Ajahn Chah was born into a large and comfortable family in a rural
village in Northeast Thailand. He ordained as a novice in early
youth and on reaching the age of twenty took higher ordination as a
monk. As a young monk he studied some basic Dhamma, Discipline and
scriptures. Later he practised meditation under the guidance of
several of the local meditation masters in the ascetic forest
tradition. He wandered for a number of years in the style of an
ascetic monk, sleeping in forests, caves and cremation grounds, and
spent a short but enlightening period with Ajahn Mun, one of the
most famous and respected Thai meditation masters of this century.
After many years of travel and practice, he was invited to settle
in a thick forest grove near the village of his birth. This grove
was uninhabited, known as a place of cobras, tigers and ghosts,
thus being, as he said, the perfect location for a forest monk.
Around Ajahn Chah a large monastery formed as more and more monks,
nuns and lay people came to hear his teachings and stay on to
practise with him. Now there are more than forty mountain and
forest branch temples throughout Thailand and in England and
Australia as well.
On entering Wat Pah Pong one is likely to encounter monks drawing
water from a well, and a sign on the path that says: "You there, be
quiet! We're trying to meditate." Although there is a group
meditation twice a day, the heart of the meditation is the way of
life. Monks do manual work, dye and sew their own robes, make most
of their own requisites and keep the monastery buildings and
grounds in immaculate shape. Monks here live extremely simply
following the ascetic precepts of eating once a day from the
almsbowl and limiting their possessions and robes. Scattered
throughout the forest are individual huts where monks live and
meditate in solitude, and where they practise walking meditation on
cleared paths under the trees.
Discipline is extremely strict enabling one to lead a simple and
pure life in a harmoniously regulated community where virtue,
meditation and understanding may be skillfully and continuously
Ajahn Chah's simple yet profound style of teaching has a special
appeal to Westerners, and many have come to study and practise with
him, quite a few for many years. In 1975 Wat Pah Nanachat was
established near Wat Pah Pong as a special training monastery for
the growing number of Westerners interested in undertaking monastic
training. Since then Ajahn Chah's large following of senior Western
disciples has begun the work of spreading the Dhamma in the West.
Ajahn Chah has himself travelled twice to Europe and North America,
and he has established a thriving branch monastery in Sussex,
Wisdom is a way of living and being, and Ajahn Chah has endeavoured
to preserve the simple lifestyle of the monks in order that people
may study and practise Dhamma in the present day.
Ajahn Chah's wonderfully simple style of teaching can be deceptive.
It is often only after one has heard something from him many times
that suddenly one's mind is ripe and somehow the teaching takes on
a much deeper meaning. His skillful means in tailoring his
explanations of Dhamma to time and place, and to the understanding
and sensitivity of his audience, is marvellous to see. Sometimes on
paper, though, it can make him seem inconsistent or even
self-contradictory! At such times the reader should remember that
these words are a record of living experience. Similarly, if the
teaching may seem to vary at times from tradition, it should be
borne in mind that the venerable Ajahn speaks always from the
heart, from the depths of his own meditative experience.
OUR REAL HOME
A talk addressed to an ageing
lay disciple approaching death
Now determine in your mind to listen with respect to the Dhamma.
During the time that I am speaking, be as attentive to my words as
if it was the Lord Buddha himself sitting in front of you. Close
your eyes and make yourself comfortable, compose your mind and make
it one-pointed. Humbly allow the Triple Gem of wisdom, truth and
purity to abide in your heart as a way of showing respect to the
Fully Enlightened One.
Today I have brought nothing material of any substance to offer
you, only Dhamma, the teachings of the Lord Buddha. Listen well.
