This practice of ours is not easy. We may know some things but there
is still much that we don't know. For example, when we hear
teachings such as "know the body, then know the mind within the
body"; or "know the mind, then know the mind within the mind". If we
haven't yet practiced these things, then we hear them we may feel
baffled. The //Vinaya// [*] is like this. In the past I used to be a
teacher, [**] but I was only a "small teacher", not a big one. Why
do I say a "small teacher"? Because I didn't practice. I taught the
//Vinaya// but I didn't practice it. This I call a small teacher, an
inferior teacher. I say an "inferior teacher" because when it came
to the practice I was deficient. For the most part my practice was a
long way off the theory, just as if I hadn't learnt the //Vinaya//
* ["Vinaya" is a generic name given to the code of discipline of the
Buddhist Monastic Order, the rules of the monkhood. "Vinaya"
literally means "leading out," because maintenance of these rules
"leads out" of unskillful actions, and, by extension, unskillful
states of mind; in addition it can be said to "lead out" of the
household life, and, by extension, attachment to the world.]
** [This refers to the Venerable Ajahn's early years in the
monkhood, before he had begun to practice in earnest.]
However, I would like to state that in practical terms it's
impossible to know the //Vinaya// completely, because some things,
whether we know them or not, are still offenses. This is tricky. And
yet it is stressed that if we do not yet understand any particular
training rule or teaching, we must study that rule with enthusiasm
and respect. If we don't know, then we should make an effort to
learn. If we don't make an effort, that is in itself an offense.
For example, if you doubt...suppose there is a woman and, not
knowing whether she is a woman or a man, you touch her. [*] You're
not sure, but still go ahead and touch...that's still wrong. I used
to wonder why that should be wrong, but when I considered the
practice, I realized that a meditator must have //sati//, he must be
circumspect. Whether talking, touching or holding things, he must
first thoroughly consider. The error in this case is that there is
no //sati//, or insufficient //sati//, or a lack of concern at that
* [The second //sanghadisesa// offense, which deals with touching a
woman with lustful intentions.]
Take another example: it's only eleven o'clock in the morning but
at the time the sky is cloudy, we can't see the sun, and we have no
clock. Now suppose we estimate that it's probably afternoon...we
really feel that it's afternoon...and yet we proceed to eat
something. We start eating and then the clouds part and we see from
the position of the sun that it's only just past eleven. This is
still an offense. [*] I used to wonder, "Eh? It's not yet past
mid-day, why is this an offense?"
* [Referring to pacittiya offense No. 36, for eating food outside of
the allowed time -- dawn till noon.]
An offense is incurred here because of negligence, carelessness,
we don't thoroughly consider. There is a lack of restraint. If there
is doubt and we act on the doubt, there is a //dukkata// [*] offense
just for acting in the face of the doubt. We think that it is
afternoon when in fact it isn't. The act of eating is not wrong in
itself, but there is an offense here because we are careless and
negligent. If it really is afternoon but we think it isn't, then
it's the heavier //pacittiya// offense. If we act with doubt,
whether the action is wrong or not, we still incur an offense. If
the action is not wrong in itself it is the lesser offense; if it is
wrong then the heavier offense is incurred. Therefore the //Vinaya//
can get quite bewildering.
* [//Dukkata// -- offenses of "wrong-doing," the lightest class of
offenses in the //Vinaya//, of which there are a great number;
//parajika// -- offenses of defeat, of which there are four, are the
most serious, involving expulsion from the Bhikkhu-Sangha.]
