This practice of ours is not easy. We may know some
things but there is still much that we don't know. For example, when we hear
teachings such as "know the body, then know the mind within the body"; or
"know the mind, then know the mind within the mind". If we haven't yet
practiced these things, then we hear them we may feel baffled. The
Vinaya  is like this. In the past I
used to be a teacher,  but I was only a "small teacher",
not a big one. Why do I say a "small teacher"? Because I didn't practice.
I taught the Vinaya but I didn't practice it.
This I call a small teacher, an inferior teacher. I say an "inferior
teacher" because when it came to the practice I was deficient. For the most
part my practice was a long way off the theory, just as if I hadn't learnt the
Vinaya at all.
However, I would like to state that in practical terms it's
impossible to know the Vinaya completely, because some
things, whether we know them or not, are still offenses. This is tricky.
And yet it is stressed that if we do not yet understand any particular
training rule or teaching, we must study that rule with enthusiasm and
respect. If we don't know, then we should make an effort to learn. If we
don't make an effort, that is in itself an offense.
For example, if you doubt... suppose there is a woman and,
not knowing whether she is a woman or a man, you touch her. 
You're not sure, but still go ahead and touch... that's still wrong. I used
to wonder why that should be wrong, but when I considered the practice, I
realized that a meditator must have sati, he must be
circumspect. Whether talking, touching or holding things, he must first
thoroughly consider. The error in this case is that there is no
sati, or insufficient sati, or a lack of
concern at that time.
Take another example: it's only eleven o'clock in the
morning but at the time the sky is cloudy, we can't see the sun, and we have
no clock. Now suppose we estimate that it's probably afternoon... we really
feel that it's afternoon... and yet we proceed to eat something. We start
eating and then the clouds part and we see from the position of the sun that
it's only just past eleven. This is still an offense .
I used to wonder, "Eh? It's not yet past mid-day, why is this an offense?"
An offense is incurred here because of negligence,
carelessness, we don't thoroughly consider. There is a lack of restraint.
If there is doubt and we act on the doubt, there is a dukkata
 offense just for acting in the face of the doubt. We
think that it is afternoon when in fact it isn't. The act of eating is not
wrong in itself, but there is an offense here because we are careless and
negligent. If it really is afternoon but we think it isn't, then it's the
heavier pacittiya offense. If we act with doubt,
whether the action is wrong or not, we still incur an offense. If the
action is not wrong in itself it is the lesser offense; if it is wrong then
the heavier offense is incurred. Therefore the Vinaya
can get quite bewildering.
At one time I went to see Venerable Ajahn Mun. 
At that time I had just begun to practice. I had read the
Pubbasikkha  and could understand that
fairly well. Then I went on to read the Visuddhimagga,
where the author writes of the Silanidesa (Book of
Precepts), Samadhinidesa (Book of Mind-Training) and
Pannanidesa (Book of Understanding)... I felt my head
was going to burst! After reading that, I felt that it was beyond the
ability of a human being to practice. But then I reflected that the Buddha
would not teach something that is impossible to practice. He wouldn't teach
it and he wouldn't declare it, because those things would be useful neither to
himself nor to others. The Silanidesa is extremely
meticulous, the Samadhinidesa more so, and the
Pannanidesa even more so! I sat and thought, "Well, I can't
go any further. There's no way ahead." It was as if I'd reached a
At this stage I was struggling with my practice... I was
stuck. It so happened that I had a chance to go and see Venerable Ajahn Mun,
so I asked him: "Venerable Ajahn, what am I to do? I've just begun to
practice but I still don't know the right way. I have so many doubts I
can't find any foundation at all in the practice."
He asked, "What's the problem?"
"In the course of my practice I picked up the
Visuddhimagga and read it, but it seems impossible to put into
practice. The contents of the Silanidesa,
Samadhinidesa and Pannanidesa seem to
be completely impractical. I don't think there is anybody in the world who
could do it, it's so detailed and meticulous. To memorize every single rule
would be impossible, it's beyond me."
