Chah, Ajahn 1919-1992
CHAH, Ajahn 1919-1992
PERSONAL: Born June 17, 1919, in Bahn Gor, Thailand; died 1992, in Thailand; son of Mah and Pim Chooangchote.
CAREER: Buddhist monk and teacher.
A Still Forest Pool: The Insight Meditation of AjahnChah, compiled and edited by Jack Kornfield and Paul Breiter, Theosophical Publishing House (Wheaton, IL), 1985.
Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings, translated by Paul Breiter, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 2001.
Food for the Heart: The Collected Teachings of AjahnChah, foreword by Jack Kornfield, introduction by Ajahn Amaro, Wisdom Publications (Boston, MA), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Ajahn Chah was a Buddhist monk who followed the Forest Tradition of traveling through the countryside and forests looking for secluded places to meditate. He eventually settled in a forest near his birthplace. As more and more disciples came to follow his teachings, Chah established his own monastery. Chah's following grew and branch monasteries were eventually established by Chah and his disciples throughout Thailand. As noted on the Buddhist Society of Western Australia Web site, "Chah's simple yet profound style of teaching has a special appeal to Westerners." As a result, monasteries were also established in England, Australia, and New Zealand. Chah's teachings and talks have been compiled in several books, including Food for the Heart: The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah.
Chah was born in the rural village of Bahn Gor in the province of Ubon Rajathani in northeast Thailand. After completing his basic education, he became a Buddhist novice monk but three years later returned to help his parents on their farm. Chah was not interested in farming and at the age of twenty entered a temple to study Buddhism. On April 26, 1939 he was ordained a bhikkhu, or Buddhist monk. In the beginning, Chah followed the traditional path of being a monk by studying scriptures and Buddhist teachings, but he found little on this path to answer his questions about life and death. After his father died, the restless Chah set out on a pilgrimage, visiting other monasteries and spending a brief time with Ajahn Mun, a renowned follower of the forest-dwelling Buddhist way of life and meditation. After meeting Mun, Chah decided to follow this austere tradition of living in the forest and other remote areas to practice meditation. "He lived in tiger and cobra infested jungles, using reflections on death to penetrate the true meaning of life," reported a contributor to the Forest Sangha Web site. "On one occasion he practiced in a cremation ground to challenge and eventually overcome his fear of death. Then, as he sat cold and drenched in a rainstorm, he faced the utter desolation and loneliness of a homeless monk."
After several years of wandering, Chah found himself near the place of his birth and he eventually established a monastery in a nearby forest called Pah Pong, which was believed by the locals to be inhabited by ghosts. Chah had more substantial problems to face, however, including wild animals, malaria, lack of shelter, and little food. Word of Chah's location began to spread and people soon began to come to the forest to see him. As noted by a Dhamma.com contributor, "Chah's impeccable approach to meditation, or Dhamma practice, and his simple direct style of teaching, with the emphasis on practical application and a balanced attitude, began to attract a large following of monks and lay people." It also helped that Chah was a gifted speakers who could hold audiences entranced. By the mid-1960s, Chah's reputation had spread abroad to Westerners also interested in Eastern philosophy and Buddhism. In 1976-77, he visited England and established the first branch of his monastery outside of Thailand.
In 1985, Chah's teachings on meditation were collected in A Still Forest Pool: The Insight Meditation of Ajahn Chah. By this time, Chah was suffering from numerous health problems caused by diabetes and other complications. Although he was operated on in 1981, his condition did not improve and he was bedridden. He eventually became paralyzed and could no longer talk. Chah died in 1992.
Chah's death did not end his influence, and his teachings continued to thrive. In 2001, Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings was published. The book essentially condenses many of Chah's talks, which were known to last up to five hours, and is useful Western readers interested in Buddhism and ways to apply it to their daily lives. "Although the length has been shortened, the content is still bracing and memorable," wrote a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. As a reviewer in Tricycle stated, "These lectures comprise the heart of Chah's teachings, which emphasize dignity and strict training with a light heart." On the Spirituality & Health Web site, contributors Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat wrote, "There is a rigor here that challenges the reader to avoid what Ajahn Chah called heedlessness—'a careless, unaware approach to living.'"
Food for the Heart: The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah presents many of Chah's talks that had only been available in small limited editions and publications. In them Chah discusses such topics as suffering, enlightenment, and meditation. Writing in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer noted that the book includes Chah's extensive used of technical Buddhist vocabulary "which can be daunting to casual readers." Nevertheless, the reviewer also noted that "Chah's humorous, analogy-laden narration of his tradition's Buddhist practice . . . makes these teachings accessible to beginners and appealing to serious practitioners."
As a hardened forest dweller, Chah was known to be tough on his disciples and monks, testing their endurance and having them do hours of what seemed to be meaningless work to teach them about surrender to the ways of life. Sometimes referred to as "Luang Por," meaning Reverend Father, Chah adhered to the philosophy that true wisdom comes from the way a person lives and acts and, of course, from meditation. "You say that you are too busy to meditate," Binh Anson on Sasigon.com quoted Chah as saying. "Do you have time to breath? Meditation is your breath."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Publishers Weekly, June 11, 2001, review of BeingDharma: The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings, p. 83; July 15, 2002, review of Food for the Heart: The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah, pp. 68-69.
Tricycle, fall, 2001, review of Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings, pp. 132-133.
Buddha Mind Web site,http://buddhamind.info/ (December 27, 2002), "Biography of Ajahn Chah."
Buddhist Society of Western Australia Web site, http://www.dhammaloka.org.au/publications/HTML/Ajahn_Chah.html (October 15, 2002), "Ajahn Chah."
Dhamma.com, http://www.dhamma.com/ (October 15, 2002), "Ajahn Chach."
ForestSangha.org,http://www.forestsangha.org/ (October 15, 2002), "About Luang Por Chah."
Saigon.com, http://www.saigon.com/~anson/ebud/ebdha011.htm/ (October 15, 2002, Binh Anson, "Ajahn Chah's Wisom."
Spirituality & Health Web site,http://www.spiritualityhealth.com/ (October 15, 2002), Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, review of Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings.*