know your defilements. This way of practice is
something good and authentic. In the past it was much harder. Itís
like the saying that we practice to no longer be a person: the
person should die in order to become a monk. We adhered to the
Vinaya strictly, and everyone had a real sense of shame about their
actions. When doing chores, hauling water or sweeping the grounds,
you didnít hear monks talking. During bowl-washing, it was
completely silent. Now, some days I have to send someone to tell
them to stop talking and find out what all the commotion is about. I
wonder if theyíre boxing out there; the noise is so loud I canít
imagine whatís going on. So again and again I have to forbid them to
I donít know what they need to talk about. When
theyíve eaten their fill, they become heedless because of the
pleasure they feel. I keep on saying, when you come back from
almsround, donít talk! If someone asks why you donít want to talk,
tell them, ďMy hearing is bad.Ē Otherwise it becomes like a pack of
barking dogs. Chattering brings about emotions, and you can even end
up in a fistfight, especially at that time of day when everyone is
hungryóthe dogs are hungry, and defilements are active.
This is what Iíve noticed. People donít enter the
practice wholeheartedly. Iíve seen it changing over the years. Those
who trained in the past got some results and can take care of
themselves, but now hearing about the difficulties would scare
people away. Itís too hard to conceive of. If you make things easy,
then everyone is interested, but whatís the point? The reason we
were able to realize some benefit in the past is that everyone
trained together wholeheartedly
The monks who lived here then really practiced
endurance to the utmost. We saw things through together, from the
beginning to the end. They have some understanding about the
practice. After several years of practicing together, I thought it
would be appropriate to send them out to their home villages to
Those of you who came later canít really imagine
what it was like for us then. I donít know who to talk to about it.
The practice was extremely strict. Patience and endurance were the
most important things we lived by. No one complained about the
conditions. If we only had plain rice to eat, no one complained. We
ate in complete silence, never discussing whether or not the food
was tasty. Borapet was what we had for our hot drink.
One of the monks went to central Thailand and
drank coffee there. Someone offered him some to bring back here. So
we had coffee once. But there was no sugar to put in it. No one
complained about that. Where would we get sugar? So we could say we
really drank coffee, without any sugar to sweeten the taste. We
depended on others to support us, and we wanted to be people who
were easy to support, so of course we didnít make requests of
anyone. Like that, we were continually doing without things and
enduring whatever conditions we found ourselves in.
One year the lay supporters Mr. Puang and Mrs.
Daeng came to ordain here. They were from the city and had never
lived like this, doing without things, enduring hardship, eating as
we do, practicing under the guidance of an Ajahn and performing the
duties outlined in the rules of training. But they heard about their
nephew living here so they decided to come and ordain. As soon as
they were ordained, a friend was bringing them coffee and sugar.
They were living in the forest to practice meditation, but they had
the habit of getting up early in the morning and making milk coffee
to drink before doing anything else. So they stocked their kutis
full of sugar and coffee. But here, we would have our morning
chanting and meditation, then immediately the monks would prepare to
go for alms, so they didnít have a chance to make coffee. After a
while it started to sink in. Mr. Puang would pace back and forth,
thinking what to do. He didnít have anywhere to make his coffee, and
no one was coming to make it and offer it to him, so he ended up
bringing it all to the monastery kitchen and leaving it there.
Coming to stay here, actually seeing the
conditions in the monastery and the way of life of meditation monks,
really got him down. An elderly man, he was an important relative to
me. That same year he disrobed; it was appropriate for him, since
his affairs were not yet settled.
After that we first got ice here. We saw some
sugar once in a while too. Mrs. Daeng had gone to Bangkok. When she
talked about the way we lived here, she would start crying. People
who hadnít seen the life of meditation monks had no idea what it was
like. Eating once a day, was that making progress or falling behind?
I donít know what to call it.
On almsround, people would make little packages
of chili sauce to put in our bowls in addition to the rice. Whatever
we got, we would bring it back, share it out, and eat. Whether we
had different items that people liked or whether the food was tasty
or not was never something we discussed; we just ate to be full, and
that was it. It was really simple. There were no plates or
bowlsóeverything went into the almsbowl.
Nobody came here to visit. At night everyone went
to their kutis to practice. Even dogs couldnít bear to stay here.
The kutis were far apart and far from the meeting place. After
everything was done at the end of the day, we separated and entered
the forest to go to our kutis. That made the dogs afraid they
wouldnít have any safe place to stay. So they would follow the monks
into the forest, but when they went up into their kutis, the dogs
would be left alone and felt afraid, so they would try to follow
another monk, but that monk would also disappear into his kuti.
So even dogs couldnít live hereóthis was our life
of practicing meditation. I thought about this sometimes: even the
dogs canít bear it, but still we live here! Pretty extreme. It made
me a little melancholy too.
All kinds of obstaclesÖ we lived with fever, but
we faced death and we all survived. Beyond facing death, we had to
live with difficult conditions such as poor food. But it was never a
concern. When I look back to that time compared to the conditions we
have now, they are so far apart.
Before, we never had bowls or plates. Everything
was put together in the almsbowl. Now that canít be done. So if one
hundred monks are eating, we need five people to wash dishes
afterwards. Sometimes they are still washing when itís time for the
Dharma talk. This kind of thing makes for complications. I donít
know what to do about it; Iíll just leave it to you to use your own
wisdom to consider.
It doesnít have an end. Those who like to
complain will always find something else to complain about, no
matter how good the conditions become. So the result is that the
monks have become extremely attached to flavors and aromas.
Sometimes I overhear them talking about their ascetic wandering. ďOh
boy, the food is really great there! I went tudong to the
south, by the coast, and I ate lots of shrimp! I ate big ocean
fish!Ē This is what they talk about. When the mind is taken up with
such concerns, itís easy to get attached and immersed in desire for
food. Uncontrolled minds are roaming about and getting stuck in
sights, sounds, smells, tastes, physical sensations, and ideas, and
practicing Dharma becomes difficult. It becomes difficult for an
Ajahn to teach people to follow the right way; they are attached to
tastes. Itís like raising a dog. If you just feed it plain rice, it
will grow strong and healthy. But give it some tasty curry on top of
its rice for a couple of days, and after that it wonít look at the
plain rice anymore.
Sights, sounds, smells, and tastes are the
undoing of Dharma practice. They can cause a lot of harm. If each
one of us does not contemplate the use of our four requisitesórobes,
almsfood, dwelling, and medicinesóthere will be no way for the
Buddhaís way to flourish. You can look and see that however much
material progress and development there is in the world, the
confusion and suffering of humans increase right along with it. And
after it goes on for some time, itís almost impossible to find a
solution. Thus I say that when you go to a monastery, you see the
monks, the temple, and the kutis, but you donít see the Buddhasasana.
The sasana is in decline like this. Itís easy to observe.
The sasana, meaning the genuine and direct
teaching that instructs people to be honest and upright, to have
lovingkindness towards each other, has been lost, and turmoil and
distress are taking its place. Those who went through the years of
practice with me in the past have still maintained their diligence,
but after twenty-five years here, I see how the practice has become
slack. Now people donít dare to push themselves and practice too
much. They are afraid. They fear it will be the extreme of
self-mortification. In the past we just went for it. Sometimes monks
fasted for several days or a week. They wanted to see their minds,
to train their minds: if itís stubborn, you whip it. Mind and body
work together. When we are not yet skilled in practice, if the body
is too fat and comfortable, the mind gets out of control. When a
fire starts and the wind blows, it spreads the fire and burns the
house down. Itís like that. Before, when I talked about eating
little, sleeping little, and speaking little, the monks understood
and took it to heart. But now such talk is likely to be disagreeable
to the minds of practitioners. ďWe can find our way. Why should we
suffer and practice so austerely? Itís the extreme of
self-mortification; itís not the Buddhaís path.Ē As soon as anyone
talks like this, everyone agrees. They are hungry. So what can I say
to them? I keep on trying to correct this attitude, but this is the
way it seems to be now.
