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An interesting comment in an Ajahn Chah dhamma talk

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#1

On this beautiful 68ºF/20ºC Christmas afternoon, I sat down outside to enjoy the weather and decided to re-listen to this particular dhamma talk and I was puzzled by something Ajahn Chah said, which I must have missed the first time years ago.

Not wanting or intending to start a thread on the question of Ajahn Chah’s arahantship, just curious what people think of this comment.

When taken in context of the talk it does not, at least to me, seem like he is speaking in hypothetical, but rather is relating direct personal experience. I am open to being wrong here. I know this is an English translation of either Central Thai or Loa and I don’t understand those languages, so maybe someone who does and has access to the original transcript could add some insight into this.

Link starts at 15:50 minute mark “Ajahn Chah Dhamma talk: ‘Unshakable Peace.’ Read by Ajahn Amaro Winter 2012”

The comment in question actually comes at the 16:30 minute mark.

It reminded me of one of Ajahn Maha Bua’s most interesting talks available.
“Straight from the Heart” Thirteen Talks on the Practice of Mediation: ‘An Heir to the Dhamma’


#2

Yes, that does sound like a personal experience. And one that Ajahn Chah wishes that we all might share. Ajahn Chah does not indicate whether he has or has not attained this experience always or only sometimes. In this way he is not claiming any attainment.

I actually think that what Ajahn Chah relates can be experienced by anyone for particular attachments. For example, we hear a song, we like that song. Later, after hearing it many times, perhaps we hate that song. But if we let go of both love/hate, we just hear the song as it plays and when it is done the song just disappears. It’s a bit like elevator music that disappears when we step out of the elevator. This direct knowledge is much much more difficult with regard to deep craving for or aversion towards a person. It’s more difficult because such personal attachments can be much stronger.

What made you puzzled?


#3

Well, for starters why would he feel the need to say “…I transcended suffering…”? It seems to me that his extemporaneous style of giving talks might’ve caused him to unintentionally say that. Sort of a Freudian Slip perhaps, but then considering his meticulousness described by his disciples I kinda doubt that possibility.

I don’t agree here. When someone states “I transcended suffering,” there is no real ambiguity. It has the same connotation as “I walked up the stairs.” It is a statement of past-tense fact. If you transcend suffering you are losing fetters, maybe not all of them, but at least some and that translates to a minimum of sotapānna phala.

If he had said: “when you no longer follow after love or hate you transcend suffering,” your analysis would make total sense, but he set it all up as summerizing his own personal experience as past-tense personal fact.

It’s odd. :thinking:


#4

I totally missed the “…I transcended suffering…”. And I’ve listened to that talk several times over the past few months. You’re right. Let’s just call it an arahant blooper. And my repeated interpretation of the blooper as a local transcendance of particular suffering is proof of the harmlessness in his statement. :smiley:

For me, the truth of his talk remains the same with or without that particular statement. Now that I am aware of it, it just makes me smile.

Thank you.


#5

Yeah. It is an exceptional talk. :grin: Glad it was recorded.

The “slip” doesn’t detract from the talk in my opinion, it just surprised me this afternoon and thought it was worthy of bringing up here. :sunglasses:


