Now it is good to see such arahants.”

Taken from MN 41 To the Brahmins of Sala

Indoor stairwell, with an assisted stairlift railing. Large Wooden elephant sculpture to the right of the stairLuang Por’s kuti. He usually comes down on the stairlift in the mornings.

Saturday 24th June, I came back from four days with Ajahn Ganha (whom everyone calls Luang Por) at Wat Pah Subthawee, which I visited with my Dhamma brother Rong Hui. This ranks as one of the most transformational & impactful experiences I have had in my life, though it might be too early to say.

We arrived on 20th June, after a whole long day of travel. Most of the day was spent dealing with admin stuff, like getting settled into our rooms. We also went to take a walk around the monastery: it is a very lovely monastery, with a stillness & quiet that is very delightful and delicious!

We spent the next four days (21st to 24th) visiting Luang Por daily, sometimes twice a day: he holds an audience once around 7am, and again between 12 and 1pm (it varied). He gave us a total of 3 Dhamma talks over the 4 days. The most impactful one for me was the second Dhamma talk, for reasons that will soon be obvious.

After the first Dhamma talk in the afternoon, when Luang Por was rushing off to another appointment, I asked Sister Kung (who was helping translate Luang Por’s words into English) if it was possible to ask Luang Por any questions. She said she would ask Luang Por for a good time to ask questions the next morning. Back in our rooms, I told Rong Hui that my two questions were:

  1. What would be the path to cultivate the first jhanas regularly?
  2. What did he think about temporary ordination?
    1. A monk had suggested this to me, as he said this can help to supercharge one’s practice. So I was very intrigued by this idea.

Second Dhamma Talk

The next day on 22nd June morning, we went over, and there were a lot of people there. Luong Por was doing a very fast and short ritual, and by about 7:15 am, the meeting was over: people started keeping the chairs and leaving.

Sister Kung asked us to stay behind, and then asked Luang Por when would be a good time to ask him our questions.

At first, Luang Por asked a question back, “what question do you want to ask?” And I paused, with my two questions in mind. I was also looking at him. For a moment, it looked like he was not going to reply my questions at all, as he looked like he was in a hurry.

Then, before waiting for an answer and before I even shared what my questions were, he proceeded to talk. It might be worth repeating here: I never uttered my questions out aloud at all.

He talked about the importance of not being deluded, and covered many of the same things that he had mentioned before e.g. we need to focus on cultivating the mind, not just science and technology. Quite hilariously, he also said you have to sleep on time, don’t corrupt your sleeping time. Many people use the phone when they lay down on the bed, so they don’t sleep because they search the internet, chat on-line on social media, etc.

But to my first question (how to cultivate the first jhana regularly), the answer he gave was made up of a few parts, which he spoke about in a very diffused way.

  1. Be happy in the present moment. He said: “your restlessness is so tiring for me”. He said to learn from the Mummies at the back (a group of 3 Thai ladies) whom he said had very strong present moment awareness.
  2. Be happy with every breath. and be happy when you’re walking, be happy with your breath. Be happy at work, and whatever you do.
  3. Be more selfless. Understand non-self, let go of one’s self. Don’t believe your emotions and your thoughts.
  4. Understand impermanence. He pointed at an old Thai gentleman in front of him, and said, “he used to be so handsome! Many women liked him. Now he is a grandfather, and everyone calls him Daddy!”
  5. Practice sila (ethics) samadhi (stillness) paññā (wisdom) (i.e. basically the Eightfold Path)
  6. just practice accordingly.

Most of these points had previously been mentioned to me before by main teacher Ajahn Brahm, when I did my three months retreat with him in Australia last year, and I often asked him the same question about “how to cultivate the conditions for the first jhana?”

At one point, Luong Por said “I have to speak like this to be useful for everyone here.“ 😳

At this point, I was still thinking “ok, I think most of my first question is answered. But what about temporary ordination?” I remembered looking at him, while thinking that.

Luong Por then said out of the blue, “be a monk at home, then be a monk in the monastery.“ He again emphasised that being a real monk means being a streamwinner and above, and that a lay person can reach up to non-returner: ordination is just for the “Buddha’s brand name”, and monastics who ordain but are not yet stream winners are called “bhikkhu”, not real monks. He also said that they are thieves, until they reach stream winner and above.
Later, Luong Por also said, “don’t look for arahants outside. The arahant is within you.”

