Teaching that smiles | Daily News

Teaching that smiles

The words that trigger off as sayings that had been uttered from time to time by our great teachers happen to retain in our minds as well as in other sources. This has happened on the part of the great Thai Monk, Ajahn Chah, as his remarkable utterances have been collected from time to time by his followers and disciples. Some of the sayings come in the form of translations in English to help gauge the value embedded.

One good example I happened to come across is the collection of 108 Chamma similes as pronounced by Ajahn Chah titled ‘In Simple Terms’ as translated from Thai into English by Thanissaro Bhikkhu and distributed by Abhayagiri Monastry Foundation in 2007. Reading silently, or alone, these similes help us gauge where we stand in this existence as humans.

At the outset, the learned monk, Ajahn Chah, makes us know where we stand in this life as living beings. The similes commence from that point of view that goes:

Your external home is not your real home.

It’s your supposed home, your home in the world.

As for your real home, that’s peace.

The Buddha has us build our own home.

By letting to till we reach the place.

The penetrative vision of Ajahn Chah reaches from the objects around us to those that are perhaps invisible but seemingly visible to the eye in the mind. He takes the example of the ocean and says several objects that are linked to it.

“The streams, lakes and rivers that flow down to the ocean when they reach the ocean all the same, blue colour, the same salty taste.

The same with human beings; it does not matter where they are from – when they reach the stream of the Dhamma, it’s all the same Dhamma.”

As Bhikkhu Thanissaro, the translator, states, Ajahn Chah happened to be a master at using apt and unusual similes to explain points in Buddhist doctrine. This reminds a reader of the stanzas in Dhammapada as promoted by the Buddha. But Ajahn Chah utilizes freer and perhaps far-reaching similes in a prophetic manner, that gives way to more of a creative thinking process than mere sayings. Perhaps sensitively influenced by the words of the Buddha, Ajahn Chah refers to several behaviour patterns of animals like elephants, oxen and water buffaloes as well as birds, serpents and insects.

One good example is titled ‘Poking a Red Ant’s Nest’ that goes as follows:

“sensuality is like taking a stick and using it to poke a big red ant’s nest. The more we poke it, the more the red ants come falling on us, onto our face, into our eyes, stinging our ears and eyes. But we don’t see the drawbacks of what we are doing. It’s all good as far as we can see. Understand that if you don’t see the drawbacks of these things you will never work your way free of them.”

In several ways, these saying and similes as traditionally perceived are delightful and blissful mini-poems that culminate in the formulation of wisdom. Presumably, each line of thought gives way to a vision of the human mind and the sensory perception, in a creative expression. A discerning reader may feel perhaps that Ajahn Chah is attempting to interpret the concept as laid down by the Buddha in the Kavi Sutta.

In this discourse, on poetic vision, the Buddha declares four major poetic concepts that go as:

Atta Kavi: Meaningful poetry.

Suta Kavi: Poetry that one has heard or listened to.

Chinta Kavi: Poetry that embodies thoughts and visions.

Pratibhana Kavi: Poetry bearing creative insights

Professor Senarat Paranavitana in his volume one of the Sigiri Graffiti takes into serious consideration the analysis of Sigiri poetic creations in keeping terms in the Sutta as the central mode of creative perception. Bhikkhu Thanissaro states that Ajahn Chah has in various places left scattered these visionary poetic saying as basic source material utilized in his teachings at various places on various topics. Some of the titles according to the translator monk have been changed to work more effectively in English expression. As such, the reader feels more intimate and affectionate in grasping the original sense. One such example, as I see it, goes as the simile of the thorn utilized in the following way:

A thorn

“Things are simply the way they are. They don’t give us suffering. Like a thorn: does a sharp thorn give us suffering? No. It’s simply a thorn. It doesn’t give suffering to anybody. If we step on it, we suffer immediately.

Why do we suffer?

Because we stepped on it.

So the suffering comes from us.

It is recorded that since the passing away of Ajahn Chah, several collections of similes have been drawn from his Dhamma talks and discussions. The present collection of 108 similes is primarily based on a collection compiled by a group of his pupils in 1995 titled ‘Like the Heart’ and ‘Similar to the Mind’, A discriminative reader of the sermons of the Buddha may feel that Ajahn Chah had been in scrutiny with the Suttas in the Tripitaka. The primary lesson in Sunatha or listening as taught. That proceeds onto the Dharetha, the retentive power, culminating in the interpretation of the Dhamma denoted as Charatha Dhamme. These 108 similes impart this basic lesson to the reader to work around the Dhamma as taught in whatever we see.

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