He said to me: "Venerable... there's a lot, it's true,
but it's really only a little. If we were to take account of every training
rule in the Silanidesa that would be difficult...
true... But actually, what we call the Silanidesa has
evolved from the human mind. If we train this mind to have a sense of shame
and a fear of wrong-doing, we will then be restrained, we will be cautious...
"This will condition us to be content with little, with few
wishes, because we can't possibly look after a lot. When this happens our
sati becomes stronger. We will be able to maintain
sati at all times. Wherever we are we will make the
effort to maintain thorough sati. Caution will be
developed. Whatever you doubt don't say it, don't act on it. If there's
anything you don't understand, ask the teacher. Trying to practice every
single training rule would indeed be burdensome, but we should examine whether
we are prepared to admit our faults or not. Do we accept them?"
This teaching is very important. It's not so much that we
must know every single training rule, if we know how to train our own minds.
"All that stuff that you've been reading arises from the
mind. If you still haven't trained your mind to have sensitivity and
clarity you will be doubting all the time. You should try to bring the
teachings of the Buddha into your mind. Be composed in mind. Whatever
arises that you doubt, just give it up. If you don't really know for sure
then don't say it or do it. For instance, if you wonder, "Is this wrong or
not?" -- that is, you're not really sure -- then don't say it, don't act on
it, don't discard your restraint."
As I sat and listened, I reflected that this teaching
conformed with the eight ways for measuring the true teaching of the Buddha:
Any teaching that speaks of the diminishing of defilements; which leads out
of suffering; which speaks of renunciation (of sensual pleasures); of
contentment with little; of humility and disinterest in rank and status; of
aloofness and seclusion; of diligent effort; of being easy to maintain...
these eight qualities are characteristics of the true Dhamma-vinaya,
the teaching of the Buddha. anything in contradiction to these is not.
"If we are genuinely sincere we will have a sense of shame
and a fear of wrongdoing. We will know that if there is doubt in our mind we
will not act on it nor speak on it. The Silanidesa
is only words. For example, hiri-ottappa 
in the books is one thing, but in our minds it is another."
Studying the Vinaya with Venerable
Ajahn Mun I learnt many things. As I sat and listened, understanding arose.
So, when it comes to the Vinaya
I've studied considerably. Some days during the Rains Retreat I would study
from six o'clock in the evening through till dawn. I understand it
sufficiently. All the factors of apatti 
which are covered in the Pubbasikkha I wrote down in a
notebook and kept in my bag. I really put effort into it, but in later times
I gradually let go. It was too much. I didn't know which was the essence
and which was the trimming, I had just taken all of it. When I understood
more fully I let it drop off because it was too heavy. I just put my
attention into my own mind and gradually did away with the texts.
However, when I teach the monks here I still take the
Pubbasikkha as my standard. For many years here at
Wat Ba Pong it was I myself who read it to the assembly. In those days I
would ascend the Dhamma-seat and go on until at least eleven o'clock or
midnight, some days even one or two o'clock in the morning. We were
interested. And we trained. After listening to the Vinaya
reading we would go and consider what we'd heard. You can't really
understand the Vinaya just by listening to it.
Having listened to it you must examine it and delve into it further.
Even though I studied these things for many years my
knowledge was still not complete, because there were so many ambiguities in
the texts. Now that it's been such a long time since I looked at the books,
my memory of the various training rules has faded somewhat, but within my mind
there is no deficiency. There is a standard there. There is no doubt,
there is understanding. I put away the books and concentrated on developing
my own mind. I don't have doubts about any of the training rules. The mind
has an appreciation of virtue, it won't dare do anything wrong, whether in
public or in private. I do not kill animals, even small ones. If someone
were to ask me to intentionally kill an ant or a termite, to squash one with
my hand, for instance, I couldn't do it, even if they were to offer me
thousands of baht (Thai currency) to do so. Even
one ant or termite! The ant's life would have greater value to me.
