“Being Ordained” & “The Path of an Excellent Life”: Two Talks by Luang Por Baen
Luang Por Baen | June 20, 2022
Luang Por Baen was a leading figure in the Thai Forest Tradition after the passing of Luang Ta Maha Bua. He passed away in 2021, being cremated within just three days of his passing, at his own prior insistence. He was a student of Luang Pu Gongmaa, himself a renowned disciple of Luang Pu Mun. Having helped his beloved teacher establish a monastery in the district of Sakon Nakhon, known as Wat Doi Dhammachedi, he later became its abbot when Luang Pu Gongmaa passed away. The monastery became famous for being the location at which Luang Ta Maha Bua is reported to have succeeded in his own meditation practice, but also for the high standard of training given by Luang Por Baen. He was known for his strict emphasis on austerity and diligence, as well as on all major and minor matters of Vinaya, particularly the duties of monks towards maintaining cleanliness and orderliness with regard to their lodgings, monastery and requisites. His talks are typically stirring and direct, aimed at instilling a sense of urgency in his listeners as well as a determination to practice sincerely and without let-up for the sake of putting an end to suffering.
29 Aug. 2554
The word, “gain,” is something that has value; “status” is something that has value – they’re very appealing and desirable things…but they’re things of the defilements. They’re things of the defilements, things of the world, because really and truly – with gain, status and praise – no matter how much you add them up or multiply them, to however high a figure, these things cannot provide a true refuge at all.
So what is our refuge? We are our own refuge.
We depend on ourselves. It’s correct that we depend on the Lord Buddha, depend on the Dhamma and the Sangha, but we need to depend on ourselves. “Buddham saranam gacchami, Dhammam saranam gacchami, Sangham saranam gacchami”: we still say it and repeat it, we’re not rejecting the Lord Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha as our refuge, the Kruba Ajahns as our refuge, we’re not rejecting them, but only we ourselves are our own true refuge. The longer we say this, the clearer it comes into view.
It’s our minds that are our refuge. To however high a standard we develop the qualities of our minds, the more our minds can be a refuge for us – the higher, the stronger. Those things which are called gain, status, praise, these things: I’ve said before that even if they were heaped up the size of the world, the entire heap would have no value at all. Really. If you say that they clearly do have value, all they are are dwellings, and in truth they’re dwellings that can’t be depended on. When ill: if you were to take money, a pile of gold however large, as big as this earth, bigger than the earth, and take a sick person to lie down on in the heap of money, the pile of gold, would they get better?
Think about Venerable Raṭṭhapāla’s going forth. His parents wouldn’t let him go. How could he go? Everyone in the area knew they were big millionaires, with however much wealth. They had only one son, so who would look after them? They talked but didn’t come to an agreement: the father didn’t agree, the son didn’t agree either. In the end, the son set out his terms: “If you won’t let me ordain, then I won’t ordain; but I’m going to fast, I won’t eat.” And he really didn’t eat, nor did he bathe.
On the first day, his father asked the servant about him. The second day he asked the servant. The third, fourth and the fifth, he asked the servant again. He was worried. “Eh, he’s really going to die here.” The sixth day, the seventh. “Ohh, I can’t, he’s going to die…How could anyone let their son die?” So he thought. “OK. He wants to ordain, so let him ordain. When he’s fed up with it he’ll come back sure enough.”
So he had the servant go tell him, “If you want to ordain, go ahead and ordain. Your father gives his permission.” There. But when the father said it he was confident that it wouldn’t be long until he came back. Better than letting him die.
Before this, Raṭṭhapāla had gone to listen to a talk from the Lord Buddha. One day, while he was in his palace, he saw people walking together, so he went to ask them, “Hey, where are you all going?” They said they were going to hear a talk from the Lord Buddha, so he wanted to go with them. After he’d heard it, they all went back but he wouldn’t go. When the opportunity arose he went to pay respects to the Lord Buddha and asked permission to ordain.
“Good. The ordained life is the foremost life. The household life is dark and hopeless. This is an opportunity to destroy a great deal of darkness and difficulty. It’s hard to find an opportunity to destroy darkness; people just accumulate more darkness, that’s all. Increasing darkness is easy, but eliminating or decreasing it is hard. First, go take leave of your father and mother.”
When his father relented to let him ordain, after he’d bathed and eaten he paid respects to and thanked his parents, then went to pay respects to the Lord Buddha. When he arrived, the Lord Buddha allowed him to ordain, by way of Ehi bhikkhu upasampadā¹. The Lord Buddha ordained him without difficulty: once he’d permitted him to ordain, it was done and finished. So, he was ordained in line with his wishes. Once he ordained, he studied and learnt the duties and the way of practice, setting his heart and mind on practising, because he had ordained in order to practice, in order to attain to the paths, fruits and nibbāna. In the end he succeeded in becoming an arahant.
Later on, he went out of compassion to his father and mother on almsround, but didn’t receive any food at all. Even though they saw him there they didn’t take any interest – they couldn’t remember their son. Moments after they realised, they invited him to eat in their home on the following day.
Seeing their son long after he’d left home, they thought he’d forgotten how much wealth they had, so they brought out a pile of silver, a pile of gold – all the wealth and possessions they had they made into a pile so big that it could be used as a seat.
Their son stood and watched and was dismayed: “My father still doesn’t think even a little about the fact that the world contains killing and execution because of gold and silver. Father kills son, son kills father because of these things.”
