Ajahn Chah become one of the most celebrated Buddhist monks and meditation master of our time. A fully enlightened master who shared his wisdom with the west. Reading his biography you will get a feel for who this master was and what this great man achieved. If you keep reading the short stories gathered together from other monks who personally trained and knew the great man, then I think you will get a better understanding as to how supremely wise this minimally educated rice farmers son and Buddhist monk truly became.
Ajahn Chah 1918 – 1992
Was a Buddhist monk of the Thai forest tradition, respected and well loved in his own country as a man of great wisdom, it wasn’t until the arrival of the hippies of the 1960’s that the west finally got to hear of this great spiritual master.
He was born into poverty in the northeast region of Thailand, his parents were rice farmers surviving from day to day. With no real education to be had in the region the young Ajahn would start his monastic training a the age of nine. He spent three years in the monastery where he learnt to read and write. He returned to work on the land of his parents but returned to monastic life at the age of 17. He was ordained at a local monastery where he stayed and practiced meditation until 1946 when he decided to become a wandering ascetic monk, a practice called dutong. He wandered learning from teachers of the time, by far his biggest influence was Ajahn Mun a renowned enlightened meditation master. He spent this time of his life meditating in caves and forests until finally establishing a monastery near his home town where he taught his simple meditation techniques and started to gain a large following of disciples and lay people alike. The arrival of the first western disciple, Ajahn Sumedho saw the development of a new monastery focused purely for the western mind filled with knowledge, the first of its kind in Thailand. A few years later Ajahn Chah was invited to give talks in England where he was to form the very first monastery in the Thai forest linage, called Chittaviveka. Ajahn Chah’s health was in decline by the early 1980’s and he was to suffer a massive stroke leaving him bedridden and unable to speak for ten years. Still in this condition he transmitted the teachings of the Buddha using his own body as evidence enough of impermanence and the importance of seeking refuge within ourselves. Ajahn Chah’s legacy of students continues today with Ajahn Brahm, Jack Kornfield, Ajahn Summadho and Ajahn Amaro to name just a few.
Personal Stories of Ajahn Chah
Most of these short excerpts into Ajahn Chah life are from the gifted monks that stayed for extended periods of time training under this great master.
Spitting on a generals head
While at his beloved monastery in Thailand, Ajahn Chah was visited on a daily basis by many different people, from all sorts of walks of life from business men to rice farmers. On this particular day, while Ajahn Chah is peacefully giving a talk to a few monks, the screeching of vehicles arrive at the front gate and an entourage of the Thai army come bounding in. A stately figure, possible a general, approaches Ajahn Chah and demands a holy blessing. Ajahn Chah calmly and politely explains that it’s all superstition and he doesn’t bless people. The general gets irate and demands a blessing. Again Ajahn Chah calmly and politely refuses saying that it’s all hocus pocus. The army general, arms now flailing, demands for a last time reminding Ajahn Chah who he is. Ahah Chah calmly smiles and gently pulls the mans head closer. In an instant Ajahn Chah cleared his throat and spat directly onto the generals head, and then proceeds to rub it in while saying a chat in Pali. The horror on the monks faces was priceless, but the generals reaction was better, he stood up with a smile as broad as day, brimming with pride. He was so happy he had been blessed and not just by any water but that of Ajahn Chah, pure holy water.
Burying a crazy women in a hole
While giving a talk one early evening in the grounds of the temple, there comes apparent there is a commotion outside, lots of hysterical screams and raised voices, Ajahn Chah sits calmly giving the talk, even using the disturbance as a lesson, suddenly the commotion makes its way through the temple gates and head towards Ajahn Chah. The crowd is screaming and demonstrating there anger at a young girl they said was possessed. The girl did look in a trance like state, eyes rolling and mumbles coming from her mouth. Ajahn Chah as calmly as ever, turns to his chief monk and orders him to get together shoves and a tape measure. The monk, Knowing not to ask questions, went away to fetch the said items. On his return Ajahn Chah orders a group of monks to start digging a hole to bury the girl in. The monks set to work, again Knowing not to ask questions. Ajahn Chah calmly walks up to the still uncontrollable girl and starts to measure her height. He then turns around and in a loud voice right next to the girl, announces the hole to bury this girl must be 6ft in length and 4ft deep. Hearing this the girl instantly came round, you could see in her eyes that she was alert and knew she did not want to be buried alive. Ajahn Chah told us all to leave him and for the next 4 hours chatted to the girl helping her in whatever way he could. A demonstration of how well Ajahn Chah knew the complexities of our minds.
Ajahn Chah was renowned for reading people’s minds. He would be able to know what your were saying as you formed the words in your mind. Ajahn Brahm tells a story, while he was standing waiting to get his chance to talk to the great master it occurred to him that this man can read minds, and just as a question formed in his mind, Ajahn Chah broke conversation and turn to Ajahn Brahm and told him the answer, stunning both the monk he was talking to and Ajahn Brahm. Ajahn Brahm said it made him realise how important it was to practice mindfulness at all times with this true master’s ability.
Speaking after taking his false teeth out.
As was often the case when asked questions that seemed just plain dumb or to infinitely complex, Ajahn Chah would often start speaking and while in the middle of the sentence take his teeth out and continue speaking in a slur so as not to be understood. If asked to repeat he would put them back in and repeat the process. He would then explain that the lessons is not to gather all this knowledge but to put into practice what you already know. Your cup is full as they say in Zen Buddhism.
The Legacy lives
In Ajahn Chah’s life time he wrote many books on meditation and its practices, opened monasteries, both in Thailand and abroad, and trained hundreds of monks in the ways of the Buddha and meditation, some of whom have gone on to become well know celebrities in the West, promoting meditation and mindfulness.
An excerpt from Ajahn Chah on meditation, of which the full article can be found hear
“To calm the mind means to find the right balance. If you try to force your mind too much it goes too far; if you don’t try enough it doesn’t get there, it misses the point of balance.
Normally the mind isn’t still, it’s moving all the time. We must strengthen the mind. Making the mind strong and making the body strong are not the same. To make the body strong we have to exercise it, to push it, in order to make it strong, but to make the mind strong means to make it peaceful, not to go thinking of this and that. For most of us the mind has never been peaceful, it has never had the energy of samādhi, so we must establish it within a boundary. We sit in meditation, staying with the ‘one who knows’.”
The majority of Ajahn Chah’s work can be found online and completely free, as is the way with Theravada Buddhism. The many talks he gave his monks during the rains retreats can also be found completely free online.
For more information on this great man or to follow up by reading some of his works on meditation and mindfulness then follow this link
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