Wat Pa Nanachat

Ajahn Chah … spent… a very brief but significant time with Venerable Ajahn Mun, the most outstanding meditation Master of the ascetic, forest-dwelling tradition. Following his time with Venerable Ajahn Mun, he spent a number of years traveling around Thailand, spending his time in forests and charnel grounds, ideal places for developing meditation practice.

At length he came within the vicinity of the village of his birth, and when word got around that he was in the area, he was invited to set up a monastery at the Pa Pong forest, a place at this time reputed to be the habitat of wild animals and ghosts….

In 1966 the first westerner came to stay at Wat Pa Pong (Wat=temple), Venerable Sumedho Bhikkhu. From that time on, the number of foreign people who came to Ajahn Chah began steadily to increase, until in 1975, the first branch monastery for western and other non-Thai nationals, Wat Pa Nanachat, was set up with Venerable Ajahn Sumedho as abbot.
Web: <ksc15.th.com/petsei/biography.htm>

leaf forms trembling
in the forest pool of marble

where monks at night
once listened for tiger’s breath

we watch a long green snake                                                                                    (a python)
loop itself through the ironwork

then belly-flop – phlat!!
into the dry teak leaves

behind the sun-spattered terra cotta Buddha
impossible for some minutes

to keep eyes closed
to stop listening

for slither

insuperable biases of language
one side talking spirits and devas
the other of superstition

I only know
that when I come back by tuk-tuk                                                                   three-wheeled taxi
and step through the forest gate

my pace slows
I stop looking

for the purple sunbirds
as I feel breathed into me

something from beyond this
linguistic aporia                                                                                                        difficulty, straits (Greek)

around us on all sides
the slow creaking of the tall bamboos

big leaves you can almost hear
when they zigzag down through the butterflies

from the dipterocarpus and strangler figs
in the almost sunless gloom

the darkness of the forest
opening the darkness within us

the wat once walled
inside the forest
as Thailand in Buddhism

and now the forest
or what is left of the forest
walled inside the wat

The Thai student from Cornell
who interviewed elderly monks
about the thudong tradition                                                                               ascetic practice

wrote in her Ph.D. thesis
Between 1950 and 1975
the US provided Thailand

with $650 billion in support
of economic development                                                                                              Tiyavanich 368
dams golf courses and tourist resorts                                                                          Tiyavanich 244

In the 1960s, nearly 60%
of the country was forested
and now 17%                                                                                             TIMEasia.com 8/21/02

until in November 1988
rain falling on denuded hillsides
killed hundreds of people                                                                                   Tiyavanich 245

logging since then illegal
meaning another source of graft
along with prostitution and drugs                                                                       Pasuk 141-42

eucalyptus planted
for export to the Japanese
in the midst of the peasants’ rice                                                                       Tiyavanich 247

Her dissertation director
who had approved of this high rate of growth
as a very considerable achievement                                                                    Wyatt 282-83

and justified clearing forests
by the major security crisis                                                                                       Wyatt 290
in the shadow of Vietnam                                                                                         Wyatt 285

wrote a foreword to her book
everything I knew
had to be thrown away and rethought                                                                                Tiyavanich xi

he had already written
that Sarit after his coup
arrested intellectuals and journalists                                                                       Wyatt 280

but not how he put Phimontham
the leading meditation monk
into prison for five years

if everyone closed his eyes
how to watch for communists?                                                                       Carr 10; Tiyavanich 231

the wandering monks chastised                                                                                   thudong monks
some of them maybe killed

every kuti was burnt down                                                                                        monk’s cell
all the fruit trees around the wat
mango longan lime coconut                                                                               Tiyavanich 234

while Ajahn Chah
gave up the wandering life
created his own wat pa                                                                                                   forest monastery

and later Wat Pa Nanachat                                                             International forest monastery
Theravadan Buddhism
now in England California
Australia New Zealand Switzerland

insight the power of caring
as we never knew it in America

the power of Luang Por Ophad                                                               Venerable Abbot Ophad
to read our minds
in less than fifteen minutes

saying first to Ronna
after spitting his betel nut
into a bronze spittoon

words I had used that very day
about teaching in Thailand

you can’t do one hundred percent
if you can do fifty
do fifty

and then scolding me
You have little bit samadhi                                                                                   concentration
but your mind is sokopok                                                                                        dirty, defiled

and too scattered
as if reading my own fears
so as to change my life

this power of insight
was once as widespread
as the transboreal forest

saints like Alcuin and Wang Wei
drawing on its images

to express the wilderness within                                                                            Scott 525-30
imprinting their holiness

which aged inevitably
into education and science
social development

at the expense of mental development                                                                     bhavana
I learned this as a medievalist

all the dhammas are one                                                                                              dharmas

under the glass case
containing the portrait and skeleton
of the young woman who killed herself
when her husband was unfaithful

