Friday, October 14, 2005

Arjaan Mun (Venerable Acariya Mun Bhuridatta Thera)

This post is a tribute page to Arjaan Mun. I will extract sections from his official biography written by his disciple Arjaan Maha Boowa.

"Venerable Ãcariya Mun Bhýridatta Thera is a towering figure in
contemporary Thai Buddhism. He was widely revered and respected
during his lifetime for the extraordinary courage and determination he
displayed in practicing the ascetic way of life and for his uncompromising
strictness in teaching his many disciples. During the 50 years since his
death, he has assumed an exalted status in Buddhist circles and thus remains
an overshadowing presence whose life and teachings have become
synonymous with the Buddha’s noble quest for self-transformation.
Although Ãcariya Mun (pronounced to rhyme with “sun”) left no
written record of his own, this biography, compiled by one of his close
disciples some 20 years after his death, is largely responsible for introducing
his life, his achievements, and his teachings to a broad section
of Buddhist society. Through the widespread popularity of this book,
many Thai Buddhists have been given fresh hope that the spiritual
liberation which the Buddha proclaimed to the world over 2,500 years
ago, and which has been attained by so many aspirants over the succeeding
centuries, is still accessible in today’s modern age. Many Thais
have expressed the view that they had lost confidence that magga, phala,
and Nibbãna were still relevant today. But, by reading Ãcariya Mun’s
biography, they realized that accounts of these exalted attainments
are not mere fragments of ancient history, dead and dry – but a living,
luminous legacy of self-transcendence accessible to any individual who
is willing and able to put forth the effort needed to achieve them. They
have come to understand that Buddhist monks, with their distinctive
robes and monastic vocation, are not merely clerical figures representing
the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha: some of them are indeed living
proof of the Truth presented in the Buddha’s teaching."

"For this reason, the lifestyle of a Buddhist monk is founded on the
ideal of life as a homeless wanderer who, having renounced the world
and gone forth from the household, dresses in robes made from discarded
cloth, depends on alms for a living, and takes the forest as his dwelling
place. This ideal of the wandering forest monk intent on the Buddha’s
traditional spiritual quest is epitomized by the dhutanga kammaååhãna
way of life."

"Both the letter and the spirit of this ascetic life of meditation can
be found embodied in the life and teaching of Ãcariya Mun. From
the day he first ordained until the day he passed away, his entire way
of life, and the example he set for his disciples, were modeled on the
principles incorporated in these practices. He is credited with reviving,
revitalizing, and eventually popularizing the dhutanga kammaååhãna
tradition in Thailand. Through his life-long efforts, dhutanga monks (or
kammaååhãna monks, the two are used interchangeably) and the mode
of practice they espouse became, and still remain, a prominent feature
of the Buddhist landscape there."

"Ãcariya Mun was especially gifted as a motivator and teacher. Many
of the monks who trained directly under his tutelage have distinguished
themselves by their spiritual achievements, becoming well-known
teachers in their own right. They have passed on his distinctive teaching
methods to their disciples in a spiritual lineage that extends to the
present day. As a result, the dhutanga kammaååhãna mode of practice
gradually spread throughout the country, along with Ãcariya Mun’s
exalted reputation. This nationwide acclaim began to escalate during
the last years of his life and continued to grow after his death until he
came to be considered a national “saint” by almost unanimous consent.
In recent decades, he has gained recognition beyond the confines of his
native land as one of the 20th century’s truly great religious figures.
Ãcariya Mun’s life epitomized the Buddhist ideal of the wandering
monk intent on renunciation and solitude, walking alone through forests
and mountains in search of secluded places that offer body and mind a
calm, quiet environment in which to practice meditation for the purpose
of transcending all suffering. His was a life lived entirely out of doors
at the mercy of the elements and the vagaries of weather. In such an
environment, a dhutanga monk developed a deep appreciation of nature.
His daily life was full of forests and mountains, rivers and streams, caves,
overhanging cliffs, and wild creatures large and small. He moved from
place to place by hiking along lonely wilderness trails in remote frontier
regions where the population was sparse and village communities far
apart. Since his livelihood depended on the alms food he collected from
those small settlements, a dhutanga monk never knew where his next
meal would come from, or whether he would get any food at all."

"Popular fear of those impenetrable forest areas turned them into
places of isolation and solitude where no one dared to venture alone.
It was in this remote wilderness environment that Ãcariya Mun and his
dhutanga monks lived and wandered, practicing the ascetic way of life.
Their meditation practice and the mental fortitude it instilled in them
were their only defences against the hardships and potential dangers they
faced every day. Forests and mountains were proven training grounds
for such monks, who saw themselves as spiritual warriors battling their
own mental defilements for the sake of ultimate victory.
The story of Ãcariya Mun’s life is a vivid portrait of a consummate
spiritual warrior unrivaled in modern times who practiced the Buddha’s
path to freedom with such perfection that he left those who knew and
revered him in no doubt that he truly was a Noble disciple. A beautiful
story from beginning to end, his life is reminiscent of those famed
accounts of the Buddha’s great disciples chronicled in the ancient
texts. Like theirs, his life shows us that the spiritual ideals taught by
the Buddha are achieved by real human beings struggling against the
same fundamental hindrances that we find within ourselves. Thus we
are made to feel that the Buddha’s “ancient” path to spiritual liberation
is as wholly relevant today as it was 2,500 years ago."

"One aspect of Ãcariya Mun’s teaching career deserves special mention
as it surfaces time and again in the course of his biography. Ãcariya
Mun possessed a unique ability to communicate directly with nonhuman
beings from many different realms of existence. He was continually in
contact with beings in the higher and lower celestial realms, spirits of
the terrestrial realms, nãgas, yakkhas, ghosts of many sorts, and even the
denizens of the hell realms – all of whom are invisible to the human eye
and inaudible to the human ear but clearly known by the inner psychic
faculties of divine sight and divine hearing.
The comprehensive worldview underlying Buddhist cosmology differs
significantly from the view of the gross physical universe presented to
us by contemporary science. In the traditional Buddhist worldview, the
universe is inhabited not only by the gross physical beings that comprise
the human and animal worlds but also by various classes of nonphysical,
divine beings, called devas, that exist in a hierarchy of increasing subtlety
and refinement, and by numerous classes of lower beings living in the
sub-human realms of existence. Only the human and animal worlds
are discernible to normal human sense faculties. The others dwell in
a spiritual dimension that exists outside the range of human concepts
of space and time, and therefore, beyond the sphere of the material
universe as we perceive it."

"It was Ãcariya Mun’s remarkable, inherent capacity for communicating
with many classes of living beings that made him a teacher of
truly universal significance. Knowing that living beings throughout the
sentient universe share a common heritage of repeated existence and
a common desire to avoid suffering and gain happiness, a great teacher
realizes their common need to understand the way of Dhamma in order
to fulfil their spiritual potential and attain enduring happiness. Having
the eye of wisdom, he made no fundamental distinction between the
hearts of people and the hearts of devas, but tailored his teaching to fit
their specific circumstances and levels of understanding. Although the
message was essentially the same, the medium of communication was
different. He communicated with human beings through the medium of
verbal expression, while he used non-verbal, telepathic communication
with all classes of nonhuman beings.
To appreciate Ãcariya Mun’s extraordinary abilities we must be
prepared to accept that the world we perceive through our senses
constitutes only a small portion of experiential reality; that there exists
this spiritual universe of devas and brahmas which is beyond the range
of our limited sense faculties. For in truth, the universe of the wise is
much more vast than the one perceived by the average person. The
wise can know and understand dimensions of reality that others do not
even suspect exist, and their knowledge of the principles underlying all
existence gives them an insight into the phenomenal world that defies
conventional limits.
Ãcariya Mun’s finely-tuned powers of perception contacted an immense
variety of external phenomena, and in the best Buddhist tradition
he spent a considerable amount of time and energy engaged in teaching
them Dhamma. Such beings were as much a part of his personal world
experience as the wild animals in the forest and the monks he trained
so tirelessly. By virtue of his unparalleled expertise in these matters, he
always felt a special obligation toward their spiritual welfare.
Such phenomena are what Ãcariya Mun called “mysteries of the
heart”; for they are conscious, living beings dwelling in spiritual dimensions
that are just as real as the one we inhabit, even though
those spheres lie outside the realm of human existential concepts. The
words “heart” and “mind” are used interchangeably in Thai vernacular.
“Heart” is often the preferred term, as “mind” tends to exclude the emotional and spiritual dimensions associated with the heart. The heart
is the essential knowing nature that forms the basic foundation of the
entire sentient universe. It is the fundamental awareness underlying
all conscious existence and the very basis of all mental and emotional
processes. The heart forms the core within the bodies of all living beings.
It is the center, the substance, the primary essence within the
body. Constantly emphasizing its paramount significance, Ãcariya Mun
always claimed that the heart is the most important thing in the world. For
this reason, the story of Ãcariya Mun’s life and teachings is a story of
the heart’s struggle for spiritual transcendence, and a revelation of the
ineffable mystery of the heart’s pure essence."

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