Questions whilst reading 'What the Buddha never taught'


I read the book, and was at Wat Nanachat a few years after the events. It came up once or twice.

As noted elsewhere in the thread, the senior Ajahn mentioned in the book is not Ajahn Pasanno, the long-time abbot, who i believe was away at the time, but another monk, since disrobed.

The idea that Ajahan Chah was kept alive to make money is a slur based on a misunderstanding.

The other points you mention are, again as already pointed out, a misunderstanding of how Thai Buddhism works.

Personally I enjoyed the book, but it should be seen for what it was: some tallish traveller’s tales by someone in a very unfamiliar context.


Thanks for the comments. I enjoyed the book too; the author is certainly quite intelligent and has a good sense of humor. He is also sympathetic towards several of the monks and laymen at the Wat, though the picture he paints is quite nuanced.

So what was the reason for keeping Ajahn Chah alive? (if it is true, like the book states, that Ajahn Chah said that if he had a stroke he did not want to have his life prolonged artificially)


yes I knew that the Ajahn acting as abbot was not Ajahn Pasanno; he is described as an Australian ex jazz musician (I initially wondered whether it was you :grinning: but I then realized you must be too young).
I think Ajahn Pasanno might be the long-term abbot that the author also talks about. In the book one of the characters talks to Tim Ward about the long-term abbot, recounting that he used to regularly fly to Bangkok to give talks and drop many hints for having land donations to expand the forest monasteries.


I don’t know if that is true. It is always a difficult decision, harder still when it is a beloved teacher. Most of his students believed Ajahn Chah was an arahant, so who is going to to pull the plug? Moreover, his health was variable, and there were many signs that he was conscious.

I lived with Ajahn Pasanno for several years, and never heard him hint about anything. Except trying to get people to offer less meat!


Thanks for highlighting that. An oft’ overlooked part of Ajahn Chah’s teaching. I was very inspired by the story in “Stillness Flowing” of him teaching a villager how to transition away from meat as a livelihood.


Going only off of memory, I recall from some years ago reading an account of Ajahn Chah’s illness and the circumstances around it. After treatment in Bangkok which was unsuccessful, he returned to WPP and was in a state where he could not eat food. The doctors wanted to insert a feeding tube, but he initially refused it. I recall that one of the senior monks went to him, to persuade him to take food to keep himself alive, for the benefit of the Sangha.

Later, one of the monks tells the story of caregiving for Ajahn Chah when he was in his immobile state, and could not talk. As the story goes, two of the caregiver monks began to quarrel with each other over some incident with LP Chah’s care. The next thing they experienced was a large ball of spit that hit the wall next to them. Apparently LP Chah was witnessing the childish exchange, and reprimanded them this way. So, some evidence that despite his disability, he was able to experience and react to his environment, at least at that time.

I recall as well stories of LP Chah going in and out of jhanas while he was in this disabled condition. His attendants would observe his breath to go shallow/away, yet his BP and other vitals to remain stable.

Sorry, I can’t cite to the source of this info, as I don’t recall what I read some years ago. I’ll edit if I can recall where I found this info, above.


Ok though this makes the information also contradictory: from what you say I gather that people were offering quite a lot of meat to the monks. Mr Ward’s account is similar, there were apparently many dishes which included meat, and on one occasion (which he calls Buddhamas) there were over 60 different courses.
On the other hand I have seen some videos by Ajahn Brahmavamso and he said that in those days monks were only offered sticky rice and insects, with a frog at the most (I don’t know whether he stayed at the same wat, but he was in one of Ajahn Chah monasteries) which made the meditation difficult (compared to when he stayed in a rich temple in Bangkok with air con and good food). Coming from someone who is against the fault finding mind, I initially thought this was accurate.
So in the end I think it’s very difficult, perhaps impossible, for us to imagine the real conditions of living in that monastery, since everyone gives quite a different account of it!


I’m seeing how someone who has never lived in a monastery can have a hard time getting their head around what it’s like.

Things change a lot day to day, month to month, and year to year. That the food could be drastically different at on different days is completely normal. It’s alms food after all.


And killing or hurting an arahants is definitely a bad kamma a Buddhist would avoid…


yes, Tim Ward argument is that they would not be killing him by following his wishes and not prolonging his life artificially; they would just ‘unplug him from intravenous feeding. His body would do what it’s ready to do’.


I am not sure where I read it, but if I remember correctly Ajahn Maha Bua was also against keeping him alive artificially. Since he was also considered a arahant he had a good understanding of Dhamma and would not have given advice in contradiction with the Buddha’s teachings.


