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Posts Tagged ‘achaan chah’

Buddha Image (Nakhon Panom) (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Buddha Statue in Nakhon Panom

Buddha Statue in Nakhon Panom

Buddha Statue at Wat Pa Panohm in Nakhon Panom

“Don’t go fixating on the way things appear to be. Recognize whatever appears to the mind as merely so—merely a moment of sensation and awareness, something impermanent that arises and passes away. There is nothing more than that. There is no self or other, no essence, nothing that should be grasped.”

– Ajahn Chah, in Being Dharma, p. 113.

From: Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha’s Teachings. Ajahn Chah, Translated by Paul Breiter. Shambala, Boston & London, 2001.


The Wednesday Photo is a new picture  each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Buddha Thoughts

Michael Babcock, Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

I’ve been interested in Buddhism for many years. For the past several years my practice has consisted largely of reading books of the teachings of a Thai forest monk named Ajahn Chah and using his teachings as a basis for contemplation and meditation. One book in particular, A Still Forest Pool, has many passages that I’ve read over and over again. I’m attracted to the simplicity of the teaching; it sometimes seems that if I could really understand the teaching in one of the chapters or even one of the paragraphs, that I would understand the essence of Buddhism.

Chiang Mai Buddha

Chiang Mai Buddha

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on a passage from another book of his teachings, Food for the Heart: “Everything mental and physical, everything conceived and thought about without exception, is conditioned.” (p. 183)

I began noticing all the examples of times when my behavior appears to be conditioned. There are so many examples. Suppose I have a doctor’s appointment and when I get there I’m told that I have to wait 45 minutes to see the doctor. One response would be to get angry and to storm out, upset that the doctor considered me of so little importance. Another response would be to be happy because I have an extra 45 minutes to read a book that I’ve been wanting to get to.

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

I began to see that my entire life is made of of situations where I react based on prior conditioning. This being the case, instead of simply reacting blindly to every situation, I have the choice of stopping, watching and deciding how I want to respond.

Walking Buddha in Sukhothai

Walking Buddha in Sukhothai

Of course it’s not just this easy.

I’ve also been listening a great deal to some talks by another monk, Ajahn Sumedho, who studied many years with Ajahn Chah. The talks come from a monastic retreat that he did in 2008, and can be downloaded from the Abhayagiri Monastery website

These talks, like much of the teaching of Ajahn Chah, emphasize the importance of seeing things exactly as they are. No need to change anything, just notice. As Ajahn Chah says in the book Being Dharma: “When you have studied and practiced Dharma, you understand that the Buddha did not teach to fix things but to see according to truth.” (P. 20) Ajahn Sumedho has a certain phrase that I found very useful – “. . . is just like this.” It can be applied to any sensation, thought or mood. If I am angry, rather than trying to control my anger or to change the condition that is making me angry,  I can simply be aware of the anger, really feel it, and realize that “Anger is just like this.”

Buddha in Chaiya

Buddha in Chaiya

All of our unhappiness and dissatisfaction comes from wanting situations or things to be different than the way they are. The teachings of the Buddha, passed on through these two monks, tells us that we should not rely on any conditioned reality because all conditions are impermanent and therefore constantly changing, arising and dying. Ajahn Chah often reminds that it is not enough to merely understand this intellectually; we must experience it   and that meditation is necessary for this.

I’m very much a beginner at meditation, after doing it on and off for many years. The very first year I went to Thailand, I did a 10-day meditation retreat at Suan Mokh (The Garden of Liberation) in the south of Thailand. It was 10 days of silence and meditation. The insights from those 10 days still are with me. At the retreat, all of our needs (food, shelter, clothing) were adequately (if not extravagantly) taken care of: we really didn’t need anything other than what we already had. In those circumstances, it became very clear that if I was unhappy, that the unhappiness resulted from my own mind, not from anything around me.

The other thing I noticed was how quickly states of mind can change. Sitting in meditation my mood could switch from utter contentment to complete restlessness and boredom in (literally) the blink of an eye.

At this point I’m meditating some each day, hoping that Ajahn Chah is right:  “The beauty of our way of life is that the mind can be trained. With our own right effort, we can come to wisdom.” (from A Still Forest Pool, p. 146.)

