Chapter 14: The Novice Who Helped To Save His Father From Hell
Today I will be delivering this talk with the aim of building and strengthening our faith. Just as we plant a tree in the ground, we need to water it and add manure or fertilizer to it just to ensure its healthy growth. Thus, in a similar manner, I need to give this talk for the sole purpose of strengthening your faith, that you may have stronger faith or belief in your own religion; otherwise, you will have little faith, or no faith at all and hence will receive nothing from your efforts in trying to practise your religion. You should listen with respect, seriousness, wisdom and an attentive mind.
Dear fellow monks and novices, before one can become a monk, one has to be ordained as a novice or “ sa-manฺera ” first. In the Lanna culture of the North, little boys are known as “Luk keow”, meaning the precious emerald or jewel of their parents, for they are the ones who will ensure the continuity of the family line. In the old days, parents were concerned for the spiritual well-being of their children when the little boys’ heads were only as big as the size of our fists. They would discipline their children, my dear novice, so that those little fellows would not run wild.
Today, my dear novices, your parents come to witness the good behaviour of you all who were ordained a few days ago.
I am delighted over your improved behaviour too. Here we have teachers who are well-versed in the Pa-li language and Buddhist Scriptures, but we also emphasize the importance of actual practice, especially in the field of meditation. I am very delighted that there are many people coming here to offer you all the mid-day meal or “Phen” today. Many have asked me when all these novices took their ordination. I told them it was just a few days ago, and for some it was only yesterday. They simply exclaimed, “How well-behaved these little novices seem to be !”
A mere casual remark like that is enough to make me happy. The word “siri” means “luck” or “prosperity”. Now that you are novices, you have the luck to perform good action or karma, but you must practise by adhering to your teachers’ instruction.
The word “keow” can mean gem, crystal or polished crystal. Thus, to become a “ sa-manฺera keow” means to allow oneself to be polished – very well and carefully polished until he “shines”. That is to say, a sa-maneras or a novice is here to receive knowledge from teachers and elders who will only help to cut and polish the crystal or gem into an even better shape and also brighter and clearer lustre, devoid of any undesirable defects or elements. A crystal, or gem needs to be cut and polished, then only will it be valuable and fetch a good price. Similarly, a novice needs to be polished too ; otherwise he will be only as good as the offspring of a monkey, a flying fox or a chimpanzee, and is good for nothing but mischiefmaking. So, don’t be monkeys, dear novices.
The same goes for those who have become monks. When you join the order of monks, you have to learn Dhamma and practise meditation at the same time. You do not ordain for the sole purpose of wearing the yellow robes, or sleeping and eating, or just to kill time while waiting for a job. Nor do you ordain just because you have no better place to go and nothing better to do. You should become a monk because you have genuine belief in the Buddha’s teachings and you should be serious about learning and practising the religion. You too need to be “ cut ”, “ reshaped” and “polished”.
In the old days, the Lanna-Thai had some very nice traditions and customs with regard to the ordination of a monk, but nowadays those nice and meaningful traditions have long been forgotten or abandoned. People get drunk and dance like mad at an ordination. This is most disrespectful.
When you enter a “Buddha-va-sa ”- an area considered as the resting place of the Buddha, you should show respect by taking off your shoes, closing your umbrella and wearing your robes in the proper manner. Not adhering to these formalities is the same as not showing any respect for the Buddha. If you cannot even show such simple respect for the Buddha, how could you ever hope to learn anything sensible from His Teaching?
Without respect for the teacher and sites of religious significance, there would be no faith left in one’s heart for the religion. As novices and monks, you ought to increase faith in your own hearts and learn to exercise patience. Fill your hearts with good intention and merit. You simply cannot radiate merit when it is not there in your hearts. You need to increase merit by yourselves. Your parents and grandparents hope you will start a new and good life with this ordination. They will be proud of you if you behave well, learn well and practise well.