That is a good point. However I understand Ajahn Brahmavamso spent many years in North East Thailand so I would have thought he gave a description of the average meal (or if anything he would have described the best occasions, since he often speaks against fault finding).


this would be very long time ago. LP Chah often described how the early days when he settled close to his home place were very poor. With time more fame, more food. I doubt that in the established monasteries there are days with actually poor food nowadays.

I was staying in a Sri Lankan forest monastery where each day of the year another village or town would provide food, and there some days the food was simple because the village was very poor. But the organizers of course plan it so that over the week there is sufficient good food.

In the forest monastery in Thailand where I stayed there was never any shortage, there was food in abundance each day. I don’t know what rotation system they had there.


ah ok you seem to have a lot of experience staying in monasteries. Did you just turn up there and stay as long as you wanted (as the author of the book has done) without ‘booking’ in advance, or nowadays do you have to organize your stay/visit at the monastery beforehand?


I’m sure btw that many people here have had relevant monastery experiences… In general, it’s necessary to ask for a stay and ask for a certain duration. In exceptions some monasteries might be big enough so that there is space when you just show up, but I wouldn’t count on it. I assume that for women it is unfortunately more complicated or that less space is available - I would definitely contact them beforehand.
Maybe in a separate topic you’d like to ask people (and women specifically) in which monasteries they’ve made good experiences?


There’s a big difference between having a different opinion on the appropriate medical care, and accusing the monks of deliberately prolonging life for the sake of donations.

But if Ajahn Maha Bua was to be the one pulling the plug, well, that would be an interesting moment in Dhammic history!


Honestly, I think you are making lots and lots of assumptions and quickly coming to conclusions. This wouldn’t be a big deal, but your conclusions all seem to be negative. :slight_smile:

I know you are just trying to learn. I know you may not mean to, but it seems like you are accusing lots of people (including senior monks that many of us know personally) of very bad things. It just feels kind of reckless.

So the original book was published in 1990. That means the author would have been there at least 30 years ago.

And it looks like a “20th anniversary edition” was published in 2013. So a whole new generation can be introduced to his misinformation. :exploding_head:


I am really sorry if that’s how you perceive my posts. Like you said I am trying to learn; I could have just accepted the statements in that book (the author writes well and with a lot of charm, so that it’s easy to be sympathetic towards him). Instead I consulted people here to ask for their version.
Is logic forbidden when discussing things related to monks? I mean, if one person (actually 3, Mr Ward, A Pasanno and A Sujato) say that there was too much meat, and another (A. Brahmavamso) says they were malnourished and had only sticky rice and an occasional frog, why should I not be able to point out the fact that the 2 versions cannot both be true?
Should we suspend all logical argument when discussing things related to the Sangha, out of ‘respect’? For me respect is not accepting blindly the holiness of a person, I like to find out about that person (even if they are a monk or a nun) and respect him/her for their real qualities.
But perhaps this is not how it is supposed to work in EBT; if I am offending people I will be happy to stop posting here. I am not saying this out of spite or some negative emotion, it’s just that if my questions are offensive then perhaps this is not the place for me, at least at this stage.


I find your posts offensive personally, but willing to see whether you are open to a different perspective!


Hi Irene,

Be careful with the argument fallacy of setting up straw mans to attack.

No one has so far indicated logical argument is to be suspended. No one has so far said things are to be accepted blindly. These are straw mans we don’t need to attack or respond to here*, ok? :slight_smile:

All replies up to this point have been presented to aid you build up an understanding of the context and timeframe of things and events.

For example, when Ajahn Brahm mentions being malnourished he is recalling how things were years if not decades before the events lived by the one who authored the book you are referring to.

Ajahn Brahm was there when the International forest monastery was being set up, few years after the main forest monastery (Wat Pa Pong) was also first established. Back then, before Ajahn Chah became well known conditions were indeed harsh, as material support including almsfood was coming mainly from the local villagers.

What I notice is that you tend to not reply and demonstrate appreciation for all the kind and informative replies you have so far received. Courtesy is an important ingredient to consider when you come to a space to learn and discover things.

And to be clear, I mirror @Snowbird perception and impressions of how you are interacting in this thread in terms of you seem to be “making lots and lots of assumptions and quickly coming to conclusions. This wouldn’t be a big deal, but your conclusions all seem to be negative.”

I am sure you have your own reasons to behave and write the way you have been, but maybe take it as a sincere feedback from people who have been taking time to kindly reply your questions and sharing with you their understanding of things you seem keen on understanding better.


  • If you want to discuss these topics, let`s start a new thread and you will very promptlly be introduced to the Kalama Sutta and a number of other EBTs which will aid you setting up a practical framework to discern and take what is meaningful from texts and traditions in your own development of the path. :wink: