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A Nice Pasture (Q & A)

Ajahn Pasanno

Question: I’ve heard that, in the beginning, Luang Por Chah used to lock the doors of the sala (Dhamma Hall) during the all-night sits.

Luang Por: I wasn’t there for that. But he did make us sit right after the meal in all three of our robes in the hot season! But over time, he came to rely more on wisdom than brute force.

Q: What caused him to make this change?

LP: Well, because he learned that it was better to create the right environment for practice than to try to turn people who didn’t want to practice into practitioners. He had a simile: he said that if you created a nice pasture and cows came in, they would eat the grass. If animals went into the pasture and didn’t eat the grass, then you knew they weren’t cows. So that was his way of saying that if you create a good place for practice, real practitioners will practice. Other people won’t, and there’s no point in trying to change them.

Q: Did he ever provide similes indicating that people can improve?

LP: [Laughs] Well, every simile has a specific point, and it doesn’t work outside of that! He definitely encouraged people and told them they could do it if they tried. They had the teachings and they were in a good environment, so if they tried, they could succeed.

Q: I’ve heard that he often encouraged people to stay in robes even when they didn’t want to. I think Paul Breiter said he needed a lawyer to help him press his case to disrobe.

LP: That’s right, that was at Wat Pah Nanachat. He kept telling Ajahn Chah that he wanted to disrobe, but Ajahn Chah wouldn’t let him! He kept talking him out of it. So after one of those times, he was walking back to his kuti, and as we passed each other, he said, “I need a lawyer!”

Then there was Ajahn Toon. Every year after the rains retreat, he would ask to disrobe, but Ajahn Chah would refuse. This went on for five years—after every rains retreat, just like clock work, there would be Ajahn Toon with his flowers and incense [a traditional offering from a monk to his teacher for important ceremonies]. Ajahn Chah would always talk him out of it or even just get up and walk away. Ajahn Toon ended up staying a monk, and now he’s a really good teacher in the Ajahn Chah lineage.

Q: I heard you were the same way in terms of really trying to keep people in robes.

LP: [Laughs]

Q: I heard that, early on, Ajahn Acalo wanted to disrobe. He said he saw a group of monks meditating for a long period of time, and he told you he didn’t think he had what it took to do that. So you told him that he had other good qualities that some monks didn’t have. You encouraged him that he could make it, and he’s still a monk.

LP: [Laughs]

Q: I’m trying to overcome a sense of self, but my spiritual quest seems to revolve around me trying to attain something. The thought of dropping my self seems like a snake swallowing its tail!

LP: That’s the way it is in the beginning. It’s a process of feeling it out. You have to play with it and work it out over time as you get better and better at it. It’s important in the beginning to be in the right container and have good spiritual friends. These serve as supports. In the beginning, you flail around a lot, but it’s not in vain.

Q: Before the streamwinner experience, are there places where a practitioner can experience the dropping away of the sense of self?

LP: Sure, wherever it arises. Just like any other conditioned phenomenon, the sense of self arises and passes away–it’s just that we’re usually so focused on the next thing that we don’t notice the cessation.

Q: During the streamwinner experience, are all three fetters dropped at once or in stages?

LP: All at once.

Q: Does kamma speed up when you are practicing?

LP: Not necessarily. Kamma has its own way of playing out. There’s a saying that kamma is going to do what kamma is going to do.

Q: The Buddha said that kamma can’t be understood by a normal mind. Are there practitioners who have good enough concentration that they can understand parts of it?

LP: Oh, sure. There are meditators in Thailand with good concentration who can see parts of it. But only the Buddha could understand it completely.

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