#6

Same lineage…
"…During that time, Luang Por recalls, his feelings in relation to women were quite frequently a problem that weighed heavily on his heart, but what could one do –
no matter where one went, eventually one would always end up meeting the opposite sex. It is very difficult to avoid getting into contact with women completely. So Luang Por decided that he would simply continue his quiet, withdrawn practice, the way he used to – come
what may. Then, in Luang Por’s fifth rainy season alone in Wat Bahn Suan, quite a few incidents of getting involved with women did occur. This was the cause for many difficulties to arise in Luang Por’s heart. As soon as the rains’ retreat had ended, Luang Por realized, that
he just couldn’t bear it any more, and decided to leave the place for a while. When he came back again, although the situation of living in solitude had proved beneficial for his practice in many ways, the problem was again the emotions that arise in relation to women.
“When you live on your own, but in a location
that isn’t too far from the village, the problem is that you can still see people in the village and they can see you. In my case, I was only about 200 meters away. There was this one woman in particular, the daughter of the village headman, from a family with influence in that region of the country. As an alms mendicant monk dependent on the laity for the four requisites, and a stranger in the region, out of the best of intentions, she fully put her heart into assisting me
with many things. As it turned out, this woman would come to see me every day. Just behind my place of practice was a field of corn. Right next to where I stayed I kept some containers for collecting rain water. If you don’t collect and store the rain water during the rainy season, there won’t be any available to drink in the
dry season. This woman first came to where I was
staying because she was thirsty for a drink of water. When she finished drinking the water, she would sit down and begin to start up a conversation. She was keen to interact and converse. If I didn’t speak to her, it would have looked strange or perhaps rude. I didn’t know how to get out of the situation so I established mindfulness and began chatting with her. As polite conversation goes, we’d talk about this and that, around in circles for a while.”
When we chat more than five of six phrases, it is
the nature of human beings to begin to have their various thoughts and emotions come out. So, as is natural for a young person leading a celibate life, the experience of talking with this lady in private caused him to become a bit scattered, giving rise to a variety of
thoughts. After her first visit, the next day the young lady came to visit Luang Por again. This time she brought a farming tool and set it down next to Luang Por’s kuti 45 to store it there.
“I didn’t know what was the best thing to do.
She kept coming to visit every day. Sometimes the sun would reach the horizon, but she hadn’t yet returned to her home. And she was very young and attractive! Then I thought to myself, ‘The village is quite a distance away for her to walk home in the dark if anything happens, this could prove very difficult.’ If this young lady were to become angry or irritated, she could try to ruin my standing as a monk. I kept this in mind continually and made every effort to be
careful and circumspect.

But sometimes my mind leaned towards her, or
wanted to side with her. When this happened, I tried to think of a method to fix and repair the situation, to bring my mind back to clarity and balance.” The young lady continued to visit Luang Por at his kuti for a number of days and this continued to bring up many things in his practice. “In order to solve the problems with sensual desire that arose at the time, I took up the contemplations of asubha-maraṇassati kammattthana, which helped. I also visited a cre-
mation ground. Contemplating the dead corpses there helped the sensual desire to abate as well. Sometimes these worked well enough to alleviate the suffering at least in some ways. On other occasions I would be invited by a lay person to a funeral to put a cloth on a
corpse. I would make an extra effort look at and
contemplate the corpse. This would give rise to a
temporary feeling of relief. But the image of the young lady, the feeling of her presence, was still deeply embedded in my heart. Whenever this feeling arose, it was like throwing petrol on a burning fire of wood. The flames would
shoot into the air and become very bright. I was at a loss at how to find ways of extinguishing the fire. Whenever contact with anything about her arose – the feeling of her presence (e.g., her bearing, grace, dignity and general appearance) – I really couldn’t bear it at all.

These kinds of interactions (of monks) with
women usually go in the style and manner that the woman chooses, so I didn’t have much of an influence at all, and it was easily possible for my situation to turn into a very risky affair. Fortunately, I also had a sense of wholesome shame and restraint, and always kept up the strong sense of being a monk. In that
region of Thailand, women don’t shy away from
monks at all. They love to converse and chat with the monks, and if there is no business to talk about, they will find something. And they won’t easily leave. My goodness, they nearly got me too… I fell into an awful state at that time. Something that had been lying
dormant for quite some time got touched. Luckily, I had the awareness to realize that I was getting myself in too deep to pull myself out. So, literally, I seized the first window of opportunity and fled before anything inappropriate happened. I was still a foolish man who wouldn’t have been able to free himself otherwise, so I decided to leave without saying goodbye to anybody at all. “ After having cut off the dangerous situation of getting involved with a woman Luang Por returned to Wat Bahn Jahn Saen Chay in Sri Saket Province…

