Chapter 10: Inner Peacemaker Working for World Peace
Associate Prof. Donald W. Sandage
Luang Poh Jarun’s reputation reached my ears many years ago, while I was living in Chiengmai. I had been lying there for almost two years and had formed many good relationships with people native to Chiengmai. In fact, I became very close to one of my fellow practioners while in the temple together and we became life-long friends. A year or so before her death, Pa Nu wanted to make a last pilgrimage to pay respect to and receive instruction from some of the respected meditation monks throughout Thailand. A group of Buddhist practioners were organizing a pilgrimage tour, but Pa Nu was short of funds to be able to go and so I have her the funds she lacked. Thus, she went on the pilgrimage to visit temples and meditation masters “down south”, that is, anything south of the old northern kingdom. She returned a few weeks later and told me all about her journey and the meditation monks whom she had met and been instructed by. Of all those she had met she particularly focused on one during our conversations: Venerable Bhikkhu Jarun, known as Luang Poh Jarun (Venerable Father Jarun). She encouraged me to go and see him and ask for instruction in meditation, saying that he was a most unusual, with ability to teach anyone willing to ask for instruction, and with the insight to know at crucial times exactly what the meditator needed to advance in meditation. She said, further, that he was complete open to everyone, no matter the nationality, the religion, or ethnic origin. She teasingly insisted that he would even instruct a “western barbarian” like me. I was very curious to meet him and wondered just how effective his instruction might be, but it would be many years before I would actually meet him, and several years after my good friend’s passing unfortunately. She would have been very pleased to hear that I had at last met Venerable Luang Poh of Ambhavan.
Actually, both Pa Nu and I were initiated into meditation practice by the same teacher, one of the most respected teachers in the North, Venerable Ajarn Thong, now abbot of Phra That Chom Thong Temple in Chom Thong. Like Venerable Luang Poh Jarun, he speaks no English or “world language”. Both, however, have taught people from all over the world, and have traveled extensively to teach those who are unable to travel to Thailand. And as Luang Poh Jarun teaches the same method as Ajarn Thong, there was no difficulty for me in seeking further instruction from him. Pa Nu encouraged me many times to make the journey “south” to ask for instruction, as opportunities to be taught by such a good, gifted and serious teacher were rare. But after leaving the monkhood and Chiengmai, losing my good friend to cancer, and eventually leaving Thailand, I never expected to have the opportunity to meet the abbot of Ambhavan Temple.
In 1995 I was lecturing at Chulalongkorn University when a university in South Korea contacted me to see if I would be willing to take up the position as assistant professor and dean of the newly established Faculty of Foreign Languages. After long inner struggle, I agreed and for the next four years I lived in South Korea, making annual trips to Thailand to see my meditaion teacher and good friends. Naturally, I remained in contact with my many former colleagues at Chulalongkorn University, and shortly after having returned to Korea one year, I got an email message from one of the professors at Chulalongkorn asking me if I would be willing to help a friend of hers, a professor and writer, by editing and proof reading one of her books that she had recently translated into English.
Professor Suchitra sent me her manuscript for Fruit of Karma, a collection of episodes about Luang Poh’s personal experiences, to Korea. I worked on it in Korea and while in the States, too. I remember at the time thinking that the monk who was the central character of her book of episodes seemed a bit familiar to me. As I worked on the manuscript I came to realize that this very monk was the inspiring teacher who my good friend had admonished me to seek out for instruction. It had been several years since my friends’s pilgrimage to Ambhavan. And, though I felt that any possible future connection had disappeared with her death a short year after her pilgrimage, I was surprised to see that connecting had just taken a little longer tht expected. However actually meet Professor Suchitra and thus establish a “connection” to Ambhavan Temple and to Luang Poh Jarun.
Having settled once again in Thailand in 1999, to assume a position as professor in the Department of English of the Faculty of Arts at Chulalongkorn University, I was soon to be invited by Professor Suchitra to visit Ambhavan Temple and meet Luang Poh Jarun, the monk whom I had been encouraged to meet so many years ago and whom I had come to know quite a lot more about through my work on Professor Suchitra’s manuscript. Nonetheless, I remained rather skeptical and would reserve judgement until I had met the teacher. I had lived in Thailand for sixteen years prior to my return in 1999 and had had the opportunity to meet some of the most revered meditation teachers and to travel to far and often remote places to do so. I was familiar, either through personal contact or through reading, with the teachings of many of the meditation-monks, many other lesser-known forest monks, and scholar-monks. Moreover, since I was not born into Buddhism but had “become” a Buddhist after graduation from university, I was, as I have always been, a skeptical listener and seeker. Over the years of studying and practicing the Buddha’s teachings I have made a loose list mentally of criteria by which to measure the validity and integrity of what I hear and of those whom I meet. Three of the criteria on this list is the exclusivity, the selectivity, and the authenticity elements of a person’s understanding and teaching. If one claims to have “the only way” or “the only method”, if one accepts only certain people for training as their disciple, or if one’s own personal life and actions do not accord with their own instructions, then, in my mind, they fall short or the mark and do not measure up. They are not ready to accept disciples or to teach others.
Luang Poh Jarun made a very clear and immediate impression on me from the moment we met. I could perceive right away that he was very serious about the work he was doing and the instruction he was giving to the people that fill the meeting hall every day fo the year. But I continued to cling to my skepticism, not wanting to be fooled and waste my time with a false teacher. If I were to believe, without reflection or observation, what many had told me or what I had read about this monk, I could only but come to the conclusion that he did not even take time to sleep or eat, or engage in the mundane activities that nature and necessity often demand. He seemed to be kept much too busy teaching, instructing, redirecting and guiding people from all over Thailand, from many parts of the world, in face-to-face meetings, by phone, perhaps by fax and email too for all I could tell.
Professor Suchitra took me to see Luang Poh Jarun several times on day-trips, to listen, to ask questions, to observe and to learn. Then, in late 1999, I decided to do a retreat with him for seven days. I was able to hear him speak on several occasions and to obtain information about his past, about the many, sometimes very troubled, people who were helped by him, about his attitudes and his conduct. From all that I gathered and from personel observation, I believe that Luang Poh is a true practioner and teacher. He is not merely performing a role or playing the part of a monk or teacher. He is very serious about his own personal conduct and practice and about the practice of whose who ask for his guidance and instruction. Also, he teaches everyone who comes to him for instruction, without discrimination of any kind, regardless of age, gender, race, creed, ability, or nationality. He and Ambhavan areopen to all, and without any intention to convert people of other religious beliefs. Further, though he teaches a particular method of meditation that is well-known in Thailand and Burma, and now many places in the world, he does not expound that it is the only method to peace and enlightenment, but that any method that uses the Four Foundations of Mindfulness taught by the Buddha as its core is the right and proper practice. His sole reason for teaching is to lead those who come to him to self-realization, to guide them to an understanding of who they are, through their own effort. His intention is to help people find inner peace and stability so that there can be a chance for outer peace and stability. Without a psychological and spiritual shift in attitude and attention away from ignorance of who we are, away from the false view of ourselves and the world, there can be little peace within the individual. Without a personal, inner change in perception and attitude, there is little chance for temporary, momentary peace, and no chance at all for true, lasting peace and stability in the world. Leading people to personal, inner peace is the only way to begin to create communal and world peace. Luang Poh vowed many years ago to gring about his change in as many people as his physical being and energy will allow. He has been and is a revered and dynamic teacher who has contributed greatly to the inner peace and stability of thousands.
Associate Prof. Donald W. Sandage
Department of English
Faculty of Arts
July 9, 2001
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