Wholesome Wednesdays (WW): Bringing you curated positive content on Wednesdays to uplift your hump day.
2 stories for you today!
January has “passed away”, how has the first month been? January was also a month that marked the passing of Ajahn Chah, a famous Thai Forest Monk. We share a story of his teaching and a simple picture on spring cleaning!
1.Our real home: Ajahn Chah’s encouragement for a dying disciple
2. Spring cleaning our social media
Our Real Home: Encouragements for a dying disciple
What’s going on here
Ajahn Chah, a renowned Thai forest monk, gives encouragement to a lay disciple that was passing away. He beautifully encourages the person to be fearless as life ebbs away. It is worth a listen and read especially for those of us who are with someone facing death.
Why we like it
Ajahn Chah uses the nature of things to skillfully cast out fear for his disciple. He makes you ponder deeper about where our true home is. We can spend this year chasing the external material stuff or this year developing ourselves. We are often paralysed when loved ones are diagnosed with a terminal illness or facing their end. Hence, this provides a balm to the questions we might have about dying.
“The river that must flow down the gradient is like your body. Having been young your body has become old and now it’s meandering towards its death. Don’t go wishing it was otherwise, it’s not something you have the power to remedy. “
Where is our real home? Are we developing it daily or are we putting energy into things that eventually fall apart? By reflecting deeper, may you find the energy to develop your mind for the rest of the year!
Ghost Month Series: This series explores different angles of the 7th Lunar Month, also known as the Ghost Month. Festivals, Cultures, and Religions often mix together in one place, offering space for different interpretations. We, like you, are keen to explore more. Discern what is helpful to your practice and discard whatever is not.
TLDR: Cultivating a harmless and blameless way of life gives you internal confidence in the face of fear. We can also try to practice compassion towards supernatural beings, in place of fear.
If you clicked on this article because you read the title and thought “that’s me!” – there is no shame. I feel like most people have some level of fear around the supernatural – even those who claim to believe in scientific evidence, who say they don’t believe in ghosts. Put anyone in a graveyard in the middle of the night and all rationality goes out the window!
When I was a kid, I was definitely afraid of ghosts.
When I told my mum this, she said something like: “If you never do anything bad, why would they need to come after you?” She always said this with such conviction and fearlessness.
Her statement was a teaching in sīla (morality). It’s the idea that when we take care of our speech and conduct, we offer the gifts of harmlessness and fearlessness to ‘limitless numbers of beings’. In return, we gain a share in this freedom from harm and danger (see AN 8.39).
I once heard a story from my Ajahn, a monk from the Thai forest tradition, who said that one shouldn’t practice in the forest if one’s sīla is not well-kept. He told of an incident where an Ajahn brought a group of monks to stay in the forest for a few days. In the end, all the monks made it out except two who had died during the journey. When asked why this happened, the Ajahn replied that it was because they did not have good sīla.
In case you didn’t know, the Thai forest Ajahns are super hardcore. They live in deep forests with nothing material for protection, putting their lives on the line to do the practice – that’s the depth of their faith in the Buddha and his teachings.
That may have made you go ‘sure anot’, but I resonate with it because I’ve seen the impact of practising sīla in my life. When I was younger, I had a lot of fear around the idea of supernatural beings. But I found that as I grew up and started practising Dhamma, that fear began to reduce and a sense of confidence began to grow. In situations where fear arises (e.g. alone in my apartment at night, in a dark forest on a retreat), I recollect my sīla. Knowing that I have done my best to keep my precepts well and to live a wholesome life helps to soothe that fear.
Since I consistently put in effort not to harm other beings, I have no reason to be harmed or to fear being harmed. It’s reassuring, and not in a ‘wishful thinking’ kind of way – it’s a sense of real confidence in my actions and their results.
Good Vibes Are Important
I believe that cultivating wholesomeness creates wholesome energy. OK, this may sound a bit like hippie flower child stuff but hear me out.
Have you ever been to a monastery or church and the energy there just feels serene and safe? I think it’s because the activities and intentions carried out there are peaceful and wholesome, and this translates into the energy of the place.
In 2019, I stayed at Wat Buddha Dhamma (WBD) in New South Wales for a retreat. This monastery was located deep in the forest of a national park and there were times where I felt fear walking from the meditation hall back to my hut in the dark of the night, with only my torch and the moon for some light. But I realized that this fear was all in my mind; there were probably no beings around that would harm me. That’s because I could feel that the energy of the monastery was light and wholesome, given that all activities there were aimed towards peace.
I think wholesome energy is important because energy attracts and influences, a bit like how we attract or gravitate towards like-minded people. If one constantly aims to cultivate wholesomeness in thought, speech and conduct, this is bound to permeate one’s surroundings. A good example is a friend of mine who has had many (sometimes aggressive) encounters with ghosts throughout their life.
Recently, they noticed that since performing more acts of generosity and wholesomeness, they haven’t been visited by such beings lately.
Perhaps a good landmark example of the importance of “good vibes” can be found in the teachings of the Buddha: In the time of the Buddha, there was a group of monks who were disturbed by certain beings when they tried meditating in a particular forest. When they went to the Buddha and informed him of this, he taught them the Discourse on Loving-Kindness (Metta Sutta) for their protection.
The monks then went back to the forest, practised this instruction, and radiated thoughts of loving-kindness, so much so that the beings were subdued by this and allowed them to meditate in peace.
What are Ghosts Really?
I think movies and stories throughout human history have created a universal perception of ghosts as scary beings that pop up out of nowhere and want to kill you for some reason. But actually, what is a ghost?
The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated every July of the Lunar calendar in Chinese culture. It is believed that during this time, ghosts are allowed to come to earth for a visit… In my mind, the concept that ghosts wait all year to ‘come out’ only to hang around for one month and then obediently ‘go back’ to where they came from is pretty funny. I think ghosts are everywhere all the time since they’re just another type of being in one of the 31 planes of existence according to Buddhist teachings.
They are born into this lower realm because of past unwholesome deeds or the lack of wholesome deeds. They are in a state of constant deprivation, equivalent to beggars or homeless people in the human realm who need help because they don’t have enough to fend for themselves.
Based on the principle of rebirth, these beings could even be people we knew, such as departed relatives and friends, who may come to us looking for help.
If we keep this in mind, then we don’t need to be afraid – what they need from us is compassion and merit.
I have another friend who often has supernatural encounters at home. It’s come to a point where we no longer speak about these beings in a taboo or fearful way; they are like any other being in need of help. Following the Buddha’s advice, my friend makes offerings on behalf of them and shares the merit with them as an act of generosity and compassion.
The Bottom Line
If you took nothing else away from this article, just remember this: continue cultivating wholesome qualities and abandoning unwholesome qualities, and trust in the strength of that for protection.
Mindfully watch the fear in your body.For me, fear arises in the heart space like a sharp, cold sensation. Centring your attention on bodily sensations can help you focus on the reality of the fear rather than the narratives in your mind being fueled by it.
Recite the Metta Sutta and emit thoughts of loving-kindness.
Handful of Leaves and Kusala Mag are in collaboration to share Inspiring stories sprinkled with Buddhist wisdom.Kusala Mag’s interview with Conor is reproduced in full here:
Kyle had the pleasure of chatting with Conor Beary, who has been actively involved with VWB, an NGO that is committed to creating opportunities for local economic development through the empowerment of community capability.
Cr: Conor Beary
How did Volunteer Without Borders (VWB) come about, and what does it mean to you?
VWB evolved from a collaboration between Track of The Tiger T.R.D (A provider of experiential education and registered tour company) a local community determined to protect their rights over their community forest, and local authorities that wished to preserve the forest from poachers and loggers.
Since its establishment in 2011, Volunteers Without Borders has partnered with Track of The Tiger and various communities in northern Thailand to provide volunteers and tourists with opportunities to improve the standard of living for many in less fortunate circumstances.
On a personal level, VWB has shown me the value of communication, teamwork, empathy and problem-solving in addressing the real complex issues which communities around us face. Through VWB I can make positive contributions to causes I hold dear and further develop as an individual. I see VWB as an organisation that acts as a catalyst for change, both internally and externally.
