Dec 30, 2018
(5 out of 5 stars)
the path to becoming an arahant
Author: Venerable Acariya Maha Boowa Nanasampanno
(August 12, 1913 - January 30, 2011)
Pages: 113 pages
Publisher: Forest Dhamma Books
Publication date: 2005
Location: Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery, Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Download/Read the book: Arahattamagga Arahattaphala
About my book reviews
In order for me to ensure that I understood what I read, I don't only write a review, I summarize the book and underscore essential sections that resonate with me. Thus, my book reviews are loooong. -- Gigit
anicca - impermanence
Arahattamagga - the path to emancipation
Arahattaphala - the fruition of Arahantship when the mind is completely free and no longer removes mental defilement (kilesa). Without kilesa, Arahattamagga and Arahattaphala arrive together at Arahantship
avijja - ignorance
citta - within the body, it's the mind and the heart. The citta does not arise or pass away; it is never born and never dies
dukkha - suffering
khandhas - group of physical and mental elements that give sensation to craving and aversion - body, thought, memory, consciousness and feeling together with the 5 senses - taste, sight, smell, hear and touch
kilesa - mental defilement
panna - wisdom. Usually a result of mindfulness (sati) and investigation into the sensation or phenomena while applying incisive powers of reasoning. Mindfulness and wisdom are powerful partners and can penetrate to the truth of all phenomena.
rypa - the physical parts of the human body
samsara - an uninterrupted succession of births, deaths, and rebirths
sanna - memory
sati - mindfulness
vedana - feelings or sensation
sankhara - thoughts
vinnaoa - consciousness
What is an Arahant?
An arahant (arahat, arhat), in the Buddhist Theravada traditions, is anyone who has achieved enlightenment and reached Nirvana. He is free from rebirth and will no longer be reincarnated. But, he is not yet Buddha...but very close to becoming one.
Acariya Maha Boowa Nanasampanno
Ajahn Maha Bua is not just a self-proclaimed arahant, but widely regarded in all of Thailand as such. He is arguably one of the most popular monks in the country. He passed on not too long ago (2011) but his legacy is here to endure and benefit generations to come.
DIY Guide to becoming an Arahant
I stumbled upon this book while doing my 10-day meditation retreat at Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery. This is one powerful book about an arahant's account of his meditation journey - his challenges, what he has achieved and the wisdom learned along the way. It serves as a blueprint for a meditation path to those who wish to go deeper into their practice.
Here, the monk-author describes having a meditation word to anchor his meditation focus. His word was Buddho - a traditional epithet for the Buddha usually chanted like a mantra during the in-breath and the out-breath. Buddho became the sole object of his attention. At some point, he attained clarity and stillness of mind where Buddho wasn't even needed. Having attained that though, he was lost. What would he use to anchor his meditation with, if Buddho wasn't even needed? He started defaulting back into awareness.
In the passing days, he would straddle between Buddho and awareness with increasing beneficial results until he reached Samadhi - an intense state of focused awareness, assuming a life of its own, independent of any meditation technique. (It is important to note that the Buddho has been instrumental in getting the author to this point - Samadhi. But now in Samadhi, the purpose of Buddho as a meditation anchor has already been served. There is no more need to invoke Buddho.) With continued practice, Samadhi built into an unshakable solid inner foundation where everyday thoughts and emotions are no longer desired. The mind remains peaceful and contented with no external thought. The feeling of continuous Samadhi is so concentrated that meditators either get attached to it or mistake it for Nibbana.
Pain, Body and Knowing-Self
He would meditate continuously for long hours without feeling the body...until he experienced intense pain. His mindful investigation led him to this new wisdom - that the body, pain and the knowing-self (citta) are 3 independent entities. Pain cannot exist without the citta allowing it - therefore, it is in our capacity to stop the pain. Upon realizing that, pain completely stopped.
A Repulsive Body?
I don't agree with the author 100%. He claims the human body is repulsive - that it is ugly and only masked on the outside by a deceptively attractive skin, but within, it is an amalgamation of fluids, flesh, bones and ligaments. He describes the body as, "ruinous defilement spreading its noxious poison everywhere". (He is really talking about sexual aversion. I guess as a monk, he has to find ways to neutralize his sexual impulses (kamaraga). I, on the other hand, celebrate the human body. The body is a reverential altar to be held inviolate of impurities - no drugs, nicotine or alcohol (well, maybe a beer or two). Needless to say, I enjoy the company of the opposite sex - thus, I cannot belong to any monastic order.)
