Forest Buddhism, Ajahn Thate, A Formula for Sleeping or not Sleeping

I met a few western monks who were students of Ajahn Thate while in England in the 80s and read a bit that was available in English. When I got to Thailand in 1995 I visited Wat Hin Mak Paeng, where he lay in state before his funeral. Thousands of folks were there, maqny to pay their respects and many who stayed on day to day feeding and looking after the visitors. This was a time before cell phones and digital cameras, a time much different to the period of morning and Luang Ta Maha Boowa’s funeral. He wrote his autobiography “The Autobiography of a Forest Monk” which is easy to find as a PDF. It is much more accurate and to the point than many of th Biographies of monks that are written by their followers who tend to embellish and leave out the warts and low points. Ajahn Thate was one of the earliest and most senior of those who joined Ajahn Mun as a Dhammayut monk in the Forest Tradition….

Ajahn Thate died in 1994 at Wat Tham Kham in Sakon Nakhon where he lay in state until being returned to Wat Hin Mak Paeng for his funeral in 1996.

Chapter 12 of his book titled Fourth Rains Retreat, 1926 (in a Cemetery North ofAhgaht Amnoy District) has a subb-chapter 12.1 A Formula for Sleeping or not Sleeping which over the years I have found to be a useful practice. And at the end of this reflection he speaks about problems with the community, which is rarely found, as I mentioned, in monks’ biography.

Here is the sub-chapter, followed by a small album from Wat Hin, in Nong Khai.

At this same period, I tried to uncover and understand the condition that exists
during the state of sleep. As a rule, we are never aware of the actual moment of
falling asleep. It’s only upon waking that we come to know that we fell asleep.

Before we fall asleep there will be the state of tiredness, weakness and drowsy
dullness of body and mind. The chains of thinking processes become shorter and
eventually all awareness of thought-objects is released and we quickly enter what
they call sleep.

When we bring in mindfulness to focus on the current condition of that final moment
before sleep, we will find that there is only the barest awareness left. It’s almost impossible to fix on it, while no mental-objects are left at all. Only the most delicate mindfulness remains present to follow and watch the current condition of the mind arising in that moment. It is like when the mind drops into bhavanga.[61] If, at this point, we don’t wish to allow sleep to take over, an effort has to be made to look out for a single mental or emotional object. This can then be subjected and held to and taken up for thought-processing. As a result, the mind will brighten up and be refreshed, free from all fatigue and drowsiness. It will also have the beneficial effect equal to having slept for four or five hours.

On the other hand, if we wish to sleep, this is achieved by letting go of that final remaining trace of mindfulness and sleep will come with ease and comfort. This way is especially good because one only sleeps for a very short period, so there is no wasting of time. It won’t last for more than five or ten minutes. If you have actually established and focussed mindfulness, as I have been explaining, you can rest assured that you won’t be asleep for more than five minutes.
If, rather than going to sleep, you just want to rest body and mind, go and find a
suitably quiet and peaceful place to rest in. It can either be somewhere completely
secluded or among other people. Lie down, stretch out, relax and be comfortable
without tensing any part of the body. Then settle the mind on a single object in that condition of letting go. Let it just remain alone in emptiness for a while, and, on getting up, you will feel in all respects as if you had been sleeping for four or five hours.

This word sleep. In truth, the mind doesn’t sleep. It is rather that the body rests, without having to make any movements. Even those who enter the high state of
meditation called the attainment of cessation[62] can’t be said to have gone into a
state of sleep. This is really the state where the meditator supervises the heart with mindfulness to fix it on one mental object.

