Question and Answer with a Thai Theravada Monk from the Forest Lineage.

Dear Luonnon,

These are awesome awesome awesome (x3) questions. They actually show to your intelligence level and maturity in your Dhamma practice! I applaud you on knowing the good questions to ask.

  1. The greatest misconception I have managed to remove is a difficult question to answer. Each misconception was a big one. Each one was the biggest, until I tackled the next one. Once it was tackled, it was easy. Before it was tackled, I didn't even know if I would survive!

I have a few, but I will tell you of one example.

I have always believed that my father refused to learn how to speak proper English. This has always been a sore spot for me when I thought of him. I could never understand why a person who lived in a country for 40 years REFUSED (key word) to learn the language to a minimum standard (my standard - realized later). I was embarrassed to take him anywhere or have him communicate with anyone.

As of 4 years ago, I can SPEAK Thai and English fluently. I can give sermons in both languages. I can make jokes and tease people in both languages. I can tell compelling stories and stir emotions in both languages. The only problem is, I could not (I can now) read (50% capability) and write (5-10% capability). However, I never needed to. My speaking ability was more than enough to get me through over 30 years in either country. I could always order what I wanted just from memory, never had to read a menu in Thailand.I could guess what signs meant pretty accurately.

Fast forward 15 years to a few years ago. After I gave a sermon to a new Thai visitor at our temple, she wanted to become a monthly donor. We have a board where people can write their names on the board to encourage others to help also. She wanted to be on the board. She asked me to write her name on the board. Since I didn't know how to write Thai, AND I was embarrassed to tell her such, I told her I would find someone. I called out for help from some of the temple staff but no one was around. I asked her to write it herself (trying to be smooth) and she said she thought it was bad luck for her to write it herself. At that point I was stuck.

But suddenly it hit me! A realization. If anyone were watching me in this situation, they could blame me for REFUSING to learn THAI enough to conduct myself in this situation. But if they did claim that I REFUSED, I would argue! I would say, I have had plenty of reasons for not learning how to read or write Thai! I have been able to survive fine! I had choices to make with my time and I chose to use my time in other areas. This is when I realized that I had REASONS for not doing what others might think I SHOULD do. And I knew my reasons to not do it were SUPREMELY REASONABLE and VALID TO ME. I internalized my father. He had HIS reasons too. He had his decisions too.

I would not have desired to be insufficient or flawed. No one would. Why would I think that he REFUSED to learn English? This was my PERCEPTION. This was my GUESS. This was my MISCONCEPTION. After I saw how foolish I was being, I released attachment to this anger, to this hostility, to this concept. Then I decided I would dedicate myself to learning Thai [reading and writing] so as to prevent further situations of suffering for myself. I forgave myself for my short-comings and thereby also forgave my father and other people I have projected this onto.

1b. One of the most fundamental growths I have experienced is in allowing other people to support me. I have always been raised AMERICAN and have had to do everything for myself. I am PROUD of my achievements and of the fact I can SUPPORT and CARE FOR myself. However, ordaining led me to have to live a life that I could not support myself. I have to live off of the charity and generosity of others. This greatly humbled me and made me appreciate every little thing I got and received. This was life changing.

1c. There are many GREATEST benefits to monastic life

    1. Symbolic dedication - by wearing these robes, by shaving my head + eyebrows and following these rules, VOLUNTARILY, I am telling myself that I really really want enlightenment. It reminds me every time I see my robes (on me), every time I see my reflection, every time someone pays respects to me (bows) and gives me offerings. I can't help but be focused. Every second I wastes makes me feel embarrassed to be wearing these robes.
    1. Being surrounded by like-minded people. I don't have to explain to them why I don't want sex. They don't either. I don't have to worry about them trying to tempt me with evil. They are trying to practice restraint too! I push myself to improvement and know that they will also. We can argue and fight and know that each person will go deal with their own misconceptions knowing that ignorance is in the individual, not in the other person. Their goodness and their achievements drive me to do more.
    1. I'm not sure what to call this, but the Buddha created tremendous GOODWILL. So tremendous that even 2559 years later, I still have a job. I still have a monastery where people come pay respects and support us. I am humbled by the immense goodwill created by the Buddha. If I compare this to an inheritance, then this inheritance is more than supporting me. I am proud and honored to carry it on and hopefully pass it onto my Dhamma descendants.

1d. Direct result? 100%

  1. No, an Arahant is not necessarily a better teacher than one who is quite far along the path. The only difference is that the Arahant is 100% right in his knowledge of SELF. Whereas, the other person (not yet an Arahant) still speaks with some defilements.

There are many points that need to be covered with this question.

  • With the Arahant, you can be sure his teachings are RIGHT (but maybe not RIGHT for you). His teachings are aligned with the true Dhamma and all other Arahants will be teaching the same thing
  • While all Arahants have the knowledge, they might not contain the teaching prowess. Many Arahants taught things I can't even begin to decipher.
  • Not all Arahants have had a previous relationship with us, therefore, they might not be the best person to teach us.

  • With teachers far developed on the Path, they could definitely teach us many things

  • However, there is a limitation to their knowledge

  • If they teach beyond their knowledge, they could block our progress

  • Some teachers far on the Path, but not at the end, could still contain the DESIRE to teach, and therefore make them better at teaching. However, they still lack the ultimate knowledge.

  • They can take us up to where they are at, but not further. That we must do ourselves.

  • They might be charismatic, but they might not be teaching the proper Dhamma. We can't truly know until they pass away and leave relics (like all Arahants do). It is a risk to follow them.

An Arahant to me, is one who has fully understood how his Self works and has freed himself from his misperceptions. He/she no longer has attachments to anything in the world or in his mind. He is pure and free from this game.

For us (non-Arahants) we still have Wrong Perceptions. Therefore, we still have more to learn and more to fix.

You asked great questions. I hope I answered them adequately. There is so much more to say, but I need GREAT questions like yours to unlock it.

/r/theravada Thread Parent