阿  姜  曼  正  傳 

 

第四章第九節:難搞的龍

             

           

                                                     

第四章第九節:難搞的龍

    有一次阿姜曼在一處名為Chiang Dao 的石窟裡住了一段時間 —— 並不是那種廣受遊客喜愛的那種位於山腰處的長洞,而是另一處高山上的石窟。這個石窟被一條大龍神nāga守護了一段很長的時間。很明顯地,這個龍神相當驕慢且目中無人,牠對比丘更是苛刻。阿姜曼住在洞穴的這段期間,已變成牠不斷指責的對象,牠幾乎對阿姜曼所做的一切都有意見,且似乎無法接收到阿姜曼散發的慈心,這可能是因為牠長期對比丘懷有敵意所產生的結果。

        每當阿姜曼晚上穿著涼鞋經行時,龍神總會抱怨他發出的腳步聲:「你到底是個什麼樣的比丘啊?怎麼像一匹脫韁的野馬到處跺腳?涼鞋踏在地面的聲音震動了整座山!你有沒有想過你發出的噪音有可能會干擾到別人?」

        但就算是阿姜曼已經很謹慎放輕來回經行的腳步,仍不免招惹這些抱怨。當他聽到批評後,就會刻意比以前更輕柔地走路。但龍神還是不滿意:「你到底是個什麼樣的比丘啊?經行時躡手躡腳的,怎麼像是在偷偷摸摸獵鳥一樣?」有時候,阿姜曼的腳會絆到路徑上的小石頭而產生輕微的砰撞聲,這時又會引起一陣責罵:「你到底是個什麼樣的比丘?怎麼像個踢踏舞者一樣在經行步道上踢來踏去?」

        阿姜曼為了能更平順地行走,有好幾次親手去整平經行步道。但當他將石頭搬移並整齊地放到旁邊時,龍神還是抱怨道:「你到底是個什麼樣的比丘啊?為什麼總是把東西搬來搬去,好像一直都不滿意!難道你不知道你這樣亂搞會讓別人頭痛欲裂?」

        總之,阿姜曼在石窟裡不管做甚麼都必須特別地小心。但就算如此,這條固執的龍神也還是可以找得到指責他的理由。當他晚上睡覺的時候,如果他的身體稍微輕輕移動一下,他就會感應到龍神在責備他翻身、曲體、喘氣、打呼等等,因此立刻醒過來。阿姜曼專注觀察這條暴躁易怒且難搞的龍神,總是發現牠昂起頭,眼睛直瞪著他看,就好像視線從未離開過一般。牠心懷惡意惡狠狠地瞪著他,拒絕接受任何善意的功德迴向,似乎已決心要沉溺在內心熊熊燃燒的怒火中。阿姜曼看著牠一直在加劇牠的惡業,心中不禁生起悲憫。但由於牠不想與阿姜曼作理性的溝通,所以他也愛莫能助,而牠唯一想做的就是找麻煩。

        有一次,阿姜曼解釋出家生活的一般原則時,他特別提到自己的目的與意圖:「我在這裡的目的不是要造成他人的困擾,而是為了自利利他盡我所能去修行。所以你不應該對我懷有敵意,認為我在這裡是為了要傷害你或帶給你困擾。我來這裡的目的是為了利益有情,這樣我才可以將我修行的功德與一切眾生分享。這當然也包括你,所以你不要誤會我是來打擾你。」

        「身體的活動是人類平時生活的正常特徵。只要活在世上自然就會四處走動,只有死人才不會走。雖然身為比丘的我一直都很自我節制,但畢竟我並不是一具冰冷的屍體。我必須呼吸,呼吸的力量會隨著姿勢的變化而不同。在我睡覺時,呼吸會連同整個身體持續運作,自然會發出一些聲音。同樣的,當我醒來開始經行或執行日常工作時也是如此。總難免會發出些許聲音,但應該都是在合理的範圍之內。你什麼時候看過有比丘像屍體一樣僵直地站著,肌肉動也不動?人類是不可能這樣的。」

        「我已經盡可能小心並放輕腳步,但你還是抱怨我像一匹賽馬一樣走路。事實上,像賽馬這樣的動物與一位有戒德的比丘專注經行所發出的聲音,根本就完全不同。你不應該再做這樣的比較,否則,你就變成了一個來生會下墮地獄的悲慘眾生。我不可能符合你所有不合理的要求。如果,你就像其他人一樣,期盼快樂與富足,那麼就多反省你自己的過錯,並停止你心中不斷燃燒的地獄之火。只有這樣,你才能找到一條出路。」