Samadhi vs. Wisdom
In the quest for wisdom, when the mind is relentlessly investigating the phenomenon, returning to a state of Samadhi seems wasteful and unproductive. But Samadhi is necessary - even if the mind has to be coerced into it. The mind needs to take rest. Samadhi is an essential and indispensable complement to wisdom. When balance is achieved between Samadhi and Wisdom, then the mind is optimized to pursue its continuing investigation.
Brain vs. Heart
The brain is merely an instrument that human consciousness uses. When the knowing nature of the mind (citta) enters into a deep state of calm and concentration (samadhi), the conscious awareness that is normally diffused throughout the body simultaneously converges from all areas of the body into one central point of focus at the middle of the chest - the heart. The knowing quality manifests itself prominently at the heart and not from the brain. Although the faculties of memorization and learning arise from the brain, direct knowledge of the truth arises from the heart. Progress in meditation is experienced and understood in the heart - and only in the heart. The true seat of consciousness is in the heart. (It is interesting to note that when arahantship has been attained, the seat of pure bliss no longer comes from the heart. The bliss has no discernible point of origin. It seems to be everywhere.)
The mechanistic view that when the brain dies, consciousness ceases, is entirely wrong. Consciousness does not come from the brain. The brain is simply a complex organ that processes sensations (thoughts, feelings, memory) but it does not produce consciousness.
Mindfulness (sati) and Wisdom (panna)
Mindfulness and wisdom are perhaps 2 of the most powerful allies in meditation. Through mindfulness, we become the Knower. And being aware, we investigate body sensations with a calm and non-reactive mind. This investigation leads to insight and wisdom. Together, mindfulness & wisdom forge their way through mental defilements (kilesa), cravings, aversions, etc. until they are understood for what they are and extinguished.
SN Goenka talked about the non-self anatta. He cited that anatta is such an advanced concept to be introduced to beginners. In the following order, he suggested that beginners should first be taught impermanence (anicca), then suffering (dukkha) and only when the student understands both should the concept of non-self (anatta) be taken. These are the 3 basic characteristics of existence.
I agree from experience. Early on in my yoga practice, the non-self was always underscored by the teachers. Together with everyone else, I just nodded but didn't really understand what it meant. I seriously doubt if the teachers themselves also know what it meant. It was one of those popular lines that kept getting repeated in yoga classes. Without being grounded on impermanence and suffering/craving, the concept of non-self is too abstract.
Citta is the mind's essential knowing nature, but is often contaminated by activities within itself such as suffering, blame, happiness, good, evil, praise, etc. Citta is where the awareness, mindfulness and wisdom happens. Citta is what is left after death and left to wander from birth to birth - the citta doesn't die (so, is the citta the soul that survives death?). The citta complies to the karmic rules - rebirth or ascension. Once an arahant, the citta is released from the rule of karma. Conventional reality ceases to exist and the true nature of the citta is realized. Hmmm...sounds like the Holographic Universe Theory that says reality as we know it is simply a simulation. The citta is free from all the contaminants and become pure - free from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
The 3 Levels of Separation within the CittaFor as long as we have ignorance, we refer to body/thought/feelings as the I or me. Liberation is only achieved when the self is no longer present. Abstract? Yes, it is. To experience full liberation, the citta needs to shed the following:
4 Grades in Humanity
Dhamma vs Kilesas (Supreme Truth vs Mental Defilements)
Within the heart, 2 opposing forces are at play - dhamma and kilesas. We are in between...between a rock and a hard place. Through meditation, Dhamma gains strength to overpower the mental defilements until they are completely removed from the heart and mind (citta). Then the citta is free from the shackles (the citta has always been there). When this happens, the body and heart react powerfully...tears flow as the universe seems to tremble and quake.
It took me nearly a year to finish this small book - from Dec 2018 to now, Sep 2019. I started out in Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery, continued to Hanoi, back to Thailand, then Ho Chi Minh City, back to Thailand, Hanoi again and back to Chiang Mai. Whoa! But it seems like where I am on the book was timely with what I was going through. Uncanny!
In the beginning when reading the book, I could not fully understand what was being said. Some were too abstract. But as I came close to the book's ending, it all started to come together and make sense. But to fully grasp the entire content of the book, I had to start reading again, but this time, already knowing the big picture, so things that started out as abstract now fell into its proper place to reveal the bigger picture.
