Celebration of a Simple spirituality
A year-long commemoration begins for a unique monk whose legacy is still being felt more than two decades after his passing
It was an impressive sight indeed. Hundreds of people had come to pray at the spot where the monk's remains had been cremated more than two decades before. Soon the whole area was lit up with scores of small points of light, giving an amber glow to Wat Tub Ming Kwan, the small forest monastery in Loei where Luangpor Teean Jittasubho had spent his last few days. One by one his disciples came to place the candles they were holding on and around the circle, now paved over with concrete, where the body of the man they called Teacher had been reduced to ashes and returned to nature.
Luangpor Teean Jittasubho (September 5, 1911— September 13, 1988)
The occasion was part of the official launch of a year-long programme to commemorate the centennial of Luangpor Teean's birth. The organisers plan to hold a series of meditation retreats in the country's four main regions throughout the 12-month period, the last to be hosted at this very same temple in February. This was thought to be the best way to express gratitude to the late monk. For the only thing Luangpor Teean had ever asked of his students, both female and male, was that they try their utmost to cultivate mindfulness in themselves.
"The Buddha is everybody," he would repeat, time and again, "for the seed that will make a person a Buddha is inherent in every individual, without exception."
Such was his conviction: that everyone can attain, indeed already has within oneself, the intrinsic nature of Buddhahood. And the path is not at all complicated. As long as one adheres to the right practice, the only other requirements are sincerity and determination. Just be aware of the movements of your hands or legs or some other part of your body. Keep the awareness continuously - and always do so with your eyes wide open. According to Luangpor Teean, anyone who practises this method will eventually realise the illumination of his or her mind, with suffering lessened drastically, if not eradicated altogether. It might take one year or three, he said; three months or perhaps only a single day. He even offered to pay a large sum of money to anyone who failed to achieve the promised result.
By now, many years after his departure, thousands of monks and lay folk have attested to the validity of his teaching. A number of monks have confirmed how Luangpor Teean's "rhythmic movements" (see sidebar) have enabled them to appreciate the true meaning of "mindfulness" and thereby the value of Buddhism. Many lay people have discovered that they have become much less affected by the stresses and strains of everyday life. The list of beneficiaries ranges from businessmen. housewives, farmers and writers to people with disabilities, scientists, doctors, social workers, reformed rogues and even very young children.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF TAWEEKIAT TOECHAMROEN
It's wonderful to witness the far-reaching legacy bequeathed by a monk who had no formal schooling whatsoever. What's amazing, unique, about Luangpor Teean's teaching is its utter simplicity. There is no mantra to recite, no complex analyses on Buddhist tenets to plough through, no specific rites or rituals to carry out. The only thing the monk stressed - and he did so tirelessly - was plain awareness, or hu sue-sue as he termed it in Isan, his mother language. Feel your hands as they turn and move, your legs as they walk back and forth, your eyes as they blink, the swallowing of saliva, the inhalations and exhalations of air. Thoughts - and that word also encompasses emotions, desires, motives, strivings and images - may arise. They might be good thoughts, they might be bad; but don't stop them. Don't follow them either. Just let them come and then let them go.
"When we see our thoughts at all times - no matter what is being thought about - we are able to overcome them at all times. We will then reach a certain point at which something inside will happen instantaneously."
The fact that Luangpor Teean discovered dhamma while still a layman and that he did so entirely as a result of his own efforts may account for the sheer originality of the path he took. Underneath his gentle demeanour _ ''an old, kindly monk'' was how one contemporary described him _ Luangpor Teean was as sharp-witted as he was unconventional. In his book, The Singularity of an Ordinary Monk, Dr Vatana Supromajakr relates how his teacher once made a seemingly odd suggestion to a villager who expressed a belief in merit-making as a means of achieving Nirvana, the extinction of all suffering.
''Luangpor asked him, 'When do you expect to arrive at Nirvana?'
'''After I have died,' the villager replied.
'''Do you really want to get to Nirvana?' Luangpor enquired.
'''Yes, I really want to get there.'
''Luangpor then said, 'Well, if that's the case, then you should die as soon as possible and then you'll reach Nirvana very quickly.'
''The villager was bewildered: 'But I don't want to die yet.'
'''But since you want to go to Nirvana, why don't you want to die quickly? This shows that you have misunderstood,' Luangpor told the villager. 'The Buddha never taught that people go to Nirvana when they have died; he taught people to reach Nirvana while they were still alive.'''
‘‘We have to learn it ourself.
We have to teach ourself.
We have to see ourself. We have to
We have to understand ourself.
We have to do ourself.
So you shouldn’t be interested in others.
Just do the movement practice a lot.
Do it as nothing special.
Do it without hurry, without doubt,
Do it without expectation of result.
Be simple. And just move.
One movement at a time and know.
When you don’t know, let it pass.
When you know, let it pass.
Sometimes you know, sometimes you don’t
know, so it goes, but know.
When the body moves, know it.
When the mind moves, know it.
This practice is a 24-hours-a-day practice.
Set up the mind to really practise,
and practise comfortably.
If you develop sati (mindfulness) correctly,
The longest time for the practice
will not be more than three years,
The median time one year,
And the quickest time one day to
We do not have to talk about
the fruit of this practice.
There is really no dukkha (suffering).’’
On another occasion, he told Dr Vatana that a 700-year-old amulet, much prized by the latter, was ''actually no more ancient than the soil we trod upon before we entered this house''.
For Luangpor Teean, dhamma is transcendental; it is already ''present within us right now''. It has nothing to do with clothing, sex, social status or denomination. The saffron robe is not at all a sign of superiority nor does the Tripitaka have a monopoly on wisdom. His occasional wearing of the dark-brown robes favoured by Zen Buddhist monks, at a time when the Theravada school of Buddhism was considered to be more respectable, could have been his subtle way of urging Thai society to see through the facade to the inner essence of things.
Understandably, his straightforward, breaking-away-from-tradition teachings once caused concern in the Establishment. In several of his dhamma talks Luangpor Teean noted how he had once been accused by the authorities of being a communist. But he never relented in the face of these charges. (They were eventually dropped.) If anything, he was more of a ''spiritual merchant'', trying every possible way to interest people in practising Vipassana (insight) meditation so as to achieve kwarm rue-suek tua (self-awareness). An old TV documentary shows him sitting in the midst of a crowd, doing his trademark rhythmic hand-turning movements along with a congregation of lay people of all ages. It took a long time for this Loei-born monk to learn how to speak and write in Central Thai, the dialect understood by most urban Thais. However, the warmth and serenity of his presence seemed to serve as a message of living dhamma in and of itself, one that helped overcome linguistic and cultural barriers. Here was an individual who appeared to be as approachable as he was enlightened, someone who was always willing to share the fruits of wisdom he had harvested _ even at his own expense.
In a keynote speech he made in tribute to the monk, Dr Prawase Wasi described Luangpor Teean as an ordinary person who had performed a great deed for the whole world.
Although no formal accolades have ever been bestowed on him, in the realm of spirituality he has long been regarded as a master of cultivating mindfulness.
Said Dr Prawase: ''The remarkable thing about Luangpor Teean is that he taught from what he had experienced himself, which basically centred on the notion of 'awareness' _ awareness of one's body, awareness of one's mind. This is a pivotal step of development for humankind.''
In retrospect, though, even that recognition did not come overnight. Taking into account that the prevalent style of meditation (then, as now) is to close one's eyes and strive for a degree of calmness, the technique recommended by Luangpor Teean was therefore a radical breakthrough. Not to put too fine a point on it, he reckoned that conventional samatha bhavana (concentration-oriented meditation) simply did not work. He had already tried that approach himself. He compared it to putting a rock on top of a patch of grass. The meditator will remain calm only as long as the session lasts. But once the rock is removed, the grass will likely grow better than before since the rock has allowed the underlying soil to remain moist.
To quite a few observers, Luangpor Teean's hand-movement approach to meditation may have looked peculiar. And a number of his students were initially reluctant _ some even resisting the idea _ to try it out. In his book Preechayan Khong Phu Mai Ru Nangsue (The Wisdom of the Illiterate), National Artist laureate Kowit Anekachai, aka Khemananda, recalled how, while he was attracted to the monk's atypical profundity, he steadfastly refused to follow the latter's approach to meditation. The writer kept up this resistance for six years. But one day he decided to give the technique a try and, after raising and lowering his hands for a while, experienced what he described as a ''transformation of the mind'' right there and then.