        「一味指責別人的錯誤,就算他們真的有錯,也只會增添你自己的憤怒,並讓你的心情不好過。我在這裡的行為對一名比丘來說絕對沒有不當,但你卻不斷吹毛求疵。如果你是一個人類,你可能無法在一般的社會裡生存。你只會把這個世界看作是一座巨大的垃圾場,而把自己視為純金。像你這種人際疏離的自我優越感是來自於情緒上的混亂,而這種混亂又是來自於無法帶給你平靜的愛挑剔的態度。有智慧的人都會譴責對他人無理的批評要求,並說明此舉會帶來可怕的惡果。既然如此,你為何總是以敵意去作這樣的事,卻漠視那些痛苦的果報?我不會因為你的指責而難過,是你自己的情緒有問題才會受到不利的影響。這種不利的影響相當的明顯,所以你怎麼沒發現自己整個態度都有問題?我早已知道你的每一個想法,而我也都原諒你了。你只專注在會消耗精神及摧殘心靈的事,彷彿對於造孽不感到厭倦,這種情形就像是一種難以治愈的病。」

        「我一直試著改變你內心的態度,就如同我長期對其他許多有情的幫助一樣。人類、鬼眾、天人、梵天、夜叉,甚至是遠比你更有威勢的大龍神,全都接受了佛陀所教導的真理 —— 業果法則。除了你以外,沒有任何有情會憤怒地批評全世界都推崇、尊敬的『法』。你真的很奇怪,完全不願接受任何的真理。你唯一的樂趣就只是作出詆毀的言論,並憤怒地指責那些沒做錯任何事的人。你一心一意指責與批評,就好像這些行為(批評)是有益處的;但聖者從不認為這種行為能帶來和平與安穩。當你最後蛻下這身的龍皮,結束命運多舛的此生後,你是無法投生到一個無苦安樂的境界,反而必須去承受你自己的惡果。」

        「我很抱歉這麼直白地跟你說明業報法則,但我是善意的。你或許會誤解我剛才的說明,但是我沒有任何惡意。打從我住在這裡開始,我就已經處處小心謹慎,因為我知道這裡是你的地盤,我有留心會不會造成你的不便。雖然我早知道你是一個喜歡批評的眾生,但結果我仍無法避開你的攻擊。我早已體證了真正的寂靜,所以就算是無止盡惡意的批評也傷不到我,可是我很擔心你追逐邪惡的愚痴惡行將會為你帶來極痛苦的惡果。我來這裡的目的並非出於惡意,不管我所說或所做的一切絕對都是出自於一顆清淨的心,所以我並不會擔心我的行為會招致惡果。」

        「聰明的人只要瞭解出世間的法與世間法之間的差異,他們自然會開始讚揚善行,推崇所有為了促進和平與喜樂的各種有益的行為。自古以來的智者都是教導眾生去體驗由行善中所獲得的功德。既然如此,為什麼你卻那麼固執的認為沒有報應?遠離善行並一意孤行去造惡?看來你是似乎很憎恨善行,以致於看不見自己的罪惡。雖然我不會去經歷那些正等著你的可怕報應,但我還是會為你未來悲慘的命運而擔心。你不能再用有害的方式來思惟,因為其背後的惡意會毀損你所有的善德。這樣的惡果報會帶來難以想像的苦難,這是世上我最畏懼的事物。全世界的人都害怕老、病、死,但這些都遠不如我對惡行與其報應的恐懼。」

        「有無明的凡夫往往會遠離心靈的法則,並喜歡從事宗教所禁止的事。因此,出家並成為一名實踐教法與戒律的比丘,一定會經歷一個性格轉變的痛苦轉型期。雖然我早知道與無明背道而馳有多麼的困難,但我仍強迫自己加入僧團並忍受各種嚴峻的挑戰。持續對抗無明而產生的極度辛苦,正是讓修行如此困難的原因。但如果我們想要超越業果與製造出業果的垢染,我們就必須持續忍受這樣的辛苦,因為無明總是會頑強地抗拒佛陀的教法。」

