Part IV

FROM PHITSANULOKE I went on to Phetchabun to visit a student who had set up a monastery at Lom Kao district with the help of District Official Pin. After staying in seclusion for a fair while, I went with some others into the forest.

We crossed mountains and streams for several days and then stopped to rest on the slopes of a hill. From there we followed the lower slopes of the hills until we reached a tall mountain covered with a bright open forest. Off in the distance I could see a towering peak called Haw Mountain. My companions had gone on ahead; I was following behind. Thinking of Haw Mountain, my mind was at peace. I thought of a treasure that was beyond my powers: ‘I’d like to be able to levitate to the peak of Haw Mountain.’ I stood still there for a moment, my bowl hanging on a strap from my shoulder, and dreamed that a cloud came down out of the sky while a faint voice said to me, ‘Don’t think about it. When the time comes, it will happen on its own.’ The vision then disappeared.

During this trip I was really thirsty. On all sides of the trail were nothing but packs of foxes, due to the fact that we were so far from human habitation. We kept on going and stopped off at Baan Wang Naam Sai (ClearWater Village). We then cut across the forests and streams, and when we came out of the forest, we arrived at the Phaa Bing Range, a place where Ajaan Mun had once stayed. This was an area of caves and small hills. We spent quite a few days there.

Late one night, when it was quiet and still, I was sitting in meditation until I felt like I was going to doze off, and suddenly there was an incident. I saw a mountain peak covered with trees to the west of Phuu Kradyng. A gigantic man, wearing a dark yellow cloth tied around his waist, was standing on the mountain and holding up the sky with his hands. I was standing under his arm. He said, ‘In the future, life will be hard for humanity. They will die from poisonous water. This water will be of two kinds:

1. Fog and dew that will hurt the crops wherever it forms. People who eat the crops may become sick.

2. Rain. If you come across strange rain water, i.e.,

a. reddish rain water or

b. yellowish rain water with a peculiar taste,

don’t drink it. If you do, you’ll come down with diarrhea and a rash. If you drink a great deal, you may die.’

This was the first point he had to say. The second point: He gestured off to the northeast. I saw a giant spring of water shooting out of the ground. Wherever its waters flowed, people became ill. If they used this water to irrigate fruit trees, the trees would become diseased. The lifespan of people would become shorter and shorter.

The third point: Something strange began to happen on the mountaintop. In whatever direction he spread out his hand, the trees would be leveled in rows. ‘What does this mean?’ I asked.

‘Adults with no sense of morality will suffer in the future.’

‘Can any of this be prevented?’

‘The diseases caused by water, if caught in time, aren’t serious. Otherwise they’ll cause death within three, five, or nine days.’

‘Will I be affected?’

‘No, because you appreciate the virtues of your elders. I’ll give you the formula for the cure. If you hear that any of these diseases have appeared, go quickly to help.’

I asked him, ‘Can’t you tell them the cure yourself?’

‘I could,’ he said, ‘but it wouldn’t do any good. You have to make the medicine yourself. Take tamarind fruits, remove the shells, and soak them in a salt solution. Then pour off the water and give it to the diseased people—or have them drink the brine from pickled garlic. The disease will go away—but you have to make the medicine yourself.’ He went on to say that his name was Sañcicco Devaputta.

This happened in 1956.

After we left Phaa Bing Range and had gone to stay in a nearby township, the people there came with a strange story to tell. The night before, a cloud of mist had passed through a tobacco field, and the leaves of the tobacco plants had all fallen off. Another time, I heard that in Thoen district, Lampang province, villagers had drunk rainwater the color of tea, and more than ten of them had died. Both of these stories seemed uncanny because they were in line with my dream.

After that we went on to Wang Saphung district and then climbed the great Phuu Kradyng Plateau, after spending a night at the foot of the plateau.

Altogether there were five of us: two boys and three monks. We climbed the plateau, reaching the edge of the top at about 7 p.m. From there the walk to our campsite was a little more than three miles. The air on the plateau was chilly, and the whole area was covered with pines. As soon as we reached the top, it rained, so we all looked for places to stay. I spotted a pine log that had fallen into a patch of tall grass and so I climbed up to lie on the log. The others had run off to find shelter elsewhere. That night there was both wind and rain, which meant that I didn’t get any sleep all night long.

At dawn we came out looking for one another, and then searched for a place to stay. We found a small cave with a fine rock ledge and a tiny well filled with rainwater from the night before. There we stayed in solitude.

The plateau was a great broad plain, seven kilometers square. Once you were up there, you felt as if you were on level ground. The whole plateau was covered with pines and tall grasses—but with no other kinds of trees, although there were many kinds of trees on the lower slopes. This, I would gather, was because the top of the plateau was solid rock. You could tell from the fallen pines: Their roots had crept along the crevices in the rock.

This was a really restful, quiet place to stay. Every day at 5 p.m. when it didn’t rain, we’d get together to sit in meditation on the rock ledge. I’d think to myself, ‘I don’t want to return to the world of human beings. I’d like to live on in the woods and the wilds like this. If possible, I’d like to attain supranatural powers or, if I don’t attain them, may I die within seven days, entering nibbana on the seventh. Otherwise, may the devas take me off to live in solitude, far from the congregating spots of humanity for at least three years.’ Every time I’d start thinking like this, though, the rain would start to fall, and we’d have to go back into the cave.

One of the other monks with us, named Phra Palat Sri, had never gone out into the wilds before. All along the way he had talked like a salesman, which had me annoyed. In other words, he liked to talk about worldly matters. Whenever we reached a village that looked poor, he’d bring out his ‘Lopburi has loads of fish’ story for the villagers to hear. He’d tell them that pickled fish from Lopburi was sold as far away as Chaiyaphum province. This annoyed me. We had come out for solitude, not to sell pickled fish. I’d have to keep after him about this, but he had more years in the monkhood than I. When we’d go to stay on a mountaintop, he’d like to build a fire to warm himself—when I was asleep. He wouldn’t dare do it when I was awake.* While warming himself, he’d get the two boys, Man and Manu, to join him and talk.

After we had stayed for a few days, the group started getting less and less quiet. The first day had been fine: No one dared talk because they were afraid of the tigers and elephants that were plentiful on the plateau. After the fifth day our rice ran out, so we got ready to go down the plateau.

When we reached level ground, we stopped to rest for a while. A person who worked for some Westerners saw us and came to spread out a mat for me to sit on. I didn’t accept the offer, so he invited Phra Palat Sri to sit on the mat, which he did. A moment later we heard thunder, even though the sky was sunny, and in that very instant a branch from a nearby tree came crashing down less than a foot from Phra Palat Sri’s head. Phra Palat Sri, his face pale, jumped up from where he had been sitting. ‘That,’ I told him, ‘is what happens to people who don’t have any self-restraint.’ From that point on, Phra Palat Sri became a very quiet person.

After that we went on and stopped to spend the night at a school near Phaa Nok Khao (Owl Cliff). My followers were all tired out. Late that night, when it was quiet, I could hear the sounds of people sneaking out into the forest, so the next morning I asked one of the monks what they had been up to the night before, and was told, ‘We took your palm sugar. We’ve been carrying it for days now but haven’t had any, so last night we boiled it in water and drank it all up.’

When we had finished our meal that morning, we left to cross through a large forest. Before setting out, I made up my mind: ‘I’m going to ride my own car all the way to Chumphae district,’ which was 80 kilometers away. ‘I won’t accept any offers to ride in a car or truck. I’m going to look for solitude in the forest.’ A few minutes later, after we had gone about a kilometer along the road, a car went whizzing past and then stopped about 200 meters ahead of us. A woman came running in our direction and said, ‘Please accept a ride in our car. We’ve just bought it.’

I looked at the faces of the others: They all wanted to accept the ride, but I didn’t agree to it. The woman pleaded with us for a long time, but I still didn’t accept the offer.

We walked along—our umbrella tents and bowls slung over our shoulders—through the heat and the sun. After about four kilometers I spotted a hill with a spirit shrine ahead and so stopped to rest and explore the caves there. A woman came along with a child in her arms and three dead lizards slung over her shoulder, which she placed near the spot where I was resting. I thought of asking her for one of the lizards, but didn’t dare say anything.

After I had rested for a moment, a parcel post truck from Loei came past, with Nai Man and Phra Palat Sri sitting in it. The driver stopped, jumped down from the truck, and came running toward me. ‘I’ve seen you walking along the road for several days now,’ he said. ‘Please accept a ride from me.’ He pleaded with me for several minutes, saying ‘I won’t ask for any fare, not even from the boys.’ One of my followers had gone on ahead; one was trailing behind. ‘Thank you,’ I told him ‘but we can’t accept your offer.’ So my followers who were in the truck had to get out.

We walked into the Laan Wilds, an area of virgin forest. At about five in the afternoon, Phra Palat Sri had an attack of dysentery, so I gave him permission to ride on ahead and wait for us at Chumphae. Nai Man couldn’t walk any further—he was barely able to drag himself along—so I gave him permission to take the ride to Chumphae and wait for us there too. So that left three of us: myself, Phra Juum, and Nai Manu, a boy from Uttaradit.

We reached our resting place—a village called Baan Krathum—after dark, at about 8 p.m. We had trouble finding a place to stay and ended up camping in the woods near a stretch of water. Up the next morning, we went for alms in the village and then, after our meal, traveled on.

After we had walked for about a kilometer, the sun became so fierce that we stopped for a while to rest in the shade. At around five in the evening the sky became dark and ominous. It looked like rain. Nai Manu wasn’t willing to spend the night in the forest and so asked permission to ride on ahead to Khon Kaen, but when he went to wave down a ride, no one would stop for him. After a short while a storm blew up, with heavy winds and rain. The boy went for shelter to a house nearby. Later that night the roof of the house blew off in the wind.

Meanwhile, Phra Juum and I had walked on, looking for shelter along the roadside. I spotted a shack, a meter by two and a half meters wide, and thatched with grass. The rain was pouring down and the wind was blowing branches off the trees, so I called to Phra Juum and we went to stay in the shack. Phra Juum opened his umbrella tent and rested under one half of the roof. I stood resting under the other half. A gust of wind came, tore off the half of the roof under which Phra Juum was resting, and carried it away into the middle of the fields. A moment later a tree came crashing down. Phra Juum came running to my half of the shack. Seeing that we couldn’t stay there any longer, we went running for a clump of bushes that gave us enough space to crouch, shivering and cold, for about an hour until the rain stopped and the wind died down. Our robes and things were soaking wet. We went and found another shack, lit a fire, and spent the night there. During the night, it rained again.

The next day the boy wasn’t able to walk on any further, so we had him ride on ahead to wait for us at Chumphae, leaving just the two of us, Phra Juum and myself, to walk on by ourselves. At about five that evening we reached Chumphae. Phra Palat Sri’s dysentery still hadn’t cleared up—his face was pale and sickly—so we stayed on at Chumphae until he had recovered somewhat.

I received news that the date for the Somdet’s cremation had been set and that it was to take place fairly soon, so I took the express train from Khon Kaen to Bangkok. This was in June, 1956.

REACHING WAT BOROMNIVASA, I learned that the ecclesiastical authorities had met for consultation concerning the Somdet’s cremation. That very day there had been a meeting of eleven senior monks to appoint a committee to run the cremation, after which they had gone to meet with the Isaan Society in the Green Hall. About 100 members of the society were present at the meeting, which was chaired by Nai Lyan Buasuwan. When I reached the Green Hall, I could see Chao Khun Dhammapitok and Chao Khun Dhammatilok sitting in on the meeting, but they weren’t saying anything at all. All I could hear was the voice of Doctor Fon Saengsingkaew. I stood and listened outside, but didn’t like what I heard. They were making plans to collect money in the name of the Somdet to build a mental hospital for Doctor Fon in Ubon.

So I entered the meeting, sat down, excused myself, and then said, ‘The matter you’re discussing makes me really sad. I helped take care of the Somdet for three years, and now he’s been dead for more than 100 days, and yet with all the ajaans and members of the society sitting here, I haven’t heard anyone make any mention of plans for the cremation. I understand you’ve budgeted 700,000 baht for the hospital, but I haven’t heard anyone set a budget for the Somdet. This makes me really sad, which is why I’ve asked your permission to speak.’

As soon as I had finished, Doctor Fon said, ‘I went to see Field Marshal Phin to tell him that we didn’t have enough money to build the hospital, and that I’d like to collect money in connection with the cremation in order to augment our funds. He agreed that it would be a good idea and contributed 10,000 baht of his own, which is why I brought up the matter.’

So I responded, ‘Phin, schmin, I don’t know anything about that. All I know is that we haven’t met here to discuss a hospital. We’ve met to discuss a corpse.’

Hearing this, Doctor Fon got up and walked out of the meeting.

Nai Lyan sat still for a moment, and then said, ‘In that case, what do the ajaans have to say?’ Chao Khun Dhammatilok, Chao Khun Nyanarakkhit, and the others all sat absolutely still. Nai Lyan asked again, ‘What would the ajaans have us do?’

So I answered, ‘It’s not that I’m against the hospital, but I feel that it should be brought up afterwards, because the Somdet’s body is still lying around smelling up the place and so should be taken care of first.’

When I finished speaking, Khun Nai Tun raised her hand in agreement from the back of the room.

In the end we had the secretary record the following three points as the consensus of the meeting:

1. However the money is to be collected, have it go toward the cremation until the committee in charge feels that it has enough.

2. If there is any money left over, appoint a committee to consider handing the excess over to the hospital.

3. If the committee doesn’t see fit, the money needn’t go to the hospital.

When these three points had been recorded, someone asked, ‘Who’s going to run the cremation?’

None of the monks responded, so I answered for them, ‘The monks of Wat Borom.’

MahaWichien, who worked with the Culture Ministry, spoke up. ‘You’re monks. If you run the cremation, how will you handle the money?’

I answered, ‘I have lots of hands. I’m just afraid there won’t be any money for them to collect. I don’t know how to handle money myself, but I have followers who do.’

That silenced MahaWichien.

In the end we decided to do away with the old committee and set up a new one headed by Chao Khun Dhammapitok. The meeting was then adjourned.

The next morning I passed by the quarters of Chao Khun Dhammapitok and he called me into his room. ‘There are some things I’d like to tell you concerning the Somdet,’ he said. ‘I’ve kept them secret and haven’t told anyone else at all.’ He then went on to say, ‘Right before he died the Somdet :

1) told me to be in charge of his funeral after he died;

2) turned over all of his belongings to me; and

3) told me to help take charge of the monks and novices in Wat Borom.’

‘That’s good to hear,’ I told him. Afterwards we held a meeting of the monks in Wat Borom, at which the Somdet’s orders were made public. Chao Khun Dhammapitok was then given responsibility for running both the funeral and the temple as a whole.

Before leaving the meeting, I spoke up. ‘I’d like to beg your pardon, but I was so disgusted yesterday I couldn’t stand it. When the Somdet was alive no one ever spoke of his hospital; after he died no one spoke of his cremation—but started speaking about the hospital instead. If what I said was improper or wrong or caused any hard feelings, then I’ll take my leave of the temple and ask not to be involved in the funeral.’

Chao Khun Dhammapitok then pleaded with me not to leave and told me, ‘There was nothing wrong with what you said.’ So I joined in and helped with the funeral until it was over.

Not long afterwards, the cremation was held at Wat Phra Sri Mahadhatu in the Bang Khen district of Bangkok. The Somdet had been the first abbot of this temple when it was built by the government. After the cremation, I went to spend the rains at Naa Mae Khao (WhiteMother’s Field) at what is now called Wat Asokaram.

WHERE WAT ASOKARAM, stands today was originally called WhiteMother’s Field. The owners, Sumet and Kimhong Kraikaan, donated about 22 acres over a period of two years—1954 and 55—for the purpose of building a monastery. We then set up quarters and had one of my followers, Phra Khru Baitika That, go to look after the place in my absence along with five other monks. So when the monastery was first founded we had six monks staying there.

In 1956, after the Somdet’s cremation, I went there to spend the rains. During this period I began making plans for the festival celebrating 25 centuries of Buddhism in 1957 (2500 B.E.). Actually, I had already been thinking about the matter for a long time, ever since the year I left the forest at Baan Phaa Daen Saen Kandaan in Chieng Mai.

During the years that I was contemplating holding a festival to celebrate 25 centuries of Buddhism, I had gone off wandering to a number of places. One night, while staying at Phra Sabai Cave in Mae Tha district, Lampang, I went into a deep cave behind Phra Sabai Cave and lit a series of kerosene lanterns that I placed in a row in front of the Buddha image there. Directly in front of the image was a floor of wooden planks. As for myself, I went to sit on a large rock and faced the wall of the cave. I kept the lanterns lit bright all night long. I made a vow: ‘This will have to be a big festival, but I don’t have any resources. Should I go ahead with it or not? May the Dhamma inspire the answer to appear in my heart. Or may the devas who watch over the nation, the religion, and the King, and the deva who guards the Emerald Buddha—which lies at the heart of the nation’s spirit—help show me the way.’

That night at about 2 a.m., while my mind was rested and at ease, there was an incident: a sudden clatter from in front of the Buddha image. It was the sound, not of falling rock, but of shattering glass. I waited for a moment and then got up to have a look. I walked around about three to four meters from where I had been sitting. The entire cave was lit—a small circular cave, no more than eight to nine meters wide, ten to fifteen meters tall, and with an opening leading to the open air overhead. After walking around inspecting the area and not seeing anything, I returned to my original spot and continued sitting in meditation.

While sitting, I dozed off and dreamed. A deva came to me and said, ‘You don’t have to worry about the festival, but you will have to hold it. Whenever you do it, it will be a success.’ After that I didn’t give much thought to the matter. I stayed on there in seclusion for a fair while. Then, before I left, I mentioned to the monks there that I’d like to find three Bodhi trees to plant in front of the cave.

Afterwards, I returned to Lopburi and stayed at Wat Khao Phra Ngaam (BeautifulBuddha Mountain Monastery). I had arrived there in time for Magha Puja, and so led a group of laypeople from Bangkok and Lopburi in a three-day ceremony. I taught the Dhamma to a contingent of about 300 soldiers, led a candle procession around the great Buddha image, and then we all sat in meditation. I made a vow: ‘Concerning the festival celebrating 25 centuries of Buddhism: I don’t know why, but my mind seems to keep dwelling on the matter.’ I then vowed to donate my life on the day of the full moon—i.e., to go without food; and to donate my eyes—i.e., to go without sleep. But in spite of my efforts, nothing happened until it was about to grow light.

At about 5 a.m. I dozed off for a moment and dreamed: The earth opened wide beneath me, revealing a scattered heap of broken red bricks deep underground. Something inside me said, ‘This is a spot where relics of the Buddha were once enshrined, but the shrine is now nothing but a rubble of bricks underground. Therefore, you will have to help build a chedi to enshrine relics of the Buddha after the festival celebrating 25 centuries of Buddhism. Otherwise your old karma won’t be done with.’

This was followed by another dream: Once, in the distant past, the Sangha was planning an important meeting in India, but after we had all agreed to the date, I hadn’t joined in the meeting. The meeting concerned plans for a celebration of the Buddha’s relics. It was to be a very important celebration, but I didn’t join in. So my friends placed a penalty on me: ‘In the future you will have to gather relics of the Buddha and enshrine them in a chedi at one place or another, for the sake of Buddhists yet to come.’ With this dream in mind, my thoughts about going ahead with the festival celebrating 25 centuries of Buddhism grew more and more earnest.

The next day, in the dim light before dawn, I made a vow: ‘If my holding the festival celebrating 25 centuries of Buddhism will be a success, may the number of Buddha’s relics I have with me reach a total of 80, equal to the years of the Lord Buddha’s life.’ (When I made the vow I had just over 60 relics.) When I finished my vow, it was dawn. After my meal I took out my pouch and counted: exactly 80.

The following night I climbed to sit in meditation at the base of the great Buddha image on the slope of the mountain. I stayed up all night, sitting in samadhi and doing walking meditation around the image. I set out a tray, along with flowers, candles, and incense, and made a vow: ‘If the festival celebrating 25 centuries of Buddhism is to be a success, may more of the Buddha’s relics come—from anywhere at all.’ At dawn, about ten tiny relics had come, mixed together with red gemstones. Quickly I put them into a container. I didn’t tell anyone, but thought to myself that the festival would probably be a success.

That year—1956—I returned to spend the rainy season at Wat Asokaram. After the rains were over I received news that three Bodhi trees had sprouted in front of Phra Sabai Cave in Lampang. At present the trees are four meters tall and very striking—growing out of the jutting rock.

PLANS FOR THE FESTIVAL celebrating 25 centuries of Buddhism became more and more firm during the rainy season at Wat Asokaram in 1956. Up to that point I hadn’t decided where to hold the festival, because it was going to be a large affair, but after looking around I decided, ‘We’ll have to hold it right here at Wat Asokaram.’

There were going to be two celebrations: the one I would do in conjunction with other Buddhists and the one I would do on my own. The celebration held in conjunction with other Buddhists would succeed on one of three levels, i.e., low, moderate, or high. This was a thought I didn’t mention to anyone else, simply an observation I kept to myself. When the festival was over, it turned out to have been only a moderate success. Had it been a high-level success I would have built a ceremonial umbrella for the Buddha image at Khao Phra Ngaam.

The celebration I would do all on my own. Celebrating on my own would be very good, but wouldn’t be of any benefit to people at large. This sort of celebration could be done in one of three ways:

a) The lowest level: Escape from humanity and hide away in the forests and wilds for three years before returning to be involved with people again.

b) The moderate level: Go deep into the forest alone and meditate in earnest for three months with no worries or responsibilities.

c) The highest level: Tie a red cloth around my neck for seven days. In other words, within seven days I would try to do good in one of two ways: (1) attain all of the eight cognitive skills (vijja) to use as tools in my work of spreading the Buddha’s teachings. (2) If I can’t succeed at (1), may I go all the way on the seventh day, at the same time relinquishing my life with no hope of return. Only in this way would I have done with the karma I dreamed about having made with my friends in the past.

By the end of 1956 the time for the festival was drawing near, but I had already made some advance preparations, such as producing the ‘Bodhi leaf’ Buddha amulets copied from an image I had seen in Benares when I was traveling through India. I had materials gathered from scores of places: earth from the Buddhist holy places in India; fragments of votive tablets once cached away in old chedis, donated by friends and followers from various provinces—Lopburi, Phitsanuloke, Phijit, Sukhothai, Suphanburi, Ayutthaya, Phetchabun, Songkhla, Ubon Ratchathani, Thaad Phanom district, and Bangkok. I had fragments of ancient Buddha images from Prajinburi and ancient lustral water made by wise men in the past. These I mixed into a paste along with powdered dried flowers and ashes of burnt paper on which Dhamma passages had been written.

Using this paste we cast two types of images by (1) pressing the paste into a mould and then allowing it to dry; (2) mixing the paste with clay, pressing it into a mould, and baking it in a kiln. I thought to myself, ‘We’re going to have to produce at least one million images.’ When we were finished at the end of the rains in 1956, we counted to see how many we had. Altogether there were more than 1,100,000.

