forest feature 63 winter 1998In late 1936, a student of Ajaan Mun named Thet spent a meditation retreat by himself near a Lahu village on a mountain in northern Siam. He was about thirty-four years old then and had been wandering in the wilds for many years. Hearing a tiger’s growl was nothing new, but this time, alone in a hut outside the village, he was stricken with fear:

I sat down to meditate, but my mind wouldn’t focus. At the time I did not know that the mind was terrified of the tiger. My body sweated so much that perspiration streamed down…Why all the sweating when it was so cold? Spread the robe and kept covered but the body kept trembling. The mind was too exhausted to meditate. When I was about to recline, the tiger roared again. I was shaking as if I had a jungle fever. Only then did I realize that the mind refused to focus out of sheer fright. Immediately I sat up and cajoled my mind to have courage to face death if it came. Then the mind becomes calm… At times when hearing the tiger again my mind simply ignored its roar. Like the wind making contact with an object, it’s just noise.

Thet’s experience confirmed Ajaan Mun’s belief that living among tigers and hearing them roar nearby was the best thing that could happen to a thudong monk. Fright was the response of the ordinary, untrained mind, while the mind with knowledge and insight into the Four Noble Truths knows the tiger’s growl as simply sound.

Photo by Valmik Thapar.

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