        「我來這裡修行,就像一個被社會遺棄且毫價值的棄兒一般住在這個山洞裡,完全是因為我害怕惡行以及其帶來的惡果報。我來此的用意不是要傷害或找別人的麻煩,更不是蔑視任何的眾生。那些受業力法則所控制的眾生,是擁有相同內在價值的;我尊重他們並都視他們為朋友。我平等迴向善行的功德給所有的眾生,祝福他們不論身在何處,都能過著安樂的生活。我從來就沒有因為我是一名佛教的沙門,就自以為比那些仍身陷於生老病死的同伴們還要優越。」

        「你自己也受業力所控制,所以你應該虛心反省你的錯誤會如何影響你自己。不經大腦的批評他人永遠不會為你帶來善果 —— 它只會堆疊惡業帶來的惡果,並永不會消逝。你應該為你錯誤的行為感到慚愧,並立刻停止這種危險的行為。只有這樣,你才有機會在未來成為一個善良的有情,並在下一世轉生到一個更幸福的世界。然後你的惡意、憤怒的心會柔軟,如此才能避免永遠都沉淪在水深火熱之中。」

        「這世間所有的眾生 —— 從動物、人類、夜叉、天神與梵天 —— 都珍惜幸福並厭惡受苦。他們對佛法不會感到厭惡,他們只是因為還無法完全付諸實踐。佛法一直是宇宙本質的精髓,那些已開始修行的眾生都已在法之中找到了快樂 —— 譬如說:人類。擁有人身的狀態,非常利於修行。」

        「你自己就是一個完全有能力可以辨別善惡的有情,從而能做出最有利於自己的選擇。既然如此,你為何還要顛倒而行?我不解的是你似乎沉迷於那些智者所厭惡、卻藐視智者所稱許的事。你明知道什麼是苦,也厭惡它。但你卻不斷製造出那些會帶來極大不幸與苦痛的苦因。智者告訴我們處心積慮去發掘他人的過失,只會招致愈來愈不快樂的苦果,而這正是你終日恬不知恥在做的事。也許你根本不在意,但儘管我完全了解你卑鄙的想法,我還是原諒你。我並沒有生氣,也不覺得被冒犯,但我真的替你感到難過。因此,我決定要告訴你清楚的道理。如果它對你是有益的,我會為你感到欣慰。你的惡念對我並沒有任何的影響,因為我並不在意它們。我感受到的只有那些長久以來在我心中的平安、寧靜與慈悲。」

        當阿姜曼從各種不同角度說法時,龍神不再做任何的批評,但當牠在聽法時,確實生起了正面的想法:「嗯……這個比丘說得很有道理,但目前我還是無法做到像他說的那樣,因為我覺得我沒有什麼不好。但也許我會開始關心我的來生。這個比丘有許多了不起的特質,他甚至可以察知到別人不知道的事!不然他怎麼可能知道我在想什麼?我活在一個很隱密的世界,但他仍看得到我。多年以來,有許多比丘來到這裡並住在山洞裡,但從來就沒有一個比丘能察覺到我的存在,就更不用說知道我在想什麼了。我甚至因為無法忍受他們住在附近而逼走了一些比丘;但是這個比丘知道一切,包括我在想什麼。即使他在睡覺時仍能保持正念。然後,他可以精確地說出我在想什麼,就好像他根本沒有在睡覺。我為什麼要這麼固執?不肯把他的教導記在心中並付諸實踐?就像他說的一樣:我肯定會有非常嚴重的業報。儘管他知道我心中卑鄙的特質,但他還是很努力想跟我解釋他日常的活動並非故意要打擾我。我目前的狀態肯定是不幸的。他說的對,我有能力區分善惡,但我竟被可憐的驕慢給阻礙了,也就說我的來生會像今生一樣的慘,而且生生世世都將如此!」

        過了一會兒後,阿姜曼問龍神是否有努力去理解他對法的開示。

        龍神回答:「我暸解你慈悲為我解釋了一切;但可惜的是,我背負著沉重的業力,而且還未厭離這可悲的狀態。我一直與我自己在爭辯這件事,但目前還沒有任何明確的結論。我的心傾向墮落,而且它一直都是這樣,所以它不太願意聆聽你的開示。」

        阿姜曼問龍神說牠的心總是趨向墮落是什麼意思?

