At one time during his wanderings, the Venerable Acharn arrived at a place so deep in the wilds that the hill tribes people, there hardly ever saw a dhutanga bhikkhu. Only those few who had been into a town and even then once in a very long while, were able to know a little about what a bhikkhu was.
At that time he was accompanied by another bhikkhu. They selected a. spot under the trees about two kilometres from the village. Entering the village in the morning for alms-food, the hill tribesmen asked them what it was they wanted. When they replied that they wanted alms-food, the villagers again asked what kind of food they wanted to have. They said that they wanted rice, but the villagers still did not understand whether or not they wanted cooked or uncooked rice. The bhikkhus replied that they wanted it cooked and the villagers gave them some cooked rice and nothing more. The Venerable Acharn and his companion stayed there in this way for many days. The villagers showed them neither respect nor confidence.
One night the village headman sounded the bamboo tube [made resonant and used as a. signal for calling the villagers together] and called his people to a meeting. He told them that there were now two tigers disguised .as men who had come to stay in a place not far away. He said that he didn't know what kind of tigers they were, but that they looked suspicious. The women and children were therefore forbidden to go near that place, and even the men should go there with tools or weapons, and even then only with some friends. Moreover, he went on, they must be careful, otherwise they would be eaten by these two tigers disguised as men.
While their leader was thus warning his men, the Venerable Acharn was meditating and [by the power of his clairvoyance] was able to hear what the headman was saying about him and his friend. He was surprised by this undreamed of accusation and was moved to great pity for them, knowing that many other villagers would believe the headman’s words. It was a great evil and danger to themselves since [if they did not change their belief] after their deaths, they would all be born as tigers.
The next day he told his friend that they' had been accused of being tigers who had assumed the form of men in order to kill the villagers. 'If we should go away from here now,' said the Venerable Acharn, ‘they will all be reborn as tigers after they die. This is serious karma on their part and to help them we should stay here longer, even though it may mean that we will have to suffer privations through their indifference in supporting us.'
After that, there were at times groups of observers from this village stealing around the area where the Venerable Acharn and the other bhikkhu were staying. They came in groups of three or four, carrying with them tools to be used as weapons. For ten or fifteen minutes each group would peer from the bushes or near the track for walking meditation gazing intently at the Venerable Acharn or the other bhikkhu and looking around the place with suspicion. They never spoke a word. They would then return to the village, only to come again the next day.
For quite some time they observed the Venerable Acharn's manner and seemed to be undecided about him, but all this time they never paid any attention to the needs of their 'disguised tigers', not caring whether or not these so-called tigers were suffering any privations due to their indifference The villagers didn't seem to care whether or not the two bhikkhu had enough to eat each day, or whether both would be comfortable in their shelters and places for rest. They offered only rice, nothing more, and even then, the amount of rice that was offered was so small that even when mixed with water it was still not enough for each. And as for drinking water, the two bhikkhus had to fetch it themselves from a stream at the foot of the mountain after they had had their bath. Their sheltering places were beneath the shady branches of trees, which scarcely offered any protection from rain or sun. Since there wasn't any cave or cliff nearby, they weren't able to find any shelters better than that.
On some occasions there were heavy rains. Then they had to collect dry leaves and branches to make a crude lean-to. During the rains, they were forced to sit shivering with cold under their klods with the mosquito-net spread over it. Sometimes, however, there was a strong wind from the mountains and the rain would be blown violently against the mosquito-net, and even their klods were blown away leaving the two of them soaked to the skin and shivering like leaves. All their bhikkhu requisites were scattered all around, drenched by the rain. In the daytime they would be able to collect them and then hurry to find another shelter, but at night the situation was far worse. It would be pitch-dark in the pelting rain and the howling wind. The thunder was earsplitting and all around them was the thudding of branches broken by the wind crashing to the ground. At such moments, life was exposed to the fury of the elements on all sides.
Such was the ordeal that the Venerable Acharn and his companion underwent in the spirit of self-sacrifice. It was a self-imposed ordeal which they had to endure until the villagers' attitude was softened and they were made to come to their senses
Even with all these inconveniences and privations, however, it was a suitable place for meditation. There were no other burdens to weigh down the mind. Late at night there was often a symphony of roaring tigers around the area. They were all large, ferocious tigers, and although they roamed about not far away, they hardly ever approached the place where, the two bhikkhus were staying. Once in a long while, however, one of them would pay a surreptitious visit, perhaps checking to see if there was a meal available there or not, but when the occupant of the klod moved or sat up, it would roar loudly and jump away, never to be seen again.
As for the villagers, their curiosity and apprehension were still strong. They came to observe in a group of three or four every afternoon, but they never spoke a word to the Venerable Acharn, nor he to them. At times they would whisper amongst themselves while watching him, little dreaming that he was able to see or read their every thought and mood, which they were sure no one could possibly know about. The Venerable Acharn was also observing them, and with far better results! He knew that they were continually trying to find fault with himself and with his companion. This made him take great pity on them since they were being misled by their leader and a few others, not knowing what would happen to them as a result.
For months the Venerable Acharn and his companion stayed there and for months the villagers did not give up their attempts to find fault with them. After all was said, their persistent attempts were praise-worthy, but fortunately [for them; of course], they did not try to drive them away. After such a long time of watching and waiting, however, they must themselves have been surprised to discover that no fault could be found with the bhikkhus, despite their keen fault-finding eyes.
One night, during his meditation, the Venerable Acharn heard, or rather knew, by means of his psychic powers that the village headman was asking his groups of observers what faults there were with the two bhikkhus. The observers reported unanimously that they were not able to find any fault whatsoever with the two 'tigers', adding that their, own suspicions might be doing themselves more harm than good. When the headman asked why this was so, they replied that the two bhikkhus hadn’t ever done anything suspicious.
'Every time we went there,' they said, 'both bhikkhus were either sitting still with their eyes closed or walking back and forth without looking to the right or to the left. Any disguised tigers coming to devour us would certainly not be doing anything like that. We have watched them for a long time but they have never revealed one single telltale clue. If we keep thinking like this, it might be harmful to us. It would be better if we had a talk with them so that we can know them better.'
This proposal was supported by many, who said that they had been in town and had seen some bhikkhus there and that they thought that these two bhikkhus were good and reliable ones. They said that they were impressed by their demeanour rather than bent on finding fault with them. After the meeting it was agreed that they would go to see the Venerable Acharn and ask him what was the purpose of his sitting and what he was looking for while walking back and forth. Having known this, the Venerable Acharn told his companion that the villagers would come to see them soon. One afternoon, a number of the villagers came, just as he had said. One of them asked him why he sat still and what was he looking for while walking back and forth.
'My buddho is lost,' said the Venerable Acharn; 'I sit and walk in order to find buddho.'
'What on earth is buddho?' they asked. 'Can we help you find it?'
"Oh yes, you all can,' replied the Venerable Acharn. 'Buddho is the only priceless gem in all the three worlds. Buddho is all-knowing. It would be better if you would help me try to find buddho, for then we can find buddho sooner.'
'How long ago did you lose your buddho?’
'Not very long ago, and with your help we can find it much sooner.'
'How big is this priceless gem of buddho?' the villagers asked.
'Not so big and not so small,' he said. 'The size is proper to both you and to me. Whoever finds buddho is superior in the world, for he can see everything.'
'Can he see heaven and hell?’
'Certainly, if he knows how to find buddho. Otherwise, how could we say that buddho is priceless and superior? '
'Can we see our children or husbands and wives who are dead?’
'Of course,' he replied.' 'You can see everything and everyone when you have found buddho.'
'Has buddho any light?'
'Yes, buddho has a very bright light, far brighter than hundreds or thousands of suns, for the suns cannot make you see heaven and hell, but buddho can.'
'Can women and children help you find buddho?’
'Yes, everyone can.'
'In what way is buddho priceless or superior? Can it help protect us from ghosts and demons?’
'Buddho is priceless and superior in so many ways that it is uncountable. The three worlds of sensuality, form, and formlessness have to prostrate before buddho. Nothing can be superior to buddho. Ghosts and demons are very much afraid of buddho. They are afraid of those who begin to look for buddho even though they haven't yet found it.'
'What colour is the gem of buddho?’
In the bright light of buddho there are so many colours that they cannot be counted. Buddho is the priceless treasure of the Buddha. Buddho is the source of knowledge and brilliancy. Buddho is not matter. The Buddha gave it to us a long time ago but we do not find it now. But it is not important where buddho is. If you really want to find buddho, you must sit or walk repeating to yourselves buddho, buddho, buddho. During this time you must not think of anything else. Let your thought dwell in buddho inside you. If you can do this, then you might be able to find buddho.'
'But how long shall we have to sit or walk to find buddho?’
'At the outset, fifteen or twenty minutes are enough. Buddho does not want us to hurry, for then we shall be tired and cannot find buddho. This is enough for today.'
After this ingenious instruction, the villagers returned to their village. They didn't tell him they were leaving. They just got up and went away. To them there was no saying goodbye. At the village they were questioned in earnest by the others who had remained behind. They repeated the Venerable Acharn's instruction and said that he and his bhikkhu companion were not tigers in disguise as they had at first suspected. The villagers took great interest in his instruction and before long they were all reciting buddho with earnestness, from the headman down to the women and children who knew how to recite mentally.
The Venerable Acharn's instruction produced wonderful results much sooner than anyone would have expected. Not long after that, there was a man who was able to find buddho through the Venerable Acharn’s ingenious method. He said that he was rewarded with a blissful peace soon after he faithfully followed that method. According to him, about four or five days before that achievement he dreamt of the Venerable Acharn, who had come to put a big candle with a bright flame on his head. In his dream he was very glad that he was able to produce a light strong enough to penetrate the darkness so many metres from his body. When later he attained to that blissful peace, he came to see the Venerable Acharn and related to him both his dream and his wonderful achievement. The Venerable Acharn then taught him a more advanced practice and told him to make more effort. He followed the Venerable Acharn’s instruction carefully and soon won a higher attainment with the additional power of mind-reading, through which he was able to know how much a person's mind was defiled or purified. When later he came to see the Venerable Acharn, he spoke out frankly, as is the habit of hill people, that he had observed the minds of both the Venerable Acharn and his companion and now knew them very well.
Then what is my mind like?' the Venerable Acharn asked playfully, 'Is it evil?’
'What,' the old man replied instantly, 'your mind is freed of whatever spot of defilement. It is bathed in a wonderful light within. You are superior in the world. I have never seen anything like this. You have already stayed here a long time! Why did you not teach us the first time you arrived here?'
'But how could I?' he replied. 'None of you had ever come to ask me.'
'But I didn't know that you were a holy man, otherwise I would have come long before this. Now we know how wise you are. When you were asked why you sat still and what you were looking for while walking back and forth, you said that buddho was lost and asked us to help you find buddho. When asked what buddho was, you said that buddho was a bright gem. In reality, your mind was already buddho, but you wanted to make our minds as bright as yours. Now we know that you are holy and wise. You didn't want us to help you find buddho for you. You wanted to help us find buddho for ourselves!'
The news of that man's attainment, in the dharma soon spread throughout the village. Everyone became more interested in reciting buddho and consequently they became more interested in the Venerable Acharn. And from that time on, the case of the two 'tigers' was completely 'forgotten.
Every morning the Venerable Acharn and his companion would be followed by that man who came to carry his bowl for him and to also learn more dharma from him. Even when he had other business to do, he would ask some other person to tell the Venerable Acharn about his business. There were several other persons, both men and women, who were advanced in meditation practice, but the first man who attained to the dharma appeared to be the best of all.
Now that they had a correct attitude of mind towards the Venerable Acharn, everything changed automatically. Formerly the villagers had never taken any interest in whether the two bhikkhus would eat or sleep, live or die. Once they realized who he was, however, they were earnest in his welfare and comfort. Sheltering places for eating, sleeping and walking meditation were all neatly constructed without a word of request by the Venerable Acharn. They also complained lovingly to him, saying how he managed to walk like a wild hog on a track that was entangled with undergrowth.
'You even said that this was the track for seeking buddho,' they said, 'and you told us you were sitting and walking in order to find buddho'. How strange you are, and how different from other people! You are supreme in the world and yet you don't boast about it. We like you very much. Your bed is nothing but dried leaves and it is now rotting. How could you have lived with it for so many months? It's like a sleeping place for pigs. It makes our hearts sink. We were so foolish, all of us. How blind we were! Some even accused you of being tigers in disguise, but now they have all changed their minds. We told them all about you.'
