The Wisdom of Ajahn Chah
Ajahn Chah (1918~1992) was a teacher of the Theravadan Tree Forest tradition. He was considered to be one of the great Buddhist masters of our modern age. Here are some quotes and teachings attributed to him:
"There are people who are born and die and never once are aware of their breath going in and out of their body. That’s how far away they live from themselves.
What is Dhamma? Nothing isn’t.
How does the Dhamma teach the proper way of life? It shows us how to live. It has many ways of showing it - on rocks or trees or just in front of you. It is a teaching but not in words. So still the mind, the heart, and learn to watch. You’ll find the whole Dhamma revealing itself here and now. At what other time and place are you going to look?
First you understand the Dhamma with your thoughts. If you begin to understand it, you will practice it. And if you practice it, you will begin to see it, you are the Dhamma and you have the joy of the Buddha.
Regardless of time and place, the whole practice of Dhamma comes to completion at the place where there is nothing. It’s the place of surrender, of emptiness, of laying down the burden. This is the finish.
The Dhamma is not far away. It’s right with us. The Dhamma isn’t about angels in the sky or anything like that. It’s simply about us, about what we are doing right now. Observe yourself. Sometimes there is happiness, sometimes suffering, sometimes comfort, sometimes pain …this is the Dhamma. Do you see it? To know this Dhamma, you have to read your experiences.
Only one book is worth reading: the heart.
If you’re allergic to one place, you’ll be allergic to every place. But it’s not the place outside you that’s causing you trouble. It’s the “place” inside you.
Because people don’t see themselves, they can commit all sorts of bad deeds. They don’t look at their own minds. When people are going to do something bad, they have to look around first to see if anyone is looking: “Will my mother see me?” “Will my husband see me?” “Will my children see me?” “Will my wife see me?” If there’s no one watching, then they go right ahead and do it. This is insulting themselves. They say no one is watching, so they quickly finish their bad deed before anyone will see. And what about themselves? Aren’t they a “somebody” watching?
Where does rain come from? It comes from all the dirty water that evaporates from the earth, like urine and the water you throw out after washing your feet. Isn’t it wonderful how the sky can take that dirty water and change it into pure, clean water? Your mind can do the same with your defilements if you let it.
Don’t think that only sitting with the eyes closed is practice. If you do think this way, then quickly change your thinking. Steady practice is keeping mindful in every posture, whether sitting, walking, standing or lying down. When coming out of sitting, don’t think that you’re coming out of meditation, but that you are only changing postures. If you reflect in this way, you will have peace. Wherever you are, you will have this attitude of practice with you constantly. You will have a steady awareness within yourself.
I went all over looking for places to meditate. I didn’t realize it was already there, in my heart. All the meditation is right there inside you. Birth, old age, sickness, and death are right there within you. I traveled all over until I was ready to drop dead from exhaustion. Only then, when I stopped, did I find what I was looking for … inside me.
Don’t be attached to visions or lights in meditation, don’t rise or all with them. What’s so great about brightness? My flashlight has it. It can’t help us rid ourselves of our suffering.
In meditation practice, it is actually worse to be caught in calmness than to be stuck in agitation, because at least you will want to escape from agitation, whereas you are content to remain in calmness and not go any further. When blissful clear states arise from insight meditation practice, do not cling to them.
A devout elderly lady from a nearby province came on a pilgrimage to Wat Pah Pong. She told Ajahn Chah she could stay only a short time, as she had to return to take care of her grandchildren, and since she was an old lady, she asked if he could please give her a brief Dhamma talk. Ajahn Chah replied with great force, “Hay, listen! There’s no one here, just this! No owner, no one to be old, to be young, to be good or bad, weak or strong. Just this, that’s all - just various elements of nature going their own way, all empty. No one born and no one to die! Those who speak of birth and death are speaking the language of ignorant children. In the language of the heart, of Dhamma, there are no such things as birth and death.”
All bodies are composed of the four elements of earth, water, wind and fire. When they come together and form a body we say it’s a male, a female, giving it names, and so on, so that we can identify each other more easily. But actually there isn’t anyone there - only earth, water, wind and fire. Don’t get excited over it or infatuated by it. If you really look into it, you will not find anyone there.
One of my teachers ate very fast. He made noises as he ate. Yet he told us to eat slowly and mindfully. I used to watch him and get very upset. I suffered, but he didn’t! I watched the outside. Later I learned that some people drive very fast but carefully; others drive slowly and have many accidents. Don’t cling to rules, to outer form. If you watch others at most ten percent of the time and watch yourself ninety percent of the time, you practice is okay.
No one and nothing can free you but your own understanding.
One of Ajahn Chah’s disciples had a knee problem that could only be corrected by surgery. Although the doctors assured him that his knee would be well in a couple of weeks, months went by and it still hadn’t healed properly. When he saw Ajahn Chah again, he complained saying, “They said it wouldn’t take this long. It shouldn’t be this way.” Ajahn Chah laughed and said, “If it shouldn’t be this way, it wouldn’t be this way.”
Ajahn Chah listened to one of his disciples recite the Heart Sutra. When he had finished, Ajahn Chah said, “No emptiness either… no bodhisatta.” He then asked, “Where did the sutra come from?” “It’s reputed to have been spoken by the Buddha,” the follower replied. “No Buddha,” retorted Ajahn Chah. Then he said, “This is talking about deep wisdom beyond all conventions. How could we teach without them? We have to have names for things, isn’t that so?”
Once there was a layman who came to Ajahn Chah and asked him who Ajahn Chah was. Ajahn Chah, seeing that the spiritual development of the individual was not very advanced, pointed to himself and said, “This, this is Ajahn Chah.”
On another occasion, someone else asked Ajahn Chah the same question. This time, however, seeing that the questioner’s capacity to understand the Dhamma was higher, Ajahn Chah answered by saying “Ajahn Chah? There is NO Ajahn Chah.”
Ajahn Chah's teaching can be found here, translated into many languages: