阿  姜  曼  正  傳 

 

第四章第八節:餓鬼眾

      

                 

                 

第四章第八節:餓鬼眾

    為許多來自不同境界的非人說法一直都是阿姜曼在世時必須認真執行的重要義務。不管他身在何處,他總是不斷與這些眾生溝通,特別是當他在山中的時候。在那些偏僻荒涼且杳無人煙的地區裡,每天晚上幾乎都會有一群來自某境界或其他境界的眾生來拜見他,即使是那些仰賴在世親屬功德迴向的餓鬼眾生,也會來尋求他的幫助。我們沒有辦法得知這些孤魂野鬼究竟死了多久、他們生前是來自哪個家族或國家,甚至無法得知他們是否還有在世的親屬。他們希望阿姜曼能慈悲幫助他們找到他們在世的親戚,並要他們去布施,將部分的功德迴向給他們,好減輕他們的痛苦與折磨,使他們的日子可以好過一點。他們大部分已在地獄裡待了一段很難用人類的概念去計算的時間,並承受著言語無法形容的苦難。當他們終於能夠脫離地獄時,他們依然無法逃脫苦難去體驗些微的安樂,相反的,他們的苦痛依然持續不減。對那些困在自己惡業的眾生來說,重生於哪個境界其實差異都不大,因為這些幾乎無助於減輕他們的苦痛。

        餓鬼眾生通常會對阿姜曼哭訴說他們不知道還要等多久的時間才能熬過自己的惡業所帶來的苦果!他們極度渴望著:如果阿姜曼能把他們的困境轉達給他們在世的親屬,那麼這些親屬或許會分享功德善業給他們,好讓他們擺脫難以忍受的折磨。但當阿姜曼問這些孤魂野鬼的親屬在哪裡時,他們總是說一個阿姜曼所不知道的時代。當他們死亡並重生於地獄之後,有些鬼必須先在地獄裡待上約數萬至幾十萬年之久,才會被釋放到另一個痛苦較輕的非人世界裡去承受殘餘的惡業。然後,他們這種孤魂野鬼般的有情還要再歷經另一個五百到一千多年的非人歲月,所以幾乎已不太可能找得到他們的後代。這實在是個既殘酷又諷刺的困境:當他們最重的業果都耗盡後,只需要再承受殘餘且較輕的果報,此時方可以接受親屬的功德迴向幫助,但這個時候卻已找不到任何的親屬了!因此,他們不得不承受業力無止盡的苦難,不知何時才能結束!這樣的孤魂野鬼就像是那些失去主人照料的流浪動物一般。

        另外有些餓鬼則能獲得一些援助,他們通常都是過世不久,而且惡業也沒那麼重的鬼,也就是說他們可以接受在世親屬迴向給他們的功德。因為他們仍記得在世親屬的姓名與地址,且住在離阿姜曼不遠之處,阿姜曼就會給這些鬼一些協助。只要他知道親屬是誰,他就會找適當的機會去跟他們談。他會勸他們舉行特別的法會,將功德迴向給這些期盼利益的去世親人;或更通常的作法是,將每天供養比丘的功德迴向給死去的親人。有些鬼能收得到各地施主布施功德的一部分,就算沒有特別指定迴向給他們,他們也收得到。因此,當阿姜曼將慈心散發給一切眾生時,總是會作這種迴向。根據他們自身的業力特質,有些鬼可以收得到他人的迴向,而有些鬼則只能接收自己親屬的迴向。

        阿姜曼說鬼都是以一種非常奇特的方式存在。從他與鬼魂互動的豐富經驗來看,他發覺鬼遠比其他非人眾生更加麻煩。因為他們自己無法做功德,所以為了生存,鬼必須依賴他人,且對他人總感到虧欠。若是旁人不幫助他們,鬼就是完全絕望無助。他們對旁人的依賴使他們陷入了一種幾乎不可能自給自足且極艱困的處境。

        為自己的今生與來世奠定一個自我依靠的基礎,最重要的關鍵就是慷慨的布施或是其他的善行。一切眾生都是自己業力所造就。他們必須為所遭遇到的果報負起全部的責任,也沒有人可以代替他人承擔業果,因為一個人所造的業是絕不可能在他人的身上結果。不論是良好的或惡劣的出生,以及其間所經歷到不同程度的安樂或痛苦,業果成辦了這一切。就這一點而言,沒有任何眾生可以代他人承受。即便是那些不期望從他們的行為中獲得任何回報的人,他們仍會因自己的業行而獲得應得的相應果報。

        阿姜曼可說是有關鬼、天神、梵天神、夜叉yakkha、龍族與大鵬金翅鳥等這些方面的專家。雖然阿姜曼一直沒有表現出他知道多少,但在各式各樣眾多且微細的非人境界的範圍內,他確實有超人的感應能力。他所知道的鬼故事都相當的恐怖與毛骨悚然,就算那些不怕鬼的人聽了以後也不禁會對故事中那些不可思議的業報力量感到驚悚畏懼。他說如果人類目睹自己與他人所造的善惡業報就像看到水火一般那麼真實的話,那麼就不會有人敢再作壞事了,就像沒有人會跳進熊熊的火堆中一樣!他們只會迫不及待地想造善業;而善業宛如水一般,有清涼與醒腦的作用。如果每個人都能善護自己的行為,避免造孽,那麼這個世界的動亂就會逐漸地減少。

        有一次當阿姜曼對比丘們解說有關天界、地獄與鬼的世界時,他的一位資深弟子提出了他的看法:「既然人類不能親眼目睹天界、地獄或是各種非人眾生,例如鬼、天人、大鵬金翅鳥、龍族等,那麼他們就無法完全了解自己行為的果報;但你可以看得見所有的事情,那麼為了人類的利益著想,跟他們說這些事情不是很好嗎?這些都是正常、自然的現象,佛陀與他的阿羅漢弟子們也都完全清楚,也從來沒有人指責過佛陀與他的弟子教導這些事,所以我不認為會有人反對你這樣做。大家可能會像我們身為您的弟子一樣,對你驚人的超能力讚嘆不已。」

