阿  姜  曼  正  傳 

 

第六章第七節:荼 毗

         

            

               

第六章第七節:荼毗

         上午十點左右,阿姜曼死亡的消息傳遍了比鄰的社區;各地的高僧大德與各級政府官員都得知了這項消息。大家都趕到了寺院,渴望瞻仰他最後的遺容。他們聚集在那裡的時候,與阿姜曼的資深弟子討論,並達成了以最適當的方式來安排荼毗的共識。他們認為就一個卓越、舉國尊敬的阿姜而言,葬禮一定要能彰顯他崇高的地位。同一時間,他們透過廣播電台與各大報紙來傳播他死亡的消息,這樣他忠實的信徒不管身在何處,都能得知這個消息。

        他去世的報導還沒傳播出去,來自四面八方的出家眾與在家眾便已開始湧入寺院,表達他們最後的頂禮。從公布他死亡的消息到火葬的那一天,每天都有絡繹不絕的訪客來瞻仰他的遺容。住得近的人大多是當日往返;但那些住得較遠的訪客則必須留宿在寺院裡 —— 那時的交通不像今天這麼方便。

        稍早之前,阿姜曼留在Ban Phu寺的期間,來拜見他的人供養他很多的禮物,而且種類多到很難全部記下來。他從這些忠實的信徒所收到的供養數量多到驚人 —— 這個現象一直持續到他去世的那一天。就像是雨季的雨水,供養布施不斷流入僧團。他的一生中,總是收到很慷慨的供養,不管他是住在人口眾多的市中心或是深山裡都一樣。就算是住在偏遠的地區,也總有人願意穿越茂密的森林長途跋涉來供養他特別的東西。但由於他的個性使然,阿姜曼很慷慨,也樂於奉獻:他把收到的一切供養都送給需要幫助的人。他從沒想過替自己留下這些東西,也不後悔這樣的善行。他捨棄一切收到的東西,不管那是什麼,或價值有多昂貴。就清貧而論,或許再也沒有比阿姜曼還要更清貧的比丘了。他這一生收到的供養物資總數量十分驚人,但他捨棄的數量也一樣的多,甚至更多。不管他收到什麼東西,他都會很快轉送給其他需要的人。就算沒有東西可以捨棄的時候,他還是會想其他的方法去幫助別人,而且是以低調不引人注意的方式去做。他的善行經常提供了附近的寺院急需的協助。由於他的奉獻,當他死後被安置在Wat Suddhawat寺院裡時,來自全國各地供養的東西仍源源不絕送到他的大體前。

        著名的長老與當地的政府官員討論後,決定先保存阿姜曼的大體幾個月,然後再舉行荼毗。大家達成協議在一九五〇年一月的上半月舉行荼毗。有了共識後,他們便安排特殊的棺柩存放他的大體。

        下午四點,有大批的在家眾、比丘與沙彌來參與清洗阿姜曼大體的儀式。當儀式完成後,他的大體,還覆蓋著袈裟,以白布層層裹住,被恭敬地放在特殊的棺柩裡。棺柩的前方整個面板都是玻璃,可讓那些從沒見過他而且是遠道而來的人都能瞻仰他的遺容,這樣大家都不會失望。以Chao Khun Dhammachedi大師為首的僧團,決定連續徹夜誦經來表達對阿姜曼的尊敬,同時還有佛法的開示,參加的人一直都絡繹不絕。

        一切與阿姜曼的喪禮有關的各種活動,都是由當地的民眾慷慨贊助。從政府官員、商界領袖到一般民眾,所有的捐贈都是發自歡喜。秉持著虔誠的信仰,他們認真地扛起責任,從不喊累。從阿姜曼過世到他荼毗的那一天,色軍府的居民同心協力提供聚集在當地的比丘與沙彌在生活上的便利。他們充滿熱情,不辭辛苦,也不惜斥資,為的就是確保整個盛大的荼毗過程都能圓滿順利成功。

        接下來到荼毗前的幾個月,數以百計的比丘來到色軍府向他的大體作最後的頂禮。之後大部分的人都回去了,但有一百多人留下,住在寺院裡協助所有必要的安排。儘管有比丘大量湧入,但當地居民從未阻礙,虔誠的信眾每一天都會準備大量的食物供養他們。每天早上排隊接受食物的比丘似乎無限延伸,但民眾從第一天到最後一天都還是一樣的慷慨 —— 沒有一天食物有短缺。即使需求日益增加,比丘們還是受到親切又豐富的食物供養。

        我親眼見證過這些民眾在那段期間偉大的奉獻,所以我覺得有義務為後人記錄他們慈善的功德與同心協力的善舉。這令我印象深刻 —— 我永遠都不會忘記。我從未想過能看到由一大群人所展現出的耐心、耐力與自我犧牲。直接體驗過令人難以置信的慷慨表現,我想要向色軍府的人民表達我的欽佩:他們擁有永不消退的崇高信仰,他們殷勤的款待讓我感受到溫暖 —— 一種永遠留存在我心中的印象。

        還有要讚嘆留在寺院裡的比丘與沙彌,協助督導、安排前來參與荼毗的人,以及許多辛苦的在家信眾。早在荼毗日之前,就已有大量的比丘與沙彌抵達,預計荼毗儀式當日還會有上萬的人來參加。為了供應預計前來參與荼毗大典的大量群眾,便搭建了許多帳篷給人們居住,並在空地上盡量增設廚房及用餐區。在阿姜曼過世後不久,這些準備工作便開始籌備,且正好趕在荼毗之前及時完成。

        隨著荼毗典禮的日子逼近,來自各地的出家眾與在家眾如潮水般湧入,他們的人數膨脹到令負責接待的人幾乎無法應付。愈接近荼毗的日子,湧入寺院裡的人潮就愈多。到最後,已沒有空間可以容納陸續抵達的人群。荼毗當天,所有的小屋都住滿了人,寺院附近的一整片林地上都擠滿了從全國各地前來的比丘與沙彌。他們大部分的人都在森林裡紮營,他們白色的傘帳四處可見。一共有八百名比丘與沙彌沿著Wat Suddhawat寺紮營,數百人在寺院附近棲宿。總計,約有上千名比丘與沙彌參加阿姜曼的荼毗。至於在家人方面,根本不可能去計算有多少人在寺院裡紮營住宿。除了上述提到的,還有更多的人住在寺院外面,就睡在樹下或外面的空地上。許多人在鎮上睡,所有的旅館全都住到一間都不剩。在荼毗當天,由於一大群人最後都聚集在火葬用的木材堆前,不可能精準去估算他們的總人數。充其量,可估算出當天有上萬人出席參加。

        但,說也奇怪,很不可思議,在這樣一個盛大的典禮中,群眾只發出些微的聲響。只聽得到公共廣播發出的聲音,播放著與荼毗有關的宗教訊息。一切都嚴格按照森林頭陀比丘的傳統,過程中全無穿插任何餘興節目來娛樂群眾。來自全國各地信眾協助寺院荼毗所供養的食物、衣服與其他物品的數量,已多到堆積成一座小山。數以百計用麻袋裝著的稻米,由忠貞的信眾一車又一車不斷載過來供養每一個人。為紀念阿姜曼而供養的功德布數量,可能多到可塞滿一整間紡織廠。我從來沒有參觀過紡織廠,不清楚工廠到底有多大;但我相信,由全國各地信眾所供養堆積如山的布匹,一定能填滿任何一座布料廠的空間。

        如果有些誇張,我願向讀者們致歉。看到這麼多善心人士的布施,讓我感到很驕傲,因此或許有些過了頭。我從沒想過我們泰國人會這麼慷慨;但見證過這次的大布施後,直到現在都讓我很訝異。奉獻與慷慨是泰國人民的特點。從全球來看,泰國不過是一個小國;但我們自動自發樂善好施的慈悲天性卻不輸給任何一個國家。佛的遺教就是教我們對他人要有慈悲心,所以這完全符合我們佛教國家的傳統。整體而言,我們泰國人不會讓自己成為吝嗇又心胸狹窄的人,總是溫暖又心胸寬大。

        虔誠的布施提供了各式各樣豐富的民生消費品,再也沒有比在阿姜曼的荼毗上更加明顯了。這次的無遮施真的很不尋常。每天煮飯及燉菜用的鍋子尺寸都大得嚇人。這些鍋子又大又重,需要數人之力才能抬到僧眾用餐的帳篷裡。由於僧眾的數量多到不尋常,所以設置了許多用餐的地方容納僧眾。大多數的人是一大群一起用餐 —— 三到四十位比丘在此區,五到六十位在另一區 —— 都是在廣場預設用餐的地區。也有九到十名比較小組的比丘在僧眾駐紮區一起用餐。他們絕大多數都是只吃托缽食物的森林頭陀比丘,不需要大量的碗盤與餐具,很容易護持。一小部分是那些著名、擔任行政事務的比丘與他們隨行的僧眾所形成的團體,大會則為他們提供碗盤與餐具。

        當大鍋飯和煮好的菜都已經擺好,比丘們自己會長幼有序將飯、菜與甜食放入缽中。這是一般的修行 —— 他們都是以這種方式將食物混在一起。結合一般大眾的宗教信仰與阿姜曼的功德庇護力,確保了食物不虞匱乏。

        荼毗期間,沒有任何的飲酒或酒醉鬧事事件發生,沒有爭吵或打架,也沒有竊盜的事件被報導。如果有人拾得遺失物,就會交給某個有權責的人透過廣播通知物主前來認領。若某個有問題的東西價值昂貴,廣播員就不會去描述它。他只會說某個貴重的物品找到了,請失主趕緊前來認領。經過正確指認後,物品才會歸還給物主。如果遺失物是一般不貴重的物品,廣播員就會描述它,好讓失主前來領回。如果是現金,他只會宣布拾獲了一些錢,但不會說明金額數量或它的裝載物 —— 例如皮夾 —— 都不會被提起,失主一定要提供所有權的相關證明。

        阿姜曼的荼毗儀式在正式荼毗前共舉行了四天三夜,整個活動在許多方面都值得稱讚。首先,儘管人數眾多,卻只有非常小的雜音;沒有人打架或喝酒鬧事、沒有扒手,也沒有偷竊的事件被報導。遺失的貴重物品都能迅速交給主辦單位;所有的比丘與沙彌都沈穩、安靜、舉止合宜。類似這種規模的集會,想要符合其中一項令人稱許的情況都很不容易,而將這些讓人稱許的情況都集中在一個活動中更是難能可貴。

        每晚八點,比丘們聚在一起誦經紀念阿姜曼,在家人接著會供養布匹給僧眾,其中某位比丘會為大家開示說法。隔天用餐後的早上,在家眾會做功德衣的傳統供養,這種供養並沒有固定的時間表,最久會弄到一整天。在這四天的期間裡,有很多從大老遠來的虔誠信徒,都希望能奉獻功德衣,如果限制供養的時間,會很不切實際。解決的方法就是讓在家眾能夠以最便捷及快速的方式,向某個比丘或某組比丘供養布匹。帶功德衣來的施主會被帶到廣播服務處,他們可以向廣播服務人員說明想要供養的對象。使用大眾傳播系統是迄今最方便的方法,因為在這麼多人中要找到某特定的比丘,幾乎不可能用其他的方法辦到。因此,若某個在家人想要邀請某特定的比丘前來接受供養,他的名字就會透過廣播宣布。播音員有完整的出席比丘名單,當所有的比丘與沙彌抵達會場時,都要在服務處登記名字,這樣廣播才會有效率。這項措施讓主辦單位得以正確估算參加荼毗的比丘與沙彌的人數,也讓廣播員在需要時能正確唸出他們的名字。

        比丘們每天早上都會走到附近的村莊或城鎮裡托缽,唯一的例外是舉辦荼毗的當天。在那一天,在家人會特別請求比丘就在寺院的附近托缽。虔誠的信眾在寺院內外的不同地點成組排隊,當比丘們魚貫經過時,會將供養的東西放進他們的缽裡。

        典禮是從泰曆的三月十日開始,到當月十三日半夜舉行阿姜曼的荼毗才結束。裝著阿姜曼的特殊靈柩被放在一個莊嚴的火葬木柴堆上,這些都是為火葬而特別堆起的。這個地點就是目前布薩廳所在的位置,四面都是由木工師傅為這次吉祥的場合所雕刻出的複雜木飾圖案,讓人嘆為觀止 —— 配得上這麼優秀的阿姜。他的舍利後來在泰曆十四日的上午被收集起來,可惜的是,我記不得是國曆的幾月幾日。

        就我記憶所及,他的大體是在泰曆十一日被放在那裡。當他們準備將他停放在帳篷內的大體搬出來時,僧眾與在家眾先舉行了一個簡短的儀式,請求他原諒他們在搬運過程中可能無心的冒犯。裝著他大體的靈柩被莊嚴地搬到火葬用的柴堆上,當他們再次表達他們的悲痛時,追隨者中又激起了一次戲劇性的情緒潰堤。看著他的大體最後一次在眼前經過,群眾都愁容滿面,淚水偶爾在苦惱的哭泣聲中迸出。那是一個混亂的場面,他的靈柩緩緩經過激動的群眾面前,大家都在哀悼這一位有汪洋大海一般慈悲的聖者的殞落。很多人在他的大體經過時都放聲大哭,那是他留給他們的東西 —— 與他的存在有關的最後世間遺跡。他已入無上、清淨的涅槃之境,再也不會回到有色蘊、身體的存在 —— 憂悲苦惱之境。

        他的信徒最後一次哭了 —— 這是對一位曾以佛法來調和他們的心及愚痴的人所表達的敬愛。透過他的恩惠,他們已經獲得了向善與止惡的必要正念。為了回憶他的功德,他們渴望能再保存他的大體一段時間,好作為他們憶念的對象,雖然他們知道這是不可能的事。所以他們只能懇求有最後的機會以淚水及真摯的情感來表達他們最深的敬愛。雖然他們在很多方面並不如意,但他們卻有難得的福報能見證一位已徹底斷除煩惱的無上聖者的告別式 —— 一件稀有難得的吉祥之事。跳出了生死輪迴的大苦,他已達到了涅槃最終的幸福。即便如此,在這個令人悲傷的時刻 —— 他們因思念眾德具足的聖者而悲泣 —— 他們仍期望他能憐憫他們。他們不知何時才能找到逃離魔羅羅網並順利安抵涅槃的方法,但他們的因緣仍尚未成熟,他們能做的就只有以淚水來歌頌他非凡的戒德與莊嚴的成就。這就是他們在哀悼一位受敬重的比丘殞落時,一種佛教徒掩抑不住的傷感。只有當他的大體被放在火材堆上時,他們才開始安靜下來。

        午夜時分,火化用的木材點燃了火。如預料中,擁擠的群眾圍著荼毗會場,大家都動彈不得,擠得水洩不通,彼此推擠希望能找到一處較能看得清楚的好位置。大家都耐心等到深夜,為的就是能最後一次看到他的大體 —— 一份能深藏在內心的回憶。

        就在柴火點燃後,不可思議且神奇的事發生了。當第一道火焰開始升起後,一朵小雲突然出現在天空中,並在燃燒的柴火正上方開始降下絲絲細雨。當晚是月圓夜,皎潔的月光照亮了四周,但荼毗火葬場卻突然沈浸在濛濛細雨中。小雨下了大概十五分鐘,然後雲幕逐漸退散,恢復了清朗的夜空。你可能會覺得這有什麼好大驚小怪的?一般來說,一年中的這一段時間,天空都是完全晴朗;星星和月亮都清晰可見。但唯獨那一晚,荼毗用的材堆被點燃時,就飄來一堆小雲,並在上頭灑下絲絲細雨。我清楚見證了這則驚人的事件 —— 一則讓我永矢難忘的不尋常場面,那晚在場的人都可以作證。

        阿姜曼的荼毗用的木材都是由虔誠的信徒從寮國的湄公河特別運來供養的檀香木,而不是一般的木柴或木炭。當有了足夠的數量時,他們混合熏香,作為火化大體的木材,結果就跟使用一般的木柴或木炭一樣令人滿意。從材火被點燃的那一刻起,直到他的大體完全被火化及舍利被妥善收集為止,整個過程都在出家眾及在家眾正式監督下進行。

        隔天早上九點,舍利從灰燼中被仔細收集起來,並分送給代表各府前來參與荼毗的比丘,條件是這些舍利必須安置在他們各自地區的合適公共聖龕裡。碎小的舍利也發送給一般大眾,但僧多粥少幾乎不夠分。就我記憶所及,有超過二十名來自各府的代表在那一天把舍利給帶回去了。

        當舍利的收集與分送終於結束後,一件讓我感動到無法以言語形容且令人印象深刻的事發生了。當負責收集舍利的官員結束工作並離開現場時,接著發生一陣混亂,不分男女老幼都衝上前蒐集一些殘餘的木炭與灰燼,保存起來作為供奉的對象。每個人都爬在荼毗材堆上爭先恐後隨地抓起這一點或那一塊,為的就是希望找到任何可以被當作憶念的小紀念物。最後,整個現場變得一塵不染 —— 就像被擦洗過一般。離開時,每個人都帶著微笑,就像是飄在雲端一般,喜樂溢於言表。大家都緊握著一些小紀念物在拳頭裡,像小心翼翼地守護珍寶一般,一副深怕隨時可能會被搶走的樣子。就像在阿姜曼荼毗期間發生的許多其他事件一樣,這是一則令人非常感動的景象。

        後來,大部分的人返家前又再回到荼毗的地點 —— 也就是安放阿姜曼大體的最後之處 —— 作最後一次的禮敬。他們跪地三次頂禮,然後安靜坐在地上緬懷沈思一陣子,以淚水及低泣表達他們的失落感,這情景令人心碎。當我看到這些人對有卓越戒德的比丘竟有如此深刻感恩之情,我也跟他們一樣有相同的失落感。當他們安靜的沈思結束後,他們起身並難過地離去,臉上都沾滿了淚水。然後其他的忠實信徒接著各自就坐,莊嚴表達他們最後的敬意,他們知道他們已失去了最敬愛的人。這樣的舉動在那一天持續了好幾個小時 --- 真是令人為之動容的場面。

        這裡的關鍵就是「心」:心是世界上最重要的東西,在所有我剛敘述的事件背後,人的心是主要的力量。上萬的比丘與在家眾參加了這次的荼毗 —— 這些行為的動機直接來自於心。他們的心本能受到阿姜曼的吸引,而阿姜曼的心就是清淨的法 —— 一種讓人夢寐以求的成就,以致於吸引全國各地良善的人來向他頂禮的成就。雖然他們的心還沒有累積到他們所冀求的德行,但他們目前已有足夠的功德讓他們在來生可轉生為人,這不同於那些沒有慚愧心、似乎是爭先恐後投生到畜生或地獄的人的心。重生於惡道真的會使心的品質更低劣;最後,沒有任何的價值可以依憑,一切的希望都將流逝。

        世上的一切,毫無例外,都匯集於心:心是諸法生起的驅動力,也決定了它們將趨向何趣。如果心傾向於善,那麼他所做的一切都只會帶來歡悅,不論是在今生或來世。所有從主要的善道分支出去的路,都一定會為旅行的人提供舒適與平安。每一次的重生都將幸福與富裕,希望與願望都經常得以實現。終有一天,所累積的功德必將引導他們趨向他們最重視的目標。我可以為阿姜曼作證,從他開始修行的初階到最高的道果,他的心都是良善之源。

        阿姜曼已因為「般無餘涅槃」而廣受世人的稱讚,「般無餘涅槃」一辭只適用在已從所有煩惱中解脫的人身上。當一般人停止呼吸,生理功能停止運作時,這就是我們所知的「死亡」狀態;但當佛世尊或阿羅漢死亡時,這就是「般無餘涅槃」。一般認為阿姜曼的死也是「般無餘涅槃」,對於這個論點我沒有異議,我很樂於接受所有給他做出高評價墓誌銘的意見。多年來與他生活在一起,仔細聽他說的每一句話,我從未發現他的生活方式或開示有任何矛盾之處,實際上,我深受影響,我確信那是從一個真正清淨的心所散發出的永恆之「法」。這樣清淨的心絕非人類與生俱來本有,想要驗證它的唯一方法,就必須從一個凡夫的心,淨化成阿羅漢的清淨解脫心這顆被淨化的心將永遠安住在解脫聖法中。

        所謂心是世上最重要的東西,意思是指心就是控制「善」與「惡」各種表現的決定因緣。心就是主角,也是對所有的表演最終應負責的人。如果人的心唆使他們去造惡,其結果整個地球將輕易遭到毀滅。因此重要的是,我們的心應該接受適當的訓練與看顧,這樣我們才能平安照顧好自己與我們所居住的世界。然後,我們才能活得舒適,我們的生活才能免於不必要的打擾;而這個世界才適合人居住,不再持續受到爭鬥的恐懼所威脅。

          

By midmorning, reports of Ãcariya Mun’s death had spread throughout the adjacent communities; senior monks and government officials of all levels had heard the news. All hurried to the monastery, anxious to pay their last respects to his body. While gathered there, they conferred with Ãcariya Mun’s senior disciples to reach a consensus on the most suitable way to arrange the funeral. They were determined that it be conducted in a manner reflecting his exalted status as a distinguished ãcariya, greatly revered nationwide. At the same time, they arranged to have news of his death broadcast over the radio and printed in the newspapers so that his faithful followers would have access to the news wherever they might be.

No sooner had reports of his death begun to circulate than groups of monks and lay devotees began pouring into the monastery from all directions to pay their last respects. From the time his death was announced until the day his body was cremated, a steady flow of visitors came daily to pay their respects. People living close by came and returned home the same day. But those living some distance away had to stay in the monastery overnight – transportation being less convenient then, than it is today.

During Ãcariya Mun’s earlier stay at Ban Phu monastery, the people who came to see him had offered so many gifts of various kinds it was hard to keep track of them all. The amount of gift offerings he received from the faithful was extraordinary – a trend which continued until the day of his death. Like rainwater in the monsoon season, donations flowed into the monastery in a continuous stream. In his lifetime he had always been the recipient of much largess, regardless of whether he was staying near a population center or deep in the mountains. Even when staying in the remotest locations, there were invariably generous people willing to make the effort to trek through thick forest so they could offer him something special. By nature, Ãcariya Mun was always generous and self-sacrificing: he gave away everything he was offered to assist others. He never thought of keeping things for himself and he never regretted his beneficence. He gave away everything he received, irrespective of what it was or how much it may have cost. In terms of actual poverty, perhaps no monk was poorer than Ãcariya Mun. The combined amount of all the donations he received during his life was prodigious, but the amount he gave away in charity was equally as great, if not greater. Whatever he was given, he very soon passed on to someone in need. Even on occasions when he had nothing to give away, he thought of other ways to be of help, though he did this unobtrusively. His beneficence often provided nearby monasteries with much-needed assistance. As the result of a life of self-sacrifice, even after his death people from all over the region continuously arrived with offerings to place before his body as it lay in state at Wat Suddhawat monastery.

Prominent senior monks, in consultation with local government officials, decided that it would be best to keep Ãcariya Mun’s body for several months before proceeding with the cremation. Agreement was reached that the cremation should take place during the period of the waxing moon in January of 1950. With this in mind, they arranged a special casket to hold the body.

At four o’clock that afternoon, a large crowd of laity, monks, and novices came to attend the funeral bathing rites for his body. When this ceremony was completed, his body, still draped in his monk’s robes, was wrapped in many layers of white cloth and placed respectfully in the special casket. The casket’s entire front panel was made of glass, allowing those coming from afar, who had never before seen him, to view his body. No one was to be disappointed. The community of monks, headed by Chao Khun Dhammachedi, decided to arrange nightly sessions of sutta chanting to honor him, accompanied by discourses on Dhamma, which were always well attended.

All the various functions connected with Ãcariya Mun’s funeral were organized with the generous cooperation of the local populace. From government officials and business leaders down to the general public, all contributions were made in a spirit of geniality. Sincere in their faith, they took these responsibilities very seriously, never losing heart. From the day Ãcariya Mun passed away until the time of his cremation, the people of Sakon Nakhon put forth a concerted effort to make life as convenient as possible for the monks and novices gathered there for the occasion. They worked tirelessly, with enthusiasm, to insure that this huge funeral ceremony was an unqualified success, and spared no effort or expense in the process.

In the months leading up to the cremation, hundreds of monks arrived in Sakon Nakhon wishing to pay their final respects. Most then returned home, but over one hundred remained, residing in the monastery to help coordinate all the necessary arrangements. Despite the large influx of monks, local residents never felt discouraged; the faithful were prepared to support them each day with plenty of alms food. The lines of monks receiving food every morning seemed to stretch on forever, but people remained unstinting in their generosity from the first day to the last – on not a single day was alms food in short supply. Even with the increasing demand, ample food offerings were always graciously provided to support the monks.

I witnessed the enormous sacrifices these people made during that period, so I feel obliged to record for posterity their charitable goodness and amicable cooperation. It made such a deep impression on me – I shall never forget it. I never imagined I would see so much patience, endurance, and self-sacrifice shown by one group of people. Having experienced this incredible outpouring of generosity firsthand, I want to express my admiration to the people of Sakon Nakhon: they possessed a magnanimous faith that never waned. Their grand hospitality has left me with a warm feeling of gratitude – an impression that will forever remain in my heart.

One had to sympathize with the monks and novices, staying at the monastery, who helped supervise suitable arrangements for all the people attending the funeral, and with the many lay supporters who toiled so hard, helping with the labor. Well in advance of the cremation date, monks and novices were already arriving in large numbers, while the cremation ceremony was expected to attract a crowd of well over ten thousand people. Several pavilions were constructed to house people, and as many kitchen areas as possible were set up around the grounds to accommodate the large crowd that was expected to attend this important occasion. Begun shortly after Ãcariya Mun passed away, these preparations were completed just in time for his cremation.

As the day of the funeral ceremony drew near, monks and lay devotees flooded in from all directions, their numbers swelling until those charged with receiving them were hardly able to cope. The closer it came to cremation day, the greater the multitude of people pouring into the monastery. In the end, no more space could be found to accommodate the hordes of people who kept arriving. By funeral day, all the huts were full, and the whole extensive tract of forest within the monastery grounds was crowded with monks and novices who had traveled from all over the region. Most of them camped out in the woods, their white umbrella-tents visible everywhere. A total of eight hundred monks and novices were camped out inside of Wat Suddhawat alone; several hundred more found shelter in nearby monasteries. In all, well over a thousand monks and novices were present at Ãcariya Mun’s cremation. As for the lay devotees, it was simply impossible to count how many were camped inside the monastery grounds. Over and above that, many more people stayed outside the monastery, sleeping under trees or out in the open fields. Many more slept in town, filling up all the limited hotel space. With the entire multitude finally assembled at the funeral pyre on cremation day, it was impossible to give an accurate reckoning of their total strength. At best, one could estimate that tens of thousands were in attendance that day.

And yet, strangely, amazingly, there was very little of the kind of noise usually associated with such a crowded ceremony. Only the sound of the public address system was heard, broadcasting the religious functions being performed in connection with the cremation. Performed strictly in accordance with kammaååhãna tradition, there were no sideshows to entertain the crowd. The quantities of food, cloth, and other items, that were offered by devotees from all over the region to help the monastery with the funeral, amounted to a small mountain of goods. Hundreds of sacks of rice were offered, while the cars of faithful donors continuously brought food of all sorts to help feed everyone. The quantity of merit-making cloth, offered in honor of Ãcariya Mun, would probably have filled a weaving factory. I’ve never seen a weaving factory and I have no idea how big they are, but I am confident that this mountain of cloth brought by faithful followers from all over the country would have exceeded the capacity of any such factory.

I wish to apologize to the reader if this seems an exaggeration. I was somewhat carried away by a sense of pride I felt concerning the offerings of so many generous people. I never imagined that we Thai people could be so generous. But witnessing this wonderful display of munificence personally, I have continued to be amazed by it ever since. Self-sacrifice and bounteous generosity are hallmarks of the Thai people. From a global perspective, Thailand is but a small country, yet our compassionate tendency to engage in spontaneous acts of charitable giving is second to none. It is a tradition that is entirely appropriate for a country like ours with a Buddhist heritage that teaches us to have compassion for one another. On the whole, we Thais have always been a nation of warm, big-hearted people who tend to shun narrow-minded, stingy attitudes.

Nowhere was this more apparent than at Ãcariya Mun’s funeral, where faithful donors offered an abundance of items for general consumption. The bounty was truly extraordinary. The sizes of the enormous pots of rice and stew prepared each day were almost frightening. These pots were so big and heavy that several people were required to carry them to the pavilions where the monks gathered to eat. Due to the unusually large number of monks, many different eating places were set up to accommodate them. Most of them ate in large groups – thirty to forty monks here, fifty to sixty monks there – at locations set aside for that purpose within the grounds. Smaller groups of nine to ten monks ate together in the monks’ living quarters. The vast majority of them were kammaååhãna monks who ate directly from their alms bowls, so large quantities of dishes and eating utensils were unnecessary, making it much easier to serve so many. Sets of dishes were provided only for the relatively few, prominent administrative monks and those accompanying them.

Once the pots of rice and stew had been offered, monks served themselves in order of seniority, placing rice, stew, and assorted sweets together in their alms bowls. This was normal practice – they invariably mixed their food in that way.  The religious faith of the general public and the protective power of Ãcariya Mun’s spiritual greatness combined to ensure that food was always plentiful.

For the duration of the funeral, there were no instances of drinking or drunken behavior, no quarreling or fighting, and no cases of theft were reported. When found, lost articles were handed over to someone in authority who announced them over the loudspeakers. If the item in question was something valuable, the announcer did not describe it. He said merely that a valuable item had been found and urged the owner to come and claim it. Having correctly identified it, the item was returned to him. If the lost article was something common, the announcer simply described what had been found so the owner could then reclaim it. If it was money, he announced only that some money had been found, but the amount and its container – such as a wallet – were not mentioned. The owner was required to supply this information as proof of ownership.

The funeral ceremonies preceding the cremation of Ãcariya Mun’s body lasted a total of four days and three nights. The entire event was remarkable in many respects. To begin with, despite the enormous crowds, there was very little noise; no fights or wild, drunken behavior anywhere in the area, no pickpockets, and no thefts reported. Lost valuables were promptly handed over to the authorities; all monks and novices were calm, quiet, and very well-behaved. In any gathering of such size, it is unusual to meet with even one of these favorable conditions. Having them all combined in a single event was truly remarkable indeed.

Beginning at eight o’clock each night the monks assembled to chant suttas in honor of Ãcariya Mun. The laity then offered gifts of cloth to the monks, one of whom gave a discourse on Dhamma. Again the next morning after the meal, members of the laity began presenting traditional offerings of merit-making cloth to the monks, offerings which continued with no fixed schedule throughout most of the day. During the four-day period, there were so many faithful devotees, traveling such great distances, hoping to dedicate offerings of cloth, that it would have been impractical to restrict those offerings to scheduled times. The issue was resolved by permitting lay people who wanted to dedicate offerings of cloth to a monk, or a group of monks, to make their dedications as quickly and easily as possible. Those arriving with cloth to offer were advised to contact the announcer and specifying to him how many monks they required. Using the public address system was by far the most convenient method, since it was almost impossible to find a specific monk in such a large crowd in any other way. So if certain devotees wanted to invite a specific monk to come and receive an offering, his name was announced on the public address system. The announcer had a complete list of the names of all the monks in attendance. All visiting monks and novices were required to register their names at the announcer’s booth as soon as they arrived, and an announcement to this effect was broadcast on a regular basis. This policy allowed the organizers to make an accurate estimation of the number of monks and novices attending the funeral ceremonies. It also enabled the announcer to call out their names correctly when required.

Monks walked to the nearby villages, or into town, for alms every morning. The only exception was the day of the cremation itself. On that day, the laity made a special request that the monks collect food in the immediate vicinity of the monastery. The faithful lined up in groups at various places inside and outside the monastery, placing offerings into their bowls as the monks filed past.

The ceremony began on the tenth lunar day of the third lunar month and ended at midnight on the thirteenth lunar day with the cremation of Ãcariya Mun’s body. The special casket containing Ãcariya Mun’s body was placed on an ornate funeral pyre, specially constructed for the cremation. Built on the site where the uposatha hall presently stands, it was a four-sided wooden structure decorated with intricately carved motifs that skilled craftsman had created for the auspicious occasion. It looked very impressive – worthy of such a distinguished ãcariya. His remains were later collected on the morning of the fourteenth lunar day. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the day of the month according to the international calendar.

To the best of my recollection, his body was placed there on the eleventh lunar day. As they prepared to move his body from the pavilion where he lay in state, the monks and the laity held a short service to ask his forgiveness for any past transgressions they might have committed. The casket containing his body was then carried solemnly to the funeral pyre, prompting a dramatic outburst of emotion among his followers as they expressed their grief once more. Watching his body pass by for the last time, the crowd looked on with long, sad faces, tearful expressions occasionally erupting in cries of anguish. It was a chaotic scene, his casket moving slowly through throngs of impassioned supporters, all mourning the loss of an exceptionally noble person who possessed such a boundless ocean of loving kindness. Many in the crowd wept openly as his body passed by. It was all they had left of him – the last vestige of conventional reality still associated with his presence in the world. He had entered the sublime, pure land of Nibbãna. Never again would he return to physical, bodily existence – the domain of tearful lamentations.

His devotees wept one last time – with affection and respect for a man whose Dhamma teaching had soothed their hearts and tempered their ignorance. Through his grace, they had gained the presence of mind needed to reflect on the merits of virtue and the failings of evil. Reminded of his great virtue, they longed to keep his body awhile longer as an object of veneration, though they knew this was now impossible. So they asked only that they be allowed this final chance to offer their tears and heartfelt emotions as tokens of their deep appreciation.

Although they may have been unfortunate in many ways, they did have the wonderful good fortune to witness for themselves the final farewell of a supreme sage, sublimely free of all kilesas – an extremely auspicious event that is rarely ever witnessed. Having transcended saÿsãra’s abundant misery, he had already reached the Ultimate Happiness of Nibbãna. Even so, they continued to hope that his compassion would be with them in this hour of sorrow – a sorrow that made them weep with longing for that noble being of unbounded virtue who was so dear to their hearts. They wondered when they would ever find a way to escape Mãra’s net and reached the safety of Nibbãna as well. But their time was not yet ripe. All they could do was extol his extraordinary virtue and honor his magnificent achievement with their tears. Such was the overwhelming sentiment of the Buddhist faithful as they mourned the loss of the monk they so revered. Only when his body had finally been placed upon the funeral pyre did they begin to calm down and grow quiet.

At midnight the funeral pyre was lit. In anticipation, such a mass of people had crowded in around the cremation site that no one could move. Packed tightly together, they pushed and pressed against one another trying to get a better look. All had patiently waited late into the night to have one last glimpse of his body – a memory to be long cherished by everyone.

Just as the funeral pyre was lit, something unimaginably strange and wonderful occurred. As the first flames began to shoot up, a small cloud appeared in the sky and began to rain ever so gently on the burning pyre. It was the night of the full moon. Bright moonlight was shining over the surrounding area, but the cremation site was suddenly bathed in a fine, misty rain. Softly sprinkling for about fifteen minutes, the cloud then gradually faded into the clear night sky. You may wonder why I think it so strange. Normally, at that time of year, the sky is completely clear; only the stars and the moon are visible. And so it was that night, until the funeral pyre was lit, when a small cloud floated over, sprinkling a gentle shower on the whole proceeding. I clearly witnessed this amazing event – such an extraordinary spectacle I’ve never forgotten it. Anyone who was there that night will be able to confirm it.

Instead of the usual pile of firewood or charcoal, Ãcariya Mun’s funeral pyre was made with fragrant sandalwood that ardent devotees had specially ordered from across the Mekong River in Laos. Having acquired a sufficient amount, they mixed it with incense, using this as a pyre to cremate the body. The results were just as satisfactory as those obtained by using plain firewood or charcoal. From the moment the pyre was lit until the cremation of his body had been completed and his remains had been safely collected, the whole affair was supervised by officials from the monastic and lay communities.

At nine o’clock the following morning the bone remains were carefully collected from the ash. Bone relics were distributed to monks representing the various provinces in attendance with the understanding that these relics would be placed in suitable public shrines in their respective locales. Fragments of bone were also handed out to members of the general public, but due to the size of the crowd, there were not nearly enough to go around. As far as I can recall, representatives from over twenty provinces took bone relics back with them that day.

When the collection and distribution of the bone relics were finally completed, something indescribably moving happened that made a profound impression on me. As soon as the officials in charge of collecting the bones had finished their work and left, a scene of total confusion ensued as men and women of all ages rushed in to collect bits and pieces of ash and charcoal to keep as objects of worship. Everybody scrambled to get a bit of this or a piece of that, combing the ground around the funeral pyre for any small momento they could find. In the end, the whole area was spotless – as if it had been scrubbed clean. Walking away, each person seemed to be floating on air, smiling, over-joyed beyond words. All clasped some small keepsake in their fists, guarding their treasure jealously, as though afraid someone might try to snatch it away at any moment. Like so many other events occurring during the course of Ãcariya Mun’s funeral, it was an extremely moving sight.

Later, as their last act of homage before going home, most people returned one more time to the site of the cremation – the final resting place of Ãcariya Mun’s body. Prostrating themselves three times, they sat quietly on the ground for a few moments in an attitude of deep reflection, expressing their sense of loss with tears and quiet sobs in a way that was heartrending to witness. As I watched those people who felt such profound gratitude for a monk of surpassing virtue, I shared with them the same painful sense of loss. When their moment of quiet reflection was over, they rose and sadly walked away, their faces stained with tears. Other faithful devotees then took their places, solemnly paying their final respects, aware that they had lost the person they so dearly revered. And so it continued for many hours that day – it was an incredibly touching scene to watch.

The key factor here is the heart: the heart is the most important thing in the world. People’s hearts were the primary force behind all the events I have just described. Tens of thousands of monks and lay people attended the funeral – their motivation for going came directly from the heart. Their hearts were instinctively drawn to Ãcariya Mun, for his heart was pure Dhamma – an attainment so sought-after that it induced good, moral people from all over the country to come to worship him. Although their hearts may not have amassed as much virtue as they would have liked, it was still enough to create in them a tendency toward future rebirth as human beings. This is unlike the hearts of shameless people who seem to be vying for rebirth in hell or the animal world – types of birth that result in endless suffering. Rebirth in the lower realms of existence effectively debases the heart even further. Eventually, nothing of value is left to hold on to and all hope is lost.

All matters, without exception, converge at the heart: the heart is the driving force churning out the affairs of this world and determining the direction they take. If the heart is inclined toward goodness, everything a person does will bring contentment, both now and in the future. All paths branching off from the main avenue of goodness will invariably provide comfort and security to the virtuous wayfarer. Each rebirth will be a happy, prosperous one where hopes and desires are constantly being fulfilled. One day, that accumulated virtue is bound to lead to the most cherished goal of all. Witness Ãcariya Mun, whose heart was a wellspring of goodness from the beginning stages to the very highest one.

Ãcariya Mun has been widely glorified for his attainment of Parinibbãna. The word Parinibbãna is used solely in connection with someone absolutely free of all kilesas. When the average person stops breathing, bringing his physical existence to an end, this condition is known as ‘death’. But when the Lord Buddha or an Arahant dies, this is Parinibbãna. It is generally presumed that Ãcariya Mun’s death was also Parinibbãna, a conclusion I have no reason to dispute. I gladly yield to the verdict of all those fine people who have given him this prestigious epitaph. For many years I lived with him, listening closely to his every word, and I found nothing contradictory in his way of life or his Dhamma teaching. In truth, his teaching so profoundly impressed me that I am convinced it was amatadhamma,  emanating from a heart of genuine purity. A heart of such pureness is by no means inherent within human beings. To experience it, one must take the heart of an ordinary human being, then cleanse it until it becomes the pure heart of an Arahant – there is no other way. This purified heart then remains ariyacitta ariyadhamma forever.

Saying that the heart is the most important thing in the world means that the heart is the decisive factor controlling all manifestations of good and all manifestations of evil. The heart is the principal actor, and the one ultimately held accountable for all actions. If people’s hearts motivate them to act in evil ways, the entire planet can easily be destroyed as a consequence. Thus, it is essential that our hearts should receive enough proper training and care so that we can safely look after ourselves and the world we live in. Then we will live in comfort, our lives free of undue disturbance; and the world will be a pleasant place to live, without the specter of strife constantly hanging over it.