Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Sin of Gluttony and Ascetic Practices

Recently, Discovery History Channel aired the show on the 7 Deadly Sins. I’ve watched a few of the series and the one on Gluttony is quite interesting. Now, it is said that the sin is the easiest to commit and the hardest to shake off.

I’ve found a few striking similarities between the teachings of the Deadly Sins and of those in the traditional Buddhism. In the 14th century, it was mentioned that those who commit gluttony will be banished to hell filled with sewage to reflect on the fact that the person never took care of the body while alive. I remember seeing pictures of the similar hell being depleted in Buddhist drawings in temples. And there were recorded history of some Catholic nuns like St Catherine who fasted and reputably carries a twig to induce vomiting. These nuns are referred as anorexics before they bore a striking similarity to the modern non religious anorexics. Even Jesus has been known to have fasted for over 40 days in the dessert.

The benefits of fasting as part of religious practice

In the Thai Forest Tradition, fasting is referred to one of the 13 ascetic practices. There’s nothing new about this as the ascetic practices were taught during the Buddha’s time, just that it is not being practiced much because of scholarly and intellectual rationalizations does not deem these practices as necessary to achieve the path of enlightenment.

If you want to pursue the spiritual path, you cannot rationalize the practice using your logical and intellectual faculties. It just does not work that way. You need to be really engaged in the practice for a period of time and see that if it works for you.

Why do seekers fast? It is because when there is gluttony, the mind is indeed clouded. The more attached to food a person is, the more difficult is for the person to seek and realize spiritual breakthrough. That is why as monks during Ajahn Mun’s days go for pindapat (almsround) and ate whatever that were offered to them. If they do not get any food during almsround, then they just fast for the day- there is no emergency storage that they kept away. And living in jungles and remote areas are chillingly cold, especially this time of the year. I know because I’ve been there- you need lots of blankets, gloves, warm wool hat, jackets just to keep yourself warm. I cannot imagine how these monks had lived during the time when they only wear one robe and carry another as part of their tudong. That is why during that time, a lot of Masters were born- it is through hardship.

When you fast, the body loses strength. It is because the body is filled up that the mind is active and wondering. If the body is weak, the mind tends to stay more at place and wonder less. But fasting is not a technique that suited everyone’s temperament- Luangta Maha Boowa had mentioned it in his books. For some, it is hours of sitting, or not sleeping, etc. But to know if it suits you or not, it is not something you try for just a few days and give up. I was told that Luang Phor Fan tried by fasting at intervals for months before realizing that the method was not suited to him- if I am not mistaken, he went for the non lying down way.

Personally, I had observed the 8 precepts (not eating after noon). Even with that, if you have eaten till the stomach's full, you would find that you would be struggling to keep the mind from wondering and falling asleep. When you are practicing in nature environment, you become more sensitive and you will realize that overeating or even eating nutritious food actually puts your mind to sleep and makes the mind more active or sleepy when you attempt to do sitting or walking meditation. I remember once I was so upset with my gluttony that I decided to stay up the entire night followed by fasting the next day just to 'teach the defilements a lesson'. After a few hours of struggling, the hunger went off and my mind became clear- just like what Luangta had written. It works, and you will be amazed at what the mind can do when put to extreme situations. But if we stay in air-conditioned place, enjoy good food and have ‘nice ambience’, it’s tough to achieve any breakthrough unless we’ve accumulated strong paramis.

But initially, I must stay that my body’s health were no good when I first started going to Thailand to practice (I spent my annual leave travelling to Thailand). What I did is that I came back and rebuilt my health through eating less carbohydrates and I exercised. Then it got easier. If your health is not so good, you need to work to improve your health.

And as any practices like fasting, you may not want to do it un-supervised. If all religious taught about fasting as a way of cleansing and purifying the mind, then, it must be somehow effective.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Luang Phor Fan, Sakorn Nakhon

The following photos were taken a photographer (I do not know him personally) who had visited Luang Phor Fan's museum in Sakorn Nakhon, Thailand. I had visited there years ago but had not bought a camera then. These photos originally appeared in a yahoo photo album but I could not contact the authors after yahoo had discontinued the service. However, I've saved the photos. I sincerely hope that one day, Ajahn Fan's dhamma teachings could be translated in English:

Luang Phor's monk identification document

Ajahn Fan's pictures

Forest monk's tudong setup- this was a setup of a place that Luang Phor Fan had slept in- consist of a klod (umbrella) with strings tied to trees. Monks would sleep on the floor.

Luang Phor Fan in his older years.

The King and Queen of Thailand greeting Luang Phor Fan.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Wat Asokaram (Ajahn Lee Dhammadaro)

Luang Phor Lee, otherwise known as Phra Suddhidhammaransi Gambhiramedhacariya had passed away about half a century ago. Here are the pictures taken of Wat Asokaram- due to its popularity, ongoing development projects have been carried out in the temple:

According to his autobiography writen prior to his passing away, Ajahn Lee had wanted a chedi to be constructed to house the Buddha relics to commesurate 2500 years of the passing away of the Buddha. The purpose is to repay a past life kamma (around the Buddha time or not long after the passing away of the Buddha, Ajahn Lee was also previously a monk in India. He was supposed to attend an important Sangha gathering but he played 'truant'). To repay the kammic debt, Ajahn Lee (who was well renown for his pyschic abilities during the 1930s to 1950s) must built a chedi. But his followers at that time disagree and believed that building a shrine hall (picture above) was more practical.

Ajahn Lee's message was not heeded. Not long after, Ajahn Lee passed away- at the age of 55 (if I am not mistaken).

His body is still being kept today at the shrine hall as seen on the photograph above (the coffin lies behind the golden statue of Ajahn Lee).

The construction of the chedi above only started after Ajahn Lee's death.
To read the teachings of Ajahn Lee online, go to> Thai Forest Tradition> Ajahn Lee. I started reading his books in 2001 - his books has provided a lot of solace and guidance at times when I needed it the most.

How to get to Wat Asokaram by public transport:
Not sure if it is still applicable, since I last visited the place in 2007
1. Take Skytrain to "On Nut" station (you can take from Siam Central BTS station). Get down and you will see the bus stop with Tesco located opposite the road.
2. Take bus number 511- cost 17.5 baht. The journey took more than an hour because of the jam. Get down when the bus reaches the last station.
3. From there, take a taxi to Wat Asokaram (around 50baht)
From Wat Asokaram, you will need to walk out about 150 to 200 meters to the main road to flag down a taxi. Or sometimes if you are lucky, you can get on a cab who happened to drop off a passenger.