Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mae Chee Kaew - the female Arahant in modern times

Yesterday I was introduced to Mae Chee Kaew through a book I stumbled upon by accident. Today I read it a litle bit and would like to share with you. She was sadi to be a female Arahant who lived in Thailand from 1901 to 1991. She was a student of Phra Ajhan Mun, a well-known Arahant in Thailand. When he passed away, she studied under Ajahn Maha Boowa, another master said to be an Arahant. The book detailed the strange circumstances in which she met Ajahn Maha Boowa starting from a dream she had of falling moon and stars.

The beginning of their relationship was not good at all. That was because at that time, Mae Chee Kaew had already reached a stage of meditation where she developed the ability to see ghosts, devas, and even go to other realms such as heavens and hells. She could even see the past lives of these beings. But she was stucked up into these external phenomenas. These abilities alone could not liberate her from samsara. She kept sharing these phenomena with Ajahn Maha Boowa who then understood why the late Ajahn Mun had prevented her from doing meditation whenever he was not around. It was only when Ajahn Mun passed away that she continued her meditation. So, Ajahn Maha Boowa tried to give her some advice to focus her meditation within her own mind and body, instead of later her mind outwards to external phenomena such as gong to other realms and looking at these unseen beings (that normal human eyes cannot see). She could not take his master's advice and insisted on continuing her own way of meditation. Ajahn Maha Boowa tried again and again to counsel her not to continue the way she had done it. He even tried to raise his voice against her but to no avail. Then Ajahn Maha Boowa had no choice but to do it the "wrathful" way. In front of other nuns and others, he stopped her discussions with him mid-way and scolded her and then told her to leave the cave temple where they were. She was told to pack up. It was after leaving her master that she soon realised her folly. And she tried the meditation technique his master had been telling her all the while. She focued on the single word "buddho" and achieved single pointed concentration. Very soon she achieved samadhi and her body "vanished". Then her mind became clearer and clearer.

At one stage she saw a vision of her master who held a knife and chopped off her body until only a pile of blood, flesh and sinews remained. It was a bloody mess on the floor. Then her master basically asked her "which of these parts is desirable?", "which one is a man?", "which one is a woman?", "which piece is a person?". I interprete these questions as trying to ask her to probe "which one is you?" I feel that this is similar to those Ch'an probing hua-tous or those Vajrayana vipasyana analytical meditation on the emptiness of the "I". Very soon only a subtle awareness remained.

Later her master confirmed her attainment and when she died, many shariras (relics) remained and were in the shape of pearls and crystals. Many of these were colourful. A stupa was built to commemorate her. In her dying years, she suffered much. She became down with many ailments and her eye sight failed, she could not walked nor eat. But fortunately at that time she was already an Arahant. We need not worry about her pain. Her mind was already at ease. Those around her probably suffered more looking at her ailment than she was herself. of course, there was pain and she felt it even as an Arahant. But it didnot have any impact on her mind anymore. She was not going to come back to samsara, after all. During her funeral, her master - Ajahn Maha Boowa said there was no need to do any funeral chanting for her because as an Arahant, there was nothing more we humans could possibly add for her. That is true, and she left behind many wonderful relics as mentioned.

When I read this kind of biography, I am always touched by their sincerity in putting much effort to gain enlightenment. Unless many of us still indulging in samsaric pleasures. I feel guilty about myself everytime I know of someone attaining enlightenment, while I feel happy that he/she had achieved the spiritual goal. Someday, if I visit Thailand, I hope to visit her stupa and pay my respects. She deserved my utmost respect. At her funeral eulogy, Ajahn Maha Boowa said that whether we are a man or a woman, we are equally capable of attaining enlighthenment. That is evident by Mae Chee Kaew's spiritual attainment of Arahantship. So, no matter what lineage or tradition we are practising, do practice it well. And do seek guidance from a good eminent master just like Mae Chee Kaew. Had Ajahn Maha Boowa not been a spiritually enlightened guru himself, he would not have been able to help Mae Chee Kaew in her meditation.

Hence, it pays to find a really enlightened master, and not just someone whom you believed to be enlightened. It does make a huge difference, even though ultimately it is also how much effort you put in. A worse case, is being under thte tutelage of a deviant or spirtually misleading gurus, which there are many nowadays. I find that many people nowadays like to seek the status of a "guru" without the necessary genuine attainments. It's even more sad to see many innocent people being fooled by these "gurus". If you get into problems during meditation, only genuine gurus who had been through it could possibly help you. Fake ones would not be able to help you at all. In fact, it is possibly detrimental. From this story of Mae Chee Kaew, you can see that even in Theravada Buddhism, the concept of getting guidance from the right guru and devoting yourself to him is important. And the kind of devotion is not the kind of tripod-Buddhism that we see happening in many Vajrayana circles. Tripod-Buddhism is not guru devotion.

If you wish to read more about the Arahant Mae Chee Kaew, you only need to google. Remember that women need not underestimate the power of their spiritual potential. Same for men. Same for gay men/women. A lot of us go about our daily lives doing really really supid, ridiculous things. We gets tuck up in endless emotional topsy-turvy. We are wasting a lot of meaningful time. Time that we could have spent developing our spiritual attainments to eventually be able to help all sentient beings. And Mae Chee Kaew proved to all of us that attaining Arahantship is not at all impossible even in these modern times.

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