So he wouldn’t consent to sitting on the seat they’d prepared on top of that pile of gold. All he said was, “The whole world is in turmoil. All the beings of the world are in turmoil and distress because of these things called silver and gold, or because of the materials they suppose to be silver and gold. May they all throw these things away into the great ocean at once.” What he said wasn’t a performance or a dramatic speech. Arahants speak from a pure heart, nothing else – for a heart that isn’t pure is not that of an arahant.
Right now, Buddhists and non-Buddhists–we’re better calling them beings of the world–accept only their own defilements as their teachers, practising following them all: gain – both villagers and monastics, whether black, white or yellow, it’s not normal; the same with status. It’s not everyone: those that see these things as ties, as bonds, a cage, a prison, an animal pen, a coop – they still exist, they still see it as urine, excrement. They still exist, but the percentage: out of one million, to find a single one would be hard. The percentage of beings in the world – out of a hundred million, a hundred billion – to find a single one would be hard, in the number of beings in the world, counting hearts, not counting forms, that can be called human.
Those who are ordained: ordain your hearts. If you still see any material in the world as being yours – specifically the biggest, the stuff of birth and death that we suppose to be our body, this thing – make it clear and apparent, distinct and unobscured. Make clear the truth of how it is. Know it completely, see it completely, make it clear and plain. You don’t need to go wanting to let it go, wanting to set it down, wanting to discard it, wanting to withdraw from it. You don’t need to want to get disenchanted.
Excrement. No matter if you were to wrap it up in gold, if you know clearly that it’s excrement, it’s impossible to take delight in this pile of excrement, these things that have no self. There isn’t even the slightest thing in there that could be called oneself, a self, a person. It’s impossible to say that it belongs to us.
Those ordained, ordain your hearts. Ordain your hearts. We don’t need to say that we’re ordaining for one year, no need to say that we’re ordaining for one month. Ordain every day, every day. Stay one day at a time. Ordain your mind. Ordain your heart. Ordain yourself every day.
¹ The original “method” of ordination, which required simply that the Buddha said, “Ehi bhikkhu” – “Come, monk” or “Come and be a monk.”
“The Path of an Excellent Life”
July 8, 2533
Humans are the foremost beings – beings with special capability and intelligence. If we take this and use it in the right way, as well as possessing and using a great deal of effort and persistence, we’re all capable of having extraordinary virtues manifest clearly in ourselves – there’s no need to doubt this.
The reason that the things we have now are the way they are is because our effort and persistence aren’t sufficient, that’s all, so we aren’t capable of opening up the things that are closed-off. We can’t throw off the things that close them, lift off the things that cover them up. So they stay closed and covered up like this.
All that you desire is Nibbāna, but all you’ve got is desire. However much you desire it, it doesn’t matter – if we don’t take out the things that close Nibbāna off, we won’t have the opportunity to reach Nibbāna.
However much the world progresses, it’s just the tools and strength of defilement – possessing more strength, they’re capable of pulling the minds and hearts of all the beings in the world under their power. It’s impossible to measure all the beings in the world, except for humans, whom we are able to estimate because currently the world is narrow: it’s just as wide as before, but the world’s progress makes it narrow, making it possible to measure. However much we estimate the number of people in the world to be, if we were to add up the other beings we wouldn’t be able to say how many there are; yet no matter how many beings there are in the world, no matter how many, they live under their power, live in their clutch, all of them – the power of the defilements reaches that far.
There’s only the Lord Buddha and the arahant disciples, only these, who have been able to escape the power of the defilements. Why have they escaped? I’ll tell you: because they have had effort and persistence, because they’ve had perseverance. In putting forth effort they’ve done it truly, they’ve practised the Dhamma truly. They haven’t just played at practising, haven’t practised simply as a ritual: they’ve thrown everything they have at it, truly given their lives. This is called practising truly, practising for the paths and fruits, for the essence, practising truly for the Dhamma. When they practice truly for the Dhamma, for the paths and fruits, then they attain the Dhamma, because they really, truly practice for just this.
It’s like they say: There was once an elder who was walking meditation, walking back and forth until his feet blistered and broke – blood was pouring out. The blood poured out until it covered the walking-meditation path. He didn’t quit. As time went on he became incapable of walking, so he got down and crawled. He wouldn’t let himself quit.
So why didn’t he quit? Because he hadn’t yet attained the paths and fruits; because he was practising for the paths and fruits – he wasn’t practising to reach the appropriate time to finish and then lie down, he was practising for the paths and fruits. When the paths and fruits weren’t clear, he knew and saw [that they weren’t clear], so he wouldn’t let himself quit: even though his feet were breaking apart, he wouldn’t quit. How could he quit? He still hadn’t reached the paths and fruits. So he crawled some more. His knees broke. His hands split too. He still wouldn’t let himself quit. How could he quit? He wasn’t practising for the sake of these broken knees, wasn’t walking for the sake of his broken hands, wasn’t walking for the sake of his broken feet. He was walking for the sake of the paths, for the sake of the fruits.
In the end, he attained to the paths and fruits, because he practised for the paths and fruits.
All of us here, if we were to practise like this, we’d have to attain – all of us – because the paths and fruits reside within us all. They don’t just reside in the Lord Buddha, not just in the arahants and disciples of the Lord Buddha, they reside in all of us together. Practise truly and you’ll truly attain. If you practice truly you’ll have to attain the truth. So practice truly from here on in. Throw in everything you’ve got like the elder did: walking meditation until his feet broke, he didn’t quit; when his knees broke he didn’t quit; when his hands broke he didn’t quit. There. In the end he attained the paths and fruits in line with his desires.