        阿姜曼卻堅決地回答:「你出的這種餿主意會毀了我們兩個。我從來就沒考慮過要公開講這些事。我如果這麼做,你、我、以及所有在座的比丘們,最後都會被人看作是一群瘋子。一旦整個僧團都被認為瘋了,你認為還有哪個寺院會收留我們?『法』都是在深思熟慮之後才可以說出來教導他人,並予以實踐、了解、討論。你剛才不經大腦的建議真的有深思熟慮過嗎?或只是出於一時的魯莽而已?好好地想想吧!在我看來,光是這種想法就已經夠愚蠢瘋狂了,更不用說是真的把它給說出來。就算人家有耐心去聽完我們講這些事,我們自己也一定會完了。所以,幹嘛去說這些事?」

        「如果你指的是我們身旁那些具體可見的事物,世界各地的人都很能以適當及理性的方式去討論。雖然『法』是至高無上的真理,但仍需要世人的依止。所以,我們應該將佛法與世間作一個適當的調和。而佛陀是第一位能清楚洞悉諸法真正性質的人。佛陀以無畏的態度來談論這些現象,但也總能同時以無可指責的睿智來處理這些事情。若是公開談論這些議題,他一定會考慮場合與聽眾的情況,他只會在思考最周延且最細膩的情況下才開始說這些事。」

        「瞭解與洞悉各種非人現象的性質是達到這種感應力的人才特有的能力,但若恣意宣揚這類的知識則會變得相當的怪異反常,一般人不喜歡聽聞這類的事。這並不是在指摘誰,倒不如說,重要的是我們該記住有這些知識的人應該要依照法的規則適當地行事,這樣才能為自己與他人帶來利益。對我們所觀察到的事物感到驚奇與確信,並不足以構成將這些讓人聽了以後可能會精神錯亂的事公諸於眾的充分理由。而那些將宗教信仰建立在聽聞靈異現象且熱衷於這些議題的人,都早已踏上了瘋狂之路。因此,我並不贊同這類的靈異與信仰;我反而希望那些人在面對靈異事件與建立他們的信仰時,能運用佛陀所教導的洞察。儘管我們都並非智慧過人,但至少我們可展現出足夠的判斷力,將正法給維持下去,直到未來。」

        「我問你:假設你很聰明,又有一些錢,那樣的話對你是有好處的;但如果你不聰明,那些錢反而會害了你。而當你要走入人群時,你該如何處置才能確保你與你的財物都平安?」

        那位資深的弟子回答:「我會盡可能採取必要的預防措施來看管好我的錢財。」

        「在這麼多人當中,你究竟要如何看好錢才能避免可能發生的危險?」

        「如果我覺得那裡有可以買的東西,我就會先仔細算好錢,只拿出剛好的錢數,不讓旁人看到我還剩下很多的錢。剩下的金錢我則會好好地收藏起來避免危險。」

        阿姜曼接著說:「很好!現在假設你對於鬼魂與其他的非人眾生具有相當的知識與瞭解,你要如何在眾人的面前妥善處理這類相關的知識,使他人既能得到好處,又同時不會傷害到佛法與你自己,落個臭名遠播的下場?」

        「我想我會像處理錢財的方式一樣,小心使用這類的知識。」

        「就在沒多久之前,你暗示我不考慮後果,應該要對一般民眾廣為宣傳這類的知識,你為什麼要這樣?我認為一般人絕不會做出像你剛才那樣的建議,但你卻這麼做了。如果你連一般人的常識都沒有,那又怎麼會有人在你的身上找到信心?我在你的想法中看不到有任何值得讚許之處。如果有人指責你缺乏判斷力,當你面對這樣的指控時,你又該如何為自己辯解?你想想看,在這世上,究竟是智者比較優秀?還是愚者?如果照你剛才的建議去做,又如何能使正法延續下去?」

        他的弟子回答:「現在想起來,我發覺剛才的建議完全是錯的。我會這樣建議是因為聽了這麼驚奇的事之後想要與每個人分享。我以為他們或許能從中獲得啟示並得到莫大的利益。但我卻忘了公開這些事會對整個教法產生不利的影響。請慈悲原諒我,我不希望將來我的個性中會有這種輕率的傾向,我將會更加謹慎小心,以免類似的事再發生。」

        「若有人指摘我缺乏判斷力,我會虛心並欣然接受。直到您剛才的質問以前,我從沒有想過世上是愚蠢的人或有智慧的人那個比較多的問題。現在,從我的家鄉中只有寥寥可數的智者會認真看待道德與戒律的這件事來看,我便肯定這世上是愚蠢的人遠多過有智慧的人。在大多數的情況下,人類似乎不知自己生在世上的意義為何,也不知將往何處去。他們並不熱衷思考自己為什麼要這麼做,也不管事情的好或壞、對或錯。他們只滿足於當下輕鬆可得的事物,讓命運全權決定自己的未來。我現在更明白這些道理了。能夠護法並使其持續興盛的人,肯定是謹慎且深具智慧的人,他們會以一種平穩和諧的方式引領他人,使每一個人都可以從他們的風範中受益。就如同各行各業中需要有能力的領導者,一位謹慎、睿智的老師則是修行有成的基石。」

        阿姜曼此時接著說:「既然你能夠瞭解各種努力的成功不能缺少有智慧的人,那麼你為什麼不想想你自己在修頭陀行的過程中,什麼才是真正重要的事?精神修持的努力非常的微妙,很難全然理解。因此,只有聰明與謹慎的人才能護法,直到圓滿成就。我在這裡所指的並不是會造成世間的災難並貶損正法的那種小聰明,而是指能明智地思辨並為自己與他人帶來物質與精神富足的決定。這種型態的聰明隱含在八正道中的前兩項:『正見』與『正思惟』,即正確的見解觀念與正確合理地思維。若有人將這兩項內化於人格中,那麼他的言行必定符合智慧之道。」