Both of these pieces of advice went straight into my heart.

Luong Por also said other noteworthy things:

  1. He said something about being not aiming for riches, but to be superhuman: to be the best human being.
  2. Don’t aim for Nirvana in the next life, but strive for it in this life.

After all this, Luong Por asked me again, “do you still have any questions?“ And I was quick to reply no! I was very much in awe that my two questions were answered so thoroughly, even though I had not uttered them out aloud at all.

Just before he left, Luong Por gave a blessing to a fellow retreatant, guy named J from Canada. Ajahn then said to J, “You are the best person in the world. Everyone loves you.” It seemed to be totally out of the blue, and it clearly went straight into the heart of J, as he seemed to be totally subdued.

After Luong Por left for some event, sister Kung turned around and asked us, “ did he answer your question?“ And Rong Hui replied yes he did. Sister Kung looked briefly surprised, and then said that it was good that Luong Por replied through giving a Dhamma talk to everyone, so that benefited everyone. She also said that there were previous times when Luong Por simply refused to answer the questions and just went off. So I was really lucky!

Later that afternoon, I explained to Sister Kung what my two questions were. When I shared my second question, she said “Oh! no wonder! I was wondering, did you talk to me about ordination…? Why was he talking about ordination??” I later found out that there were multiple other cases where it appears that Luang Por had responded or answered people, even when nothing was said to him.

Other learnings from Luang Por( in rough chronological order)

From Day 1

  1. detox. fully remove the toxins and crap within you, you can live up to 120 years. Everyone cannot be still alive after 120 years, so we don’t follow our mind and emotions. You have to detox your body and mind: if you do so, then you can be happy in your life.
  2. Singapore is a very good country for technology. But you need to also cultivate the mind.
  3. morality & technology. Technology without morality leads to mental illness. Don’t be deluded by the convenience of technology without morality.
  4. Most important is to cultivate our mind through Right View, Right Understanding and Right Practice. If you do this, then work can also be Dhamma practice. It is important to be happy at work, and time will fly. Conceit: sense of self and conceit is preventing you.
  5. we must keep fighting against our delusions. Don’t think that you are happy in a deep hell realm!
  6. Nibbana is very close, it is within you. (Note: omg i teared up when i heard this! This was what Ajahn Brahm said to me, during my lowest day last year at Jhana Grove: see end of point 1 here).

From Day 3

  1. Don’t be deluded by technology and science. Don’t be deluded to go travel elsewhere, like rich people who travel and are deluded, but are also passing the delusion to their children. (Note: this was a repeat from the previous days, but with the additional point about not travelling for fun)
  2. Many monastics ordain because of the Buddha’s “brand name”. the only real monastics are sotapanna and above. as a lay person, you can get to anagami (non-returner). Nowadays there are not that many arahants. You are only truly a monk when you are a sotapanna and above. Before that, you are a monk only following the Buddha brand name, but not truly a monk. Monkhood is within you, and lay people can become sotapanna up to anagami. (Note: repeat of what he said to me on Day 2)
  3. focus on the present moment, with sati sampajanna. Nibbana is within the present moment. (Note: repeat of Day 2)
  4. sabai in breath, sabai out breath (Note: repeat of Day 2)
  5. don’t have sex with your thoughts, don’t have sex with your emotions. (Note: new! But he had said this to someone I know.)
  6. Fight your temptations. He gave example of someone who had given up coffee, due to his addiction to coffee.
  7. if you don’t practice the Dhamma that you learned, then you are a thief stealing from the Triple Gem within you! (Note: new!)

Effect of the Visit

The most immediate effect of the visit was a complete confidence in what I was going to do for my practice. Moving forward, I am not going to think about ordaining, but will instead focus very much on progressing on the path as a layperson. This means making Dhamma a core focus of my life, rather than focusing on other things (like exercise & learning programming previously).

One change I implemented after my return to Singapore, was to deliberately schedule more meditation practice. Previously, I had meditated once a day for 30 mins: this past week, I have snuck in between 2-4 meditation sessions daily, and can see and feel the beneficial effects on my mind.

It was also clear to me that the path forward for me in my meditation practice was to continue doing what I have already started doing: cultivating the joy and happiness of samma sankappa: letting go, being kind, being gentle, and enjoying every moment. I already suspected that my mindfulness might not be as strong as I liked, and that was confirmed by my audience with Luang Por.