Late one night when it was quiet, a strange vision appeared to me. I was sitting pressing Buddha images from a mould when a relic of the Buddha came and displayed a sign over my bed. It was similar to the Bodhi leaf image I was making, but the image I was making represented the Buddha delivering the Dhammacakka sermon—i.e., with both hands raised. But in the vision, the Buddha had both hands in his lap. I had a new mould made patterned after the vision and named it the ‘Bodhicakka.’ I still have this relic with me and haven’t yet enshrined it. Later, another relic the shape of a Buddha image sitting in meditation came as well. This I also still have with me.

Another time, when I had been sitting in meditation at Lopburi in the quiet just before dawn, another Buddha relic had appeared; and at around 5 a.m. a statuette of King Asoka made of dark, pinkish grey cut glass came falling down in front of me, so I sketched a copy of it. This, too, I still have with me.

After a number of strange events like this had occurred, I called together the monks who were my closest disciples and announced, ‘We’re going to have to hold the festival celebrating 25 centuries of Buddhism right here in Wat Asokaram.’ I came to this final decision right then, during the middle of the rains, 1956.

Once I had made my decision, I checked to see how much money was in my account. There turned out to be a little more than 200 baht. Nevertheless, I made orders to begin construction: putting up temporary shelters, making ceremonial umbrellas, etc. As soon as we set to work, contributions started coming in. When we had finished two shelters, our money ran out. At the time, I had gone to Chanthaburi. When I returned to Wat Asokaram, Police Colonel Luang Wiraded Kamhaeng came to inform me, ‘We’re almost all out of money, Than Phaw. Where are we going to get more?’

I laid out the following plans for the festival:

‘I. Purposes of the Festival:

A. 1. To make 912,500 Buddha images (equal to the number of days in 2,500 years) and then raise the number to 1,000,000, each one inch tall and made of either stucco or baked clay, to be distributed free of charge to all people who come and join in the festival. Whatever images are left over will be buried in the foundations of the chedi to be built.

2. To make five large images representing the Buddha at the moment of his awakening, delivering the first sermon (the Dhammacakka), delivering the final sermon before totally entering nibbana, totally entering nibbana, and sitting in meditation. (This last is to be the major image in the ordination hall.)

3. To make small images, 500 each of silver, gold, and gold bronze, each weighing about four grams, to be placed in the chedi as a gift to our descendants.

B. To finance a complete set of the Buddhist Canon—Suttas, Vinaya, and Abhidhamma—translated into Thai.

C. To ordain 80 monks, 80 novices, 80 upasakas (laymen wearing white and observing the eight precepts), and 80 nuns (laywomen wearing white and observing the eight precepts). If larger numbers of people are ordained, so much the better. Each person is to be ordained for at least seven days. Ordination ceremonies will be held from May 12 to May 20, 1957. Whoever desires to be ordained should give the following information to the ordination committee: name, address, age, date of birth, and whether or not you will be able to supply your own requisites. The committee will arrange to find requisites for all those unable to supply their own. Whoever would like to sponsor an ordination of any kind is welcome to inform the committee. The cost of requisites is as follows: for upasakas and nuns, 100 baht; for novices, 150 baht; for monks, 300 baht. Those wishing to be ordained may apply at the Wat from now until April 15, 1957.

D. When the festival is over, there will be one further aim: to build a chedi as a memento of our having participated in this important anniversary, and to enshrine relics of the Buddha, Buddha images, copies of the scriptures, and other objects related to Buddhism. This chedi will be a cluster of thirteen spires built on three levels, four spires to each level, with a central spire on the uppermost level. The central spire will be the largest—6 meters square and 26 meters tall. The surrounding spires will be smaller. The laying of the foundations for the chedi will begin before the festival. The location will be at Wat Asokaram, Samut Prakaan, which is planned to be a center for instruction in the practice of meditation for monks, novices, laymen, and laywomen in the years to come.

II. Merit-making ceremonies to be held during the Festival:

A. Monks will chant image consecration chants, eight monks a day, for seven days. Monks will sit in samadhi, presiding over the consecration of sacred objects, eight monks a day for seven days.

C. Five sermons relating the history of the Buddhist Councils will be delivered, one sermon per day. The passages in response to each sermon will be chanted by 40 monks. This will be to dedicate merit to relatives and ancestors who have passed away.

D. Food will be donated to the 500 monks and novices invited to participate in the first seven days of the festival. Afterwards, food will continue to be donated to monks and novices until the two weeks of the festival are over. The second week approximately 300 monks and novices will be fed each day.

E. During the first seven days there will be a candlelight procession in celebration each night.

F. On Visakha Puja—May 13, 1957—a ceremony will be held to enshrine objects in the foundations of the chedi.

G. Mahayana services will also be held, i.e., three days of kong tek (merit-making services for the dead) and sermons in line with Mahayanist beliefs.

There will also be other merit-making ceremonies in addition to those listed here.

In addition, temporary shelters for monks and novices, as well as shelters for laymen and laywomen, will be built, along with a kitchen to be used for the duration of the festival.’

After I had written down the above program, we set to work implementing the plans step-by-step. I showed the plans to a number of my followers. They would all shake their heads and say, ‘Than Phaw, where are you going to get the money for a big affair like this?’ But I would think to myself, ‘We’re going to do good. Good-hearted people are sure to come and help. We won’t have to go canvassing for funds.’

When I had returned from Chanthaburi and the date for the festival was approaching, a stream of people started coming to help contribute money. Altogether we received almost 100,000 baht. One person, Dr. Yut Saeng-uthai, was afraid that we wouldn’t be able to carry out our plans, and so went on his own to ask for help from the government. He got to talk with the Minister of Cultural Affairs, General Luang Sawat, who at the time wasn’t acquainted with me, but who was kind enough to say, ‘If you need money, I’ll make the arrangements.’ Khun Ying Waad Lekhawanit-Dhammawithak came to tell me about this. My response: ‘We don’t need the money.’

Construction work continued and contributions kept coming in without our ever issuing any requests for funds. All we did was print up flyers to let my followers know of the plans and schedule for the festival.

Preparations within the monastery were virtually complete. Suni Changkhamanon, Sawn Achakun, Thawngsuk and Mae Kimhong Kraikaan took responsibility for building the salain which the festival was to he held. Seeing that it wouldn’t be large enough, we added thatched roofs on all four sides, which Colonel Luang Wiraded together with the monks and novices helped build. In addition we built a temporary kitchen and a large number of temporary shelters. The kitchen was a little over 30 meters long, 6 meters wide, and roofed with thatch. There were five shelters for monks and novices, five each for laymen and laywomen, each shelter 80 meters long and 10 meters wide with thatched roofs and walls. Construction of the shelters cost more than 100,000 baht; the festival sala, 165,000 baht; repair of the roads around the monastery—financed by Khun Ying Waad—60,000 baht. Total construction costs thus came to more than 300,000 baht, and there were a great many other things we had to purchase for the festival as well. Our money kept running out, but at the same time contributions kept coming in.*

BY APRIL, preparations were in full swing. A large number of monks, novices, and laypeople began gathering from the outlying provinces. The numbers of people applying for ordination—both men and women—kept swelling until they were well over the goals we had originally set.

On May 11, 1957, we began the ordination ceremonies. To ordain the monks, we invited a number of preceptors: Somdet Mahawirawong (Juan), Wat Makut Kasatriyaram; Phra Phrommuni, Wat Bovornives; Phra Sasanasophon, Wat Rajadhivasa; Phra Dhammatilok, Wat Boromnivasa; Phra Dhammapitok, Wat Phra Sri Mahadhatu; and Phra Nyanarakkhit, Wat Boromnivasa. In addition, we had preceptors who were old friends or disciples of mine. The ordination ceremonies turned out to be a large-scale affair, so I turned the whole program over to Ajaan Daeng, who trained the new monks-to-be throughout the festival and who also acted as preceptor. In addition, Phra Khru Wiriyang from Chanthaburi and Ajaan Sila of Sakon Nakhorn helped act as preceptors, preparing the monks-to-be and arranging their requisites until the end of the festival.