        「即使是正定也是要依靠正見的分析與探索的智慧,才不致墜入昏沈邪定。當收攝凝神於定境時,智慧應該一直從旁給予協助。否則,致力於瞭解諸法性質的修行者又怎能正確地處理從心中生起的禪相呢?又怎能處理接觸外界的現象呢?如果智慧不從旁協助,必然會判斷錯誤。」

        「與禪定息息相關的內外現象,其變化是無窮無盡的,要抑制對這些現象的覺知,只有靠每個人自己的天性。那些敏感的人自然會覺知這些現象,沒有什麼能阻止他們這麼做。但這裡的關鍵因素是智慧,智慧會分析這些生起的現象,然後選擇適合的所緣,將心思專注在所緣之上,其餘的念頭則會自行的消失,不會帶來干擾。那些缺乏智慧的人甚至連靜坐一次都很難熬得過,因為他們會發現自己被念頭攪得忽喜忽憂,一下對這個欣喜若狂,一下對那個沮喪萬分,這些都是衝擊內心的情緒反應,最後會被所緣境給纏縛住。除非智慧生起並有效地處理它們,不然這種擾人的情緒糾結是永遠不會斷除的。智慧可以做出正確的抉擇,它會忽略那些沒有用的,只專注在必要的所緣之上,因此可以指出禪修時所應前往的方向。」

        「我們出家成為一名佛教比丘的目的是為了追尋知識與智慧,好讓我們能發展出受世人欽佩的那些正直的特質。我們在這裡並不是要誇示那些屈服在無明的狡猾伎倆下的無能,而是應該要發展出自己能擊垮無明的聰明戰略,進而回擊無明的詭計。如果沒有適當的防護措施,就等於是讓自己陷於險境。正法的法則與比丘的戒律就是比丘的盔甲,而正念與觀智則是主要兵器。如果我們希望禪修能隨時都穩定,就必須在日常生活中保持正念與觀智。正念與觀智必須滲透到我們的身、口、意之中,只有這樣我們才能確保我們的修行正確無誤。」

        「我衷心希望我的弟子們都能展現出毫不妥協的毅力去滅苦,並運用正念與觀智去監督這項工作。如此,你們才有資格領受強調妥善運用之重要的無上佛法。我不希望看到我的弟子們因為懶惰與自滿而無法從事免於後患的必要修行,陷在情緒糾結的迷惑中愚蠢地掙扎。所以,絕對不要漠視這項隨時都該修行的功課。」

        「一個致力於解脫生死的比丘會全神貫注在最崇高的精進之上。再也沒有其他的工作會比讓心超脫苦與了脫生死更加的困難。它需要在各方面都盡心盡力,包括以犧牲生命作為代價的決意。當『精進』試著把你們從無明的深淵裡給救拔出來時,把性命託付給它吧!不像其他型態的工作,這裡沒有任何的灰色地帶。如果你想體驗未曾經驗過的奇妙成果,那麼基於『法』的理由,你們就必須冒這個險,因為沒有其他的方法可以達到此目標。你們一定要有不惜犧牲生命去跳脫生死輪迴的決意,只有這樣你們才能免於來世出生受苦的包袱。」

        「我自己從來就沒有想過在世時會當一名老師,因為我想超越生死大海的決意遠強過於對生命的貪愛執取。在所有的情況下,我所有的精進都是朝向一個比生命更重要的目標,我絕不容許因失去生命的擔憂而干擾了我的目的。這種維持我走向解脫道的決心,引領著我的行動,也使我承受著持續的壓力。我下定決心,如果身體無法承受壓力,我寧可死。在過去世我已死過無數次,而我也已厭倦了死亡。但如果能活下去,我只想要證得與佛陀所證悟一樣的法。我沒有其他的願望,因為我已經厭倦各種世俗的成就。在當時,我最重要的願望就是避免再生及再次陷入生死輪迴中。」

        「我為了證果所付出的精進,就好比一個永不歇止的渦輪機,或可稱之為『法輪』,它日夜不停地運轉就只為了削斷每一個殘存的煩惱。只有在睡覺時,我才會允許自己在這種嚴格的修行中稍稍休息一下。當我一睜開眼,就立刻回到修行中,用念力、慧力、信力與精進力去連根拔除並摧毀這些仍殘留的頑固無明。在這場酣戰中,我堅持不懈,一直到念力、慧力、信力與精進力都徹底摧毀所有的煩惱為止。直到那時起,我才可以鬆一口氣。從那一刻起,我確知無明已確實被擊潰了,再也無法捲土重來作怪,但我的身體色蘊依然存在,並沒有隨著無明一起消散。」

        「這是你們該認真思惟的事。你們想以無畏死亡的態度邁進並努力拋下長期以來在心中造成痛苦包袱的迷惑?還是你們仍堅持停留在必須死亡與投生這種慘況的懊悔中?快想想吧!不要讓自己陷在苦當中,若錯失了良機,必將遺憾終生。」

        「戰勝無明的戰場就存在於每一個為了爭取解脫而以智慧、信心與精進當武器的人的心中。若認為自己還年輕又健康,還有很多的時間,這種想法只會適得其反。修行的比丘應該要毅然消除這種想法。不管是生起智慧或是做出錯誤的判斷,全都是因為心,所以你們不應該把注意力放在自身以外的事物。既然身、口、意的活動從未停止,那麼就仔細觀照它們,並看清楚它們所產生的果報。它們究竟能帶來可對治冷漠或放蕩縱欲的『法』?又或者它們是一種滋養顛倒妄想的補藥,使無明更加強大,以致不斷的生死輪迴?但不管它們是什麼,都一定要徹底觀照身、口、意;否則,你們只會一事無成,且永遠無法克服纏繞這世間的苦痛與不幸。」

        這名建議阿姜曼不考慮對象便對大家公開超自然經驗的比丘,阿姜曼的回應是激烈與不妥協的。他回答的重點引出了一個很少聽過且值得注意的「法」,照理來說這位比丘似乎不太可能會受到阿姜曼如此嚴厲的責備,或許是這位比丘故意要這麼說,好讓阿姜曼能藉此教導我們。就我所知,若不是因為發生特殊的事件使他的心做出回應,否則阿姜曼都是以一種平順、淺顯的方式在說法,特別是當主題很深奧的時候。但是在這個時候他的聽眾總覺得好像少了些什麼而感到意猶未盡。然而如果是某人藉由提問而開始,或因為聽到有比丘在戲論法義而感到不悅,或是比丘們的討論引起了他的興趣,這時他內心的「法」便開始激盪與流動,會以一種讓聽眾感興趣且興奮的不尋常方式展現出來。

        每當阿姜曼做了這樣的開示以後,都深深令他的聽眾感動到無以復加。而我自己,脾氣相當的急躁,我更喜歡聽他嚴厲的訓誡,這樣更適合我的習氣。因此,我認為那些利用各種方法讓阿姜曼做出嚴厲告誡的比丘們,實際上都是利用自己的聰明機智去想出這些聰明的誘因。由於他們很可能是想要從阿姜曼的回答中獲益,所以他們不盡然都是錯的。啟發我最深的法的開示一定都是在我對他提出深入且誘發性的問題後才開始的,而他的開示也都是直接針對我個人,不像那種對所有比丘的開示。在和他同住了一段時間後,有一次,我才發現有很多可以促使他說法的不同方式,不必等到僧團聚會集結時由他自己提出這些問題。

        有一次,阿姜曼與三、四位比丘一起住在Chiang Dao的一處隱蔽石窟裡。經過了三個晚上以後,阿姜曼對比丘們說他在禪定中看到在附近陡峭的山坡上有一處寬敞且適合居住的石窟。他告訴他們過去有許多辟支佛曾住在那裡,但現在僧眾已不能住了,因為那裡的坡度太陡且地勢過高,所以在托缽步行的距離內找不到可以乞得食物的地方。他要比丘們爬上山去看那個石窟,並叮囑他們一定要攜帶足夠的食物。由於沒有能通往山上的路徑,所以他們只好使盡全力爬到山頂,而那個石窟離山頂非常的近。

        比丘們在在家人的陪同下爬到了山峰。在山峰上,他們發現了一個美麗又寬敞的石窟,就跟阿姜曼所預言的一模一樣。這裡的空氣很清新,景致宜人,引人入勝。比丘們對這項發現都感到開心而不想離開,他們希望永遠留在那裡修行。可惜的是,石窟的地勢過高,而且離最近的村莊也太遠了,以致他們無法到村落去托缽。當準備的食物幾乎都要被吃光時,他們不得不回到阿姜曼所居住的石窟。就在他們回來後,阿姜曼便詢問他們對那個石窟的印象如何。

        「怎麼樣?那個石窟如何?是不是很美?在禪定中看到後,我就知道它既美麗又寬敞,並希望大家都能去看一看,我相信你們一定都會喜歡。我們剛到此處時,我並不認為這座山有什麼察看的必要。但經過幾天的觀察後,我發現它蘊藏著許多奇異且不可思議的東西。你們去過的那個石窟一直都有地居天神守護著,如果有人在那裡做出不當的行為,都必將受到懲罰。當我要你們上山時,我忘了提醒你們那個石窟有天神守護,也忘了警告你們要隨時克制自己,謹言慎行。我不要你們大聲喧嘩或製造噪音,因為這些都不是比丘該有的行為,我擔心守護石窟的天神一旦被激怒,可能會藉由突如其來的意外讓你們不好過。」

        比丘們對阿姜曼表示他們希望能待在那個石窟裡久一些,但是阿姜曼則堅持無論那個地方有多好,因為無法乞得食物,所以不可能在那裡居住。阿姜曼以一種很務實的方式去談論那個石窟,就彷彿他實際上已去看過很多次。當然,他連一次都沒有去過,因為那裡實在太過陡峭,很難攀爬。不過,他確定禪定中所生起的訊息絕不是幻覺,所以他是以這份確信來談論那個石窟。

        阿姜曼一向告誡他的弟子不管到何處都要謹言慎行,因為那些住在曠野的天神比較喜歡一切都整齊乾淨。當地居天神目睹比丘邋遢的行為時,譬如像一具屍體四肢伸展仰躺在地上隨意睡覺,或像個傻瓜一樣翻來覆去在睡夢中說著含糊的囈語,儘管他們知道一個睡著的人是不可能控制自己的行為,但他們還是會感到相當的厭惡,天神就經常會向阿姜曼說明他們對這件事的看法:

        「僧眾在各地眾生的心中都占有相當崇高與值得尊敬的地位,所以他們的舉止都該隨時善加防護與自律,就算睡覺時也一樣。一位比丘的外表應盡可能端正與令人愉悅,絕不可讓人覺得反感或有攻擊性。我們討厭看到比丘的舉止失當,就像普通的在家人一樣不留意行為的後果,特別是因為自律所需要的謹慎都是他們能控制的。這不是我們有意要挑剔比丘。各界的天神都很感恩有機會向能那些舉止可樹立典範的比丘們頂禮,因為我們都很珍視戒德並非常希望能護法。我們向您提這件事是希望您可以提醒您的弟子們要有令天神與人類都尊敬的行為。值得尊敬的比丘,會令每個境界的天人對『法』都更加的尊重。」

        阿姜曼將天神對他所說的話一直告誡弟子們,如果住在天神所喜愛的偏遠山區時,必須將他們的生活資具保持整潔有序。就算是用來擦腳的布也應該整齊疊好,不可隨意丟置。他規定弟子們只能在適當的地方解手,而且必須先仔細考慮周圍的區域後才能挖掘茅坑。有時阿姜曼會明白告訴比丘們不要在某棵特定的樹下或特定的區域挖掘茅坑,因為如果有天神住在那一棵樹裡或當有其他的天神來拜訪他而經過那一個區域時,便會感到不悅。

        那些很熟悉天人世界的比丘們都已經不需要再提醒了,因為他們已很清楚正確的行為舉止。阿姜曼有許多的弟子都具有這種能力,然而,他們的這種能力都是在曠野中開發出來的,所以他們都不願公開談論這些事,深怕各地那些有學問的在家人會因此取笑他們。但在頭陀比丘的僧團裡,只要聽到他們談論各類來訪的天神,或他們與天神對談的內容,就很容易得知他們有這項能力。同時,我們也可以藉此看出每個比丘所證的果位。        

         

Giving helpful advice to nonphysical beings from many diverse realms of existence was a serious responsibility that Ãcariya Mun continued to fulfill right up to the time of his death. He was in constant communication with such beings wherever he lived, but more so in the mountain regions. There, in remote wilderness areas, far from human habitation, one group or another visited with him almost every night. Even hungry ghosts, awaiting offerings of merit dedicated to them by their living relatives, came to seek his assistance. It was impossible to tell how long they had been dead, what family or nationality they had once belonged to, or even whether or not those ghosts had any living relatives left at all. In contacting Ãcariya Mun they hoped that, out of compassion, he would assist them by finding their living relatives and telling them to make donations, dedicating a portion of the merit to the dead to help lessen their torment and suffering and make their lives more bearable. Many of them had already suffered unspeakable miseries in hell for such a long time that it was impossible to calculate the length of their stay in terms of human existence. When they were finally able to rise clear of the hell realms, they still could not evade such misfortune sufficiently to experience some measure of comfort; instead, their suffering continued unabated. For beings who are stuck with the consequences of their evil kamma, it matters little which state of existence they are born into, since very little changes to help alleviate their suffering.

Hungry ghosts used to tell Ãcariya Mun they had no idea how long it would take them to work their way through the consequences of their evil deeds. They clung to one desperate hope: if he could kindly inform living relatives of their plight, those relatives might be willing to share the merit of their good deeds with them, allowing them to escape from such unbearable torment. When he questioned the hungry ghosts about their relatives, they talked about another world altogether, one that was incomprehensible to him. Having died and been reborn in one of the realms of hell, some had remained there for tens or even hundreds of thousands of years in nonphysical existence before being released into another lesser state where they had to work through the remainder of their evil kamma. Their ghostlike existence then lasted another five hundred to a thousand nonphysical years, so it was quite impossible to trace their family lineage. Such was the cruel irony of their karmic dilemma: by the time that the most severe consequences of their kamma were exhausted and only the lesser aspects remained – a state where they could finally receive assistance from their relatives – they had lost all track of their families. So they had no choice but to suffer that karmic misery indefinitely, without any idea when it would end. Such ghosts resembled stray animals who have no owners to care for them.

Other hungry ghosts could be helped somewhat, for they died only recently and their kamma was not so severe – meaning that they were in a position to receive merit dedicated to them by their relatives. Since they had living relatives whose names and addresses they could recall, Ãcariya Mun was able to give them some assistance as long as their families lived in the vicinity where he was residing. Once he knew who they were, he looked for an opportunity to speak with them. He advised them to dedicate to their dead relatives, who awaited, the merit they made by performing special religious functions – or more commonly, by daily offerings of food to the monks. Some ghosts are able to receive a portion of the merit made by generous people everywhere even though it is not specifically dedicated to them. Therefore, Ãcariya Mun always made such dedications while extending loving kindness to all living beings. According to the specific nature of their kamma, some ghosts can receive merit dedicated by anyone, while others can receive only the merit that is personally dedicated to them by their relatives.

Ãcariya Mun said that ghosts live a very peculiar type of existence. From his extensive experience with them, he always found ghosts far more bothersome than any other class of nonphysical beings. Having no recourse to merit of their own, ghosts depend on and always feel indebted to others for their survival. Should these others fail them, the ghosts are left completely destitute. Their dependence on others puts them in the extremely difficult position of never being able to stand on their own.

Generosity and other forms of merit-making are vitally important as the key elements for laying a foundation of individual self-reliance in this and in all future lives. All living beings are the product of their kamma. They themselves must take full responsibility for the consequences they encounter. No one else can accept that responsibility because no one can experience the kamma generated by another. Births, both good and bad, and the relative degrees of comfort and pain one experiences therein, are the sole responsibility of the individual who created the circumstances that produced these outcomes. No being can substitute for another in this regard. Even those who expect no benefit from their actions still receive the karmic credit for them.

Ãcariya Mun was an expert in matters concerning ghosts, devas, brahmas, yakkhas, nãgas, and garuðas. Although he did not always reveal the extent of his knowledge, he had the ability to explore endless varieties of phenomena within the many gross and refined nonphysical states of existence that lie beyond the range of human perception. His stories about ghosts were quite hair-raising – even those without fear of ghosts couldn’t help but feel trepidation about the mysterious powers of kamma. He said that if only people could see their own and other people’s good and bad kamma in the way they see substantive things, like water and fire, no one would dare do evil anymore than they would dare walk into a blazing fire. Instead, they would be eager to do only good – which has the cool, refreshing quality of water. Trouble would gradually diminish in the world as each person worked to guard himself against the dangers of evil.

ONCE WHEN ÃCARIYA MUN was explaining about heaven, hell, and the ghost realms to the monks, one of his senior disciples spoke up: “Since people cannot actually see heaven and hell or the various nonphysical beings like ghosts, devas, garuðas, and nãgas, they can’t fully understand the ultimate consequences of their actions. But you can see all those things, so wouldn’t it be a good idea for you to elucidate them for the benefit of people everywhere? All are natural phenomena which were clearly understood by the Lord Buddha and his Arahant disciples. No one has ever faulted the Buddha and his disciples for teaching people about them, so I don’t see why anyone should object to your doing so. People are likely to show the same appreciation for your amazing talents as we, your disciples, do.”