        龍神回答:「我的心總是想從你的身上找碴,即使你根本沒有任何的過失 —— 我的心就是這樣!我不知道該如何說服自己才能確信這種傾向對自己的傷害,進而改正它,並從今天起去行善。」

        阿姜曼給了牠一些鼓勵:「謹慎的思惟一定能讓你確信這種不善的傾向是真的有害。一旦你確信了,那麼惡念自然會從你的心開始消退,將來就不會再那麼明顯。但假設你仍相信你過去的傾向是有益的,並放任滋長它們,你自然就會趨向各種無數的邪思惟。除非你現在立刻改變,否則你會繼續造惡,直到完全無可救藥。我不能替你做這件事,我可以給你一些指引,但要不要去調整你的個性就由你自己決定,堅持下去的責任也在你自己,你只要盡力去做就好。一旦你開始實踐,你就會看到個性中有危害的部分開始漸漸減弱,而有益的特質會逐漸增強,然後取而代之,直到所有的部分都是潔白清淨的善,沒有任何的垢染。將你的信心建立在佛陀幫助眾生滅苦的教法之上,你就能受到法的庇祐,安樂的生活,不再煩惱、不安,在任何情況下都能心平氣和。你不會再因為一件事情是好的而稱讚它,或因為它不好而妄加批評,不會再受到智者所不稱許的行為而招來惡果報。」

        在經過這些對話之後,龍神答應會努力遵循阿姜曼的建議。接下來的幾天,當阿姜曼繼續自己的禪修時,同時也關注著龍神。他注意到龍神有些進步,他發現牠已經能透過一些方法去控制難搞的習氣;但他也注意到牠的努力導致牠更多的惶恐。於是阿姜曼找了些藉口提早離開山洞,繼續行腳,使龍神能好過一些。阿姜曼與龍神之間的因緣也就到此結束了。

        從那時起,阿姜曼在說明人性的各種層面時,他會為了聽眾的利益,略為提及這個龍神的故事。他的重點值得在此重述一遍,希望讀者們能從中學到一些寶貴的啟示。

        阿姜曼解釋善與惡並不是自己產生的,而是取決於為人處事的行為方式,逐漸成為人的性格中的一部分。如果我們傾向為惡,補救時必將困難重重,因為我們所做的一切都是趨向沉淪;但如果我們傾向善的ㄧ面,那麼當我們在行善的過程中就會愈來愈熟練與自信,因為我們是朝這個方向邁進。基於這個道理,有智慧的父母會盡量在孩子還小的時候,就培養他們良好的習性 —— 以免為時太晚;甚至在必要的時候,會將孩子託付給適當的人來照顧與教導,而不是讓孩子的成長只靠運氣。

        孩子們從很小的時候就開始學習做人的基本道理,然而這不同於課堂上學到的知識,這種學習是不會隨著時間或季節而中斷。這些基本道理比學校的任何科目都更加深植於幼兒的性格之中,因為這些道理就存在於他們生活的周遭 —— 在家裡、學校,處處可見。孩子們會從他們所看到、聽到、嘗到、嗅到與觸覺到的各種經驗中不斷學習,並牢牢記住所學到的事。孩子的各種感官就是與生俱來的黑板,記錄在上面的印象蘊含著道德的重要性,也就是如何區分善與惡。他們不斷地從生活中的玩伴與長輩們擷取經驗,也經由一般可接觸到的電影或其他的娛樂項目中獲得。像這種日常生活中得到的印象就是孩子們真正的老師,而孩子們也都願意從這些持續傳達給他們的事物中學習新的觀念。接觸邪惡的事物肯定會使孩子走上邪路;反之,好的影響絕對可以使孩子走向美德之路。孩子們自然會仿效他們所看到與聽到的事;時間一久,便建立了一種能確認孩子性格的行為模式。一旦這些模式根深蒂固,孩子今後的言行就會依照其所建立的善或惡傾向去行事。

        有人樂於造惡而不願改變,而有人終生行善,珍惜戒律;從這些事情就可看得出品格發展的重要性 —— 即使有些人之前就已經看到精進不懈的滿意成果,但他們還是會讓自己輕易就放棄去對抗不良的傾向。因此,基本性格的發展對所有人都絕對必要。這意味著沒有任何事情可以漫不經心或輕率為之,一旦輕率成為了習慣就難以糾正。當我們努力發展正面的特質,直到成為我們性格特質中的一部分,這個原則的重要性就顯而易見了。例如,理智思考該怎麼去旅行,到哪裡旅行;理智地花費金錢,使家裡的每個人都能得到最大的利益;合理的飲食與睡眠習慣,這樣才不會變成放縱。以上這些典型的行為模式都應該積極去開發,直到它們內化成為一種本能。在訓練初期所遇到的內在阻力會自然而然地讓步,轉變為一種和藹與寬容的性格。這種轉變本身足以證明性格的發展與訓練是我們能力可以做得到的事,但我們從一開始就必須堅持不懈。

