March 19th, 2010, Canadian Bhikkhu Ajahn Tiradhammo, abbot of Bodhinyanarama Temple of the Ajahn Chah lineage gave two talks for us at the Tawana Hotel, Bangkok. He should need little introduction – many of his talks are available on the internet and he is well known. Somehow keeping his Thai in shape despite many years away from Thailand, the first talk was in Thai to an audience of 95 people. That is quite a number considering it was 4 in the afternoon on a Friday, when the Red Shirts were parading in Bangkok. And when people are loosening up for their Friday night out …
After an hour break he came back to do a talk on the same topic in English. For those of us who stayed for both talks (about 15 people) the English version took on some different ideas from the earlier talk. Roughly 160 people were attending. It was probably the largest audience of non-Thais we have had at any of our talks so far.
Suffering, he said, can be divided into three main kinds. ‘Real’ suffering mostly from the body, but also including the mind. Then a second level [the ‘second arrow’ as it is known] which is the mental suffering we pile on to our situation. It is the tendency to make small things very big to ourselves. Then there is existential suffering, as the third level.
Echoeing the Ajahn Cha tradition, he said that suffering is not to be avoided, but that you must find the real cause. Then you find that you can have suffering, but there is noONE who is suffering from it.
Ven Kusalo, the attending Sri Lankan monk, mentioned afterwards that many of the senior teachers in the Ajahn Chah tradition often quote or relate their talks to Ajahn Chah rather than to the Buddha. Perhaps Ajahn Chah spoke more directly to people than scriptures do … or perhpas this is testement to a more profound influence that this teacher from Isan had on those who met and practised with him.
We skipped meditation in favour of time with Ajahn Tiradhammo – it is not that often we have a visiting senior monk, and we can meditate together other days (Mondays!). There were a few questions, including ‘what is the difference between thinking and reflecting’, and what is kamma and how does it affect the Atman, which was a short question with a longer answer than we had time for. And how to practise when your health forces you to take strong medicines that make mindfulness hard to keep up.
Ajahn Tiradhammo is an engaging speaker, and we are grateful to him for giving us his time. Thanks also to the Tawan Dhamma Club for their ongoing support – all the tea/coffee/snacks provided free of charge, and the staff who set the room up and managed the desks, sound system etc.. We are lucky to have such support.
As a footnote, at Ajahn Tiradhammo’s last talk for us in June last year at Baan Aree, was a young man (depends how old you are if you think he was ‘young’!) called Christian, who asked about the grieving process when you have lost someone close (his partner had just died of lymphoma). That was Christian’s first experience of Buddhism, and he took to it very quickly, attending a 10 day retreat at Wat Kow Tahm, and all the workshops and dhamma talks he could. Last month he went to hospital with a fever and died 2 weeks later – exact cuases were unclear. It serves as a reminder to us all to take up the practise while we are still able.