Ãcariya Mun was adamant in his response:

The kind of craziness that you suggest will destroy us both. I have never considered speaking out publicly about this matter. Should I do so, you and I and the rest of the monks sitting here would end up being a bunch of lunatics. And once the whole monastery has gone mad, what kind of monastic asylum do you think would accept us all? The sãsana was proclaimed and taught with discretion – to be practiced, understood, and spoken about with discretion. This nonsense you suggest – is it really a matter of discretion, or is it something foolhardy? Think about it. In my opinion, the very thought of it is crazy, let alone actually suggesting it. Even though people might survive listening to us talk about it, we ourselves would surely be doomed. So why bring it up?

If you consider the tangible, visible things all around us, people everywhere are quite capable of dealing with them in an appropriate, reasonable manner. Although Dhamma is the Supreme Truth, it still counts on the involvement of people in the world, so we should always work to harmonize the proprieties of society with the Truth of Dhamma. The Buddha was the first to clearly know and understand the true nature of all phenomena. He spoke about them with absolute assurance, but he was always impeccably discreet in the way he handled these issues. Speaking publicly about any of them, he invariably took the specific circumstances and the people he was addressing into consideration. He spoke then only with the utmost discernment and discretion.

Knowledge and understanding about the diverse nature of nonphysical phenomena is a prerogative of the one who has attained that kind of perception. But talking away indiscriminately about such knowledge is quite abnormal, so normal people are reluctant to listen. This is not intended to be a criticism of anyone. Rather, what’s important to keep in mind here is that those who do possess such knowledge should act properly according to the principles of Dhamma – for their own benefit and for the benefit of everyone associating with them. Being convinced of the amazing nature of what we have perceived is not sufficient reason to speak out about things which may encourage others to go mad. Those people, who are keen on listening to such talk simply because their religious conviction is dependent on hearing about amazing phenomena, are already on the road to madness. So I don’t approve of conviction and amazement of this kind. I’d prefer that the kind of discernment the Lord Buddha taught us be used by people in their convictions, and in their sense of amazement. Even though we aren’t all exceptionally wise, at least there’s hope that enough good judgment will be shown to maintain the sãsana, preserving it for the future.

Let me ask you this: Suppose you had a certain amount of money which could be useful to you if you were clever, but harmful to you if you weren’t. How would you handle it when going into a crowd of people to insure that both you and your money were safe?”

The senior disciple replied: “I’d take every reasonable precaution to look after my money.”

How exactly would you go about looking after it in a large crowd of people to avoid any possible danger?”

If I felt it was appropriate to spend some of my money there, I’d take care to count out and hand over the necessary amount without allowing anyone to see the larger amount that I still had with me. That amount I’d keep well hidden from view to avoid any possible danger.”

Acariya Mun then said: “Okay now, let’s suppose that you possess a certain knowledge and understanding about ghosts and other nonphysical beings. How would you handle that knowledge discreetly in relation to others so that it would be of some benefit to them without becoming an issue of widespread, public notoriety, which could be harmful to both you and the sãsana?”

I’d have to use the same kind of care in handling such knowledge that I’d use in handling my money.”

Just a moment ago, you implied that I should broadcast my knowledge about such phenomena to the general public without ever considering the consequences. Why was that? I figure that the average discriminating person would never suggest what you just did, and yet you spoke right up. If you don’t even have the common sense of the average person, what will anyone find to admire in you? I fail to see anything at all admirable in your thinking. Should someone reproach you for lacking judgment, how would you defend yourself when confronted with the truth of this accusation? Think about it: Which are the greater in this world, the wise or the foolish? And how would anyone be able to reasonably maintain the sãsana and preserve its continued welfare by following the suggestion you made to me just now?”

His disciple replied: “Thinking about it now, I feel that what I suggested was totally wrong. I spoke up because hearing about such amazing things has so inspired me that I wanted to share this knowledge with people everywhere. I assumed they would probably be inspired as well and so benefit enormously from it. But I never considered the obvious adverse consequences that such a disclosure would have for the whole sãsana. Please be kind enough to forgive me – I don’t want to see this tendency to be indiscreet become ingrained in my character. I shall try to be more circumspect in the future so that it doesn’t happen again.

If someone reproaches me for lacking judgment, I will gladly admit my mistake for I clearly deserve the criticism. Until you asked me just now, I had never really considered whether or not the fools outnumber the wise. Now I realize that there must be many more fools in this world, since in our village communities there are very few wise people who care about moral issues. Mostly, people don’t seem to know what they’re here for and where they are going. They aren’t very interested in thinking about why they do things and whether they do right or wrong, good or bad. Being satisfied with whatever is easy and convenient at the moment, they simply let fate decide their future. I understand all this a lot better now. Those people who are capable of reasonably maintaining the sãsana and preserving its continued welfare must be wise and discerning people who lead others in an even, harmonious manner so that everyone can benefit from their example. A wise, discerning teacher is the cornerstone of success in the same way that a capable leader is essential to all affairs in all walks of life.”  

Ãcariya Mun took up the discussion at this point:

Since you’re capable of understanding that a wise person is essential to the success of every endeavor, why don’t you think about what’s important in your own endeavors as a practicing monk? Spiritual endeavors, being very subtle, are difficult to fully understand. For this reason, only clever, discerning people can uphold the sãsana to perfection. Here I’m not referring to the kind of cleverness that causes destruction in the world and damage to the sãsana, but cleverness that discriminates wisely, making decisions favorable to one’s material and spiritual prosperity. It’s this type of cleverness that’s implicit in the first two factors of the Noble Eightfold Path: Sammã-diååhi and Sammã-sankappo – Right View and Right Thought. And these factors are personified by someone whose words and actions always follow the principles of wisdom.