That object steadily becomes ever more refined — as does mindfulness and the
heart — until all feelings and thoughts completely cease due to the strength of the
meditator’s skilled practice. Mindfulness no longer has anything to do and so fades
out completely. Although bodily breathing continues, it has become so subtle and
refined that one can hardly say whether it exists or not. In fact, it does exist but it no longer appears to move through the nose. One can compare it to an external breeze that while present is not enough to manifest in the stirring and fluttering of leaves.
No one could then assert that no wind/breath exists for if there is no wind/breath
there’s no air and then all living-breathing beings in this world would be dead.
The Lord Buddha called this ‘entering the attainment of cessation’, for at this point the nervous system of the six sense doors[63] will not receive any contact. This, however, is different from the state of sleep. When asleep, something may very well impinge on the senses so that one immediately wakes up. The attainment of
cessation requires sufficient practice and preparation of heart so that it becomes
competent and skilled. After attaining this state many wondrous things[64] can
occur. It’s not possible to hurt the meditator who has entered into this state — even if someone set him on fire it would never touch him. On the other hand, after
entering Nibbana, the body can indeed disintegrate.
The meditator can withdraw from the attainment of cessation through the power of a
previously made determination.[65] When they reach the determined time, the
breath will gently start to become progressively coarser and coarser until all the
bodily functions have reverted to their previously normal state.

Attainment of cessation is not Nibbana but a state of absorption.[66] This is because absorption lacks the right-view wisdom (paññaa-sammaadi.t.thi) that can investigate the root causes of the defilements, such as those of the Sense Sphere (Kaamabhava) and the Fine-material Sphere (Ruupa-bhava). This is rather the domain of insight-knowledge (vipassanaa-ñaa.na) and right-knowledge and realization of the
Path (magga ñaa.na-dassana). All the absorptions are only instruments of
encouragement and support, that smooth the Way and enhance energy.

Thus, before the Lord Buddha’s Final Passing Away, (Parinibbana) he entered and
progressed up through the various levels of absorption. He then returned to the
Fourth Absorption, which forms the foundation for insight, and entered Nibbana from
there. That was between the Sense Sphere and the Fine-material Sphere for that
forms the base for the supra-mundane dhamma. (lokuttara dhamma).

The question might arise here: “So! Why is this old monk going on about the
attainment of cessation, about Nibbana and states of absorption? Has he reached
and realized these states or not?” The doubter might answer himself with: “Can’t one say that this is really a matter of boasting about attaining to supra-mundane
states?”.
In truth, anyone who attains to the cessation of perception and feeling, or to Path, Fruit and Nibbana, or to the absorption of the attainment of cessation,[67] does not make the assumption that, ‘I have reached, entered or reside in such a state’. There is simply a proficiency with the necessary skillful means that leads to and connects with them. Just when the meditator is about to enter such a state, any remaining assumptions and suppositions about ‘I’ will bring him up short. Otherwise, the average sort of person everywhere, intelligent and knowledgeable about the Teachings and the Discipline, they could all go off together and attain to the Path and Fruit and Nibbana, to the absorption of the attainment of cessation. The whole town, the whole country would all be doing the same!

At the moment of realizing such states there is no hope of making up assumptions
and formulations about them. Only after transcending those conditions can one
recollect and systematically check back over their successive stages and
development. Once having worked it out one will then be able to formulate and set
out all aspects of these states.

It’s not always necessary for the person who explains about these things to have
actually reached those levels. When the Teachings have been set down and their
essential meaning established, one has to explain about it to the best of one’s own
understanding. Sometimes this will be done correctly and sometimes it will be
mistaken. If things had not been worked out in this way, how could the Teachings of
the Lord Buddha have endured and continued down to the present day?

People listen, yet even though they all may be listening to the same theme, to the
same points, many will understand in quite different ways, from different angles.
Furthermore, those meditators who have attained to exactly the same stage, via an
identical technique, will still find that their individual skill and ingenuity are quite different. This is why the Dhamma that one sees by and for oneself is so wondrous and amazing and why it’s so difficult to achieve.

“So why do you come along finding fault and only condemning me? It’s simply not
fair.”

Please excuse this digression into the nether realms.[68] Now let us return to my
autobiography.

