阿 姜 曼 正 傳 

 

第二章第三節:怕鬼的比丘

       

                                

         

第二章第三節:怕鬼的比丘

    阿姜曼提過一則某比丘無意間待在停屍場附近森林的故事。某一天的下午,這名比丘很晚才徒步到了一座村落,由於不熟悉當地的環境,便詢問當地的村民那裡有適合他修行的林地。他們指著一條通往森林的小徑,說那裡很適合,但忘了告訴他這塊林地就坐落在停屍地的旁邊。然後他們帶他到森林,他在那裡平安渡過了第一個晚上。隔日,他就看到村民抬著一具屍體經過,而且就在離他很近的地方將屍體給火化了。他在一旁觀看,可以清楚地看到燃燒的屍體。從他看到棺材被抬過去的那一刻起,他開始感到害怕了,他本以為他們會把屍體抬到別處火化。然而,光只是看到棺材就已讓他驚駭莫名,因為他想到即將到來的黑夜。他很擔心棺材的影像在入夜後會作祟,使他無法入睡。果不其然,他露宿的地方正緊鄰火葬場,所以他被迫眼睜睜看著屍體在他的眼前被焚燒。這一幕讓他更加心煩意亂,只要想到晚上必須待在這裡就讓他極度的不安。從看到屍體經過他眼前開始,他就感到非常的不安,這種感覺愈來愈強烈,他真的很恐懼,到了夜幕低垂前,他都幾乎無法呼吸了。

        想到一名比丘會這麼怕鬼,實在是很可憐。我在此記錄這一個事件是希望同樣怕鬼的讀者們,能從這名比丘努力面對恐懼的堅韌中去反省,並從這一段過去上到一堂寶貴的課。

        當村民各自回家,留下他一個人,他的折磨才真正開始。他無法專注禪修,因為每當閉上眼睛靜坐時,就看到排成長列縱隊的鬼魂向他走來。過沒多久,鬼魂組成隊將他給團團圍住,讓他陷入恐慌。他的恐懼就從中午第一眼看到屍體開始,到了黑夜籠罩四周的時候,他的恐懼已強到了無法壓制的程度。

        自他出家受戒以來,他從來沒有經歷過像這種跟鬼影長期抗爭的經驗,但至少他還有足夠的正念去反省:這種恐懼,這些鬼 —— 都可能只不過是一種妄念。很可能這些作祟的鬼影是我自己的心所創造出的產物。真正的頭陀比丘應該是在面對死亡、鬼魂或其它危險時,都無畏無懼且與堅忍不拔。

        於是他提醒自己:「各地的人都在讚揚頭陀比丘無畏的勇氣,而我卻在這裡不知慚愧地怕起鬼來,我就像是一個完全沒用的人,我出了家,卻沒來由地活在懼怕鬼怪或妖怪的恐懼中。我實在是傳統頭陀比丘的恥辱,對於相信我們是無懼一切的聖戰士的人,我不值得他們的尊敬,我怎麼能讓這種事發生呢?」

        他想起了頭陀比丘應有的聖潔美德,並嚴厲責備自己未能達到這些高標準,從那時起他下定決心要強迫自己直接面對恐懼。在他面前躺在火葬用的堆材上燻燒的屍體是他恐懼的源頭,他決定立刻走過去。他放下了僧袍,在黑暗中他清楚地看到了火光,於是直接走向火葬材堆。但走了幾步後,雙腳就變得僵直,幾乎無法移動。他的心怦怦地跳,全身有如在烈日下曝曬後被汗水浸濕一般。他發現自己無法再走下去,便立刻改變走法。開始小步蹣跚前進,前腳跟著後腳走著,不讓腳步停下來。在那個時候,他只靠意志的力量推動身體繼續前進。他怕得要死,不停地顫抖,但他仍堅持走下去 —— 就好像他的命就靠它了。

        他在一整段路上都很掙扎,好不容易終於走到了那具燃燒的屍體旁。當他抵達時,並沒有因此安心,他覺得很暈眩,幾乎無法站立。雖然他就快被恐懼給逼瘋,但仍強迫自己看著燃燒中部分的屍體。接著,看著暴露在火中焚燒的白骨,因毛骨悚然而幾乎就要昏倒。他強忍住恐懼,就在離柴堆旁的一小段距離開始靜坐。他專注在那具屍體上,以它為修行的業處,強迫被害怕佔據的心覆誦著:「我將會死 —— 就像這具屍體一樣。不需要害怕。有一天我也一定會死 —— 沒有什麼好怕的。」

        他坐在那裡,死抓著怕鬼的恐懼並強令心去「念死」,他突然聽到身後有奇怪的聲音 —— 是朝他走來的腳步聲!腳步聲停下來,然後又開始走動,既緩慢又謹慎,感覺就像是有人要偷偷從他背後撲過來一樣 —— 又或者這個聲音只是自己的想像?他的恐懼已飆到了最高點,他隨時都準備要跳起來逃跑並大喊「有鬼呀!救命呀∼!」。但他還是勉強坐著並控制逃跑的衝動,神經緊繃聽著腳步聲慢慢走近離他只有幾公尺遠的地方。就在他做好準備要逃跑的時候,又出現了奇怪的聲音 —— 就好像是有人在發出喀滋、喀滋啃咬東西的聲音。這讓他的想像力開始飛馳!到底是什麼東西在啃咬?接下來,它就要來咬我的頭了!這個殘酷、無情的厲鬼一定是來索我的命!