As the next rainy season of 2508 (1965)
approached, Luang Por decided simply to stay where he was, but to make the resolution to take up some special practices in order to build up greater strength of mind. He undertook the dhutangas of always going on alms
round and eating only the food put directly into his bowl (i.e., not eating the variety of dishes brought to the monastery). He also determined to not socialize with the group once the time of teaching and guiding the other monks and the novices had passed. He separated
himself from the others, went on retreat, and practised, using mindfulness of breathing as his
meditation object. He sustained this practice continually until he felt reasonably peaceful with it. When strong emotions did arise, his practice was firm enough to alleviate them.

After the rains…Afterwards he
traveled to Ubon Province where he overheard
conversations of some lay people discussing Wat Nong
Pah Pong47 and the teachings of Luang Pu Chah. Luang
Por Liem felt an immediate interest to go and learn from
the training there.
“When I entered the monastery grounds of Wat
Nong Pah Pong and passed under the shade of the
trees that lined both sides of the path, I experienced a
very cool and soothing feeling. To see monastery
grounds so well swept with kutis spaced far apart from
each other in long orderly rows in the forest was
pleasing to the eye and a strange sight I had never
seen anywhere else before.”
Luang Por had arrived quite late in the evening,
but one of the Wat Nong Pah Pong monks who was
doing some work was able to direct him to Luang Pu
Chah’s kuti. After Luang Por paid respects to Luang Pu
Chah and they had a short conversation, Luang Pu Chah
instructed him to go and sleep in the sla 48
.
“I immediately liked Luang Pu Chah’s
standards of practice very much. The style of practice struck me as very natural. I was very pleased with the good manners and high standards of conduct and de-portment in the monks and novices. The whole envi-
ronment of the monastery was quiet – exactly what I was searching for. Furthermore, even after a short stay and period of practice, I experienced peace and seclusion both in my body and mind, so I liked it even more.”

In this year, when the rains’ retreat had begun,
Luang Pu Chah instructed all the monks to keep the monastery standards of training very strictly. This meant to put full effort into sitting and walking medi-tation. Luang Pu Chah expected any activity in the mo-nastery to be done quietly with a sense of care and respect for
the fact that everyone has to work together harmoniously. There was no place for selfishness or competitiveness. This was an aspect of the teaching that Luang Pu Chah constantly stressed.
Luang Por summarizes what he found most
impressing about his new teacher, Luang Pu Chah: “From all my experience I would say, Luang Pu Chah was difffernt from anybody else. His character was not like anybody else’s because of his strong heartfelt inclinations to sacrifice and giving. In my experience he was absolutely resolute in his actions.
He would say what he was going to do beforehand, and he would act like he had said. Somebody practising like this is very hard to find. In his practice and all his actions Luang Pu Chah was always wide awake. Luang Pu was the kind of character that people always liked. His whole personality was worthy of respect, worthy of bowing to. From all these experiences I felt Luang Pu was somebody who could really give us guidelines in the Teaching and in the
practice.”
To Luang Por it seemed that everyone at Wat
Nong Pah Pong put forth a lot of effort, motivation and faith in the practice. As for Luang Por himself, he was determined to live up to the standards of his new monastery. This didn’t seem too hard, as he had gone through many practices before, even though he had stayed in village monasteries. He didn’t feel that the
routine at Wat Pah Pong put too much stress or pressure on him at all, but rather was an excellent opportunity to practise in a way that suited him well anyway. So he dedicated himself to the practice with all the more energy…

Luang Por tells about his practice when he first
arrived at Wat Nong Pah Pong:
“I tried to put much effort into developing
 and This means to observe one’s own mind all the time, without interruption and without letting attention slip, looking at one’s state of mind throughout the day and night, trying to stop the usual proliferations of thoughts in each and every moment, each and every posture, whether standing
sitting, walking or lying down. I tried to watch the
mind, focus it, and investigate it. When one examines one’s mind in this manner, one gets to see what it is like. When there is the feeling of liking something, one immediately knows that the mind experiences attraction, and when feelings of dukkha arise, one knows that the mind experiences dukkha. The time for individual practice at Wat Nong Pah Pong is limited. There are morning and evening
meetings where the whole community sits together in meditation, recites Pali verses and listens to teachings on Dhamma and Vinaya. After the daily almsround the monks gather for their single meal of the day.

