Ajahn Mun Bhuridatta

Mun Bhuridatta

Ajaan Mun Bhuridatta Thera (มั่น ภูริทตฺโต), 1870-1949, was a Thai Buddhist monk who is credited, along with his mentor, Phra Ajahn Sao Kantasilo Mahathera, with establishing the Thai Forest Tradition (the Kammatthana tradition) that subsequently spread throughout Thailand and to several countries abroad.

Biography

Early years

Ajahn Mun was born on Thursday, January 20, 1870, in a farming village named Baan Kham Bong, Khong Jiam, on the western bank of the Mekong River, in present day Si Mueang Mai District, Ubon Ratchathani Province of northeastern Thailand (Isan). Khong Jiam is located in a triangle of land where the Mun River flows into the Mekong River, as the Mekong turns east and flows into Laos. He was born into the Lao-speaking family of Kanhaew with Nai Kamduang as his father and Nang Jan as his mother. He was the eldest of nine children: eight boys and one girl.

Mun was first ordained as a novice monk at age 16, in the local village monastery of Khambong. As a youth, he studied Buddhist teachings, history and folk legends in Khom, Khmer and Tham scripts from fragile palm leaf texts stored in the monastery library. He remained a novice for two years, until 1888, when it was necessary for him to leave the monastery, at his father's request.

Entering monkhood

Ajahn Mun was fully ordained as a monk at age 22, on June 12, 1893, at Wat Liap monastery in the provincial city of Ubon Ratchatani. Venerable Phra Ariyakavi was his preceptor. His announcing teacher was Venerable Phra Kru Prajak Ubolguna. Mun was given the Buddhist name "Bhuridatta" (meaning "blessed with wisdom") at his ordination.

After ordination, Mun went to practice meditation with Ajahn Sao of Wat Liap in Ubon, where he learned to practice the monastic traditions of Laos. Ajahn Sao taught Mun a meditation method to calm the mind, the mental repetition of the word, "Buddho." Ajahn Sao often took Ajahn Mun wandering and camping in the dense forests along the Mekong River, where they would practice meditation together. This is known as "thudong" in Thai, a name derived from the term "dhutanga", which describes a number of specialized ascetic practices. One of the first long distance thudong was a pilgrimage to Wat Aranyawaksi in Thabor district, Nong Khai Province. At the time, Wat Aranyawaksi was a ruin, an abandoned, overgrown temple in the jungle. Ajahn Mun spent a year in "illumination" in the teak forest around the temple at this early part of his monastic life.

In 1899, Ajahn Mun was re-ordained in the Thammayut Nikaya, a reformed Thai sect which emphasized monastic disciple and scripture study. Having practiced under the guidance of his teacher for several years, and with his teachers blessings, Ajahn Mun went out on his own to search for advanced meditation teachers. During the next several years, he wandered extensively throughout Laos, Thailand and Burma, practicing meditation in secluded forests. Ajahn Mun and Ajahn Sao went on pilgrimage together in 1905 and venerated the Phra That Phanom shrine, a center of Theravada Buddhism for centuries, most sacred to the Lao people.

Thudong alone

Ajahn Mun then wandered alone, onward to the north, to Sakhon Nakhon Province on the highlands of the northeastern Plateau, inland from the Mekong River, into the Phu Phan Mountain Range. Today, a museum to Ajahn Mun is located here in the temple residence of Wat Pa Sutthavat, in the city of Nong Han Luang.

He then wandered on toward Udon Thani, into a region that was a wild forest filled with prehistoric caves. He continued his wandering pilgrimage deeper into the wildernesses of Loei, a land dreaded and feared by the Thai people, who describe it as "beyond" and "to the furthest extreme" of the world. This rugged wilderness along the Mekong consists of mountains, and extremes of weather, both cold and hot.

To Burma

In 1911, Ajahn Mun decided to walk to Burma in search of a highly attained meditation teacher who could help him in his struggle for enlightenment. He walked by stages from northeast Thailand down to Bangkok, through the wilderness mountain ranges.

