A 'Tough Guy' Who Was Afraid of Tigers-
Let What You Are Afraid of Be
Your Trainer and Teacher

Extract from biography of Venerable Phra Acharn Mun
Compiled by Ven. Phra Acharn Maha Boowa Nyanasampanno


The Venerable Acharn's help to his disciples was not limited by time and place. It depended on when his help was needed for a particular case at a particular time.

He once spoke frankly to a disciple, saying, 'You had better go and meditate in that cave. It will be better than staying here. You require strong treatment. There is a tiger in that cave that will give you the kind of treatment needed by such a stubborn bhikkhu as you. With the tiger as your instructor, you might be able to learn something more. You are afraid of tigers, so you must welcome him as your trainer and teacher. One who is afraid of ghosts must also accept them as his trainers. This is the right way of self-training.'

That bhikkhu had been known as a 'tough guy' when he was a layman. He was bold and frank and rather stubborn. Having been given this 'strong' treatment, he decided to do as he was told, reasoning to himself that that Venerable Acharn would not send him to his death.

'Come what may, I must go,' he said to himself, 'for then I'll be able to see the truth of the Venerable Acharn's words. It's known that the Venerable Acharn never says anything without careful thought. His "words always carry some hidden meaning. He has shown that he knows our thoughts very well. He must also know what will happen to me in that cave, otherwise he would not have told me to go there. I'm going to go. If I die there, well, it's time for me to die. But if I don't die, I may realize something which is unknown to me now. He has given me a hint. Now I'm going to do what he has told me to do.'

Having made up his mind, he dressed himself fully [in all his robes] and approached the Venerable Acharn to take leave of him.

'Where are you going?' the Venerable Acharn asked him.

'I'm going to meet my death in that cave!' that bhikkhu answered outright.

'I didn't tell you to go and die there! I told you to go there for the sake of your mind-development';' the Venerable Acharn said.

'It's true that you didn't tell me to go there to die, but I have learnt from others that there is a large ferocious tiger living in a cave not far from the one to which I am going, and that my cave is on the path it takes to and from its cave every day. That tiger has also been in and out of my cave. I am afraid that it may really kill me. That's why I answered you the way I did.'

The Venerable Acharn then asked him why, despite the fact that so many bhikkhus had stayed in that cave, no one had ever been bothered by the tiger. "Do you think that tiger will find your flesh to be more delectable than those others will?' he asked. The mind is a clever magician. It is full of tricks and guiles to lure or frighten an aspirant away from his goal. Without sincere and ruthless self-criticism an aspirant would never be able to discipline or develop his mind. 'This is only at the outset,' he warned that bhikkhu, 'and you have already been hypnotized by the whispers of defilements. Do you think you can survive this ordeal with this? You haven't even encountered death yet, so why are you afraid of it? I will tell you the truth. It is birth which is the original cause of death. Why aren't you afraid of birth? Everyone craves endless births, despite the face that one birth is enough to produce untold suffering. Were one man able to branch out like bamboo, he would be more than happy to do so without even thinking of death, which surely would bring about fear capable of consuming him a hundred times over.

'You are a practicing Buddhist! Why should you be so afraid of death, perhaps even more so than an untrained layman? Why do you succumb to the attack of defilements so easily until you are now at your wit’s end? You have your mindfulness and wisdom! Why don't you make use of them and silence the whispers and threats of the defilements so that their tricks and guiles may be uncovered?

'Only on the battlefield can the warrior's victory be won. If you are afraid of death, it's no use going to war. It's only through fearlessly facing death that victory can be won. If' you genuinely hope for the Cessation of Suffering, you must know that fear of death is a kind of suffering which you impose on yourself, and you must rid yourself of it on the battlefield where you will be able to see the evil of your self-imposed suffering. This is far better than surrendering yourself to the whisper of the defilements and being under its yoke for eternity.

'Just make up your mind what you will choose to believe: the dharma and the instruction of your Acharn, or the whisper of the defilement’s that tigers are everywhere just waiting to make a meal of you. I instructed and disciplined myself in this way with the result that is evident to you now. May you make the correct choice for yourself.'

That bhikkhu's mind seemed to be relieved of its burden and filled with ecstasy at the Venerable Acharn's frank and straightforward instruction. He prostrated himself before the. Venerable Acharn, and, having taken leave of him, delightedly set out for the cave.

Still ecstatic, he arrived at the cave, and, having put down his requisites, he looked around to see where he could take shelter for the night. In a flash his eyes began to play tricks on him. He caught sight of the tiger's paw marks at the mouth of the cave, and then there was a whispering in his ear, 'There is a tiger living here!' The defilements then took possession of him and he felt as if he were being overwhelmed by the madness of fear. Gone were the ecstasy and courage obtained from the Venerable Acharn's instruction. What filled him now was chilling fear, which was overwhelming and which resisted all efforts to neutralize its power. He tried to reduce it by erasing the paw marks, but the fear was still there—it was in his mind, not in the paw marks. Fear stubbornly attached itself to his mind.

Throughout that night and all the next day he was plagued with this 'unsolvable' problem of fear. With the coming of night once again, his fear increased and it seemed that that place was literally alive with tigers. He was then consumed by the chill fever characteristic of malaria which added physical suffering to the mental and made that place a real hell on earth for him. But he was, after all, to be praised because he did not give up his effort, despite repeated failure and disappointment.

He kept on fighting against his own fear by various means while suffering intensely from fever symptoms. Whenever he recalled the Venerable Acharn's instructions he was for a time encouraged, and fear subsided. When the fear later increased in. its intensity he was emboldened in facing danger and death.

'I made up my mind before coming here,' he said to himself,' 'and I told the Venerable Acharn that I came here to die. I came here filled with courage and ecstasy, but what am I doing now? It's shameful to be so overwhelmed by fear like this! It is my own mind that urged me to come here, and it is this very same mind which is now playing tricks on me, driving me mad with fear. What is it all about? Am I not the same man? Have I been turned into a cowardly animal? I had better make up my mind now: should I sit meditating on the edge of the precipice so that without presence of mind I might fall and perish below? In that case there would be but vultures and crows to finish up my remains, with no trouble for any human beings to cremate the corpse. Or should I meditate on the tiger's pathway? That would save it the trouble of having to look for me when it returns.'

Having thought about this in this way, he came out of his ‘mosquito net and stood in front of the cave making up his mind. He finally decided to sit on the edge of the precipice so that a split second without mindfulness would send him into the abyss to be a feast for the vultures and crows. He sat facing the lowlands, his back towards to tiger's pathway, reciting the word Buddha with the thought in the back of his mind that a split second without mindfulness would send him to his death. All this time he contemplated whether he was more afraid of falling over the cliff or being eaten by the tiger, and he came to realize that he was more afraid of falling to his death [which was more immediate and therefore more threatening] than being eaten by the tiger.

It was long after he had begun this resolute self-discipline that his mind abruptly withdrew into the profound, unshakable condition of meditation [appana samadhi] and was thereafter oblivious to all circumstances. Gone were worry and fear. What remained was the mind that was wonderfully able to hold its own. This complete withdrawal lasted twelve hours, from ten o'clock in the evening until ten o'clock the following morning, when he emerged from his meditation. There was no need to go for alms food that day or to partake of any meal. The results of his meditation were more wonderful than he could have dreamed of. There was no longer any trace or tinge of fear, nor were there any symptoms of fever He felt more courageous and self-confident than ever. It now appeared that the effects of the dharma were both therapeutical and psychological, curing both diseases of body and mind. From then on he felt himself able stay or go anywhere, without having to carry fear along with him. He cared little about the tiger, except that should it actually come it would be an opportunity to test his strength of will.

He always thought of the Venerable Acharn's instruction with gratitude and reverence, having realized how that instruction was wonderfully true and beneficial to him. He now knew the trick of how to train and tame his own mind and always resorted to making use of fear to overcome fear.

He chose to remain in that cave for a longer time, choosing the most dangerous locations as places suitable for his meditation practice. These included the mouth of the cave the tiger lived in or on the path which the tiger used every day. While sitting in meditation, he did not sit under his mosquito net since he was afraid that within it he might indulge himself in over-confidence, and not be afraid of the tiger.

One night his mind refused to withdraw into the profound stale of meditation, no matter how long or how hard he tried. He then thought of the tiger which frequented the place, asking himself where it was at that moment, for it should have been there to help him in his meditation practice, which, in fact, was by no means difficult if properly aroused. About half an hour after this thought had passed through .his mind, he heard the sounds of the tiger's approach from behind him.' Hearing this he warned himself that danger was now approaching and that it was now time to seek the shelter of one-pointedness. Once lie visualized himself being grappled by the neck by the tiger, his mind suddenly withdrew into one-pointedness with nothing remaining but the unshakable and indescribable peace of one-ness. He retired into the seclusion of the mind from about two o'clock in the morning until about ten o'clock, and, as before, he felt no need for going out for alms-food or for having a meal. " It should be noted here that while the mind is in the state of complete withdrawal at the so-called basis of meditation, the body no longer responds to, nor is aware of, the external environment. This was also the experience of this bhikkhu since his mind always abruptly retired into that state whenever aroused by external circumstances.

After emerging from his meditation, he went to the place where he had heard the sounds of his 'friend' and clearly saw his paw marks only about four meters away from where he was sitting. Strangely enough, the tiger had gone straight to its cave without showing any interest in his 'friend' sitting not far away.

That bhikkhu later related that, 'It is very difficult to train a mind without any pressure or force to tame it. A moment of danger is often helpful in making it retire into seclusion within split seconds. This is why I always prefer a dangerous place to an ordinary cave or forest. Wherever there are tigers, it is better for me to be there. After all, my character is still crude and that's why gentle means are never enough to tame my mind.

'There were also side effects,' he continued. 'Besides the bliss and peace obtained within that cave, there was communication with the terrestrial angels and also something like insight into the future as far as the dead were concerned. I appeared suddenly to be able to know whenever someone died in the village not far away, and everything that knowledge foretold proved to be correct. The cave where I was staying was about eight kilometers away from the nearest village and every time this knowledge occurred to me, I was later requested by the villagers to perform the rites for the deceased in their village. Despite my refusal, they always insisted, saying that a bhikkhu in that forest area was so rare, and they begged me earnestly to have mercy on them. I could do nothing but comply with their requests, which meant walking the long distance to the village and back. Even during periods of fasting, when I did not want anything to interrupt my exertion, similar incidents still occurred and similar forest trips had to be undertaken.'

Mend tiger contributed much to the strength of will of this bhikkhu. Every two or three nights it would leave the cave to find food, but strangely, it still took no interest in this bhikkhu despite the fact that it had to pass by him every time it left and returned. From that time onwards he always preferred to meditate in whatever dangerous place he was able to find, all the time living a solitary life

This is the story of a steadfast and dedicated man who subjected his mind to self-discipline and was able to take advantage of his own fear. Most interesting is how he changed the tiger, which should have been his dreaded enemy, into a friend who helped to develop his strength of will and determination.