        要成功完成任何的工作,訓練是必要的,就如同我們需要訓練才能在我們的專業中成功,所以心也需要訓練才能獲得最佳的效果,只有死亡後我們才不需要訓練。如果我們希望精通於某件事,就必須不斷的練習,直到我們熟練為止。性格的訓練會發展出一種等同於美德的技能,把它牢記在心,認真思惟,並付諸實踐,你們的努力必定會以豐富的個人美德來回報你。這就是阿姜曼對於品格訓練教導的重點,我已經將它們都寫在這裡,好幫助那些依法奉行的人。

 

                       

At one point Ãcariya Mun spent some time living in Chiang Dao Cave – not the long cave in the middle of the mountain that has become popular with tourists, but one higher up the mountain. This cave was home to a great nãga who had kept guard over it for a very long time. Apparently this nãga was rather conceited and had a tendency to be overly critical of monks. During his stay in the cave, Acariya Mun became the object of this nãga’s constant criticism. It found fault with nearly everything he did. It appeared incapable of accepting Ãcariya Mun’s thoughts of loving kindness, probably as a consequence of its long-standing enmity toward monks.

At night when Ãcariya Mun wore his sandals to do walking meditation, the nãga complained about the sound of his footsteps: “What kind of a monk are you, stomping around like an unbridled race horse? The sound of your sandals striking the earth shakes the whole mountain. Did you ever think you might be annoying somebody with all that noise?”

It raised these complaints despite Ãcariya Mun’s composed manner of pacing softly back and forth. Hearing the criticisms, he took care to walk even more softly than before; but still, the nãga wasn’t satisfied: “What kind of a monk are you, walking meditation like somebody sneaking around hunting birds?” Occasionally, Ãcariya Mun’s foot would stumble on a stone in the meditation path, causing a slight thumping sound which elicited another reproach: “What kind of a monk are you, bucking up and down your meditation path like a chorus dancer?”

There were times when Ãcariya Mun leveled out the surface of his meditation path to facilitate smooth, easy walking. As he moved stones around and put them neatly into place, the nãga complained: “What kind of a monk are you, always moving things around – you’re never satisfied. Don’t you realize that all your fussing about gives others a splitting headache?”

Ãcariya Mun had to exercise special care with whatever he did at that cave. Even then, this opinionated nãga would find an excuse to criticize him. Should his body move slightly while he slept at night, he could sense psychically upon awakening that the nãga had been criticizing him for tossing, turning, wheezing, snoring, and so on. Focusing his attention on this angry, hypercritical nãga, Ãcariya Mun always found its head sticking out, peering at him intently, as though it never took its eyes off him. Vicious looking and mean-spirited, it refused to accept any merit dedicated to it and was determined to indulge in feelings of anger that burned like a fire inside its heart. Seeing that it compounded its evil kamma all the time, Ãcariya Mun felt truly sorry for the nãga. But as long as it showed no interest in reasonable discourse, it was impossible for him to help in any way. All it could think about was fault-finding.

On one occasion, Ãcariya Mun explained the general principles underlying a monk’s life, specifically mentioning his own purpose and intentions:

“My purpose for being here is not to cause trouble to somebody else, but rather to work as best I can for my own benefit and the benefit of others. So you should not entertain ignoble thoughts, thinking that I’m here to cause you harm or discomfort. I am here consciously trying to do good so that I can share the merit of my actions with all living beings without exception. That includes you as well, so you needn’t be upset thinking that I’ve come just to annoy you.

“Physical activity is a normal feature of people’s everyday life. Comings and goings are part of living in this world – only the dead cease to move about. Although as a monk I am always self-composed, I’m not a corpse in repose: I have to inhale and exhale, and the force of my breathing varies from one posture to another. My breathing continues to function while I sleep, as does my whole body; so, naturally, there will be some sounds emitted. The same is true when I awaken and begin walking-meditation, or perform chores. There is some sound, but always within the bounds of moderation. When have you ever seen a monk standing frozen stiff like a corpse, never moving a muscle? Human beings don’t behave like that.