How many trees have been planted since the beginning?
The agroforestry project in Mae Wang has benefitted from the planting of over 6,000 NTFPs (Non- Timber Forest Products) over the last twelve months. Unfortunately, the pandemic has slowed our progress considerably, but aim to get back on track again soon.
How do you think growing up in Northern Thailand has affected your view of nature and your efforts to preserving the environment?
Growing up around Track of The Tiger T.R.D my brother and I was exposed to outdoor excursions and environmental conservation activities since young. Subsequently, it didn’t take long for me to develop a preference for the outdoors! Growing up in such an environment provided me with opportunities to develop physical skills essential to the development of a child.
The various environmental conservation activities taught me to apply empathy not only to other individuals but also to the environment.
The list of benefits derived from being around nature is extensive, and seemingly, everyone draws different positives. From my perspective, the outdoors and nature has always been a great source of entertainment. Mountains, rivers, forests, caves and seas all have their unique intrigue. Over the last couple of years, I’ve found that spending time to run activities at these sites, particularly environmental conservation activities have been eminently fulfilling.
As a result of our love for nature, one of our goals at VWB is to use our actions, whatever they may be, to make positive contributions to the environment or communities we are involved with.
Do you think Buddhist teachings can be a part of the solution to environmental issues? If yes, how can we relate that to it?
I certainly believe that Buddhist values and teachings can be applied as part of the solution for the environmental concerns which we face. Buddhism teaches us to love the world around us, and perform good deeds for the environment in which we live, just as we would for ourselves. However, to truly address the complex problems posed by environmental degradation over the past few centuries we must work with an open mind, utilising empathy and communication to integrate the teachings which are familiar to us with foreign ideas and values that may help us solve our dilemma.
Cr: Conor Beary
Can compassion be applied to nature?
Compassion can be applied to everything in life. If you’re willing to consider being compassionate to the people, animals and matters around you then compassion may become a part of your unique mindset, and may gradually alter your perspective of a multitude of subjects.
The Dalai Lama once said “ Compassion can be roughly defined in terms of a state of mind that is nonviolent, non-harming, and nonaggressive. It is a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility and respect towards others.”
After analysing compassion from this point of view we can see that compassion can, and in my opinion, should be applied to others and nature.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered, and are perhaps still encountering while setting up and running VWB?
Running a non-profit organisation can prove extremely challenging. I am only a piece of the puzzle here and am fortunate enough to benefit from the help of everyone involved with us. As a volunteer organisation, we’re always looking for funding and volunteers who can help us achieve our objectives. The Covid-19 pandemic has made this task even more difficult.
In what ways can people actively get involved in your organisation?
We want to use WVB as a platform for driving change in our local communities. Eventually, I hope that VWB will be able to fund education for those less fortunate, provide economic incentives for locals to preserve their local forests and help educate student groups through volunteering activities. We want to act as a catalyst for the change we wish to see in our communities.
Any act of kindness you’ve ever experienced during your VWB activities?
I’ve been on the receiving end of kindness during VWB activities several times. It is difficult to single out any one moment as my favourite, but kindness from the members of the community in which you are trying to assist often leaves a lasting imprint in your memories.
During our first tree-planting event at the agroforestry project in Mae Wang, locals hustled and bustled all day to ensure that we would be able to perform our duties to the best of our abilities. Their genuine smiles and words of encouragement serve as ample motivation.
If there is a message for the world, what would it be?
To practice empathy extensively. To actualise the changes you want to see in your community you must first understand those within them.
Volunteers Without Borders (VWB) is a non-profit foundation established as a vehicle to provide volunteer funding and hands-on support for communities and schools, under its unique approach to Community Based Ecotourism (CBET) development. We are convinced that the solution to establishing viability for CBET lies in establishing a private sector driven pilot project that is successful in delivering: financial, social and environmental benefits on a scale that will force governments and the private sector to reconsider ecotourism and biodiversity conservation over the non-sustainable, but purportedly more profitable (short term) options of forest encroachment for agriculture, mining, logging and exploitation of the forest product.
Alternatively, hop over to Kusala Mag for more of such amazing stories!