Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – December 1st, 2017
L uang Por Anan:
The Thai forest tradition way of practice originated from the great teacher, Luang Pu Mun. During that era, there was no one that had seen and knew the Dhamma for themselves. But it was Luang Pu Mun who practiced until his mind became a fully-enlightened arahant and taught and guided many distinguished disciples to become awakened in his footsteps.
There were two very important monks who were disciples of Luang Pu Mun, that is Luang Pu Ginaree and Luang Pu Tongrat, who were teachers to Luang Pu Chah. When Luang Pu Chah went to learn from Luang Pu Tongrat, Luang Pu Chah walked up to him to pay respects, and upon approaching for the first time, Luang Pu Tongrat said “Tan Chah, you’ve finally come?” These distinguished monks had special knowledges – just walking up to one they could already know the name of that monk. Luang Pu Chah learnt from these 2 Luang Pus, until he had a strong, firm foundation in the practice. Luang Pu Ginaree told Luang Pu Chah to find a flat piece of land. Luang Pu Chah later founded Wat Pah Pong in the year 1954. Now, its 63 years already– entering the 64th year.
When Luang Pu Chah founded Wat Pah Pong, it was incredibly difficult to live there. Food for the meal was difficult – monks had to go for alms far away, there and back 15km, and even had one route that was 20kms. Also, in the initial period, there was malaria. But Luang Pu Chah led the monks to face the difficulties with forbearance. Luang Pu Chah said, “If I die, you cremate me. If you die, then I will cremate you.” This is called fighting death. Wat Pah Pong became well-established after this.
Can you see that to establish a monastery, it requires a lot to sacrifice? It comes originally from the parami of the Lord Buddha. Having built the spiritual perfections to completion. Having great compassion that has no boundaries. He saw all living beings as his own children – he wished to help them to become free from suffering. This great compassion is pure and boundless.
The Buddha reazlied awakening and taught the Dhamma. This led to the first Sangha member, or enlightened disciple. And we chant and praise, full of our faith and confidence in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, chanting “Buddham, Dhammam, Sangham saranam gacchimi”.
The great arahants and monks spread the Dhamma till it arrived in Thailand and following through the ages until the era of Luang Pu Mun, Luang Pu Ginaree, Luang Pu Tongrat, Luang Pu Chah. Reflecting on the spread of the Buddha’s teachings is very important.
I learnt and practiced with Luang Pu Chah at Wat Pah Pong after I ordained. 9 years later, I started Wat Marp Jan. It was founded on 28.11.1984. This year is the 33rd anniversary of Wat Marp Jan. 33 years of passing down and following the way of practice that we call korwat patipada, down from the great teacher Luang Pu Chah that we learnt from. Here we have taught the same way of practice and those monks who have practiced in Wat Marp Jan are still here – Phra Ajahn Maha Somchai, Phra Ajahn Tong, and other monks who have now set up monasteries – here in Thailand and overseas. They all started training from Wat Marp Jan here.
In the beginning in Wat Marp Jan, there was no electricity, no water taps at each kuti. The alms round was all the way to the start of the main road Sukhumvit – there and back it was about 10kms. Even if there were obstacles in sustaining one’s life in the monastery, all of the monks were determined in their practice and meditation. Even malaria was wide-spread in the monastery. In 1985, I got malaria for the first time – and contracted it in total 6 times. I really had to fight with dukkha vedana, or painful feelings. There was even a time, after taking the medicine, that I couldn’t sleep for 3 days and 3 nights. I knew the feeling of a crazy person. The medicine given was so stimulating that the mind was too awake. But having practiced training the mind, I used the mindfulness of breathing to develop calm in the mind. It was the resting place for the mind. I had a deep sense in the Dhamma according to that verse, “The Dhamma looks after those who practice in line with the Dhamma.” May you all be determined in this practice as it has such great and immense value. This is truly our refuge in our times of sickness.
In the beginning days in Wat Marp Jan, every weekly lunar observance day, monks followed nesachik practice– not sleeping and practicing throughout the night. In the vassa, the 3-month rain retreat, some would determine to eat only what one gets from the alms round. Or many monks would not sleep at night all throughout the whole vassa. Or some monks would fast for 9 days, 10 days, even 45 days, according to their strength. All the monks would do morning and evening chanting pujas, and do all the communal chores each day. All monks were very resolute.
The food for the monks’ meal had to be mostly supported by the kitchen. The machee that is here at the monastery currently, back in those days she wasn’t ordained yet, and would make many different types of foods for the meal every day. And then make some things for the evening drinks too. Why did she have to do it? Because if she didn’t the monks wouldn’t have enough to eat. So, the kitchen had to cook food everyday, not even 1 day off, for 365 days. I give my Anumodana to those who helped in the kitchen, in the past and present too.
They really determined to support the monks who were whole-hearted in their practice.
In the beginning at Wat Marp Jan, there were 8 monks and 1 novice. This number grew as more monks came to stay, and later the access road to get to the monastery improved. The road from the main road to the monastery used to take 25 minutes to drive. If it was raining, the road would be all muddy and it would take longer. Sometimes the cars would get bogged down. Normal cars wouldn’t be able to enter. These days, from Rayong city to the Wat Marp Jan takes 25 mins.
In the beginning days, the monks put their life on the line here. Other monks didn’t dare to come here because they were scared to die, to contract malaria. You don’t have to talk about the laypeople, they just didn’t come. One had to live by fighting through endurance and carefulness. But that still didn’t stop one getting malaria. Pretty much all the monks got malaria. Only very few monks didn’t get malaria.
