Helped by a Deva (Divine Being)

From the Autobiography of Ajahn Mun (1870 – 1949)

Ãcariya Chob spent five years living in Burma, where he learned to speak Burmese as fluently as if it were his own language. The reason he eventually returned to Thailand concerned the Second World War. The English and the Japanese were fighting each other all up and down the countryside – in the towns, the villages, and even in the mountains.

During that period, the English accused the Thai people of collaborating with the Japanese. Consequently, they searched for Thais in Burma, hunting them down with a vengeance. They summarily executed any Thai they found inside Burma, regardless of whether it was a man, a women, or a monk – no exceptions were made.

The villagers that Ãcariya Chob depended on for his daily alms loved and respected him; so when they saw the English soldiers being very meddlesome, they became concerned for his safety. They hurriedly took him deep into the mountains and hid him in a place where they decided the English would not be able to find him. But eventually a contingent of English soldiers did come across him there, just as he was giving a blessing to a group of villagers. The villagers were crestfallen.

Questioned by the soldiers, Ãcariya Chob told them that he had been living in Burma for a long time and was never involved in politics. He said that being a monk, he knew nothing about such matters.

The villagers spoke up in his defense to say that, unlike lay people, monks had nothing to do with the war, so it would be wrong to try to involve him in any way. They warned the soldiers that, should they take any action against him, it would amount to hurting the feelings of the Burmese people who had done nothing wrong. It would unnecessarily damage relations with the local population, which would be a grave mistake. They assured the soldiers that he had been living there since long before the war began and knew nothing about international affairs. Even though their country was now in a state of war, the Burmese people did not view this monk as a threat of any kind. Thus, if the soldiers were to harm him, it would be tantamount to harming the whole of the Burmese nation. The Burmese people could never condone such an action.

The contingent of English soldiers stood talking among themselves about what to do with Ãcariya Chob. After discussing his case for about half an hour, they told the villagers to quickly take him away to another location, for if another army patrol came and spotted him, there could be trouble. Should their pleas be rejected the next time, his life might well be in danger. While the soldiers were viewing him as an enemy, Ãcariya Chob sat quietly, extending forth thoughts of loving kindness and recollecting the virtues of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.

When the soldiers had gone, the villagers took him deeper into the mountains, telling him not to come down to the village for alms round. Instead, each morning they secretly brought food for him to eat. From that day on, patrols of English troops regularly came to bother the villagers. Soon patrols were coming daily to ask the whereabouts of the Thai monk, and it became increasingly obvious that he would be killed if they found him. As the situation worsened, the villagers became more and more concerned for his safety. Finally, they decided to send him back to Thailand by way of a remote forest trail that passed through thick mountainous terrain. This trail was known to be safe from incursions by English patrols. They gave him detailed instructions on how to proceed, warning him to stick to the trail no matter what happened. Even if he found the trail overgrown in places, he was not to attempt a different route. It was an old footpath used for generations by the hill tribes that eventually led all the way to the Thai border.

Jungle PathOnce he had these instructions, he began walking. He walked all day and all night without sleeping or eating, drinking only water. With great difficulty he made his way through this dense wilderness region teeming with all manner of wild animals. Everywhere he looked he saw tiger and elephant tracks. He feared he would never survive his flight from Burma; he was constantly worried that he might make one wrong turn on the trail and end up hopelessly lost in that vast wilderness.

As he crested the top of a mountain ridge, he was so extremely hungry and exhausted that he thought he couldn’t possibly go on. By that time he had been walking for three days and three nights without any sleep or food. The only breaks he had taken were short periods of rest to alleviate the physical stress of such an arduous journey. While dragging his enfeebled body over the ridge, a thought arose in his mind, “I have walked the entire distance to this point risking my life with every breath I take, yet somehow I’m still alive. Since starting out I’ve yet to see a single human habitation where I could request alms food to sustain my life. Am I now going to die needlessly for lack of a single meal? I’ve suffered enormous hardships on this trip – at no other time in my life have I suffered so much”.

“Is it all going to be in vain? Have I escaped war, a sphere of death everyone fears, only to die of starvation and the hardships of this trek? If, as the Lord Buddha declared, there really are devas in the upper realms, possessing divine eyes and ears that can truly perceive at great distances, can’t they see this monk who is about ready to die at any moment? I do believe what the Lord Buddha said. But are the devas, who have received kind assistance from so many monks, from the Buddha’s time until the present day, really so heartless as this? If devas are not in fact hard-hearted, then let them demonstrate their kindness to this dying monk so that their pure, celestial qualities can be admired”.

No sooner had this thought occurred to Ãcariya Chob than something incredibly strange and amazing happened. It was almost impossible to believe. As he staggered along that remote mountain trail, he saw an elegantly dressed gentleman, who bore no resemblance to the hill tribes people of that region, quietly sitting at the side of the path, holding a tray of food offerings up to his head. It seemed impossible! Ãcariya Chob was so flabbergasted by what he saw that he got goose flesh and his hair stood on end. He forgot all about being hungry and exhausted.