At one time I went to see Venerable Ajahn Mun. [*] At that time I
had just begun to practice. I had read the //Pubbasikkha// [**] and
could understand that fairly well. Then I went on to read the
//Visuddhimagga//, where the author writes of the //Silanidesa//
(Book of Precepts), //Samadhinidesa// (Book of Mind-Training) and
//Pannanidesa// (Book of Understanding)...I felt my head was going
to burst! After reading that, I felt that it was beyond the ability
of a human being to practice. But then I reflected that the Buddha
would not teach something that is impossible to practice. He
wouldn't teach it and he wouldn't declare it, because those things
would be useful neither to himself nor to others. The //Silanidesa//
is extremely meticulous, the //Samadhinidesa// more so, and the
//Pannanidesa// even more so! I sat and thought, "Well, I can't go
any further. There's no way ahead." It was as if I'd reached a
* [Venerable Ajahn Mun Bhuridatto, probably the most renowned and
highly respected Meditation Master from the forest tradition in
Thailand. He had many disciples who have been teachers in their own
right, of whom Ajahn Chah is one. Venerable Ajahn Mun died in 1949.]
** [Pubbasikkha Vannana -- "The Elementary Training" -- a Thai
Commentary on Dhamma-Vinaya based on the Pali Commentaries; the
Visuddhimagga -- "Path to Purity" -- Acariya Buddhagosa's exhaustive
commentary on Dhamma-Vinaya.]
At this stage I was struggling with my practice...I was stuck. It
so happened that I had a chance to go and see Venerable Ajahn Mun,
so I asked him: "Venerable Ajahn, what am I to do? I've just begun
to practice but I still don't know the right way. I have so many
doubts I can't find any foundation at all in the practice."
He asked, "What's the problem?"
"In the course of my practice I picked up the //Visuddhimagga//
and read it, but it seems impossible to put into practice. The
contents of the //Silanidesa//, //Samadhinidesa// and
//Pannanidesa// seem to be completely impractical. I don't think
there is anybody in the world who could do it, it's so detailed and
meticulous. To memorize every single rule would be impossible, it's
He said to me: "Venerable...there's a lot, it's true, but it's
really only a little. If we were to take account of every training
rule in the //Silanidesa// that would be difficult...true...But
actually, what we call the //Silanidesa// has evolved from the human
mind. If we train this mind to have a sense of shame and a fear of
wrong-doing, we will then be restrained, we will be cautious....
"This will condition us to be content with little, with few
wishes, because we can't possibly look after a lot. When this
happens our //sati// becomes stronger. We will be able to maintain
//sati// at all times. Wherever we are we will make the effort to
maintain thorough //sati//. Caution will be developed. Whatever you
doubt don't say it, don't act on it. If there's anything you don't
understand, ask the teacher. Trying to practice every single
training rule would indeed be burdensome, but we should examine
whether we are prepared to admit our faults or not. Do we accept
This teaching is very important. It's not so much that we must
know every single training rule, if we know how to train our own
"All that stuff that you've been reading arises from the mind. If
you still haven't trained your mind to have sensitivity and clarity
you will be doubting all the time. You should try to bring the
teachings of the Buddha into your mind. Be composed in mind.
Whatever arises that you doubt, just give it up. If you don't really
know for sure then don't say it or do it. For instance, if you
wonder, "Is this wrong or not?" -- that is, you're not really sure
-- then don't say it, don't act on it, don't discard your
As I sat and listened, I reflected that this teaching conformed
with the eight ways for measuring the true teaching of the Buddha:
Any teaching that speaks of the diminishing of defilements; which
leads out of suffering; which speaks of renunciation (of sensual
pleasures); of contentment with little; of humility and disinterest
in rank and status; of aloofness and seclusion; of diligent effort;
of being easy to maintain...these eight qualities are
characteristics of the true //Dhamma-vinaya//, the teaching of the
Buddha. anything in contradiction to these is not.
"If we are genuinely sincere we will have a sense of shame and a
fear of wrongdoing. We will know that if there is doubt in our mind
we will not act on it nor speak on it. The //Silanidesa// is only
words. For example, //hiri-ottappa// [*] in the books is one thing,
but in our minds it is another."
* [//Hiri// -- sense of shame; //Ottappa// -- fear of wrong-doing.
//Hiri// and //ottappa// are positive states of mind which lay a
foundation for clear conscience and moral integrity. Their arising
is based on a respect for oneself and for others. Restraint is
natural because of a clear perception of cause and effect.]
Studying the //Vinaya// with Venerable Ajahn Mun I learnt many
things. As I sat and listened, understanding arose.
So, when it comes to the //Vinaya// I've studied considerably.
Some days during the Rains Retreat I would study from six o'clock in
the evening through till dawn. I understand it sufficiently. All the
factors of //apatti// [*] which are covered in the //Pubbasikkha// I
wrote down in a notebook and kept in my bag. I really put effort
into it, but in later times I gradually let go. It was too much. I
didn't know which was the essence and which was the trimming, I had
just taken all of it. When I understood more fully I let it drop off
because it was too heavy. I just put my attention into my own mind
and gradually did away with the texts.
* [//Apatti//: the name to the offenses of various classes for a
However, when I teach the monks here I still take the
//Pubbasikkha// as my standard. For many years here at Wat Ba Pong
it was I myself who read it to the assembly. In those days I would
ascend the Dhamma-seat and go on until at least eleven o'clock or
midnight, some days even one or two o'clock in the morning. We were
interested. And we trained. After listening to the //Vinaya//
reading we would go and consider what we'd heard. You can't really
understand the //Vinaya// just by listening to it. Having listened
to it you must examine it and delve into it further.
Even though I studied these things for many years my knowledge
was still not complete, because there were so many ambiguities in
the texts. Now that it's been such a long time since I looked at the
books, my memory of the various training rules has faded somewhat,
but within my mind there is no deficiency. There is a standard
there. There is no doubt, there is understanding. I put away the
books and concentrated on developing my own mind. I don't have
doubts about any of the training rules. The mind has an appreciation
of virtue, it won't dare do anything wrong, whether in public or in
private. I do not kill animals, even small ones. If someone were to
ask me to intentionally kill an ant or a termite, to squash one with
my hand, for instance, I couldn't do it, even if they were to offer
me thousands of //baht// to do so. Even one ant or termite! The
ant's life would have greater value to me.
However, it may be that I may cause one to die, such as when
something crawls up my leg and I brush it off. Maybe it dies, but
when I look into my mind there is no feeling of guilt. There is no
wavering or doubt. Why? Because there was no intention. //Silam
vadami bhikkhave cetanaham//: "Intention is the essence of moral
training." Looking at it in this way I see that there was no
intentional killing. Sometimes while walking I may step on an insect
and kill it. In the past, before I really understood, I would really
suffer over things like that. I would think I had committed an
"What? There was no intention." "There was no intention, but I
wasn't being careful enough!" I would go on like this, fretting and
So this //Vinaya// is something which can be disturb practicers
of Dhamma, but it also has its value, in keeping with what the
teachers say -- "Whatever training rules you don't yet know you
should learn. If you don't know you should question those who do."
They really stress this.
Now if we don't know the training rules, we won't be aware of our
transgressions against them. Take, for example, a Venerable Thera of
the past, Ajahn Pow of Wat Kow Wong Got in Lopburi Province. One day
a certain //Maha//, [*] a disciple of his, was sitting with him,
when some women came up and asked,
"Luang Por! We want to invite you to go with us on an excursion,
will you go?"
* [//Maha//: a title given to monks who have studied Pali and
completed up to the fourth year or higher.]
Luang Por Pow didn't answer. The //Maha// sitting near him
thought that Venerable Ajahn Pow hadn't heard, so he said,
"Luang Por, Luang Por! Did you hear? These women invited you to
go for a trip."
He said, "I heard".
The women asked again, "Luang Por, are you going or not?"
He just sat there without answering, and so nothing came of the
invitation. When they had gone, the //Maha// said,
"Luang Por, why didn't you answer those women?"
He said, "Oh, //Maha//, don't you know this rule? Those people
who were here just now were all women. If women invite you to travel
with them you should not consent. If they make the arrangements
themselves that's fine. If I want to go I can, because I didn't take
part in making the arrangements."
