Virtue as Protection

Ajahn Jayasāro

Virtue as Protection

The idea of virtue as protection is a hallowed one in the Buddhist world. It is a concept that became a cornerstone in Luang Por’s teachings, especially to the laity, and helps to explain the great emphasis he was to place on keeping precepts. It was his firm belief that, in addition to its vital role in the development of peace and wisdom, virtuous conduct long-sustained has an enormous intrinsic power.

Luang Por had experienced a growing sense of integrity and self-respect through his efforts to keep the vast number of monastic observances scrupulously. But, as yet, he had never quite dared to put his convictions in the protective power of his virtue to the test. He believed the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha to be supreme refuges but could not deny his barely suppressed fear of malevolent spirits. Yet on this cool and silent night he felt invincible, ready to take the risk.

The moment Luang Por lay down to sleep he became aware of a chilling and thickening of the air around his glot. A malign presence began to bear down upon him. It was as if it had been lurking, waiting for the young monk to forget his chants; and through his hubris, he had made himself its prey. Suddenly, Luang Por was pinned down on his back, paralyzed. Whatever was crushing him seemed to exude a crude and elemental evil: he realized it was the kind of ghost called ‘pee am’.

As the pressure intensified on his chest, he struggled desperately for breath. Somehow, he managed to maintain his presence of mind. He quelled the feelings of panic. Mentally he recited the word ‘Buddho’ over and over again with great determination. No other thoughts could enter his mind, and Luang Por found refuge in the recitation. The strength of the evil force was immense. Although checked, it put up a bitter struggle.

Eventually, the pressure weakened. Luang Por gradually began to recover movement in his body. It was over. After the shock wore off, there came a wave of exultation. He had survived an ordeal, as bad as his worst dreams, purely through the power of his virtue and meditation on the Buddha. He could ditch his spells.

This incident gave Luang Por’s intellectual conviction in the power of virtue a strong emotional boost. Following it, he increased his care and attention to the precepts in the Monks’ Discipline, restraining himself from even the most minor infringements. It was at this time that he finally plucked up the courage to dispose of his small emergency stash of money. In the Thai Sangha of the time, only the forest monks heeded the Buddha’s prohibition against the receiving and use of money. Luang Por himself, so strict in other areas of the Discipline, had baulked at abandoning the safety net that money provided. But here in Wat Khao Wongkot, he determined that, from now on, there was to be no transgression of his precepts under any circumstances.

This reflection of Ajahn Chah’s is recounted by Ajahn Jayasaro in the book, Stillness Flowing, (pdf) pp. 50-51.