Ajahn Nyanadhammo (1955-present): A kick reminder
When the Buddha described faith he talked about faith in four aspects; faith in the Buddha, the person who has become fully enlightened in this world and teaches the path out of dukkha, and in the Dhamma, those teachings of the Buddha; and in the Sangha, those monks, nuns and lay-people who have realized that truth in their own lives; and in the training. This last one means having faith that this practice we’re doing will yield results. Faith in the training also intrinsically implies faith in our own abilities to realize truth: faith that we can do it.
The lack of conviction in our own ability to do the practice is a common obstacle, so one of the responsibilities of a teacher is to encourage and uplift people. This was one of the things that Ajahn Chah often did. I remember one time having a few difficulties and going to him. He was chatting, and he turned to me and said, “Tan Nyanadhammo, you’ve got very few defilements.” That was at a time when it seemed like my mind was full of defilements! But just those few words gave encouragement.
There was another occasion when I was newly ordained. The food in Ajahn Chah’s monastery was extremely basic: sticky rice, leaves, curries – which were all put in one pot together – and a few bananas, and that was it. As there was very little, some of the monks would get up to serve out the food. You sat with your bowl in front of you and they put the food in your bowl: you didn’t have a choice, you could only say what you didn’t want. One of the Western monks was asked to get up and hand out the food, but he refused, because if he got up then he couldn’t watch his bowl and thereby prevent the Thai monks from putting things in it that would upset his stomach. And because of that they asked me to get up in his place.
A couple days later we went on the same alms round together into the village, and, as we were coming back to the dining-hall, this monk started complaining about the monks who hand out the food. Self-righteous anger came up in me, and I said to him, “Instead of complaining about the other monks, why dont you get up and help us?” And then I stormed off in a huff.
As I was walking, I heard Ajahn Chah’s voice saying Good morning in English. (The only words he knew in English were “Good morning” and “Cup of tea.”) I turned to see him standing only three feet away with a big radiant smile on his face. And I said, “Oh, good morning, Luang Por.” And he radiated loving kindness to me, and the aversion completely disappeared and I was really happy.
That evening I decided, “As Ajahn Chah was very friendly to me, I’ll go over and offer him a foot massage”; that was a way to do some service for him, and often he would teach Dhamma at that time. So he was sitting on a cane seat with me sitting on the floor and massaging his foot when the bell rang for evening chanting. He told the other monks to go to the chanting and I was left together with Ajahn Chah. It was a beautiful cool evening, with the moon coming out full, and the sound of some seventy monks chanting – it was just wonderful. Ajahn Chah sat in meditation as I was massaging his foot – and my mind was on cloud nine, uplifted with joy.
At that point Ajahn Chah kicked me in the chest and knocked me flat on my back! I looked up in shock, and Ajahn Chah pointed at me saying, “See? In the morning someone says something you don’t like and you’re upset. Then someone else just says “Good morning” and you’re uplifted all day. Don’t get caught up in moods and emotions of like and dislike at what other people say.”
Then he gave me a Dhamma talk, and I raised my hands in añjali, and listened to this Dhamma. I remember it to this day, and it always brings a sense of how much compassion he had: he saw a person was walking past with his head steaming; he said “Good morning”, and then he waited until the opportunity arose. Out of the seventy monks in the monastery, and all the nuns, he thought, “Today I’ll teach this person. This one’s really stubborn, I’m going to have to give him a kick! He won’t remember if I dont do it tough.” What has stayed with me is a sense of faith that the teacher is concerned, is motivated by compassion, and motivated to release you from suffering.
The above is extracted from the book ‘The Spiritual Faculties’ which is freely downloadable here. Ajahn Nyanadhammo has been a Buddhist monk since 1979. He was a student of Ajahn Chah, a famous meditation master. He has been abbot of the Buddhist forest monasteries Wat Pa Nanachat & Wat Ratanawan in Northeast Thailand.