阿  姜  曼  正  傳 

 

第六章第六節:最後的一場病

        

                

              

第六章第六節:最後的一場病

   阿姜曼住在Ban Nong Pheu寺裡有五年之久,當一九四九年三月 —— 確切的日期應該是泰曆四月十四日 —— 他的身體開始呈現生命即將結束的跡象。那一年,他七十九歲。那一天,第一個疾病惡化的症狀出現了,直到最後結束了他長壽的一生 —— 那一天,阿姜曼全身遍體顫抖,而他的近侍弟子們也都感受到了顫抖的衝擊。起初,只是輕微的發燒,並伴隨著輕微的咳嗽;但隨著日子一天天的過去,症狀逐漸惡化,完全沒有好轉的跡象。這顯然很不正常,他持續惡化的狀況讓大家都很擔憂。但阿姜曼卻很清楚知道這將是他最後的一場病 —— 一種任何的治療都不會見效的病。他一開始就讓弟子們知道這件事,並從那時起不再對任何藥物表示興趣;相反的,若有人帶藥物給他,他會表現出看起來不悅的樣子。這一點,他毫不含糊地表示:「這是年紀大的人已走到了生命的盡頭才會有的病,不管我吃什麼藥都不會痊癒了。我的身體只剩下最後一口氣,我在等時間,等它(一口氣)最後停止的那一天。我就像一棵還挺立著的枯樹:不論你們怎麼替它施肥與澆水,都不可能再發芽與開花結果了。這棵老枯樹現在雖仍挺立著,卻早料到有轟然倒地、被同樣的病給砍倒的一天。很久以前,這場病還沒有出現的時候,我就觀察到自己的狀況了。這就是為何我一直警告你們大家:千萬不要自滿。要趕快,趁我還活著的時候,努力密集地修行。這樣一來,我可以在這段期間解決你們所遇到的修行問題。現在錯過這個機會,會使你們在未來浪費許多的時間去摸索。因緣生滅,諸法無常,我的時間不多了,不久我將離開這個世界。三年前我就警告過你們,我只剩三年的時間。我還能再說什麼?我對你們說的一切,我知道都是不可避免的。生死之輪公平地在人類與動物的身心裡按照它自然的過程精準地運轉著。再過幾個月,我這個身體就不會再作用,又怎麼可能去改變它既定的事實?」

        隨著每一天的過去,阿姜曼的症狀逐漸加劇。他表示不需要任何的醫療,如果有人來勸他嘗試某種藥物或治療,他就會很清楚表現出生氣的樣子。但,就是有很多人會來提供「治療」,以致於他很難拒絕他們。每一個人都自誇自己提供的藥最有效,堅稱他如果能服用,病情一定會好轉,因為已有許多成功治癒的案例。他們都懇求阿姜曼能慈悲試試他們帶來的藥物。他們希望他能好起來,繼續服務長期以來追隨他的眾人。他經常告誡他們,他的病吃藥是沒用的;只有火化屍體用的木柴才有用處。但他愈是拒絕,他們就愈懇求他。所以偶爾他對他們的懇求還是會讓步,服用一些藥。他只是不想人們以為他已放棄了病情而讓大家失望。

        當他生病的消息傳遍了整個地區,各地的人開始湧向Ban Nong Pheu來探訪他。不管天氣怎樣,從遠近而來的僧俗眾每天都源源不絕湧入,就像是雨季時不斷落下的大雨一般。Ban Nong Pheu村坐落在一處被茂密的森林所包圍的山谷中,從烏隆府到色軍間的主要公路有十二到十五英里遠。雖然必須靠徒步去拜見他,他們也不會因為距離遙遠與艱辛而退卻,只有無法徒步的老人才會雇用牛車。

        阿姜曼生性偏好安靜獨自生活,就算是與他一起生活的比丘,除非絕對必要,也不敢打擾他。因此,接待那些善意但與他天性傾向不相應的大眾會讓他感到厭煩,他會遠離這些事情。當他生病時,他甚至不願意讓他的近侍弟子去照顧他,雖然,還是有特定例外的情況。當他允許的時候,那個照顧他需求的比丘在他的面前就必須非常的謹慎,只有被認為是可信賴的比丘才會被選任擔當這些工作。由於他的狀況惡化,一位頭腦清楚的上座被指定去照管與醫療有關的事務。由於阿姜曼的個性要求完美並注重細節,這個比丘不得不依照每一種情況來決定什麼該做或不該做,然後監看其他比丘是否也照著這些療程小心地去做。因此,參與照顧他的比丘都是精心挑選出來的,這是為了確保他們的行為不會與他難以捉摸的性格有所牴觸。

        從四周各地前來想要謁見並頂禮他的在家人與出家人,都會被要求先等候適當的時機。當安排這些事情的比丘覺得時間適當,他會進入阿姜曼的小屋子,通知他有訪客來。當允許接見後,訪客被帶去見他。阿姜曼與他們短暫地說了一番話後,他們會恭敬地離開。Ban Nong Pheu寺一直都是以這種方式安排那些來探訪他的訪客。在獲得允許接見之前,訪客們都一定被要求等候;然後,等他同意見他們,一整組的人就會被領到他的小禪屋裡。唯一的例外是資深弟子們,他們與他的關係既特殊又密切,是當阿姜們(禪師)才享有的權利。一旦有人通知阿姜曼他們來了,他會同意見他們,這些阿姜們會直接進屋與他私下會談。

        幾個月過去後,他的情況持續惡化。雖然症狀沒有非常的嚴重,但他一直很不舒服。他的病就像從一場叛亂暴動逐漸升級為全面性的戰爭,在過程中消耗了一切,到處屍橫遍野。弟子們都深受影響,他在他們的心中占有很特殊的地位,所以他每況愈下的身體讓他們很煩心。他們傷心、難過,不再像以前那麼開朗。每次只要一提到阿姜曼的病情,大家都會轉移到其他的話題,只有當談話要結束的時候,才會再回到他的病情。

        儘管身體每況愈下,阿姜曼仍未忽略他教學的責任。雖然不能再像以前一樣詳盡解釋佛法,但他對弟子的慈悲關愛從未減少。說法結束後,他會簡短地回答問題,然後馬上散會回到小屋子裡休息。但令人難以置信的是,當他坐在那裡對僧眾說法時,不像有病在身。他說話時音調高亢,呈現出很有特色的堅毅,生動活潑,聲音中氣十足,就好像根本沒病的樣子。當他想強調某一個重點時,他聲音的節奏就會急遽加速切入重點。他說法時毫無保留,他的神情讓人完全看不出他真正的情況。只有當他結束說法後,我們才看出他早已精疲力竭。所以我們會趕緊散會,好讓他有機會休息。

        在他開始發病前的某一天傍晚,正逢摩迦日[1],一九四九年二月的月圓日,阿姜曼在晚間八點開始向集會的比丘說法,直到午夜才結束,一共說了四個小時。當晚,法的力量真的震撼住所有在場集會的頭陀比丘。對那些聽法的人而言,整個宇宙都消失得無影無蹤,他們的意識全被遍及一切的法所取代,法的力量遍向四方輻射。他先讚揚在佛陀時代滿月的同一天自動前來集會的一千兩百五十位阿羅漢。

        「那一天,自動參加集會的一千兩百五十位阿羅漢在未事先安排的情況下都聚集在佛陀所在的地方。他們全都是梵行已立、不受後有的聖者。佛陀當天開示《波羅提木叉經》,是一種使戒律清淨的場合;也就是說,是在所有全然清淨的比丘中所舉行的一種布薩。與今天的集會相比,你們聽到的《波羅提木叉經》,都是由有雜染的比丘所唸誦出來的 —— 都尚未完全從無明中解脫。你們每一個人與那些阿羅漢一樣都同為佛世尊的弟子,出家成為比丘,一想到這裡就不免令人沮喪。然而,你們的情況都只是徒具形式,缺少實質的意義;就像一個被稱作『好人』的人,相反的,背負著令他自己都無法承受的沈重罪孽。在佛陀的時代,比丘們都很認真的修行,所以他們不會覆藏錯誤,成為真正證果的比丘。今天,一些比丘的名譽與聲望之大,就如同日月一般無人匹敵;但他們的行為卻沈淪到阿鼻地獄的深處。他們到底該去哪裡找戒德、真實與清淨呢?他們只是累積了大量的煩惱,並製造出如影隨形的惡業。既然今日的比丘都不致力於根除心中的煩惱,那又怎麼可能會有清淨的布薩呢?一旦出了家,他們就自滿比丘崇高的身分,理所當然認為這樣便具足了戒德。但他們根本就不知道什麼才是一個佛教比丘真正的戒德。如果他們能瞭解世尊闡述《波羅提木叉經》的意義,他們就會知道戒德的真正本質。他把戒德的基本意義濃縮為簡要的說明:『諸惡莫作,眾善奉行,自淨其意,是諸佛教。』」

