Part II

AT THE END of the Rains Retreat, Wat Boromnivasa arranged Chao Khun Upali’s funeral, and nearly all the senior monks in Wat Chedi Luang went down to Bangkok to help. The abbot had Ajaan Mun watch over the temple in his absence. After the funeral was over, a letter came to Ajaan Mun, giving him permission to become a preceptor. When Ajaan Mun opened the letter, he found there was more: The letter asked him, in addition to becoming preceptor, to accept the position of abbot at Wat Chedi Luang. Chao Kaew Nawarat (Prince NineJewels), the Prince of Chieng Mai, was to make all the necessary arrangements. Would Ajaan Mun please take over the duties of the previous abbot? That, in short, was the gist of the letter. When Ajaan Mun finished reading it, he sent for me. ‘I have to leave Wat Chedi Luang,’ he said.

Two days after the end of the Rains Retreat he had sent me out on my own to a mountain in Lamphun province, a spot where he himself had once stayed. I camped a little more than ten days at the foot of the mountain, until one day at about three in the afternoon, while I was sitting in meditation, there was an incident. It was as if someone had come with a message. I heard a voice say, ‘Tomorrow you have to go stay up on top of the mountain.’

The next day, before climbing to the top, I went to stay in an old abandoned temple, said to be very sacred. People had told me that whenever the lunar sabbath came around, a bright light would often appear there. It was deep in the forest, though—and the forest was full of elephants and tigers. I walked in alone, feeling both brave and scared, but confident in the power of the Dhamma and of my teacher.

I stayed for two nights. The first night, nothing happened. The second night, at about one or two in the morning, a tiger came—which meant that I didn’t get any sleep the whole night. I sat in meditation, scared stiff, while the tiger walked around and around my umbrella tent. My body felt all frozen and numb. I started chanting, and the words came out like running water. All the old chants I had forgotten now came back to me, thanks both to my fear and to my ability to keep my mind under control. I sat like this from two until five a.m., when the tiger finally left.

The next morning, I went for alms in a small village of only two households. One of the owners was out working in his garden, and when he saw me he told me that a tiger had come and eaten one of his oxen the night before. This made me even more scared, so finally, after my meal, I climbed to the top of the mountain.

From the top, looking out, you could see the chedi of Wat Phra Dhatu Haribhunjai in the town of Lamphun. The mountain was named Doi Khaw Maw—Thumb Mountain. At its summit was a deep spring—so deep that no one has ever been able to fathom it. The water was crystal clear and surrounded by heads of old Buddha images. Climbing down about two meters from ground level, you reached the surface of the water. They say that a person who falls into the spring won’t sink, and that you can’t go diving down under the water. Women are absolutely forbidden to go into the spring, for if a woman does happen to enter the water she’ll go into convulsions. People in the area consider the whole mountain to be sacred.

Ajaan Mun had told me that there was an important spirit dwelling in the mountain, but that it wouldn’t harm or disturb me because it was acquainted with the Dhamma and Sangha. The first day after reaching the top I didn’t have anything to eat. That night I felt faint—the whole mountain seemed to be swaying like a boat in the middle of a choppy sea—but my mind was in good shape and not the least bit afraid.

The next day I did sitting and walking meditation in the area around an old abandoned sanctuary. From where I was staying, the nearest village I could have gone to for alms was more than three kilometers away, so I made a vow: ‘I won’t eat unless someone brings food here.’ That night I had a stomachache and felt dizzy, but not as bad as the night before.

At about five the next morning, just before dawn, I heard huffing and panting sounds outside the sanctuary. At first I thought it was a tiger, but as I listened carefully, it sounded more like a human being. That side of the mountain, though, was very steep—not too steep to climb up, but I can guarantee that it was too steep to go down. So who would be coming up here? I was curious but didn’t dare leave the sanctuary or my umbrella tent until it was light outside.

When dawn finally came, I went outside and there, by the side of the sanctuary, was an old woman—about 70—sitting with her hands raised in respect. She had some rice wrapped in a banana leaf that she wanted to put in my bowl. She also gave me two kinds of medicine: some roots and pieces of bark. ‘Take this medicine,’ she said, ‘grind it down, and eat it, while making a wish for your health, and your stomachache will go away.’ At the time I was observing the monks’ discipline very strictly and so, because she was a woman, didn’t dare say more than a few words to her. After I had finished eating—one lump of red glutinous rice and the roots and bark—I chanted some blessings for her and she left, disappearing down the west side of the mountain.

At about five in the afternoon, a person came to the top of the mountain with a letter for me from Ajaan Mun. The letter said, ‘Come back right away. I have to leave Wat Chedi Luang tomorrow morning because tomorrow evening the express train from Bangkok will arrive.’ I hurried down from the mountain, but night fell as I reached Paa Heo (GlenForest) Village, so I spent the night in the cemetery there. When I arrived at Wat Chedi Luang the next day, Ajaan Mun had already left.

I asked around, but no one seemed to know where he had gone—leaving me with no idea of where or how to find him. I had an inkling that he had headed north for Keng Tung, which meant I would have to leave for Keng Tung right away, but I couldn’t yet, because there were two things Ajaan Mun had said to me during the rainy season:

1. ‘I want you to help me in the steps of the practice, because I can’t see anyone else who can.’ At the time I had no idea of what he meant, and didn’t pay it much attention.

2. ‘The Chieng Mai area has been home to a great number of sages ever since the distant past. So before you leave the area, I want you to go stay on top of Doi Khaw Maw, in Buab Thawng Cave, and in Chieng Dao Cave.’

After staying a few days at Wat Chedi Luang, I left for Doi Saket district, where I stayed in Tham Myyd (Dark Cave) near Myang Awm village. This was a strange and remarkable cave. On top of the mountain was a Buddha image—from what period, I couldn’t say. In the middle of the mountain the ground opened down into a deep chasm. Going down into the chasm, I came to a piece of teakwood placed as a bridge across a crevice. Edging my way across to the other side, I found myself on a wide rock shelf. As I walked on a ways, it became pitch dark, so I lit a lantern and continued on. I came to another bridge—this time a whole log of teak—reaching to another rock. This is where the air began to feel chilly.

Crossing this second bridge, I reached an enormous cavern. I’d say it could have held at least 3,000 people. The floor of the cavern was flat with little waves, like ripples on water. Shooting straight up from the middle of the floor was a spectacular stalagmite, as white as a cumulus cloud, eight meters tall and so wide it would have taken two people to put their arms around it. Around the stalagmite was a circle of small round bumps—like the bumps in the middle of gongs—each about half a meter tall. Inside the circle was a deep flat basin. The whole area was dazzling white and very beautiful. The air, though, was close, and daylight didn’t penetrate. Ajaan Mun had told me that nagas came here to worship: The stalagmite was their chedi. I had wanted to spend the night, but the air was so close I could hardly breathe, so I didn’t dare stay. I walked back out of the cave.

This mountain was about three kilometers from the nearest village. The people in the area said that at the beginning of the Rains Retreat the mountain would give out a roar. Any year the roar was especially loud there would be good rain and abundant harvests.

That day I went back to stay in a village on the border of Doi Saket district. After resting there a few days, I walked on to Baan Pong, where I met a monk named Khien who had once stayed with Ajaan Mun. I asked if he knew where Ajaan Mun had gone, but his answer was no. So I talked him into returning with me to explore Doi Saket district.

We went to spend a night in a cave in the middle of the jungle, far away from any habitation. The cave was called Buab Thawng—GoldenGourd—Cave. This was because down in the cave was a place where fool’s gold had seeped through a crack into the bottom of a pool of water. To reach the cave you had to go through ten kilometers of virgin forest. The people of the area claimed that there was a fierce spirit living in the cave. Whoever tried to spend the night there, they said, would be kept awake all night by the feeling that someone was stepping on his legs, his stomach, his back, etc.—which had everyone afraid of the place. When I heard this, I wanted to test the truth of the rumor myself. Ajaan Mun himself had told me that Bhikkhu Chai once came to this cave to spend the night but couldn’t get any sleep because he kept hearing the sound of someone walking in and out of the cave all night long.

It was a very deep cave but, still, Ajaan Mun had told me to come here and spend the night. The outcome of my stay was that there was nothing out of the ordinary. We didn’t encounter anything unusual at all.

After leaving the cave, we went down to stay at a spot where we met another monk named Choei. After talking a while, we seemed to hit it off well, so I invited him to come with me and wander some more around the Doi Saket area. As for Phra Khien, he left us and returned to Baan Pong.

One day, as I was wandering with Phra Choei, some villagers built a little place for us to stay in the middle of a large cemetery. The cemetery was full of graves and dotted with the remains of old cremation fires. White, weathered bones were all over the place. Phra Choei and I stayed there for quite a long time.

After a while some villagers came and invited Phra Choei to go stay in another spot, which meant that I had to stay on in the cemetery alone. There were the remains of an old cremation fire about six meters from where I was staying.

A few days later, well before dawn, a villager came with a little cone of flowers and incense, saying that he was going to bring someone to stay with me as my disciple. I thought to myself, ‘At least now I’ll be a little less lonely.’ I had been feeling scared for quite a few days running, to the point that every time I sat in meditation I’d start feeling numb all over.