You should understand that even the Buddha himself, with his great
store of accumulated virtue, could not avoid physical death. When
he reached old age he relinquished his body and let go of its heavy
burden. Now you too must learn to be satisfied with the many years
you've already depended on your body. You should feel that it's
You can compare it to household utensils you've had for a long
time--your cups, saucers, plates and so on. When you first had them
they were clean and shining, but now after using them for so long,
they're starting to wear out. Some are already broken, some have
disappeared and those that are left are deteriorating; they have no
stable form, and it's their nature to be like that. Your body is
the same way--it's been continually changing right from the day you
were born, through childhood and youth, until now it's reached old
age. You must accept that. The Buddha said that conditions
(sankharas), whether they are internal conditions, bodily
conditions, or external conditions, are not-self, their nature is
to change. Contemplate this truth until you see it clearly.
This very lump of flesh that lies here in decline is saccadhamma,
the truth. The truth of this body is saccadhamma, and it is the
unchanging teaching of the Buddha. The Buddha taught us to look at
the body, to contemplate it and come to terms with its nature. We
must be able to be at peace with the body, whatever state it is in.
The Buddha taught that we should ensure that it's only the body
that is locked up in jail and not let the mind be imprisoned along
with it. Now as your body begins to run down and deteriorate with
age, don't resist that, but don't let your mind deteriorate with
it. Keep the mind separate. Give energy to the mind by realizing
the truth of the way things are. The Lord Buddha taught that this
is the nature of the body, it can't be any other way: having been
born it gets old and sick and then it dies. This is a great truth
you are presently encountering. Look at the body with wisdom and
Even if your house is flooded or burnt to the ground, whatever the
danger that threatens it, let it concern only the house. If there's
a flood, don't let it flood your mind. If there's a fire, don't let
it burn your heart. Let it be merely the house, that which is
external to you, that is flooded and burnt. Allow the mind to let
go of its attachments. The time is ripe.
You've been alive a long time. Your eyes have seen any number of
forms and colours, your ears have heard so many sounds, you've had
any number of experiences. And that's all they were--just
experiences. You've eaten delicious foods, and all the good tastes
were just good tastes, nothing more. The unpleasant tastes were
just unpleasant tastes, that's all. If the eye sees a beautiful
form, that's all it is, just a beautiful form. An ugly form is just
an ugly form. The ear hears an entrancing, melodious sound and it's
nothing more than that. A grating, disharmonious sound is simply
The Buddha said that rich or poor, young or old, human or animal,
no being in this world can maintain itself in any one state for
long, everything experiences change and estrangement. This is a
fact of life that we can do nothing to remedy. But the Buddha said
that what we can do is to contemplate the body and mind so as to
see their impersonality, see that neither of them is "me" or
"mine." They have a merely provisional reality. It's like this
house: it's only nominally yours, you couldn't take it with you
anywhere. It's the same with your wealth, your possessions and your
family--they're all yours only in name, they don't really belong to
you, they belong to nature. Now this truth doesn't apply to you
alone; everyone is in the same position, even the Lord Buddha and
his enlightened disciples. They differed from us in only one
respect and that was in their acceptance of the way things are;
they saw that it could be no other way.
So the Buddha taught us to scan and examine this body, from the
soles of the feet up to the crown of the head and then back down to
the feet again. Just take a look at the body. What sort of things
do you see? Is there anything intrinsically clean there? Can you
find any abiding essence? This whole body is steadily degenerating,
and the Buddha taught us to see that it doesn't belong to us. It's
natural for the body to be this way, because all conditioned
phenomena are subject to change. How else would you have it be?
Actually, there's nothing wrong with the way the body is. It's not
the body that causes you suffering, it's your wrong thinking. When
you see the right wrongly, there's bound to be confusion.
It's like the water of a river. It naturally flows down the
gradient, it never flows against it; that's its nature. If a person
were to go and stand on a river bank and, seeing the water flowing
swiftly down its course, foolishly want it to flow back up the
gradient, he would suffer. Whatever he was doing his wrong thinking
would allow him no peace of mind. He would be unhappy because of
his wrong view, thinking against the stream. If he had right view
he would see that the water must inevitably flow down the gradient,
and until he realized and accepted that fact, the person would be
agitated and upset.