He made his way into Burma and visited the Shwedagon Pagoda among other sites. During his stay in Burma, he did indeed make contact with meditation teachers who were capable of giving him the guidance he was seeking in order to develop the correct meditation practices that would lead to higher attainments. Unfortunately, the names of these meditation teachers were never recorded. Ajahn Mun spent the Rain Retreat of 1911 at Moulmein in lower Burma, in the Mon states. He was deeply affected by the morality and generosity, and strong monastic discipline of the Mon and Shan people he met in Burma.

Back to Central Thailand and Isan

In 1912, Ajahn Mun spent the Rains Retreat at Wat Sa Pathum (now known as Wat Pathum Wanaram) in Bangkok, where he received instructions and advice from His Eminence Phra Upali of Wat Boromnivasin. After Rains Retreat, he journeyed up to the town of Lopburi and stayed in various caves such as Phaikwang Cave, Mount Khao Phra Ngarm, and Singho Cave, where he practiced intensive meditation.

In 1913, Ajahn Mun stayed in Sarika Cave at Great Mountain (Khao Yai) in Nakhon Nayok. It was during this time, at age 43, when he attained anagami, according to the biography written by his disciple Luang Ta Maha Bua. Ajahn Mun spent the next two or three years living at this location in the Khao Yai Mountains. He struggle with a mortal life-threatening illness during these years. A chapel shrine to Ajahn Mun is located at this cave today and is a major pilgrimage site.

In 1915, Ajahn Mun spent the Rain Retreat at Wat Sapathum in Bangkok, and frequently walked to a nearby temple to hear sermons by Ajahn Jan, an important high-ranking monk.

From here, Ajahn Mun returned to the rural districts of northeast Thailand. In 1918, he spent Rains Retreat in Wat Burapha, on the outskirts of Ubon city. He remained at the same monastery for the Rain Retreat of 1920. For the next five years he wandered throughout the northern districts of upper Isan region: Sakhon Nakhon, Udon Thani, Nong Khai and Loei.

Ajahn Mun was increasingly recognized as a highly gifted teacher during these years, and attracted growing numbers of disciples among both monks and laypeople. In 1926 he was accompanied by a group of 70 monks in a "thudong" south to Daeng Kokchang Village, Tha Uthen District, heading toward Ubon.

A controversy engulfed Ajahn Mun and his disciples at this time. The monastic authorities in Bangkok were in the process of imposing reforms intended to standardize and centralize the sangha, and were pressuring the wandering forest monks to settle down in temples and become "productive" members of society. Monastic administrators were suspicious of these apparently "vagrant" monks who lived in wild forests and jungles, beyond the realm of civilization. Ajahn Jan, the monastic administrator of the province, ordered the people to withhold support from the wandering monks. Several of Ajahn Mun's disciples were taken into custody by civil authorities under suspicion of vagrancy.

Ajahn Mun became increasingly concerned by the encroachments of modern ways that threatened the traditional monastic customs he had been trained in. He began to think of leaving his homeland in order to seek more remote regions beyond the reach of modernizing influences of Bangkok authorities.

In 1927, Mun was in Ubon teaching monks and laypeople in Wat Suthat, Wat Liap, and Wat Burapha. He made arrangements for his aging mother, and then took leave of his family to go wandering into the direction of the Central Plains region of Thailand, not certain of his destination. He wandered by stages across the barren lands and sparsely populated lands of central Isan, sleeping under the occasional shade tree, receiving alms food from the poor rice farmers along the way. When he reached the rugged, wild mountains and jungles of Dong Phaya Yen Forest between Sara Buri and Nakhon Ratchasima provinces, he rejoiced at the flora and fauna of nature.

To Northern Thailand

In 1928 he spent Rains Retreat at Wat Burpha in Ubon. After Rains Retreat this year, he left northeast Thailand and didn't return again until the final years of his life. He went first to Bangkok, and then traveled north to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces, where he remained in meditation retreat for the next 12 years of his life.

He was acting abbot of Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai during 1929, appointed under the direction of Bangkok authorities. When his superior, Phra Upali died this year, Ajahn Mun fled his temple without notifying either his dependent monks or the monastic authorities in Bangkok

The following years, Ajahn Mun established a meditation retreat on the eastern slope of Chiang Dao Mountain, and frequently spent time meditating in the sacred, remote Chiang Dao caves. Initially, he wandered through the Mae Rim district of Chiang Dao mountain range, staying in the forested mountains there through both the dry and the monsoon seasons that year.