        「諸惡莫作,這是什麼意思?有些人雖無身惡行,卻仍有口惡行;有些人雖無身與口方面的惡行,但仍有意惡行。他們依然從早到晚繼續積聚惡業。第二天一早醒來,他們又繼續--積累更多的罪惡。於是,就這樣繼續著,日復一日,他們無心反省自己的所作所為。他們自欺欺人催眠自己是有戒德的人,他們期待梵行可以就這樣從『虛名』中產生。所以,他們不可能知道什麼是梵行已立,反而,他們只會找到垢染與憂慮。這是必然的結果,因為想要尋找煩惱的人就一定能找得到。不然他們還能找到什麼呢?這種事情在我們生存的世間可以說是屢見不鮮。」

        對於我們這些想獲得深入內明實相的修行比丘來說,阿姜曼就是以這樣的方式來開示。接著他會繼續開始解釋定與慧,最後說到究竟的成就 —— 完全的解脫,充分並公開探討修行的各種領域,他那一天的闡述毫無保留。但是,有很多的內容前面都已經提過,我在這裡就不再重複。在他說法的整個時段,在場的比丘全都安靜地端坐著;當他發表洋洋灑灑的演說時,沒有人發出一點聲響去打斷他抑揚頓挫的聲音。

        當他結束後,他做了一個類似之前在清邁府Wat Chedi Luang寺的結論。他說,實際上,這次的說法將是他晚年「最後的加演場」-- 他不會再有像今晚這樣的演說。那一晚他說的話成讖了,因為從那一天起就不再有如此深刻與長時間的開示了。一個月以後,他的身體慢慢衰退,直到他最後過世。

        儘管他的病是因為退化性疾病造成的,他還是堅持努力徒步到村裡托缽,持續每日只吃一餐,且只吃缽內的食物,一如以往,他不會就這樣放棄這些修行。到最後,如果他覺得自己真的無法走完全程時,他會至少走從村莊回到寺院一半的路程。看到走這麼多的路對他造成這麼大的困難,在家信眾與上座一起討論,決定請他只走到寺院的門口,在那裡接受食物的供養。如果他們請他全然放棄托缽,他一定不肯 —— 只要他還有一口氣在,他就覺得有義務持續下去。所以每一個人都必須尊重他的意願,他們要避免做出與他堅毅的特質有所牴觸的事。就這樣他持續走到門口托缽,直到他太過虛弱而無法抵達才折返。從那時起,他開始只走到寺院的食堂托缽。只有當他再也走不動時,他才不再托缽。即使是這樣,他依舊奉行日中一食,只吃缽中的食物,而每次我們也只能尊重他的意願。我們對崇高的聖人有這般的耐力都感到很驚奇,不放棄他的奮戰精神,對於無明也絕不妥協讓步。

        對於我們這些人來說,我們很可能在患病之初就變得要死不活,希望被帶到食堂裡用餐。這真的很可恥:當我們像生肉一樣絕望的躺在砧板上等著被切碎,而無明卻一直都在旁邊嘲笑我們。這是多麼可悲的景象!我們竟然就像不成熟的小孩一樣,心甘情願任由無明擺佈,有慚愧心的人就應該停下來,以阿姜曼的修行模式為鑒,然後,與煩惱雜染開戰時可以此保護自己。如此一來,我們將可永遠忠於佛陀的教法 —— 而不是成為煩惱的挨鞭僮。

        最後,阿姜曼的病情已經嚴重到令我們不得不採取一些特定的預防措施。我們每天晚上悄悄地安排三到四組的比丘坐在他小禪屋下方守夜。我們並沒有告知他,雖然他可能早已意識到這一點。我們是擔心他會不准我們這麼做,他可能會認為這會造成僧眾不必要的負擔。每天晚上小組比丘輪流守夜,安靜地坐在他的小屋下方,持續換班,直到天明。每一組都待上幾個小時,直到下一組的人來交接。這項安排從那一年的雨安居開始時就執行了。當他的情況明顯變得愈來愈虛弱時,我們便開會決定要徵得他的許可,讓兩名比丘可以坐在他小屋的走廊上。得到他的同意後,兩名比丘從那時起便一直坐在他的走廊上,另兩名坐在小屋的下方。除了輪班看護的比丘外,其他的人也會在夜間安靜地留意周遭的狀況。

        雨安居結束後,有愈來愈多資深的弟子們從各自的居所趕來向他頂禮並照護他。那個時候,他的情況已經很危急,變得愈來愈不穩定。最後,在某一天他召集了所有的弟子交代他們如何處理他的後事。

        「我的病情現在已到了最後的階段,該想一想在我死後會有什麼事情發生 —— 必須先做好事前的準備。就像我一再告訴你們的,我快死了 —— 這一點是肯定的。我的死不僅僅會影響廣大的民眾,也會影響動物。我要讓你們知道我不想在Ban Nong Pheu村去世,如果我在這裡死,那麼為了供應前來參加荼毗[2]的人,就必然會宰殺大量的畜生。我不過是一個將死的人,但一個人的死卻反過來造成大量動物的死亡。會有許許多多來參加荼毗的人,但這個村莊沒有可購買食品的市場。自我出家以來,我對任何的動物沒有一絲傷害的念頭,就更不要說是殺害牠們。慈悲一直是我心中的支柱,我不斷散發慈愛,將我的功德毫無例外奉獻給一切眾生。我不希望看到有任何的動物失去寶貴的生命,我無法同意我的死成為自己和世上動物之間的不和之源。」

        「我要你們把我帶到色軍府,我要在那裡圓寂。那個城鎮有很大的市集,所以我的死應該不會影響這麼多動物的生命。我還沒死,但出家人與在家眾就已源源不斷聚集到這裡,他們的數量與日俱增 —— 這個規模就是問題的直接證據。現在想一想一旦我真的死了,到時將會有多少人來這裡。會有很多人來弔唁我,但這不是我想要的。我已準備好死亡 —— 不管在何時或何地發生。捨棄這個身體,我完全沒有遺憾,因為我已徹底觀透了它,我知道它不過是諸緣暫時聚合的一種組合,只是再次離散又各自回到它們原來的本質,有什麼好執著的?我關心的是如何守護農場裡的動物,好讓牠們免於被宰殺。我不想看到路邊攤販到處擺滿了被宰殺的動物屍體,這很令人難過,幸好現在還來得及補救。為了不讓所有的動物因我的死而被屠宰,我請你們盡快安排我離開這裡。還有人有什麼意見嗎?如果有的話,現在就提出來吧。」

        在場沒有一個人說話,安靜絕望的氛圍瀰漫整個現場。誠如佛陀說的:求不得是苦。大家都明白不管他是去色軍府或是留在Ban Nong Pheu村,不管哪一種情況都一樣的悲觀 —— 他就要過世了。所以大眾都保持沉默,沒有辦法解決這種困境。最後,每個人都同意他的請求。

        在集會之前,Ban Nong Pheu村的村民們就曾表示過,若他能於此處般涅槃,他們會備感榮耀。「我們會準備好一切荼毗所需的一切事宜。我們也許很窮,但我們對阿姜曼的信心與敬意是富足的。我們會盡一切最大的力量安排好荼毗。我們不會讓旁人看輕,譏嫌Ban Nong Pheu的村民沒有能力去荼毗一位阿姜的大體 —— 而必須到別處去完成。我們不想背負這種惡名,不管怎樣,我們每一個人都已準備好為阿姜曼奉獻出自己的一切。在他過世的那一天之前,他都將是我們最珍愛的皈依處。我們不允許有人將他帶離此地,如果有人想這麼做,我們一定會跟他拚命。」

        所以當聽到阿姜曼解釋要離開的原因後,他們的失望之情溢於言表,但他們覺得不能反對。雖然在聽到他離開的原因後,傷心與失望幾乎擊碎了他們的心,他們還是不得不尊重他的決定。他們確實值得同情,他們願意為阿姜曼犧牲一切的表現,我永遠珍惜,我相信所有的讀者也有同感。

        許多阿姜曼最資深的弟子們都參與了這次的集會,當瞭解到他的意願後,就決定必須盡快將他給帶走。在他宣布了他的決定與理由後,出家眾與在家眾皆無異議,大家決定要打造一個適合長途運載的擔架,好將阿姜曼從Ban Nong Pheu村長抬到色軍府。第二天,一大群僧眾與在家眾帶了擔架到他的小禪屋前,等候他的離開。那天,巨大的悲傷淹沒了每一個人。他們知道他們將失去最敬愛的人,這份巨大的悲傷情緒,讓出家人與在家人都幾乎無法承受。

        早餐結束後,一切都準備就緒,只等出發。聚集在小禪屋周圍為他送行的當地民眾,情緒開始高漲,發洩他們最後一次的失望。許多沙彌與比丘也加入了人群,他們也感受到了壓力,壓抑在內心深處的哀傷慢慢地浮現,淚水悄悄地流下,濕了臉頰。阿姜曼由資深弟子攙扶出來的那一刻 —— 情緒推向了更高點。當比丘們扶他下台階,將他放在擔架上,大家心中滿滿的敬愛、尊敬、絕望等交織複雜的情緒,都恣意傾瀉而出,男人、女人、沙彌和比丘,再也控制不住自己的淚水。圍觀的人放聲大哭,表達他們止不住的深沈悲傷。儘管我會陪同阿姜曼一起離開,但我自己也無法避免陷入了瀰漫哀傷的氛圍中。到處都充滿著哀號與哭泣聲。人們大聲喊叫、乞求阿姜曼:「請趕快好起來!不要離開這個世界,留下我們永遠難以承受的哀痛。」在那個時候,他們幾乎都傷心欲絕。他們知道,他的大慈大悲,一定會憐憫村民有多麼的可憐;但看到多年來他們忠實守護的珍寶即將去世,他們也難忍悲痛。他即將離開了,而他們卻無力挽回。