However, it may be that I may cause one to die, such as
when something crawls up my leg and I brush it off. Maybe it dies, but when
I look into my mind there is no feeling of guilt. There is no wavering or
doubt. Why? Because there was no intention. Silam vadami
bhikkhave cetanaham: "Intention is the essence of moral
training." Looking at it in this way I see that there was no intentional
killing. Sometimes while walking I may step on an insect and kill it. In
the past, before I really understood, I would really suffer over things like
that. I would think I had committed an offense.
"What? There was no intention." "There was no
intention, but I wasn't being careful enough!" I would go on like this,
fretting and worrying.
So this Vinaya is something which
can be disturb practicers of Dhamma, but it also has its value, in keeping
with what the teachers say -- "Whatever training rules you don't yet know you
should learn. If you don't know you should question those who do." They
really stress this.
Now if we don't know the training rules, we won't be aware
of our transgressions against them. Take, for example, a Venerable Thera of
the past, Ajahn Pow of Wat Kow Wong Got in Lopburi Province. One day a
certain Maha,  a disciple of
his, was sitting with him, when some women came up and asked,
"Luang Por! We want to invite you to go with us on an
excursion, will you go?"
Luang Por Pow didn't answer. The Maha
sitting near him thought that Venerable Ajahn Pow hadn't heard, so he said,
"Luang Por, Luang Por! Did you hear? These women
invited you to go for a trip."
He said, "I heard."
The women asked again, "Luang Por, are you going or not?"
He just sat there without answering, and so nothing came of
the invitation. When they had gone, the Maha said,
"Luang Por, why didn't you answer those women?"
He said, "Oh, Maha, don't you know
this rule? Those people who were here just now were all women. If women
invite you to travel with them you should not consent. If they make the
arrangements themselves that's fine. If I want to go I can, because I
didn't take part in making the arrangements."
"The Maha sat and thought, "Oh,
I've really made a fool of myself."
The Vinaya states that to make an
arrangement, and then travel together with, women, even though it isn't as a
couple, is a pacittiya offense.
Take another case. Lay people would bring money to offer
Venerable Ajahn Pow on a tray. He would extend his receiving cloth, 
holding it at one end. But when they brought the tray forward to lay it on
the cloth he would retract his hand from the cloth. Then he would simply
abandon the money where it lay. He knew it was there, but he would take no
interest in it, just get up and walk away, because in the Vinaya
it is said that if one doesn't consent to the money it isn't necessary to
forbid laypeople from offering it. If he had desire for it, he would have to
say, "Householder, this is not allowable for a monk". He would have to tell
them. If you have desire for it, you must forbid them from offering that
which is unallowable. However, if you really have no desire for it, it isn't
necessary. You just leave it there and go.
Although the Ajahn and his disciples lived together for
many years, still some of his disciples didn't understand Ajahn Pow's
practice. This is a poor state of affairs. As for myself, I looked into
and contemplated many of Venerable Ajahn Pow's subtler points of practice.
The Vinaya can even cause some
people to disrobe. When they study it all the doubts come up. It goes
right back into the past... "my ordination, was it proper? 
Was my preceptor pure? None of the monks who sat in on my ordination knew
anything about the Vinaya, were they sitting at the
proper distance? Was the chanting correct?" The doubts come rolling on...
"The hall I ordained in, was it proper? It was so small... " They doubt
everything and fall into hell.
So until you know how to ground your mind it's really
difficult. You have to be very cool, you can't just jump into things. But
to be so cool that you don't bother to look into things is wrong also. I was
so confused I almost disrobed because I saw so many faults within my own
practice and that of some of my teachers. I was on fire and couldn't sleep
because of those doubts.