Even Right Samãdhi is dependent on the analytical, probing wisdom of Right View to avoid becoming ‘comatose samãdhi’. When the citta converges into a state of calm, wisdom should always be there, playing a supportive role. Otherwise, how could those dedicated to understanding the true nature of all phenomena deal correctly with the knowledge arising within the citta, or the external phenomena with which it comes into contact? If wisdom is not there to help, one is bound to make mistakes in judgment.

The diversity of internal and external phenomena that can become involved with samãdhi is limitless, the perception of them being limited only by each individual’s natural inclinations. Those so inclined will naturally perceive such phenomena and nothing can prevent them from doing so. But the key factor here is wisdom. Wisdom analyzes arising phenomena and then chooses the ones that are suitable to focus on, so that the rest can be allowed to pass by without causing trouble. Those lacking wisdom will even have a hard time successfully getting through the samãdhi practice: they will find themselves being pleased with this perception or displeased with that one, ecstatic about this, despondent about that – all are emotional reactions impinging on the heart, causing it to become attached. Unless wisdom is present to effectively deal with them, such disturbing emotional attachments can never be eliminated. Wisdom can to be selective, ignoring what is superfluous to focus on what is essential thus indicating the direction in which one’s practice should proceed.

Our purpose in being ordained as Buddhist monks is to search for knowledge and wisdom so that we can develop those virtuous qualities admired by people everywhere. We aren’t here to parade our ineptitude in front of the kilesas by succumbing to their devious tricks, but rather to develop clever tactics of our own to outmaneuver the kilesas, thus countering their tricks. Living without an adequate means of protection, we leave ourselves in a very precarious position. The principles of Dhamma and the monastic discipline are a monk’s protective armor, while mindfulness and wisdom are his preferred weapons. If we want to remain steady in our practice and be constant in all situations, we must maintain mindfulness and wisdom in all our daily activities. Mindfulness and wisdom must permeate all that we think, say, or do – without exception. Only then can we be certain of our mode of practice.

I’d really like to see all my students display uncompromising diligence in their efforts to transcend dukkha, using mindfulness and wisdom to oversee this work. You will thus make yourselves worthy recipients of the Buddha’s outstanding teaching which stresses the importance of using skillful means in all circumstances. I have no desire to see my students floundering foolishly in a state of confusion about emotional attachments because complacency and laziness keep them from doing the work necessary to carry them beyond these dangers. So don’t be indifferent to the work at hand.

A practicing monk who is striving to cross beyond the world of saÿsãra is engaged in the noblest form of endeavor. No other kind of work is more demanding than the task of lifting the heart beyond the pain and suffering experienced in saÿsãra. It requires unstinting effort on all fronts – including a willingness to sacrifice your life. Entrust your life to your own diligent efforts as they attempt to pull you from the abyss of the kilesas. Unlike other types of work, there is no room for ambiguity here. If you want to realize the wondrous results that you have yet to experience, you must persist in putting your life on the line for the sake of Dhamma. No other method can be expected to achieve the right result. You must be willing to give your life to transcend the world of saÿsãra. Only then will you be free of the burden of dukkha in future births.

I myself never expected to survive and become a teacher, for my determination to transcend saÿsãra was much stronger than my concern for staying alive. All my efforts in all circumstances were directed toward a goal beyond life. I never allowed regrets about losing my life to distract me from my purpose. The desire to maintain my course on the path to liberation kept me under constant pressure and directed my every move. I resolved that if my body could not withstand the pressure, I would just have to die. I had already died so many countless times in the past that I was fed up with dying anyway. But were I to live, I desired only to realize the same Dhamma that the Buddha had attained. I had no wish to achieve anything else, for I had had enough of every other type of accomplishment. At that time, my overriding desire was to avoid rebirth and being trapped once more in the cycle of birth and death.

The effort that I put forth to attain Dhamma can be compared to a turbine, rotating non-stop, or to a ‘Wheel of Dhamma’ whirling ceaselessly day and night as it cuts its way through every last vestige of the kilesas. Only at sleep did I allow myself a temporary respite from this rigorous practice. As soon as I woke up, I was back at work, using mindfulness, wisdom, faith, and diligence to root out and destroy those persistent kilesas that still remained. I persevered in that pitched battle with the kilesas until mindfulness, wisdom, faith and diligence had utterly destroyed them all. Only then could I finally relax. From that moment on, I knew for certain that the kilesas had been vanquished – categorically, never to return and cause trouble again. But the body, not having disintegrated along with the kilesas, remained alive.

This is something you should all think about carefully. Do you want to advance fearlessly in the face of death, and strive diligently to leave behind the misery that’s been such a painful burden on your hearts for so long? Or do you want to persist in your regrets about having to die, and so be reborn into this miserable condition again? Hurry up and think about it! Don’t allow yourselves to become trapped by dukkha, wasting this opportunity you’ll regret it for a long time to come.

The battlefield for conquering the kilesas exists within each individual who practices with wisdom, faith, and perseverance as weapons for fighting his way to freedom. It is very counterproductive to believe that you have plenty of time left since you’re still young and in good health. Practicing monks should decisively reject such thinking. It is the heart alone that engenders all misjudgment and all wisdom, so you should not focus your attention outside of yourself. Since they are constantly active, pay close attention to your actions, speech, and thoughts to determine the kind of results they produce. Are they producing Dhamma, which is an antidote to the poisons of apathy and self-indulgence; or are they producing a tonic that nourishes the delusions that cause dukkha, giving them strength to extend the cycle of existence indefinitely? Whatever they are, the results of your actions, speech, and thoughts should be thoroughly examined in every detail; or else, you’ll encounter nothing but failure and never rise above the pain and misery that haunt this world.”