        當阿姜曼被抬走時,沿路發出的哀嘆聲如波濤般湧起,如潮水般的悲痛淹沒了沿途站立的村民。當他經過時,一切都變成了灰黑色,彷彿他們的生活突然間都被抹煞。即便是無情的草木,也呼應著他的死亡而枯萎。這片祥和的森林聖地是阿姜曼和弟子們怡然自得居住的地方 —— 是一處多年來許多普通老百姓前來尋求心靈庇護的地方 —— 儘管還有比丘住在這裡,當阿姜曼離開時,忽然間變得冷清許多。很多的樹都不再茂密,葉子也不再如以往能帶給前來尋求心靈庇護的人許多的平靜與安慰。那些對正法忠誠不渝的人的哭聲,令聞者莫不感到鼻酸與淒涼。他們目睹了一位呈現堅定宗教信仰的崇高典範者的離去。

        離開村莊的過程花了不少時間,之後哀泣的聲音也消失在遠方,數百名出家眾與在家眾繼續跟在擔架的後方,他們都垮著臉,反映出哀戚與低沈的氛圍,就像親戚好友跟隨在葬禮隊伍的後邊安靜地送葬,他們極力掩飾自己的難過。沒有人說話,但希望的幻滅卻長期深入在心中,最強烈的感受就是現在一切都完了。即使他還活著,但當時就好像我們抬著他的大體準備去處理一樣。已瞭解到沒有希望,他再也不會回來了。我們愈是這樣想,就愈發難過。但,這種想法就是停不下來。大家都一片愁雲慘霧,呆滯地向前走,心中充滿著絕望。

        很不好意思我必須承認在這一方面我修得不夠好 —— 在整個旅程中我只想到我將要失去生命中真正的皈依,修行上如果遇到問題時不再有人可以諮詢了。從Ban Nong Pheu村到Phanna Nikhom縣的市區的距離大約有十五英哩;但長時間的徒步讓人幾乎沒有注意到這段距離。走在他的後方,知道他即將過世,我只想到今後我會多麼想念他。在當時,我多想他能繼續活著。他最後的那段日子剛好是我禪修的關鍵時期,我仍有許多未解決的疑惑。但不管我怎麼去思考這個困境,結論都是一樣:我的依靠即將終止了,而這使得未來前途堪憂。

        在漫長的旅途中,他的情況都還算平靜與穩定 —— 沒有出現任何不適的症狀。事實上,他看起來就像是躺著熟睡一般,當然他並不是真的睡著。中午時分,隊伍到了一處陰涼的樹林裡。因為有一大群人隨行,所以我們問阿姜曼是否可在此處稍作休憩。他馬上問:「我們現在在哪裡?」聽到他聲音的那一刻,我冷不防被情感與情緒的執著所衝擊,為什麼我會被這麼美好與令人愉快的聲音所感動?似乎,剎那間,彷彿阿姜曼又好了起來。

        這位三界所敬愛的典範真的要棄我而去了嗎?一個孤兒的心都要碎了。他慈悲的幫助,讓我將生命投注在修行上,他清淨的心真的要從我的生命中永遠地離去並消失嗎?這就是阿姜曼開口說話的時候我當下即刻的感受。也許有些人會認為這樣的反應有點瘋狂,但我並不在意 —— 我很願意承認這種瘋狂。為了阿姜曼,我可以不顧自己的性命,心甘情願為他而死。如果他願意,我想都不會想,欣然地捨棄生命,我隨時都準備好為他犧牲生命。但,唉,他是不可能接受我任何的犧牲。事實是,世上的每個人都必然會走相同的路:凡有生就必有死,沒有例外。

        到色軍府的路程分成兩個階段。第一天走到Phanna Nikhom縣的Ban Phu寺,就會在那裡休息幾天,好讓阿姜曼抵達色軍府之前能稍做休養。那天早上九點離開Ban Nong Pheu村,天黑之前隊伍便抵達了Ban Phu寺。為了讓他及跟在隊伍後面的老人及婦女都可以輕鬆一點,我們繞的是比較崎嶇的路,山腳的邊緣,所以路程就花了一整天的時間。抵達後,我們請他在一座小涼亭裡休息,那裡易於照顧他的需求,也方便出家眾與在家眾向阿姜曼稽首頂禮。

        阿姜曼在Ban Phu寺停滯了許多天,這段期間他的病情不斷惡化。同一期間,每一天都有許多來自附近的出家眾與在家眾來拜見他,有些人甚至是晚上來。大家都渴望能趁機見到他並向他頂禮。雖然他的聲名遠播,但大多數人都未曾見過他。他們聽說阿姜曼肯定是現代的阿羅漢,並即將入滅。據聞,凡見過他的人都會帶來吉祥與幸福,而沒見過的人則是白白虛擲生命。所以,他們為了利益都急著來拜見他,不希望覺得浪費生而為人的時機。

        就在抵達Ban Phu的第一個早上,阿姜曼想知道什麼時候才會到色軍府。他告訴弟子們他不想在Ban Phu圓寂 —— 他們必須趕緊帶他到色軍府,不能再拖了。他的資深弟子回答說他們想在這裡停留一下好讓他恢復體力,之後才會應他的要求前往色軍府,於是阿姜曼便不再說什麼了。第二天他又問了同樣的問題,資深弟子們還是說出同樣的理由,他又不說話了,只是過了一陣子後他又會再次問起。一次又一次,他問弟子們到底什麼時候才會去色軍府,他說,如果等太久,他可能無法活著到色軍府。

        最後,弟子們請求他待在Ban Phu十天。但過了四、五天後,他又不斷催促他們帶他到色軍府。每一次,他的資深弟子們不是不回應,就是重複先前說過的理由。他反覆催促他們,並指責他們拖了太久的時間。

        「你們是希望我在這裡死嗎?我一開始就告訴過你們 —— 我要在色軍府圓寂。時間快到了,趕緊帶我到那裡!別再拖了!」

        最後的三天裡,他要去色軍府的要求逐漸變成了吼叫。最後的一晚,他不肯躺下來睡覺。相反的,他急召弟子們到床邊,清楚地告訴他們他沒辦法再活下去了。他堅持當晚就要出發,並確定要及時抵達。然後他就在我們的攙扶下朝色軍府的方向結跏趺坐入定。當他出定後,他告訴我們準備離開 —— 不能再等了。我們趕緊找來他的資深弟子,他們告訴他一定會在第二天早上帶他到色軍府。聽到了這項保證後,他的催促稍稍減輕了一些,但他仍不肯睡覺,大聲地說出他的感想:「我的時間快到了,我沒辦法再撐下去,最好是今晚就走。這樣一來,我就可以在關鍵時刻來臨前抵達。我不想再揹負著身體各種燃燒的元素了,我將要永遠捨棄這個身體,不用再掛心這一大堆的疼痛與苦受。我真的已瀕臨死亡了,你們難道不知道我隨時可能會死嗎?我的身體已經完全沒有用處了,實在沒有理由讓我一直處於這種煎熬的狀態。你們都瞭解我要去色軍府的理由 —— 而這也是我們當初會來這個地方的理由。所以為什麼你們還要堅持拖延呢?這裡是色軍府嗎?為什麼不馬上帶我過去?我現在就要走!你們還在等什麼?一具殘骸還能有什麼用處?根本就沒有用處,甚至不能拿來當魚飼料!」

        「我已經告訴過你們,我的身體已經到了極限 —— 再也不能繼續了。這裡難道沒有人願意照我說的話去做?我已明確告訴過你們怎麼做,就是沒有人要聽。如果你們還是一直這種態度,怎麼可能發現真諦?如果我還活著,還在你們的眼前,你們就已這麼固執,那麼一旦我死後你們又怎麼可能管好自己?我知道我告訴你們的都絕對是真的,我是經過仔細考慮後才向你們解釋了整個情況。然而,你們卻頑固不聽從,對於你們可發展出護持佛法的必要正確判斷力這一點,我開始感到失望了。」

        那一晚阿姜曼的態度很強硬 —— 他整晚都不肯睡覺。我懷疑他是擔心,以他的情況,可能會一睡不起。在當時,沒有人了解他為什麼徹夜不眠的原因,到後來我才了解真正的原因。

