Visions and Signs
§ One year -- when Ajaan Fuang was seeing a Chinese doctor in Bangkok for his skin disease and staying at Wat Asokaram -- a group of nuns and laypeople came to practice meditation with him every night. Some members of the group would report having this or that vision in the course of their meditation, and finally one of the nuns complained: “I know that my mind isn’t slipping off anywhere; it’s staying right with the breath all the time, so why aren’t I having any visions like everyone else?”
Ajaan Fuang answered her, “Do you know how lucky you are? With people who have visions, this, that, and the other thing is always coming in to interfere. But you don’t have any old karma to get in the way of your meditation, so you can focus directly on the mind without having to get involved with any outside things at all.”
§ “Don’t be amazed by people with visions. Visions are nothing else but dreams. There are true ones and false ones. You can’t really trust them.”
§ A Bangkok housewife who was practicing meditation with Ajaan Fuang heard some of his other students say that meditation without visions was the straight path. It so happened that she had frequent visions in her meditation, and so hearing this made her wonder why her path was so winding and convoluted. When she asked Ajaan Fuang about this, he told her: “Having visions in your meditation is like having lots of lush wild greens growing along the side of your path. You can gather them as you go along, so that you’ll have something to eat along the way, and you’ll reach the end of the path just like everyone else. As for other people, they might see the greens without gathering them, or may not even see them at all -- because their path goes through arid land.”
§ "People who practice concentration fall into two groups: those who have signs via the eyes when their minds settle down, and those who have signs via the body. People in the first group are the ones who see visions of people, animals, whatever. Those in the second group don’t have visions, but when their minds settle down, their bodies will feel unusually heavy or light, large or small, etc. When these people focus on the elements in their body, they’ll notice them as feelings: warmth, coolness, heaviness, spaciousness, and so forth.
“If I’m teaching people like this how to meditate, I don’t have to worry about them too much, because there aren’t many dangers in their path -- aside from the danger of their getting discouraged because they don’t see anything happening in their meditation. The ones I worry about are those in the first group, because they have lots of dangers. Their visions can lead them to jump to all sorts of false conclusions. If they don’t learn the right way to deal with their visions, they’ll get stuck on them and never be able to reach any higher level than that.”
§ “Visions -- or whatever things appear in the course of your meditation: It’s not the case that you shouldn’t pay any attention to them, for some kinds of visions have important messages. So when things like this appear, you have to look into how they’re appearing, why they’re appearing, and for what purpose.”
§ “People who have visions have a double-edged sword in their hands, so they have to be careful. The things that appear have their uses and their dangers. So learn how to squeeze out their uses and leave the dangers behind.”
§ Usually if any of Ajaan Fuang’s students saw a vision of their own body in meditation, he’d have them divide it up in the vision into the four elements -- earth, water, wind, and fire -- or into its 32 basic parts, and then set fire to it until it was nothing but ashes. If the same vision reappeared, he’d have them deal with it the same way again until they were quick at it.
One of his students, a nun, was practicing this sort of meditation every day, but as soon as she had divided the body into its 32 parts and was getting ready to set fire to it, another image of her body would appear right next to the first. As soon as she was getting ready to cremate the second one, another one would appear right next to it, and then another, and another, like fish lined up on a platter waiting to be grilled. As she looked at them she felt fed up with the idea of continuing, but when she mentioned this to Ajaan Fuang, he told her, “The whole purpose in doing this is to get fed up, but not fed up with the doing.”
§ Another technique Ajaan Fuang taught for dealing with an image of one’s own body would be to focus on what it looked like the first week in the womb, the second week, the third, and so on to the day of birth; then the first month after that, the second month, the first year, the second year, and so on up until old age and death.
One woman was trying this technique, but it seemed too slow to her, so she focused on five- and ten-year intervals instead. When Ajaan Fuang found out, he told her, “You’re skipping over all the important parts,” and then made up a new set of rules: “Think of your head and then think of pulling out one hair at a time and placing it in the palm of your hand. See how much you can pull out, and then replant it one hair at a time. If you haven’t finished, don’t leave your meditation until you do. If you want to pull it out in bunches, okay, but you have to replant it one hair at a time. You have to go into the details like this if you want to gain anything good from it.”
§ One of Ajaan Fuang’s students asked him, “Why is it that the intuitions I get from my concentration come in such short flashes, without letting me catch the whole picture?” He answered, “When they put a record on a record player, the needle has to keep bearing down continually if you’re going to hear the whole story. If you don’t keep bearing down, how can you expect to know anything?”
§ Another student was sitting in meditation with Ajaan Fuang when she saw an image of a dead person in her concentration, asking for a share of some of the merit from her practice. This made her feel creepy, so she told Ajaan Fuang, “There’s a ghost in front of me, Than Phaw.”
“That’s not a ghost,” he responded. “That’s a person.”
“No, it’s really a ghost,” she insisted.
“If that’s a ghost,” he said, “then you’re a ghost. If you see it as a person, then you can be a person, too.”
§ After that he told her to spread thoughts of goodwill if she saw anything like that again, and the image would go away. So from that point on, that’s what she’d do, at the drop of a hat, the minute she saw an image of a dead person in her meditation. When Ajaan Fuang found out about this, he taught her, “Wait a minute. Don’t be in such a hurry to get rid of them. First look at what condition they’re in and then ask them what karma they did to become that way. If you do this, you’ll begin to gain some insight into the Dhamma.”
§ Several weeks later she had a vision of an emaciated woman holding a tiny child. The woman was wearing nothing but dirty rags, and the child was crying without stop. The student asked the woman in her vision what she had done to be so miserable, and the answer was that she had tried to have an abortion, but both she and the child had died as a result. Hearing this, the student couldn’t help feeling sorry for them, but no matter how much she spread thoughts of goodwill to them, it didn’t seem to help them at all, because their karma was so heavy.
