Friday, August 26, 2005

The Undecaying Body of LP Tong

The Avatamsaka Sutra says:

"Such as the True Thusness,
Which stays with its original nature,
Remaining unchanging throughout."

On 12.08.05 - 14.08.05 I made a pilgrimage trip to Had Yai, Songkhla Province in Southern Thailand. At one of the popular temples near Had Yai (Wat Pagor), I saw for myself the legendary body of Luangpor (Ajarn) Tong, whose physical body shows no sign of decay after passing away since the year 2000, at the age of 93. LP Tong looks as if he was sleeping, and other than the sunken facial features, one really cannot tell he has died for 5 years. According to the temple, his hair continues to grow and needs trimming every once in a while. This kind of phenomena is called "Flesh Body Buddha" in Buddhist terminology. Only monks of high spiritual attainment can choose to keep their bodies in samadhi after they enter final nibbana. This is usually to serve a special purpose, because the normal tradition is to be cremated (like the Buddha) and the remaining relics be placed in a stupa or pagoda. Reports say that indeed there is such a special purpose in the case of LP Tong. Before he passed away, he had already left instructions for his disciples not to cremate his body. LP Tong wanted future generations of Buddhists from the whole region to gain confidence in the Triple Gems after seeing the miraculous aspects of the Dhamma through his undecaying body. This alternative tradition is perhaps started by Maha Kassapa, the Buddha's foremost disciple who was also not cremated. According to the scriptures, Maha Kassapa flew inside Mount Kukkutapada (Chicken Foot Peak) and entered final nibbana there. His body will remain in eternal samadhi until the future Buddha Maitreya descends to Earth to teach the Dhamma many thousands of years later. Coming back to the subject, LP Tong predicted that this small temple would become quite propserous with the bus loads of followers & tourists coming to see him after his death. Today, these words are proven right - Wat Pagor is thriving with pilgrims from Singapore, Malaysia & Thailand, who come daily to pay respects to him and ask for various blessings.Besides LP Tong's undecaying body, I also got to see Maechee (Nun) Niam's skeletal remains. MC Niam was LP Tong's female teacher who had died decades ago. Out of respect for his teacher, LP Tong kept her body in a glass chedi to be venerated by himself and his followers. As I walked closer to take a look, I saw a dried yellowish skeleton in a seated position and garbed in the white robes of a non-ordained nun. Like the other countries of Theravada culture, Thailand does not have an order of Bhikkuni. Nuns could only take the 10 percepts and wear white robes instead of the saffron robes of the Sangha.Irregardless, MC Niam was known to be a compassionate Nun who observed vegetarianism throughout her holy life, although it was not required of monks & nuns in the Theravada tradition. She is said to be able to grant the wishes of the faithful who pray to her, but they must also develope compassion and abstain from eating meat for a period of time. Paying respects to both LP Tong & MC Niam, one could not help but be filled with a profound sense of bliss. One regret I had was that I did not manage to meet LP Tong's successor, Abbot Maha Pairon when I went there; but rest assured I will be back for a future visit the next time.

Reflecting on the undecaying bodies I've seen, I had an insight that although our physical body go through birth and death, happiness and suffering, sin and merit; our Buddha nature remains unmoving amidst all these. Everything we know, feel, experience, possess are ultimately unreal and does not belong to us. The Buddha is an illusionist turning an illusionary wheel of the Dhamma to teach illusionary sentient beings. If sentient beings attain any form of enlightenment, that is also unreal as there is nothing to realize and no suffering to end. What then is the absoulte truth, the true undecaying body which we cannot see? Meditate on this katha, especially the last verse, for the answer:

"Everynight I sleep with the Buddha, every morning it awakens with me. Whether sitting or standing it follows, whether speaking or silent it is there. Never leaving me for even an instant, it is no different from a shadow following the body. To know where this Buddha is, look right here in these words."

May you also see the true nature of your mind, sadhu.


sampuna said...

hi there Wayne,

My family and i visited the temple when Ajahn Tong was alive, somewhere in 1999. He gave us cloth protective amulets and pieces of dried Guan Yin bamboo. Guess that was the first and the last time we get to see such a wonderful fellow Dhamma practitioner.

s said...

dear wayne,

thank you for your fantastic blog putting up all the stories of real news and your travels and explaining the history and reasons of Buddhism...

how come you dun have the option to go to previous entries at the btm of the page... anyway, thanks again for helping spread the dharma....

Thoo Hui Vern said...

this temple still open for tourist?