        隔天早上七點,從府公路局駛來了幾輛卡車準備護送阿姜曼去色軍府。Num Chuwanon女士,這次護送的負責人,恭請他搭其中的一輛車。他爽快地答應了,並問是否有足夠的車子可搭載所有隨行的僧眾。他得知有三輛卡車,如果這三輛卡車無法載送所有想要一起去的僧眾,卡車會回頭來接剩下的人。了解安排後,阿姜曼就不再說話了。比丘們用過餐後,醫生給他注射了鎮靜劑,這樣他在顛簸的路上就不會受到干擾。在當時,道路相當崎嶇不平 —— 到處都是坑洞,都是差勁的路況。接受注射後,他被放到擔架上並送到停在田邊的其中一輛車內,那裡是沒有道路可進入寺院裡的。不久,阿姜曼開始入睡,護送的車隊開始前往色軍府,並在當天的正午時分抵達了目的地。

        抵達時,他從卡車上被抬下來,一直睡著,被安置在Wat Suddhawat寺的一間小屋子裡。他一整天都在睡覺,直到午夜前都沒有醒來。在醒來前的一小時內,那些嚴重的病症 —— 也就是一再事先警告他這群看似又聾又瞎的諸弟子們 —— 變得愈來愈嚴重了,彷彿是在對我們大家說:現在你們都看到了吧?這就是為什麼我一再堅持你們趕緊帶我到色軍的原因,我想快點擺脫這堆苦聚的身軀,病症現在都已經這麼明顯了,如果你們還搞不清楚,那麼就看清楚吧。如果你們不相信我告訴你們的,那麼仔細看清楚並用你們的心好好地想一想此刻呈現在你們面前的一切,我說的到底是真的還是假的?從現在開始不要再那麼聾、那麼瞎、那麼粗心,不然的話,你們永遠都不可能找到救贖自己的必要智慧,現在你們所見證的一切應該能深深地激發你們去想 —— 不要再這麼自以為是了。

        五蘊實在是個重擔。就在那天的凌晨,他開始脫離重擔 —— 那是真正有智慧的人在未來都不想再遇到的純大苦聚。那一晚,寺院完全寂靜,沒有人到處走動破壞這片寂靜。不久,一些重要的阿姜們,例如從烏隆府Wat Bodhisomphon寺來的Chao Khun Dhammachedi,聞訊後都急忙趕來。當他們進入後,雖然心情因他明顯惡化的病情給弄得很糟,但都仍平靜、沈穩地趕緊坐下。這是一個令人鼻酸的預示,提醒大家他隨時可能過世。來監看他病情的比丘面對他安靜地坐成三排。重要的資深弟子們,以Chao Khum Dhammachedi大師為首坐在前面一排,較資淺的比丘與沙彌填補其餘的幾排。所有人全都安靜地坐著,雙眼盯著阿姜曼。他們的眼瞼都被止不住的淚水給沾濕 —— 這就是他們強烈的絕望。他們知道所有的希望都已落空,任何的努力都不可能逆轉,他們覺得彷彿自己的生命失去了意義。

        一開始,阿姜曼以「獅子臥」面向右側斜躺,但因擔心這可能會讓他疲憊,一些比丘輕柔地取下支持他背部的枕頭,好讓他平躺下來。當他注意到後,他又試著轉向右邊的獅子臥姿勢,但他不再有力氣可以移動。當他掙扎轉向一邊,一些資深的阿姜們試著重擺放枕頭,再去支持他的背部;但又注意到他已非常的虛弱,他們決定停止,擔心可能會讓事情更糟。結果,阿姜曼最後離開人世的時候,他既不是平躺也不是面向右側斜躺,而是介於兩者間稍微撐起來的某處。在當時的情況,根本不可能進一步去調整他的姿勢。他的弟子們,大多是比丘、沙彌和一些在家人,絕望地坐等他的生命慢慢地從他的身體裡流逝。於是乎對於他即將死亡的憂慮,使得他們幾乎都忘了呼吸。

        經過了幾分鐘,他的呼吸變得更柔更細了。沒有人把視線移開,因為他生命的終點即將到來。他的呼吸持續變得愈來愈弱,直到幾乎都察覺不出來。幾秒鐘後,他似乎停止呼吸;他的結束竟是如此的微妙,以致讓人無法確定他究竟何時過世。他的外觀並沒有什麼異常 —— 與一般人死亡的方式是那麼的不同。儘管他的眾弟子們目不轉睛盯著他最後的一刻,但沒有人敢確定說:「這就是阿姜曼離開悲苦塵世的精確時刻。」

        眼見已沒有生命的跡象,Chao Khun Dhammachedi暫且說:「我想他已經過世了。」同一時間,他看了一下手錶 —— 顯示凌晨兩點二十三分,所以這就視為他死亡的時間。當死亡已被確認,他過世的衝擊以悲痛欲絕的方式呈現出來 —— 圍坐在他毫無生氣大體周圍的比丘全都淚流滿面,緊接著是一陣低咳與輕咳的痛苦時刻,然後是語無倫次的喃喃自語,最後整個房間陷入了無聲的情境,那是一種無法以言語形容的絕望。我們的心都陷入了難以忍受的空虛感,我們坐在那裡的身體不過是具空殼而已。當阿姜曼捨棄了世俗的存在並進入了不再有塵俗打擾的至福境界(涅槃)時,整個世界似乎都停止了運轉,許久的靜止寂靜接踵而至。

        當我坐在他的身旁陷溺在哀思的悲傷時,幾乎要死於心碎。因他離開了塵世,我無法擺脫籠罩我心的陰霾與憂鬱的情緒,也沒有辦法減輕我所感受到失去的那種極度痛苦,「活死人」一詞最能形容我當時的失落感。

        一段沉寂後,資深弟子吩咐比丘們重新整理打掃他的臥具,他們暫時將他的大體攤開放好,因為他們明白隔天一早大家就會一起討論安排進一步的後事。完成後,大家魚貫退出房間,雖然還有少部分的人留在房間外面的走廊,大部分的人都走下去了。即使小屋的附近四周都被燈籠照亮,他的弟子仍因沮喪而盲目跌跌撞撞地走著,不確定自己要去哪裡,幾乎像是磕了藥,看起來昏昏欲睡,漫無目的來回走動。有幾位比丘在當時還真的昏倒了,彷彿他們的生命也即將到了終點,因為生命對他們來說已不再有意義。當天深夜,整個僧團都處於一片混亂的狀態;大家都因為嚴重的失落感而悲痛欲絕。比丘們都心不在焉地四處亂轉,搞不清楚自己要去哪裡。那就是照亮他們生命與心靈的燈塔離去後,所產生的一種十足沮喪的衝擊力。突然間,舒適和安全感全都蒸發了,使他們都處於一種失去皈依的不確定狀態。心中寒冷、黑暗的壓縮,讓他們覺得宇宙裡再也沒有什麼東西是真實的,也找不到東西可以支持自己,無法去想到宇宙的一切有情還是能找到庇護之源,在那個時刻他們似乎得面對沒有希望與不確定的未來,彷彿大家都被極度的不幸所吞噬。阿姜曼曾是真正的庇護所,對他們來說,他們可以誠摯、毫無保留地將自己託付給他。

        我無意藐視佛、法、僧,但那一刻,他們似乎很遙遠,很難將他們重建為一處可行的庇護所。他們似乎不像阿姜曼那麼有存在感;他總是在我們的身旁,隨時為我們解惑,給予我們啟發。如果我們帶著自己無法解決的迫切問題去接近他,當他提出解答的那一刻,這些相同的迫切問題都不約而同地溶解了。當他去世時,這些鮮明的回憶都深深刻劃在我的心裡,深刻影響著我。我想不到還有誰能解決我的問題?還有誰能這樣悲憫我?還有誰的意見是我可以信任的?我害怕獨自、沮喪、絕望地陷在無知的窠臼裡,在他身旁能輕易找到解答的時光已逝。我愈想到這個困境,就愈是覺得替自己找一條安全、容易的出路這件事感到灰心。以我的愚昧,當時的我看不到前方的路,只有悲苦與絕望凝視著我。坐在他的大體前,就好像是我自己死了,我想不到可以拯救自己並減輕痛苦的辦法,這是自我出家以來第一次感到這麼憂愁、恐懼與迷惘 —— 沒有人可以幫我,也沒有可以幫助我擺脫這份愁苦的辦法。每一次我低頭看著阿姜曼靜止、毫無生機的大體時,便熱淚盈眶,淚流滿面。我無法制止這種情況,我的胸口因卡在喉嚨裡讓我快窒息的一種控制不住的情緒而起伏與啜泣。

        最後,我又重獲足夠的平靜去內正思惟,我告誡自己:我現在真的要因心碎而死嗎?他已解脫了貪愛與執著,而這些(貪愛與執著)都是愚痴無明。如果我現在死了,我卻是因貪愛與執著而死,那對我是有害的。不管是掉舉或死亡,對我,或對阿姜曼,都沒有任何的用處。當他還在世的時候,從沒教過我們要思念他到死的程度,這是世上的凡夫才會有的渴愛。雖然這樣思念他,與「法」有關;但那畢竟還是被世俗的貪愛所染污,與佛教的比丘不相應。這對於像我這樣已立志決意證得最高的「法」的人來說,尤其不適當。世尊說:「只要能依法奉行,事實上,就是在禮敬佛,也見到了佛。」顯然我的渴望與「法」完全不相應,為了與「法」相應,我必須遵照阿姜曼的教導,嚴格依法奉行,這才是表達對他思念的正確方法。如果我依照他教我的方法,在嚴格地修行中死去,我有自信我的死亡與「法」完全相應,這是唯一該做的事。我不該因為對他不理性、世俗的思念而阻礙了進步 —— 那樣我只會傷害自己。

