Transformative Experience of Ajahn Liem

By Desmond Yeoh SC

Ajahn Liem was a disciple of Ajahn Chah who was made the acting Abbot of Wat Pah Pong when Ajahn Chah became too ill to continue to lead the monastery. When Ajahn Chah passed away, the community of monks in Wat Pah Pong appointed him as their Abbot.

The following experience by Ajahn Liem is from his biography, “No Worries”. The book did not describe it as enlightenment but it certainly appears to be so. Whether it is or not, the experience did result in a significant transformation in Ajahn Liem.


Ajahn LiemAround the middle of the rainy season in 1969, Ajahn Chah encouraged the monks to practise with special intensity. They weren’t supposed to speak to each other and the communal morning and evening meetings for chanting and meditation were cancelled. Ajahb Chah saw that it was the time to give the monks more opportunity to do practice on their own. So Ajahn Liem increased his efforts and as he did so, results became evident. On the ninth of September around 10:00 p.m. he experienced an immense transformation in his mind. He had a feeling of extraordinary brightness and happiness, of which he reports, “It is impossible to describe this kind of happiness to someone else. It is impossible to make someone else know and understand it. It isn’t the happiness of getting things according to one’s wishes and not the happiness because things are agreeable; it’s the kind of happiness that goes beyond these two. Walking is happiness, sitting is happiness, standing is happiness and lying down is happiness. There is the experience of delight and joy all the time. Furthermore, one is able to uphold the knowledge in one’s mind that this happiness arises completely by itself and eventually will vanish by itself. Both sukha (happiness) and dukkha (suffering) in an experience like this are still entirely impermanent states. I was able to maintain the knowledge of this fact all the time. In every posture – standing, walking, sitting and lying down – there was a continuous and equal experience of happiness. The state was the same whether I was doing sitting or walking meditation”.

“If one were to try to describe the mind in this state one could say there is brightness, but the word “bright” actually doesn’t describe correctly what the experience is like. It is as if there is nothing that can make the mind get involved with anything. This experience lasted for a day and then changed again”.

“Then the mind became utterly peaceful, not at all exhausted, tired or sleepy, but filled with clarity, radiance and coolness, imbued with various kinds of delight and rapture. This experience lasted completely without reference to time. It was truly “akāliko”, timeless. The same feeling continued on through all the four postures. Eventually I asked myself: “What is this?” and the answer was: “A mode of the mind.” It is like this in itself. When there is happiness, we simply take it as happiness; it is simply a matter of happiness. When there is peace we simply take it as a matter of peace; and we just look at our happiness on and on and we just look at our peace on and on; unremittingly”.

Eventually on the evening of the 10th of September a change to something new that Ajahn Liem hadn’t experienced before took place. A feeling of weariness, frustration and fatigue took over. Whenever he sat or walked he felt sleepy. Even after he got up after having rested the tiredness remained. In each posture he felt completely exhausted. It got to the point where he fell asleep while he was doing walking meditation and ran into some thorns. His whole face became scratched and sore. “At least the sleepiness will disappear now,” he thought, but the fatigue continued to remain as strong as before. Still he endured, telling himself that it is natural to face obstacles in the practice, which to some extent everybody needs to pass. With these reflections in mind he understood that he needed to look at this tiredness that previously hadn’t been present. After all, this fatigue just arose, so it was impermanent too. Using this insight, he attempted to maintain awareness of the sleepiness.

On the eleventh, Ajahn Liem experienced another change, namely, a great peace and happiness returned to his mind. In all four postures there was clarity and gladness. Simply being by himself was very pleasant. Nothing could intrude and stir up his mind. External objects impinging on the mind just couldn’t reach it. When working together with the monks and novices

during chores, although he was together with others, he felt the same as if alone. He wasn’t interested in what they were talking or chatting about. He couldn’t be bothered to think much about what was happening at all, and when the chores were finished, he simply went back to his hut.