“I try hard to walk as carefully and softly as possible, but still you complain that I walk like a race horse. In truth, an animal like a race horse and a virtuous monk mindfully walking meditation could not be more different, one from the other. You should avoid making such comparisons. Otherwise, you become a wretched individual aiming for a berth in hell. It’s impossible for me to satisfy all your unreasonable whims. If, like everyone else, you expect to find happiness and prosperity, then consider your own faults for awhile and stop lugging the fires of hell around in your heart all the time. Only then will you find a way out.

“Criticizing other people’s faults, even when they really are wrong, merely serves to increase your own irritation and put you in a bad mood. My behavior here is in no way improper for a monk, yet you keep carping about it constantly. If you were a human being, you’d probably be incapable of living in normal society – you’d see the world as one big garbage dump and yourself as pure solid gold. Such feelings of alienation are due to emotional turmoil caused by your hypercritical attitude – which gives you no peace. The wise have always condemned unjustified criticism of others, saying it brings terrible moral consequences. So why do you enjoy doing it with such a vengeance – and such indifference to the painful consequences? I’m not the one who suffers from your criticism – it is your own emotional health that’s adversely affected. Such ill effects are quite obvious, so how can you be unaware that your whole attitude is wrong? I’m fully cognizant of everything you are thinking, and at the same time, I have always forgiven you. You concentrate on doing terrible things that consume your mind and ravage your heart as though you can’t get enough of doing evil. Were your condition a disease, it would be an untreatable one.

“I have been trying to change your mental attitude, just as I’ve long been trying to help many other living beings. Human beings, ghosts, devas, brahmas, yakkhas, and even great nãgas far more powerful than yourself, have all accepted the truth of the Lord Buddha’s teaching on kamma. None, except you, have angrily criticized the value of Dhamma, which is revered throughout the world systems. And you’re so peculiar that you won’t accept the truth of anything at all. The only pleasure you take is in making derogatory remarks and angrily censuring people who have done nothing wrong. You devote yourself to these as though they were propitious actions. But the wise have never thought that such actions foster peace and security. When you finally slough off the skin of this ill-fated existence, you won’t encounter a pleasant, pain-free existence, unaffected by the evil consequences of your actions.

“I apologize for speaking so candidly about the principles of Dhamma, but my intentions are good. Nothing malicious is intended in my remarks, regardless of what misconceptions you may have. Since the very beginning of my stay here, I have tried to do everything in a careful, restrained manner, for I know that this is your home and I’m concerned that my presence here may inconvenience you. Although I am well aware that you’re an individual who delights in looking for things to criticize, I still can’t seem to avoid being seen in a disparaging light. I myself experience genuine contentment, unaffected even by constant criticism. But, I worry that the repercussions of your dogged pursuit of evil will be extremely unpleasant for you. I did not come here in search of wickedness or evil. Being quite sure that everything I do and say emanates from a pure heart, I have no fear that my actions will incur any unpleasant moral consequences.

“As soon as intelligent people begin to understand the difference between secular matters and spiritual ones, they tend to appreciate virtuous conduct, admiring all wholesome, meritorious actions performed for the sake of peace and happiness. From ages past, the wise have always taught living beings to feel good about being virtuous. So why do you adhere to the maverick notion that it’s all right to strip yourself of virtue and wallow in evil? You seem to detest virtue so dreadfully much that you can’t be bothered to reflect on your own vices. Although I won’t be experiencing the dire consequences that await you, still I fear for you in that miserable state. You must stop thinking in ways that are harmful, for the mean intent behind your actions has the power to deprive you of all moral value. Such undesirable consequences, bringing unimaginable torment, are what I fear more than anything else in the world. The whole world dreads old age, sickness, and death, but I don’t fear them nearly so much as I fear evil and its attendant consequences.

“People with kilesas tend to eschew spiritual principles, preferring instead the things that religious tenets proscribe. So ordaining as a Buddhist monk to practice the Teaching and the Discipline requires us to undergo an agonizing character transformation. Even though I knew how difficult it would be to oppose the kilesas, I nonetheless felt compelled to join the monkhood and endure the severe hardship. The extreme discomfort caused by constantly opposing the kilesas – that’s what makes the practice so difficult. But if we desire to transcend kamma and the defiling kilesas that create it, we must endure such torment – for kilesas always steadfastly resist the teachings of the Lord Buddha.

