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Noble Beings and Common People

There is one interesting anomaly in the Buddha's praise of Venerable Mahā Kassapa as foremost in 'dhuta-guṇa', or ascetic virtues. Of the 13 dhutaṅgā, ascetic practises, there was one of them that Venerable Mahā Kassapa would actually never follow. He would not follow the practise of going on alms-round 'house-to-house' without showing favouritism to certain areas. Stories in the suttas and the commentaries show that he would almost always go to the same areas again and again on alms-round – the slums, ghettos and barrios of Rājagaha.

The wilderness tradition in Thailand has taken Venerable Mahā Kassapa as a guiding example in many ways, and this particular sympathy with the poor and marginalised is one of the quiet characteristics of the tradition.

Luang Pu Chorp Ṭhānasamo

Luang Pu Chorp told his close disciples that he could actually recollect a previous life when he had ordained as a novice monk with Venerable Mahā Kassapa himself, during the time of the Buddha. Luang Por Plien Paññapadīpo has related that when he stayed with Luang Pu Chorp, Luang Pu wouldn't let the monks go for alms-round to the nearest village. They always had to walk in another direction, to a farther village behind the monastery. This village was very poor and didn't have much in the way of food to give – the monks had to develop endurance and contentment with these very basic rations.

When asked why the monks should go to this village when the people were already poor, Luang Pu Chorp flipped the question on its head: he explained that other villages were already prosperous, and that was because the people there had cultivated virtues of generosity in the past. The people in the poor village were the ones most in need of the opportunity to create goodness, and thus prosperity, through generosity. He was doing it for their future happiness, and for the training of the monks.

Her Majesty Queen Sirikhit of Thailand became a devoted supporter of Luang Pu Chorp, and grew to love him as a teacher more than any other monk. One time when she went to pay respects to him, she said she was building a kuti in the palace grounds and would like to invite Luang Pu to come and reside there out of compassion. Luang Pu replied that most of his students and disciples were poor farmers and, if he were to live in the palace, they would never get a chance to see him. So although he held her intentions in the highest regard, he could not accept the offer. He would continue to live among the county-folk.

Luang Pu Lui Chandasāro

Luang Pu Lui was another early-generation disciple of Luang Pu Mun and Luang Pu Sao, and was good friends with Luang Pu Waen Suciṇṇo. One time while he was visiting Luang Pu Waen at Wat Doi Mae Pang, he heard the news that the King and Queen of Thailand were coming to pay their respects. He quickly gathered his requisites and slipped off into the forest.

When the King and Queen came, Luang Pu Waen laughed and told them how Ajaan Lui had run away because he claimed he didn't know how to talk to royalty (there is a special vocabulary for talking to royalty in Thai). The Queen, showing her sincerity in Dhamma, was genuinely hurt, exclaiming: "But... we're just like normal people! He can talk to us just like we're normal people!" Afterwards she had her office make inquiries to track down where Luang Pu Lui had gone to, and made a point to go and visit him right away. She became a regular supporter of his until his death.

Luang Pu Dteu Acalo

The wariness that monks are supposed to have towards gain, fame and praise dovetails quite nicely with their sympathy for poorer and marginalised folks. Luang Pu Dteu was so naturally coarse and unusual, however, that Luang Pu Mun had to actually warn his other disciples not to criticise him too heavily, since he was very advanced internally. This next story illustrates all those points and should come with a 'don't try this at home' warning! (NSFW)

For the last 4 years of his life, Luang Pu Dteu returned to live out his days in his home village in Nakhorn Phanom province. One day at mealtime, a well-dressed city woman entered the eating hall with plates of sumptuous food to offer. Luang Pu immediately stood up, turned his back and exposed his buttocks, asking: "Why have you come here? What do you want?"

The poor woman, confused and facing the prospect of answering to old Luang Pu Dteu's bare buttocks, got flustered and quickly left. Once he sat down, the local villagers there asked: "Luangta, why did you do that? – she had some really nice food on those plates..."

Luang Pu replied: "Nevermind! Sticky rice and papaya salad is easier on my asshole!"

Luang Por Noo-Pin Ṭhānuttamo

Luang Por Noo-Pin was a close disciple of Luang Pu Waen. One time he was told about the Thai government's plan to eradicate poverty and he practically snorted with derision: "What? All of a sudden the world is going to be flat, no high and no low – there won't be any mountains or valleys anymore? Ha! That's impossible!"

The modesty and asceticism of wilderness monks, and their affinity with the poor and marginalised, tends to have a 'socialist' effect on society – deflating worldly pretensions and creating a rising tide of goodness that floats even the lowest boats. But as Luang Por Noo-Pin points out, inequality is a truth of nature. The Buddha never said that all beings are created equal – in fact he said the opposite: that all beings are differentiated by their kamma. In this way, the Thai wilderness tradition approaches the different kind of suffering of different classes of people differently, and leads them to create the kind of good kamma that they need the most.

This is one of the most interesting social issues and effects of the tradition.

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