Mae Hong Son Buddha

Mae Hong Son Buddha

A previous post on this subject was named Buddhism, Thailand, Achaan Chah. If you are interested in exploring the teachings of these two monks, a good place to start is the teaching page of Abhayagiri monastery; it includes a number of free books and talks by both Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho as well as teachings by the two monastery abbots, Ajahn Amaro and Ajahn Pasanno.


Written by Michael Babcock, August 2009.

Buddhism, Thailand, Achaan Chah

Michael Babcock, Thursday, May 7th, 2009

I first went to Thailand with Kasma in the fall of 1992. At that time I already knew a bit about Buddhism; I had been an on-and-off meditator for years and the teachers I learned from in the San Francisco Bay Area had been trained in the Theravada Buddhist tradition of Thailand. On that first trip I did a 10-day meditation retreat at the monastery of  Suan Mokh in Southern Thailand, an experience that I still draw upon, some 17 years later.

Buddha Image at Chaiya

Buddha Image at Chaiya

I still practice meditation. I love the word “practice.” Like “practicing medicine,”  meditation is a process that is never perfected, just practiced over and over again.
 
(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Walking Buddha, Sukhothai

Walking Buddha, Sukhothai

I do not call myself a “Buddhist.” What attracts me to Buddhism is my understanding of what the Buddha taught:  that liberation from suffering is found in moving beyond conditioned experience and labels by relying only on what you have experienced and understood.

Most of my study of Buddhism has focused on the teachings of one man, a Thai forest monk by the name of Achaan Chah (or Ajhan Chah; Achaan or Ajahn is an honorific given to teachers), who died in 1992 (ironically, the first year I visited Thailand).

NE Thailand Buddha Image

NE Thailand Buddha Image

What attracts me to his teachings is his simplicity. He’s not one for book study; in his book A Still Forest Pool he says “If you really want to see what the Buddha  was talking about, you don’t need to bother with books. Watch your own mind. Examine to see how thoughts come and go. Don’t be attached to anything, just be mindful of whatever there is to see. This is the way to the truths of the Buddha.” (p. 157) Over and over again he emphasizes studying your own mind, finding the truth within yourself: “You will see that only by stopping and examining your own heart can you find out what the Buddha talked about. No need to go searching outside yourself. Eventually, you must return to face your own true nature. Right where you are is where you can understand the Dharma.” (p. 159) He is an advocate of tireless practice: “Do not put the meditation aside for a rest. Some people think they can stop as soon as they come out of a period of formal practice. Having stopped formal practice, they stop being attentive, stop contemplating. Do not do it that way. Whatever you see, you should contemplate.” (p. 101)

Temple Sign in Chiang Mai

Temple Sign in Chiang Mai

Thailand is a Buddhist country and on Kasma’s trips we visit many of the temples. I tend not to get too involved in the external trappings of Buddhism there. As with Buddhism in other countries, the teachings have adapted to have a particularly Thai flavor. Much of the emphasis in Thailand centers around the concept of “making merit” – doing acts that will produce good karma so that your future life will be more harmonious and peaceful. 

Temple Sign in Mae Hong Son

Temple Sign in Mae Hong Son

From what  I observe, Buddhism in Thailand appears to be much like many other religions: along with the heart of the teaching there are external trappings that seem questionable and it’s easy to find things that appear to be contrary to the tenets of the Buddha. For example, women at times appear to have lower status then men. What I do know is that many of the temples are very peaceful, that they contain numerous Buddha images that are beautiful and inspiring and that it’s a tradition that produced someone like Achaan Chah. 

I commend his teachings to your perusal.

Buddha Statue in Nakhon Si Thammarat

Buddha Statue in Nakhon Si Thammarat

You can find some of Achaan Chah’s teachings available as downloads in PDF format at the Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery website. Also of interest is a series of videos on the life of Achaan Chah by Achaan Jayasaro (an English disciple).

Quotes are from A Still Forest Pool: The Insight Meditation of Achaan Chah, compiled by Jack Kornfield & Paul Breiter, First edition 1985 by The Theosophical Publishing House in Wheaton, Illinois.  I also recommend Food for the Heart: The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah, published in 2002 by Wisdom Publications in Boston.

Wikipedia has a short biography of Achaan Chah and his legacy.

You might enjoy Michael’s article and pictures on Buddha Images in Northeastern Thailand.


Written by Michael Babcock, May 2009.