One of the most notable features of Venerable Ajahn Chah's teaching
was the emphasis he gave to the Sangha, the monastic order, and its
use as a vehicle for Dhamma practice. This is not to deny his unique
gift for teaching lay people, which enabled him to communicate
brilliantly with people from all walks of life, be they simple
farmers or University professors. But the results he obtained with
teaching and creating solid Sangha communities are plainly visible
in the many monasteries which grew up around him, both within
Thailand and, later, in England, Australia, Europe and elsewhere.
Ajahn Chah foresaw the necessity of establishing the Sangha in the
West if long-term results were to be realized.
This book is a collection of talks he gave to the monastic
communities in Thailand. They are exhortations given to the
communities of //bhikkhus//, or Buddhist monks, at his own
monastery, Wat Ba Pong, and some of its branches. This fact should
be born in mind by the lay reader. These talks are not intended to,
and indeed cannot, serve as an introduction to Buddhism and
meditation practice. They are monastic teachings, addressed
primarily to the lifestyle and problems particular to that
situation. A knowledge of the basics of Buddhism on the part of the
listener was assumed. Many of the talks will thus seem strange and
even daunting to the lay reader, with their emphasis on conformity
For the lay reader, then, it is essential to bear in mind the
environment within which these talks were given -- the rugged,
austere, poverty-stricken North-East corner of Thailand, birth place
of most of Thailand's great meditation teachers and almost its
entire forest monastic tradition. The people of the North-East are
honed by this environment to a rugged simplicity and gentle patience
which make them ideal candidates for the forest monk's lifestyle.
Within this environment, in small halls dimly lit by paraffin lamps,
surrounded by the assembly of monks, Ajahn Chah gave his teachings.
Exhortations by the master occurred typically at the end of the
fortnightly recitation of the Patimokkha, the monks' code of
discipline. Their content would be decided by the current situation
-- slackness in the practice, confusion about the rules, or just
plain "unenlightenment". In a lifestyle characterized by simplicity
and contentment with little, complacency is an ongoing tendency, so
that talks for arousing diligent effort were a regular occurrence.
The talks themselves are spontaneous reflections and exhortations
rather than systematic teachings as most Westerners would know them.
The listener was required to give full attention in the present
moment and to reflect back on his own practice accordingly, rather
than to memorize the teachings by rote or analyze them in terms of
logic. In this way he could become aware of his own shortcomings and
learn how to best put into effect the skillful means offered by the
Although meant primarily for a monastic resident -- be one a
monk, nun or novice -- the interested lay reader will no doubt
obtain many insights into Buddhist practice from this book. At the
very least there are the numerous anecdotes of the Venerable Ajahn's
own practice which abound throughout the book; these can be read
simply as biographical material or as instruction for mind training.
From the contents of this book, it will be seen that the training
of the mind is not, as many believe, simply a matter of sitting with
the eyes closed or perfecting a meditation technique, but is, as
Ajahn Chah would say, a great renunciation.
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