The river that must flow down the gradient is like your body.
Having been young your body has become old and now it's meandering
towards its death. Don't go wishing it was otherwise, it's not
something you have the power to remedy. The Buddha told us to see
the way things are and then let go of our clinging to them. Take
this feeling of letting go as your refuge.
Keep meditating, even if you feel tired and exhausted. Let your
mind dwell with the breath. Take a few deep breaths, and then
establish the mind on the breath using the mantra "Buddho." Make
this practice habitual. The more exhausted you feel, the more
subtle and focused your concentration must be, so that you can cope
with the painful sensations that arise. When you start to feel
fatigued then bring all your thinking to a halt, let the mind
gather itself together and then turn to knowing the breath. Just
keep up the inner recitation: "Bud-dho, Bud-dho."
Let go of all externals. Don't go grasping at thoughts of your
children and relatives, don't grasp at anything whatsoever. Let go.
Let the mind unite in a single point and let that composed mind
dwell with the breath. Let the breath be its sole object of
knowledge. Concentrate until the mind becomes increasingly subtle,
until feelings are insignificant and there is great inner clarity
and wakefulness. Then when painful sensations arise they will
gradually cease of their own accord. Finally, you'll look on the
breath as if it was a relative come to visit you.
When a relative leaves, we follow him out and see him off. We watch
until he's walked or driven out of sight and then we go back
indoors. We watch the breath in the same way. If the breath is
coarse, we know that it's coarse, if it's subtle we know that it's
subtle. As it becomes increasingly fine we keep following it, while
simultaneously awakening the mind. Eventually the breath disappears
altogether and all that remains is the feeling of wakefulness. This
is called meeting the Buddha. We have that clear wakefulness that
is called "Buddho," the one who knows, the one who is awake, the
radiant one. It is meeting and dwelling with the Buddha, with
knowledge and clarity. For it was only the historical
flesh-and-blood Buddha that entered parinibbana; the true Buddha,
the Buddha that is clear radiant knowing, we can still experience
and attain today, and when we do so the heart is one.
So let go, put everything down, everything except the knowing.
Don't be fooled if visions or sounds arise in your mind during
meditation. Put them all down. Don't take hold of anything at all.
Just stay with this non-dual awareness. Don't worry about the past
or the future, just be still and you will reach the place where
there's no advancing, no retreating and no stopping, where there's
nothing to grasp at or cling to. Why? Because there's no self, no
"me" or "mine." It's all gone. The Buddha taught us to be emptied
of everything in this way, not to carry anything with us. To know,
and having known, let go.
Realizing the Dhamma, the path to freedom from the round of birth
and death, is a job that we all have to do alone. So keep trying to
let go, and to understand the teachings. Really put effort into
your contemplation. Don't worry about your family. At the moment
they are as they are, in the future they will be like you. There's
no one in the world who can escape this fate. The Buddha told us to
put down everything that lacks a real abiding substance. If you put
everything down you will see the truth, if you don't you won't.
That's the way it is and it's the same for all, so don't worry and
don't grasp at anything.
Even if you find yourself thinking, well that's all right too, as
long as you think wisely. Don't think foolishly. If you think of
your children, think of them with wisdom, not with foolishness.
Whatever the mind turns to, then think and know that thing with
wisdom, aware of its nature. If you know something with wisdom,
then you let it go and there's no suffering. The mind is bright,
joyful and at peace, and turning away from distractions it is
undivided. Right now what you can look to for help and support is
This is your own work, nobody else's. Leave others to do their own
work. You have your own duty and responsibility and you don't have
to take on those of your family. Don't take anything else on, let
it all go. That letting go will make your mind calm. Your sole
responsibility right now is to focus your mind and bring it to
peace. Leave everything else to others. Forms, sounds, odours,
tastes--leave them to others to attend to. Put everything behind
you and do your own work, fulfil your own responsibility. Whatever
arises in your mind, be it fear of pain, fear of death, anxiety
about others or whatever, say to it: "Don't disturb me. You're not
my business any more." Just keep saying this to yourself when you
see those dhammas arise.