But coming to the present day, even though there is outer development in the monastery, inside the monks are still determined. Every year the monks still determine not to sleep at night all during the 3 months vassa, eating only what one gets from alms round, determining not to speak, and other austere practices. Actually, this year’s vassa was quite historical, too. There were 20 or more monks who didn’t lie down at night throughout the vassa. And there were many that had already started since February. So, for March, April, May, June – 5 or 6 months already, they had not lay down at night and continued this on throughout the vassa. Practicing all throughout the night. Their strength of mind improved, and their mindfulness and concentration improved. And during the vassa there was more than 20 monks that took this practice of not lying down at night. Before they felt that to miss one night of lying down they would feel so tired and weak. But now they can even practice not lying down at night like this for 6 months. And after the 3-month vassa, they could do so for 9 months – and still some are still continuing on with this practice.
This is the level of determination that is appropriate for one training the mind to be peaceful. When one develops the calm of mind to a good level, this will develop into wisdom, this knowing that sees the body and mind as empty – that it isn’t ours. When we see emptiness clearly, then we see the Buddha. By seeing the Dhamma, we see the Buddha. Luang Pu Chah had once said, “The Buddha was born in Thailand, right?” When I heard this back then being a junior monk, I couldn’t understand. I knew the Buddha was born in India. But the deeper meaning of what Luang Pu Chah said was about the attaining of Buddha in the heart. This follows how the Buddha said that “Whoever sees the Dhamma sees me, the Tathagatha.” Whoever sees the Dhamma sees the Buddha in their heart. Being Buddha, this mind that is emptiness and pure – we call it an arahant. It all comes together like this, the Buddha Dhamma and Sangha unifies becoming one. They aren’t separate.
Have morality as your foundation. And have the qualities of sacrificing for the benefit of others and patient-endurance as the means to give the mind strength. Our mind will develop power or strength. We can see the body as just a body. The heart becomes empty. We then believe with wisdom that Nibbana exists. It doesn’t exist beyond our determination and ability. If our mind gets to this level, then our faith, perseverance and effort becomes very firm. We give up wrong views that see things as a self or mine. Then we see it as not a self or mine. The true self is that there is no such thing as me or mine. Seeing things as not-self is liberation – and this is seeing the Dhamma.
May you be determined in this.
Wat Marp Jan has passed 33 years now. So, may you all be determined in your Dhamma practice. This Dhamma is not far from us.
When the mind has loving-kindness and compassion and is determined in the practice, then we are close to seeing the Dhamma. We have this quality of sacrificing for the greater good as a foundation, and we have effort that doesn’t slacken. We do our morning and evening chanting, and we help with all the communal duties and responsibilities. This is our foundation. This gets rid of coarser selfish desires in the beginning. If we can do this, and we know moderation in eating, not indulging in sleeping, speaking little, waking with heedfulness, and training the mind not to get caught into liking or disliking, staying in the middle, establishing the mind with metta. Then this life we will see the Dhamma. Do it sincerely, sincerely and without stopping. Even if you are still doubting in the practice, in the end you can still overcome all these doubts. You’ll understand the Dhamma – get rid of wrong views little by little from your heart, until the heart is full of radiance and brightness. So, may you all be determined in your Dhamma practice.
Questions and Answers:
Q: I rejoice with all the monks putting forth effort in their practices at Wat Marp Jan. One thing I see that has not changed over the years is that Luang Por Anan looks after and takes care of all the monks at Wat Marp Jan.
Q: I feel dispassion towards the world increasing – I am not interested in worldly things. I threw out my diplomas and baby pictures. I find it difficult to see suffering, and I feel trapped in my body like a leaf on a tree that can’t let go. I also feel more suffering at night than in the morning.
Luang Por Anan: Dispassion towards the world is Dhamma. Just know dispassion with equanimity, do not have disliking towards the world. Build up rapture and joy, build merit and goodness. You can reduce precepts on some days to 7, 6, or 5, and just do 8 on Wan Phra if 8 precepts feels too heavy.
Q: Can you explain how you took care of malaria back in the old days? Also, can you explain how monks use fermented urine as medicine?
Luang Por Anan: Back in the old days Luang Pu Chah was so sick he thought he would die. Villagers gave him some herbal medicine that made him feel better. Monks often used the herbal medicines that were available back then. Also, we used quinine, which had bad side effects like enlarging the heart, and another strong medicine that used to cause people to faint.
Fermented urine can help reduce internal toxins. To make fermented urine medicine one eats some special foods, like peppers maybe, then collects the first urine of the morning to keep until it ferments.
One time a novice asked Luang Pu Chah for some of Luang Pu Chah’s fermented urine, which looked very dark and potent. I did not believe he would drink it, but the novice just drank it looking very relaxed. Sometimes you could taste this urine medicine for a whole week after you drank it.
Q: Sometimes I am mindful of the breath, but it seems the strength of the mind decreases while I am noticing the breathing.
Luang Por Anan: Sometimes it is like this. Just keep meditating, do not give up. Mindfulness and concentration can be up and down.
Q: When I am happy sometimes I forget to contemplate the Dhamma. When I am suffering more then I remember to contemplate the Dhamma. I see suffering coming from greed and wanting good feeling.
Luang Por Anan: I am happy for you.
Q: In my house, I am the only one who practices meditation and Dhamma. Other people in the house maybe do not like the things I do. Should I change myself or try to change others to be more peaceful?
Luang Por Anan: Change yourself first to let go of the judgment and negative emotions. Then more cool, calm, and lovingkindness can arise in your heart. The mind then becomes beautiful. Others then notice this goodness and beauty and maybe feel inspired to change themselves.