Later that morning, after my meal, a large group of villagers came, bringing a corpse with them. The corpse hadn’t been placed in a coffin, but was simply wrapped in a cloth. As soon as I saw it, I told myself, ‘You’re in for it now.’ If I were to leave, I’d lose face with the villagers, but the idea of staying on didn’t appeal to me either. Then the realization hit me: The corpse was probably my ‘disciple.’

The villagers started the cremation that afternoon at about four, not too far from where I was staying, giving me a very good view of the corpse. When it caught fire, its arms and legs started sticking up into the air, as yellow as if they had been smeared with turmeric. By evening the body had fallen apart at the waist—it was still black in the flames. Just before nightfall, the villagers returned home, leaving me all by myself. I hurried back to my banana-leaf hut and sat in meditation, ordering my mind not to leave the hut—to the point where my ears went blank. I didn’t hear any sound at all. My mind still had a certain amount of self-awareness, but no perception of where I was, of courage, of fear, or of anything at all. I stayed this way until daybreak, when Phra Choei happened back. Now that I had a companion I felt a little bit more secure.

Phra Choei had a habit of sitting in the hut with me and having Dhamma talks—he’d do the talking, I’d do the listening—but I could tell from the tone of his voice that he wasn’t all he made himself out to be. Once a villager came and asked him, ‘Are you afraid of the dead?’ Phra Choei didn’t say yes or no. All he said was, ‘What’s there to be afraid of? When a person dies, there isn’t anything left at all. Why, you yourself can eat dead chickens, dead ducks, dead cows, and dead water buffaloes without a second thought.’ That was the sort of thing he’d always be saying. I thought to myself, ‘What a show-off! He doesn’t want other people to know he’s afraid. Well, tomorrow we’ll have to see just how brave he really is.’

It so happened that a villager had come to invite one of us to accept donations at his home. Phra Choei and I agreed that I would accept the invitation while he stayed to watch over the hut. I left with the villager but when I returned the next day, Phra Choei was gone. I learned that late the night before, after I had left, one of the villagers had brought the body of a dead girl to bury in the cemetery. Phra Choei, seeing this, immediately gathered his umbrella tent, his bowl and robes, and ran away in the middle of the night. From that moment on, I parted ways with Phra Choei.

I headed back to Baan Pong, where I spent a few nights with Phra Khien, and then went on to a township called Huei Awm Kaew—the Encircling Crystal Stream. There, I was told, were the ruins of an old temple, with lots of old Buddha images. Hearing this, I wanted to go have a look.

By this point I had gotten really fed up with laypeople and monks. I no longer wanted to live with the human race. The one thought in my mind was to go off and live alone on a mountaintop. So when I reached Huei Awm Kaew, I stopped eating food and began eating only leaves so that I wouldn’t need to be bothered with human beings any more.

This turned out to be a fine spot, secluded and quiet, with a shallow stream meandering all around. One night while I was sitting in meditation with my eyes closed in a little dark hut, it seemed to me that a brilliant ball of light, about a meter and a half in diameter, came shooting out of the mountaintop and settled down next to the hut where I was staying—so I sat there meditating until dawn. I felt as if my breath had stopped. I was absolutely still, feeling free and at ease, and not the least bit sleepy.

A few days later I moved down to an island formed by the course of the stream. A villager nearby, on his own initiative, had built me a little hut there. The floor was just off the ground, and the walls were made of banana leaves. When I moved into the hut I resolved to make an all-out effort in my meditation. I went without sleep and ate very little—only four handfuls of leaves a day.

The first day I felt fine and there were no incidents. The second day, at about 9 p.m., after I had said my chants and finished my walking meditation, I lay back for a little rest, letting my thoughts wander—and fell asleep. I dreamed that a woman came to me. She was plump, fair and good-looking, and was wearing a blouse and an old-fashioned skirt. Her name was Sida, she said. She was still single and she wanted to come live with me. I had the feeling that she wanted a husband, so I asked her, ‘Where do you live?’

‘On top of a tall mountain,’ she answered. ‘It’s a large place, with lots of houses. Life is easy there. Please be my husband.’

I refused. She started pleading with me in all sorts of ways, but I stood my ground. So she suggested that we simply become lovers. Still, I wouldn’t yield. In the end, when she could see that she wasn’t going to get her way with me, we agreed to respect each other as good friends. And when we had reached an understanding, she said goodbye and vanished.

The next day, at about two in the afternoon, I bathed in the stream at a spot where a log had fallen across the water. One of the villagers had told me that this was a very important stream, that there was a small chedi at its source. The strange thing about the chedi was that sometimes it was visible, sometimes it wasn’t. Listening to the story, though, I hadn’t paid any attention to it. Before taking my bath, I took some rocks and dammed up the stream so that it would flow over the log and I would have an easier time bathing. After my bath, I went and left the rocks where they were.

That evening, after I had finished my chants and my walking meditation—a little after 9 p.m.—I lay down for a short rest, meditating all the while, and another incident occurred. I felt as if someone were rubbing my legs with his hands, making me feel numb first up to my waist, and then all the way to my head. I had almost no sense of feeling at all and thought I was going to lose consciousness. So I sat right up and entered concentration—my mind absolutely still, clear, and bright. I decided that if this was death, I’d be willing to go. The one other thought that occurred to me was that I was going to pass out because I had been living on nothing but leaves.

As soon as my awareness was in place, it started expanding itself out through my body, and the feeling of numbness gradually began to dissipate—like clouds when they float past the light of the sun—until there was no trace of numbness left at all. My mind returned to normal, and then a light went shooting out from it, focusing on the log where I had bathed in the stream, telling me to get the rocks out of the way because the stream was a path the spirits took. So when I awoke next morning I went to the stream and removed the rocks, letting the water flow as before.

That night it seemed as if there were going to be another incident. Something struck the wall of my hut and shook it, but then that was all. I lay down to meditate because I was feeling weak and as I began to doze off I had a dream: Herds of strange-looking animals, about the size of pigs, were coming down from the waterfall at the source of the stream. Each had the bushy tail of a squirrel and the head of a goat. Huge swarms of them were coming down the stream, passing the spot where I was sleeping. After a few moments I saw a woman, about 30, wearing an indigo blouse and indigo skirt reaching just a little below her knees. She was carrying something—I don’t know what you’d call it—in her hand, and she said that she was the spirit residing in the waterfall, and that she had to go down to the sea like this constantly. Her name was Nang Jan.

For the next few nights I was very earnest in my meditation, but there were no more incidents.

After a while I returned to Baan Pong to a spot where Ajaan Mun had once stayed, and there ran into Phra Khien again. We decided that we would have to go together and search for Ajaan Mun until we found him. So, after saying goodbye to the villagers there, we set out for Chieng Dao (StarCity) Cave. Before reaching Chieng Dao mountain, we climbed up to stay in a small cave where Ajaan Mun had once stayed, and then went on, reaching Chieng Dao Cave the twelfth day of the waxing moon, the third lunar month (February 6). We made an all-out effort to meditate both day and night.

On the night of the full moon—Magha Puja—I decided to sit in meditation as an offering to the Buddha. A little after 9 p.m., my mind became absolutely still. It seemed as if breath and light were radiating from my body in all directions. At the moment, I was focusing on my breath, which was so subtle that I scarcely seemed to be breathing at all. My heart was quiet; my mind still. The breath in my body didn’t seem to be moving at all. It was simply quiet and still. My mind had completely stopped formulating thoughts—how all my thoughts had stopped, I had no idea. But I was aware—feeling bright, expansive, and at ease—with a sense of freedom that wiped out all feeling of pain.

After about an hour of this, teachings began to appear in my heart. This, in short, is what they said: ‘Focus down and examine becoming, birth, death, and ignorance to see how they come about.’ A vision came to me as plain as if it were right before my eyes: ‘Birth is like a lightning flash. Death is like a lightning flash.’ So I focused on the causes leading to birth and death, until I came to the word avijja—ignorance. Ignorance of what? What kind of knowing is the knowing of ignorance? What kind of knowing is the knowing of knowledge? I considered things in this manner, back and forth, over and over until dawn. When it all finally became clear, I left concentration. My heart and body both seemed light, open, and free; my heart, extremely satisfied and full.

WE LEFT CHIENG DAO CAVE three days later and then split up for a night, one of us staying in Paak Phieng Cave, the other in Jan Cave. These were very relaxing places to stay. No incidents. After that we set out for Fang, to stay at Tab Tao Cave, which at that time had no villages nearby. There we met an old monk, Grandfather Phaa. Reaching the base of the hill, we found banana and papaya orchards and a clear-flowing stream. There were two large open caves and one long narrow one. In one of the open caves were rows and rows of ancient Buddha images, and another enormous Buddha image that Grandfather Phaa was building himself.

