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
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
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
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
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
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
* – This
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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.