Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – December 15th, 2017
L uang Por Anan: Welcome to everyone.
Questioner: May I ask a question? During the Buddha’s time, were there any instances when a monk had less seniority but had more Dhamma, and then in this situation, how does the more senior monk give respect to the Dhamma or to the other monk?
Luang Por Anan: This is an interesting question and topic. Because this respecting of seniority has been practiced since the time of the Buddha. The teacher and the disciple are like a father and a son. They look after each other in that way. The preceptor has the duty to look after the monks and novices – looking after and making sure they have a sufficient amount of their 4 basic requisites, that is, in regards to their alms-food, their robes and cloth requisites, their living accommodation, and medicines to cure any sicknesses.
The teacher has a heart of kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity towards their disciples. The disciples, the monks and novices, in return do their duties towards their teacher or preceptor, listening and paying attention to their teachings, reflecting on them and using them to practice; learning and knowing the Dhamma-Vinaya.
During the time I was at Wat Nong Pah Pong and attending on Luang Pu Chah, there was a novice monk who was about 10 years old. This novice had the duty to boil water and look after and attend to Luang Pu Chah for his various food and evening tea needs. This novice would put his robes on very beautifully. There is a training rule in the monk’s discipline where a monk should put on their robes well.
Luang Pu Chah would also say that even if a junior monk or layperson talks with Dhamma, then it is worth listening to. So, we should reflect on this. Luang Pu Chah had wisdom and didn’t have attachments or craving anymore.
For myself, the next day I went to call that novice – “Hey Novice Tongsuk come here, show me how you put on your robe so I can learn.” He put on his robes beautifully and I followed him and learnt from him how to put on the robe properly and beautifully, as well. We put down our ego and pride. Then we will get good things from that.
In the Buddha’s time there was a very senior and well-respected monk who was very learned and thoroughly versed in the scriptures. He even had many disciples, even many arahant disciples. But when the Buddha called him, he would call him Venerable Empty Scripture. If it was us, we probably wouldn’t be able to take it.
So, what did he do? When he decided that he would practice and learn from others, they wouldn’t accept him. He was too well-respected that his disciples who were arahants were afraid to accept their senior teacher and teach him.
He eventually found one novice who was an arahant and asked this novice to teach him. The novice said, “I can teach you but you have to do whatever I say.”
The senior monk had nowhere else to go, so he agreed. The senior monk put on all his robes beautifully – and the novice arahant told him to walk into this muddy swamp. The senior monk did and walked into this swamp until he was full of mud up to his neck and chin. He could let go of his pride and ego and could accept others.
Then the novice taught him a meditation object. He taught him that if there is a termite mound with 6 holes or entrances – close them all till there is just 1 left. Just watch that 1 point. It means to close off the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body – till just the mind is watching over the mind. The senior monk attained to becoming an arahant. He learned meditation from a little novice – but the novice wasn’t little at all. You have to see these 2 things – that on the outside there is a novice – but on the inside, he was a great senior monk who was an arahant who had no more mental defilements. On the other side – there may be on the outside a monk with many years as a monk – but on the inside, there aren’t many years at all. The outside and inside are different like this.
The ones who ordained a long time shouldn’t attach that they have ordained longer than others. It should be that when one becomes more senior in years as a monk, with every year, they should have this sense of self growing smaller and smaller.
If what a junior monk says is Dhamma, then we have to listen and reflect on that.
We have to think in a different way—that we have ordained before them and they are a novice or newly ordained monk—but in their past life they may have been a very senior monk who died, had a lot of parami, and was reborn. Now they are staying with us – and born later – but have more parami than us. We have to see whether they have knowing and abilities and parami.
We should have heard of an individual in the Zen Mahayana tradition – Venerable Hui Neng. There was a senior monk, the Supreme Patriarch, who came to visit this temple. He asked his followers to write a stanza about the Bodhi Tree and the mirror. The head instructors at the temple wrote the stanza,
The body is the Bodhi tree,
The mind is like a clear mirror.