So all of you, please make your minds strong and
firm. Today you have gathered from the different branch monasteries
to pay your respects to me as your teacher, to gather as friends in
Dharma, so I am offering some teaching about the path of practice.
The practice of respect is a supreme dharma. There can be no
disharmony, people will not fight and kill each other, when there is
true respect. Paying respects to a spiritual master, to our
preceptors and teachers, causes us to flourish; the Buddha spoke of
it as something auspicious.
A city person may like to eat mushrooms. He
asks, where do the mushrooms come from? Someone tells him, ďThey
grow in the earth.Ē So he picks up a basket and goes walking out
into the countryside, expecting the mushrooms will be lined up along
the side of the road for him to pick. But he walks and walks,
climbing hills and trekking through fields, without seeing any
mushrooms. A village person has gone picking mushrooms before, and
he will know where to look for them; he knows which part of which
forest to go to. But the city person only has the experience of
seeing mushrooms in his plate. He heard they grow in the earth and
got the idea that they would be easy to find, but it didnít work out
Training the mind in samadhi is like this. We get the
idea it will be easy. But when we sit, our legs hurt, our back
hurts, we feel tired, we get hot and itchy. Then we start to feel
discouraged, thinking that samadhi is as far away from us as the sky
from the earth. We donít know what to do and become overwhelmed by
the difficulties. But if we can receive some training, it will get
easier little by little.
So you who come here to practice samadhi feel itís
difficult. I had my troubles with it, too. I trained with an Ajahn,
and when we were sitting Iíd open my eyes to look: ďOh! Is Ajahn
ready to stop yet?Ē Iíd close my eyes again and try to bear a little
longer. I felt like it was going to kill me, and I kept opening my
eyes, but he looked so comfortable sitting there. One hour, two
hours, I would be in agony but the Ajahn didnít move. So after a
while I got to fear the sittings. When it was time to practice
samadhi, Iíd feel afraid.
When we are new to it, training in samadhi is difficult.
Anything is difficult when we donít know how to do it. This is our
obstacle. But training at it, this can change. That which is good
can eventually overcome and surpass that which is not good. We tend
to become fainthearted as we struggleóthis is a normal reaction, and
we all go through it. So itís important to train for some time. Itís
like making a path through the forest. At first itís rough going,
with a lot of obstructions, but returning to it again and again, we
clear the way. After some time, we have removed the branches and
stumps, and the ground becomes firm and smooth from being walked on
repeatedly. Then we have a good path for walking through the forest.
This is what itís like when we train the mind. Keeping
at it, the mind becomes illumined. For example, we country people
grow up eating rice and fish. Then when we come to learn Dharma, we
are told to refrain from harming: we should not kill living
creatures. What can we do then? We feel we are really in a bind. Our
market is in the fields. If the teachers are telling us not to kill,
we wonít eat. Just this much and we are at our witsí ends. How will
we feed ourselves? There doesnít seem to be any way for us rural
people. Our marketplace is the field and the forest. We have to
catch animals and kill them in order to eat.
Iíve been trying to teach people ways to deal with this
issue for many years. Itís like this: farmers eat rice. For the most
part, people who work in the fields grow and eat rice. So what about
a tailor in town? Does he eat sewing machines? Does he eat cloth?
Letís just consider this first. You are a farmer so you eat rice. If
someone offers you another job, will you refuse, saying, ďI canít do
it--I wonít have rice to eatĒ?
Matches that you use in your homeóare you able to make
them? You canít; so how do you come to have matches? Is it only the
case that those who can make matches have matches to use? What about
the bowls you eat from? Here in the villages, does anyone know how
to make them? But do people have them in their houses? So where do
you get them from?
There are plenty of things we donít know how to make,
but still we can earn money to buy them. This is using our
intelligence to find a way. In meditation we also need to do this.
We find out ways to avoid wrongdoing and practice what is right.
Look at the Buddha and his disciples. Once they were ordinary
beings, but they developed themselves to progress through the stages
of stream entry on up to arahant. They did this through training.
Gradually wisdom grows. A sense of shame towards wrongdoing comes
I once taught a sage. He was a lay patron who came to
practice and keep precepts on the observance days, but he would
still go fishing. I tried to teach him further but couldnít solve
this problem. He said he didnít kill fish; they simply came to
swallow his hook.
I kept at it, teaching him until he felt some contrition
over this. He was ashamed of it, but he kept doing it. Then his
rationalization changed. He would put the hook in the water and
announce, ďWhichever fish has reached the end of its karma to be
alive, come and eat my hook. If your time has not yet come, do not
eat my hook.Ē He had changed his excuse, but still the fish came to
eat. Finally he started looking at them, their mouths caught on the
hook, and he felt some pity. But he still couldnít resolve his mind.
ďWell, I told them not to eat the hook if it wasnít time; what can I
do if they still come?Ē And then heíd think, ďBut they are dying
because of me.Ē He went back and forth on this until finally he
But then there were the frogs. He couldnít bear to stop
catching frogs to eat. ďDonít do this!Ē I told him. ďTake a good
look at them. . . . OK, if you canít stop killing them, I wonít
forbid you, but please just look at them before you do that.Ē So he
picked up a frog and looked at it. He looked at its face, its eyes,
its legs. ďOh man, it looks like my child: it has arms and legs. Its
eyes are open, itís looking at meÖ.Ē He felt hurt. But still he
killed them. He looked at each one like this, and then killed it,
feeling he was doing something bad. His wife was pushing him, saying
they wouldnít have anything to eat if he didnít kill frogs.
Finally he couldnít bear it anymore. He would catch them
but wouldnít break their legs like before; previously he would break
their legs so they couldnít hop away. Still, he couldnít make
himself let them go. ďWell, Iím just taking care of them, feeding
them here. Iím only raising them; whatever someone else might do, I
donít know about that.Ē But of course he knew. The others were still
killing them for food. After a while he could admit this to
himself. ďWell, Iíve cut my bad karma by 50 percent anyhow. Someone
else does the killing.Ē
This was starting to drive him crazy, but he couldnít
yet let go. He still kept the frogs at home. He wouldnít break their
legs anymore, but his wife would. ďItís my fault. Even if I donít do
it, they do it because of me.Ē Finally he gave it up altogether. But
then his wife was complaining. ďWhat are we going to do? What should
He was really caught now. When he went to the monastery,
the Ajahn lectured him on what he should do. When he returned home,
his wife lectured him on what he should do. The Ajahn was telling
him to stop doing that, and his wife was egging him on to continue
doing it. What to do? What a lot of suffering. Born into this world,
we have to suffer like thisÖ.
In the end, his wife had to let go too. So they stopped
killing frogs. He worked in his field, tending his buffaloes. Then
he got the habit of releasing fish and frogs. When he saw fish
caught in nets he would set them free. Once he went to a friendís
house and saw some frogs in a pot, and he set them free. Then his
friendís wife came to prepare dinner. She opened the lid of the pot
and saw the frogs were gone. They figured out what had happened.
ďItís that guy with the heart of merit.Ē
She did manage to catch one frog, and made a chili paste
with it. They sat down to eat, and as he went to dip his ball of
rice in the chili, she said, ďHey, heart of merit! You shouldnít eat
that! Itís frog chili paste.Ē
This was too much. What a lot of grief, just being alive
and trying to feed oneself! Thinking about it, he couldnít see any
way out. He was already an old man, so he decided to ordain.
He prepared the ordination gear, shaved his head, and
went inside the house. As soon as his wife saw his shaved head, she
started crying. He pleaded with her: ďSince I was born, I havenít
had the chance to ordain. Please give me your blessing to do this. I
want to ordain, but I will disrobe and return home again.Ē So his
He ordained in the local monastery, and after the
ceremony he asked the preceptor what he should do. The preceptor
told him, ďIf youíre really doing this seriously, you ought to just
go to practice meditation. Follow a meditation master; donít stay
here near the houses.Ē He understood, and decided to do that. He
slept one night in the temple and in the morning took his leave,
asking where he could find Ajahn Tongrat.