“I’ve come here to practice, living in this cave like a worthless social outcast, solely because I fear evil and its consequences. I did not come here to harm or trouble anyone. Nor do I feel contempt for any living being. I respect them all as friends whose lives are also subject to the law of kamma, and who are thus all of equal intrinsic value. I dedicate the merit of my actions equally to all beings with the hope that they may live in contentment wherever they may be. I have never taken the arrogant attitude that I’m a human being ordained as a Buddhist monk and therefore superior to my companions in birth, ageing, sickness, and death.

“You too exist within the sphere of kamma, so you ought to humbly reflect on how your own faults affect you. Criticizing others without proper consideration will never bring you good results – it merely piles up the ill effects of bad kamma, which then linger on indefinitely. You should feel dismayed by your errant behavior and drop this dangerous practice. Only then can you hope to become a good individual with a chance for a better, happier birth in the future. Then your mean, angry heart will soften, and you can avoid being engulfed in misery forever.

“All living beings in the universe – from humans and animals to devas, brahmas, and yakkhas – cherish happiness and loathe suffering. They do not have an aversion for Dhamma simply because they can’t yet put it into practice. Dhamma has always been the quintessential nature of the universe. Those beings who are in a position to practice Dhamma find great satisfaction in it – for instance, human beings. Their state of birth makes them well suited to the practice of Dhamma.

“You yourself are a living being who’s fully capable of distinguishing between good and bad, and thus choosing what’s most beneficial for you. So why do you do just the opposite? I’m puzzled that you seem content to revel in those things which the wise abhor while scorning those which the wise applaud. You know about dukkha and you hate it, yet you strive to produce the very causes that bring you great unhappiness and discomfort. The wise tell us that our efforts to find fault with others produce consequences that cause greater and greater unhappiness – exactly what you shamelessly do all the time. You may not be interested, but although I’m fully aware of your despicable thoughts, I’ve always forgiven you. I’m not angry or offended, but I do feel sorry for you. Thus, I have decided to tell you the plain truth. Should it prove useful to you, I shall be pleased for your sake. I receive no unpleasant consequences from your thoughts for I’m not the one who engages in them. All I experience are peace, serenity, and loving compassion that have long been my heart’s abode.”

The nãga didn’t make any comment as Ãcariya Mun explained these various aspects of Dhamma, but it did experience the rise of some salutary thoughts while listening: This monk talks a lot of sense. But right now I’m unable to do as he says, being still too content with my old ways. Perhaps I’ll have more interest in my next existence. This monk has many awesome qualities – he even perceives things that should be unknowable. How can he know my private thoughts? I live in a hidden world, yet somehow he sees me. Over the years, many monks have come to stay in this cave, but none have known about my existence, much less my thoughts. I’ve even forced some of them to flee because I couldn’t stand having them around. But this monk knows everything, including my thoughts. Even while sleeping he remains aware. Later, he can tell me exactly what I was thinking, as if he hadn’t been asleep at all. Why am I so opinionated that I can’t take what he teaches to heart and put it into practice? Like he said: I must surely have some very grave kamma. Despite knowing the despicable nature of my mind, he still makes an effort to explain how his daily activities are not intended to bother me. My present state of existence is certainly unfortunate. He’s right when he says that I’m quite capable of distinguishing between good and bad. Yet I’m hampered by my wretched conceit, meaning that my next life will probably be just as unfortunate as this one – and so on indefinitely.

After a short pause Ãcariya Mun asked the nãga if it had managed to understand any of his explanations on Dhamma.

The nãga replied: “I understand everything you so kindly explained to me. But unfortunately, I’m burdened by some very grave kamma and I’ve yet to grow weary of my wretched condition. I’m still debating this matter with myself and I haven’t come to any definite conclusions. My heart tends to gravitate toward a state of degradation, as it always has, so it balks at listening to the Dhamma you are teaching.”

Ãcariya Mun asked the nãga what it meant by saying that its heart liked to gravitate toward a state of degradation.

The nãga answered: “My heart enjoys finding fault with you all the time, even though you’ve done nothing wrong – that’s just the way my heart is. I don’t know how to convince myself of the harmful effects of this tendency so that I can correct it and practice the way of virtue from now on.”