What does the word "dhamma" refer to? Everything is a dhamma. There
is nothing that is not a dhamma. And what about "world"? The world
is the very mental state that is agitating you at this moment.
"What will this person do? What will that person do? When I'm dead,
who will look after them? How will they manage?" This is all just
"the world." Even the mere arising of a thought of fearing death or
pain is the world.
Throw the world away! The world is the way it is. If you allow it
to arise in the mind and dominate consciousness then the mind
becomes obscured and can't see itself. So, whatever appears in the
mind, just say: "This isn't my business. It's impermanent,
unsatisfactory and not-self."
Thinking you'd like to go on living for a long time will make you
suffer. But thinking you'd like to die right away or die very
quickly isn't right either; it's suffering, isn't it? Conditions
don't belong to us, they follow their own natural laws. You can't
do anything about the way the body is. You can prettify it a
little, make it look attractive and clean for a while, like the
young girls who paint their lips and let their nails grow long, but
when old age arrives, everyone's in the same boat. That's the way
the body is, you can't make it any other way. But what you can
improve and beautify is the mind.
Anyone can build a house of wood and bricks, but the Buddha taught
that that sort of home is not our real home, it's only nominally
ours. It's a home in the world and it follows the ways of the
world. Our real home is inner peace. An external material home may
well be pretty, but it is not very peaceful. There's this worry and
then that, this anxiety and then that. So we say it's not our real
home, it's external to us, sooner or later we'll have to give it
up. It's not a place we can live in permanently because it doesn't
truly belong to us, it's part of the world. Our body is the same;
we take it to be self, to be "me" and "mine," but in fact it's not
really so at all, it's another worldly home. Your body has followed
its natural course from birth until now it's old and sick and you
can't forbid it from doing that, that's the way it is. Wanting it
to be different would be as foolish as wanting a duck to be like a
chicken. When you see that that's impossible, that a duck has to be
a duck, that a chicken has to be a chicken and that bodies have to
get old and die, you will find strength and energy. However much
you want the body to go on and last for a long time, it won't do
The Buddha said:
Anicca vata sankhara
Tesam vupasamo sukho.
"Conditions are impermanent,
subject to rise and fall.
Having arisen they cease--
their stilling is bliss."
The word "sankhara" refers to this body and mind. Sankharas are
impermanent and unstable, having come into being they disappear,
having arisen they pass away, and yet everyone wants them to be
permanent. This is foolishness. Look at the breath. Having come in,
it goes out; that's its nature, that's how it has to be. The
inhalation and exhalation have to alternate, there must be change.
Sankharas exist through change, you can't prevent it. Just think:
could you exhale without inhaling? Would it feel good? Or could you
just inhale? We want things to be permanent, but they can't be,
it's impossible. Once the breath has come in, it must go out; when
it's gone out, it comes in again, and that's natural, isn't it?
Having been born, we get old and sick and then we die, and that's
totally natural and normal. It's because sankharas have done their
job, because the in-breaths and out-breaths have alternated in this
way, that the human race is still here today.
As soon as we're born, we're dead. Our birth and death are just one
thing. It's like a tree: when there's a root there must be twigs.
When there are twigs there must be a root. You can't have one
without the other. It's a little funny to see how at a death people
are so grief-stricken and distracted, tearful and sad, and at a
birth how happy and delighted. It's delusion, nobody has ever
looked at this clearly. I think if you really want to cry, then it
would be better to do so when someone's born. For actually birth is
death, death is birth, the root is the twig, the twig is the root.