This had her upset, so she told Ajaan Fuang. He replied, “Whether or not they can receive your help is their business, and none of yours. Different people have different karma, and some are beyond help for the time being. You give what you can, but you don’t have to go back and make an official inquiry into how things turned out. Do your duty and leave it at that. They ask for help, you give them what you can. They appear for you to see so that you’ll learn more about the results of karma. That’s enough. Once you’re finished, go back to the breath.”
§ She kept following Ajaan Fuang’s instructions until one day it occurred to her, “If I keep giving, giving, giving like this, will I have anything left for myself?” When she told her doubts to Ajaan Fuang, he gave her a blank look for a second and then said, “Boy, you really can be narrow-hearted when you want to be, can’t you?” Then he explained: “Goodwill isn’t a thing, like money, that the more you give, the less you have. It’s more like having a lit candle in your hand. This person asks to light his candle from yours, that person asks to light hers. The more candles you light, the brighter it is for everyone -- including you.”
§ Time passed and one day she had a vision of a dead man asking her to tell his children and grandchildren to make merit in such and such a way and to dedicate it to him. When she left meditation, she asked permission to go inform the dead man’s children, but Ajaan Fuang said, “What for? You’re not a mailman. Even if you were, he doesn’t have any money to pay your wages. What kind of proof are you going to give them that what you say is true? If they believe you, you’re going to get carried away and think that you’re some special kind of psychic. Everywhere you go, you’ll keep smiling this little smile to yourself. And if they don’t believe you, you know what they’ll say, don’t you?”
“What, Than Phaw?”
“They’ll say you’re crazy.”
§ “There are true visions and false visions. So whenever you see one, just sit still and watch it. Don’t get pulled into following it.”
§ “You should watch visions the same way you watch TV: Just watch it, without getting pulled inside the tube.”
§ Some of Ajaan Fuang’s students would have visions of themselves or their friends in previous lifetimes and get all excited about what they saw. When they’d report their visions to Ajaan Fuang, he’d warn them, “You aren’t still wrapped up in the past, are you? You’re foolish if you are. You’ve been born and died countless aeons. If you took the bones of all your past bodies and piled them up, they’d be taller than Mount Sumeru. The water in all the oceans is less than the water of the tears you’ve shed over all the sufferings, big and small, you’ve been through. If you reflect on this with real discernment, you’ll feel disenchanted with states of being, and no longer take pleasure in birth. Your mind will aim straight for nibbana.”
§ In 1976 Ajaan Fuang gained large numbers of new students. One of them wondered why this was the case, and so asked herself about it in her meditation. The answer came to her that Ajaan Fuang had had many children in a previous lifetime, and now they had been reborn as his students.
When she left meditation, she asked him why this was so, figuring that he’d tell her that he had once been a king with a large harem, but instead he said, “I was probably a fish in the sea, laying who knows how many eggs at a time.”
§ One evening a school teacher was meditating at home and began remembering her previous lives all the way back to the time of King Asoka. In her vision she saw King Asoka beating her father mercilessly over a trivial infraction of palace etiquette. The next morning she went to tell Ajaan Fuang about her vision, and it was obvious that she was still furious with King Asoka for what she had seen him do.
Ajaan Fuang didn’t affirm or deny the truth of her vision. Instead, he spoke to her anger in the present, “Here you’ve been carrying this grudge for over 2,000 years, and where is it getting you? Go ask forgiveness of him in your mind and have done with it.”
§ “It’s good that most people can’t remember their previous lives. Otherwise things would be a lot more complicated than they already are.”
§ One woman, who at that point wasn’t yet a student of Ajaan Fuang, was practicing meditation at home on her own when she had a vision of a sentence -- somewhat like Pali, but not quite -- appearing in her meditation. So she copied it down and went from wat to wat, asking various monks to translate it for her. No one could until she met one monk who told her that it was in arahant language, and only an arahant could understand what it said. Then he had the gall to translate it for her, after which he told her to bring him any other sentences she got from her visions, and he’d translate them, too.
She wasn’t completely convinced of what he had said, and happened to mention it to Ajaan Fuang when she first met him. His response: “What? Arahant language? The minds of arahants are above and beyond conventions. What kind of language would a mind like that have?”
§ “People for the most part don’t like the truth. They prefer make-believe instead.”
§ There were occasions when some of Ajaan Fuang’s students would gain knowledge of one sort or another in their visions, get carried away with it, and yet he wouldn’t take them to task. One day the seamstress asked him why he didn’t warn such people that their practice was going off course, and he told her, “You have to look at how mature they are. If they’re really adults, you can tell them straight out. If their minds are still infants, you have to let them play for a while, like a child with a new toy. If you’re too harsh with them, they might get discouraged and give up completely. As they begin to mature they’re sure to start seeing for themselves what’s proper and what’s not.”
§ “Don’t have anything to do with the past or the future. Just stay with the present -- that’s enough. And even though that’s where you’re supposed to stay, you’re not supposed to latch onto it. So why do think you should latch on to things where you’re not even supposed to stay?”
§ “You know that you shouldn’t believe even your own visions, so why go believing the visions of others?”
§ “If you can’t let go of your visions, you’ll never gain release.”
§ One of Ajaan Fuang’s students asked him, “When you see something in a vision, how can you know whether it’s true or false?”
His answer: “Even when it’s true, it’s true only in terms of convention. You have to get your mind beyond both true and false.”
§ “The purpose of the practice is to make the heart pure. All these other things are just games and entertainment.”