But what was (is) the insight? How did it come about? Can we ever keep it with us all the time? In the same book, Kowit noted how his mentor repeatedly cautioned him to be aware, but not to be(come) attached to that awareness. Let the intuition come ''in one instant'', advised Luangpor Teean, and then let it pass. Otherwise, the practitioner will be inadvertently trapped in another labyrinth of subtle, conditional thinking. For, at the end of the day, the goal _ if we can call it that _ of meditation is to arrive at a state of normality when the mind is in balance with the body; nothing more and nothing less.
''Awareness is the match: the candle is that, when thought arises, we know it. We try to light these two things. When they are lit, it becomes light. We should then escape from the cavern and never go back into it. Even if we have to enter the cavern again, we should not allow it to be dark any more. We should be immediately aware of ourselves. This is the practice of dhamma.''
1. Rest the hands palm down on the thighs.
2. Turn the right hand onto its edge, be aware; do it slowly, then stop. Do not say to yourself, ‘‘turn the right hand’’; being aware is enough.
3. Raise the right hand, be aware, and then stop, aware.
4. Lower the right hand to rest on the abdomen, be aware, and then stop, aware.
5. Turn the left hand onto its edge, be aware, and then stop, aware.
6. Raise the left hand, be aware, and then stop, aware.
7. Lower the left hand to rest on the right hand, be aware, and then stop, aware.
8. Move the right hand up to rest on the chest, be aware, and then stop, aware.
9. Move the right hand out, be aware, and then stop, aware.
10. Lower the right hand onto its edge on the thigh, be aware, then stop, aware.
11. Turn the right palm down, be aware, and then stop, aware.
12. Move the left hand up to rest on the chest, be aware, and then stop, aware.
13. Move the left hand out, be aware, and then stop, aware.
14. Lower the left hand onto its edge on the thigh, be aware, and then stop, aware.
15. Turn the left palm down, be aware, and then stop, aware.
This cycle of movements can be repeated again and again. Throughout the process, practitioners must keep their eyes open. They can later adopt this cultivation of awareness in their daily lives. Whenever there is a physical movement, be it the turning of a hand, the rubbing of fingers, the swallowing of saliva, the blinking of eyes, and so on, just be aware. Likewise, when thoughts arise, be aware of them without trying to stop or follow them. Luangpor Teean Jittasubho said that this technique of meditation is a shortcut to end all suffering as long as one practises it continuously..
1. Do not believe just because it is a tradition maintained by oral repetition.
2. Do not believe just because it is an unbroken succession of practice.
3. Do not believe merely because it is hearsay.
4. Do not believe just because it is in the scriptures.
5. Do not believe just because it fits with one's point of view.
6. Do not believe because it is correct on the grounds of metaphysical theory.
7. Do not believe just because it agrees with one's reasoning.
8. Do not believe just because it agrees with one's opinions and theories.
9. Do not believe just because the speaker appears believable.
10.Donot believe just because ''our teacher says thus and thus''.
Luangpor Teean may have been giving a subtle hint to his compatriots when he donned the robes of a Zen Buddhist monk.PHOTO: TAWEEKIAT TOECHAMROEN
The committee organising the celebration of the centenary of Luangpor Teean Jittasubho's birth has invited a number of monks to lead a series of two-day Vipassana meditation retreats at the Buddhadasa Indapanyo Archives in Suan Rotfai Park, Bangkok over the course of the next 12 months. For more details, call 02-619-7474 or visit www.luangporteean.net. Moreover, a two-day seminar on 'Education and Health on the Basis of Self-awareness: Cultivation of Mindfulness in Daily Life' will be held in early July at Mahidol University's Salaya campus. For more details, call Dr Wirat Kamsrichan on 08-6670-2972. Between October 14 and 24, Boekfa Dhamma Ashram in Suphan Buri will host an intensive retreat for the general public. For reservations, call Preecha Konthong on 08-3276-0179.