“Practice all activities from when you wake up until you sleep- talking, walking, eating, everything- with awareness of the mind. The first time is very difficult but when we practice everyday, the mind goes inside. When it stays in the body, the mind is more pure, more bright and can see more.”
Luang Pe Ak is a Buddhist monk, originally from Thailand. During my last visit to the temple he resides in, I asked some questions about meditation and being a monk. I hope you find our discussion as interesting as I did.
Can you share a little about how and why you came to be a monk?
“When I was young, about 5 years old, I saw the monks at the temple near my home town. I thought ‘Who are they? Why are they monks?’. I asked my mum about it and told her that I would like to learn. It was my dream from that young age to become a monk.”
“Around 7 years later, I was able to join a summer programme for ordination of junior monks. It was a month long and I learnt about meditation and chanting. For hours everyday I chanted. After that month, my memory was better than before. It really improved. Before the program, I had a very bad memory. I couldn’t control my mind. After the program, I felt a change in myself. I could remember what the teachers were teaching me in class. When I took exams, I could recall more information- everything I’d learnt. So, I decided to train as a novice every year in the summer. Many times. Sometimes good, sometimes not good. I slowly started to feel more confident and that is how I decided that I wanted to learn more after finishing high school. I decided to follow the path to become a monk. Bit by bit, I started to feel more confident.”
What advice would you give to people who are interested in meditation but have no idea where to start?
“For beginners, your meditation will sometimes be good and sometimes not good. People have different problems. First we need to know and sort out their problems. Start with the body, not the mind. Invite them for Yoga, massage, spa, light stretching… helping the body to relax. Preparation before meditation. Have a cup of tea, the warm water relaxes the body. Wear comfortable loose clothing. You can play some soft music, very good for meditation. This helps them to relax.”
“For very busy people, those leading a fast-moving lifestyle… maybe just try a little bit first. Take time- 5 minutes. If it’s bad, stop. Reset. Then come back and try again. 5 minutes again, little by little, more and more. It’s very hard to go straight into it and sit for a long time. You have to make sure everything is prepared first.”
“In Thailand, we have three groups that we separate people into for meditation: stressed people, wandering people, sleepy people. You need to know yourself to know what you need for meditation.”
Are there different techniques we can use?
“For a stressed person, they need relaxation time for preparing before meditating. For body stress, prepare using the techniques already mentioned (exercises, yoga, warm bath, sauna, tea). For mind stress, let go of thoughts about responsibilities, think about positive or good deeds, empty your mind and do chanting. Listen to soft music or nature sounds. They shouldn’t try to visualise objects or recite the mantras, just do breathing in and out, slowly and softly.
“Wandering people… those with a wandering mind, can’t stop thinking. Use a bright object. Use a mantra. In Thailand, we would invite them for chanting. When they concentrate on the words it helps the mind focus. You can do this for up to 30 minutes. You can use a bright object in your mind like a candle or dim light. Sometimes I use a picture of the sun on my computer screen. For 1-2 minutes, focus on this and then you can remember the picture when you close your eyes. Concentrate on the inside, not outside.”
“Sleepy people… after 5 minutes they are asleep. It is easy and comfortable but there is not enough concentration which results in sleep. You need more concentration. You need to check yourself… working hard, sleeping late? The Buddha said ‘Go to sleep first’! Sleep enough and then you can meditate. Chanting more can help you concentrate, not just relaxing. We need to make a balance between comfort and concentration- in the middle. You can occasionally move your position to keep you awake and make you sit up. Sometimes eating too much before meditation will make you tired and sleepy. Sometimes too much vigorous exercise beforehand will make you tired too. Hot water helps you relax, so using cold water to wash your face before meditation can help. Keep trying and practicing. ”
Do you have any other advice for people?
“A layperson can do the 5 precepts from the Sutras. It helps you concentrate inside, not on what is happening outside. The monks have 227 precepts so that we concentrate on the mind, not outside too much. Even when eating, we concentrate, not talking too much. When we walk, when we talk, everything. It is helping the mind not to wander too much. When we do the precepts enough, we gain control of the mind. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching… the 5 senses make the mind wander. It takes the mind outside, not concentrating or focusing inside. The 5 precepts help us to regain control. Practice all activities from when you wake up until you sleep- talking, walking, eating, everything- with awareness of the mind. The first time is very difficult but when we practice everyday, the mind goes inside. When it stays in the body, the mind is more pure, more bright and can see more. Inside.”
[He demonstrates pouring water into a glass]
“When the water has these bubbles, you can’t see through to the other side. When we do activities everyday it’s the same. But when the mind is still, water still, we can see clearly. That’s why we need to practice more and more.”
“A long time ago, Yogis practiced how to purify the mind to not be reborn again. Even before the Buddha was born. They practiced Yoga but not just relaxation and body focus, they also concentrated on the mind. How to make it pure. When you teach Yoga for people, if you don’t know what the ‘top’, the ‘goal’, the ‘finish’ is… then you don’t know what’s going on. It is not just about body relaxation but meditation also.”
“The body can die but the Mind cannot die. The more clearly you can see, the more the can see of your own story. The story becomes more clear, not just about your current life, but past lives too. You can see more, further, further. You can hear more. You can hear the cars, the people, trains far away, all the sounds around you… and you can separate the sounds. Don’t just believe me, try by yourself. When the mind is clear, we can achieve what we call Araham.” [Araham = pure mind, free from suffering, one who has eradicated the defilements]
Lp’Ak will be returning to Thailand very soon, we wish him the best of luck in the next chapter of his life as a monk!
BY MARY BARRY