The Body may Deteriorate but the Mind can Remain Unshakeable

From “Stillness Flowing”

Towards the end of his life, Ajahn Chah was bedridden and he could not speak a word. However, the stories below suggest that despite his deteriorating condition, his mind still remained strong, bright and alert until his final breath.


Whatever the case, most of Ajahn Chah’s disciples took as their refuge the belief that he had finished his work and had gone beyond all mental suffering. They learned to see the decay of his physical body as perhaps their greatest teacher of the truths of old age, sickness and death. Even silent and bedridden, Ajahn Chah provided them with profound teachings on impermanence, suffering and not-self. And Ajahn Chah’s physical condition was not the whole story by any means. While his body might be seen and reflected upon by anybody with a good pair of eyes, the state of his mind remained invisible to all but the most gifted meditators. But every now and again, unusual events occurred that reminded everyone that Ajahn Chah was no ordinary patient.

One of the first of these occasions occurred when, just prior to the day of the Queen’s visit in 1983, a four-man army security team arrived in the monastery. Monks watched them with some bemusement as they searched for weapon stashes and land mines. One soldier carried a large radio pack on his back and checked radio communication links sector by sector. On reaching the Nursing Kuti, the attendants asked the soldiers to take off their boots. The soldiers ignored them and conducted their search, showing scant respect even for the old sick master they found in the inner room.

Once outside, the radio operator tried to make contact with headquarters. He was surprised to find the radio dead. The soldiers walked back towards the main gate, and as they did so, the radio began to work again. However, on their return to the Nursing Kuti, it went dead once more. The puzzled soldiers asked the attendant monks if there was some magnetic field around the kuti. The monks said that they did not think so.

The soldiers started to become anxious. If they did not radio their HQ from these coordinates in the next few minutes, they would get into trouble. One of the attendants offered a suggestion. He said that the way they had burst into the kuti earlier had seemed very rude and disrespectful. They should take off their boots, bow to Ajahn Chah and ask for his forgiveness. With some reluctance, the soldiers agreed. At the very moment their heads touched the floor, the radio squawked loudly and came back to life. White-faced, the soldiers asked for forgiveness with genuine feeling.

Another event, witnessed by Ajahn Nyanadhammo, occurred during the crisis of 1987. Ajahn Chah was in the Intensive Care Unit at Ubon hospital and looked certain to die. Ajahn Liem was already preparing the funeral arrangements. Ajahn Chah was on oxygen and lying there very still. The doctors checked the oxygen intake, and they could find no measurable breath.

They took the mouthpiece off, shook the gauge, thinking there was something wrong with it. They tried it on another patient, and it was working normally. But when they put it back on Ajahn Chah, they could still find no measurable breath. They began to worry he might be brain dead. They took a blood sample and were amazed to find that the oxygen level was completely normal. They said to Ajahn Liem, ‘This just doesn’t make sense. He’s not breathing, there’s no measurable pulse, and yet the oxygen level in his brain is normal.’ Ajahn Liem just said, “He’s entered jhāna (deep Samadhi)”.silhouette of person in green grass under the sun during daytime

But most moving to the attendant monks were the words of Ajahn Chah’s great contemporaries who visited him at the Nursing Kuti. On one occasion, Ajahn Phut, the most well-known living disciple of Ajahn Sao, asked for some private time to meditate by Ajahn Chah’s bedside. On emerging from the room, he said to the monks present, “Ajahn Chah’s mind is like the full moon. It is very radiant. His mind is peaceful and still at all times. But when he is offered food or someone attends on him, he is aware at every moment. He knows everything that is going on.”


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