His Dramatic Departure
The respect and reverence of the hill tribes people were strong and sincere, and, what is more important, absolute. They were able to sacrifice their lives for one whom they respected. Whatever the Venerable Acharn said thereafter was listened to with reverence and followed with devotion. He taught them more advanced lessons in meditation than the recitation of buddho, and with time they were able to progress further. The Venerable Acharn and his companion thus spent the Rains' Retreat with them for their sakes.
The two bhikkhus had arrived at their village in early February and they took their leave in April of the following year, having stayed with the villagers for more than one year. His departure, however, became a dramatic, tearful scene, for they would not allow him to leave. They said that if even he should die there, they would be very happy to arrange for his funeral. They were whole-heartedly dedicated to him. This reveals how they were able to admit their faults and rectify themselves. They were able to know that lie was truly a holy man and asked him to forgive them their evil towards him.
Before leaving them he said to his companion that now that they were then saved from their own evil karma, they were free to go on. But it was by no means easy for him to do so, for once they knew that he wanted to leave them, they all swarmed out of the village and wept bitterly before him, imploring him not to go away. It was as if they were grieving over someone's death. Their lamentation was touching and their entreaties were pathetic and heart-rending. With consolatory words, he tried to reason with them, explaining how he had to go and that they should not surrender themselves to grief, which would do them no good.
When they appeared to have calmed down a little, he collected his requisites and started to walk away from the comfortable shelters. And then an unexpected thing happened. Both children and adults thronged around him, some embracing his legs with tearful faces trying to drag him back, others pulled his robes with the same intention, and still others snatched his klod, alms-bowl and water kettle from the one who was to accompany him for a distance. The scene was like one of small children crying for their father and refusing to let him go away from them. He had to return and spend more time in consoling them and alleviating their sorrow with various reasons. It took him quite a long time before they would allow him to go, and even then he was able to walk only a few metres before they were once again beside themselves with grief and scurried after him to pull him back. They all burst into tears, clinging to his legs and robes more tightly than before. This time it took him several hours of consoling and reasoning, for the scene had become one of pandemonium, with the weeping and wailing, sobbing and screaming of children and grown-ups alike.
'Please come back to us again,' they sobbed mournfully. 'Don't stay away for a long time. We will miss you so much. Our hearts are already breaking.' Such were the pitiful cries of the villagers who tearfully implored the Venerable Acharn to come back to them. Men, women and children moaned out their pleas for his mercy, fearing that he was leaving them forever.
He had arrived at their village amidst suspicious fear and dissatisfaction but departed from it amidst the heartbroken tears on the part of those who had accused him and his companion of having been disguised tigers. This is really befitting a follower .of the Tathagata whose responsibility it is to cleanse the people's minds of their contamination and "transform them into priceless treasures for themselves and for others. This is responsibility based on loving-kindness which is never disturbed by others' misunderstandings, suspicions or ill-will. Such loving-kindness is the haven and the refuge of all beings in distress everywhere.
Repentance and Regret Do Not Pay
While listening to his narration, his listeners couldn't help but picture the tearful scene of the poor villagers who would not let the Venerable Acharn leave them, and who, having failed to dissuade him, pitifully implored him to return to them for a visit. Such people, being unsophisticated and unspoiled, were devotedly impressed in him and would have willingly sacrificed everything they had for his sake. Like children affectionately attached to their mother or father, they embraced his legs, pulled his robes, and wrung their hands, all feeling as though their hearts would truly break at his imminent departure. There was the track for walking meditation which they had cleared for him and the thatched-roofed shelters they had built. It was the best that they were able to do and that was also the best for him.
From then on he would no more be seen, but such is the condition of the law of change which governs the world, which manifests itself now and again in the form of departure and bereavement. It is expected that it must take place sooner or later, there being no force capable of counteracting it. And as for the Venerable Acharn, there was no dissuading him, although he realized the grief his departure would cause the villagers. [He had saved them from their evil thoughts and established them on the right path.] Now it was time for him to push on, to be of assistance to others who, like them, could be saved. This is a characteristic of the Noble Disciple who is referred to in Pali passages as punnakkhettam lokassa the excellent field for the world to sow the seeds of merit on.