The more I doubted, the more I meditated, the more I
practiced. Wherever doubt arose I practiced right at that point. Wisdom
arose. Things began to change. It's hard to describe the change that took
place. The mind changed until there was no more doubt. I don't know how it
changed, if I were to tell someone they probably wouldn't understand.
So I reflected on the teaching Paccattam
veditabbo vinnuhi -- the wise must know for themselves. It must
be a knowing that arises through direct experience. Studying the
Dhamma-vinaya is certainly correct but if it's just the study
it's still lacking. If you really get down to the practice you begin to
doubt everything. Before I started to practice I wasn't interested in the
minor offenses, but when I started practicing, even the dukkata
offenses became as important as the parajika
offenses. Before, the dukkata offenses seemed like
nothing, just a trifle. That's how I saw them. In the evening you could
confess them and they would be done with. Then you could transgress them
again. This sort of confession is impure, because you don't stop, you don't
decide to change. There is no restraint, you simply do it again and again.
There is no perception of the truth, no letting go.
Actually, in terms of ultimate truth, it's not necessary to
go through the routine of confessing offenses. If we see that our mind is
pure and there is no trace of doubt, then those offenses drop off right
there. That we are not yet pure is because we still doubt, we still waver.
We are not really pure so we can't let go. We don't see ourselves, this is
the point. This Vinaya of ours is like a fence to
guard us from making mistakes, so it's something we need to be scrupulous
If you don't see the true value of the Vinaya
for yourself it's difficult. Many years before I came to Wat Ba Pong I
decided I would give up money. For the greater part of a Rains Retreat I had
thought about it. In the end I grabbed my wallet and walked over to a
certain Maha who was living with me at the time,
setting the wallet down in front of him.
"Here, Maha, take this money.
From today onwards, as long as I'm a monk, I will not receive or hold money.
You can be my witness."
"You keep it, Venerable, you may need it for your
studies"... The Venerable Maha wasn't keen to take
the money, he was embarrassed . .
"Why do you want to throw away all this money?"
"You don't have to worry about me. I've made my
decision. I decided last night."
From the day he took that money it was as if a gap had
opened between us. We could no longer understand each other. He's still
my witness to this very day. Ever since that day I haven't used money or
engaged in any buying or selling. I've been restrained in every way with
money. I was constantly wary of wrongdoing, even though I hadn't done
anything wrong. Inwardly I maintained the meditation practice. I no longer
needed wealth, I saw it as a poison. Whether you give poison to a human
being, a dog or anything else, it invariably causes death or suffering. If
we see clearly like this we will be constantly on our guard not to take that
"poison." When we clearly see the harm in it, it's not difficult to give up.
Regarding food and meals brought as offerings, if I doubted
them I wouldn't accept them. No matter how delicious or refined the food
might be, I wouldn't eat it. Take a simple example, like raw pickled fish.
Suppose you are living in a forest and you go on almsround and receive only
rice and some pickled fish wrapped in leaves. When you return to your
dwelling and open the packet you find that it's raw pickled fish... just
throw it away!  Eating plain rice is better than
transgressing the precepts. It has to be like this before you can say you
really understand, then the Vinaya becomes simpler.
If other monks wanted to give me requisites, such as bowl,
razor or whatever, I wouldn't accept, unless I knew them as fellow practicers
with a similar standard of Vinaya. Why not? How
can you trust someone who is unrestrained? They can do all sorts of
things. Unrestrained monks don't see the value of the Vinaya,
so it's possible that they could have obtained those things in improper
ways. I was as scrupulous as this.
As a result, some of my fellow monks would look askance at
me... " He doesn't socialize, he won't mix... " I was unmoved: "Sure,
we can mix when we die. When it comes to death we are all in the same boat",
I thought. I lived with endurance. I was one who spoke little. If
others criticized my practice I was unmoved. Why? Because even if I
explained to them they wouldn't understand. They knew nothing about
practice. Like those times when I would be invited to a funeral ceremony and
somebody would say, "... Don't listen to him! Just put the money in his bag
and don't say anything about it... don't let him know." 
