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Ajahn Chah Remembrance Day

  • Poster_small.jpg
  • Alms round
  • Alms bowl
  • Monk drying robes
  • Monk washing robes
  • Pindabat (going on alms round)

In honour of Ajahn Chah Subhaddo, founder of two monasteries in the Thai Forest Tradition and who passed away on 16 January 1992, the ‘Ajahn Chah Remembrance Day’ is a talk on Buddhist Dhamma by four western monks and a Thai Malaysian monk to be held on 16 January 2010 from 7.30 a.m. to 10 p.m. at HGH Convention Centre, Sentul, Kuala Lumpur. Admission is free.

Venerable Ajahn Chah Subhaddo (Chao Khun Bodhinyana Thera), alternatively spelled Achaan Chah, occasionally with honorific titles Luang Por and Phra; 17 June 1918 - 16 January 1992) was an influential teacher of the Buddhadharma and a founder of two major monasteries in the Thai Forest Tradition.

Respected and loved in his own country as a man of great wisdom, he was also instrumental in establishing Theravada Buddhism in the West.

Beginning in 1979 with the founding of Cittaviveka (commonly known as Chithurst Buddhist Monastery) in the United Kingdom, the Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah has spread throughout Europe, the United States and the British Commonwealth. The dhamma talks of Ajahn Chah were recorded, transcribed and translated into several languages.

Over one million people attended Ajahn Chah’s funeral in 1992, including the Thai royal family. He left behind a legacy of dhamma talks, students, and monasteries.

Ajahn Chah was born on June 17, 1918 near Ubon Ratchathani in the Isan region of northeast Thailand. His family were subsistence farmers. As is traditional, Ajahn Chah entered the monastery at age nine as a novice, where he learned to read and write during his three year stay.

He left the monastary to help his family on the farm, but later returned to monastic life on April 26,1939 seeking ordination as a Theravadan monk (or bhikku).

According to the book Food for the Heart: The Collected Writings of Ajahn Chah, he chose to leave the monastic life in 1946 and became a wandering ascetic after the death of his father.

He walked across Thailand, taking teachings at various monasteries. Among his teachers at this time was Ajahn Mun, a renown meditation master in the Forest Tradition. Ajahn Chah lived in caves and forests while learning from the meditation monks of the Forest Tradition. A website devoted to Ajahn Chah eloquently describes this period of his life:

For the next seven years Ajahn Chah practised in the style of an ascetic monk in the austere Forest Tradition, spending his time in forests, caves and cremation grounds, ideal places for developing meditation practice.

He wandered through the countryside in quest of quiet and secluded places for developing meditation. He lived in tiger and cobra infested jungles, using reflections on death to penetrate to the true meaning of life. On one occasion he practised in a cremation ground, to challenge and eventually overcome his fear of death. Then, as he sat cold and drenched in a rainstorm, he faced the utter desolation and loneliness of a homeless monk.

In 1954, after years of wandering, he was invited back to his home village. He settled close by, in a fever ridden, haunted forest called ‘Pah Pong’. Despite the hardships of malaria, poor shelter and sparse food, disciples gathered around him in increasing numbers. The monastery, which is now known as Wat Pah Pong began there, and eventually branch monasteries were also, established elsewhere.

In 1967 an American monk came to stay at Wat Pah Pong. The newly ordained Venerable Sumedho had just spent his first vassa (’Rains’ retreat) practicing intensive meditation at a monastery near the Laotian border. Although his efforts had borne some fruit, Venerable Sumedho realized that he needed a teacher who could train him in all aspects of monastic life.

By chance, one of Ajahn Chah’s monks, one who happened to speak a little English visited the monastery where Venerable Sumedho was staying. Upon hearing about Ajahn Chah, he asked to take leave of his preceptor, and went back to Wat Pah Pong with the monk. Ajahn Chah willingly accepted the new disciple, but insisted that he receive no special allowances for being a Westerner. He would have to eat the same simple almsfood and practice in the same way as any other monk at Wat Pah Pong.

The training there was quite harsh and forbidding. Ajahn Chah often pushed his monks to their limits, to test their powers of endurance so that they would develop patience and resolution. He sometimes initiated long and seemingly pointless work projects, in order to frustrate their attachment to tranquility. The emphasis was always on surrender to the way things are, and great stress was placed upon strict observance of the vinaya.

In the course of events, other Westerners came through Wat Pah Pong. By the time Venerable Sumedho was a bhikkhu of five vassas, and Ajahn Chah considered him competent enough to teach, some of these new monks had also decided to stay on and train there. In the hot season of 1975, Venerable Sumedho and a handful of Western bhikkhus spent some time living in a forest not far from Wat Pah Pong. The local villagers there asked them to stay on, and Ajahn Chah consented. The Wat Pah Nanachat (’International Forest Monastery’) came into being, and Venerable Sumedho became the abbot of the first monastery in Thailand to be run by and for English-speaking monks.

In 1977, Ajahn Chah was invited to visit Britain by the English Sangha Trust, a charity with the aim of establishing a locally-resident Buddhist Sangha. He took Venerable Sumedho and Venerable Khemadhammo along, and seeing the serious interest there, left them in London at the Hampstead Vihara (with two of his other Western disciples who were then visiting Europe). He returned to Britain in 1979, at which time the monks were leaving London to begin Chithurst Buddhist Monastery in Sussex. He then went on to America and Canada to visit and teach.

After this trip, and again in 1981, Ajahn Chah spent the ‘Rains’ away from Wat Pah Pong, since his health was failing due to the debilitating effects of diabetes. As his illness worsened, he would use his body as a teaching, a living example of the impermanence of all things. He constantly reminded people to endeavor to find a true refuge within themselves, since he would not be able to teach for very much longer. Before the end of the ‘Rains’ of 1981, he was taken to Bangkok for an operation; it, however, did little to improve his condition.

Within a few months he stopped talking, and gradually he lost control of his limbs until he was virtually paralyzed and bed-ridden. From then on, he was diligently and lovingly nursed and attended by devoted disciples, grateful for the occasion to offer service to the teacher who so patiently and compassionately showed the Way to so many.

The Ajahn Chah Remembrance Day event takes place on 16 January 2010 at the HGH Convention Centre, Jalan Sentul, Kuala Lumpur. Attendance is FREE.

This is a whole day event and doors open at 7.30 a.m.

Devotees are welcome to make an offering of food to the Sangha members (monastic community) and are advised to bring food offerings between 7.30 a.m. and 8.15 a.m.

The key note speaker is Ajahn Sumedho, an eminent Buddhist monk who has been described by some as one of the foremost living Buddhist masters of our times.

There will be four other eminent monks from Asia and Europe speaking too. For more information: Visit www.ajahnchahrd.com, or call 010-266 8231 or e-mail: [email protected].

Click here for the programme

Read more about:

An American adapting to monastic life
The Thai Forest Tradition
Thai Forest Monastic Tradition from ajahnchahrd.com

MySinchew 2009.12.29


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