All in all, so many people came to help financially with the ordination ceremonies that we didn’t have to spend any of the monastery funds set aside for the purpose—to the point where we ran out of monks-to-be for them to sponsor. We had to announce over the loudspeaker that we could no longer accept contributions from those volunteering to sponsor ordinations.

Sponsors for the ordination ceremonies contributed altogether 138,000 baht. The ordinations lasted from the 11th to the 29th of May, and the number of people ordained in each category was as follows: 637 monks, 144 novices, 1,240 nuns, 340 ‘Brahmanis’ (women wearing white, observing the eight precepts, but not shaving their heads), 34 upasakas (men wearing white, shaving their heads and observing the eight precepts), and 12 ‘Brahmans’ (men wearing white, observing the eight precepts, but not shaving their heads). Altogether, 2,407 were ordained.

The daily schedule throughout the festival ran as follows: ‘Morning: After the meal, 1) chanting in homage to the relics of the Buddha; 2) chanting of blessings; 3) sitting in meditation. Afternoon: 1) chanting in homage to the Buddha’s relics; 2) chanting in celebration; 3) sitting in meditation or a sermon. 4:00 Rest. 5:00 Gathering at the sala; chanting in homage to the Buddha’s relics; candlelight procession; consecration chants; chanting in celebration; sitting in meditation until midnight. This schedule is to be followed until the end of the festival.’

DURING THE COURSE of the festival the thought occurred to me that we should donate a phaa paa to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, to compensate for one of my plans that had fallen through. In the beginning I had thought of setting up a central fund for the Thai Sangha, and so had prepared a proposal that I submitted to Somdet Phra Mahawirawong (Juan) of Wat Makut. The gist of the proposal was that we would request every titled monk in Thailand to voluntarily relinquish his monthly stipend for one month to form a central fund for the Thai Sangha as a memento of our having celebrated 25 centuries of Buddhism. I myself would gather additional contributions to add to the fund. I asked the Somdet to take this matter to the executive council of the Sangha to see whether or not they would approve it.

I was really pleased by the Somdet’s immediate response: ‘I’ll gladly donate my entire monthly stipend. If there’s anything else you need for the festival, I’ll be glad to help.’

‘That’s the spirit!’ I thought to myself.

The Somdet ultimately gave his approval to the proposal and so presented it to the executive council. Later, though, I learned that this and that member of the council had raised objections, and so it fell through.

In that case, I decided, we’d do better to donate a phaa paa to the Emerald Buddha. I contacted H.H. Princess Pradisathasari, asking her to act as sponsor for 16 phaa paas, one of which would go to the Emerald Buddha. She said she would be glad to help. She gave us every form of assistance, having not only members of her household but also other nobility—including members of the Privy Council—help give a full-scale welcome to the phaa paas.

So we gathered together more than 30,000 baht in funds, from which we gave a little over 300 baht to each of the 15 phaa paas. The remainder—24,122.30 baht—we donated to the Emerald Buddha to set up an endowment fund entitled, The 2500 Anniversary Fund, donated by followers of Ajaan Lee, Wat Asokaram. The interest from the fund was to help with the upkeep of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Afterwards we gathered additional contributions that we added to the fund, bringing the total endowment to more than 50,000 baht.

On May 20th we began the festive procession, carrying Buddha images, relics of the Buddha, and the 16 phaa paas from Wat Asokaram to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. H.H. Princess Pradisathasari had given orders for officials from the Royal Household to welcome us. After the procession circumambulated the ordination hall three times, the Princess and members of the Privy Council arrived to accept the phaa paas. She had given orders for the royal kitchens to prepare food to be presented to the 15 senior monks invited to receive the phaa paas. Most of the monks were from temples that had in the past been under the sponsorship of Rama IV. After presenting the monks with their mid-day meal, the Princess presented them with the 15 phaa paas.

With the ceremonies over, we led the procession from the Temple of the Emerald Buddha to Wat Phra Sri Mahadhatu in Bang Khen district in order to receive saplings from the Great Bodhi tree in India, which we had requested and been granted by the government. Arriving at Wat Phra Sri Mahadhatu, we conducted the ceremonies for receiving the two saplings and carried them in a procession three times around the ordination hall. Then we led the procession to the Buddharaksa Gardens in Bang Bua Thawng (GoldLotus Town), Nonthaburi, where we held a one-night celebration in honor of the relics of the Buddha and the Bodhi trees.

The following morning, May 21st, after our meal, we took the Buddha images, relics of the Buddha, and Bodhi trees in a boat procession from GoldLotus Town down along the Chao Phraya River to the landing at the Provincial Offices in Samut Prakaan. There we were given a rousing welcome by a contingent from Wat Asokaram, along with the provincial governor, civil servants, and other Buddhists.

Our procession then went from the Provincial Offices back to Wat Asokaram, arriving in the afternoon to a welcoming contingent headed by Chao Khun Amornmuni, ecclesiastical head of Chanthaburi province. We circumambulated the sala three times and then entered the area where the image consecration services were being held. After paying homage to the Buddha images, relics of the Buddha, Bodhi trees, and chedis, we stopped for a short rest. At 6 p.m. we rang the bell and met in the sala for chants in celebration, consecration chants, and a candlelight procession. Huge numbers of people came to join in the celebration.

The following morning, May 22, we held ceremonies for planting four Bodhi trees at Wat Asokaram—the two we had received from Wat Phra Sri Mahadhatu plus two from India. Since then, my followers have returned from India with two more Bodhi trees that they donated to the Wat. At the moment there are altogether six descendants of the Great Bodhi tree growing in Wat Asokaram.

THE FESTIVAL CONTINUED. One day, funds started running out, and so the festival committee met for consultation. Nang Kimrien Kingthien and Khun Nai Tun Kosalyawit prepared a letter asking for help from the government. They brought the letter and read it aloud to me. The gist of it was that they were going to ask the Prime Minister, Field Marshal Paw Phibunsongkhram, to help donate 50,000 baht. Before they had even finished reading the letter, I told them to throw it into the fire right then and there. ‘If there isn’t enough to eat in this festival,’ I told them, ‘I’m willing to starve.’ As it turned out, the money kept coming in and our funds never ran out.

People came to provide food for the monks at the festival—sometimes three days at a time, sometimes seven. Some brought Thai food; others, Chinese food. The image consecration ceremonies lasted for 15 days, with Major General Phong Punnakan, Chief of the Army Transportation Bureau, acting as sponsor throughout the festival. Khun Ying Waad Lekhawanit-Dhammawithak arranged transportation and gifts for the ten Chinese monks who came to chant three days, and provided food for 355 monks seven days running. There were two Mahayana sermons, and kong tek services for three nights. There was also a loi krathong ceremony and a raffle. Khun Nai Thawngsuk Chumpairoad provided food for 300 monks for seven days. In addition, a number of Chinese people came and helped provide vegetarian food for several days. People came to sponsor, altogether, eleven re-enactments of the Buddhist Councils and made donations totalling 5,000 baht at each re-enactment.

On top of all this, people came to donate cups, plates and saucers, rice, firewood, charcoal—everything—to the festival kitchen. For the most part, the kitchen didn’t have to buy much. Most things were provided by donors. As a result, the kitchen spent no more than 5,000 baht for food each day. My followers all helped to the full extent of their abilities.

In the area of medical care we received help from General Thanawm Upathamphanon, Chief Army Medical Officer, and his wife, Khun Ying Sutjai, who sent doctors and orderlies throughout the festival to provide medical treatment for those who needed it. And as for security, Police Colonel Sudsa-nguan Tansathit, head of the Police Public Safety Department, sent traffic police and a fire truck to help throughout the festival.

Time passed and everything went well. Money became less and less of a problem, the daily schedule proceeded according to plan, the ordination ceremonies continued every day, and the weather cooperated throughout. There were no untoward incidents, aside from a few minor occurrences not worth mentioning.

On May 13, Visakha Puja, a number of sponsors had four Buddha images cast, each image 80 cm. across at the base. Khun Ying Waad sponsored two images; Phraya Lekhawanit-Dhammawithak, one; and Colonel Luang Wiraded Kamhaeng and his wife, Khun Nai Noi, one—at a cost of 6,790 baht per image. Nai Kuanghang Sae Hia, along with his wife and children, donated a fifth image that they had had cast on Magha Puja at a cost of 34,000 baht, including the celebration costs. The Wat didn’t have to spend any money for the casting of these images. The sponsors covered all costs, which for the five images totalled 61,160 baht.

As for the entertainment offered during the festival, hardly anyone paid any attention to it because most of the people had come to participate in the religious activities. A group of my Chinese followers brought a Chinese opera company to perform three nights. Wari Chayakun from Haad Yai brought a Manora dance-drama company and a shadow puppet company to perform throughout the festival, two movie screens were set up, and a maw lam singing group from the Northeast came to perform one night and then had to close down from lack of interest. None of these activities cost us anything because groups of my followers had sponsored them on their own initiative.

We continued to celebrate in this way, with chanting, candlelight processions, meditation sessions, and sermons. We invited a number of high-ranking ecclesiastical officials, such as Somdet Mahawirawong of Wat Makut and Phra Sasanasophon, to deliver one sermon apiece. In addition, we had sermons of our own, some of which I delivered, and some by Ajaan Tyy. These activities continued until May 29, 1957.

At the end of the festival our accounts read as follows:

Total income: 840,340.49 baht
Total expenditures: 533,326.75 baht
Assets remaining: 307,013.74 baht

All of this was money that people had donated on their own initiative. In addition we also received non-liquid assets—such as ordination sponsors who arranged requisites on their own—which were handled by the finance committee. The re-enactments of the Buddhist councils, food donated to the monks, gifts for the monks who chanted, the casting of the Buddha images, the construction of the sala, the repair of the road leading to the Wat, the Mahayana services: All of these came in the form of non-liquid assets that, altogether, we estimated roughly at more than 300,000 baht.

All in all, the monks and laypeople who joined in the festival came from 45 provinces.

Thus the Festival Celebrating 25 Centuries of Buddhism in the year B.E. 2500 came to a close.

Afterwards, right before the rains, another sponsor—Nai Thanabuun Kimanon, along with his wife and children—had another Buddha image cast and donated to the Wat to celebrate the year B.E. 2500, at a cost of 75,000 baht. The image was more than two meters across at the base. They also built a dais for it and conducted celebration ceremonies that, added to the cost of the image, totalled more than 150,000 baht.

A number of the monks, novices, and nuns ordained during the festival stayed on for the rains, continuing to practice the Dhamma together. At the end of the rains many of them returned home, although a number of them are still currently ordained. As for myself, when the rains were over, I went to visit many of the places where there were friends and followers who had come to participate in the festival.

Later I went to Lampang, in hopes of building a chedi at Phra Sabai Cave. (This was when I first saw the three Bodhi trees that had sprung up there, and it made me very glad. They are tall trees now.) Chao Mae Suk of the Lampang Royal House, along with Khun Nai Kimrien Kingthien, Mae Liengtao Janwiroad, and a contingent of laymen and laywomen joined together with a group of my followers—both laypeople and monks—to complete the chedi. We then enshrined relics of the Buddha there in the cave and brought an Indian Bodhi tree to plant at the cave’s entrance.

From there I went on to Chieng Mai, Uttaradit, Phitsanuloke, Nakhorn Sawan, and Lopburi.

I MAKE IT A PRACTICE to wander about during the dry season every year. I do this because I feel that a monk who stays put in one monastery is like a train sitting still at HuaLampong station—and everyone knows the worth of a train sitting still. So there’s no way I could stay in one place. I’ll have to keep on the move all of my life, as long as I’m still ordained.

Some of my companions have criticized me for being this way, and others have praised me, but I myself feel that it brings nothing but good. I’ve learned about the land, events, customs, and religious practices in different areas. In some places it may be that I’m more ignorant than the people there; in other places and with other groups, it might be that I know more than they, so there’s no way I can lose by traveling about. Even if I just sit still in the forest, I gain by it. Wherever I find the people know less than I do, I can be their teacher. In whatever groups I find that I know less than they do, I’m willing to be their student. Either way I profit.

At the same time, living in the forest as I like to do has given me a lot to think about. 1) It was a custom of the Buddha. He was born in the forest, attained awakening in the forest, and totally entered nibbana in the forest—and yet how was he at the same time able to bring his virtues right into the middle of great cities, as when he spread his religious work to include King Bimbisara of Rajagaha?

2) As I see it, it’s better to evade than to fight. As long as I’m not superhuman, as long as my skin can’t ward off knives, bullets, and spears, I’d better not live in the centers of human society. This is why I feel it’s better to evade than to fight.

People who know how to evade have a saying: ‘To evade is wings; to avoid is a tail.’ This means: A tiny chick, fresh out of the egg, if it knows how to evade, won’t die. It will have a chance to grow feathers and wings, and be able to survive on its own in the future. ‘To avoid is a tail:’ This refers the tail (rudder) of a boat. If the person holding the rudder knows how to steer, he’ll be able to avoid stumps and sand bars. For the boat to avoid running aground depends on the rudder. Because this is the way I see things, I prefer living in the forest.

3) I’ve come to consider the principles of nature: It’s a quiet place, where you can observe the influences of the environment. Wild animals, for example, sleep differently from domesticated animals. This can be a good lesson. Or take the wild rooster: Its eyes are quick, its tail feathers sparse, its wings strong, and its call short. It can run fast and fly far. What do these characteristics come from? I’ve made this a lesson for myself. Domesticated roosters and wild roosters come from the same species, but the domesticated rooster’s wings are weak, its call long, its tail feathers lush and ungainly, its behavior different from that of the wild rooster. The wild rooster is the way it is because it can’t afford to let down its guard. It always has to be on the alert because danger is ever-present in the forest. If the wild rooster went around acting like a domestic rooster, the cobras and mongooses would make a meal of it in no time. So when it eats, sleeps, opens and closes its eyes, the wild rooster has to be strong and resilient in order to stay alive.

So it is with us. If we spend all our time wallowing around in companionship, we’re like a knife or a hoe stuck down into the dirt: It’ll rust easily. But if it’s constantly sharpened on a stone or a file, rust won’t have a chance to take hold. Thus we should learn to be always on the alert. This is why I like to stay in the forest. I benefit from it and learn many lessons.

4) I’ve learned to reflect on the teachings that the Buddha taught first to each newly-ordained monk. They’re very thought-provoking. He taught the Dhamma first, and then the Vinaya. He’d begin with the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, followed by the five basic objects of meditation: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, and skin. Then he’d give a sermon with four major points:

a) Make a practice of going out for alms. Be an asker, but not a beggar. Be content with whatever you are given.

b) Live in a quiet place, such as an abandoned house, under a projecting cliff face, in a cave. People have asked if the Buddha had any reasons for this teaching, but I’ve always been convinced that if there were no benefits to be gained from these places, he wouldn’t have recommended them. Still, I wondered what the benefits were, which is why I’ve taken an interest in this matter.

c) The Buddha taught monks to make robes from cloth that had been thrown away—even to the point of wearing robes made from the cloth used to wrap a corpse. This teaching made me reflect on death. What benefits could come from wearing the cloth used to wrap a corpse? For a simple answer, think for a moment about a corpse’s things: They don’t appeal to anyone. No one wants them—and so they hold no dangers. In this point it’s easy enough to see that the Buddha taught us not to take pride in our possessions.

d) The Buddha taught that we should use medicines near at hand, such as medicinal plants pickled in urine.