I would say, "Hey, do you think I'm dead or something? Just because one
calls alcohol perfume doesn't make it become perfume, you know. But you
people, when you want to drink alcohol you call it perfume, then go ahead and
drink. You must be crazy!"
The Vinaya, then, can be
difficult. You have to be content with little, aloof. You must see, and
see right. Once, when I was traveling through Saraburi, my group went to
stay in a village temple for a while. The Abbot there had about the same
seniority as myself. In the morning, we would all go on almsround together,
then come back to the monastery and put down our bowls. Presently the
laypeople would bring dishes of food into the hall and set them down. Then
the monks would go and pick them up, open them and lay them in a line to be
formally offered. One monk would put his hand on the dish at the other
end. And that was it! With that the monks would bring them over and
distribute them to be eaten.
About five monks were traveling with me at the time, but
not one of us would touch that food. On almsround all we received was plain
rice, so we sat with them and ate plain rice, none of us would dare eat the
food from those dishes.
This went on for quite a few days, until I began to sense
that the Abbot was disturbed by our behavior. One of his monks had probably
gone to him and said, "Those visiting monks won't eat any of the food. I
don't know what they're up to."
I had to stay there for a few days more, so I went to the
Abbot to explain.
I said, "Venerable Sir, may I have a moment please? At
this time I have some business which means I must call on your hospitality for
some days, but in doing so I'm afraid there may be one or two things which you
and your fellow monks find puzzling: namely, concerning our not eating the
food which has been offered by the laypeople. I'd like to clarify this with
you, sir. It's really nothing, it's just that I've learned to practice like
this... that is, the receiving of the offerings, sir. When the lay people
lay the food down and then the monks go and open the dishes, sort them out and
then have them formally offered... this is wrong. It's a dukkata
offense. Specifically, to handle or touch food which hasn't yet been
formally offered into a monk's hands, "ruins" that food. According to the
Vinaya, any monk who eats that food incurs an offense.
"It's simply this one point, sir. It's not that I'm
criticizing anybody, or that I'm trying to force you or your monks to stop
practicing like this... not at all. I just wanted to let you know of my
good intentions, because it will be necessary for me to stay here for a few
He lifted his hands in anjali, 
"Sadhu! Excellent! I've never yet seen a monk
who keeps the minor rules in Saraburi. there aren't any to be found these
days. If there still are such monks they must live outside of Saraburi.
May I commend you. I have no objections at all, that's very good."
The next morning when we came back from almsround not one
of the monks would go near those dishes. The laypeople themselves sorted
them out and offered them, because they were afraid the monks wouldn't eat.
From that day onwards the monks and novices there seemed really on edge, so I
tried to explain things to them, to put their minds at rest. I think they
were afraid of us, they just went into their rooms and closed themselves in in
For two or three days I tried to make them feel at ease
because they were so ashamed, I really had nothing against them. I didn't
say things like "There's not enough food," or "bring 'this' or 'that' food."
Why not? Because I had fasted before, sometimes for seven or eight days.
Here I had plain rice, I knew I wouldn't die. Where I got my strength from
was the practice, from having studied and practiced accordingly.
I took the Buddha as my example. Wherever I went,
whatever others did, I wouldn't involve myself. I devoted myself solely to
the practice, because I cared for myself, I cared for the practice.
Those who don't keep the Vinaya or
practice meditation and those who do practice can't live together, they must
go separate ways. I didn't understand this myself in the past. As a
teacher I taught others but I didn't practice. This is really bad. When I
looked deeply into it, my practice and my knowledge were as far apart as earth
Therefore, those who want to go and set up meditation
centers in the forest... don't do it. If you don't yet really know, don't
bother trying, you'll only make a mess of it. Some monks think that going to
live in the forest they will find peace, but they still don't understand the
essentials of practice. They cut grass for themselves, 
do everything themselves... Those who really know the practice aren't
interested in places like this, they won't prosper. Doing it like that won't
lead to progress. No matter how peaceful the forest may be you can't
progress if you do it wrong.
