Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – September 1st, 2017
Note: One can listen to this talk here.
L uang Por Anan: Welcome to everyone. Last week we discussed Sariputta, a chief disciple of the Buddha praised as being foremost in wisdom and in having gratitude.
His youngest brother was named Revata. When Revata was 7 years old, he already had faith in the Buddha. He heard about the teachings on the uncertainty of life; about aging, sickness, and death. This made him flee his house and ordain at age 7. Even at age 7, Venerable Revata was able to practice to the highest level and become an arahant. An example of a layperson in that time in Lady Vesaka, a chief female lay disciple of the Buddha. When she was seven she attained to Sotapanna. This was because of their high level of parami cultivated over many, many lifetimes already. Parami builds little by little, then, when they are full, one can attain enlightenment.
When I went to ordain, there were many novices at Wat Nong Pah Pong, some quite young, from 8 years old up. Upon arrival, we became anagarikas, or phakows. We were junior to the young novices and behind them in the food line. The novices right away talked to us anagarikas in a very informal way by saying ‘phakow!’ and telling us to do things for them like they owned us. So right from the start they were already testing us.
Once novice from Ubon came to ordain at age 16. His father was a manager of a local bank. He is now known as Ajahn Thong, let us watch a video interview with him.
-Before you ordained what was it that made you want to ordain?
Ajahn Thong: When I was a child my mother and father would take me to the monastery often. They were disciples of Luang Pu Chah. My character led me to enjoy going to the monastery and going to pay respects to the Buddha statues. I liked to read the books of Kruba Ajahns and the life story of the Buddha—my heart became filled with faith and confidence.
-What did your mother and father think of you wanting to ordain? Did they give their permission back then?
Ajahn Thong: They didn’t want to let me out, and they wanted me to study in Bangkok. But my heart was already set on this path of Dhamma. I didn’t think like others and others didn’t think like me. I had been meditating since I was 14 from reading books on how to meditate. I chose to go to Luang Pu Chah since he was nearby and renowned as a great teacher. My father was already a disciple of his and would help drive people from Wat Nong Pah Pong to branch monasteries. A relative of mine built one of those branch monasteries.
-What difficulties did you encounter after ordination?
Ajahn Thong: We had an afternoon drink, just one cup, once a week. We awoke at 2:30am for 3am chanting. Luang Pu Chah guided these early sessions himself since he was still well, so everyone attended.
I felt Luang Pu Chah was my teacher. Luang Pu Chah asked my parents how many children they had. My mother answered 5. Luang Pu Chah asked, “Well, can I have this one?” as he pointed at me. So, my mother gave me up to be ordained.
Luang Pu Chah taught us to have patient endurance and to be resolute and diligent in the practice. Just like people in the world who want to gain money, they need to be diligent, frugal, and work hard. Monks want to find inner wealth, and therefore need to be diligent in this, in the sitting and walking meditation. Money can be shared, but the inner wealth of virtue, peace, and wisdom needs to be cultivated and gained on one’s own. No one can give it to us, not parents or relatives, not friends or people who love us can do this.
Around 1978 Ajahn Piak was sent to be the abbot of a branch monastery in Lamlukkha. I went with him and Ajahn Anan, who ordained the same day as Ajahn Piak. Luang Pu Chah’s health has declining around this time. I wanted seclusion to practice Dhamma more intensively. Lamlukka offered this seclusion, so I went.
Ajahn Anan led the monastery similar to Luang Pu Chah. Ascetic practices were up to individual faith and ability, like going without sleep or fasting, or not speaking. In my 7th and 8th rains I did not sleep or touch my back to the floor, posts, or walls.
After this I was sent to be an abbot, which I did not want to do, since it involves many duties and talking with laypeople, which could bring the level of my mind down. Also, I would not be near a Kruba Ajahn who I could talk with if doubts arose in my practice. It felt like a heavy burden since I still needed to teach myself, but, being an abbot, I would also have to teach others. My mind would have to be strong to be able to uplift the minds of those who visited the monastery, from those who don’t have generosity to having generosity from those who have no morality to being able to keep morality, from those who never practiced to those who practice Dhamma. But with no strength in the mind then one cannot do this. Out of faith and respect, however, I went to be an abbot.
Luang Por Anan: That video was taken during the occasion of venerable Ajahn Thong’s birthday celebrations last month when he was 57 years old. He was a novice for 3 years and he has been a monk for 37 years now.
He had practiced from a very early stage and he had strong faith even when he was a child. We all just have to keep going on with practice and building parami until they become full and we can see the truth of reality. Then we can live in the world with wisdom.
Questions and Answers:
Q: How does one not sleep for three months? How to overcome the physical tiredness?
Luang Por Anan: There are different techniques. One is to walk a lot, like walking all night if one is tired. For laypeople however, who have to work to make a living, getting rest is necessary.
Q: I’ve been doing more and more meditation lately, from 2 to 4 to 6 hours a day. Been doing lots of asubha then feeling heavy and depressed, like I’m incarcerated in this body, which is filthy. And advice for keeping the mind balanced?
Luang Por Anan: Stop doing asubha. Hold off on it for now. Do chanting and build mindfulness. Do a reasonable effort, 6 hours is too much now, it’s too forced—4 hours is better, let it be more natural. Make the mind empty then contemplate emptiness—this is better. If feeling horror or disgust from too much asubha, then contemplate emptiness, the emptiness of this body. Also do mindfulness of breathing with the mantra “Buddho”.
Q: I also feel sad after doing asubha.
Luang Por Anan: For westerners or other foreigners doing asubha can lead to feelings of depression. Instead, look at the mind—if its busy, make it empty first, then you can do asubha later. Listening to Thai Kruba Ajahns often foreigners think they should do asubha, but one can see the Dhamma by reflecting on emptiness, so this is fine.
Q: Yes, my experience is that trying to follow the Kruba Ajahn’s advice with asubha has led me to feel sad as a side effect.
Luang Por Anan: Anyone in Bangkok doing asubha practice?
Q2: Sometimes when at the big mall, Siam Paragon.
Luang Por Anan: If you can’t do asubha then chant to increase mindfulness.
Q: Is contemplating asubha in the hospital okay?
Luang Por Anan: Yes, it is okay.
Q: Is the contemplation of the 4 elements different than asubha?
Luang Por Anan: Asubha, the 4 elements, and breath meditation can be used for calm, or samatha. Seeing the three characteristics is vipassana. If asubha doesn’t work for you, make the mind calm, then see anicca. Doing this you have seen the Dhamma already. The first 5 disciples of the Buddha did not do asubha, they just contemplated the Dhamma with a calm mind.
Another story about Ajahn Thong is during a particular rains retreat he stayed at a branch monastery 10km from Wat Nong Pah Pong. But Luang Pu Chah had him walk to Wat Nong Pah Pong every uposatha to hear the patimokkha then walk back. He had to rush to finish eating to make it in time for the patimokkha then rush back to make it for the evening chanting, then stay up all night, too. Luang Pu Chah did not allow him to get a ride in a car from his family. He wanted Ajahn Thong to walk since he saw his body was of a small and light build.
And again, regarding asubha practice and the 4 element contemplation: like different occupations in the world, such as being a doctor, businessperson, and so on, there are many different types of meditation in which one can be skilled. It is important to be skilled in different methods, but it is all the same path to seeing anicca, dukkha, anatta, to seeing the Dhamma.