        就這樣,我重建了正念,讓理智在當時趁機介入並搶先制止心中肆虐的漩渦,也因此我得以避免葬送在自己沒有意義的行為之中。

 

[1]泰曆三月(遇閏年則為四月)的月圓日,即泰國節慶日萬佛節」。

[2] 火化聖者的葬禮。

 

                                               

Ãcariya Mun had already lived for five years at Ban Nong Pheu monastery  when,  in  March  of  1949  –  precisely  on  the  fourteenth day of the fourth lunar month – his body began exhibiting signs indicating the approaching end of his life. By then, he was 79 years old. On that day there appeared the first symptoms of an illness that was to worsen until it finally brought to a close his long life – a day that sent tremors through Ãcariya Mun’s body elements and shock waves through the community of his close disciples. Initially there was a light fever, accompanied by a slight cough. But as the days passed, the symptoms steadily worsened, never showing the slightest improvement. Obviously abnormal, the constant decline in his health worried us all. But Ãcariya Mun himself clearly knew that this was to be his final illness – an illness no type of medical treatment could cure. He informed his disciples of this from the very beginning and from then on never showed any interest in medicines. On the contrary, he seemed annoyed when someone brought him medicines to take. This he expressed in no uncertain terms:

“This is the illness of an old man who has reached the end of the line. No matter what kind of medicine I take, it will never be cured. All that’s left is the breath in my body, biding its time, awaiting the day it finally ceases. I’m like a dead tree that’s still standing: no matter how much you fertilize and water that tree, it is impossible to make it sprout and flower again. This old dead tree now stands anticipating the day it will topple over and go crashing to the ground, felled by this very same illness. I thoroughly investigated my condition long before the symptoms appeared. That is why I’ve been warning you all: Don’t be complacent. Hurry up, intensify your efforts now while I am still alive. In that way, I can help you resolve any problems you may have in the meantime. Missing this opportunity now may cause you to waste a lot of time in the future. I will not be here much longer. Soon I shall depart this world, in keeping with the law of impermanence that follows constantly on the heels of all conditioned things without exception. Three years ago I warned you that I would not last more than three years. What more can I say? What I’ve told you, I know to be inevitable. The work that the round of saÿsãra performs inside the minds and bodies of human beings and animals alike continues unerringly along its natural course. In just a few months time it will complete its final task within this body of mine. How can it possibly alter its appointed task?”

With each passing day his symptoms gradually worsened. Showing no interest in medicines of any kind, he was clearly annoyed when people came and urged him to try this remedy or that cure. But so many people arrived offering ‘cures’ that he had a hard time resisting them all. Each one touted the effectiveness of the medicine he was offering, insisting that if he took it he was sure to get better, for it had already cured many others. They all pleaded with him to try their medicines out of compassion for them. They wanted him to get better so he could continue to be of service to his many followers for a long time to come. He often warned them that medicines were useless for his illness; that only firewood for cremating the corpse was appropriate. But the more he protested, the more they beseeched him. So occasionally he yielded to their appeals and took a small dose of medicine. He was concerned that people would feel disappointed if they believed he had given up on his condition.

As news of his illness spread across the region, people began arriving from all directions to visit him at Ban Nong Pheu. Traveling from locations far and near in all kinds of weather, a steady flow of monks and laity poured in like the waters from a monsoon rain. Ban Nong Pheu was situated in a valley surrounded by thick forest some twelve to fifteen miles from the main highway between Udon Thani and Sakon Nakhon. Though people had to travel by foot to see him, they appeared undaunted by the distance and the difficulties it posed. Only the elderly, unable to make the journey on foot, hired ox carts to take them there.

By nature, Ãcariya Mun always preferred to live alone quietly. Even the monks living with him were discouraged from bothering him unless absolutely necessary. Consequently, receiving large numbers of well-wishers disagreed with his natural inclination to remain aloof from such tiresome affairs. When sick, he had always been reluctant to allow even his close disciples to take care of him, though he did make certain exceptions. When he did allow it, the monks attending to his personal needs had to be very circumspect in his presence. Only monks deemed trustworthy were selected for these duties. As his health deteriorated, a discerning senior monk was appointed to oversee all arrangements for his health care. Since by nature Ãcariya Mun was very thorough and meticulous, this monk had to decide what action was appropriate in each instance and then see that the other monks carefully followed this regimen. For this reason, monks attending on him were carefully chosen to ensure their behavior did not conflict with his subtle temperament.

The lay people and the monks, arriving from various locations around the region with hopes of seeing him to pay their respects, were first asked to wait until an appropriate time could be arranged. When the monk handling these matters felt the time was right, he entered Ãcariya Mun’s hut to inform him about the visitors. Once permission was granted, the visitors were taken to see him. After Ãcariya Mun had spoken to them for awhile, they respectfully took their leave and departed. The monks at Ban Nong Pheu monastery had always arranged visits in this manner for those who came to see him. Visitors were invariably asked to wait until permission was granted; and then, they were escorted to his hut in groups at the time which he had agreed to receive them. The exceptions to this rule were senior disciples, who enjoyed a special, close relationship with him, being ãcariyas in their own right. Once Ãcariya Mun was informed of their arrival and had given his consent, the ãcariyas went straight in to converse with him in private.

As the months passed, his condition continued to deteriorate. Although the symptoms never became very severe, he always felt unwell. His illness resembled an armed insurgency gradually escalating into a full scale war, consuming everything in its path, and leaving its victim decimated. His disciples were deeply affected. He occupied a special place at the center of their hearts, so his failing health left them all distraught. Feeling sad, even dejected, they were not so cheerful as before. Every conversation began with the topic of Ãcariya Mun’s illness and moved on to something else, only to return to his health again as the conversation ended.

Despite failing health, Ãcariya Mun did not neglect his teaching obligations. His compassionate concern for his disciples never diminished, though he was no longer able to expound the Dhamma in such detail as before. Having finished his talk, he briefly answered questions and then promptly adjourned the meeting to return to his hut for a rest. Incredibly though, while sitting there expounding Dhamma to the assembled monks, he showed no signs of his illness. He spoke with characteristic resoluteness in a sharp, lively fashion, his voice booming loudly as if he never had been sick. When he wanted to emphasize a point, the tempo of his voice quickened dramatically to drive the point home. He held nothing back as he spoke. His whole demeanor belied his true condition. Only after he finished speaking did we all realize how exhausted he was. So we quickly adjourned to allow him a chance to rest.

One evening shortly before his illness began, on the occasion of Mãgha Pýjã, the full moon day of February 1949, Ãcariya Mun began expounding Dhamma to the assembled monks at eight P.M. and did not finish until midnight, speaking for a total of four hours. The power of the Dhamma he delivered that night truly amazed the whole assembly of dhutanga monks who were gathered for that occasion. To those listening, the entire universe appeared to have vanished without a trace, replaced in their awareness by the flow of his all-encompassing Dhamma, radiating forth in every direction. He began by paying tribute to the 1,250 Arahants who had come together spontaneously on this full moon day in the time of the Buddha.

“On this day 1,250 Arahants assembled spontaneously at the Lord Buddha’s residence without prior arrangement. They were all individuals of the utmost purity, completely free of kilesas. The Lord Buddha himself delivered the Pãåimokkha exhortation that day, making the occasion a visuddhi uposatha; that is, an uposatha observed among monks who are all absolutely pure. Compare that assembly with the one gathered here today. You listen to the Pãåimokkha being recited among monks who are all absolutely tainted – not one of you is completely free of kilesas. It is dismaying to think that, having ordained as a monk, each of you is a son of the same Buddha as those Arahant disciples. Yet, in your case it is just an empty claim lacking any real substance; like a person having the name ‘Goodman’ who, on the contrary, is so weighed down under his own evil doings he can hardly move. In the Buddha’s day, monks practiced the Dhamma truly and so became true monks with a true understanding which concealed nothing false. Today, the fame and celebrity of some monks is so great that they rival the sun and the moon, yet their actions sink to the depths of avïci. Where will they ever find virtue, truth, and purity? They merely accumulate a mass of kilesas and create the evil kamma that goes with them. Since monks today are not engaged in uprooting the kilesas from their hearts, how can visuddhi uposatha possibly arise? Once ordained, they are satisfied with their exalted status as Buddhist monks, taking for granted that this makes them models of virtue. But they have no idea what the true virtues of a Buddhist monk really are. If they understood the meaning of the Pãåimokkha exhortation that the Lord Buddha delivered, they would know the true nature of virtue. He condensed the essential meaning of virtue into this concise statement: Refrain from all evil, develop goodness and wisdom in abundance, and purify the mind until it is bright and clear. This is the essence of the Buddha’s teaching.