Ajahn Mun was again in Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai in 1933. From here he went wandering into Burma throughout the Karen and Shan states.

From 1932-1938, Ajahn Mun practiced meditation in a variety of locations throughout the forests and mountains, in solitude with little contact with people. These years of solitary retreat into the rugged, inaccessible wilderness are very significant in the biography of Ajahn Mun. According to his disciples, he is said to have attained enlightenment or "become an Arahant" during his time in retreat here among the hill tribes, in mountains that hold a unique position in the shamanistic traditions of Thailand.

He spent Rains Retreat of 1935 in Makkhao Field Village in Mae Pong District. In 1936 he spent the retreat near Puphaya Village among the hill tribes. Then the following year, he was in Mae Suai District, Chiang Rai, among the Laui tribes.

Back to Isan

In 1940, at age 70, Ajahn Mun began the return journey to his homeland of Isan in northeast Thailand, in response to the persistent urging of his senior disciples. He first traveled down to Bangkok, then northward to Korat. He lingered in vast mountain jungles of Nakhon Ratchasima, staying at Wat Pa Salawan.

When he arrived in Udon Thani late in the year of 1940, he stayed at the temple Wat Boghisamphon where his disciple Chao Khun Dhammachedi was presiding abbot. From there he went to Wat Non Niwet for Rains Retreat.

After the rains retreat of 1940 he went wandering in the countryside in the vicinity of Ban Nong Nam Khem village, revisiting the familiar landscapes of his youth. Even at the age of 70, he was still able to take care of himself and get around in the wild environments.

In 1941 he spent the Rains Retreat at Wat Nan Niwet monastery in Udon Thani. After rains he traveled to Sakhon Nakhon and first resided at Wat Suddhawat Monastery. He then moved to a small forest monastery named Pheu Pond Hermitage near the village of Ban Na Mon. Pheu Pond Hermitage was in a very remote forest, far into the wilderness, three or four hours walk from the nearest village. (It is today named Wat Pa Bhuridatta in honor of Ajahn Mun.)

Ajahn Sao Kantasilo Mahathera, Mun's first teacher as a new monk, died in 1942. Ajahn Mun moved to reside even deeper into the forest. At age 75, Ajahn Mun decided to settle permanently at his Pheu Pond Hermitage in the deep forest, at the head of the Phu Phan Mountains, near Sakhon Nakhon. Due to his failing strength, he was unable to wander into the forests. Ajahn Mun passed away in 1948 at Wat Suddhavasa in Sakhon Nakhon Province. He attracted an enormous following of students and, together with his teacher Ajahn Sao, founded the Thai Forest Tradition (Kammatthana) currently practiced throughout Thailand and in several countries abroad.

Forest meditation

Ajaan Mun's mode of practice was solitary and strict. He followed the Vinaya (monastic discipline) faithfully, and also observed many of what are known as the 13 classic dhutanga (ascetic) practices, such as living off alms, wearing robes made of cast-off rags, dwelling in the forest and eating only one meal a day. Searching out secluded places in the wilds of Thailand and Laos, he avoided the responsibilities of settled monastic life and spent long hours of the day and night in meditation. In spite of his reclusive nature, he attracted a large following of students willing to endure the hardships of forest life in order to study with him.

See also

Further reading

  • The Customs of the Noble Ones by Thanissaro Bhikkhu describes the Thai forest tradition started by Ajaan Mun.
  • Taylor, J.L., 'Forest monks and the nation-state', Singapore: ISEAS 1993
  • Tiyavanich, Kamala, Forest Recollections
  • Maha Boowa, Patipada: The Mode of Practice of Venerable Acariya Mun
  • Acariya Maha Boowa: Venerable Acariya Mun Bhuridatta Thera, a Spiritual Biography. Wat Pa Baan Taad 2003, Baan Taad, Amphoe Muang, Udon Thani, 41000 Thailand (no ISBN, available at this address, or 4MB pdf-download here)

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