Past Enlightened Masters can Still Return and Guide us

From the Autobiography of Ajahn Mun (1870 – 1949)

The following story from the Autobiography of Ajahn/ Ãcariya Mun, who was a Buddhist Enlightened Master, provides evidence that past enlightened masters (referred to as Arahants in the Buddhist tradition) can still return and guide us on our spiritual path.

The story touch on ‘kilesas’. These are mental defilements or negative mental habits such as greed, jealousy, pride, hatred and so on. They are habitual thinking patterns conditioned into us from birth and we recognise them as factors that brings suffering but yet we entertain these ‘kilesas’ and react to them, time and time again, as if we are helplessly under their control. We regret our actions but the next time our kilesas commands it, we react in the same negative manner again. We will learn from this story that the basic goal of One’s spiritual practice is to defeat these kilesas and not allow them to ever control One’s life again.


forest during day

Living in Sarika Cave, Ãcariya Mun was occasionally visited by sãvaka Arahants, who appeared to him by means of samãdhi nimitta (psychic visions during deep meditation).  Each sãvaka Arahant delivered for his benefit a discourse on Dhamma, elucidating the traditional practices of the Noble Ones. Here is the substance of the teaching from one of the Arahant:

Walking meditation must be practiced in a calm, self-composed manner. Use mindfulness to focus your attention directly on the task you have set for yourself. If you’re investigating the nature of the khandhas[1] or the conditions of the body, or simply concentrating on a specific Dhamma theme, then make sure mindfulness is firmly fixed on that object. Don’t allow your attention to drift elsewhere. Such negligence is characteristic of one having no solid spiritual basis to anchor him, and thus lacking a reliable inner refuge.

Mindful awareness should attend each and every movement in all your daily activities. Don’t perform these actions as though you are so sound asleep that you have no mindful awareness of how your body tosses about, or how prolifically your sleeping mind dreams.

Going on your morning alms round, eating your food, and relieving yourself: in all such basic duties you should adhere strictly to the traditional practices of the Lord Buddha’s Noble disciples. Never behave as though you lack proper training in the Teaching and the Discipline. Always conduct yourself in the manner of a true samaõa (Buddhist Monk) with the calm, peaceful demeanour expected of one who ordains as a disciple of the Lord Buddha. This means maintaining mindfulness and wisdom in every posture as a way of eliminating the poisons buried deep within your heart.

Thoroughly investigate all the food you eat. Don’t allow those foods that taste good to add poison to your mind. Even though the body may be strengthened by food that’s eaten without proper investigation, the mind will be weakened by its damaging effects. By nourishing your body with food that is eaten unmindfully, you will, in effect, be destroying yourself with nourishment that depletes your mental vitality.

A samaõa must never endanger his own well-being or the well- being of others by shamefully accumulating kilesas; for, not only do they harm him, but they can easily mushroom and spread harm to others as well.

In the view of the Buddha’s Noble disciples, all mental defilements are to be greatly feared. Utmost care should be taken to ensure that the mind does not neglect to check any outflow of the kilesas, for each one acts like a sheet of fire destroying everything in its path.

The Noble Dhamma, practiced by all of the Lord Buddha’s Noble disciples, emphasizes scrupulous self-discipline at all times and under all conditions – whether walking, standing, sitting, lying down, eating or relieving oneself; and in all of one’s conversations and social interactions. Inattentive, undisciplined behaviour is a habit of the kilesas, leading to unwholesome thoughts, and thus, perpetuating the cycle of birth and death.

Those wishing to escape from the cycle of rebirth should avoid such deplorable habits. They merely lead deeper into the abyss, eventually causing one to become that most undesirable of persons – a wretched samaõa. No one wishes to partake of wretched food; no one wishes to reside in a wretched house; and no one wishes to dress in wretched clothes, or even look at them. Generally, people detest and shun wretched things – how much more so a wretched person with a wretched mind. But the most abhorrent thing in the world is a wretched samaõa who is ordained as a Buddhist monk. His wretchedness pierces the hearts of good and bad people alike. It pierces the hearts of all devas and brahmas without exception. For this reason, one should strive to be a true samaõa exercising extreme care to remain mindful and self-disciplined at all times.

Of all the many things that people value and care for in the world, a person’s mind is the most precious. In fact, the mind is the foremost treasure in the whole world, so be sure to look after it well. To realize the mind’s true nature is to realize Dhamma (spiritual truths). Understanding the mind is the same as understanding Dhamma. Once the mind is known, then Dhamma in its entirety is known. Arriving at the truth about one’s mind is the attainment of Nibbãna (enlightenment).

Clearly, the mind is a priceless possession that should never be overlooked. Those who neglect to nurture the special status that the mind has within their bodies will always be born flawed, no matter how many hundreds or thousands of times they are reborn. Once we realize the precious nature of our own minds, we should not be remiss, knowing full well that we are certain to regret it later. Such remorse being avoidable, we should never allow it to occur.

Human beings are the most intelligent form of life on earth. As such, they should not wallow in ignorance. Otherwise, they will live an insufferably wretched existence, never finding any measure of happiness. The manner in which a true samaõa conducts all his affairs, both temporal and spiritual, sets a trustworthy example to be followed by the rest of the world. He engages in work that is pure and blameless; his actions are both righteous and dispassionate. So, endeavour to cultivate within yourself the exemplary work of a samaõa, making it flourish steadily, so that wherever you go, your practice will always prosper accordingly. A samaõa who cherishes moral virtue, cherishes concentration, cherishes mindfulness, cherishes wisdom and cherishes diligent effort, is sure to achieve that exalted status of a full-fledged samaõa now, and to maintain it in the future.

The teaching that I give you is the dispensation of a man of diligence and perseverance, a spiritual warrior who emerged victorious, a pre-eminent individual who completely transcended dukkha, freeing himself of all fetters. He attained absolute freedom, becoming the Lord Buddha, the supreme guide and teacher of the three worlds of existence.

If you can understand the special value this teaching holds for you, before long you too will have rid yourself of kilesas. I entrust this Dhamma teaching to you in the hope that you will give it the most careful consideration. In that way, you will experience incredible wonders arising within your mind, which by its very nature is a superb and wonderful thing.

A sãvaka Arahant having delivered such a discourse and departed, Ãcariya Mun humbly received that Dhamma teaching. He carefully contemplated every aspect of it, isolating each individual point, and then thoroughly analyzed them all, one by one.

As more and more sãvaka Arahants came to teach him in this way, he gained many new insights into the practice just by listening to their expositions. Hearing their wonderful discourses increased his enthusiasm for meditation, thus greatly enhancing his understanding of Dhamma.

Ãcariya Mun said that listening to a discourse delivered by one of the Buddha’s Arahant disciples made him feel as if he was in the presence of the Lord Buddha himself, though he had no prior recollection of meeting the Buddha. Listening intently, his heart completely full, he became so absorbed in Dhamma that the entire physical world, including his own body, ceased to exist for him then.

The citta (mind) alone existed, its awareness shining brightly with the radiance of Dhamma. It was only later, when he withdrew from that state, that he realized the oppressive burden he still carried with him: For he became conscious again of his physical body – the focal point where the other four khandhas come together, each one a heavy mass of suffering on its own.

During his lengthy sojourn at Sarika Cave, Ãcariya Mun entertained many sãvaka Arahants and heeded their words of advice, making this cave unique among all the places where he had ever stayed.


[1] Comprising of form (or physical body) (rupa), sensations (or feelings, received from form) (vedana), perceptions (samjna), mental activity or formations (sankhara), and consciousness (vijnana)

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