When we first went to his quarters, we didn’t find him, so we then went east, following the stream up the mountain. We came across an old man wearing maroon shorts and a maroon short-sleeved shirt. He had a large knife in his hand, with which he was cutting back the forest. His movements were vigorous and strong, like those of a young man. We walked toward him and called out, ‘Do you know where Grandfather Phaa is?’ When he caught sight of us, he came quickly toward us—with the knife still in his hand. But when he sat down with us, his manner changed into that of a monk. ‘I’m Grandfather Phaa,’ he said. So we paid him our respects.

He led us back to his quarters, where he changed from his shorts and shirt into a dark set of robes with a sash tied around his chest and a string of rosary beads in his hand. He told us the stories behind each of the caves. ‘If you want to spend the Rains Retreat here with me, you can, seeing as you’re students of Ajaan Mun. But you can’t take me as your ajaan, because at the moment I’m growing bananas and papayas to sell in order to raise enough money to finish my Buddha image.*’ Still, he ate only one meal a day.

That evening he showed us around the banana and papaya groves, which he had planted himself. ‘If you feel hungry,’ he said, pointing to the trees, ‘you have my permission to take and eat as much as you like. Ordinarily, I don’t allow other monks to touch them.’ It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d want any of his fruit but I appreciated his kindness. Every morning before dawn, he’d send one of his disciples to where we were staying with bananas and papayas for us to eat.

I noticed a lot of strange things about the area. The peacocks in the forest weren’t at all afraid of Grandfather Phaa. Every morning doves would come to where he’d be eating, and he’d scatter rice for them to eat. Sometimes they’d allow him to touch them. Every evening monkeys would descend in hordes to eat the papayas he had spread out for them. If any villagers happened by on their way to worship the Buddha images, though, the animals would all run away.

To enter the long narrow cave, we had to light a lantern and climb up and down a narrow, crooked passageway. After about 30 minutes, we came to a small chedi, deep in the cave. Who built it, or when, no one knows.

After we had done what we felt was enough cave-exploring, we set out across the jungle and stopped at Kok River Village. This was a good-sized village with a tall hill to the east. At night it was very cold. All you could hear were the roars of tigers passing back and forth along the side of the hill. The village had no temple, but it did have a sacred Buddha image, a little less than a meter across at the base, and very beautiful. Someone had brought it from the middle of the jungle.

After two nights in Kok River Village, we said goodbye to the villagers and set out across a large tract of virgin forest. We walked for three days before coming across another village. As soon as the people in Kok River Village had learned that we were planning to go, they tried to dissuade us because there were no places in the forest where we could go for alms. So I said, ‘That’s all right. It’s only two days. I can take it. All I ask for is enough water to drink.’ The morning of the day we were to leave, just as we were returning from our alms round in the village, we met a man who informed us that he was going to leave for Chieng Saen that day, and so would be able to accompany us through the forest.

Before we left the village, an old man came to warn us: ‘On your way through the forest,’ he said, ‘you’ll come to a spot where there are a lot of spirit shrines. If it isn’t yet dark when you reach there, don’t stop. Go on and spend the night somewhere else, for the forest spirits there are really fierce. No one who spends the night in that area can get any sleep. Sometimes it’s a bird, sometimes a tiger, sometimes a deer—always something to keep you awake all night.’

So the three of us—Phra Khien, the layman, and myself—set out across the forest. And sure enough, along the way we came across the spot the old man had mentioned. Phra Khien, who had heard the old man’s warning, said to me, ‘Than Ajaan, let’s not stop here.’ But I told him, ‘We’ve got to. Whatever’s here, we’ll find out tonight.’ So we stopped and pitched camp by the spirit shrines. I had the layman tear down all the shrines and set them on fire. ‘I’m not afraid,’ I said. ‘I’ve never seen a spirit who was any match for a monk’—but glancing over at Phra Khien, I could see his face turn pale.

Night fell. We built a fire and chanted the evening service. Then I said, ‘We all have to believe firmly in the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.’ I made a vow to look for no more shelter that night than the shade of a tree, and found a piece of wood to use for my pillow. I was going to be tough with myself and not shrink from any hardship. I ordered that we sleep fairly far apart, but close enough to hear if one of the others called out. ‘Don’t be too intent on getting any sleep tonight,’ I said.

After that, each of us entered his umbrella tent, feeling really exhausted from the long day’s journey. I sat for a while, doing some more chanting. The layman slept. Phra Khien lay snoring and mumbling in his sleep for a while and then fell quiet. I began feeling really tired and so lay down too. After a moment, though, a sound like someone whispering came to me and said, ‘Get up. Something’s going to happen.’

I got up with a start and, sure enough, heard a rustling noise about ten meters from where Phra Khien was sleeping. Lighting a candle, I called out to the others to get up. I then lit a fire and we sat there—the three of us, in the middle of the vast, silent forest—saying our chants. A moment after we started chanting there was a very peculiar-sounding birdcall. The old man in the village had said, ‘If you hear this sort of birdcall, don’t lie down. Otherwise a spirit will come and suck your blood dry.’ So we all went without sleep, sitting up until daybreak.

In the early morning darkness, the layman fixed rice porridge for us, and after we finished eating we went out for a look around. We found tiger tracks, marks of its digging, and a fresh pile of its dung. Nothing else happened that night.

We waited until it was bright enough to see the lines on our palms and then set out through the forest. We walked all day until at nightfall we reached a small hill with a crystal-clear waterfall. The sound of falling water echoed throughout the area. We stopped here and rested for the night without any incidents.

The next morning, after we had finished our rice porridge, we set out again. At about 1 p.m. we stopped for rest under the shade of a tree. This is where the layman said goodbye and hurried on ahead of us. We never saw him again. Phra Khien and I walked on until it was almost dark, when we came to a village. We asked the people there if they had seen anyone walk past their village earlier that afternoon, but it seemed that no one had.

The next day we left for Chieng Saen, where we spent a few days staying in an orchard before heading on to Chieng Rai. In Chieng Rai we stayed at a small cemetery outside of town and there met an old monk, Grandfather Myyn Haan, who had been a follower of mine before his ordination. He introduced us to the chief of the Chieng Rai provincial police so that the chief of police could help us on our way back to Lampang. The chief of police seemed happy to help. He got us on a bus that we took as far as Phayao, where we got off and traveled on foot past Phaa Thai cave—the trail was really overgrown—and then on into Lampang. We spent one night at a small temple just to the southwest of the Lampang railroad station and the next morning set out on foot along the railroad tracks.

We came to a cave at one point—a place named Tham Kaeng Luang (GrandRapids Cave)—where we spent three nights. It was a comfortable place to stay, very peaceful and quiet. We went for alms in a nearby village, but no one paid much attention to us. For two days we had nothing to eat but rice—not even a grain of salt.

The third day, before going out for alms, I made a vow: ‘Today if I don’t get anything to eat with my rice, I’m not going to eat at all.’ Sure enough, I got nothing but a ball of glutinous rice. When we got back to the cave, I sat thinking about the trip ahead of us and then said to Phra Khien, ‘Today I’m going to donate my rice to the fish. Even if somebody comes to donate heaps of food, I’m still not going to eat. How about you? Are you with me?’

‘I’m afraid I can’t go along with you,’ he answered. ‘I’ve had nothing but rice for two days now and I’m starting to feel weak.’

‘In that case,’ I said, ‘I’m going on ahead. If you want to eat, you can stay here. Maybe someone will come with food for you.’ So I gathered my things and left. I told myself, ‘Today I’m not going to ask anyone for food, either by going for alms or by out-and-out asking. Only if someone invites me to have food will I be willing to eat.’

After walking for an hour I passed a small village of three households. A woman came running out of one of the houses, raised her hands in respect, and invited me into her home to have some food. ‘My husband shot a barking deer yesterday and I’m afraid of the sin. So I’d like to make merit with a monk. You’ve just got to come to my house and have something to eat.’

I was feeling a little hungry from having had nothing but rice to eat for two days, plus not having had anything at all that morning, so I said to myself, ‘Okay. Go ahead and have a little barking deer.’ I accepted the woman’s invitation, left the railroad tracks, and sat down in a grove growing near her home. She invited me into the house, but I said, ‘This is where I’m sitting, so this is where I’ll eat.’ She brought out two trays of food plus a basket of glutinous rice, and I ate my fill. When I finished I chanted blessings for her and then was on my way.

After two days of walking along the railroad tracks, I reached the town of Uttaradit. Although I had quite a few followers in town, I didn’t want to tell anyone I had come, so I went on past the town and stayed in a cemetery near Wat Thaa Pho. I then spent two nights at Wat Thaa Sao, waiting for Phra Khien to catch up with me. When he didn’t show up, I decided that we had parted ways and that neither of us had to worry about the other any more.

From there I went to stay in an old temple near Baan Dara (StarVillage) junction, south of Uttaradit. One afternoon at 2 p.m., after just a few days there, I happened to be sitting in the sala, passing the time of day, when two people came in out of the sun to join me—a monk and a layman. We started talking about what we were doing and where we were going. The two of them, it turned out, had a buried treasure map and were on their way to dig for the treasure, which according to the map was in Phitsanuloke. The layman said that his name was Lieutenant Colonel Sutjai and that he was a retired army officer. As evening came on, they left—where they went to stay, I have no idea.

Early the next morning, before dawn, I heard someone calling me from outside my room. ‘Now who could that be?’ I thought. So I got up and looked out. There was Colonel Sutjai. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked him.

‘I haven’t been able to sleep all night,’ he said. ‘Every time I close my eyes, I see your face and I keep wondering how you’re going to get all the way to Korat traveling alone. I can’t help feeling sorry for you. So I’d like to give you ten baht toward your train ticket.’

I told him I’d be pleased to accept his money and had one of the temple boys come and take it to put in safe keeping. Later the following night the thought occurred to me that Colonel Sutjai might be playing a trick on me. ‘I bet that bill is counterfeit,’ I thought, so I asked the temple boy to fetch the bill and take a good look at it to see whether or not it was fake. He assured me it wasn’t.

The next morning, before dawn, Colonel Sutjai came calling for me again. ‘I’m worried about the money I gave you,’ he said. ‘I’m afraid it won’t be enough.’ Then he added, ‘When are you leaving for Korat?’

‘Tomorrow,’ I answered.

So he promised, ‘I’ll take you to the station and buy your ticket for you.’ Then he left. The next day he went and bought the ticket—it cost eleven baht—and put me on the train.

The train pulled into the Nakhorn Sawan station in the middle of the night. I didn’t know where I would stay until I spotted an empty sala. I went there and hung up my umbrella tent, put down my bowl, and sat down to rest for a while. A middle-aged man came along and asked if he could join me. ‘If he’s a thief,’ I thought, ‘I’ll be stripped of my bowl and belongings tonight because I’m dead tired. I’ll probably sleep like a log. But what the heck. Let him stay.’

As it turned out, nothing happened that night. In fact, early the next morning the man bought some food to donate to me. At seven we boarded the train together, heading south. He was a native of Kabinburi, in Prajinburi province, and had been up to see his daughter in Phichit.

When we reached Baan Phachi junction I changed trains for Nakhorn Ratchasima (Korat), arriving there at six in the evening. I went to stay with Ajaan Singh, who had founded a monastery and been living there for three years. I asked for news of Ajaan Mun, but Ajaan Singh had no idea of his whereabouts.

I DECIDED to spend the Rains Retreat that year in Nakhorn Ratchasima province. Just before the rains started, a layperson from Krathoag (now Chokchai) district came and asked Ajaan Singh for a monk to come and stay in his town. The layperson was Khun Amnaad Amnueykit, the District Official there in Krathoag. Ajaan Singh asked me to go, and I decided to accept the invitation. As it turned out, I stayed on, teaching the monks, novices, and laypeople in Krathoag for two years.

At the end of my first Rains Retreat there, I got news from home that my father was very ill, so I made plans to return home to visit him. Before I left, Khun Amnaad Amnueykit invited me to give a sermon at his home. This was the eighth day after the end of the rains (October 12). At about five in the evening, before I left for Khun Amnaad’s house, there was a peculiar incident. A swarm of more than 100 squirrels came running into the monastery and gathered on the porch of the hut belonging to one of the monks, Phra Yen. Nothing like this had ever happened since my arrival in Krathoag, so before leaving the monastery I called all the monks and novices to my quarters for a meeting. ‘There’s going to be an incident tonight, so I want you all to be on your toes. After you’ve finished the evening chanting,

(a) you are to return to your quarters, sit quietly, and meditate. Don’t sit around talking. Each person should keep to himself.

(b) If you have any personal business to take care of, like sewing robes, save it for another night.’

I then left for the District Official’s house. At seven that evening, after I had been on the sermon seat for half an hour—preaching to the District Official, civil servants, and other townspeople about the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, and one’s benefactors—two laymen from near the monastery came looking for me, but because I was sitting there preaching with my eyes closed, they didn’t dare interrupt. After the sermon was over, they informed the District Official that someone had tried to stab Phra Yen, but he had received only a surface wound.

On hearing this, the District Official called his assistant and a number of policemen, and they went to see what was up at Bong Chii Cemetery Monastery. I went along with them. The officials were able to trace the suspect—a man named Nai In—to a village where they found him hiding out in a friend’s house. The District Official had the police take both Nai In and his friend into custody.

The police continued to investigate the matter for several days, while we at the monastery ran our own investigation. We learned that since my coming to spend the rains there at Bong Chii Cemetery Monastery, the way I and the other monks in the monastery had conducted ourselves had received a great deal of praise from the District Official, civil servants, townspeople, and most of the people in the nearby villages. Other temples in the area had become jealous as a result and, not wanting us to stay on there, had laid plans to frighten us away by doing us bodily harm.

As for the police, they tried to interrogate Nai In but didn’t get anywhere because he wouldn’t confess. So finally the chief of police came and told me, ‘Whether or not he confesses, I’ll still have to keep him behind bars for a while, because he’s in my custody. Tomorrow I’ll take him to the provincial prison.’

Hearing this, I felt sorry for Nai In. To tell the truth, he was a scoundrel from way back, but I had had him run a number of errands for the monastery, such as helping us find firewood, so in a way he was a follower of mine. I thus asked the chief of police to bring Nai In and his friend to see me later in the day.

At about three in the afternoon the chief of police brought the two of them to the monastery. I said to Nai In, ‘If it’s true that you’re involved in this, I don’t ever want you to do it again. No matter whether it’s a case of a monk or a layperson, I want you to stop. If it’s not true that you’re guilty, then it means you’re a good person. So today I’m going to ask the chief of police to give me Nai In. From today onwards I’ll ask Nai In not to cause the monastery any trouble. May the chief of police please let Nai In go, so that there’ll be no more animosity between us.’

That was the end of the matter. From that day on, Nai In became very close to the monastery. If we ever had any errands to be run or work to be done, we could always call on him. As for the people in Chokchai who had once resented our presence, they now began to hold us in awe. The word got around: ‘One of Ajaan Lee’s students, Phra Yen, was stabbed full force with a scythe, and yet the blade didn’t even enter the skin—just gave him a foot-long scratch. If his student is that invulnerable, just think what he’s like!’

Actually, the truth of the matter was nothing like that at all, and had nothing to do with Phra Yen’s being charmed or invulnerable or anything. What happened was simply that Phra Yen had taken a chair and a sewing machine that evening and placed them on the porch of his hut, which was about a meter off the ground. As he was sitting in the chair, sewing his robes, the attacker standing on the ground tried to stab him in the left shoulder with a long-handled scythe. The handle struck the chair, though, so the scythe left only a surface wound.

Afterwards I called the monks and novices together and drew a number of lessons from the incident. I finished by saying, ‘Don’t lose your nerve if there are any more incidents. I want you all to stay here in peace. I’m going to go visit my father in Ubon.’

I then set out for Ubon. Reaching home, I found my father seriously ill, wasting away from old age—he was now 69. I stayed close to him, nursing and caring for him for several months until the rains grew near, when I returned to spend a second Rains Retreat back at Bong Chii Cemetery Monastery. I later received news that he passed away in the middle of the rains, on September 8.

TOWARD THE END of the Rains Retreat, I began thinking more and more often of Ajaan Mun. I decided, without telling anyone, that I would have to leave the monastery that dry season. I went to Wat Salawan in Nakhorn Ratchasima to take my leave of Ajaan Singh, and he gave his permission for me to go, which pleased me immensely. I returned to Chokchai to say farewell to the monks, novices, and laypeople there. One of my very good friends, a person who had given a lot of solid support in helping to build and look after the monastery, told me, ‘If you don’t come back here for the next Rains Retreat, I’m going to put a curse on you, you know.’ That was Doctor Waad, the town doctor in Chokchai. So I told him, ‘What do you want, after all I’ve taught you about inconstancy?’

So then, with a handful of followers, I went deep into the Ijaan wilderness, passing the branch district of Nang Rong and reaching Phnom Rung mountain just inside the borders of Buriram province. We climbed the mountain and stayed for several days high on the summit.

There on the summit were a number of ancient stone temples and large stone pools filled with water. The mountain was far from any habitation. One day I went without food, but my meditation went well. A few days later we climbed down and spent a night by a pool at the foot of the mountain. The next morning we went for alms and then walked on for a number of days until we reached Talung district in Buriram. It so happened that Khun Amnaad Amnueykit had just been transferred here to be the District Official. We were both very happy to see each other. After staying for a few days, I took my leave of Khun Amnaad so that I could go into Cambodia.

On this trip there were five of us altogether—two boys, two other monks, and myself. Khun Amnaad arranged temporary passports for us. We went down into Cambodia, traveling first to Ampil, then passing through a large jungle to Svay Chek, and from there on foot to Sisophon. After our arrival at Sisophon, a number of laypeople came to discuss the Dhamma with me. They became very impressed and began to follow me in throngs. When the time came to leave, some of them—both men and women—began to cry.

While I was at Svay Chek there had been one person who held me in great esteem and who brought his daughter to talk with me every day.* His daughter told me that she was unmarried. The tone of their voices told me that they wanted me to settle down there. They’d be willing to help me in every way, they said. Just please stay. As the days passed, we seemed to take more and more of a liking to each other. When I could see that things were beginning to get out of hand, I realized that I’d have to be going, so I said goodbye and headed south for Sisophon.

From Sisophon we went on foot to Battambang, where we stayed in the cemetery at Wat Ta-aek, about a kilometer from town. In Battambang I met a layman who knew Khun Amnaad Amnueykit. He gave me a hearty welcome and introduced me to a lot of people in town. After staying there a good while, we said goodbye and headed for the province of Siem Reap. We camped for a while at a cemetery in the forest, where a number of people came to donate food. From there we left for Angkor Wat, where we stayed and wandered about, looking at all the ancient ruins.

We spent two nights there. The first day we had a meal, the second day we decided not to, because there was hardly anyone to place food in our bowls when we went out for alms.

Leaving Angkor Wat we headed for Phnom Penh. Along the way we climbed a huge, tall mountain: a nice, quiet secluded place with plenty of drinking water. The mountain was called Phnom Kulen—Wild Lychee Mountain. At the summit were scores of wild lychee trees, bearing bright red fruits. About 20 small villages surrounded the base of the mountain. We stayed there a few days in a Vietnamese temple that had a Buddha image carved into the rock of a large overhanging cliff. While there, I took advantage of the opportunity to explore the nearby caves.

Near the temple was a village of about ten households that we were able to depend on for alms. Staying in the temple were two people—a Cambodian monk, about 50 years old and with only one good eye, and a lay follower. Whenever I had nothing else to do, I’d sit and discuss Dhamma with the monk. As for the caves, there were two of them: one where I stayed with my following, and the other, about ten meters from the Buddha image, where a large tiger lived. At the time, though, because it was April, the tiger had gone down to live in the lowland forests. When the rains began, it would come back to stay in the cave. One afternoon I left the cave and returned to stay at the Vietnamese temple. Altogether we stayed there for about a week. We then left, going down the west side of the mountain. It took ten hours of climbing to get through the mountains before reaching the flatlands.

We then traveled around to the south of the mountain range and stopped in a forest near a village. There a layperson came to tell me a number of strange stories that really took my fancy. This is the gist of what he had to say: About three kilometers from the village were three mountains covered with streams and open forests. The strange thing about the mountains was that if anyone went to cut any of the trees, he would either die a violent death, become seriously ill, or suffer misfortune of one sort or another. Sometimes on the lunar sabbath, in the middle of the night, a bright light would come shooting out of the summit of the third mountain. It seemed that a number of times monks had gone to spend the Rains Retreat on top of the third mountain, but had had to leave in the middle of the retreat, because of either strong winds, rains, or lightning strikes.

This being the case, he wanted me to climb to the top of the mountain to see what was there. So the next morning we set out for the third mountain. After climbing to the top, I looked over the area and found it to be a pleasant and inviting place to stay. The people in my following, though, were afraid and began crying that they didn’t want to stay, so in the end we had to climb back down. On the way back we passed through a village and then went on to spend the night in a quiet forest nearby.

The next morning, when we went for alms in the village, an old woman carrying a bowl of rice came running after us, calling and waving her arms. We stopped and waited as she caught up with us, kneeled down, and placed food in our bowls. After receiving her alms, we headed back to where we were staying, and she followed behind us. When she reached our campsite, she told us, ‘Last night, just before dawn, I dreamed that someone came and told me to get up and fix some food. A dhutanga monk was going to come by on his alms round.’ So she had gotten up and fixed food just as she had dreamed, and sure enough, met us as we were going for alms, which is why she had been so excited.

That evening the villagers had spread word among themselves to come listen to a sermon, and as darkness fell a lot of them came. By this time I had been wandering around Cambodia for more than a month, to the point where I was able to preach the Dhamma in Cambodian well enough that we could understand one another fairly well.

A few days later I learned from one of the laypeople there that a Cambodian monk who had studied the Tripitaka and was expert in translating Pali wanted to come and quiz me on the Dhamma. ‘That’s okay,’ I told him. ‘Let him come.’ And so the next afternoon he actually came. We discussed and debated the Dhamma until we were able to reach a good understanding of each other’s practices and ways of conduct. The whole affair went by smoothly and peacefully, without incident.

I spent quite a few days in the area, to the point where I began to feel quite close to many of the laypeople there. I then said farewell and started back to Sisophon. Quite a number of laypeople, both men and women, followed after us, forming an escort that fell away by stages.

Reaching Sisophon we stayed for two nights and then went to visit a cave in a nearby mountain—a fine, secluded place. A Chinese monk was living there alone, so we sat and discussed the Dhamma. We hit it off so well that he invited me to stay and spend the Rains Retreat there. None of my following, though, wanted to stay on.

From there we walked to the border at Aranyaprathet, where we crossed back into Thailand. After staying a fair while in Aranyaprathet, we headed deep into the forest, skirting the mountain ranges, intending to cross into Nakhorn Ratchasima province via the Buphraam pass.

By this point it was nearing time to stop for the Rains Retreat. There was rain all along the way, leeches were everywhere, and traveling was by no means easy. We decided to come out around Pha-ngawb Mountain and on along through Wang Hawk—LancePalace—Pass until we reached Baan Takhro, Prachantakham district, there in Prajinburi province. The trail along Wang Hawk Pass, if we had kept on going, would have led us through another jungle and then across the border into Nakhorn Ratchasima province at the branch district of Sakae Lang. But we decided not to travel on because the rains were getting very heavy, and so spent the Rains Retreat there in Baan Takhro. This was the year 1934.

BAAN TAKHRO is set near the foot of a mountain by a large, deep stream that flows down into the district seat at Prachantakham. We spent the rains at the foot of the mountain. One member of my following—Bhikkhu Son—wasn’t willing to stay there and so headed through Prajinburi and spent the rains at Kawk Mountain in Nakhorn Nayok province. This left just two of us to spend the rains together—along with the two young boys—in an old sala at the edge of the stream. In the course of the rains there were seven flash floods, sometimes with the water so high that we had to climb up and sleep in the rafters. We seemed to suffer a lot of hardships that year.

The village was thick with poison, and crawling with bandits and thieves: The people there made a steady practice of stealing water buffaloes and cows to kill for meat. I tried to teach them to abandon their evil ways and to do nothing but good, and eventually some of them actually gave up making poison and stopped killing large animals such as water buffaloes and cows. Word of this spread until it reached the ears of the ecclesiastical head of Prajinburi province at Wat Makawk.

At the end of the rains he came up looking for me and had me return with him to the town of Prajinburi. He was in need of meditation monks, he said, so I went along. He introduced me to the chief of police, as well as to the Provincial Governor, Luang Sinsongkhram. I overheard the governor say to the ecclesiastical head, ‘Ask him to stay here in the province to help teach the people and stamp out banditry in the out-lying districts.’ Hearing this, I said to myself, ‘You’d better get out of this province before they put you on a leash.’

So I took my leave of the ecclesiastical head of Prajinburi province and took my group to stay in Grandfather Khen Cave in Ito Mountain. From there we headed to the branch district of Sra Kaeo (CrystalPool) in Kabinburi district, where we went deep into the forest. We went to look over a cave in BigLion Mountain, but I didn’t care for what I saw because the air in the cave was dark and stale. So we retraced our steps back down the mountain. That day we took a shortcut through the forest, heading for a certain village, but got lost because we were traveling in the middle of the night. We kept walking until about 4 a.m., cutting through virgin forest so as to reach the village, but ended up back practically where we had started, near Sra Kaeo.

The next morning, after our meal, we went into the forest, heading for Chakan (YoungSavage) Mountain, which was about 15 kilometers from Sra Kaeo. Reaching the village at the foot of the mountain, we went to stay in Chakan Cave. The cave was a quiet, secluded spot, free from human disturbances, because the mountain abounded on all sides with fierce animals: tigers, elephants, and bears. Deep in the quiet of the night, sitting in meditation, you could hear the calls of the elephants as they went about, breaking off tree branches with their trunks. There was a village about a kilometer from the mountain. We stayed there in the cave a good many days.

From there we cut through a giant forest—a stretch of 70 kilometers with no human habitation. It took two days to get through, and we had to spend two nights sleeping out in the middle of the wilds because there weren’t any villages. We kept on going until we crossed the border into Chanthaburi province, passing through Baan Taa Ryang, Baan Taa Muun, and on into Makham (Tamarind) district. From there we skirted around the forest behind Sra Baab (SinPond) Mountain and reached Khlung district. In Khlung I learned that Khun Amnaad Amnueykit had left government service and was now living in retirement in Chanthaburi. This I was glad to hear.

I PASSED THROUGH the city of Chanthaburi and went to stay in an open field to the south of town, by the canal to Baan Praduu, before going to visit Khun Amnaad at his home. He found me a quiet place to stay: a burial ground about 800 meters from town. This was an area of bamboo and taew trees, thickly overgrown with grass, with only one clearing large enough to stay in: the clearing where they held cremations. The place was called Khlawng Kung (ShrimpCanal) Cemetery. This was how I came to stay there. By this point there was only one other monk staying with me—an old monk who had followed me from Prajinburi—and one boy. The others had left to return home.

As the rains neared, a number of Chanthaburi people asked me to stay and spend the Retreat there, so I went to inform the ecclesiastical head of the province, but he wouldn’t allow it. So I had Khun Amnaad go in person to inform the ecclesiastical head of the Southeast Region, Phra Rajakavi at Wat Debsirin in Bangkok. Phra Rajakavi sent a letter to the provincial head, having him give me permission to spend the rains there in the cemetery.

I first came to stay here in Khlawng Kung Cemetery on March 5, 1935. That first rainy season the practice of the Dhamma began to catch on among a number of different people in the city of Chanthaburi. A monk and a novice came to spend the rains with me. At the end of the rains we went off, wandering from place to place in the province, and even more people became interested in practicing the Dhamma. At the same time, though, a number of people—both monks and laypeople—became jealous and resentful, and started a full-scale campaign against me. Posters began appearing on the signboards in the middle of town, making charges against me that became more and more serious as time went on.

One day an old woman, claiming to be a follower of mine, went through town taking up a collection, asking for money and rice, claiming that she had accompanied me on my wanderings. She canvassed the town until she came to the house of Prince Anuwat Woraphong. The Prince called her into his house to question her and afterwards started spreading invidious remarks about me, even though I was completely ignorant of what was going on. He talked to people on the street, in stores and in their homes, saying that I was a no-good vagrant monk, letting my followers wander about pestering people, taking up collections. This suddenly became a big issue all over town. I had no idea what had started the issue.

It so happened that Khun Nai Kimlang, the wife of Khun Amnaad, and Nang Fyang, both of whom knew well what sort of person I was, learned of the rumors and went straight to the home of Prince Anuwat, where they also found the provincial governor. They began to take issue with the Prince, saying, ‘You’ve been going around making vicious, unfounded charges against our ajaan, and from now on we want you to stop!’ This started a big scene right there in front of the provincial governor. Finally, after making an investigation, they discovered that the old woman was connected with the monks at Wat Mai and was no follower of mine; and that I had never had any women accompany me on my wanderings. That was the end of the matter.

During my second rains in Chanthaburi there was another affair. This time a number of laypeople went to the Supreme Patriarch at Wat Bovornives in Bangkok and charged me with being a fraud. The Supreme Patriarch sent a letter to the provincial head, Phra Khru Gurunatha of Wat Chanthanaram, telling him to look into the matter. So I immediately copied down the information in my monastic identification papers and sent it to the Supreme Patriarch, who then told us to wait where we were, that he would come and see for himself after the end of the Rains Retreat.

And when the rains were over, he came to Chanthaburi. When I learned that the boat he was traveling on had docked at Thaa Chalaeb, I had a contingent of laypeople go to greet him. He spent the night at Wat Chanthanaram and the next morning, after breakfast, came to see me at what was now Khlawng Kung Forest Monastery. I invited him to deliver a sermon to the laypeople present, but he declined the invitation, saying, ‘I’m afraid I’ve never practiced meditation. How could I deliver a meditation sermon?’ He then went on to say, ‘I’ve learned that a great number of people here hold you in very high esteem. Monks like you are hard to find.’ With that, he returned to Wat Chanthanaram and then to Bangkok.

During my third rainy season there, the people in Chanthaburi came out in even greater numbers to hear my sermons, to the point where Nai Sawng Kui, the owner of the bus lines, felt moved to announce that he would give a discount to anyone who took his bus to hear the sermons of this ajaan (meaning me). As for myself and the other monks and novices in the monastery, we could take his buses anywhere in town free of charge. Day by day, more and more people—including the provincial governor and district officials in every district—came to know me.

When the rains were over, I went out to wander through the various townships in every district of Chanthaburi province, teaching and delivering sermons to the people. When I returned to the provincial capital, I would go almost every Sunday to deliver sermons in the provincial prison. At that time Phra Nikornbodi was provincial governor; and Khun Bhumiprasat, the district official in Thaa Mai (NewPort). Both of them seemed especially eager to help me get about. Sometimes they would ask me to give sermons to prisoners, either in the monastery or in the district offices. On other occasions, they would ask me to give sermons to the people in the different townships in Thaa Mai district, especially in Naa Yai Aam (Grandmother Aam’s Field), a densely forested area crawling with bandits and thieves. I made a constant effort to keep on teaching the people in this way.

The provincial capital continued to be thick with incidents and rumors concocted by people hot-eyed with jealousy, but none of this ever fazed me in the least. Sometimes Khun Nai Kimlang, a supporter I respected as if she were my mother, would come to me and say, ‘They’re going to make things hard for you in all kinds of ways. They’ll either be sending women here, or else gangsters, looking for an opening to smear your name.* Are you up to the fight? If not, you’d better go live someplace else.’

So I’d answer, ‘Bring on two more Chanthaburi’s. I’m not going to run away. But I can tell you that as soon as there are no more incidents, I probably will want to run away.’

I kept up my efforts to do good. Some villages in the province wanted meditation monks to come live on a steady basis, and in particular, Khun Bhumiprasat wanted monks to go live at Naa Yai Aam. I didn’t have any monks to spare, but I promised to find some for him. I sent a letter to Ajaan Singh, asking for monks, and he sent down a group of five who then went to set up a monastery in Naa Yai Aam.

This was a really poor village. They were hard pressed to find even a shovel to dig postholes for the monks’ quarters. After I had sent the monks to live there, I got together a contingent of laypeople—headed by Khun Nai Hong, wife of Luang Anuthai, and Khun Nai Kimlang—to go visit them. When we reached the monks’ residence in Naa Yai Aam and saw the destitute conditions under which the villagers and monks were living, Khun Nai Kimlang lost her temper: ‘Here we’ve brought monks out here to suffer and starve! Don’t stay here,’ she told the monks. ‘Come back with us to Chanthaburi.’

When Ajaan Kongma, the leader of the monks, heard this, he lost nerve and actually decided to return to Chanthaburi. As a result, the monastery fell vacant, with no monks staying on for the rains. After that, Ajaan Kongma went to start a monastery in Baan Nawng Bua—LotusMarsh Village—and trained the laypeople there, and in this way helped to spread the Dhamma in Chanthaburi province.

DURING THE YEARS I made Chanthaburi my home base, I wandered about through a number of other provinces as well. Once I went to Trat. I stayed next to the cemetery at Wat Lamduan along with a following of ten or so people from Chanthaburi. That night around 200 laypeople came out to hear a sermon. Just as darkness was falling and I was getting ready to preach, there was an incident: Someone threw three huge bricks into the middle of the assembly. I myself had no idea what this was supposed to mean. Sounds of indignation spread through the group. That was the year the war with the French started. I had been constantly hearing the sound of guns out off the coast, and as soon as the incident occurred, I thought of bullets. Some people got up and were getting ready to chase after the bandits, so I stopped them. ‘Don’t get involved,’ I said. ‘Don’t go after them. If they’re good people, you should follow them, but if they’re bad people, don’t. Follow me instead. I’m not afraid of anything—including bullets, not to mention bricks.

If you’re shot in the mouth, it’ll come out your rear,

 So there’s no one in the world you should fear.’

As soon as they heard this, the whole group fell silent. I then delivered a sermon on the theme, ‘Non-violence is happiness in the world.’

After we had stayed there a fair while, we went on to Laem Ngob district to visit the wife of the district official, who was related to one of the laypeople in the group. Two days later, I got the group to take a boat across the strait to Ko Chang (Elephant Island), where we stayed deep in the quiet forest. After teaching them for a while, I took them back to Laem Ngob.

We went to stay in an area to the north of the district offices, under a giant banyan tree. Altogether there were almost 20 laypeople with me. Each of us arranged his own place to stay. When we were all settled, at about three in the afternoon, I started feeling tired, so I entered my umbrella tent to rest for a while. I wasn’t able to get any rest, though, because of all the noise the people were making—cutting firewood, talking, starting fires. So I got up from my meditation, stuck my head out of the tent and called out, ‘What’s the matter with you all?’

Before I could say anything more, I saw a huge cloud of sea mosquitoes off the coast, heading for the shade of the banyan tree. It occurred to me, ‘I’m a person of good will. I haven’t killed a living being since I was ordained.’ So I opened my mosquito netting, folded it up, and said to all the monks and laypeople there, ‘Everyone put out your fires, right now. Light incense, fold up your mosquito netting, and sit together in meditation. I’m going to meditate and spread good will to fight off the mosquitoes—without pulling any punches.’ Everyone obeyed. I gave a five-minute sermon on good will, and the cloud of mosquitoes dissolved away and virtually disappeared. Not a single one of them bit anyone in our group.

We spent the night there. In the evening a large number of laypeople, including the District Official, civil servants and others in town, came to hear a sermon, so I preached the Dhamma to them.

After staying on for a fair while, we set out on foot through Khlawng Yai (BigCanal) township and across Ito Mountain. Reaching Laem Yang, we met one of my followers who had brought a boat from Chanthaburi to transport plowshares. He invited us to return to Chanthaburi on his boat, The Golden Prince. His home was in Laem Singh (Lion’s Point), not far from the town of Chanthaburi. So we returned to Khlawng Kung Forest Monastery and there I spent the Rains Retreat as usual.