Every afternoon there is a work period. Luang Por tells of his personal daily routines and practices outside the communal activities:
“After the evening-meetings in the sālā, where
the Pubbasikkhā 51 was read, I’d return to my kuti at eight or nine and start doing walking meditation. Just about an hour and it would be ten o’clock already, and my body would feel like it needed a rest. But going to sleep wouldn’t mean to simply give way to the desire to sleep. One was supposed to sleep only as much as one had determined beforehand. There were
no alarm clocks. One would have to tell the time to get up by oneself. Sometimes I would listen to certain sounds in nature around my kuti, the sounds of some insects for example, or the cry of the Graput bird. Sometimes the sound of the train passing in the distance would wake me up. At that time the car from the village that took people to the market would pass
the monastery shortly after two a.m. This was just the right time to get up for a change of location (i.e. going to the sālā for the morning meeting). If no one was there yet, I’d use the time to look at the skeleton hanging there. Coming before the other monks, at two or two thirty, it was very quiet in the sālā, a good chance to be on one’s own. In those days the sālā had
a tin roof, and all kinds of animals that go out looking for food at night would walk on the sālā roof, for example a chamott. It would make frightening noises.

The cries of the chamott sound like a human
being crying. I thought someone was there, cryinga andwas quite anxious, so I went out and had a look and saw that it was a chamott. Experiences like this help us to build up the facility to face and struggle with difficulties.
In those days the chanting took only 27 minutes,
as it wasn’t chanted with translation the way we do it today. Afterwards we’d quietly sit together in meditation. When the meditation was finished, we’d clean the hall. While walking on almsround, I’d avoid socializing with the group. For almsround I was scheduled for Bahn Gor, which in those days wasn’t such a pleasant route as today. The road wasn’t good. It was full of mud and cow and buffalo dung. This was something normal at that time, so I didn’t think much about it and just did my duty. Walking through the mud was a good test of the reactions of
the mind. I’d establish mindfulness and start walking from the monastery to Bahn Gor. I didn’t think much about the past or the future and just stayed with the experience of awareness.
When going on almsround I tried to follow the
principle of restraint, in accordnace with the
standards that the Buddha laid down in the
. These practices were very good oppor-tunities for training.
I didn’t have many belongings or requisites,
only the bare necessities. Anything extra would be co-mmunal property. At most I had candles and matches for use at night time, so there would be a little light for practising sitting or walking meditation, or for going to the toilet. One would use a candle to light the way…

The rains’ retreat is a time when the monks of a
monastery usually intensify their efforts in practice. Luang Por’s high aspirations and motivation led to a powerful experience at the beginning of the rainy season, of which he tells:
“I experienced something stranger than
anything I had ever experienced before. From the
beginning of the rains’ retreat on up to the second month I felt great saddhā in the practice. There was no decline, no thoughts of discouragement at all in my practice.

The practice went well the whole time, although
there were a few experiences of the mind getting
involved with desires or defilements. But they weren’t very strong. Take sexual desire for example. If I experienced agreeable feelings arising when relating to women, I could retreat to recollect , taking either my own body or another person’s body as an object of investigation, seeing it as something filthy and unworthy of craving and attachment. For example, I could see it as a skeleton, perhaps one that is walking about, or I could
see the internal organs of a person cut up in pieces and taken apart. This leads to a feeling of disgust, dispassion and revulsion with one’s own body and the bodies of other people.
To reflect on the body like this alleviates sexual
desire and attraction towards the opposite sex. It also makes one mindful, seeing the mind as it relates to the objects of mind. It frees one from being enmeshed in the mind states that come from attaching to pleasure or displeasure with a certain mind object. The very moment the mind is a certain way, one realizes it
mindfully. Possessing mindfulness in this way seemed sufficient for providing clear guidelines in the practice. From then on the feeling of having to think about things in various ways became less. The , or the thinking mind that goes into all directions, felt like it had no strength. It abated and retreated more and more until it was in a state which
one may say it wasn’t dangerous any more.”