If you've got to cry, cry at the root, cry at the birth. Look
closely: if there was no birth there would be no death. Can you
Don't think a lot. Just think: "This is the way things are." It's
your work, your duty. Right now nobody can help you, there's
nothing that your family and your possessions can do for you. All
that can help you now is the correct awareness.
So don't waver. Let go. Throw it all away.
Even if you don't let go, everything is starting to leave anyway.
Can you see that, how all the different parts of your body are
trying to slip away? Take your hair: when you were young it was
thick and black, now it's falling out. It's leaving. Your eyes used
to be good and strong, and now they're weak and your sight is
unclear. When the organs have had enough they leave, this isn't
their home. When you were a child your teeth were healthy and firm;
now they're wobbly, perhaps you've got false ones. Your eyes, ears,
nose, tongue--everything is trying to leave because this isn't
their home. You can't make a permanent home in a sankhara; you can
stay for a short while and then you have to go. It's like a tenant
watching over his tiny little house with failing eyes. His teeth
aren't so good, his ears aren't so good, his body's not so healthy,
everything is leaving.
So you needn't worry about anything, because this isn't your real
home, it's just a temporary shelter. Having come into this world,
you should contemplate its nature. Everything there is, is
preparing to disappear. Look at your body. Is there anything there
that's still in its original form? Is your skin as it used to be?
Is your hair? It's not the same, is it? Where has everything gone?
This is nature, the way things are. When their time is up,
conditions go their way. This world is nothing to rely on--it's an
endless round of disturbance and trouble, pleasures and pains.
There's no peace.
When we have no real home we're like an aimless traveller out on
the road, going this way for a while and then that way, stopping
for a while and then setting off again. Until we return to our real
home we feel ill-at-ease whatever we're doing, just like the one
who's left his village to go on a journey. Only when he gets home
again can he really relax and be at ease.
Nowhere in the world is any real peace to be found. The poor have
no peace and neither do the rich. Adults have no peace, children
have no peace, the poorly educated have no peace and neither do the
highly-educated. There's no peace anywhere. That's the nature of
Those who have few possessions suffer and so do those who have
many. Children, adults, the aged, everyone suffers. The suffering
of being old, the suffering of being young, the suffering of being
wealthy, and the suffering of being poor--it's all nothing but
When you've contemplated things in this way you'll see anicca,
impermanence, and dukkha, unsatisfactoriness. Why are things
impermanent and unsatisfactory? It's because they're anatta,
Both your body that is lying here sick and painful, and the mind
that is aware of its sickness and pain, are called dhammas. That
which is formless, the thoughts, feelings and perceptions, is
called namadhamma. That which is racked with aches and pains is
called rupadhamma. The material is dhamma and the immaterial is
dhamma. So we live with dhammas, in dhamma, we are dhamma. In truth
there's no self anywhere to be found, there are only dhammas
continually arising and passing away, as is their nature. Every
single moment we're undergoing birth and death. This is the way
When we think of the Lord Buddha, how truly he spoke, we feel how
worthy he is of salutation, reverence and respect. Whenever we see
the truth of something, we see his teachings, even if we've never
actually practised Dhamma. But even if we have a knowledge of the
teachings, have studied and practised them, but still haven't seen
their truth, then we're still homeless.
So understand this point that all people, all creatures, are about
to leave. When beings have lived an appropriate time they go their
way. The rich, the poor, the young, the old, all beings must
experience this change.
When you realize that that's the way the world is, you'll feel that
it's a wearisome place. When you see that there's nothing stable or
substantial you can rely on, you'll feel wearied and disenchanted.
Being disenchanted doesn't mean you're averse though. The mind is
clear. It sees that there's nothing to be done to remedy this state
of affairs, it's just the way the world is. Knowing in this way,
you can let go of attachment, let go with a mind that is neither
happy nor sad, but at peace with sankharas through seeing with
wisdom their changing nature.
