Tales from the Path
Glimpses up-close, "mine eyes have seen . . ."
Inspiring visits with the greats from seekers.
This page is by Dhanya (
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Ajahn Chah

Ajahn Chah 1918-1992 A Theravadan Monk of the Thai forest Tradition

In the summer of 1979 I was living on a farm in western Massachusetts, owned by my friends, David and Sally. A few years previously it had been a commune, but by the time I arrived, things had calmed down and thinned out, and there were only eight of us living there, David and Sally, another couple and their two children, one other person, and me. 

The farm was a great place, over a hundred acres in size. The house had been built in the late 1700’s, and although it had a lot of potential, in its present state, it was really pretty funky. I was living in the woods in a little screened room called the summer house. This was the best place on the property as far as I was concerned. No electricity or water, but total privacy and quiet. Just me and nature. I loved my peaceful days and nights in the summer house.

We had an enormous organic vegetable garden and a big raspberry patch. We canned vegetables and made jam. There was a pottery studio, a small bakery, and a milk cow in a big red barn.

Despite all of the activity, we seemed to spend endless hours just hanging out in a relaxed atmosphere, going for walks, swimming in the pond and playing with the children. Life on the farm that summer was pretty idyllic. 

Every night we had wonderful dinners. Friends and neighbors would drop by. The guests and conversations were very interesting. Our talk usually focused on dharma. All of us had spent time in India and were students of the vipassana teacher, S.N. Goenka. Some of us had a background in Hinduism as well.

Around this time another property, that was to become the Insight Meditation Center, in Barre, Massachusetts, was purchased. The vipassana communities in those days overlapped. Western students of Goenka, Mahasi Sayadaw, Munindra, Dipa Ma and Ajahn Chah were working together to get the center going. The above mentioned teachers were from different countries, and taught somewhat different techniques. The idea was to have one umbrella center under which vipassana could be taught.

One day we heard that Ajahn Chah was coming to America. We all knew he was a great meditation teacher. The abbot of a big monastery in Thailand. Very famous and respected in his country. This was exciting news, and we invited him to come out and stay at the farm. 

He arrived with one of his students, Robert, an American monk, who lived at Ajahn Chah’s monastery in Thailand, and was acting as his translator. 

I vacated the summer house, so that Ajahn Chah could stay there. We figured he would like staying in the forest, which he did. I also think there may have been a restriction about him staying under the same roof as householders, but I didn’t know about it at the time.

We enjoyed Ajahn Chah’s company. He was very good natured, happy and jolly. He was delighted by everything he saw on the farm, its rural setting, and the acres of surrounding forest. It was haying season, and Robert was having a great time, riding the tractor with his monks’ robes flying in the breeze, cutting down the hay and tossing it up to the loft in the barn. Some of our dharma friends dropped by. Halcyon days. What could have been better than this? 

However, there did seem to be a few things that we, from our cultural perspective, were finding odd. First of all, we were told that we ladies should scrupulously avoid touching Ajahn Chah, even accidentally. Okay, that was no problem.

The next thing we found perplexing was how to serve him food. In India ladies do most of the cooking. They serve the guru with great reverence, love and devotion. We were quite puzzled that Ajahn Chah did not want to take a plate of food from our hands. He sat on the floor of living room to eat. Robert said we must place the plate of food on a cloth in front of Ajahn Chah, and then back off. By no means were we to touch the cloth or plate at the same time the Ajahn did. Okay, we tried to get that one right.

One day we were sitting cross legged on the floor in front of Ajahn Chah asking him questions. He kept shifting around and looking very uncomfortable. Finally Robert told us that women should not sit like that in front of the Ajahn. That we must sit sideways, with our legs closed together. Okay.

I guess we should have taken the hint from all of this. As simple, good natured spiritual seekers, children of the sixties, we often wondered amongst ourselves how to reconcile the teachings we had been given in Asia of right conduct, including sexual conduct, with the free and easy ways of our early youth. If one was married or in a committed relationship, it seemed pretty straightforward, but what if one was not?

We now felt we had a great opportunity to discuss our concerns with a famous dharma teacher in a fairly private setting. So, in this context, we respectfully asked for Ajahn Chah’s clarification on the subject of right sexual conduct. We waited for his wisdom.

“Sex”, he said, “is gross, vile and disgusting.” Then he picked his nose with his forefinger. “It’s like that.” Well, that put an end to that conversation, although it provided us with a great quote for many years.

Ajahn Chah liked David and Sally a lot. One day as we were all sitting together, he said, "Sally grows everything here except children.” There was an awkward silence.

We all knew that David and Sally had been trying unsuccessfully for years to have a child. It wasn’t something we openly discussed. It was their personal concern. I think someone just changed the subject.

After Ajahn Chah left, I went up to the summer house to change the bedding. I then had the brilliant idea that instead of changing the sheets, I would sleep in them for one night, and thereby receive a blessing from the contact, as they had been sanctified by the touch of a saint. To someone of a devotional nature with a Hindu background as I was, this made perfect sense. I should have known better.

As I climbed into bed, I noticed that the sheets felt a bit scratchy, which I thought was odd. There was nothing unusual about the bedding. I had made the bed up for Ajahn Chah myself, making sure he would be comfortable. I began to feel somewhat uneasy and had doubts about what I was doing. I blew out the candle and was attempting to drift off to sleep when I heard an odd flapping and bumping against the ceiling and the screened walls.

I turned on my flashlight and saw a giant bat frantically flying and swooping around inside the room. I jumped up in terror, flew out of the summer house, leaving the door open so that bat could get out, and ran down the meadow to the safety of the house. I guess sleeping in the sheets of a famous Thai monk was not such a good idea after all.

Before Ajahn Chah left the farm he asked us to make up a paste of rice flour and water. As he walked out of the house for the last time, he dipped his fingers in the paste and pressed them on the kitchen door. He said it was a blessing that would always stay with the house. Three round white finger prints on a brown wood door.

Today the house has been completely remodeled. No one would recognize it as the funky old hippie commune of yore. Everything has been repainted, including the kitchen door, except for one small triangle of dark wood. Here preserved are the three finger prints of Ajahn Chah. David and Sally still live in the house, the proud parents of two lovely daughters.

Tales Index

* – This is an expandable set of pages. If you've been to see any of my listees and would like to tell your story, send it in (Feedback) and i'll be happy to put it up. Pages can be attributed or not, according to the author's wishes, though i will want to have some sense personally of where s/he is coming from.
See also Satsang Reports, a related series of impressions of satsang providers on tour, ie in a more "formal" setting.

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