Around the middle of the rainy season of the year
2512 (1969) Luang Pu Chah encouraged the monks to practise with special intensity. They weren’t supposed to speak to each other and the communal morning and
evening meetings for chanting and meditation were cancelled. Luang Pu Chah saw that it was the time to give the monks more opportunity to do practice on their own. So Luang Por Liem increased his efforts and as he did so, results became evident. On the ninth of September around 10:00 p.m. he experienced an
immense transformation in his mind. He had a feeling of extraordinary brightness and happiness, of which he reports: “It is impossible to describe this kind of happiness to someone else. It is impossible to make someone else know and understand it. It isn’t the happiness of getting things according to one’s wishes
and not the happiness because things are agreeable; it’s the kind of happiness that goes beyond these two. Walking is happiness, sitting is happiness, standing is happiness and lying down is happiness. There is the experience of delight and joy all the time. Furthermore, one is able to uphold the knowledge in one’s mind that this happiness arises completely by itself and eventually will vanish by itself. Both sukha
and dukkha in an experience like this are still entirely impermanent states. I was able to maintain the knowledge of this fact all the time. In every posture – standing, walking, sitting and lying down – there was a continuous and equal experience of happiness. The state was the same whether I was doing sitting or
walking meditation.

If one were to try to describe the mind in this
state one could say there is brightness, but the word “bright” actually doesn’t describe correctly what the experience is like. It is as if there is nothing that can make the mind get involved with anything. This experience lasted for a day and then changed again. Then the mind became utterly peaceful, not at all exhausted, tired or sleepy, but filled with clarity, radiance and coolness, imbued with various kinds of
delight and rapture. This experience lasted com-
pletely without reference to time. It was truly
“akāliko”, timeless. The same feeling continued on through all the four postures. Eventually I asked myself: “What is this?” and the answer was: “A mode of the mind.” It is like this in itself. When there is happiness, we simply take it as happiness… it is simply a matter of happiness. When there is peace we simply take it as a matter of peace… and we just look at our happiness on and on and we just look at our peace on and on… unremittingly.” Eventually on the evening of the 10th of September a change to something new that Luang Por hadn’t experienced before took place. A feeling of weariness, frustration and fatigue took over. Whenever he sat or walked he felt sleepy. Even after he got up after having rested the tiredness remained. In each
posture he felt completely exhausted. It got to the point where he fell asleep while he was doing walking meditation and ran into some thorns. His whole face became scratched and sore. “At least the sleepiness will disappear now,” he thought, but the fatigue continued to remain as strong as before. Still he endured, telling