Anicca vata sankhara--all sankharas are impermanent. To put it
simply: impermanence is the Buddha. If we see an impermanent
phenomenon really clearly, we'll see that it's permanent, permanent
in the sense that its subjection to change is unchanging. This is
the permanence that living beings possess. There is continual
transformation, from childhood through youth to old age, and that
very impermanence, that nature to change, is permanent and fixed.
If you look at it like that your heart will be at ease. It's not
just you that has to go through this, it's everyone.
When you consider things thus, you'll see them as wearisome, and
disenchantment will arise. Your delight in the world of
sense-pleasures will disappear. You'll see that if you have a lot
of things, you have to leave a lot behind; if you have few you will
leave behind few. Wealth is just wealth, long life is just long
life, they're nothing special.
What's important is that we should do as the Lord Buddha taught and
build our own home, building it by the method that I've been
explaining to you. Build your home. Let go. Let go until the mind
reaches the peace that is free from advancing, free from retreating
and free from stopping still. Pleasure is not our home, pain is not
our home. Pleasure and pain both decline and pass away.
The Great Teacher saw that all sankharas are impermanent, and so he
taught us to let go of our attachment to them. When we reach the
end of our life, we'll have no choice anyway, we won't be able to
take anything with us. So wouldn't it be better to put things down
before that? They're just a heavy burden to carry around; why not
throw off that load now? Why bother to drag them around? Let go,
relax, and let your family look after you.
Those who nurse the sick grow in goodness and virtue. One who is
sick and giving others that opportunity shouldn't make things
difficult for them. If there's a pain or some problem or other, let
them know, and keep the mind in a wholesome state. One who is
nursing parents should fill his or her mind with warmth and
kindness, not get caught in aversion. This is the one time when you
can repay the debt you owe them. From your birth through your
childhood, as you've grown up, you've been dependent on your
parents. That we are here today is because our mothers and fathers
have helped us in so many ways. We owe them an incredible debt of
So today, all of you children and relatives gathered here together,
see how your parents become your children. Before, you were their
children; now they become yours. They become older and older until
they become children again. Their memories go, their eyes don't see
so well and their ears don't hear, sometimes they garble their
words. Don't let it upset you. All of you nursing the sick must
know how to let go. Don't hold on to things, just let go and let
them have their own way. When a young child is disobedient,
sometimes the parents let it have its own way just to keep the
peace, to make it happy. Now your parents are like that child.
Their memories and perceptions are confused. Sometimes they muddle
up your names, or you ask them to give you a cup and they bring a
plate. It's normal, don't be upset by it.
Let the patient remember the kindness of those who nurse and
patiently endure the painful feelings. Exert yourself mentally,
don't let the mind become scattered and agitated, and don't make
things difficult for those looking after you. Let those who nurse
the sick fill their minds with virtue and kindness. Don't be averse
to the unattractive side of the job, to cleaning up mucus and
phlegm, or urine and excrement. Try your best. Everyone in the
family give a hand.
These are the only parents you've got. They gave you life, they
have been your teachers, your nurses and your doctors--they've been
everything to you. That they have brought you up, taught you,
shared their wealth with you and made you their heirs is the great
beneficence of parents. Consequently the Buddha taught the virtues
of katannu and katavedi, of knowing our debt of gratitude and
trying to repay it. These two virtues are complementary. If our
parents are in need, if they're unwell or in difficulty, then we do
our best to help them. This is katannu-katavedi, it is a virtue
that sustains the world. It prevents families from breaking up, it
makes them stable and harmonious.
Today I have brought you the Dhamma as a gift in this time of
illness. I have no material things to give you; there seem to be
plenty of those in the house already, and so I give you Dhamma,
something which has a lasting worth, something which you'll never
be able to exhaust. Having received it from me you can pass it on
to as many others as you like and it will never be depleted. That
is the nature of Truth. I am happy to have been able to give you
this gift of Dhamma, and I hope it will give you strength to deal
with your pain.