"The //Maha// sat and thought, "Oh, I've really made a fool of
The //Vinaya// states that to make an arrangement, and then
travel together with, women, even though it isn't as a couple, is a
Take another case. Lay people would bring money to offer
Venerable Ajahn Pow on a tray. He would extend his receiving cloth,
[*] holding it at one end. But when they brought the tray forward to
lay it on the cloth he would retract his hand from the cloth. Then
he would simply abandon the money where it lay. He knew it was
there, but he would take no interest in it, just get up and walk
away, because in the //Vinaya// it is said that if one doesn't
consent to the money it isn't necessary to forbid laypeople from
offering it. If he had desire for it, he would have to say,
"Householder, this is not allowable for a monk". He would have to
tell them. If you have desire for it, you must forbid them from
offering that which is unallowable. However, if you really have no
desire for it, it isn't necessary. You just leave it there and go.
* [A "receiving cloth" is a cloth used by Thai monks for receiving
things from women, from whom they do not receive things directly.
That Venerable Ajahn Pow lifted his hand from the receiving cloth
indicated that he was not actually receiving the money.]
Although the Ajahn and his disciples lived together for many
years, still some of his disciples didn't understand Ajahn Pow's
practice. This is a poor state of affairs. As for myself, I looked
into and contemplated many of Venerable Ajahn Pow's subtler points
The //Vinaya// can even cause some people to disrobe. When they
study it all the doubts come up. It goes right back into the
past..."my ordination, was it proper? [*] Was my preceptor pure?
None of the monks who sat in on my ordination knew anything about
the //Vinaya//, were they sitting at the proper distance? Was the
chanting correct?" The doubts come rolling on..."The hall I ordained
in, was it proper? It was so small..." They doubt everything and
fall into hell.
* [There are very precise and detailed regulations governing the
ordination procedure which, if not adhered to, may render the
So until you know how to ground your mind it's really difficult.
You have to be very cool, you can't just jump into things. But to be
so cool that you don't bother to look into things is wrong also. I
was so confused I almost disrobed because I saw so many faults
within my own practice and that of some of my teachers. I was on
fire and couldn't sleep because of those doubts.
The more I doubted, the more I meditated, the more I practiced.
Wherever doubt arose I practiced right at that point. Wisdom arose.
Things began to change. It's hard to describe the change that took
place. The mind changed until there was no more doubt. I don't know
how it changed, if I were to tell someone they probably wouldn't
So I reflected on the teaching //Paccattam veditabbo vinnuhi// --
the wise must know for themselves. It must be a knowing that arises
through direct experience. Studying the //Dhamma-vinaya// is
certainly correct but if it's just the study it's still lacking. If
you really get down to the practice you begin to doubt everything.
Before I started to practice I wasn't interested in the minor
offenses, but when I started practicing, even the //dukkata//
offenses became as important as the //parajika// offenses. Before,
the //dukkata// offenses seemed like nothing, just a trifle. That's
how I saw them. In the evening you could confess them and they would
be done with. Then you could transgress them again. This sort of
confession is impure, because you don't stop, you don't decide to
change. There is no restraint, you simply do it again and again.
There is no perception of the truth, no letting go.
Actually, in terms of ultimate truth, it's not necessary to go
through the routine of confessing offenses. If we see that our mind
is pure and there is no trace of doubt, then those offenses drop off
right there. That we are not yet pure is because we still doubt, we
still waver. We are not really pure so we can't let go. We don't see
ourselves, this is the point. This //Vinaya// of ours is like a
fence to guard us from making mistakes, so it's something we need to
be scrupulous with.
If you don't see the true value of the //Vinaya// for yourself
it's difficult. Many years before I came to Wat Ba Pong I decided I
would give up money. For the greater part of a Rains Retreat I had
thought about it. In the end I grabbed my wallet and walked over to
a certain //Maha// who was living with me at the time, setting the
wallet down in front of him.
"Here, //Maha//, take this money. From today onwards, as long as
I'm a monk, I will not receive or hold money. You can be my
"You keep it, Venerable, you may need it for your studies"...The
Venerable //Maha// wasn't keen to take the money, he was
"Why do you want to throw away all this money?"
"You don't have to worry about me. I've made my decision. I
decided last night."
From the day he took that money it was as if a gap had opened
between us. We could no longer understand each other. He's still my
witness to this very day. Ever since that day I haven't used money
or engaged in any buying or selling. I've been restrained in every
way with money. I was constantly wary of wrongdoing, even though I
hadn't done anything wrong. Inwardly I maintained the meditation
practice. I no longer needed wealth, I saw it as a poison. Whether
you give poison to a human being, a dog or anything else, it
invariably causes death or suffering. If we see clearly like this we
will be constantly on our guard not to take that "poison." When we
clearly see the harm in it, it's not difficult to give up.
Regarding food and meals brought as offerings, if I doubted them
I wouldn't accept them. No matter how delicious or refined the food
might be, I wouldn't eat it. Take a simple example, like raw pickled
fish. Suppose you are living in a forest and you go on almsround and
receive only rice and some pickled fish wrapped in leaves. When you
return to your dwelling and open the packet you find that it's raw
pickled fish...just throw it away! [*] Eating plain rice is better
than transgressing the precepts. It has to be like this before you
can say you really understand, then the //Vinaya// becomes simpler.
* [The //Vinaya// forbids bhikkhus from eating raw meat or fish.]
If other monks wanted to give me requisites, such as bowl, razor
or whatever, I wouldn't accept, unless I knew them as fellow
practicers with a similar standard of //Vinaya//. Why not? How can
you trust someone who is unrestrained? They can do all sorts of
things. Unrestrained monks don't see the value of the //Vinaya//, so
it's possible that they could have obtained those things in improper
ways. I was as scrupulous as this.
As a result, some of my fellow monks would look askance at
me..."He doesn't socialize, he won't mix..." I was unmoved: "Sure,
we can mix when we die. When it comes to death we are all in the
same boat", I thought. I lived with endurance. I was one who spoke
little. If others criticized my practice I was unmoved. Why? Because
even if I explained to them they wouldn't understand. They knew
nothing about practice. Like those times when I would be invited to
a funeral ceremony and somebody would say, "...Don't listen to him!
Just put the money in his bag and don't say anything about
it...don't let him know." [*] I would say, "Hey, do you think I'm
dead or something? Just because one calls alcohol perfume doesn't
make it become perfume, you know. But you people, when you want to
drink alcohol you call it perfume, then go ahead and drink. You must
* [Although it is an offense for monks to accept money, there are
many who do. Some may accept it while appearing not to, which is
probably how the laypeople in this instance saw the Venerable
Ajahn's refusal to accept money, by thinking that he actually would
accept it if they didn't overtly offer it to him, but just slipped
it into his bag.]
The //Vinaya//, then, can be difficult. You have to be content
with little, aloof. You must see, and see right. Once, when I was
traveling through Saraburi, my group went to stay in a village
temple for a while. The Abbot there had about the same seniority as
myself. In the morning, we would all go on almsround together, then
come back to the monastery and put down our bowls. Presently the
laypeople would bring dishes of food into the hall and set them
down. Then the monks would go and pick them up, open them and lay
them in a line to be formally offered. One monk would put his hand
on the dish at the other end. And that was it! With that the monks
would bring them over and distribute them to be eaten.
About five monks were traveling with me at the time, but not one
of us would touch that food. On almsround all we received was plain
rice, so we sat with them and ate plain rice, none of us would dare
eat the food from those dishes.
This went on for quite a few days, until I began to sense that
the Abbot was disturbed by our behavior. One of his monks had
probably gone to him and said, "Those visiting monks won't eat any
of the food. I don't know what they're up to."
I had to stay there for a few days more, so I went to the Abbot
I said, "Venerable Sir, may I have a moment please? At this time
I have some business which means I must call on your hospitality for
some days, but in doing so I'm afraid there may be one or two things
which you and your fellow monks find puzzling: namely, concerning
our not eating the food which has been offered by the laypeople. I'd
like to clarify this with you, sir. It's really nothing, it's just
that I've learned to practice like this...that is, the receiving of
the offerings, sir. When the lay people lay the food down and then
the monks go and open the dishes, sort them out and then have them
formally offered...this is wrong. It's a //dukkata// offense.
Specifically, to handle or touch food which hasn't yet been formally
offered into a monk's hands, "ruins" that food. According to the
//Vinaya//, any monk who eats that food incurs an offense.
"It's simply this one point, sir. It's not that I'm criticizing
anybody, or that I'm trying to force you or your monks to stop
practicing like this...not at all. I just wanted to let you know of
my good intentions, because it will be necessary for me to stay here
for a few more days.
He lifted his hands in //anjali//, [*] "//Sadhu!// Excellent!
I've never yet seen a monk who keeps the minor rules in Saraburi.
there aren't any to be found these days. If there still are such
monks they must live outside of Saraburi. May I commend you. I have
no objections at all, that's very good."
* [//Anjali// -- The traditional way of making greeting or showing
respect, as with an Indian //Namaste// or the Thai //wai//.
//Sadhu// -- "It is well" -- a way of showing appreciation or
The next morning when we came back from almsround not one of the
monks would go near those dishes. The laypeople themselves sorted
them out and offered them, because they were afraid the monks
wouldn't eat. From that day onwards the monks and novices there
seemed really on edge, so I tried to explain things to them, to put
their minds at rest. I think they were afraid of us, they just went
into their rooms and closed themselves in in silence.
For two or three days I tried to make them feel at ease because
they were so ashamed, I really had nothing against them. I didn't
say things like "There's not enough food," or "bring 'this' or
'that' food." Why not? Because I had fasted before, sometimes for
seven or eight days. Here I had plain rice, I knew I wouldn't die.
Where I got my strength from was the practice, from having studied
and practiced accordingly.
I took the Buddha as my example. Wherever I went, whatever others
did, I wouldn't involve myself. I devoted myself solely to the
practice, because I cared for myself, I cared for the practice.
Those who don't keep the //Vinaya// or practice meditation and
those who do practice can't live together, they must go separate
ways. I didn't understand this myself in the past. As a teacher I
taught others but I didn't practice. This is really bad. When I
looked deeply into it, my practice and my knowledge were as far
apart as earth and sky.
Therefore, those who want to go and set up meditation centers in
the forest...don't do it. If you don't yet really know, don't bother
trying, you'll only make a mess of it. Some monks think that going
to live in the forest they will find peace, but they still don't
understand the essentials of practice. They cut grass for
themselves, [*] do everything themselves...Those who really know the
practice aren't interested in places like this, they won't prosper.
Doing it like that won't lead to progress. No matter how peaceful
the forest may be you can't progress if you do it wrong.
* [Another transgression of the precepts, a //pacittiya// offense.]
They see the forest monks living in the forest and go to live in
the forest like them, but it's not the same. The robes are not the
same, eating habits are not the same, everything is different.
Namely, they don't train themselves, they don't practice. The place
is wasted, it doesn't really work. If it does work, it does so only
as a venue for showing off or publicizing, just like a medicine
show. It goes no further than that. Those who have only practiced a
little and then go to teach others are not yet ripe, they don't
really understand. In a short time they give up and it falls apart.
It just brings trouble.
So we must study somewhat, look at the //Navakovada//, [*] what
does it say? Study it, memorize it, until you understand. From time
to time ask your teacher concerning the finer points, he will
explain them. Study like this until you really understand the
*[//Navakovada// -- A simplified synopsis of elementary
* * * * * * * *