himself that it is natural to face obstacles in the practice, which to some extent everybody needs to pass. With these reflections in mind he understood that he needed to look at this tiredness that previously hadn’t been
present. After all, this fatigue just arose, so it was
impermanent too. Using this insight he attempted to maintain awareness of the sleepiness. On the eleventh Luang Por experienced another change, namely, a great peace and happiness returned to
his mind. In all four postures there was clarity and gladness. Simply being by himself was very pleasant. Nothing could intrude and stir up his mind. External objects56 impinging on the mind just couldn’t reach it. When working together with the monks and novices during chores, although he was together with others, he
felt the same as if alone. He wasn’t interested in what they were talking or chatting about. He couldn’t be bothered to think much about what was happening at all, and when the chores were finished, he simply went back to his hut.
The next day passed with the ongoing happiness
and peace continuing as if it was a normal and ordinary experience. With unceasing attention, Luang Por continued to look at both his mind and the objects of his mind. When the evening of the twelfth approached, he started to question himself: “Why do we actually practise… What’s all this practice for?” And the answer arose:
“We don’t practise for anything, we practise for
the sake of practice. Whatever it will lead to doesn’t matter at all. Our duty is to practise, so we practise and try to maintain mindfulness and awareness with it. In each moment we keep teaching ourselves. Whatever we are doing, we try to have mindfulness and awareness. Whether we are walking to or fro, we keep everything in a state of perfect balance. Finally I felt I had done enough walking meditation for that day, because I became quite tired and my feet already hurt very much. The bones of my feet felt like they were piercing through the skin, as I
had been walking the whole day and night without rest. It is normal to experience painful feelings in the body if we overuse a single posture. But it is also normal that feelings change again, so I thought, it’s really enough walking meditation for today. I went up
to my hut, put on my robe with the right shoulder open and the outer robe folded over the left shoulder, sat down facing east (the same direction as Luang Pu Chah’s hut), thought of my teacher and started meditating.”The meditation was very peaceful and the same reflection as before came up in Luang Por’s mind: “We don’t practise for anything, we practise for the sake of
practice.” “Keeping this teaching in my mind, I kept on meditating. Normally I would sit meditation until about 10 or 11 p.m. and then stop to have a rest, but on this day I continued sitting for about eight hours without moving or making the slightest change in posture. With this experience of peace, the mind changed. The feeling of peacefulness shot up and
pervaded throughout the whole body, as if something were taking hold over it. It felt cool, a coolness that suffused the whole body… so very cool… an experience of the whole body becoming completely light and at ease. The head felt so cool the whole day and night, as if there was a fan blowing over it. Cool, peaceful, quiet and still. No experience of thoughts at
all, and no clue at all where they had disappeared. Everything silent, completely. It felt totally quiet. The only experience left was that of utter peace and stillness. The body felt tranquil, cool and light. This experience continued on throughout the whole year, not just for a day or two. In fact, it has continued on unchanging for many years, all from that one go. There is the state of coolness, as if in the brain, whether sitting or lying down, coolness in every
position. All worries, concerns or similar thoughts from the thinking mind are totally gone. Thinking in this or that direction ceased. All quiet, just like a forest where there isn’t the slightest sound of any bird singing. Truly quiet. No wind blowing at all. Just ongoing tranquility and peace.”

And the devas rejoiced…‘this venerable has destroyed māras and his hords’


#7

I would be curious what the Thai/Laos says here myself. Thai is ambiguous with tensing some times. Like could it be an indication that during this experience he transcended suffering without stating that he attained a permanent state of transcendence of suffering? More like a story of a glimpse or a taste of arhatship rather than the complete attainment of arhatship? My Thai is too rusty to know, but I was a pretty good speaker of it 15 years ago—and so that is why I mention the possible ambiguity of the tense. Would love to hear the thoughts of someone who speaks it.


#8

Indeed.


#9

I’m listening to Ajahn Chah’s talks on Amaravati monastery site these days. It made me realise that all ariya-sangha’s (rumoured,self-proclaimed arahant or not) core teaching is the same. It’s not complicated at all. It’s simple yet so profound. I am fascinated by his similes… they are mind blowing!

https://www.amaravati.org/series/the-collected-teachings-of-ajahn-chah/


#10

Wow! Thanks for the link. I am now busily downloading these for offline listening. :heart_eyes:

I find these very helpful when doing work around the house as their gradual unfolding suits the diverse attention needs of housework. I can’t listen to suttas while doing housework–they are too dense.


#11

You are welcome Karl. I tried to do house work while listening but I felt I missed certain things as I’m not a great multi-tasker. I prefer to listen while driving or having my tea.:slightly_smiling_face: Yesterday, I sketched while listening. It was a success.