From 11-18 June, I attended and helped out at my teacher Ajahn Brahm’s retreat in Phuket, as his kappiya: the term is a Pali term, referring to a lay person who helps monks with various tasks. One of the most important tasks as a kappiya are to ensure that my teacher is fed & offered food: this has to do with the monk’s Vinaya, which states that the monks can only eat food which has been offered to them.
This isn’t my first time as his kappiya. It is not very different from being an Accompanying Officer to a trip principal (sorry, EDB slang!), except that this trip principal is amazingly wise, cracks a lot of jokes (some quite bad), and is extremely easy to care for. As his kappiya, I have also gotten to learn much Dhamma, and seen at first-hand what “living Dhamma” really means: it’s about 1000% kindness & compassion to all beings (including himself), 24/7.
Being his kappiya also offers a lot of chances to learn Dhamma. I try not to ask Ajahn too many questions, as I’m mindful that questions can drain him (see below about questioners!) and I also don’t want to abuse my position as his kappiya. But I think my two questions which I asked him in private might be helpful for most practitioners, so I am sharing here.
1: A summary of the Eightfold Path
The first was a point of Dhamma:
Me: Ajahn, can the Eightfold Path be summarised as Right View, and then acting out Right Intention by body, speech & mind?
Ajahn: -nodded- I prefer “Right Motivation” for samma sankappa, because sankappa is about where you’re coming from, not going to.
So basically, the Eightfold Path can be summarised as “Right View, then acting out Right Motivation (letting go, kindness & gentleness) by body, speech & mind“
Later in the retreat, he commented that “Right View is the hardest factor (of the Eightfold Path) to perfect.” That makes sense, given the recursive nature of the Eightfold Path. It’s like making multiple passes through the Eightfold Path, with the last factor creating the causes for a more correct Right View.
The implications of this is that it is probably a bad idea to just focus too much on Right View, especially intellectually: you end up not making your recursive-pass through the Eightfold Path.
2: Iddhipāda: good or bad idea?
The second was a question about the iddhipādha, especially setting the desire or goal to “get to the first jhana”. In a talk to the monks at Bodhinyana Monastery in 1996, he mentioned that it was good for monks to set themselves the goal or desire to attain the first jhana. However, in the first talk he gave at last year’s Rains Retreat, he had said the exact reverse: he encouraged all of us to have NO expectations, and discouraged people to have goals.
So, I asked Ajahn, which was it? Why did he change his advice over the years?
We were walking to the breakfast after the morning meditation, and I think his meditation had been very deep, because all he said was “it’s better that way.” Later, at the breakfast restaurant, he apologized and said “sorry, I was too blissed out just now (from the meditation)!”
Which was actually very wonderful & inspiring to hear from your own meditation teacher. 🙂
The implication of this is that, it is probably better for each of us to let go of the expectation and desire and goals of reaching certain “attainments”: that is just another form of grasping.
Kappiya-ing Ajahn over the years
I’ve been following Ajahn Brahm for 14 years (since 2010), and over the years, he has become my Dhamma father. I have seen him age over the years. In recent years, I sometimes find myself needing to step in to protect him where necessary e.g. when women get too close to him when taking pictures (which flouts a Vinaya rule against touching women), or (in one case) when people kept asking him questions even though he was obviously extremely tired: that is usually when I will step in to request people to ask their questions another time. One time during this retreat, I also suggested for Ajahn to do a meditation first, instead of continuing with the Q&A, as he was obviously very exhausted: that helped him get a little energy boost, though he was still very tired at the end of the evening.
It is a huge privilege to be Ajahn’s kappiya, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to serve him while he’s still alive.
Here are some pictures of Ajahn and myself, taken by my wife & my friend’s mum at the retreat (the last funny pic was when I decided to make a small admin announcement to give him some time to drink his coconut!)