Life in the Saffron Forest: Chapter 14

Forest Monk at Wat Pah Nanachat

Luang Pee Muan could be con­sid­ered a dis­tant uncle of mine. He was great­ly inspired by Luang Por’s dis­course on the ascetic prac­tices. He made a vow in front of Luang Por that very morn­ing, say­ing: ‘From now on I deter­mine to eat only one meal a day, and in addi­tion to this I will eat only veg­e­tar­i­an food, refus­ing to eat meat and fish from this day for­ward.’ ‘Real­ly?!’ Luang Por exclaimed. It’s not sur­pris­ing that Luang Por made this exclamation—in the boon­docks back then even with­out choos­ing one’s food there was almost not enough to go around. Here Luang Pee Muan got the uncom­mon idea to become a vegetarian—it would be very dif­fi­cult for him to find veg­eta­bles, beans, and sesame seeds to sus­tain him­self. He stood firm in his resolve, how­ev­er, to keep a strict ascetic practice.

From then on our strict Luang Pee with­drew from oth­ers, would not social­ize, and prac­tised med­i­ta­tion each night. In the morn­ing he would go on alm­sround alone, and then return to eat his meal alone. After this he would retreat qui­et­ly to his room. Some of the vil­lagers, when they heard that Luang Pee Muan was keep­ing such strict prac­tices, sup­port­ed him well. Some of them even made spe­cial trips to the mar­ket to buy beans and seeds to offer him on his alm­sround. In the cir­cle of monks and novices, how­ev­er, there was a feel­ing of dis­plea­sure and an impres­sion that Ven. Muan was bluff­ing or show­ing off. He was thus giv­en the secret nick­name Ara­hant Muan.

Hey, Ara­hant Muan has real­ly flat­tered him­self this time!’ said Luang Pee Dtaw, who was usu­al­ly qui­et and reserved.

In what way?’ asked Nane Boonkay.

Last night Ara­hant Muan told me that the food offered to the monks of Wat Bahn Huay is giv­en in vain. After death they are like­ly to be reborn as water buf­fa­lo and required to pay their debts by plough­ing the laypeople’s fields!’

Children Playing on Water Buffalo

Has our ara­hant become this barefaced?!’ Luang Pee Lan (for­mer Nane Lan, the diviner—see chap­ter 3) shout­ed enraged. ‘He is now dis­parag­ing Luang Por as well. If he wants to munch on veg­eta­bles, let him eat—but he doesn’t have to go around insult­ing oth­ers!’ he con­tin­ued in a dis­grun­tled tone. Luang Pee Sing saw that the sit­u­a­tion was get­ting tense and thus cautioned:

Hold on, I don’t want to see a fist­fight between an ara­hant and an ora­cle. Maybe he has a rea­son for say­ing what he did. What did he mean by enrolling the monks to be buf­faloes used to plough the vil­lagers fields?’ he asked turn­ing to Ven. Dtaw.

He said that the monks who don’t med­i­tate and eat the laypeople’s food build up a debt that they won’t be able to pay back. When they die they’ll have to be reborn as buf­fa­lo with crooked horns and plough the fields.’

Actu­al­ly, it’s he him­self who will have to be reborn as a buf­fa­lo,’ Luang Pee Sing chuck­led in his char­ac­ter­is­tic style. ‘He’s butting in and tak­ing the leaves and veg­eta­bles away from the cows and buf­fa­los. Next life they’ll get their own back!’

Luang Pee Muan had a part to play in the increas­ing­ly vehe­ment reac­tion in the monastery to his con­duct. No-one would have been both­ered had he qui­et­ly kept the strict prac­tices of eat­ing once a day and being a veg­e­tar­i­an. But blow­ing his own trum­pet and crit­i­ciz­ing oth­ers was some­thing the oth­er mem­bers of the saf­fron for­est could not tolerate.

A per­son in any com­mu­ni­ty who is unable to adapt and con­form to the oth­er mem­bers will not be able to remain in that com­mu­ni­ty for long. This is true in the case of Ven. Muan, who con­sid­ered him­self supe­ri­or to the oth­er monks. After the rainy sea­son he left Wat Bahn Huay for anoth­er place. The sto­ry went that he walked tudong through var­i­ous provinces of the North­east. He dis­ap­peared for three or four years, until he was almost for­got­ten. Then with­out warn­ing he resur­faced in Bahn Huay Vil­lage, in the guise of a med­i­ta­tion teacher who refus­es to stay in a monastery and sets up his mos­qui­to net on the out­skirts of the vil­lage instead. The vil­lagers asked him why he wouldn’t stay in the monastery. Ven. Ara­hant replied: ‘True monks don’t live in monas­ter­ies and hous­es; they seek tran­quil­li­ty in the for­est.’ This utter­ance was lat­er broad­cast to the res­i­dents in the monastery. Luang Por lis­tened and didn’t say any­thing; he sim­ply chuck­led. But those oth­er monas­tic res­i­dents who remem­bered what had occurred in the past were incensed.

Corpse with Garland

It was dur­ing this time that Uncle Terk was orga­niz­ing a mer­it cer­e­mo­ny in hon­our of his late wife Som. Aun­tie Som was Luang Pee Muan’s elder sis­ter. Luang Pee Muan went and took care of all of the plan­ning and orga­ni­za­tion by him­self. He called for a meet­ing of all the rel­a­tives, and for­bid every­one from killing any ani­mals for this mer­it cer­e­mo­ny. More­over, he for­bid the serv­ing of any meat or fish, even that which was pur­chased in the mar­ket. Final­ly, he for­bid any form of enter­tain­ment or festivities.

Think about how deeply engrained these vil­lage tra­di­tions are. It seemed a bit crazy for him to try and force the vil­lagers to aban­don them. His rel­a­tives, how­ev­er, obeyed his wish­es. They ground up Indi­an goose­ber­ries and myrobal­an fruit, mixed these with chili and salt, and set them in bowls to feed the monks. When the monks and laypeo­ple who were invit­ed to the funer­al tast­ed this strange con­coc­tion of Ara­hant Muan, they made wry faces and grum­bled. Uncle Jan, a friend of Terk’s, couldn’t endure it and spoke out loud­ly: ‘Hey, Terk. You have such a nice, big house. I didn’t think you were so poor that you are forced to hon­our your late wife with goose­ber­ries!’ Terk was very embar­rassed and didn’t know where to hide his face.

The next morn­ing news spread through the vil­lage that Luang Poo Non, the revered old monk from our vil­lage, had had a ter­ri­ble case of diar­rhea due to eat­ing Ara­hant Muan’s food. Uncle Terk rushed to vis­it him and asked him out of con­cern about his symptoms.

Luang Poo Tawng-In

Ven­er­a­ble, I bow at your feet. How are you?’

Luang Poo propped him­self up weari­ly and replied: ‘My feet are per­fect­ly okay. It’s my stom­ach that has the runs so bad I almost died because of your arahant’s food!’




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