The next day passed with the ongoing happiness and peace continuing as if it was a normal and ordinary experience. With unceasing attention, Ajahn Liem continued to look at both his mind and the objects of his mind. When the evening of the twelfth approached, he started to question himself: “Why do we actually practise; What’s all this practice for?” And the answer arose; “We don’t practise for anything, we practise for the sake of practice. Whatever it will lead to doesn’t matter at all. Our duty is to practise, so we practise and try to maintain mindfulness and awareness with it. In each moment we keep teaching ourselves. Whatever we are doing, we try to have mindfulness and awareness. Whether we are walking to or fro, we keep everything in a state of perfect balance”.

Ajahn Liem said, “Finally I felt I had done enough walking meditation for that day, because I became quite tired and my feet already hurt very much. The bones of my feet felt like they were piercing through the skin, as I had been walking the whole day and night without rest. It is normal to experience painful feelings in the body if we overuse a single posture. But it is also normal that feelings change again, so I thought, it’s really enough walking meditation for today. I went up to my hut, put on my robe with the right shoulder open and the outer robe folded over the left shoulder, sat down facing east (the same direction as Ajahn Chah’s hut), thought of my teacher and started meditating.”

The meditation was very peaceful and the same reflection as before came up in Ajahn Liem’s mind: “We don’t practise for anything, we practise for the sake of practice.”

“Keeping this teaching in my mind, I kept on meditating. Normally I would sit meditation until about 10 or 11 p.m. and then stop to have a rest, but on this day I continued sitting for about eight hours without moving or making the slightest change in posture. With this experience of peace, the mind changed. The feeling of peacefulness shot up and pervaded throughout the whole body, as if something were taking hold over it. It felt cool, a coolness that suffused the whole body; so very cool; an experience of the whole body becoming completely light and at ease. The head felt so cool the whole day and night, as if there was a fan blowing over it. Cool, peaceful, quiet and still. No experience of thoughts at all, and no clue at all where they had disappeared. Everything silent, completely. It felt totally quiet. The only experience left was that of utter peace and stillness. The body felt tranquil, cool and light”.

“This experience continued on throughout the whole year, not just for a day or two. In fact, it has continued on unchanging for many years, all from that one go. There is the state of coolness, as if in the brain, whether sitting or lying down, coolness in every position. All worries, concerns or similar thoughts from the thinking mind are totally gone. Thinking in this or that direction ceased. All quiet, just like a forest where there isn’t the slightest sound of any bird singing. Truly quiet. No wind blowing at all. Just ongoing tranquillity and peace.”

“It feels like there are no thoughts, no proliferations of the mind. All the suffering that arises with kilesas (mental defilements) that had bothered me before, the kilesas concerning the other sex or all kinds of ambitions that I had before, I don’t know where they all disappeared. Seeing somebody, I just had the feeling of seeing it as absolutely normal. To see a person as simply a person: just that much. No beautiful persons, no ugly persons – people simply would be specifically the way they were. This is the kind of peace and tranquillity that arose. I don’t know what it was, but I also didn’t care what it was, always knowing it is like this by itself in just this way”.

“It is like this through peacefulness and tranquillity. There isn’t anything to be concerned about, as far as how various things exist. As concerns dukkha (suffering), I don’t know what dukkha is like. As concerns laziness, I don’t know what laziness is like. Questioning myself about laziness, there wasn’t any. Questioning myself about dukkha, there wasn’t any. The feeling inside my heart was exactly like this”.

“I tried to recall and pin down that which is called dukkha. What is it? I really don’t know. I only know how they discern the meaning in terms of conventional language, because dukkha is just something created by common conventions. When the mind has no dukkha, all conventions whatsoever don’t exist in the mind. And the experience of this feeling has lasted on continuously all the time since then; there has been no change all the way up to the present day. This same state still lasts on, and it has been stable, continuous and without changes.”

%d bloggers like this: