Sunday, March 04, 2007

Visit to Wat Pah Ban Tad

The Dhammapada says:

"The mindful ones exert themselves,
They are not attached to any home;
Like swans that abandon the lake,
They leave home after home behind."

During my trip to Udon Thani & Nongkhai in January this year, I've travelled to many of the Forest Monasteries in the region. These monasteries are all started by Dhutanga Bhikkus belonging to Ajarn Mun's (above) lineage, places which tourists normally do not visit. On the last day of my trip I decided to follow a Singaporean friend (whom I met in Udon) to Luangta Mahabua's monastery, Wat Pah Ban Tad. This friend of mine stays there for 2 - 3 mths at a time for his meditation retreats. As those of you familiar with Ajarn Mun's forest tradition will know, LT Mahabua is one of his most famous disciples, widely believed to be an Arahant himself. He is also responsible for the various enlightening Forest Dhamma books on Ajarn Mun's life & teachings, as well as the Dhutanga practices. Having read those books, I was hoping to catch a glimpse of this living Buddhist Saint; but my friend told me it was not so easy as not everyone who came to visit can see him. Some people came many times, yet still did not manage to see LT Mahabua. So I did not make any special wish to do so, choosing rather to just let things take its natural course.
The monastery is half an hour's journey from Udon Thani city. The first thing that greets you at when you arrive there is this huge picture of Ajarn Mun standing in front of the main Sala, gazing at you. Although Ajarn Mun had entered Parinibbana for many years, his presence can still be felt wherever there is a group of noble individuals gathering to practice the Forest Dhamma that he taught.
Climbing up to the spacious hall, you get the feeling of deep serenity that seems to blend in with the surrounding forest. My friend told me that many invisible Devadas visit this hall, due to what lies inside the shrine room. What is so special about the shrine room?
Walking deeper inside, one comes face to face with the 3 golden Buddha statues of the shrine, representing the Triple Gems. All around the altar are the pictures of the various patriarchs of the Forest Tradition, including Ajarn Mun, Ajarn Sao & many of their distinguished disciples. In paying homage to these Masters, one recognises the true merit of the Dhutanga practices in purifying the mind, as taught by the Buddha.
The next thing that caught my eye was a glass cabinet on the left of the altar. On closer examination I realized that those small crystal stupas inside the cabinet contain the precious relics of the Buddha on the top tier, Ajarn Mun's relics on the middle tier & the relics of the other Masters from his lineage on the lower tier. So this is the main attraction for the Devadas who come to visit this Sala! No wonder the whole Sala radiates a aura of bliss. Filled with awe & joy I prostrated myself before the cabinet to show my veneration for these relics like all the men & gods before me.
At the side of the shrine room is another glass cabinet containing the relics of Ajarn Panna (above), LT Mahabua's most senior Caucasian disciple who passed away recently. Special mention must be given to him because it is only through his superb translation of the Forest Dhamma books from Thai into English that they managed to reach such a wide audience around the whole world. Without these translated books I wouldn't even have heard about Ajarn Mun & his Forest Tradition in Thailand. All I would have known are those famous temples with many worshippers & tourists. Ajarn Panna's profound knowledge & devotion to this path is without a doubt a shining lamp for all Westerners as well as all beings. As such he also deserves our deepest respect.
Inside the shrine room are also displayed other gifts of recognition to LT Mahabua from the country's highest institutions & the royal family. But of course, these are of little use to a forest monk.With that I finished my tour of the Sala. Just as I came down the stairs, a van drove in and stopped some distance ahead of me. I did not know who was inside, but seeing that 2 Thai aunties near me were kneeling down in its direction, I immediately realized who it was. I quickly kneel down as well. True enough, it was LT Mahabua (above) who came down from the van! He turned and smiled in the direction of the 2 aunties & me before walking into the forest path that leads to his kuti. I bowed towards this living Arahant. To me, managing to see him is like striking the lottery.. which seemed to link up with many of the coincidences that I encountered during this whole trip. Is this called 缘份 or affinity?I then followed my friend to his kuti, where another Singaporean guy also resided in. The living conditions are pretty tough, but they seemed content with it. I supposed these conditions are conducive to restraining the senses & would therefore help in their meditation. After chatting with them for a while, I bade my friend farewell & wished him good luck. With a satisfied heart I made my way back to Udon Thani city. The next morning I embarked on the return flight to Singapore. On the plane I thought to myself that although my tour to Udon Thani had ended, I know in my heart that my affinity with the Forest Tradition would go on long after the trip was over. Until the next time we meet, may they be well & happy.


Anonymous said...


Great story. I also visited Wat Pah Ban Tad. I actually stay there for a week! It was one of the best time in my life. I didn't realize that Ajarn Panna passed away. I am very honor and happy to be able to bow down to him when I was there. But anyway, I enjoyed reading your story keep it up!

Mani said...


Thanks for the information regarding the monastery. I am planning to go there in early march.Is there an e-mail I can contact you?