With the end of the Rains Retreat, Ven. Ajahn Singh led our party to the village of
Sahm Pong. It was the customary practice for us all to gather and pay our respects
to the Ven. Ajahn Mun. On our way there, I related to Ven. Ajahn Singh all my recent experiences and thoughts about the pee-um and sleep. He made no response at all, remaining quite silent. When we arrived, however, he proceeded to relate this matter to Ven. Ajahn Mun. At that moment, I was sitting a little apart from them so I don’t know what he said about my experiences — I couldn’t hear. I thought that probably it was all considered inconsequential and beside the point, not being connected with the practice of the Noble Path. He therefore didn’t pursue it any further, as he might have done with other issues.

Almost one hundred monks and novices gathered to pay their respects to the
Venerable Elders and Senior Ajahns, and it was considered quite an event for those
times. After it was over, Ven. Ajahn Mun had me, with one other monk and a novice,
accompany him to the village of Kah Non Daeng. This was where the Ven. Ajahn
Oon, Ven. Ajahn Goo and Ven. Ajahn Fan had spent the Rains Retreat. We stayed
there for three days and Ven. Ajahn Mun related to the group about my practice with
sleeping and not-sleeping. Everyone remained silent, without comment. This was
particularly so with Ven. Ajahn Oon who previously had discussed this very topic with me, when I was still unable to do it.

During the time that Ven. Ajahn Mun resided at the forest monastery of Sahm Pong,
he would give daily Dhamma talks. If anyone was feeling despondent or irresolute,
or someone had fallen ill, he directed his talk like this:

“So then, it isn’t fear of death that you have but a desire to die many times.” (He
meant by this, that if you continue meditating with dauntless strength and
determination, the heart’s purification will cut back the fear of death.)

As soon as Ven. Ajahn Mun departed, no one was left in the monastery to continue
to give Dhamma talks. The morale and strength of heart of his disciples thereby
drained away and no one was able to carry on living there. The ‘air’ at that
monastery was particularly inhospitable and it was plagued with malarial fever.
Everyone with poor health or weak constitution would be struck down with fever.
The whole resident community of monks eventually followed along behind us. They
said that it was so bad that they couldn’t continue to live there any longer and that the air of Sahm Pong monastery was so heavy and oppressive that it made them feel drowsy and lethargic all day long.

When this group of monks caught up with us again, Ven. Ajahn Mun made an
observation about our ranging farther afield through secluded places, so that we
could spread the Dhamma even more widely. He continued by pointing out that we
had already traveled throughout much of the three or four provinces of this region.

These were Sakhon Nakorn, Udorn-thani, Nongkhai and Loei. He queried us about
which provinces would be best to head for? The majority were for going down
towards Ubon Province. But Ven. Ajahn Mun himself was not really satisfied with this suggestion because suitable jungle, mountains and caves were hard to find in that region. However, if there was a consensus for going there, then he wouldn’t object. Having come to this collective decision, we made ready to set off, traveling in small groups.

It was necessary for me to accompany my mother on her journey back home and so
I was not able to go with Ven. Ajahn Mun. It was on this trip that Ven. Ajahn Mun
and his party encountered major upheavals. There were both good and bad results
from this:

The good side was an increase in the number of forest monasteries for Kammatthana
forest monks, which up to then had not existed at all. This was the occasion when
forest monks for the first time permanently settled Ubon Province. From that time
forward it has continued to spread out until today there are monasteries with
Dhammayut’ monks in virtually every district.

The negative side was the deterioration in the quality of the monks’ practice. In fact, the decline this time…[69] was unprecedented, until Ven. Ajahn Mun was finally obliged to turn away from the community there and leave for Chiang Mai Province.

If the album does not appear below Click Here

 

 

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3 Responses to “Forest Buddhism, Ajahn Thate, A Formula for Sleeping or not Sleeping”

  1. […] See the original post: Forest Buddhism, Ajahn Thate, A Formula for Sleeping or not Sleeping […]

  2. […] I met a few western monks who were students of Ajahn Thate while in England in the 80s and read a bit that was available in English. When I got to Thailand in 1995 I visited Wat Hin Mak Paeng, where…Continue reading […]

  3. […] I met a few western monks who were students of Ajahn Thate while in England in the 80s and read a bit that was available in English. When I got to Thailand in 1995 I visited Wat Hin Mak Paeng, where…Continue reading […]

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