Last year, the parents of a novice came here for a visit. Their son is the novice who led the chanting of verses of blessing. The parent’s eyes were filled with tears. They were choked with happiness. They were proud of their son. Well, my dear newly ordained novices, when your parents see you learning and practising Dhamma seriously, they will be really comforted and happy. This is the merit of being ordained. All parents will be delighted that their sons have embarked on a life of righteousness.
About thirty years ago, someone living beside this Wat Ambavana brought his son to me to be ordained as a novice. Neither parent of this young novice had ever taken much interest in merit-making. They were always busy with catching fish and trapping eels. When their son was ordained, he became the main reason for their regular visits to the monastery.
At first, they felt rather of shy about coming here. Before their son became a novice they had never bothered to offer food to the monks or novices. But all this changed some time after their son had become a novice.
There was a Chinese man by the name of Ah Huad who kept a long beard. He had rented from the government a large piece of swampy land for fishing purposes. He fished at the swamp to the east of Wat Ambavana at a place called Bang Chan, though the water there dried up a long time ago and now the place is being used as a place to raise pigs.
Ah Huad had a son named Ah Heng who was only eight or nine years old. Ah Heng was designated the task of collecting convovulus to feed the pigs.Chinaman Huad had no interest in merit-making. Whenever someone approached him to make a donation to a noble cause, he would give only one “saleung” or “twenty-five satang ” (a quarter of one baht). He would instruct his wife, Cha Bow (the Chinese Tiao-Chiu dialect for “ woman ”) to give the money. Those days even twenty – five satang was not an amount easily earned.
My dear novices, in the old days, a big bowl of noodles cost three satang, a fully loaded bullock-cart of rice cost only twenty baht and a piece of gold of equal weight to a one baht coin also cost twenty baht.
Now you listen. This Chinese boy was too young to take much interest in the boring job of collecting convovulus for his father’s pigs, and yet his diligent father never seemed to fail in making sure that the son did his designated task. When Ah Heng or Ah Ti Heng reached the age of about 13 or 14 years old, he suddenly felt that he should learn more about our Thai language. At the same time, he was also too lazy to continue the tedious job of feeding and looking after those pigs. Thus, he escaped to the local monastery and was ordained as a novice.
Chinaman Huad had no faith or interest in Buddhism at all. He went to see Ah Heng and said, “Ah Heng, why did you get ordained as a novice and go about begging food from other people? We have plenty of rice at home. Disrobe now !” Having said that, he pulled Ah Heng’s hand and tried to drag the boy down the stairs. Ah Heng got up, put on his robes, ran out of the monastery and escaped by the back road.
The father, being exasperated, said to the abbot, “Listen here, you head of the monks, when Ah Heng returns, let him disrobe. For heaven’s sake, don’t let him remain here to eat the rice of the monastery. I have plenty of rice and fish and money too. Don’t ever ordain him again. Only a bad head of the monks (abbot) would ordain my son!”
The abbot replied, “Look here, Ah Huad, your son, Ah Heng, has strong faith in Buddhism. He is able to recite and memorize the verses from the book of chanting well. When he first came, I did not suggest or force him ordain. He has been staying at the monastery for a month now. I did ask him if his parents consented to his coming to stay at the monastery and he said “ yes ”. Thus, I was not aware of other facts. All I could see was that he was full of faith in the religion. He is only 14 years old and yet he can already chant well. He can chant all the twelve chapters of the book of chanting. Look here, Ah Huad, your son is very interested in the religion and he is serious about it. That is why I agreed to ordain him as a novice. Let him be what he wants to be and leave him alone.”
The miserable Chinaman still protested vehemently, “No, no, no! If you won ’t disrobe my son, you will have to answer for it. I am going to feed the pigs now but I’ll be back here tomorrow.” So he went home.
Seven days later, that Chinese boy, Ah Heng, was still a novice. His father went to the abbot and said, “You promised to disrobe my son disrobed.” The abbot replied, “Huad, your son truly has strong faith in Buddhism. Now he is practising meditation.”