I sit trying to draw chi
up the ladder of my spine

thinking what have we done to Thailand?
good roads electricity
no beggars here at the gate

like the children carrying babies
crowding around us in Tachilek
across the border in Myanmar

or the two Cambodian girls at the border
searching each other for lice

or those banging their pans in Varanesi
their legs crushed or amputated
for the sake of charity

if you spend a night
at Tha Ton Riverview resort
you can hear shots over the border

or wake to a corpse
floating down the Mae Kok River

as down the Mekong in Laos
arms battened to a frame of bamboo

part of me thinks

         no question about it
         Thailand has escaped
         the bitter colonial legacies
         of Britain and France
         still leaving their imprint
         of poverty and hatred

but Thailand independent
since the eighteenth century
when Ayudhya was larger than London

remained a forested country
until the 1960s
and the American billions
for counterinsurgency and development

with villagers displaced
from the new growth eucalyptus
to become migrant workers
or prostitutes in Bangkok                                                                                            Tiyavanich 245

even after the insurgency
Phra Prachak discovered
when he ordained the oldest trees
by wrapping them in saffron robes                                                                             River 12

that what was left of the forest in Dong Yai
remained a battleground                                                                                    Tiyavanich 246

illegal loggers
in league with the military
grenades thrown at his monastery
the roof of his hut
splattered with M16 shots                                                                                          Pasanno

officials petitioning to have him defrocked
till he was finally arrested

now nothing left
but a saffron robe in a kuti monk’s cell
books strewn on the floor
small statues of Buddha in disarray                                                         Bangkok Post 1/4/98

villagers forced out at gunpoint
some of their crops plowed under
in other places orderly rows
of another crop planted
in the middle of their rice Tiyavanich 247

Ajahn Wan: in today’s society
those who know how to extort
oppress and control others
are regarded as geniuses Tiyavanich 243

and Ajahn Chah: if you try to live simply
practicing the Dhamma
they say you’re obstructing progress Tiyavanich 241

but part of me thinks

         it was happening anyway
         even some Buddhists
         engaged in the crackdown
         Ajahn Uan the sangha head
         looked down on meditation monks
         and tried to force them out
         forbidding villagers to give them alms                                                  Tiyavanich 173-75

         until he became so sick
         he had to take food intravenously
         and meditation practice
         helped him gradually recover                                                                Tiyavanich194-95

         even then the Sangha Council
         in 1987
         ordered all ascetics to leave the forests                                                  Tiyavanich 249

I try to look on it
as an exercise
in letting go
that gladness or sadness
is not the mind
only a mood
coming to deceive us                                                                                                     Chah 1

caring teach us
to care and not to care

great fame in the end
for Luang Por Chah

people came by busloads
they say they’re looking for merit
but they don’t give up vice                                                                                  Tiyavanich 289 

Ajahn Chah often said
he felt like a monkey on a string
when I get tired
maybe they throw me a banana                                                                        Tiyavanich 292

the cuckoo-like bird
sings gaily Moha
Moha the death of the dharma

in the withered sun-loud glade


Stephen Carr, “An Ambassador of Buddhism to the West,” in Buddhism in Europe, edited by Aad Verboom (Bangkok: Crem. Vol. Somdet Phra Phuttajan, Wat Mahathat, 1990).

Venerable Ajahn Chah, A Taste of Freedom (Bangkok: Liberty Press, 1994).

James Mills, Underground Empire: Where Crime and Governments Embrace (New York: Dell, 1987).

Ajahn Pasanno, “Saving Forests So There Can Be Forest Monks,” Forest Sangha Newsletter, January 1996, www.abm.ndirect.co.uk/fsn/35/.

Pasuk Phongpaichit, Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, and Nualnoi Treerat, Guns, Girls, Gambling, Ganja: Thailand’s Illegal Economy and Public Policy (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1998).

Jess River, “We must learn to be leaves.” Earth Island Journal (Fall 1993), 12, sino-sv3.sino.uni-heidelberg.de/ FULLTEXT/JR-ADM/river.htm.

P.D. Scott, "Alcuin's Versus de Cuculo: the Vision of Pastoral Friendship," Studies in Philology, LXII, 4 (July 1965), 510-30.

 Kamala Tiyavanich, Forest Recollections: Wandering Monks in Twentieth-century Thailand (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1997).

 David K. Wyatt, Thailand: A Short History (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1993).

From: Mosaic Orpheus, McGill-Queens University Press, 2009.

Posted: Tue 29 Dec, 2009