At all times we must strive to polish it,
And must not let the dust collect.
But this monk hadn’t let go of the feeling that the mind is ours. It meant that he still had the self, mind, and the dust collecting.
Hui Neng wrote the stanza:
There is no Bodhi tree,
There is no mirror.
It is all emptiness and pure;
Where will the dust collect?
The head patriarch knew that this individual was enlightened – so he met Hui Neng privately at night. He gave the bowl and robes to Hui Neng and left. The meaning of this gift was that he had given the title of Supreme Patriarch to Hui Neng.
You can’t say that the senior monk is more attained or less attained. But the senior monks have to have kindness and consideration to the junior monks. It isn’t that the senior monks use the junior monks and novices to do chores excessively. They should have kindness, ask them according to their strength, and have kindness within their hearts. The junior monks have to have a mind that is respectful and lower themselves and learn properly.
If they have Dhamma in their hearts, they will then show even more respect to their seniors. They don’t show respect to the 4 elements of the body, the 5 khandas that we attach to as a self, but they respect the Dhamma.
Luang Pu Chah taught us that that we shouldn’t attach and have pride and ego that we are a senior monk. The important thing is that the heart needs to have Dhamma.
Like when the monks take their food for the daily meal in order of seniority. It shouldn’t be that we are more senior, so we take lots of food just for ourselves, and those junior to us don’t have enough food. Make sure it gets to everyone. A junior monk might have Dhamma and is a very good monk, but the senior monk doesn’t like them. The senior monk may actively try to not let them prosper and try to hold them down. This isn’t right.
Whatever level of Vinaya our understanding is up to, then we aim to practice and to let go of this sense of self. Learning from a novice is nothing difficult. We acknowledge that we are not skilled and that they are more skilled than us.
I would listen to whatever Luang Pu Chah would teach, and I would follow that and practice it. And, from that practice, then I could do it as well. This is important – staying close to a good teacher and practicing. Luang Pu Chah taught us to get rid of our ego, pride, and our sense of self. It isn’t just that we learn from the great teachers, but we can learn from a novice or a layperson. If they speak good Dhamma, then we can listen. We reflect on this and it gets rid of our ego and pride. This is important.
Questions and Answers:
Q: Thank you for the very good talk. This maybe was the best talk I’ve ever heard on Skype.
Luang Por Anan: It is good to hear the feedback.
Q: Sometimes the Dhamma seems complicated. Too much. If there were just one simple teaching what would you teach?
Luang Por Anan: All teachings gather into wisdom – letting go of the sense of self is the heartwood of the Buddha’s teaching, all else is secondary. Develop awareness and wisdom, clear understanding of one’s environment, develop strength of mind, then investigate with wisdom.
Like the monk in the story, he had to let go of his sense of self to learn from the junior monk.
Q: Dhamma is nature. Do good, don’t do bad things, and purify the mind.
Luang Por Anan: Yes, this is true. One must truly practice this teaching. You are invited to come practice in Thailand.
Q: Thank you. I see the roses wither on my shrine and think of how this is like my body, and I feel the urge to practice. Dealing with family and others seems to increase my sense of self. I want to be away from everything to really practice.
Q: I ask my husband to do dana, but he gives me money to do dana instead. Does he still get merit?
Luang Por Anan: Yes. This depends on the mind state. If one has faith it increases the merit. It is very good for a wife to help a husband try to have faith.
There is a story in Northeastern Thailand a wife always went to the monastery and tried to encourage her husband to go, but he would not. Later the husband did develop faith and even ordained with Luang Pu Kow. The former husband’s mind became bright meditating on “Buddho”.
Q: It can be hard to have metta for those that have hurt or harmed us.
Luang Por Anan: Sometimes life is easy, but don’t be heedless, keep practicing. When things are tough, practice even more.
Q: All religions teach to have lovingkindness for each other, but how do we really do this? How can we be truly loving, generous, and happy?
Luang Por Anan: I will answer this more fully next week, it is a good question that deserves a full answer.