DURING THE RAINS that year I fell ill. I came down with fierce stomach pains, and no matter what I took for them, they wouldn’t go away. One night I sat up in meditation almost till dawn. At about 4 a.m. I fell half-asleep and dreamed, ‘My disease is a karma disease. There’s no need to take any medicine.’ That is, while I was sitting in meditation, I felt absolutely still, almost as if I had fallen asleep, and a vision appeared: a birdcage containing a thin, famished dove. The meaning was this: I had once kept a pet dove and had forgotten to feed it for several days running. This karma was now bearing fruit, causing me to have gastritis. Therefore, there was only one way to cure it—to do good by way of the mind. I decided it was time to go off alone.

After the end of the Rains Retreat I went off wandering, teaching and preaching to the laypeople as I went, by way of Thaa Mai all the way to Paak Nam Prasae, Klaeng district in Rayong province. There I stayed off to one side of the town. A lot of townspeople, mostly Chinese, came to make merit and donate food. There was one Chinese woman about 40 years old who came and said she wanted to shave her head and become a nun. ‘I want to go off wandering with you,’ she told me. She was already dressed in white and ready to be ordained. But an incident occurred: two of her sons came and pleaded with her to go back home. It seemed that she had another child, only two months old, but still she wasn’t willing to go back. This created a big disturbance.

All that while it seemed that the laypeople wouldn’t leave me in peace. During the day, I had no time for myself. At night I had to preach.

One day I crossed over to the west of town, hoping to evade the Chinese woman, who had gone back home to gather her things. As I was going through town I passed one of her sons heading in the opposite direction. After I had finished my meal that day I decided to get away from people by going deep into a thorn-infested cemetery. Under the shade of a low tree I spread out a reed mat and lay down to rest. Before closing my eyes, I made a vow: ‘If it’s not yet 2 p.m., I won’t leave this spot.’

After a moment or so there was a rustling sound up in the top of the tree. I looked up and saw that a nest of large red ants had broken open. This was because there was a vine wrapped around the nest. I had sat down on the base of the vine, and so now red ants were spilling out onto my mat, swarming all over me, biting in earnest.

I sat right up. They were all over my legs. I made up my mind to spread thoughts of good will, dedicating the merit to all living beings and making a vow: ‘Since becoming ordained, I’ve never even thought of killing or harming a living being. If in a previous lifetime I’ve ever eaten or harmed any of you all, then go ahead and bite me until you’ve had your fill. But if I’ve never harmed you, then let’s call an end to this. Don’t bite me at all.’

Having made my vow, I sat in meditation. My mind was still—absolutely silent. The rustling sound of the ants disappeared. Not a one of them bit me. I really felt amazed at the Dhamma. Opening my eyes, I found them swarming in huge numbers in a line around the edge of the mat.

At about 11 o’clock I heard the voices of two people coming in my direction. As they came nearer, they suddenly started crying out in Chinese, ‘Ai Ya! Ai Ya!’ I heard them beat themselves with branches. Laughing to myself, I called out to them, ‘What’s the matter?’

‘Red ants,’ they answered. ‘They’re biting us.’ As a result, neither of them was able to get anywhere near me. When 2 p.m. finally arrived, I left my resting place and came out to where I had originally pitched camp. There I learned that the two Chinese who had come to see me were sons of the woman who wanted to go with me, so I sat and talked with them. They pleaded with me to help them, not to let their mother go with me, because the baby was still small and their father was an old man.

When evening came, the Chinese woman showed up, dressed in white, an umbrella in her hand and a bag over her shoulder. ‘I’m coming with you,’ she said. I tried to discourage her with frightening stories, but she answered bravely, ‘I’m not afraid of anything at all. All I ask is that you let me go with you.’

So I said, ‘If I don’t eat, what will you do?’

‘I won’t eat either,’ she answered.

‘And what if I don’t even drink water?’

‘I won’t either,’ she answered. ‘I’m willing to die if I have to.’ She continued, ‘I’ve been miserable because of my family for many years now. But as soon as I met you I felt at peace. Brave. Happy and free. Now I can even teach the Dhamma in your place.’

To tell the truth, her Thai wasn’t very clear at all. So I turned and started quizzing her. Her reasonings and explanations were pure Dhamma. It was amazing. When she finished, all the laypeople present—who had heard plenty of Dhamma in their time—raised their hands to their foreheads in respect. But I felt heavy at heart for her sake.

Finally I had to tell her that women couldn’t go with monks, and for the next few days I continued to instruct and console her. Ever since setting out from Chanthaburi—31 days altogether—I had been suffering pains in my stomach every day, but as soon as this incident occurred they vanished.

I continued teaching her until she was willing to follow my instructions. Finally she agreed to return home. So I told her, ‘Don’t worry. Whenever I can find the time, I’ll be back to see you. I’m staying right nearby, in Khlawng Kung Forest Monastery.’ Up to that point she had had no idea where I was from, but as soon as I told her this, she seemed both pleased and content. So when we had reached an understanding, I returned as usual to Chanthaburi. The pains in my stomach were gone.

WHEN THE RAINS CAME AGAIN, I stayed and taught the people in Chanthaburi as before. During my years in Chanthaburi I would go off at the end of the rains each year and wander through the nearby provinces, such as Rayong, Chonburi, Prajinburi, Chachoengsao, and then would return to spend the rains in Chanthaburi. In 1939, though, I decided to travel through India and Burma, and so made all the necessary arrangements to get a passport. That November I left Chanthaburi for Bangkok, where I stayed at Wat Sra Pathum. I contacted people in the various government offices and the British Embassy, and they were all helpful in every way. Luang Prakawb Nitisaan acted as my sponsor, contacting the embassy, guaranteeing my financial standing and my purity vis à vis the rules of the Sangha and the laws of the land. When everything was in line with all the necessary legal procedures and I had all my necessary papers, I left for Phitsanuloke. From there I headed for Sukhothai and then on to Taak. In Taak I stayed in a temple while the layperson with me went to buy plane tickets to Mae Sod. He didn’t succeed in getting the tickets, though, because all the flights were booked full. (On this trip I was accompanied by a follower named Nai Chin who, though a little retarded, was good at making himself useful.)

The next morning, after our meal, we set out on foot from Taak and crossed over Phaa Waw mountain. By the time we reached Mae Sod we had spent two nights sleeping on the trail. In Mae Sod we stayed in a Burmese temple named Jawng Tua Ya—i.e., Forest Temple. There were no monks there, though, only a Shan hilltribesman who knew Burmese. We stayed with him a little over a week until I had learned a fair amount of Burmese, and then went on.

As soon as we had crossed the Moei River and reached the town on the other side, a man of about 30 came running to welcome us. He invited us into his truck, saying he would take us to where we wanted to go. He was Thai, a native of Kamphaeng Phet, and had left home and come to live in Burma for almost 20 years now. The two of us—Nai Chin and I—accepted his invitation and got into the truck.

We rode into a forest and started up a tall mountain, the road curving back and forth. It was 2 p.m. before we left the mountain range and reached level ground. We kept going until we reached Kawkareik (Jik Swamp), and just as darkness fell we reached his home. There we spent the night. At about 4 a.m. a Burmese woman brought some rice porridge to donate to me and told me to eat it right then and there. I refused because it wasn’t yet dawn, so she left and waited outside until it was light.

After daybreak, when I had finished my meal, the wife of the man in whose house we were staying got us onto the bus to Kyondo (Steamboat) Landing. From there we took the boat to Moulmein. The ride lasted about four hours. While we were on the boat, Indians and Burmese came to talk with me, but I couldn’t understand much of what they were saying. At about four in the afternoon the boat reached Moulmein. From here we had to take another boat across the river to Martaban, a ride that took a fair while. Reaching the shore we could see the railroad station far in the distance.

The train wasn’t going to leave until 7 p.m., we learned at the station, so we went to wait under the shade of a tree. A young man, about 30 years old and very well-mannered, came and approached us, saying, ‘You have special permission to sit and wait in the train before it leaves, because you’re Thai and have come a long way.’ He called me ‘Yodhaya Gong Yi.’

So I said in English, ‘Thank you very much.’

He smiled, raised his hands in respect, and asked in English, ‘Where do you come from?’

‘I come from Siam.’

Then we went to rest in the train car. Some of the railway officials came to chat with me, and we were able to understand one another fairly well, speaking in Burmese mixed with English. When the time came, the train left. We traveled by night, and the air was very cold. I slept all wrapped up in a blanket. Nai Chin sat up and watched over our things. When the train reached the station at Pegu, a woman about 30 or so got on and sat down right near where I was sleeping and started asking me questions in Burmese, some of which I could understand and some of which I couldn’t. I sat up to talk with her, in order to be polite. I said in Burmese, ‘I’m going to Rangoon.’

‘Where will you stay?’

‘Schwe Dagon.’

We talked using sign language. She seemed quite taken with me. The train traveled on until about 5 a.m., when she got off. Nai Chin and I stayed on until the train reached Rangoon at dawn, just as the monks were going out for alms.