“What meditation?” exclaimed the Chinaman.
The abbot said, “You don’t understand, Huad. Go back home and keep cool. At this moment your novice son is practising meditation in a certain monastery.“
“What monastery? I will find out !” Ah Huad said in anger.
But the abbot refused to tell him in which monastery Ah Heng had gone to take refuge. The Chinaman was indignant, “What nonsense! Can you get fed and clothed by this stupid meditation? Rearing pigs is a lot better. It brings you money !” So said Ah Huad. The abbot made no reply but sat quietly.
Some years later, when Ah Heng had reached the age of twenty, the abbot arranged for him to receive higher ordination. Ah Heng not only had learned Thai well, but also spoke Mandarin and a few Chinese dialects, and even Laotian. This was partly due to his meditation practice, which helped him to develop very good concentration power. He told me he practised meditation and always had compassionate regards for his father, who killed pigs every day. He hoped whatever merit he had accrued would somehow lead to his father’s giving up of the bloody job of slaughtering pigs. He was hoping that his father would not go to hell for all the killing the old man had done.
Three years later, old man Huad collapsed and died. The coffin was bought and the old man was placed in it with incensed sticks in his hands. There was to be seven days of funeral rites and rituals, after which the old man would be buried according to the traditional Chinese custom. Ah Heng had already become an abbot by then; he had attained the position of abbot only after four years in the monkhood. He was made the abbot of Wat Chang Poon, now know as Wat Buddharam, which is situated at Tambon Ban Paeng of Phromburi District in Singburi Province.
According to Ah Heng, just after three nights of funeral rites, at about ten o ’clock at night, there was heard noise coming from inside the coffin. It was thought to be that of a mouse. A junior monk by the name of Luang Ta Puang was occupying the first seat in the chanting ritual. After the second session of chanting, Luang Ta Puang, who heard the noise, paused to ask someone to fetch an oil lamp so as to get a clearer view of whatever it was that was making the noise thus heard in the coffin.
When the lid of the coffin was opened, there inside the coffin was the officially confirmed-dead Ah Huad with opened eyes though could not speak, except for making a coarse and hoarse noise with the throat. At the same time he was using his elbow to knock against the side of the coffin in an attempt to alert people that he was alive. Any idiot could well imagine what a shock the village people had at seeing Ah Huad coming to life and what a commotion the whole incident stirred up. The chanting ceased and some people were running wild with the news about the ghost of Ah Huad coming to haunt the place. Shouts and screams were heard, but at last some brave men, who truly deserved to be called “brave”, approached the coffin and had Ah Huad lifted out of the rectangular wooden box. The poor Chinaman had his shirts (he was wearing layers of shirts) removed and was given a glass of water to drink. He began to regain his thoughts and his speaking ability. No one slept that night for Ah Huad was telling his story. As he still could not sit upright for long, he thus was left to lie down and talk.
First, he expressed his deep regret for trying to compell his son to disrobe. He said he lost his consciousness and somehow found himself in hell, where the keeper of hell began questioning him.
“Did you ever engage yourself in any form of merit-making while you were in the human world?” Asked the keeper of hell.
“I did not.”, replied Ah Huad.
“Try to recall whatever merit you might have once made,” persisted the keeper of hell. Ah Huad gave the same reply.
“Did you ever offer any “katฺhina” robe or any robes to any monk?,” the hell-keeper asked.
“No,”said Ah Huad, “Whenever people came to ask me for a donation, I would ask my woman to give them one “saleung” or a quarter of a baht to them. I had never refused to donate but I didn’t know what merit-making was. I didn’ t care about it either. I couldn’t see any benefit in that thing which they call merit”.
Again the hell-keeper said, “Ah Huad, you must have made some merit at one time or another. Do recall and let me know.” Ah Huad replied, “No, I have never got involved in any form of merit-making. I raised some pigs and lived by the stream thriving with fish. I fed them with the broken rice grains left behind after milling and was able to sell the fish in tens or hundreds.”
