I feel honoured and delighted to write an introduction for this valuable book, The Gift of Well-Being. Ajahn Munindo and I have known each other for almost 22 years. We met in North-east Thailand at Wat Nanachat, a forest monastery established for Westerners following the teachings of the renowned meditation master Venerable Ajahn Chah. When I arrived there, I found a small group of dedicated Buddhist monks practising the Way of Awakening under the guidance of Ajahn Sumedho, the senior western disciple of Ajahn Chah.
I remember thinking that when I first met Munindo he looked very thin. I was touched by his willingness to endure great hardship for the sake of realising a deeper understanding of 'the way things are'. His enthusiasm for contemplation and the wonderful potential of inner transformation helped to fire my own aspiration and commitment to energetically cultivate the Way. In retrospect though I think I was most touched by his friendliness and capacity for empathy in the midst of his own difficult struggle. Soon, I too undertook the training, and as junior monks at the end of the line, we became friends.
There were many challenges in adapting to the austere lifestyle of the forest monk. We ate one meal a day, a diet of often coarse and extremely spicy food. The rigorous schedule of getting up every morning at 3 am, the barefoot alms rounds into the local villages, the cracked and sensitive feet we frequently found ourselves with, the weekly all night meditation sessions, the ubiquitous diarrhoea and various tropical fevers and infections, the heat, the damp, the endless hours of sitting cross-legged on hard concrete floors, the poor complaining knees that weren't trained for this in our culture (Munindo had both knees operated on in Thailand), the ever present creepy-crawlies of the forest that bit, stung, nibbled or invaded our huts, all these conditions and more generated a formidable array of difficulties just on the physical plane. Learning to live in community with many different personalities within the rigorous monastic discipline was not easy. The human mind is capable of rebelling in so many tantalising and exasperating ways, and believe me it did.
One might naturally ask why anyone would persevere with this seemingly alien and uncomfortable way of life far away from home and all that is familiar. In the midst of what might look crazy and hellish arose many moments of joy, a powerful bond of spiritual friendship with one's fellow seekers, and a deepening trust in the value of living simply, heartfully, with awareness. For a while in those early days Ajahn Munindo and I were responsible for ringing the morning gong, and we then slept in the meditation hall to be close by. Late into the night we had many opportunities to share in the hopes and disappointments, the joys and the despairs of our quest. The Buddha once said wholesome friendship is the whole of the Holy Life, and I appreciated then as I do now the immense value of a good friend to help remind us of our potential for realising genuine well-being.
Let me suggest to the reader that you remember this is not really a written book. It is a collection of talks. As you read allow yourself to be open and hear the phrases, the life stories, the situations, the scriptural references, the pregnant silences. This was very much Ajahn Chah's style of teaching. Ajahn Munindo is following in this beautiful tradition of induction. As we listen it is not important to remember or understand everything. We allow ourselves to be touched, listening inwardly to the words and the spaces in between. Just keep reading and listening.
As I hear these talks I feel many moments of recognition resonating deeply in my heart, reaffirming that timeless sense of ease and knowing that is the essence of awareness. There are many treasures here. Essentially Ajahn Munindo is introducing us to the limitless resources of the inner realm of contemplation. He reminds us that in never having met someone who fully trusted themselves, we can become disabled. We then misguidedly seek security in the various conditioned tendencies of our minds, often identifying with the powerful process of judging, that deeply destructive obsession with 'getting it right', robbing us of ever really appreciating how it is. This is contrasted with what we might call the spiritual path of finding well-being and identity in awareness itself.
Meeting someone like Ajahn Chah who was completely at ease with the world triggered something in those who met him, introducing us to the possibility of that well-being within our own heart. Ajahn Munindo insightfully observes that we yearn for this "induction into that place within ourselves that is genuinely trusting and trustworthy." Having received that marvellous gift from our teacher, he is now celebrating the privilege of offering it through his own life.
I am reminded of a time 20 years ago when I was very depressed and discouraged, and I went to see Ajahn Chah. My meditation practice seemed like a complete failure. I was sick, weak, filled with rampant desires, and riddled with doubts. Ajahn Chah said I reminded him of a certain donkey that was enamoured with the beautiful sounds that the crickets made. Wanting to make that lovely music himself, he diligently studied the habits of crickets. He saw that they ate dew drops. Excitedly, having discovered the secret, the donkey began licking dewdrops, by the hundreds. Having worked for quite a while consuming countless dew drops, he figured he could make real music now. So he opened his mouth, took in a deep breath - anticipating the wonderful result - and out it came.
Well, we know what happened. The poor donkey was so discouraged. Blindly wanting and not wanting, we miss the magic of turning within to the nature of our own body/mind, just as it is. The teachings presented here skilfully empower us to trust our own sound, to listen and learn to respect our own voice. They invite us to compassionately hold the struggle, the joys and the sorrows, with a non-judgmental awareness. The transformation that follows is a mystery.
"We already knew we were suffering, but had some idea it was an indictment against us. As the insight of non-resistance to 'struggle' begins to sink in, our whole life changes and frustrations take on a different appearance. They are no longer enemies to be conquered; they are entranceways into an Ancient Path."
May you enjoy this book and discover the treasures of your own heart.
The Buddhist Retreat Centre, Ixopo, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa.
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