They see the forest monks living in the forest and go to
live in the forest like them, but it's not the same. The robes are not the
same, eating habits are not the same, everything is different. Namely, they
don't train themselves, they don't practice. The place is wasted, it doesn't
really work. If it does work, it does so only as a venue for showing off or
publicizing, just like a medicine show. It goes no further than that.
Those who have only practiced a little and then go to teach others are not yet
ripe, they don't really understand. In a short time they give up and it
falls apart. It just brings trouble.
So we must study somewhat, look at the
Navakovada,  what does it say? Study it,
memorize it, until you understand. From time to time ask your teacher
concerning the finer points, he will explain them. Study like this until you
really understand the Vinaya.
(From "Food for the Heart")
 "Vinaya" is a generic name given to the code of
discipline of the Buddhist Monastic Order, the rules of the monkhood. "Vinaya"
literally means "leading out," because maintenance of these rules "leads
out" of unskillful actions, and, by extension, unskillful states of mind; in
addition it can be said to "lead out" of the household life, and, by
extension, attachment to the world. [^]
 This refers to the Venerable Ajahn's early years in
the monkhood, before he had begun to practice in earnest. [^]
 The second sanghadisesa offense, which deals
with touching a woman with lustful intentions. [^]
 Referring to pacittiya offense No. 36, for eating
food outside of the allowed time -- dawn till noon. [^]
 Dukkata -- offenses of "wrong-doing," the
lightest class of offenses in the Vinaya, of which there are a great
number; parajika -- offenses of defeat, of which there are four, are
the most serious, involving expulsion from the Bhikkhu-Sangha. [^]
 Venerable Ajahn Mun Bhuridatto, probably the most
renowned and highly respected Meditation Master from the forest tradition in
Thailand. He had many disciples who have been teachers in their own right,
of whom Ajahn Chah is one. Venerable Ajahn Mun died in 1949. [^]
 Pubbasikkha Vannana -- "The Elementary Training" -- a
Thai Commentary on Dhamma-Vinaya based on the Pali Commentaries; the
Visuddhimagga -- "Path to Purity" -- Acariya Buddhagosa's exhaustive
commentary on Dhamma-Vinaya. [^]
 Hiri -- sense of shame; Ottappa -- fear
of wrong-doing. Hiri and ottappa are positive states of mind
which lay a foundation for clear conscience and moral integrity. Their
arising is based on a respect for oneself and for others. Restraint is
natural because of a clear perception of cause and effect. [^]
 Apatti: the name to the offenses of various
classes for a Buddhist monk. [^]
 Maha: a title given to monks who have
studied Pali and completed up to the fourth year or higher. [^]
 A "receiving cloth" is a cloth used by Thai monks
for receiving things from women, from whom they do not receive things
directly. That Venerable Ajahn Pow lifted his hand from the receiving
cloth indicated that he was not actually receiving the money. [^]
 There are very precise and detailed regulations
governing the ordination procedure which, if not adhered to, may render the
ordination invalid. [^]
 The Vinaya forbids bhikkhus from eating raw
meat or fish. [^]
 Although it is an offense for monks to accept money,
there are many who do. Some may accept it while appearing not to, which is
probably how the laypeople in this instance saw the Venerable Ajahn's
refusal to accept money, by thinking that he actually would accept it if
they didn't overtly offer it to him, but just slipped it into his bag. [^]
 Anjali -- The traditional way of making
greeting or showing respect, as with an Indian Namaste or the Thai
wai. Sadhu -- "It is well" -- a way of showing appreciation or
 Another transgression of the precepts, a
pacittiya offense. [^]
 Navakovada -- A simplified synopsis of
elementary Dhamma-Vinaya. [^]