Phra Ajaan Mun Buridatta Maha Thera

Phra Ajaan MunPhra Ajaan Mun Bhuridatta Thera was born in 1870 in Baan Kham Bong, a farming village in Ubon Ratchathani province, northeastern Thailand. Ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1893, he spent the remainder of his life wandering through Thailand, Burma, and Laos, dwelling for the most part in the forest, engaged in the practice of meditation. He attracted an enormous following of students and, together with his teacher, Phra Ajaan Sao Kantasilo, was responsible for the establishment of the forest ascetic tradition that has now spread throughout Thailand and to several countries abroad. He passed away in 1949 at Wat Suddhavasa, Sakon Nakhorn province.

Much has been written about his life, but very little was recorded of his teachings during his lifetime. Most of his teachings he left in the form of people: the students whose lives were profoundly shaped by the experience of living and practicing meditation under his guidance. One of the pieces that was recorded is translated here. A Heart Released (Muttodaya) is a record of passages from his sermons, made during the years 1944-45 by two monks who were staying under his guidance, and edited by a third monk, an ecclesiastical official who frequently visited him for instruction in meditation. The first edition of the book was printed with his permission for free distribution to the public. The title of the book was taken from a comment made by the Ven. Chao Khun Upali Gunupamacariya (Jan Siricando) who, after listening to a sermon delivered by Phra Ajaan Mun on the root themes of meditation, praised the sermon as having been delivered with 'muttodaya' — a heart released — and as conveying the heart of release.

The unusual style of Phra Ajaan Mun's sermons may be explained in part by the fact that in the days before his ordination he was skilled in a popular form of informal village entertainment called maw lam. Maw lam is a contest in extemporaneous rhyming, usually reproducing the war between the sexes, in which the battle of wits can become quite fierce. Much use is made of word play: riddles, puns, innuendoes, metaphors, and simple playing with the sounds of words. The sense of language that Ajaan Mun developed in maw lam he carried over into his teachings after becoming a monk. Often he would teach his students in extemporaneous puns and rhymes. This sort of word play he even applied to the Pali language.

This sort of rhetorical style has gone out of fashion in the West and is going out of style today even in Thailand, but in the Thailand of Ajaan Mun's time it was held in high regard as a sign of quick intelligence and a subtle mind. Ajaan Mun was able to use it with finesse as an effective teaching method, forcing his students to become more quick-witted and alert to implications, correspondences, multiple levels of meaning, and the elusiveness of language; to be less dogmatic in their attachments to the meanings of words, and less inclined to look for the truth in terms of language. As Ajaan Mun once told a pair of visiting monks who were proud of their command of the medieval text, The Path of Purification, the niddesa (analytical expositions) on virtue, concentration, and discernment contained in that work were simply nidana (fables or stories). If they wanted to know the truth of virtue, concentration, and discernment, they would have to bring these qualities into being in their own hearts and minds.1 arahant 2

One can gain a glimpse of Phra Ajaan Mun’s teaching style from the autobiographies of some of his students.  A good example is that of Phra Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo, who wrote in his own autobiography:

"Staying with Ajaan Mun was very good for me, but also very hard. I had to be willing to learn everything anew... Some days he'd be cross with me, saying that I was messy, that I never put anything in the right place -- but he'd never tell me what the right places were... To be able to stay with him any length of time, you had to be very observant and very circumspect. You couldn't leave footprints on the floor, you couldn't make noise when you swallowed water or opened the windows or doors. There had to be a science to everything you did -- hanging out robes... arranging bedding, everything. Otherwise, he'd drive you out, even in the middle of the Rains Retreat. Even then, you'd just have to take it, and try to use your powers of observation.

"In other matters, such as sitting and walking meditation, he trained me in every way, to my complete satisfaction. But I was able to keep up with him at best only about 60 percent of the time."

After Ajaan Lee's second period of training, Ajaan Mun sent him out into the forests of northern Thailand to wander and meditate on his own. Ajaan Lee's wanderings eventually took him through every part of Thailand, as well as into Burma, Cambodia and India. Of all of Ajaan Mun's students, Ajaan Lee was the first to bring the teachings of the forest tradition into the mainstream of Thai society in central Thailand.

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