Ãcariya Mun offered some encouragement:

“Careful consideration will convince you that such bad tendencies are truly harmful. Once you are persuaded, then evil will naturally begin to fade from your heart, ceasing to be so conspicuous in the future. But by assuming that these tendencies are beneficial and then encouraging them, you will naturally tend to think in an endless variety of ways that are detrimental to you. Unless you hurry to improve things now, you’ll keep on doing evil until you are completely beyond help. I cannot do this job for you. I can give some guidance, but it’s up to you to make the necessary adjustments in your character. The onus is on you to press ahead, trying to accomplish this as best you can. Once you do, you will see the dangerous aspects of your character gradually diminish as beneficial qualities develop, displacing them until all that’s left is pure, simple virtue, untainted by any form of evil. By placing your faith in the Dhamma of the Lord Buddha, which has always helped living beings to transcend dukkha, you will always be contented living under its protective influence. Never feeling distraught, never disturbed, you will remain even-tempered in every situation. You won’t be moved to praise one thing as good or criticize another as bad, and so suffer the resulting consequences – conduct that’s contrary to the way of the wise.”

At the conclusion of these remarks, the nãga promised to make an effort to follow Ãcariya Mun’s advice. In the days that followed, Ãcariya Mun kept an eye on it as he continued with his own practice. He noticed some improvement, as the nãga was able to restrict its hypercritical tendencies by exercising some measure of control over them. But he also noticed that this effort caused the nãga much consternation. So finding some excuse to leave the cave, he moved on – which pleased the nãga. His association with it ended there.

From that time on, Ãcariya Mun alluded to the story of this nãga as a means of elaborating on various aspects of human nature, for the personal benefit of those listening. The gist of what he said is worth repeating here, hopefully so that the reader can learn some valuable lessons from his teaching.

Ãcariya Mun explained that good and evil do not arise on their own but are dependent on habitual ways of behaving that gradually become part of one’s character. If our tendency is to do evil, it is very difficult to remedy because everything we do tends to flow in that direction. If it is our tendency to do good, we become more and more skillful and assertive as we progress in that direction. For this reason, clever parents will try to train their children in the way of goodness from a very early age – before it becomes too late. When necessary they will entrust them to the care of someone who is suitably supportive so that their children’s upbringing is not simply left to chance.

Children begin to learn about basic common principles from a very tender age. But unlike learning in the classroom, this learning process is not interrupted by time or season. Such basic common principles are more firmly implanted in children’s characters than any of their school subjects, for these things exist all around them – at home, in school, and everywhere else. Children are constantly taking lessons from what they see, hear, taste, smell, and touch in the world, remembering well what they have learned. A child’s senses are its natural blackboard. The impressions imprinted there are pregnant with moral significance; that is, matters of good and evil. They constantly pick up impressions from their playmates and the adults in their lives, as well as from movies and other entertainment that is normally available to them. Such everyday impressions are a child’s true teachers; and children are all too willing to learn new ideas that are constantly conveyed to them. Contact with evil affairs can definitely induce a child to follow evil ways, while good influences can definitely induce a child to go the way of virtue. Children naturally take the things they see and hear as examples to emulate; and, over time, this establishes a pattern of behavior that defines a child’s character. Once these patterns have become ingrained, the children will speak and act according to the good or evil orientation thus established.

The fact that some people readily take satisfaction in doing evil and are unwilling to change, while others just as readily take satisfaction in doing good and cherish moral virtue all their lives, indicates the fundamental importance of character development. Those left to their own devices easily abandon the effort to resist their bad tendencies – even before they have seen enough satisfactory results to encourage perseverance. Consequently, basic character development is absolutely essential for all people. This means that nothing should be done carelessly or thoughtlessly, for once such tendencies become habitual they are difficult to correct. The importance of this principle becomes apparent as we strive to develop positive character traits until they become part of our very nature; for instance: being reasonable about how and where we travel; being reasonable about how we spend our money so that everyone in the family benefits; and being reasonable in our eating and sleeping habits so that we do not overindulge in them. All such exemplary behavior patterns should be enthusiastically developed until they become instinctive. The inner resistance we meet in the early stages of training will naturally give way to a smooth, easy character transformation. This transformation itself is sufficient proof that character training is well within our capabilities. But we must be willing to persevere in the beginning.

Training is required to make any kind of work successful. Just as we must undergo training in order to succeed in our professions, so the heart and mind must be trained in order to obtain optimum results. Only after death are we beyond the need for training. Wishing to gain proficiency in something, we must work at it, practicing until we are well-skilled in it. Character training develops a skill which is synonymous with virtue. Take this message to heart, consider it well, and put it into practice – your efforts will surely be rewarded with a wealth of personal virtue. Such was the gist of Ãcariya Mun’s teaching on character training. I have included it here to help those who are developing Dhamma in this way.