He shouldered his bowl and wandered off, a new monk who
couldnít yet put on his robes very neatly. But he found his way to
ďTahn Ajahn, I have no other aim in life. I want to
offer my body and my life to you.Ē
Ajahn Tongrat replied, ďVery good! Lots of merit! You
almost missed me. I was just about to go on my way. So do your
prostrations and take a seat there.Ē
The new monk asked, ďNow Iíve ordained. What should I
It happened that they were sitting by an old tree stump.
Ajahn Tongrat pointed to it and said, ďMake yourself like this tree
stump. Donít do anything else, just make yourself like this tree
stump.Ē He taught him meditation in this way.
So Ajahn Tongrat went on his way, and the monk stayed
there to contemplate his words. ďAjahn taught to make myself like a
tree stump. What am I supposed to do?Ē He pondered this
continuously, whether walking, sitting, or lying down to sleep. He
thought about the stump first being a seed, how it grew into a tree,
got bigger and aged, and was finally cut down, just leaving this
stump. Now that it is a stump, it wonít be growing anymore, and
nothing will bloom from it. He kept on discussing this in his mind,
considering it over and over, until it became his meditation object.
He expanded it to apply to all phenomena and was able to turn it
inwards and apply it to himself. ďAfter a while, I am probably going
to be like this stump, a useless thing.Ē
Realizing this gave him the determination not to
disrobe. I saw him sometime later and asked, ďIs your wife still
ďDonít know. I havenít heard any news of her.Ē (note:
another episode that may seem hard-hearted without explanation. In
rural Thailand, older men or women leaving home to spend their last
years in robes is not unusual, and in the villages the spouse who
stays behind will have something of an extended family.)
His mind was made up at this point; he had the
conditions come together to get him to this stage. When the mind is
like this, there wonít be anything that can stop it. All of us are
in the same boat. Please think about this and try to apply it to
your practice. Being born as humans is full of difficulties. And
itís not just that itís been difficult for us so faróin the future
there will also be difficulty. Young people will grow up, grownups
will age, aged ones will fall ill, ill people will die. It keeps on
going like this, the cycle of ceaseless transformation that never
comes to an end.
So the Buddha taught us to meditate. In meditation,
first we have to practice samadhi, which means making the mind still
and peaceful. Like water in a basin. If we keep putting things in it
and stirring it up, it will always be murky. If the mind is always
allowed to be thinking and worrying over things, we can never see
If we let the water in the basin settle and become
still, then we can see all sorts of things reflected in it. When the
mind is settled and still, wisdom will be able to see things. The
illuminating light of wisdom surpasses any other kind of light.
What was the Buddhaís advice on how to practice?
He taught to practice like the earth; practice like water; practice
like fire; practice like wind.
Practice like the ďold things,Ē the things we are
already made of: the solid element of earth, the liquid element of
water, the warming element of fire, the moving element of wind.
If someone digs the earth, the earth is not bothered. It
can be shoveled, tilled, or watered. Rotten things can be buried in
it. But the earth will remain indifferent. Water can be boiled or
frozen or used to wash something dirty; it is not affected. Fire can
burn beautiful and fragrant things or ugly and foul thingsóit
doesnít matter to the fire. When wind blows, it blows on all sorts
of things, fresh and rotten, beautiful and ugly, without concern.
The Buddha used this analogy. The aggregation that is us
is merely a coming together of the elements of earth, water, fire,
and air. If you try to find an actual person there, you canít. There
are only these collections of elements. But for all our lives, we
never thought to separate them like this to see what is really
there; we have only thought, This is me, that is mine. We have
always seen everything in terms of a self, never seeing that there
is merely earth, water, fire, and air. But the Buddha teaches in
this way. He talks about the four elements, and urges us to see that
this is what we are. There are earth, water, fire, and air; there is
no person here. Contemplate these elements to see that there is no
being or individual, but only earth, water, fire, and air.
Itís deep, isnít it? Itís hidden deepópeople will look
but they canít see this. We are used to contemplating things in
terms of self and other all the time. So our meditation is still not
very deep. It doesnít reach the truth, and we donít get beyond the
way these things appear to be. We remain stuck in the conventions of
the world, and being stuck in the world means remaining in the cycle
of transformation: getting things and losing them, dying and being
born, being born and dying, suffering in the realm of confusion.
Whatever we wish for and aspire to doesnít really work out the way
we want, because we are seeing things wrongly.
Our grasping attachments are like this. We are still
far, very far from the real path of Dharma. So please get to work
right now. Donít say, ďAfter Iím aged, I will start going to the
monastery.Ē What is aging? Young people have aged as well as old
people. From birth, they have been aging. We like to say, ďWhen Iím
older, when Iím olderÖĒ Hey! Young folks are older, older than they
were. This is what ďagingĒ means. All of you, please take a look at
this. We all have this burden; this is a task for all of us to work
on. Think about your parents or grandparents. They were born, then
they aged, and in the end they passed away. Now we donít know where
theyíve gone to.
So the Buddha wanted us to seek the Dharma. This kind of
knowledge is whatís most important. Any form of knowledge or study
that does not agree with the Buddhist way is learning that involves
dukkha. Our practice of Dharma should be getting us beyond
suffering; if we canít fully transcend suffering, then we should at
least be able to transcend it a little, now, in the present. For
example, when someone speaks harshly to us, if we donít get angry
with them, we have transcended suffering. If we get angry, we have
not transcended dukkha.
When someone speaks harshly to us, if we reflect on
Dharma, we will see it is just heaps of earth. OK, he is criticizing
meóheís just criticizing a heap of earth. One heap of earth is
criticizing another heap of earth. Water is criticizing water. Air
is criticizing air. Fire is criticizing fire.
But if we really see things in this way, then others
will probably call us mad. ďHe doesnít care about anything. He has
no feelings.Ē When someone dies we wonít get upset and cry, and they
will call us crazy again. Where can we stay?
It really has to come down to this. We have to practice
to realize for ourselves. Getting beyond suffering does not depend
on othersí opinions of us, but on our own individual state of mind.
Never mind what they will sayówe experience the truth for ourselves.
Then we can dwell at ease.
But generally we donít take it this far. Youngsters will
go to the monastery once or twice, then when they go home their
friends make fun of them: ďHey, Dhamma Dhammo!Ē They feel
embarrassed, and they donít feel like coming back here. Some of them
have told me that they came here to listen to teachings and gained
some understanding, so they stopped drinking and hanging out with
the crowd. But their friends belittled them: ďYou go to the
monastery and now you donít want to go out drinking with us anymore.
Whatís wrong with you?Ē So they get embarrassed and eventually end
up doing the same old things again. Itís hard for people to stick to
So rather than aspiring too high, letís practice
patience and endurance. Exercising patience and restraint in our
families is already pretty good. Donít quarrel and fightóif you can
get along, youíve already transcended suffering for the moment, and
thatís good. When things happen, recollect Dharma. Think of what
your spiritual guides have taught you. They teach you to let go, to
give up, to refrain, to put things down; they teach you to strive
and fight in this way to solve your problems. The Dharma that you
come to listen to is just for solving your problems.
What kind of problems are we talking about? How
about your families? Do you have any problems there? Any problems
with your children, your spouses, your friends, your work, and other
matters? All these things give you a lot of headaches, donít they?
These are the problems we are talking about; the teachings are
telling you that you can resolve the problems of daily life with
We have been born as human beings. It should be possible
to live with happy minds. We do our work according to our
responsibilities. If things get difficult, we practice endurance.
Earning a livelihood in the right way is one sort of Dharma
practice, the practice of ethical living. Living happily and
harmoniously like this is already pretty good.
We are usually taking a loss, however. Donít take a
loss! If you come here on the observance day to take precepts and
then go home and fight, thatís a loss. Do you hear what I am saying,
folks? Itís just a loss to do this. It means you donít see the
Dharma even a tiny little bitóthereís no profit at all. Please
Now you have listened to the Dharma for an appropriate
length of time today. Evam.