        他無法再這樣疑神疑鬼下去,於是決定睜開雙眼。如果情況危急,他就準備逃命 —— 總比給某個厲鬼吃掉好多了。他自忖,現在逃離死亡,還有機會可以繼續精進修行,若白白犧牲生命就什麼都沒有了。於是他睜開眼睛轉過身往發出啃咬的聲音望去,並做好準備逃跑的動作。他往黑暗中望去,一眼就瞥見了他想像出來的惡鬼,原來是村裡的一隻狗,口裡正咬著民間信仰中祭祀亡靈的食物。牠四處找食物填飽肚子,就像一般飢餓的動物都會做的事情;而牠對坐在那裡的比丘一點都不感興趣。

        這個比丘突然發現原來只是一隻狗,不禁對自己的愚蠢而感到啞然失笑。他將注意力轉向這隻對他不感興趣的狗身上,心想:「原來就是你喔!你就是那個快把我逼瘋的厲鬼。你給了我一堂寶貴的課」。同一時間,他也為自己的膽小感到很深的失望:「雖然我已下定決心要像一個戰士來面對恐懼,但只不過是一聽到狗覓食的聲音就陷入極度的恐慌 —— 變成一個拚命想逃命的頭陀比丘!幸好正念讓我多等那幾分之一秒,才發現恐懼的真正原因。否則,可能就真的把我給逼瘋了。天哪!我就真的這麼愚蠢嗎?如果是這樣,我該繼續穿著這身代表佛弟子、象徵著無比卓越勇氣的黃色袈裟嗎?我這麼沒用,又豈能托缽繼續接受信眾的供養而褻瀆了他們以尊敬與信心所供養的食物?我現在該怎麼做才能彌補自己這種卑劣怯懦的表現?肯定沒有其他的佛弟子會像我一樣這麼可悲。像我這樣無能的弟子足以嚴重拖垮教團 —— 如果再多的話,負擔將會變得很巨大。我該怎麼對抗這個讓我看起來像是個笨蛋的恐懼呢?快點!堅強起來,就是現在。如果再拖延,不如現在去死好了。絕不能讓怕鬼的恐懼再蹂躪我的心,這個世界上已經沒有可讓比丘身分與其所代表的教法受到貶抑的空間了。」

        這名比丘在心中有了一番新的自我惕勵,便發了一個莊嚴的誓言:「在我克服怕鬼的恐懼之前,絕不離開這裡。如果我會因此而死掉,那就死吧!如果無法擊敗恐懼,我就絕不允許自己帶著這份恥辱繼續活下去。別的人可能會學我的壞榜樣,因而進一步加劇了僧團的負擔。」

        於是他對自己起誓,就從那一刻起,不管白天和夜晚他都要留在墓地,以此嚴峻地處理他的恐懼。他專注於在他面前的屍體,並拿它與自己的身體作比較,看到兩者都是由相同的基本元素dhammā所組成。只要心中的意識仍與這些基本元素結合一起,那麼這個人,或這個動物,就會繼續存活下去。可一旦心識分離,整個元素的組合就會開始崩解,然後就稱作屍體。

        很顯然他錯把狗當成鬼怪的想法很丟臉荒唐;所以他決心不再相信鬼魂作祟纏身的妄想。從這一則事件可以清楚地顯示,根本就是他心中有鬼,是他的心被鬼魅般的陰魂所糾纏,而他的恐懼才是自欺的結果。他遭受的苦都源自於誤將妄想當真,不過是一隻找食物的無害的狗,卻嚇得幾乎攸關生與死。

        想到長久以來,被心中不斷產生的這種自欺所欺瞞,他想到:「雖然它們一直在運作,但這是它們第一次讓我幾乎瀕臨崩潰。法教導我們『妄想』才是騙術大師,但到現在我才清楚了解這是什麼意思。我讓自己這般活受罪,到現在才真的了解其重要性:我的恐懼不過是會騙人的『妄想』。從現在起,妄想再也不能像以前那樣愚弄我了。我必須一直待在墓地,直到騙術大師死去並遭埋葬,只有這樣鬼怪在未來才不會繼續糾纏我,只有這樣我才會離開。現在,換我來把這個狡猾、騙人的魔術師給整到死,然後就像我在這裡剛看到火化的屍骨一樣將它發臭的屍體給火化掉,給妄念的陰險詭計決定性的一擊 —— 這是我此刻生命中唯一迫切的事情。」

        這位比丘下定決心接受這個挑戰,每當妄想讓他懷疑鬼魂就潛藏在附近某處,他立刻便走過去看個仔細,揭開真相。那一晚他徹夜未眠,都保持警醒,終於妄想也精疲力竭,不再有力氣來跟他說鬼故事。那天傍晚的前幾個小時,他與外在的鬼奮戰,被當成鬼的村裡的狗幾乎要把他給搞瘋了。之後,當他瞭解了情況並意識到這是妄念,他將注意力轉向內心,與心中的鬼搏鬥,直至降伏它為止。從他意識到自己的愚蠢開始,怕鬼的恐懼便平息下來,在剩下來的夜晚不再騷擾他了。之後的幾個夜晚,他都保持警覺,準備以同樣堅定的立場來面對任何恐懼的生起。最後,他把自己變成了一個無畏無懼的比丘 —— 在任何情況下。這整段經歷對他的修行進展造成了深刻與持久的影響,怕鬼的恐懼讓他在「法」中上了一堂重要的課,也因此使他蛻變成一個真正名符其實的比丘。

        我把這段故事收錄在《阿姜曼正傳》中的目的,是希望讀者能從中得到一些寶貴的體悟,正如我相信阿姜曼一生的故事將會證明給世界各地的人帶來極大的功德利益。從以上的故事中我們可以看到,「塚間坐」一直是一項重要的頭陀行。

        只穿著三衣是阿姜曼從第一天出家受戒起就一直奉行的另一項頭陀行,直到他晚年且健康衰退,最終迫使他不得不稍微放鬆一些。在當時,頭陀比丘很少會待在同一個地方很久,除非是三個月的雨安居。在當時沒有汽車,他們穿越森林和群山時,全程都是徒步行腳。每一個比丘都必須隨身帶著自己的物品 —— 不可能期待別人幫忙。也因此,比丘只會隨身攜帶方便的東西。帶太多的東西只會變得很笨拙,所以只帶那些絕對的必需品。隨著時光流逝,這種簡樸的態度會變成頭陀比丘內在性格的一部分。如果有人供養他多餘的東西,他就會轉送給其他的比丘,以免囤積不必要的東西。

        頭陀比丘真正的美是建立在他修行的品質以及生活的簡樸。當他死的時候,只留下八種必需品 —— 他莊嚴的一生中唯一真正的必需品。當他還活著的時候,他過著莊嚴的清貧生活;死後,毫無眷戀地善逝。人類與天神都會歌頌這名死於高貴的清貧且毫無眷戀的比丘。因此,穿著三衣的頭陀行一直都是與頭陀比丘相應的一種榮譽勳章。阿姜曼很認真地奉行上揭提到的一切頭陀行,他對這些方法都極其熟稔,現今很難找到能與他相提並論的修行人。他也會特別教導他座下的弟子用同樣的頭陀方法去修持,他會教他們住在偏遠的荒野區、孤獨且恐怖的地方,例如:樹底下、山頂上、石窟中、懸崖峭壁之下、甚至是墳場裡。他以身作則教導他們應把托缽乞食看作他們每日例行的神聖正命,並警告他們應避開回到寺院後才送來的食物。後來,村裡的在家居士都已知道他嚴格的修行,都只會將食物與供養的東西放置在比丘的缽裡,不用在僧團裡再去供養額外的食物。他告誡他的弟子們只可以吃缽內混合的食物,而不可用其他容器取食。他透過日中一食的方式為他們示範,直到他生命的最後一天為止。

        阿姜曼在東北部行腳的各個時期,在每一個新據點都會逐漸吸引大量的學生。當他停下來在一個地方住上一段時間的時候,都會有大量的比丘來與他同住,於是只好在森林裡成立一個臨時的道場,可容納六十到七十名比丘,而其它的追隨者則住在道場周遭。但阿姜曼總是跟弟子們分開住,彼此都住在不會靠得太近的地方,但又不會隔得太遠,好讓他們遇到修行的困難時可方便找到他。這樣的安排對大家都很方便,因為太多的比丘住得太近,會變成禪修時的一種障礙。

        每逢泰曆十五日布薩[1]僧自恣[2]時,來自各地的頭陀比丘都會到他的道場聚在一起誦戒。當誦戒結束後,阿姜曼會對在場的大眾說法,然後逐一回答每個比丘的提問,直到大家的疑惑都解決並滿意為止。然後每個比丘會回到各自住的地方,受到聞法的開示所激勵,再度以熱忱繼續禪修。

        雖然有大批的比丘跟他一起修行,但他發現他們都很容易管理,因為他們都為了自己的修行利益已準備好將他的教導付諸實踐。在他督導下的僧團生活都很有紀律與安靜,使得僧團看似廢墟一般。除了聚會及用餐的時間外,在其他時間來參訪的人都看不到比丘,因為每個比丘都跑到森林裡,在各自隱蔽之處努力經行與靜坐,所以整個地方才會看起來一片死寂。

        阿姜曼經常在黃昏傍晚的時候召集比丘為他們說法。當比丘們坐在一起安靜地聆聽,他們的耳裡都只有阿姜曼的聲音。他令「法」的重點變得清楚的聲音節奏,令人感動與陶醉。隨著他開示的流程,他的聽眾全都渾然忘我,也忘卻了疲倦與流逝的時間。聽法的當下,他們只意識到對他們的心有影響的「法」的律動,創造出這麼愉悅的感覺,讓他們永不饜足。像這樣的法會每一次都會持續好幾個小時。

        在頭陀比丘的圈子裡,「聞法[3]」被視為是另一種修行。頭陀比丘對他們的老師以及所開示的法都極其尊敬,老師對頭陀的比丘們不斷地指引與告誡,都有很好的成效,使他們往往將他的教導視為修行的命脈。為了展現對老師最崇高的敬愛,他們甚至都願意為他犧牲生命。就這一點來說,阿難尊者就是一個很好的例子:他對世尊有著無法撼動的信心與敬愛,所以當提婆達多設計以醉象攻擊佛陀時,阿難尊者會毫不遲疑跳出來以身體擋在路中間保護佛陀。

        就以阿姜曼為例,頭陀比丘都是以最大的敬意聽從他的開示,並熱忱謹記在心。這一點,可從他為了使其某一位弟子能更上一層樓而建議他住進石窟裡特別看得出來。被挑出來的比丘,絕不會抗拒,只會以真摯的信心忠誠地聽從他的建議,絕不讓自身安全的恐懼及憂慮變成問題。他們反而很喜樂,覺得住在他所推薦的地方,自己的修行一定會變強,這使他們下定決心日夜不懈的精進。他們都確信,如果阿姜曼建議他們去住某個特定的地方,那麼他們的努力肯定會得到好的結果 —— 就好像他們從他那裡事先得到了成功的保證。這好比世尊對阿難尊者的保證一樣,就在世尊般涅槃之前,曾預言再過三個月他(阿難)的心就會從無明煩惱中獲得解脫。他授記預言阿難尊者在佛滅後僧團第一次集結的開會當日就會證悟,成為阿羅漢。由此可知,對老師虔誠的服從極其重要,因為它會在禪修上產生無法撼動的利益,避免粗心與冷漠,並有助於在弟子的心中打下法的基礎原則,在老師與弟子間建立默契共識,不用一再重複教學內容而令雙方都感到無聊及厭煩。

        阿姜曼的第二趟東北行是因受到了當地的出家眾及在家眾的力邀。在那一段期間,他在泰國東北所有的各府四處遊方行腳並弘法,最初是呵叻府,然後依序是四色菊府(Si Saket)烏汶府那空帕農府色軍府烏隆府廊開府黎府以及碧差汶府(Phetchabun)Lom Sak等地,偶爾也會穿越湄公河到寮國的永珍及他曲。當時他多次穿梭來回這些地方,但他還是比較喜歡待在有山區或茂鬱森林的各府,因為那裡的環境比較適合禪修。例如:色軍府的南邊及西南邊就有許多遍布森林的山區,他在Sawang Dan DinPhon Sawang附近度過雨安居。當地的山區有助於頭陀行,到今天仍有許多頭陀比丘經常在此居住。

        乾季期間在這個地區行腳的比丘通常就睡在森林中的小竹平檯上,它們都是用竹子一根一根由上垂直往下剖開來平放在地上,然後把它們固定成有腳的竹架,製成一座表面凸起來可供睡覺用的竹檯,面積約六尺長、三或四尺寬,離地約一又二分之一尺高。一座竹檯可供一位比丘使用,並與林中的其他比丘保持適當的距離,在大森林中以厚葉作成幕簾,當成天然屏障,彼此間至少可相隔一百二十尺。如果當地相對狹小,又或者一大群比丘住在一起,那麼間隔可能就會縮小到九十尺,雖然一般最小的距離是一百二十尺。住在當地的比丘人數愈少,彼此分得就愈開 —— 只足以聽到對方咳嗽或打噴嚏的距離。當地的村民都會幫每個比丘清理出一條約六十尺長的經行步道,竹檯則放置在步道的旁邊。這些步道都是供比丘日夜經行禪修所使用的。

        當有怕鬼或怕老虎的比丘來接受阿姜曼的訓練,他通常會要他們一個人住,遠離其他的比丘 —— 是一種拉出對恐懼的注意力的嚴格訓練方法,比丘可藉此學習掌控恐懼。他被要求必須一直待在原地,直到他習慣四周的荒野環境,習慣於他心中的鬼及老虎。最後,期盼他能跟其他以同樣方式修行的人一樣,達到相同的好結果。然後,他不用再無止盡地背負恐懼的包袱。阿姜曼相信這樣的方法可達到較好的結果,而不是只讓比丘自己去處理這個問題,極可能到頭來他都找不到面對恐懼的勇氣。

        頭陀比丘剛到一個新的地方,都會蒐集各種不同的樹葉或一些稻草,做成一個簡陋的小床墊,睡在地上。阿姜曼說,每年的十二月及隔年的一月,由於抵達的寒冷氣候遇到並混雜著即將離去的雨季,而形成了普遍的季節性氣候型態,使得在生活上會變得特別的艱困。尤其在冬季下雨的時候,比丘都無法避免濕透。有時候雨會持續下一整個晚上,而他用來遮護的傘帳便擋不住強風豪雨。儘管如此,也不得不在臨時的雨棚下坐著發抖,忍受冰冷的雨水襲身而無法移動,因為在暗夜中什麼都看不到。白天的傾盆大雨沒有那麼慘,比丘雖仍渾身濕透,但至少還能看得見四周的環境,在林中找到能保護他的遮蔽物,不會覺得全然失明一樣。僧袍及其附隨物等基本物品都必須在放在缽內,用蓋子緊緊地蓋好。他將上衣折疊成一半,垂掛在身上,用來禦寒及防濕。懸掛在頭陀傘邊緣垂到地面的防蚊帳,像帳棚一般成了阻擋風吹雨打時不可或缺的遮蔽物。不然的話,所有的東西都會被弄濕,隔天早上還必須忍受托缽時穿著濕衣服的不舒適。

        到了二月、三月及四月的時候,天氣又改變了,開始變熱。通常,頭陀比丘會移居到山裡,尋找石窟或懸崖峭壁作為防日曬雨淋的居所。如果他們在十二月及一月的時候前往山區,地面就會因雨季而變得濕氣很重,使他們暴露在感染瘧疾的風險之中。瘧疾是一種很不容易治癒的疾病,在病症消失之前可能要花上好幾個月。它很容易變成慢性病,定期間隔發燒。這種慢性的瘧疾在當地被視為一種「親人間的恥辱」,因為發燒會使人變得很虛弱,而患者在生病期間可以吃得很好,卻不用工作。像這個樣子,不只是在親人間,就是一般人都會鄙視患者。在當時沒有特效藥可治癒瘧疾,所以只好讓患者自生自滅。我自己就常因這種令人愧疚的發燒而吃盡苦頭,在當時沒有特效藥,也只好順其自然,聽天由命了。阿姜曼曾說過,在那段期間大部分他所認識的頭陀比丘都曾感染過瘧疾,包括他自己及其許多弟子,有些人甚至因此喪命。聽到這些話,不禁讓人對他及其弟子比丘寄予深深的同情:在證得必要的解脫道並傳授給弟子、讓他們得以遵循他的典範修行之前,他幾乎都快要死了。


 

[1]布薩是祭日禮拜日的意思。布薩制度是佛教中最早施設的懺悔法門。

[2]僧眾任由眾人恣舉自己所犯之罪,並對著其他比丘作懺悔,叫做自恣。布薩「僧自恣」是沿自古印度佛陀時代僧團的制度,讓有犯錯的比丘有機會面對自己的錯誤,反省自己身口意的過失,並在僧眾面前坦承犯了戒,以此使戒律重新恢復清淨。

[3]擇法覺支,又作聽法、聞經。

 

   

Ãcariya Mun related the story of a dhutanga monk who inadvertently went to stay in a forest located next to a charnel ground.  He arrived on foot at a certain village late one afternoon and, being unfamiliar with the area, asked the villagers where he could find a wooded area suitable for meditation. They pointed to a tract of forest, claiming it was suitable, but neglected to tell him that it was situated right on the edge of a charnel ground. They then guided him to the forest, where he passed the first night peacefully. On the following day he saw the villagers pass by carrying a corpse, which they soon cremated only a short distance from where he was staying. As he looked on, he could clearly see the burning corpse. He started to grow apprehensive the moment he saw the coffin being carried past, but he assumed that they were on their way to cremate the body somewhere else. Still, the mere sight of the coffin caused him considerable consternation, as he thought ahead to the coming night. He was worried that the image of the coffin would haunt him after dark, making it impossible for him to sleep. As it turned out he had camped on the edge of a charnel ground, so he was obliged to watch as the corpse was burned right in front of him. This sight upset him even more, causing him severe discomfort as he contemplated the prospect of having to spend the night there. Feeling very uneasy from the first sight of the corpse passing by, the feeling gradually intensified until he was so terrified that, by nightfall, he could hardly breathe.

It’s pitiful to think that a monk can be so terrified of ghosts. I am recording this incident here so that those of my readers having a similar fear of ghosts may reflect on the tenacity with which this monk strove to confront his fear head on, and so take a valuable lesson from the past.

Once all the villagers had gone home, leaving him alone, his torment began in earnest. He could not keep his mind focused on meditation because whenever he closed his eyes to meditate, he saw a long line of ghosts moving toward him. Before long ghosts hovered around him in groups, an image which frightened him so much that all presence of mind deserted him, throwing him into a panic. His fear began in mid-afternoon, at the first sight of the corpse. By the time darkness fell all around, his fear had become so intense he was just barely able to cope.

Since ordaining as a monk, he had never experienced anything like this long struggle with visions of ghosts. At least he was mindful enough to begin reflecting: The fear, the ghosts – all of it may simply be a delusion. It is more likely that these haunting images of ghosts are creations of my own mind. sadhutanga monk he was expected to be steadfast and fearless when facing death, ghosts, or any other danger.

So he reminded himself: People everywhere praise the fearless courage of dhutanga monks, yet here I am shamelessly afraid of ghosts. I’m acting like a total failure, as though I’ve ordained just to live in fear of ghosts and goblins without any rhyme or reason. I’m a disgrace to my fellow monks in the dhutanga tradition. I am unworthy of the admiration of people who believe we are noble warriors fearing nothing. How could I let this happen?

Having reminded himself of the noble virtues expected of a dhutanga monk, and roundly criticizing himself for failing to live up to these high standards, he resolved that he would force himself to face the fear directly from then on. The corpse that smoldered before him on the funeral pyre being the cause of his fear, he decided to go there immediately. Putting on his robe, he started walking straight for the funeral pyre, which he saw clearly glowing in the darkness. But after a few steps his legs tensed up, and he could hardly move. His heart pounded and his body began to perspire profusely, as though exposed to the midday sun. Seeing that this was not going to work, he quickly adjusted his tack. Starting with small, deliberate steps, he placed one foot just in front of the other, not allowing his forward motion to stop. By that time, he was relying on sheer strength of will to push his body forward. Frightened to death and shaking uncontrollably, he nevertheless kept his resolve to walk on – as though his life depended on it.

Struggling the entire way, he eventually reached the burning corpse. But instead of feeling relieved that he had achieved his objective, he felt so faint he could barely stand. About to go crazy with fear, he forced himself to look at the partially burned corpse. Then, seeing the skull burned white from long exposure to the fire, he got such a fright that he nearly fainted straightaway. Bravely suppressing his fear, he sat down to meditate just a short distance from the burning pyre. He focused on the corpse, using it as the object of his meditation, while forcing his terrified heart to mentally recite continuously: I’m going to die– just like this corpse, there’s no need to be afraid. I’m going to die someday too– there’s no point in being afraid.

Sitting there grappling with his fear of ghosts and forcing his heart to repeat this meditation on death, he heard a strange sound just behind him – the sound of approaching footsteps! The footsteps stopped, then started again, slow and cautious as if someone were sneaking up to pounce on him from behind – or so he imagined at the time. His fear now reaching its peak, he was poised to jump up and run away, crying “Ghosts! Help!” But he managed to control this impulse and waited, listening nervously as the footsteps slowly drew nearer then stopped a few yards away. Poised to run, he heard a strange sound – like someone chewing, loud and crunchy. This sent his imagination racing: What’s it chewing on around here? Next, it’ll be chewing on my head! This cruel, heartless ghost is sure to mean the end of me.

Unable to stand the suspense any longer, he decided to open his eyes. Should the situation look drastic, he was prepared to run for his life – a far better option than just letting some terrible ghost devour him. Escaping death now, he reasoned, will give me the chance to resume my practice later with renewed diligence, whereas I gain nothing by sacrificing my life to this ghost. With that he opened his eyes and turned to look in the direction of the chewing, crunching sounds, all set to make a dash for his life. Peering through the darkness to catch a glimpse of the terrible ghost he had imagined, he saw instead a village dog, casually eating the scraps of food left by the villagers as offerings to the spirits as part of the local custom. It had come scrounging for something to fill its stomach, as hungry animals are wont to do; and it wasn’t the least bit interested in him sitting there

Suddenly realizing that it was only a dog, the monk laughed at his own folly. Turning his attention to the dog, which showed no interest in him whatsoever, he thought: So! You’re the almighty specter that nearly drove me crazy. You’ve taught me the lesson of my life! At the same time, he was deeply dismayed by his own cowardice: “Despite my determination to confront my fears like a warrior, I was thrown into a panic as soon as I heard the sound of this dog scrounging for food – a mad dhutanga monk fleeing frantically for his life! It’s a good thing I had enough mindfulness to wait that fraction of a second longer to discover the real cause of my fear. Otherwise, it would probably have driven me mad. Gosh! Am I really so grossly stupid as that? If so, do I deserve to continue wearing the yellow robes, the emblem of courage; for it denotes a disciple of the Lord Buddha, whose superior courage transcends all comparison? Being this useless, should I still walk for alms, and thus desecrate the food that the faithful offer with such respect? What can I do now to redeem myself after such a despicable display of cowardice? Surely no other disciple of the Buddha is as pathetic as I am. Just one inept disciple like myself is enough to weigh heavily on the sãsana –should there be any more, the burden would be enormous. How am I going to tackle this fear of ghosts that’s just made me look so foolish? Hurry up! Take a stand, right this minute! It is better to die now than to postpone this decision any longer. Never again can I allow this fear of ghosts to trample on my heart. This world has no place for a monk who disgraces himself and the religion he represents.”

With this self-admonition fresh in his mind, the monk made a solemn vow:“I will not leave this place until I’ve overcome my fear of ghosts. If I have to die trying, then so be it! If I can’t defeat this fear, then I don’t deserve to continue living in such disgrace. Others might follow my bad example, becoming useless people themselves, thus further increasing the burden on the sãsana.”

So he vowed to himself that, from that moment on, he would remain in that cemetery day and night as a way of dealing sternly with his fear. He focused on the corpse before him, comparing it with his own body, seeing that they were both composed of the same basic elements. As long as consciousness is there in the heart to hold everything together, then that person, or that animal, continues to live. But as soon as consciousness departs, the whole combination of elements begins to disintegrate, and is then referred to as a corpse.

It was clear that his notion about the dog being a ghost was shamefully absurd; so he resolved that he would never again lend any credence to thoughts of being haunted by ghosts. As this incident clearly showed, his mind simply haunted itself with ghostly apparitions, and his fear was the outcome of this self-deception. The misery he suffered arose from such faith in this delusion that a mere dog, harmlessly scrounging for food, almost became a matter of life and death.

Recalling how deluded he had been for so long, trusting the selfdeceptions that his mind constantly churned out, he thought: “Although they’ve always been at work, this is the first time they have brought me so close to catastrophe. Dhamma teaches us that saññã is the master of deception, but until now I’ve never clearly understood what that means. Only now, inhaling the stench of my own living death, do I understand its significance: My fear of ghosts is nothing more thansaññã’s deceptive trickery. From now on, saññã will never again trick me as it has in the past. I must stay put here in this cemetery until the ‘master of deception’ is dead and buried, so that the specter of ghosts will not continue to haunt me in the future. Only then will I agree to leave here. Now it’s my turn to torture to death this cunning, deceitful conjurer, then cremate its stinking corpse like that fleshly corpse I’ve just seen cremated here. Dealing a decisive blow tosaññã’s insidious trickery – this is the only pressing matter in my life right now.”

The monk took up this challenge with such earnest resolve that whenever saññã caused him to suspect a ghost was lurking somewhere around him, he immediately went to that spot, exposing the deception. Forgoing sleep, he kept up this vigil throughout the night, until finally saññã no longer had the strength to assert its assumptions. In the early hours of the evening, he had been engaged in a struggle with external ghosts, in the guise of the village dog which had nearly been his undoing. Later, when he understood the situation and became conscious of his error, he turned his attention inward, battling his inner ghosts into submission. Beginning the moment he became aware of his folly, his fear of ghosts subsided and ceased to trouble him for the rest of the night. On subsequent nights, he remained alert, ready to confront any hint of fear using the same uncompromising stance. Eventually he transformed himself into a monk of incredible courage – in all circumstances. This whole experience had a profound and lasting impact on his spiritual development. His fear of ghosts gave rise to an outstanding lesson in Dhamma, thus converting him into a truly authentic monk.

I include this story in the biography of Ãcariya Mun in the hope that the reader will gain some valuable insights from it, just as I trust the story of Ãcariya Mun’s life will prove to be of great benefit to people everywhere. As can be seen from the above story, visiting cemeteries has always been an essential dhutangapractice.

WEARING ONLY THE THREE PRINCIPAL ROBES is another dhutangaobservance that Ãcariya Mun followed religiously from the day he first ordained until old age and declining health eventually forced him to relax his strict adherence somewhat. In those days, dhutanga monks rarely settled in one location for very long, except during the three months of the rainy season retreat. They wandered through forests and mountains, traveling by foot the whole way since there were no automobiles back then. Each monk had to carry his own belongings – he could expect no help from others. For this reason, each monk took with him only as much as he could conveniently manage. Since it was awkward to be loaded down with too many things, only absolute essentials were taken. As time went on, this frugal attitude became an integral part of a monk’s character. Should someone give him something extra, he would simply give it away to another monk to avoid accumulating unnecessary possessions.

The true beauty of a dhutanga monk lies with the quality of his practice and the simplicity of his life. When he dies, he leaves behind only his eight basic requisites – the only true necessities of his magnificent way of life. While he’s alive, he lives majestically in poverty – the poverty of a monk. Upon death, he is well-gone with no attachments whatsoever. Human beings and devas alike sing praises to the monk who dies in honorable poverty, free of all worldly attachments. So the ascetic practice of wearing only the three principal robes will always be a badge of honor complementing dhutanga monks. Ãcariya Mun was conscientious in the way he practiced all the dhutanga observances mentioned above. He became so skillful and proficient with them that it would be hard to find anyone of his equal today. He also made a point of teaching the monks under his tutelage to train themselves using these same ascetic methods. He directed them to live in remote wilderness areas, places that were lonely and frightening: for example, at the foot of a tree, high in the mountains, in caves, under overhanging rocks, and in cemeteries. He took the lead in teaching them to consider their daily almsround a solemn duty, advising them to eschew food offered later. Once lay devotees in the village became familiar with his strict observance of this practice, they would put all their food offerings into the monks’ bowls, making it unnecessary to offer additional food at the monastery. He advised his disciples to eat all food mixed together in their bowls, and to avoid eating from other containers. And he showed them the way by eating only one meal each day until the very last day of his life.

WANDERING BY STAGES across the Northeast, Ãcariya Mun gradually attracted increasing numbers of disciples at every new location along the way. When he stopped to settle in one place for some time, scores of monks gravitated to that area to live with him. Having set up a temporary monastic community in the forest, sixty to seventy monks would gather there, while many more stayed close by in the surrounding area. Ãcariya Mun always tried to keep his disciples spread apart, living in separate locations that were not too close to one another, yet close enough to his residence so that they could easily seek his advice when they encountered problems in their meditation. This arrangement was convenient for all, for when too many monks are living in close proximity, it can become a hindrance to meditation.

On the uposatha observance days, when the Pãåimokkha was recited, dhutangamonks came from various locations in his vicinity to assemble at his residence. After the recitation of the Pãåimokkha, Ãcariya Mun addressed the whole assembly with a discourse on Dhamma, and then answered the monks’ questions, one by one, until their doubts cleared up and everyone was satisfied. Each monk then returned to his own separate location, buoyed by the exposition of Dhamma he had just heard, and resumed his meditation practice with renewed enthusiasm.

Although he sometimes had large groups of monks staying to train with him, he found them easy to supervise because they were all prepared to put what he taught into practice for their own spiritual benefit. Monastic life under his tutelage was so orderly and quiet that the monastery often appeared deserted. Excepting mealtimes and times when the monks assembled for meetings, a visitor coming at any other hour wouldn’t have seen the monks. The place would have looked deserted with each monk having slipped into the dense forest to diligently pursue walking or sitting meditation in his own secluded spot, day and night.

Ãcariya Mun often assembled the monks in the evenings at about dusk to give a discourse on Dhamma. As the monks sat together quietly listening, Ãcariya Mun’s voice was the only sound they heard. The rhythm of his voice articulating the essence of Dhamma was at once lyrical and captivating. Carried along by the flow of his teaching, his audience completely forgot themselves, their weariness, and the time that passed. Listening, they were aware only of the flow of Dhamma having an impact on their hearts, creating such a pleasant feeling that they could never get enough of it. Each of these meetings lasted many hours.

Within the circle of dhutanga monks, listening to a Dhamma discourse in this way is considered another form of meditation practice. Dhutanga monks have an especially high regard for their teacher and his verbal instructions. He constantly guides and admonishes them to such good effect that they tend to view his teachings as the lifeblood of their meditation practice. Showing the utmost respect and affection for their teacher, they are even willing to sacrifice their lives for him. The Venerable Ananda is an excellent case in point: He had such unwavering affection for the Buddha that he was willing to sacrifice his life by throwing himself into the path of the wild, charging elephant that Devadatta had let loose in an attempt to kill the Buddha.

In Ãcariya Mun’s case, dhutanga monks listened to his instructions with great reverence, enthusiastically taking them to heart. This was especially evident when he advised one of his monks to go live in a certain cave in order to give his practice new impetus. Monks, singled out in this manner, never objected, but faithfully followed his recommendations with genuine conviction, refusing to allow fear or concern for their safety to become an issue. Instead they were pleased, feeling that their practice was bound to be strengthened by living in the locations he recommended. This in turn infused them with determination to strive relentlessly both day and night. They were convinced that, if Ãcariya Mun suggested a certain location to them, then their efforts there were sure to be rewarded with good results – as though they had received an assurance of success from him in advance. This could be likened to the assurance that the Lord Buddha gave to the Venerable Ananda, just prior to his Parinibbãna, when he told him that in three months time his heart would be free from all kilesas. He was predicting that the Venerable Ananda was certain to attain enlightenment, becoming an Arahant on the opening day of the First Sangha Council. It’s obvious that devout obedience to the teacher is vitally important. It engenders an unwavering interest in practice, guards against carelessness and apathy, and so helps to anchor the basic principles of Dhamma in the disciple’s heart. It facilitates the establishment of a common understanding between teacher and disciple so that instructions need not be repeated over and over until it becomes annoying and tiresome for both parties.

ÃCARIYA MUN’S SECOND TRIP to the Northeast was a cause for much interest and excitement among monks and lay supporters throughout the region. During that period, he traveled extensively teaching in almost all the northeastern provinces. He passed initially through Nakhon Ratchasima; then through Si Saket, Ubon Ratchathani, Nakhon Phanom, Sakon Nakhon, Udon Thani, Nong Khai, Loei, Loei, and Phetchabun, and occasionally crossed the Mekong River into Laos to visit Vientiane and Tha Khek. He crisscrossed these areas many times in those days, but he preferred to remain longer in provinces that were mountainous and thickly forested because they were especially suitable for meditation. For instance, south and southwest of the town of Sakon Nakhon there were many forest-covered mountain ranges where he spent the rains retreat near the village of Phon Sawang in the district of Sawang Dan Din. The mountainous terrain in this area is so conducive to the ascetic way of life that it is still frequented by dhutanga monks today.

Monks wandering in such areas during the dry season usually slept out in the forest on small bamboo platforms. They were made by splitting sections of bamboo lengthwise, spreading them out flat, then securing them to a bamboo frame with legs, making a raised sleeping surface of about six feet long, three or four feet wide, and about one and a half feet above the ground. One platform was constructed for each monk and was spaced as far apart from another as the living area of the forest would allow. A large tract of forest allowed spacing of at least 120 feet with the thick foliage in between each platform acting as a natural screen. If the area was relatively small, or a large group of monks lived together in an area, then the spacing might be reduced to 90 feet intervals, though the minimum distance was usually 120 feet. The fewer the number of monks living in a particular area, the farther apart they were individually – being close enough to one another only to hear the distant sound of a cough or a sneeze. Local villagers helped each monk to clear a walking meditation track approximately 60 feet in length, which was located beside his sleeping platform. These tracks were used day and night for practicing meditation in a walking mode.

When monks fearful of ghost or tigers came to train under Ãcariya Mun, he usually made them stay alone, far from the rest of the monks– a severe training method designed to draw attention to the fear so that the monk could learn to come to grips with it. He was required to remain there until he became accustomed to the wilderness environment, and inured to the tigers and ghosts that his mind conjured up to deceive him. The expectation was that, in the end, he would achieve the same good results as others who had trained themselves in this way. Then he wouldn’t have to carry such a burden of fear indefinitely. Ãcariya Mun believed this method accomplished better results than simply leaving a monk to his own devices, and to the very real prospect that he might never find the courage to face his fears.

Upon arriving in a new location, a dhutanga monk had to first sleep on the ground, collecting various kinds of leaves, or in some places straw, to make a crude mattress. Ãcariya Mun said that the months of December and January were especially difficult due to the prevailing seasonal weather patterns, as the approaching cold weather met and mixed with the outgoing rainy weather. When it did rain during the winter months, a monk inevitably got drenched. Sometimes it rained continuously all night, and the umbrella-tent he used as shelter was no match for the driving rain and high winds. Still, he had no choice but to sit shivering under this makeshift shelter, enduring the dank cold and unable to move for it was impossible to see in the dark. A downpour during the daylight hours was not quite so bad. A monk still got wet, but at least he could see his surroundings and search for things in the forest to help shelter him from the elements without feeling totally blind. Essential items like his outer robe and his matches had to be kept in his alms bowl with the lid tightly secured. Folding his upper robe in half, he draped it around himself to keep out the cold and damp. The cloth mosquito net that hung from the suspended umbrella down to the ground formed a tent-like shelter that was indispensable for blocking out the windswept rain. Otherwise, everything got soaked and he had to endure the discomfort of having no dry robe to wear in the morning for almsround.

The months of February, March, and April saw the weather change again, as it began to heat up. Normally dhutanga monks then moved up into the mountains, seeking out caves or overhanging cliffs to shelter them from the sun and the rain. Had they gone to these mountainous locations in December and January, the ground would still have been saturated from the rainy season, exposing them to the risk of malarial infection. Malarial fever was never easy to cure. Many months could pass before the symptoms finally went away. It could easily develop into a chronic condition, the fever recurring at regular intervals. This kind of chronic malaria was locally referred to as ‘the fever the in-laws despise’, for its victims can eat well enough but they can’t do any work because the fever is so debilitating. In such cases, not only the in-laws but also everyone else became fed up. No effective remedies for malaria existed then; so those who caught it had to just let it run its course. I myself quite often suffered from such chastening fevers, and I too had let them run their course as we had no medicines to treat malaria in those days. Ãcariya Mun used to say that most of the dhutangamonks he knew during that period had been infected with malaria, including himself and many of his disciples. Some even died of it. Listening to those accounts, one couldn’t help feeling a profound sympathy for him and his monks: he nearly died before gaining the necessary understanding to teach the way of Dhamma to his disciples, so they too could practice following his example.