A layperson came running into the train car and helped us with our things, as if he knew us well. He invited us into his car. We got in and sat down without saying a word. He took us to Schwe Dagon Pagoda, where we found a place to stay. The man—his name was Mawng Khwaen—turned out to be a very faithful supporter all during our stay in Rangoon, looking after our needs and helping us in every way.

We stayed twelve days at the Pagoda and got to know a good number of Burmese laypeople. We were able to converse and understand one another fairly well.

Nai Chin and I then left Rangoon, taking the boat at the city docks and heading on to India. The boat took two nights and three days to cross the Bay of Bengal, reaching the docks at Calcutta just at dark. On the boat I met a Bengali monk from Kusinara. We discussed the Dhamma, sometimes in Pali, sometimes in Bengali, sometimes in English. Sometimes in one sentence we’d have to use up to three languages before we could understand each other, starting out in Bengali, going on in Pali, and finishing off in English. It never occurred to me to feel embarrassed about not being able to speak correctly, though, because I really couldn’t speak correctly. Even what I could say, I couldn’t pronounce properly. We seemed to become close friends during our time out on the ocean.

When we landed at the Calcutta docks we took a rickshaw to the Maha Bodhi Society Center, where we stayed in the Nalanda Square Buddhist Temple. There I made friends with a Thai monk, a student of Lokanatha named Phra Baitika Sod Singhseni, who helped get me oriented to India.

The Society gave me special privileges there during my stay. Living and eating conditions were very convenient. Altogether there were eight monks staying at the temple. We had to eat vegetarian food. When mealtime came we would sit around in a circle, each of us with a separate platter onto which we would dish our rice and curries. After I had stayed for a fair while, I left to tour the ancient Buddhist holy places.

It made me heartsick to see the state of Buddhism in India. It had deteriorated to the point where there was nothing left in the area of practice. Some monks would be sleeping in the same room with women, sitting in rickshaws with women, eating food after noon. They didn’t seem very particular about observing the monastic discipline at all. Thinking about this, I didn’t want to stay on.

At that time India wasn’t yet especially interested in Buddhism. According to figures gathered by the Maha Bodhi Society, there were just over 300,000 Buddhists in the country, and only about 80 monks—including monks from England, China, Mongolia, Tibet, Germany, etc.—living under very difficult conditions. Hardly anyone seemed interested in donating food to them.

We set out for Bodhgaya, taking the train from Howrah Station at 7 p.m. and arriving in Benares at eleven the next morning. From there we took a horse carriage to the Deer Park in Sarnath—the spot where the Buddha delivered his first sermon, the Wheel of Dhamma, to the five brethren—about eight miles from Benares. When we got there I felt elated. It was a broad, open area with old chedis and plenty of Buddha images kept in the museum.

We stayed there several days and then went on to pay our respects to the spot of the Buddha’s parinibbana in Kusinara, which is now called Kasia. What was once a city had now become open fields. Riding in the bus past the broad fields, bright green with wheat, my eyes and heart felt refreshed. At Kasia we found the remains of old temples and the spot of the Buddha’s parinibbana, which had been excavated and restored. There was a tall-standing chedi, not quite as large as the chedi at Sarnath, containing relics of the Buddha.

The next morning we went on to pay our respects to the site of the Buddha’s cremation, about a mile from the spot of his parinibbana. This was now nothing but fields. There was an old ruined chedi—nothing but a mound of bricks—with a large banyan tree clinging to the ruins. A Chinese monk had fixed himself a place to stay up in the tree and was sitting in meditation there. That evening we returned to Kasia.

The next morning, after our meal, we took a bus to the train station and got on the train back to Benares. While staying in Sarnath, I had a chance to see the Hindus wash away their sins, as they believe, on the bank of the Ganges, which flows right past the center of Benares. The old buildings of the city looked really bizarre. I once asked a professor of history and geography, and he told me that for 5,000 years the city has never been abandoned. It has simply been moved to follow the changing course of the Ganges.

This river is held to be sacred because it flows from the heights of the Himalayas. To bathe in its waters during their religious festival, they believe, is to wash one’s sins away. In the old days, whenever someone was sick and about to die, they would carry him to the edge of the river. As soon as he breathed his last, they would give the corpse a shove and send it rolling into the water. Whoever was able to die this way, they felt, earned a lot of merit and would be assured against falling into hell. If a person wasn’t able to die right there, his relatives would bring the cremation ashes to scatter on the water. At present, this custom has died out. All that remains is the custom of going to bathe and wash away one’s sins during the festival on the full moon day of the second lunar month, which they hold to be an auspicious day.

If you go to watch, you’ll see huge numbers of people dressed in their best clothes, their heads wrapped in cloth, coming in throngs down to the river. You’ll hardly be able to get out of their way. When they reach the river, they pay their respects to their gods at the Hindu temples on the riverbank.

Before bathing, the people have to worship Siva. Right in the middle of the temples are symbols of the male and female genitals, about the size of a rice-winnowing basket. The people come and sprinkle these with water, flowers, sweetmeats, silver, and gold, and then go stand in lines at the water’s edge. There you can see hairy yogis with long scraggly beards sitting in meditation on the riverbank—some of them not wearing any clothes at all. The men and women going to wash away their sins will get into a boat until it’s absolutely full. The boat is then rowed out into the middle of the river and overturned. Everyone bobs up and down in the water and this, they believe, washes away their sins. Some people stand with their hands stretched to the sky, some stand on one leg, some turn up their faces to stare at the sun. If I were to give a full description of all their different beliefs and practices, there’d be lots more to tell.

That day I wandered around until dark and then returned to where I was staying in Sarnath.

Sarnath is a large, wide open area, at least 800 hectares in size, with clumps of trees scattered about and lots of ruins of old sanctuaries built entirely out of stone. People still go to worship the Buddha images in the ruins. Several years ago a Hawaiian woman, half-Caucasian, became so impressed with Anagarika Dhammapala that she gave him money to restore the area and build a center for the Maha Bodhi Society. In the area there are four temples:

1. A Singhalese temple. This is a branch of the Maha Bodhi Society. The executive secretary of the society is a monk, and the society’s aim is to spread Buddhism throughout the world.

2. A Burmese temple.

3. A Chinese temple supported by Ow Bun Haw, owner of the Tiger Balm Drug Company. The monks in the temple are from Peking.

4. A Jain temple set right next to the chedi built by King Asoka. The spire of the chedi is now broken off, and what remains is only about 16 meters tall. Apparently it once held relics of the Buddha, but these are now placed in the museum at Calcutta.

I wandered around, making a detailed survey of the whole area, and became 100 percent convinced that the Buddha actually delivered the Wheel of Dhamma here. The spot where he sat while delivering the sermon is still marked. In another spot is a vacant, fallen-down sanctuary with the inscription, ‘Built by King.…’ And in the museum is a fragment of a stone column, about three or four meters tall and as large around as a mortar for pounding rice. There is also a very beautiful Buddha image carved out of stone, a yard across at the base, with the inscription, ‘Built by Asoka Maharaja.’

After I had acquainted myself fairly well with the area, we went by train down to Bodhgaya. Getting off the train, we took a horse carriage through the streets of the town to the rest house run by the Maha Bodhi Society. The town is broad open and very pleasant, with hills and a river—the Nerañjara—flowing near the market. Although the river is shallow, it has water flowing all year around, even in the dry season. A ridge of hills lies across the river, and in the middle of the ridge is a spot where the Buddha once stayed, named Nigrodharama. The remains of Lady Sujata’s house are nearby. Further along is the Anoma River, which is very broad and filled with sand. In the dry season, when the water is low, it looks like a desert with only a trickle of water flowing through.

We turned back, crossed to the other side of the Nerañjara, and went on a ways to a chedi surrounded by a clump of flame trees. This spot—called Mucalinda—is where the Buddha sat under the shelter of a serpent’s hood. In the area around the Bodhi tree where the Buddha gained awakening are scores of Buddha images and tiny old chedis carved out of stone, which people of various sects still go to worship.

After staying a fair while in Bodhgaya, we returned to Calcutta for a short stay at the Nalanda Square Buddhist Temple. I then took my leave of all my good friends there and got on the boat at the Calcutta docks. This was March, 1940. The fumes of the coming World War were growing thick and nearing the combustion point in Germany. I saw a lot of battleships in the Indian Ocean as our boat passed by.

After spending three days and two nights out on the ocean, we reached the docks in Rangoon. We went to stay at the Schwe Dagon Pagoda, visited our old benefactors, and after a fair while took the train, heading back to Thailand. At that time there were no commercial flights, so we had to return by the route we had come. When we reached Mae Sod, I was feeling weary from having crossed the mountains, so we bought tickets for the Thai commercial flight from Mae Sod to Phitsanuloke. There we caught the train down to Uttaradit, where we stayed at Wat Salyaphong. After visiting the laypeople and my old followers there, I went down to stay for a while at the Big Rock at Sila Aad (StoneDais), and then took the train to Bangkok. There I stayed at Wat Sra Pathum before returning to spend the rains, as usual, in Chanthaburi.