Ãcariya Mun’s response to the monk, who suggested that he teach people indiscriminately about the unusual phenomena he experienced, was fierce and uncompromising. The gist of his reply makes for a remarkable Dhamma teaching – one that is seldom heard. It seems unlikely that the monk deserved a condemnation as strong as Ãcariya Mun’s stirring rebuke might have suggested. Perhaps speaking up was his way of prompting Ãcariya Mun into giving us a talk. As far as I could tell, if nothing out of the ordinary happened to strike his heart and provoke a response, Ãcariya Mun preferred to speak in a smooth, easy manner – especially when the subject was very profound. At such times, however, his listeners often felt something missing and were not fully satisfied with his teaching. But if someone started something by asking him a question, or if he became annoyed hearing some monks talk ambiguously about Dhamma, or if their discussion piqued his interest, then the Dhamma in his heart began to stir and stream forth, expressing itself in unusual ways that lent fire and excitement to our listening.

Each time Ãcariya Mun delivered a declamation of this kind his audience felt deeply moved in a way that’s difficult to describe. I myself, having a rather rough temperament, always preferred listening to his fiery exhortations since they fit so well with my natural disposition. For this reason, I reckon that those monks who employed various means to provoke Ãcariya Mun into fiery talks were in fact using their ingenuity to come up with clever provocations. Since they probably intended to benefit from his response, they were not entirely in the wrong. The resolute Dhamma expositions that inspired me the most invariably occurred when I asked him probing, prodding questions. His explanations then were bound to be directed personally at me, unlike the general explanations meant for all the monks. Once I had lived with him for some time, I came to know many different ways of eliciting his comments without waiting for him to bring these matters up himself in a general monastic meeting.

ONCE ÃCARIYA MUN and three or four monks were living in a secluded cave in Chiang Dao province. After passing three nights there, Ãcariya Mun told the monks that, in his meditation, he had seen a spacious, inviting cave situated high up a steep mountain slope in the area nearby. He told them that many Paccekabuddhas 26 had resided there in the past, but that nowadays monks couldn’t live there: the ascent was too steep and the location too high for finding a place within walking distance where they could obtain alms food. He told the monks to climb up the mountain to look at the cave, and insisted they take a supply of food with them. Since there was no path leading up to the mountain, they would have to climb as best they could until they reached the summit. The cave was situated a short distance from the very top.   

Taking several lay people along, the monks made the climb to the summit where they found a beautiful, spacious cave, exactly as Ãcariya Mun had predicted. The air was clear and the ambiance pleasant and inviting. The monks were so pleased with their discovery that they didn’t want to leave. They would have preferred to remain there indefinitely, practicing meditation. Unfortunately, the cave was so high up and so far from the nearest village that they had no place to go for almsround. When the food they brought was nearly exhausted, they had to come back down to the cave where Ãcariya Mun resided. Upon their return, he asked them about their impressions.

Well, how was the cave, nice and inviting? Seeing an image of it in my meditation, I felt it was so beautiful and spacious that I wanted you all to go up and take a look. I was sure you’d like it. When we first arrived, I didn’t think to examine this mountain to see what’s here. When investigating it a few days later, I discovered how many strange, amazing things it contains. That cave you went to is constantly protected by terrestrial devas. Anyone acting improperly there can expect to feel the consequences. When I sent you up there, I forgot to mention that the cave is protected by devas and to warn you to restrain yourselves and behave properly the whole time. I didn’t want you to be loud and noisy, which is unacceptable behavior for a monk. I was afraid that if the devas protecting the cave were displeased, they might cause you discomfort by precipitating something unpleasant.”

The monks informed Ãcariya Mun that they’d prefer to spend a longer time in the cave; but he insisted that, no matter how attractive the place was, it would not be possible to live there because no food was available. Ãcariya Mun spoke of the cave in a very matter-of-fact way, as though he had actually seen it many times. Of course, he had never gone up there, the climb being too steep and difficult. Nonetheless, he spoke about it with the assurance of someone who knew for certain that the knowledge arising in his meditation was no mere illusion.  

Ãcariya Mun constantly warned his monks to behave in a careful, restrained manner wherever they went, for the devas living in those remote places prefer everything to be orderly and very clean. When terrestrial devas witness such slovenly behavior as a monk sleeping carelessly, lying on his back spread-eagled like a corpse, tossing and mumbling in his sleep like an idiot, they feel quite disgusted – regardless of the fact that it’s impossible for a sleeping person to control his actions. Devas often approached Ãcariya Mun to explain how they felt about this matter.

Monks occupy positions of reverence and esteem in the hearts and minds of living beings everywhere, so their deportment should be guarded and restrained at all times even while sleeping. As far as possible, a monk’s appearance should be attractive and pleasing, never disagreeable or offensive. We hate to see monks behaving intemperately like ordinary lay people showing little concern for the consequences. Especially since the circumspection needed to act with restraint is well within their capabilities. It’s not our intention to be critical of all monks. Devas everywhere are grateful for the opportunity to pay homage to those monks exhibiting exemplary behavior because we all appreciate virtue and dearly wish to uphold the sãsana. We mention this to you so you can warn your disciples to conduct themselves in a restrained manner that’s appealing to human beings and devas alike. Monks, who are worthy of respect, will cause devas of all realms to feel an even deeper reverence for the sãsana.”

In response to what the devas told him, Ãcariya Mun always cautioned his disciples to keep all their requisites in a neat, orderly fashion when staying in remote mountainous areas favored by terrestrial devas. Even the foot-wiping rags had to be neatly folded and not just tossed in a heap. His monks were required to relieve themselves in appropriate places, and latrines were dug only after careful consideration of the surrounding area. Sometimes Ãcariya Mun explicitly told the monks not to make a latrine under a certain tree, or in a certain area, because the devas residing there, or passing through on their way to visit him, would be displeased.  

Monks who were already well acquainted with the deva world needed no such caution, for they were fully aware of the correct way to behave. Many of Ãcariya Mun’s disciples do possess this capability. However, because their proficiency in such matters is developed in the wilds, they are reluctant to speak about it openly, fearing that learned people everywhere will make fun of them. But within the circle of kammaååhãna monks, it’s easy to determine their identity simply by listening to their discussions about various devas who came to visit them and the nature of their conversations with these nonphysical beings. At the same time, we can get an insight into each monk’s level of spiritual attainment.