The Life and Teachings of Ajahn Chah
by Ajahn Jayasaro
Narrated by Ghosaka
This important work details the life and teachings of Luang Por Chah, also known as Ajahn Chah, and has been in the making for over two decades. This biography is based on the 1993 Thai biography of Luang Por Chah entitled ‘Upalamani’ which was also authored by Ajahn Jayasaro. It includes translations from ‘Upalamani,’ in particular many of the anecdotes and reminiscences of Luang Por’s disciples, as well as a significant amount of social, cultural, historical, and doctrinal information to provide context to an audience that may be unfamiliar with Thai culture and its Buddhist heritage.
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01 Chapter I: A Life Expired - A Death
The Death of Luangpor Chah: Part 1 A Death
The twentieth of January, 1983. At the small provincial airport of Ubon Ratchathani in Northeast Thailand, a group of Buddhist monks and lay supporters look up to the sky. Nearby, a white ambulance is parked on the runway. A loud droning sound can be heard, its source soon traced to a Thai Air Force plane lumbering in to land. After the plane taxies and comes to a halt, its door opens and reveals an unusual and moving sight. An imposingly large Western monk starts to descend from the plane, cradling in his arms a much older and smaller Thai monk. This frail and helpless-looking figure is the revered master, Luang Por Chah. After five long months of tests and consultations in a Bangkok hospital, he has returned to Ubon in order to spend the last days of his life at home in his monastery, Wat Nong Pah Pong, surrounded by his disciples.
02 Chapter I: A Life Expired - A Cremation
The Death of Luangpor Chah: Part 2 A CREMATION
A winter afternoon in Ubon Province, Northeast Thailand, Saturday the sixteenth of January, 1993. A forest monastery, like a dark green patch upon a pale fabric of rice fields that stretch out fallow and dry. Tonight, it will be cold and windy, but in mid-afternoon the temperature in the shade of the gently swaying trees is 33 degrees. The calm and order of the scene belies a barely credible fact. Today, in an area usually inhabited by a hundred monastics, some four hundred thousand people are gathering – a number exceeding the population of any Thai city other than Bangkok. A year after the death of Luang Por Chah, it is the day of his cremation.
03 Chapter II: A Life Inspired - A Suitable Locality
1918-1954: Part 1 A SUITABLE LOCALITY
The Buddha declared that all avoidable human suffering is caused by mental defilements, and that these defilements can be completely eliminated by a systematic education of body, speech and mind. Supreme among the virtuous qualities that ‘burn up’ the defilements, he revealed, is forbearance. It is perhaps no coincidence then that the unwelcoming environment of Northeast Thailand – known to its inhabitants as Isan – nurtured a great flowering of Buddhist monasticism in the twentieth century. The vast majority of monastics recognized in Thailand as enlightened masters over the past hundred years have come from this region.
04 Chapter II: A Life Inspired - Growing Up
1918-1954: Part 2 GROWING UP
Luang Por Chah was born on the seventh waning day of the seventh moon of the Year of the Horse, 1918. He was the fifth of eleven children born to Mah and Pim Chuangchot, who, like the vast majority of their generation, were subsistence rice farmers. The name ‘Chah’ means ‘clever, capable, resourceful’.
05 Chapter II: A Life Inspired - The Path of Practice
1918-1954: Part 3 THE PATH OF PRACTICE
‘Tudong’ is a Thai word derived from the Pali ‘dhutaṅga’, which means ‘to wear away’ and is the name given to the thirteen ascetic practices the Buddha permitted monks to undertake in order to intensify their efforts to wear away their defilements. In Thailand, the word has expanded in meaning. Monks who have left their monastery and are wandering through the countryside sleeping rough (usually practising a number of the dhutaṅga observances), are called ‘tudong monks’ and are said to be ‘on tudong’.
06 Chapter II: A Life Inspired - New Directions
1918-1954: Part 4 NEW DIRECTIONS
In the hot season of 1952, Luang Por made his way to Ubon once more. He had been away for two years and his arrival in Bahn Kor caused a stir in the small village. In the evenings, he gave Dhamma talks of a power and persuasion that had never been heard before. This was a fresh, vital Buddhism, relevant to the villagers’ daily lives, expressed in language they could all understand. And yet it would be going too far to suggest his visit provoked revolutionary changes in the community’s spiritual life. The number of people that did not go to listen to him was probably larger than that of those that did. Indeed, some members of his own family were completely indifferent and remained so for many years afterwards. Everywhere in the world, it seems, old perceptions die hard. A common response, and one against which Luang Por would, in the future, wage a long struggle, was that what he said was true but beyond the capacity of ordinary people to live by. Be that as it may, Luang Por had already sowed a number of seeds in his home village. There was now a group of people, led by his mother, who hoped that, before too long, Luang Por would come back for good and establish a monastery in a forest not too far from Bahn Kor.