Suddenly Ah Huad saw a ball of red-hot fire burning in front of him. He saw his late brother Ah Korn’s friend inside a heated bronze pan filled with boiling liquid. Ah Huad saw the smoke and steam rising from the fire and the heated pan. He began to shout, “Oh, I can’t breathe! Help !” A moment later, the smoke thinned out and Ah Huad looked up, he saw a piece of yellow robe spreading out in the air high above. The robe was descending slowly as if to engulf the fire and the pan. Ah Huad, as if struck by lightning, suddenly remembered something and shouted aloud, “Oh! Oh! I can remember now! My son Ah Heng was ordained, but I contributed nothing for his ordination. He ran away from home to the monastery to be ordained as a novice. When I went to see him, he did not want to return home with me. Instead he sought higher ordination some years later and became a monk. He would not return to live the life of a householder. Now he is the abbot of a monastery.”
The hell-keeper asked, “Which monastery ?” and Ah Huad replied, “Wat Chang Poon.” Just then all the smoke began to disappear. Ah Huad cried aloud, “Ah Heng, help me !” The descending yellow robe seemed to shield Ah Huad from the smoke and the flames. Ah Huad was able to breathe easily again.
As things turned out in this way, the hell-keeper said to Ah Huad, “Look here, this time you are being saved by your own son Ah Heng, who is well-versed in meditation. His merit-making has helped you. Go back to where you come from.”
This is a true story. It was a real event which occurred years ago at Wat Chang Poon, which is the present Wat Buddharam. Ah Heng himself was my teacher. He was the Act-Announcing Teacher during my own ordination.
Later, Ah Huad went to live with his son in the monastery. He observed the eight moral precepts and became a devout Buddhist. When Ah Heng had spent his fifth “rain retreat”, he became infatuated with the daughter of a Phromburi District officer. He wanted to disrobe to get married with that girl. Thus, he told his father, “I want to disrobe. The girl who came to greet you is the daughter of the district officer and I want to marry her. We will go to China.”
Upon hearing this piece of news the old man was sad. He asked his son, “Do you love your father ?”
“You told me to disrobe years ago,” replied Ven. Heng.
“I know. Don’t blame me or get angry with your father. What did I know about religion then? You lifted me out of hell with your meditation. I have come to live with you and learn to observe the eight moral precepts and to practise meditation from my own son. Why then must you all of a sudden decide to leave your old father behind and go somewhere else, leaving me alone in the monastery ?” Ah Huad said to his son.
At last Ven. Heng the abbot decided not to disrobe. He gave up the idea of marrying the girl he loved. Instead, he spent the rest of his life building a big pavillion and the ordination hall for his own monastery. When the pavillion and the ordination hall were completed, Ah Huad died. Ven. Heng held a funeral for his father in Chinese ritual style. The body of Ah Huad was buried in a specially allocated area in front of the uposatha hall, where it remains to this very day.
Ven. Heng performed meritorious deeds for seven days and nights to transfer merit to his father. At that time I was still a layman and I helped him by performing Thai music at the funeral ceremony.
Time went on and when I ordained, Ven. Heng was my Act – Announcing Teacher (Two Act-Announcing Teachers are required during the bhikkhu ordination ceremony). Before he passed away, he called me to see him and said, “If I die, please don’t cremate my body, but bury it in the western direction of the uposatha hall, my father’s body being in the eastern direction.”
And now I have constructed two Chinese tombs, one for Ven. Heng and the other for his father. This is the story of Phra Khru Viriyathavornkic or Ah Heng, my Act – Announcing Teacher. If he were alive, he would now be 89 years old. And if my Preceptor were alive, he would now be 120 years old. But both of them are dead. My dear novices, please recollect that being ordained as a novice or a monk can help to save your own parents. This is the law of karma. The son was ordained without his parents ’ consent, but he still helped to save his father from hell. Such is the case of Ah Huad, which is a true story I experienced long ago.
Credit: eBooks. Wat Amphawan.