He was wholly astounded to see a kind-looking gentleman sitting beside the path about twenty-five feet ahead waiting to offer him food. As he approached, the gentleman spoke to him:

“Please, sir, rest here awhile and eat something to relieve your hunger and fatigue. Once you’ve regained your strength, you can continue on. You’re sure to reach the other side of this vast wilderness some time today”.

Ãcariya Chob stopped, put down what few requisites he was carrying, and prepared his alms bowl to receive the food that the gentleman was offering. He then stepped forward and accepted the food. To his amazement, as soon as the food items were placed in his bowl, a sweet fragrance seemed to permeate the whole surrounding forest. The amount of food he was offered by the gentleman was exactly the right amount to satisfy his needs. And it had an exquisite taste that was absolutely indescribable. This might seem like an extravagant exaggeration, but the truth of what his senses perceived at that moment was so amazing as to be virtually impossible to describe.

When the gentleman finished putting food in his bowl, Ãcariya Chob asked him where his house was located. He said that he had been walking for three nights and four days now but had yet to see a single human habitation. The gentleman pointed vaguely upward, saying his house was over there. Ãcariya Chob asked what had prompted him to prepare food and then wait along that trail to offer it to a monk. How had he known in the first place that there would be a monk coming to receive it? The gentleman smiled slightly, but didn’t speak.

Ãcariya Chob gave him a blessing, after which the gentleman told him that he would have to leave since his house was some distance away. He appeared to be quite different from the average person in that he was remarkably dignified while speaking very little. He looked to be a middle-aged man of medium height with a radiant complexion and behavior that was impeccably self-composed. Having taken his leave, he stood up and began to walk away. As he was obviously an unusual man, Ãcariya Chob observed him carefully. He walked about twenty-five feet, stepped behind a tree, and disappeared from sight. Ãcariya Chob stared at the tree waiting for him to reappear on the other side, but he never did. This was even more puzzling; so he stood up and walked over to the tree to have a closer look – but no one was there.

Had someone been in that area, he would definitely have seen him. But looking around in all directions he saw no one. The strange circumstances of the man’s disappearance surprised him all the more. Still puzzled, Ãcariya Chob walked back and began to eat his food. Tasting the various food he had been given, he found them to be unlike the human cuisine that he was used to eating. All the food was wonderfully fragrant and flavorful, and perfectly suited to his bodily needs in every possible way. He had never eaten anything like it. The food’s exquisite taste permeated throughout every pore in his body which had so long been oppressed by hunger and fatigue. In the end, he wasn’t sure if it was his extreme hunger that made it taste so good or the celestial nature of the food itself. He ate every last morsel of what was offered, and it turned out to be exactly the right amount to fill his stomach. Had there been even a little extra, he would have been unable to finish it.

Having eaten, he set off again feeling incredibly robust and radiant, not at all like the person who was at death’s door a short while before. Walking along he became so absorbed in thinking about the mysterious gentleman that he forgot about the rigors of the journey, the distance he had to walk, and whether or not he was on the right trail.

As evening fell, he emerged from the other side of that vast wilderness just as the mysterious gentleman had predicted. He crossed the border into Thailand with the same feeling of joy that he had been experiencing all day. The mental and physical distress that had tormented him earlier in his journey had disappeared after his morning repast. When he finally crossed into Thailand, the land of his birth, he knew for certain that he was going to live.

He said that the strange gentleman he met was surely a devic being and not one of the local inhabitants. Think about it: From the point where he met that gentleman to the point where he entered Thailand, he encountered not a single human habitation. The whole affair was very puzzling. Ordinarily, one would expect to meet with at least a small settlement of some sort along the whole of that route through Burma.

As it turned out, his evasion of the army patrols had been so successful that he had encountered neither people nor food. It had been so successful that he had nearly starved to death.

Ãcariya Chob said that his almost miraculous escape from death in that vast wilderness caused him to suspect the involvement of divine intervention. Although the wilderness he passed through teemed with dangerous wild animals like tigers, elephants, bears, and snakes, he did never encounter them. The only animals he came across were harmless ones. Normally, someone trekking through such a wilderness would encounter dangerous wild animals daily, especially tigers and elephants. And there was a very strong possibility that that person might be killed by one of those savage beasts. Surely his own safe passage can be attributed to the miraculous properties of Dhamma (Spiritual Truths), or miraculous intervention by the devas, or both.

The villagers who helped him escape were very concerned that he would not survive the threat posed by dangerous wild animals, but there had been no other choice. Had he remained in Burma, the threat posed by the war and the English soldiers was even more imminent. So opting for the lesser of two evils, they had helped him escape from the land of bloodthirsty people, hoping that he would survive the savage beasts and enjoy a long life. Which is why he was forced to make the perilous trek that nearly cost him his life.

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