What particularly helped me with this book is that the author provides a step-by-step articulated personal narrative to complement the meditation text-books. I could then understand the teachings at the day-to-day-life level and not from 50,000 feet above sea level. When I read other ascendant masters talk about an altered state of being so high up that it defies human description, I now have a clearer understanding of what that it, and where in the process this is taking place. His personal tale is compelling blueprint for a seeker like me as he puts flesh and blood and human struggle into the difficult path of deepening a meditative practice that transcends textbook descriptions and definitions. I now know the pitfalls, the traps and what to do with them. For anyone serious about becoming an arahant, or simply deepening their meditative practice, this is an indispensable resource.
-- Gigit (TheLoneRider)
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Goodbye and Thank You
Mae Hong Son (city), Thailand
Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery Blogs
- 20 Days of Monastic Life at Wat Pa Tam Wua Dec 12, 2018 - Jan 1, 2019
- Peoplescape at the Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery Dec 12 - Jan , 2019
- Arahattamagga Arahattaphala - the path to Aranhantship Dec 30, 2018
- Goenka and the Theravada Forest Monastery Vipassana Traditions Dec 25, 2018
- The Knower Dec 24, 2018
- 10-Day Meditation at Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery Dec 12, 2018 - Jan 1, 2019, 2018
Wat Pa Tam Wua Forest Monastery Information
Bangkok to Wat Tam Wua Forest Monastery by Bus
- go to Mo Chit Bus Terminal near Chatuchak. Bus #509, #9 and #157 go there
- at the ground level, go to Ticket Counter #13, #14 or #15 - Sombat Tour counter
- schedule and pay for your bus ticket
1 Destination/Origin: Mae Sariang. Take the bus that passes through Chiang Mai/Pai.
- upon boarding, explain to the driver to drop you off Wat Tam Wua Monastery, otherwise, you might end up in Mae Hong Son town which is 30 minutes further out. Best to show him a written instruction in Thai.
- from the main road, it's a one kilometer walk to the monastery
FYI / Tips
- even though the Wat Pa Tam Wua website states that you need the abbott's permission to stay, you can just go straight there without any prior booking or registration.
- accommodation, food (no dinner), blankets, pillow, white shirts/pants and floor mattress will be provided at no charge. Donations are accepted.
- BEWARE: by the entrance to the monastic compound is a convenience store. It is not run by the monastery. The vendor offers Mae Hong Son/Pai tours without any quotation and charges exorbitant fees in the end. He also tells people that part of the fee goes to the monastery - this is not true. He has been reprimanded already but still, he continues his shady business.
- floor mattress on hard bed provides no cushioning. If this is a problem to get good sleep, you can bring an inflatable camping mattress (usually 1-inch cushioning and not too bulky to bring)
About Mae Hong Son
FYI / Tips
- Mae Hong Son Airport has flights to Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Chiang Rai, Mae Sot, Hanoi (Vietnam), Laos (Luang Prabang, Mandalay, Naypaytiaw, Vientiane) and Yangon (Myanmar)
Travel Tips for Thailand
How to Get a 60-Day Thai Tourist Visa and then Extend by another 30 Days
This process is BEFORE Covid 19. Not sure what it is now.
- Bring the following to the Thai embassy:
a) proof of money (bank statement will suffice)
b) flight booking to Thailand
c) onward flight back to your country from Thailand
d) filled-in tourist visa form
e) 2 passport pictures
f) hotel booking in Thailand (they didn't ask me for this but better be safe)
g) passport with at least 6 months validity
- After handing over all the documents, they will ask you to come pick your passport with the visa the following day from 4 to 5pm. That's it!
- NOTE: after 2 successful attempts, I was already questioned the 3rd time.
60-Day Thai Tourist Visa
NOTE: There is no need to go back to your country to get the Thai tourist visa. Any major city with a Thai Embassy will do. Apparently there is also no need to have an invitation from a Thai establishment to justify the visa.
- bring the following to the Immigration Office:
a) passport (make sure your Tourist Visa hasn't expired yet)
b) Baht 1900
c) photocopy of your passport + visa duration date stamp + TM6 card (white immigration card) and sign all the copies
d) completed TM7 visa extension form (available at the Immigration Office)
e) one 4cmx6cm passport picture
- submit the above to the Front Desk. They will give you a stub with your number on it. Take a seat and wait for your number to be called
- when your number is called, your picture will be taken. Then go back to your seat. They will call you again.
- when they call you again, they'll give you your passport with your extended visa. That's it!
- when there are no lines, the whole process can take only 10 minutes
NOTE: When your 60-day visa is close to expiry and you want to extend your stay. No need to leave Thailand.
Book Train Tickets in Thailand
Book Train Tickets in Thailand Online by Train36.com
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
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