These teachings of the Buddha, when I first heard them, sparked my curiosity. Whether or not I would benefit from following them, there was one thing I was sure of: that the Buddha was not the sort of person who would hold blindly to anything, and that he would never teach anything without good reason. So even if I wasn’t totally convinced of his teachings, I should at least respect them. Or if I didn’t yet have confidence in my teacher’s ability, I owed it to him and to the traditions of the Sangha to give his teachings a try.

I was reminded of the words of MahaKassapa, who asked to be allowed to follow such ascetic practices as living in the forest, eating one meal a day (going out for alms), and wearing robes made from thrown-away rags all of his life. The Buddha questioned him: ‘You’ve already eradicated your defilements. What is there left for you to strive for?’

MahaKassapa answered, ‘I want to observe these practices, not for my own sake, but for the sake of those yet to come. If I don’t follow these practices, who will they be able to take as an example? If a person teaches by example, the students will learn easily, just as when a person teaches students how to read: If he has pictures to go along with the text, the students will learn much more quickly. My observing these practices is the same sort of thing.’

When I thought of these words, I felt sympathy for MahaKassapa, subjecting himself to all sorts of hardships. If you were to put it in worldly terms, you could say that he was already a multimillionaire, deserving a soft bed and fine food, but instead he slept and ate on the ground, and had only coarse food to eat. Thinking of his example, I’d be ashamed to look for nothing more than creature comforts. As for MahaKassapa, he could have eaten fine food and lived in a beautiful home with no danger of his heart’s being defiled. But—and it’s not surprising—he was more concerned with benefiting those who came after.

All of these things have given me food for thought ever since I was first ordained.

Speaking of living in the forest, I’ve learned a lot of unusual lessons there. Sometimes I’ve seen death close at hand and have learned a lot of lessons—sometimes from seeing the behavior of animals, sometimes from talking to people who live there.

Once there was an old man who told me of the time he had gone with his wife to tap tree sap deep in a large forest. They happened to run into a bear, and a fight ensued. The wife was able to get up a tree in time and then called down to her husband, ‘If you can’t fight it off, lie down and play dead. Don’t make a move.’

When her husband heard this, he came to his senses and so fell back on the ground, lying absolutely still. Seeing this, the bear climbed up astride him but then let go of him and simply stood looking at him. The old man lay there on his back, meditating on the word, ‘buddho, buddho,’ and thinking, ‘I’m not going to die. I’m not going to die.’ The bear pulled at his legs and then at his head, and then used its nuzzle to push him left and right. The old man kept his joints loose and didn’t react in any way. After the bear had decided that the man was dead, it left. A moment or so later the man got up and walked home with his wife. His head was all battered and bloody, but he hadn’t died.

When he had finished telling me the story, he added, ‘That’s the way forest animals have to be. If you can’t fight, you have to play dead.’

Hearing this, the thought occurred to me, ‘No one is interested in a dead person. Because I live in the forest, I should play dead. Whoever praises me or attacks me, I’ll have to be still—quiet in thought, word, and deed—if I want to survive.’ This can also be a good reminder in the way of the Dhamma: To free yourself from death, you have to play dead. This is a good lesson in maranassati, keeping death in mind.

Another time, early one morning when I was staying in the middle of a large forest, I took my followers out for alms. As we were going through the forest, I heard a mother chicken cry, ‘Kataak! Kataak!’ Because she didn’t fly away, I figured she probably had some baby chicks so I sent the boys to run and look. This frightened the chicken and she flew away over the trees. The boys saw a lot of baby chicks running around, but before they could catch them, the chicks scurried into a large pile of fallen leaves. There they hid themselves and lay absolutely still. The boys took a stick and stirred around in the leaves, but the chicks didn’t move. They didn’t even make a peep. Although the boys kept looking for a while, they couldn’t find even a single chick. I knew that the chicks hadn’t gone anywhere. They had just pretended to be fallen leaves. So as it turned out, of all those little tiny chicks, we couldn’t catch a one.

Thinking about this, I was struck by their instincts for self-preservation, and how clever they were: They simply kept themselves quiet in a pile of fallen leaves. And so I made a comparison for myself: ‘When you’re in the wilds, then if you can keep your mind still like the baby chicks, you’re sure to be safe and to free yourself from dying.’ This was another good lesson.

In addition to the animals, there are other aspects of nature—such as trees and vines—that can set you thinking. Take vines, for instance. There are some that don’t turn in any direction but right. Observing this, I’ve made it a lesson for myself. ‘If you’re going to take your mind to the highest good, you’ll have to act like the vines: i.e., always to the right, for the Buddha taught, “Kaya-kammam, vaca-kammam, mano-kammam padakkhinam”—going to the right in thought, word, and deed. You’ll always have to go right—by keeping yourself above the defilements that flare up and consume the heart. Otherwise you’ll be no match even for a vine.’

Some kinds of trees make themselves quiet in ways we can see: We say that they ‘sleep.’ At night, they fold up their leaves. If you go lie under them, you’ll have a clear view of the stars in the nighttime sky. But when day comes, they’ll spread out their leaves and give a dense shade. This is a good lesson for the mind: When you sit in meditation, close only your eyes. Keep your mind bright and alert, like a tree that closes its leaves and thus doesn’t obstruct our view of the stars.

When you can think in this way, you see the value of living in the forest. The mind becomes confident. Dhamma that you have studied—or even that you haven’t—will make itself clear because nature is the teacher. It’s like the sciences of the world, which every country has used to develop amazing powers. None of their inventions or discoveries came out of a textbook. They came because scientists studied the principles of nature, all of which appear right here in the world. As for the Dhamma, it’s just like science: It exists in nature. When I realized this, I no longer worried about studying the scriptures and I was reminded of the Buddha and his disciples: They studied and learned from the principles of nature. None of them followed a textbook.

For these reasons I’m willing to be ignorant when it comes to texts and scriptures. Some kinds of trees sleep at night and are awake during the day. Others sleep by day and are awake by night. The same is true of forest animals.

Living in the forest, you also learn from the vapors that each plant exudes. Some plants are good for your health; some are bad. Sometimes, for example, when I’ve been feverish, I’ve gone to sit under certain kinds of trees and my fever has disappeared. Sometimes when I’ve been feeling well I’ve gone to sit under certain kinds of trees and the elements in my body have become disturbed. Sometimes I’ve been hungry and thirsty, but as soon as I go sit under certain kinds of trees, my hunger and thirst disappear. Learning from trees in this way has caused me to think about the traditional doctors who keep a statue of a hermit on their altars. Those hermits never studied medical textbooks but were able to teach about medicines that can cure disease because they had studied nature by training their minds the same way we do.

Similar lessons can be learned from water, earth, and air. Realizing this, I’ve never gotten very excited about medicines that cure disease because I feel that good medicines are everywhere. The important point is whether or not we recognize them, and this depends on us.

In addition, there is another quality we need in order to take care of ourselves: the power of the mind. If we are able to keep the mind quiet, its ability to cure disease will be tens of times greater than that of any medicine. This is called dhamma-osatha: the medicine of the Dhamma.

All in all, I can really see that I’ve gained from living in forests and other quiet places in order to train the mind. One by one I’ve been able to cut away my doubts about the Buddha’s teachings. And so, for this reason, I’m willing to devote myself to the duties of meditation until there is no more life left for me to live.

The gains that come from training the mind, if I were to describe them in detail, would go on and on, but I’ll ask to finish this short description here.

COMING NOW to the present, I’ve begun work on making Wat Asokaram a permanent base for people yet to come. On December 5, 1956, while staying at Wat Asokaram, I was given a rank and a title—Phra Khru of the first order, with the title, ‘Phra Khru Suddhidhammacariya’—without my having known or even thought about it beforehand. In December, 1957, I learned that, again without warning, I had been given the rank of Chao Khun, with the title, ‘Phra Suddhidhammaransi Gambhiramedhacariya,’ so I have decided to spend the rains at Wat Asokaram ever since.

In 1959 I started feeling ill in the middle of the rains. Thinking of my illness, I began to grow discouraged about living on. There were days when my thoughts would turn away from my followers and be concerned only with myself alone: I would see places where I could find quiet and solitude as the highest form of happiness. Sometimes my illness would recede; sometimes I’d be sick all night long, but I was able to bear with it. I had sharp pains in my stomach, and there was one day when I ran a very high fever for many hours. So when the rains were over I came to rest at Somdet Phra Pin Klao Hospital.

My first stay was for three days—November 2-5, 1959—but after returning to the Wat I had a relapse and so I re-entered the hospital on Tuesday, November 10. Since then my illness has slowly subsided.

One day, lying in bed, I thought to myself: ‘I want the fact that I’ve been born to be useful both to myself and to others. Even if I were to be born into a world where there is no sickness, I’d want to be of use both to the world and to the Buddha’s teachings all of my life. But here I’m sick, so I’d like my sickness to be of use both to myself and to others.’ With this in mind, I wrote the following letter:

Special Room

Somdet Phra Pin Klao Hospital

(The Naval Hospital at Puggalo)

Concerning my food, I don’t want anyone to worry. The hospital has everything I could want. So if anyone feels inspired to bring food, I ask that he or she take the cost of the food and the amount of money it would cost to bring it here, and use the money to make merit in some other way, e.g., to compensate for all of the hospital’s medicine I’ve used or, if there is money left over, to help pay for the poor and destitute who need hospital care. Wouldn’t that be a better way to think?

The building where I’m staying is a special building. It hasn’t yet been opened to other patients. The doctors have given me the best possible care and attention, without asking for even a single cent. Therefore, whoever has good intentions should think this over.

In conclusion, I would like to donate some beds to the hospital as a memento. Whoever would like to help can contact either me or the Director and Assistant Director of Somdet Phra Pin Klao Hospital.

Phra Ajaan Lee

(On November 11, 1959, the Naval Hospital at Puggalo received permission from the Defense Ministry to change its name to Somdet Phra Pin Klao Hospital, one day after I was re-admitted.)

When I had finished the letter, I thought to myself: ‘At the very least, we should get 30,000 baht to help the hospital.’ So I had my intentions announced to my followers, and beginning that very day people started donating money.

On November 16, a group of people from Samut Prakaan came to see me at the hospital to tell me that (a) there had been another car crash at ‘Death Curve’ on Sukhumvit Road in Bang Ping; and (b) a number of people had seen all sorts of frightening spirits appearing at the curve. I decided it would be a good idea to make merit and dedicate it to people who had died in accidents along the road.

I went to consult the deputy governor of Samut Prakaan and a group of my followers, and we agreed that we would have to make merit. The proceedings began the evening of December 18. A group of monks chanted in a temporary pavilion set up by the side of Sukhumvit Road near the office of the Samut Prakaan Roads Bureau. Fifty phaa paas were presented and the names of the curves on the road were changed as follows:

Bodhi Tree Curve was renamed Bodhisattva Curve.

Death Curve was renamed Safe Curve.

Mido Curve was renamed Victory Curve.

This finished, I returned here to the hospital that afternoon and have continued staying on for nearly a month since. The doctors and nurses have been very attentive and helpful. For example, Admiral Sanit Posakritsana, the director of the hospital, has been very attentive, bringing food to donate early each morning and looking after me as if he were one of my followers.

During this period I wrote a book, A Handbook for the Relief of Suffering, to be distributed free of charge. I had no difficulties in having it printed. Two of my followers helped print 2,000 copies: Khun Nai Lamai Amnueysongkram, 1,000 copies; and Navy Lieutenant Ayut Bunyaritraksa, the other 1,000. It seems that my aims have been realized fairly well. For instance, I wanted to collect money to help the hospital, and today—January 10, 1960—as I leave the hospital after staying here 45 days, we’ve collected 31,535 baht, which shows that even when ill, I can be of use.

Even when I die, I’d like my remains to be of use to those still living. I’ve seen one example: Khru Baa Sri Wichai, who is revered by people up north. He had made plans to build a bridge across the Mae Ping River but died before the bridge could be finished. So some of his followers took his body and placed it in a coffin near the unfinished bridge, with a notice that whoever wanted to help with the funeral, please help finish the bridge first. In the end, even as he lay there rotting, Khru Baa Sri Wichai was able to be of use to the people.

And so in my life I’ve aimed at being of use all along, ever since I first went out to practice meditation in 1926 up to the present. I’ve taught students in a number of provinces, and have helped set up monasteries for the convenience of Buddhists at large. In setting up monasteries like this, I’ve helped in two ways:

1) When my followers had set up monasteries on their own but were still lacking in some way, I’ve offered assistance and encouragement.

2) When my friends were thinking of building monasteries but hadn’t yet completed them, if they needed monks I’d send some of my followers to live on a permanent basis. As for monasteries that my teachers had built while passing through from place to place, I’ve continued visiting and helping train the people living there.

In Chanthaburi there are eleven monasteries I helped to set up. In Nakhorn Ratchasima there are two or three. There’s one in Srisaket, and more in Surin—all are friends in meditation. In Ubon Ratchathani there are many places. In Nakhorn Phanom, Khon Kaen, Loei, Chaiyaphum, Phetchabun, Prajinburi, Rayong, Trat, Lopburi, Chainat, Tak, Nakhorn Sawan, and Phitsanuloke are monasteries where I’ve taught on a temporary basis, without setting up any monasteries of my own. In Saraburi I’ve helped set up one monastery. Uttaradit is a place where I’ve trained people while passing through. Lampang, Chieng Rai, Chieng Mai, Nakhorn Nayok, Nakhorn Pathom, and Ratchaburi I’ve passed through and taught people, but without setting up monasteries. In Prajuab some friends have begun setting up a monastery in Hua Hin district. In Chumporn there are two or three monasteries I’ve helped set up. Surat Thani I’ve passed through but haven’t started a monastery. In Nakhorn Sri Thammarat I stayed for a while and helped start a monastery that has since fallen vacant. Phattalung some of my followers have passed through, but as of yet there’s no monastery. In Songkhla there are a lot of forest monasteries. In Yala some of my followers have started establishing a base, and I myself have been there twice.

During the dry seasons I’ve made it a point always to go visit old students of my teachers. Sometimes I’ve gone off to meditate on my own. After I was reordained in the Dhammayut Sect in 1927, I spent my first Rains Retreat in Ubon Ratchathani province. I then spent the rains in Bangkok at Wat Sra Pathum for three years, then one rainy season in Chieng Mai, two in Nakhorn Ratchasima, and one in Prajinburi. After that I built a monastery in Chanthaburi and spent fourteen Rains Retreats there. From there I went to India, where I spent one rainy season. Returning from India, I passed through Burma and then spent the rains at Wat Khuan Miid in Songkhla province. After that I returned to Chieng Mai for one rainy season, and then spent three rainy seasons at Wat Boromnivasa. Since Somdet Mahawirawong (Uan)’s death, I’ve gone out to spend four Rains Retreats at Wat Asokaram, the fourth Retreat being in 1959.

As I dictate this, I’m lying in bed at Somdet Phra Pin Klao Hospital, Thonburi.