“Refraining  from  evil,  what  does  it  mean?  Some  people refrain from acting in evil ways but still speak in evil ways. Others may not act or speak in evil ways but still like to think in evil ways. They continue to amass evil within themselves from dawn to dusk. Waking up the next morning, they resume – amassing more evil. So it continues, day in and day out, and they are not interested in reflecting upon their actions. Convinced they are already virtuous people, they wait around expecting a state of purity to arise from virtue that exists in name only. So they never find a state of purity; instead, they find only defilement and disquiet. This is bound to happen, for anyone intent on looking for trouble is sure to find it. What else would they find? There is no shortage of such things in the conventional world we live in.”

This was Ãcariya Mun’s way of explaining the underlying, natural principles of virtue to practicing monks in the hope that they would gain a profound insight into the Truth. He then went on to explain the way of practice that begins with samãdhi and wisdom and ends with the ultimate attainment – absolute freedom. Discussing all areas of practice fully and openly, his exposition that day held nothing back. But, since much of what he said has already been covered in previous talks, I shall not elaborate any further here. The assembly of monks sat perfectly still the entire time he spoke, no one making the slightest sound to interrupt the cadence of his voice as he delivered this eloquent discourse.

As he finished speaking, he made a similar remark to the one he previously made at Wat Chedi Luang monastery in Chiang Mai. He said, in effect, that this talk would be the ‘final encore’ of his old age – never would he give another such talk. His words that night were prophetic, because from that day on he never gave another profound and lengthy exposition of Dhamma. One month later his illness began, and his health steadily declined until he finally passed away.

Despite the physical difficulties he suffered as a result of that degenerative disease, he insisted on making the effort to walk to the village for almsround and continued eating only one meal a day from his alms bowl, as he always had. He did not simply abandon these practices. Eventually, when he felt that he could no longer walk the entire distance, he made an effort to walk at least halfway through the village before returning to the monastery. Seeing that so much walking caused him great difficulty, lay supporters and senior monks conferred and decided to invite him to walk only as far as the monastery gate, where offerings of food would be placed in his bowl. Had they requested him to abstain altogether from going on almsround, he would surely have demurred – so long as he was still physically able, he felt obliged to continue. So everyone had to respect his wishes. They wanted to avoid doing anything that might conflict with his resolute temperament. He continued walking to the front gate for alms until he became too weak to make it there and back. At that point, he began walking only as far as the refectory to collect alms. Only when he could no longer walk at all did he stop going for alms. Even then, he continued to eat just one meal a day, which he took in his alms bowl. The rest of us had to respect his wishes each time. We were all amazed at the endurance of this noble sage who, refusing to forsake his fighting spirit, conceded nothing to the kilesas.

As for the rest of us, we would probably be so dispirited at the very first sign of sickness that someone would have to carry us to the refectory to eat. It is truly disgraceful: the kilesas always laughing at us as we lie hopelessly on their chopping block, waiting for them to shred us to pieces like so much raw meat. What a pathetic sight! Here we are full-fledged human beings willingly putting ourselves at the mercy of the kilesas. All of us who carry this shame on our conscience should stop and reflect on Ãcariya Mun’s mode of practice. We can then adopt it to safeguard us in our struggle with these defilements. In that way, we will always remain faithful to our Buddhist principles – instead of just being the kilesas’ whipping boys.

Eventually, Ãcariya Mun’s condition became so serious that the rest of us felt obliged to undertake certain precautions. We quietly arranged for groups of three or four monks to keep a vigil every night sitting beneath his hut. We arranged this ourselves without informing him, though he may have been intuitively aware of it. We were concerned he might forbid us to do it, reasoning that it was a burden on the monks and thus an unnecessary nuisance. Every night small groups of monks took turns, sitting silently beneath his hut in continuous shifts that lasted until dawn. Each group stayed for several hours until it was replaced by the next. This routine was already well established by the beginning of the rainy season retreat that year. When it became obvious that his illness had become very debilitating, we conferred among ourselves and decided to request his permission for two monks to be allowed to sit in meditation on his verandah. With his consent, two monks were always seated on his verandah from then on, and two more were seated down below. Besides the regular shifts of monks who kept watch on him, others were quietly overseeing the whole arrangement throughout the night.

The end of the rains retreat saw an increasing number of senior disciples begin arriving from their own retreat locations to pay him their respects and help look after his needs. By that time his condition was critical, and becoming more and more unstable by the day. Eventually, he called all his disciples together one day to remind them of the proper way to handle his impending death.

“My illness has now reached its final stage. It is time to think about what will happen when I die – preparations must be made in time. As I’ve told you many times, I am going to die – this much is certain. My death is destined to be a major event affecting not only the general public, but animals as well. I want you to know that I do not wish to die here at Ban Nong Pheu. If I die here, it will be necessary to slaughter large numbers of farm animals in order to feed all the people coming to my funeral. I am only one dying person, but the death of this one person will in turn cause the deaths of a great many animals. Crowds of people will travel here to attend my funeral, but there’s no market in this village where foodstuffs can be purchased. Since ordaining as a monk I have never for a moment considered doing harm to any animal, to say nothing of killing them. Compassion has always been the foundation of my conscious existence. I am continuously extending the spirit of loving kindness and dedicating the fruits of my merit to all living beings without exception. I do not want to see any animal lose the life it cherishes so dearly. I could never countenance having my own death become a source of enmity between myself and the world’s animals.

“I want you to take me to Sakon Nakhon so I can die there. That town has a large marketplace, so my death should not affect the lives of so many animals. I have yet to die, but monks and lay people are already arriving here in a steady stream, their numbers increasing each day – clear evidence of the scale of the problem. Now think of how many people will come when I finally do die. Many people will mourn my death, but that is not my concern. I am ready for death – whenever and wherever it happens. I have no regrets about parting with my body. Having already investigated it thoroughly, I know that it is merely a combination of elements that have joined together temporarily, only to break apart again and revert back to their original elemental nature. What is there to be attached to? What I am concerned about is safeguarding the local farm animals so they won’t have to perish as well. I don’t want to see animal carcasses laid out for sale all up and down the roadsides here. That would be extremely regrettable. Fortunately, it’s not too late to remedy the situation. I am asking that you arrange for my departure as soon as possible for the sake of all those animals that would otherwise die as a result of my death. It is my express wish that their lives be protected. Does anyone have anything to say? If so, speak up now.”

Not a single person in the group spoke up. An atmosphere of quiet despair pervaded the assembly. As the Buddha said: yampiccaÿ na labhati tampi dukkhaÿ: not getting what one wants is truly a form of dukkha. Everyone realized that whether he went to Sakon Nakhon or remained at Ban Nong Pheu, in either case the situation was hopeless – he was going to die. So the meeting remained silent. There was just no way to resolve this dilemma. In the end, everyone willingly agreed to his request.

Prior to the meeting, the residents of Ban Nong Pheu village had made it known that they would feel honored to have him die there. “We will manage all the funeral arrangements ourselves. We may be quite poor here but our hearts are rich in faith and respect for Ãcariya Mun. We will do everything we possibly can to arrange the funeral here. We won’t let anyone look down on us saying that the villagers of Ban Nong Pheu couldn’t cremate the body of even one ãcariya – instead, it had to be done elsewhere. We don’t want that kind of reputation. Whatever happens, all of us here are ready to offer ourselves to Ãcariya Mun, body and soul. He will remain our cherished refuge until the day he dies. We can’t allow anyone to take him away. We will resist to the last breath any attempt to do so.”

So when hearing Ãcariya Mun’s explanation for being taken away, their disappointment was palpable, but they felt they couldn’t object. Although they venerated him so much their sadness and disappointment at hearing his reasons nearly broke their hearts, they were forced to accept his decision. They truly deserve a lot of sympathy. Their willingness to sacrifice everything in their devotion to Ãcariya Mun is a gesture I will always treasure. I’m sure that all of my readers feel the same way.

Many of Ãcariya Mun’s most senior disciples attended the meeting, aware as he spoke that he must be moved as soon as possible. After he had announced his decision and stated his reasons, and there being no dissenting voices, the monks and laity who were present all agreed to construct a stretcher suitable to carry him on the long journey from Ban Nong Pheu to Sakon Nakhon. The next day, a large crowd of lay supporters and monks brought the stretcher to his hut, awaiting his departure. An immense sorrow overcame everyone that day. They realized they were about to lose somebody whom they so deeply cherished and revered. It was a sorrow so great that local people and monks alike could barely contain their emotions.

After the morning meal was over and everyone awaited in readiness for the journey to start, emotions began to run high in the crowd surrounding his hut as the local people, gathered to see him off, gave vent to their despair one last time. Many monks and novices swelled the crowd; they too felt the strain. The deep sadness depressing their hearts slowly welled up, and tears flowed quietly, dampening their cheeks. At that moment Ãcariya Mun appeared, carried by a group of his senior disciples – a moment of further heightened emotion. As the monks carried him down the steps and placed him on the stretcher, the mixture of affection, respect, and despair that everyone had kept bottled-up inside freely poured out: men, women, monks, and novices were no longer able to hold back their flood of tears. Onlookers wept openly, expressing an unrestrained and deep sense of sorrow. I myself could not avoid getting caught up in the despondent mood pervading that sad occasion, despite the fact that I was accompanying Ãcariya Mun when he left. The air filled with sounds of weeping and crying. People called out, begging Ãcariya Mun, “Please get better: Don’t pass away from this world leaving us forever in unbearable sadness.” They were almost inconsolable at that point. In his great compassion, he sympathized with how poor their community was. This they knew; yet they couldn’t help but feel terribly miserable watching the cherished treasure over whom they had faithfully kept watch for so many years slip away from them forever. He was departing now, and there was nothing they could do to prevent it.

As Ãcariya Mun was carried past, the sounds of their heartfelt laments surged along the path, a tidal wave of grief inundating the hearts of those who lined the route. As he passed by, everything appeared gray and bleak, as though their lives had suddenly been snuffed out. Even the grasses and trees, though insensible to the unfolding scene before them, appeared to wither up and die in response. As Ãcariya Mun left the peaceful shade of the forest sanctuary where he and his disciples had lived so contentedly – a place where so many ordinary people had come to find shelter over the years – the monastery suddenly felt deserted, even though many monks still remained. Suddenly it no longer had that enormous tree with the thick, broad foliage that had always given so much peace and comfort to all who came to shelter there. The heartrending, anguished cries of those wanting to offer their undying devotion to the sãsana was an immensely sad, forlorn sound indeed. They were witnessing the departure of the one man who embodied the high ideals of their unshakable religious faith.

Long after the procession had passed through the village and the sounds of inconsolable grief had faded into the distance, hundreds of monks and lay people continued to walk behind his stretcher, their long, drawn faces mirroring the somber, cheer-less spirit of the occasion. Walking along in complete silence like mourners in a funeral procession of a close friend or relative, they did their best to come to terms with the heartbreak. No one spoke a word, but in their hearts they pondered long and deeply on their shattered hopes, the overwhelming feeling being that all was now lost. It seemed then as if we were taking his corpse away to dispose of it, even though he was still very much alive. The realization that all hope was now gone, that he would never return again, had fully sunk in. The more we thought about it, the sadder we became. Yet we couldn’t stop thinking about it. We all walked along in a kind of melancholy daze, contemplating thoughts of despair.

I must confess to being shamefully inadequate in this regard – the whole journey I thought only of how I was about to lose my one true refuge in life. No longer would there be someone to rely on when questions arose in my practice, as they so often did. The distance from Ban Nong Pheu to the district seat of Phanna Nikhom was approximately fifteen miles; but the long hours of walking passed almost unnoticed. Walking behind him, knowing he was dying, I thought only of how much I was going to miss my teacher. I desperately wanted him to continue living at the time. His final days corresponded to a crucial stage in my own meditation practice, a time when I had many unresolved problems to work out. No matter how much I pondered this predicament, I always arrived at the same conclusion: my dependence on him would have to be terminated soon. This made the future look bleak.

His condition remained calm and stable throughout the long journey – he did not display any obvious signs of ill health. In fact, he appeared to be lying fast asleep, though of course he wasn’t sleeping at all. Around midday, the procession reached a cool, shady grove of trees. We asked Ãcariya Mun’s permission to take a short rest for the sake of the large group of people accompanying him. He immediately asked, “Where are we now?” The moment I heard his voice I was caught off guard by a surge of affection and emotional attachment. Why was I so deeply moved by this wonderful, welcome sound? It seemed, suddenly, as though Ãcariya Mun was his old self again.

Is this beloved paragon of the three worlds truly going to abandon me, a poor orphan whose heart is about to break? Will his pure heart, whose kind assistance has always helped to breathe life into my spirit, really withdraw from my life and disappear – forever? Such were my immediate feelings the moment Ãcariya Mun spoke up. Some people may consider this a somewhat crazy reaction. But I have no misgivings – I willingly admit this kind of craziness. For Ãcariya Mun’s sake, I was so crazy I would gladly have volunteered to die in his place without the least concern for my own life. Had it been his wish, I would have happily laid down my life – no second thoughts. I was prepared at a moment’s notice to sacrifice my life for his. But, alas, it was impossible for him to accept any sacrifice I might be willing to offer. The truth is that everyone in the world must inevitably travel the same route: whatever is born must die. There are no exceptions.

The journey to Sakon Nakhon was planned in two stages. The first day we walked as far as Ban Phu monastery in Phanna Nikhom district, where we were to rest for a few days, allowing Ãcariya Mun a chance to recuperate before moving on to Sakon Nakhon. Leaving Ban Nong Pheu at nine o’clock that morning, the procession eventually reached Ban Phu monastery shortly before dark. The journey had taken all day because we followed the more circuitous route, skirting the edge of the mountains, to make it easier for him and the many elderly men and women determined to follow him all the way. Upon arriving, we invited him to rest in a low pavilion where his needs could easily be attended. It was also a convenient place for monks and lay people to pay him their respects.

Ãcariya Mun’s sojourn at Ban Phu monastery dragged on for many days, his condition steadily worsening the entire time. Meanwhile, each new day brought visiting crowds of monks and lay people from the surrounding area. Some even came at night. All were eager for a chance to meet him and pay their respects. Though well aware of his illustrious reputation, most of them had never made his acquaintance. They had heard the news that he was certainly a modern-day Arahant who would soon pass away into Nibbãna. It was rumored that those who met him would be blessed with good fortune, while those that didn’t would have lived their lives in vain. So they were all anxious to benefit by coming to pay him homage. They did not want to feel they had wasted their birth as human beings.

The very first morning after arriving at Ban Phu, Ãcariya Mun  demanded  to  know  when  he  would  be  taken  to  Sakon Nakhon. He told his disciples that it was not his intention to die at Ban Phu – they must take him on to Sakon Nakhon without further delay. His senior disciples replied that they planned to wait for a short while for him to recuperate, then they would proceed to Sakon Nakhon as he requested. So Ãcariya Mun let the matter drop for awhile. The next day he again asked the same question. His senior disciples repeated their reasons and he remained silent, only to bring it up again later. Time and again he demanded to know when they would take him to Sakon Nakhon. He said that, by waiting too long, he would fail to make it in time.

In the end, they asked him to extend his stay at Ban Phu monastery for a full ten days. By the time four or five days had passed, he was pressing them constantly to take him to Sakon Nakhon. Each time, his senior disciples either kept silent or repeated their previous justifications for staying. Repeatedly he pressed them, scolding them for waiting so long.

“Are you going to have me die here?! I’ve told you from the very beginning – I am going to die in Sakon Nakhon. My time is almost up. Get me there in a hurry! Don’t wait so long!”

During the final three days, his demands to be taken to Sakon Nakhon became increasingly vociferous. During his last night there he flatly refused to lie down and sleep. Instead, he urgently called the monks to his bedside and told them unequivocally that he could not remain alive much longer. He insisted on being taken that very night to be sure of arriving in time. He then had us prop him up, sitting cross-legged in samãdhi and facing in the direction of Sakon Nakhon. As soon as he withdrew from samãdhi, he told us to prepare to leave – he was waiting no longer. We rushed off to call his senior disciples. They informed him that he would definitely be taken to Sakon Nakhon the next morning. Following this assurance, his sense of urgency lessened somewhat, but he still refused to go to sleep, speaking openly about how he felt:

“My time is almost up, I cannot hang on much longer. It would be better to leave tonight. In that way, I will be sure to arrive in time for that critical moment which is now fast approaching. I have no wish to shoulder the burden of this flaming mass of body elements any longer. I want to discard the body once and for all so that I needn’t be concerned with this great pile of pain and suffering ever again. I am literally on the verge of death right now. Don’t you monks realize that I could die at any minute? My body is completely useless now. There is no justifiable reason to keep me in this state of physical torment. All of you understand my reasons for going to Sakon Nakhon – that’s why we came here in the first place. So why do you still insist on delaying my departure? Is this Sakon Nakhon? Why don’t you take me there immediately? I want to go right now! What are you waiting for? What use is a corpse? It’s not useful for anything, not even for making fish sauce!

“I have already told you: my body has reached its limit – it simply cannot last any longer. Isn’t anyone here interested in listening to me and doing what I say? I have explicitly stated what I want you to do, still no one seems to listen. If you insist on adopting such an attitude, how will you ever discover the Truth? If here in my presence, while I’m alive, you are so stubborn, refusing to believe what I say, how will you ever manage to be good, reasonable people once I’m dead? I know what I told you to be absolutely true. I have explained the whole situation to you in a carefully considered, reasonable manner. Yet, you stubbornly refuse to comply. I am beginning to lose hope that any of you will develop the principles of sound judgment needed to uphold the sãsana.”

Ãcariya Mun was very adamant the last night at Ban Phu – he absolutely refused to sleep that whole night. I suspect he was afraid that, in his condition, he might never wake up again. At the time none of us there with him could figure out his reason for staying awake all night. Only later did the real reason occur to me.

At seven o’clock the next morning, several trucks from the provincial highway department arrived to escort Ãcariya Mun to Sakon Nakhon. Mrs. Num Chuwanon, as head of the escort, invited him to ride in one of the vehicles. He readily agreed and asked only whether there were enough vehicles to carry all of the many monks who were scheduled to accompany him. He was informed that three trucks had come. If these were not sufficient to transport all the monks who wanted to go, a return trip would be made to pick up the rest. Understanding the arrangement, Ãcariya Mun remained silent. After the monks had eaten their meal, a doctor injected him with a sedative so that he would not be disturbed by the bumpy ride. In those days, the roads were quite rough – full of potholes and in generally poor condition. Having received the injection, he was placed on a stretcher and carried out to one of the trucks parked at the edge of the field, there being no road into the monastery. Soon after, he began to fall asleep. The convoy of vehicles then began the trip to Sakon Nakhon, arriving there at exactly noon.

Upon arrival, he was carried down from the truck and placed, still sleeping, in a hut at Wat Suddhawat monastery. He remained asleep the entire day, not waking until about midnight. Within an hour of his waking those critical symptoms – of which he had repeatedly forewarned his seemingly deaf and blind disciples – became more and more apparent, as if to say to us all: Now do you see? This is why I kept insisting that you hurry to bring me to Sakon Nakhon. I want to quickly rid myself of this messy heap of suffering. The symptoms are fully obvious now. If you still don’t understand, then take a look. If you still don’t believe what I was telling you, then watch carefully and consider with all your heart what you see appearing before you at this moment. Was I telling you the truth or not? Stop being so deaf, blind, and thoughtless from now on. Otherwise, you will never find the wisdom needed to save yourselves. What you are witnessing right now should inspire you to think deeply – so don’t be complacent.

Bhãrã have pañcakkhandã: the five khandhas are indeed a heavy burden. In the very early hours of the morning he began to take leave of this heavy burden – this heap of intense suffering that no truly wise person wants to encounter again in the future. The monastery was absolutely quiet that night. No one milled about to disturb the stillness. Shortly, some important ãcariyas, like Chao Khun Dhammachedi from Wat Bodhisomphon monastery in Udon Thani, arrived at his hut, having come in great haste as soon as they heard the news. As they entered, they hurriedly sat down in a calm, composed manner, though their hearts were actually troubled by the obvious deterioration in his condition. It was a poignant reminder that he could pass away at any moment. Monks arriving to monitor his condition sat silently in three rows facing him. Important senior disciples, led by Chao Khun Dhammachedi, sat in the front, the more junior monks and novices filling the remaining rows. All sat in complete silence, their eyes fixed on Ãcariya Mun. Their lower eyelids were moistened by tears they couldn’t hold back – such was the intensity of their despair. They knew all hope was lost, for nothing at all could be done to change the inevitable. They felt as if their own lives were losing all meaning.

At the beginning, Ãcariya Mun was lying on his right side in the ‘lion’s posture’. Fearing this might exhaust him, some monks gently removed the pillow supporting him so that he came to rest lying on his back. As soon as he became aware of this, he tried to shift back to his right side, but he no longer had the strength to move. As he struggled to turn on his side, some senior ãcariyas attempted to reposition the pillow so that it again supported his back. But noticing how very weak he was, they decided to stop, fearing that it might just make matters worse. Consequently, when Ãcariya Mun finally passed away he was lying neither on his back nor on his right side, but slightly propped up somewhere in between. It was simply impossible to adjust his posture further under the circumstances. His disciples, mostly monks and novices with a few lay people, sat in total despair as life slowly ebbed from his body. So apprehensive were they about his imminent death, they had almost forgotten to breathe.

As the minutes passed, his breathing gradually became softer and more refined. No one took their eyes off him for it was obvious the end was fast approaching. His breathing continued to grow weaker and weaker until it was barely discernible. A few seconds later it appeared to cease; but it ended so delicately that no one present could determine just when he passed away. His physical appearance revealed nothing abnormal – so different from the death of the ordinary person. Despite the fact that all his disciples observed his final moments with unblinking attention, not one of them was able to say with any conviction: “That was precisely the moment when Ãcariya Mun finally took leave of this dismal world.”

Seeing no apparent signs of life, Chao Khun Dhammachedi rather tentatively said, “I think he’s passed away.” At the same time he glanced down at his watch – it was exactly 2:23 A. M. So that was taken as the time of death. When death had been confirmed, the impact of his passing was reflected in the grief-stricken, tearful faces of all the monks who sat crowded around the lifeless body. There followed an anguished few moments of low coughs and soft, incoherent mutterings before the whole room sank into a mood of silent despair which is beyond the power of words to describe. Our hearts were plunged into unbearable feelings of emptiness; our bodies sitting there appeared to be mere empty shells. Several long moments of stilled silence ensued when the whole world appeared to cease momentarily while Ãcariya Mun abandoned his conventional existence and entered into the domain of Ultimate Happiness where no vestige of conventional reality could disturb him ever again.

I myself very nearly died of a broken heart along with him as I sat by his side steeped in pensive sorrow. I could not manage to shake off the gloomy, somber mood that clouded my heart as he departed the world. I could do nothing to alleviate the extreme pain of the loss I felt. ‘Living dead’ fittingly describes my sense of hopelessness at that moment.

After a period of silence, his senior disciples had the monks neatly rearrange his bedding. They laid out his body there for the time being, with the understanding that next morning they would consult together about making further arrangements. This accomplished, the monks began filing out of his room. Though a few remained on the verandah outside the room, most of them went down below. Even though the whole area surrounding the hut was illuminated by brightly-lit lanterns, his disciples stumbled around blindly in dejection, unsure where they were going. Appearing somnolent, almost drugged, they wandered aimlessly back and forth. Several monks actually fainted at the time, as though they too were about to expire because life no longer held any meaning for them. The entire monastic community found itself in a chaotic state of confusion late that night; all were inconsolable over the terrible sense of loss they suffered. Monks milled around absent-mindedly, having no clear idea where they were going or why. Such was the power of utter despondency arising from the departure of that shining beacon which so illuminated their lives and brightened their hearts. Suddenly, all sense of comfort and security had evaporated, exposing them to the uncertainty of living on without a reliable refuge. This cold, dark constriction in their hearts left them feeling that nothing substantial remained in the entire universe, nothing they could hold to for support. Failing to consider that beings throughout the universe have always managed to find a source of refuge, at that moment they appeared to face a bleak and uncertain future, as if dire misfortune were engulfing them all. Ãcariya Mun had been the one, true refuge. To him they could always confidently entrust themselves, heart and soul, without reservation.

I mean no disregard to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, but at that moment they seemed somehow very distant, making it difficult to reestablish them as a viable refuge. They did not appear to project the same affirmative presence that Ãcariya Mun did; he was always close at hand and ready to help resolve our doubts and provide us with inspiration. Approaching him with pressing problems that we were unable to solve on our own, these same burning issues invariably dissolved away the moment he offered a solution. This salient recollection, so deeply engraved on my heart, profoundly affected me when he passed away. I could think of no other person capable of helping me solve my problems. Who else could I find with such compassion for me? Who else’s advice could I trust? I was afraid of being left alone, depressed, and hopelessly stuck with my own store of ignorance. Gone were the easy solutions I had found while living with him. The more I thought about this dilemma, the more discouraged I became about finding a safe, painless way out on my own. In my ignorance, I saw no way forward at that moment; only misery and despair stared me in the face. Sitting there in front of his dead body, as though I myself were dead, I could think of no way to save myself and relieve my misery. I sat brooding, a living, breathing ghost, completely oblivious to time or bodily fatigue. This was the first time in my life as a monk that I felt so gloomy, frightened, and confused—and there was no one to help me, no means of extricating myself from this distress. Each time I glanced down at Ãcariya Mun’s still, lifeless body, tears welled up in my eyes and flowed down my cheeks. I was helpless to stop them. My chest heaved and sobbed as an uncontrollable emotion arose and lodged in my throat, nearly suffocating me.

Eventually I regained enough presence of mind to reflect inwardly, admonishing myself: Do I really intend to die of a broken heart right now? He died free of concerns and attachments, which are matters of the kilesas. If I were to die now, I would die as a result of my concerns and attachments. That would be harmful to me. Neither my despondency nor my death is of any use to me, or to Ãcariya Mun. When he was alive, he never taught us to miss him to the point of death. This kind of longing is the way of worldly people everywhere. Even though my reason for missing him is associated with Dhamma, it is still contaminated by worldly concerns, and thus hardly worthy of a Buddhist monk. Such thoughts are especially inappropriate for someone like me who has set his sights firmly on achieving the highest level of Dhamma. The Lord Buddha stated that whoever practices the Dhamma properly is, in fact, worshipping the Buddha, that whoever realizes the Dhamma, realizes the Buddha as well. It is clear that my longing is not in perfect accord with Dhamma. To be in perfect accord with Dhamma I must practice precisely what Ãcariya Mun taught me. This is the correct way for me to show how much I miss him. Should I die while engaged in those harsh training methods that he recommended, I shall feel confident that my death is in harmony with the principles of Dhamma. This is the only sensible way to behave. I must not obstruct my own progress by longing for him in an unreasonable, worldly manner – I’ll only harm myself.

In this way I regained mindfulness, allowing reason a chance to intervene and forestall the maelstrom raging in my heart at the time. And so I avoided being buried alive in my own futility.