Luang Puu Jiak Cundo (1916 – 2004)
The following short biographical account of the life of Luang Puu (LP) Jia is taken from the Thai language book, Autobiography of Luang Puu Jiak Cundo: The Monk Who is Like “Gold Wrapped in a Rag.”
LP Jiak was a disciple of the late forest meditation master LP Mun (Bhūridatta Mahā Thera 1870–1949). He was one of a small group of monks in the wandering dhutaṅga tradition following LP Mun, like a “calf following its mother.” Wherever the cow goes, its calf will move towards it without any fear or hesitation. Likewise, whatever LP Jiak had in mind, he would bring it out to discuss freely and boldly with LP Mun. He reckoned that “the one who practises seriously and intensely will achieve Dhamma.”
LP Jiak was born on 6 June 1916 at Tambon Klong Naam Khem, Laem Sing District, of Chanthaburi province. He was the fourth child in his family and had a total of eight siblings.
His father, Sunchae Phothikit, was a migrant from China who earned his living by trading. He had come to settle in Klong Naam Khen (Thailand) in his twenties, where he met and married Fae Phothikit. After their marriage, they moved to stay at Tambon Nong Bua. Both they and their parents had strong faith in Buddhism.
When young, LP Jiak was named Ow Jiak, which means “black stone,” because he had a black birthmark on his back. Apparently, the word “Ow Jiak” also had a Dhamma interpretation.
People who have such birthmarks are usually firm and strong-minded like rock or laterite. They can endure any heat or cold, happiness or suffering (dukkha), and can handle all kinds of situations. This is like the Dhamma reminding us to be firm, strong, and stable like a rock. Whatever clean or dirty stuff people throw at the rock, it doesn’t react. We should not be trapped into any deluded emotions that lure us. LP’s name was later shortened to Jia, which means ‘eat.’
As a young lad, he never bothered much about bad deeds or good deeds. He was a serious person, blunt and never afraid of anybody. He concentrated only on working to earn a living. He couldn’t even recite, “Namo Tassa,” and didn’t understand when the monks taught Dhamma on the six-sense bases: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and consciousness. He thought to himself, “What is that monk talking about?” Later on, when he was ordained as a monk, he realized that this was the Dhamma concerned with dependent co-arising that emphasizes the realization of mental processes and perceptions right at the body’s senses.
He was a one-woman man, and only had one heart for the only woman, Paeng. He gave her a promise that he would ordain for his mother for only one rains retreat and would marry Paeng after disrobing. At first, he thought of her a lot. But as his meditation skill began to develop, he was able to realize the reality of the ugliness of the body, covered with skin and filled with blood, etc. When he went on piṇḍapāta (alms round), his mind was playing around with him. However, after his mind had come to realization, he told Paeng when he met her during an alms round one day that he had decided not to disrobe. He had made up his mind that he wouldn’t be the slave of anybody’s desire (taṇhā) or defi lements (kilesa) anymore.
He was supposed to be conscripted into the military before turning twenty years old and had to complete military service prior to ordination. However, he was not recruited because the army wanted only forty new soldiers that year and they already had forty young men.
LP Jiak was ordained on 11 July 1937 at Wat Chanthanaraam, Chanthaburi Province. Than Phor Lee Dhammadharo was his Ordination Teacher. His monk’s name was Cundo. He was 21 years, 1 month, and 5 days old at the time of ordination. He was the first monk who had Than Phor Lee as the Ordination Teacher. After the ordination at Wat Chanthanaraam, he went to live at Wat Saai-ngaam for three years, studying with Phra Ajaan Kongmaa.
LP Jiak met Than Phor Fuang during his first rains retreat, and later they set out together to search for LP Mun after hearing about him from their teachers. He first met LP Mun at Wat Raang Paa Daeng and later became a close disciple to LP Mun. He had high respect for LP Mun and was impressed with LP Mun’s ability of to read peoples’ minds and predict the future. During the later stages of LP Mun’s life, LP Jiak spent much time attending to and nursing him.
LP Jiak also had the opportunity to live in LP Sao’s temple, Wat Don Taat, and to serve LP Sao, as instructed by LP Mun. He was by LP Sao’s side when the latter passed away on 3 February 1942, and he arranged for LP Sao’s bodily remains to be transported back across the Maekhong River to Ubon. There he subsequently organised the funeral ceremony.
Among the monks in the lineage of LP Mun, LP Jiak was well known and widely acknowledged for his insight into the Dhamma. His unorthodox conduct and brusque manner were like a curtain that blocked the discernment or the ordinary eyes of human beings from seeing his inner reality. Generally, people like to look at external beauty. They never go back to look inside the mind. Therefore, they cannot see or tell, and are not aware of what it is or will happen in the mind. The nature of a purified mind is not misleading like external appearances or verbal manners.
The early first generation disciples of LP Mun, such as LP Teu Acaladhammo, LP Fan Ācāro, LP Chorp Ṭhānasamo, LP Lui Candasāro, LP Khao Anālayo, Phra Ajaan Maha Boowa Nyanasampanno, were accomplished forest meditation masters themselves. They were also LP Jiak’s teachers and regularly came to visit him and discuss Dhamma whenever they knew where he was. This showed the close bond and mutual respect between these monks.
In November 1949, while staying at Huay Yaang, LP Jiak had a vision of LP Mun lying dead and naked. It was as if LP Mun wanted to display something to him. It seemed as though he was leaving Saṁsāra for the liberation realm, Anupadisesa Nibbāna, transcending the defilements by leaving behind the five aggregates. He was entering into the single Path of pure Dhamma (Visuddhi Dhamma). On the next day, news came through the radio that LP Mun had passed away the night before.
LP Jiak’s conduct and practice were very simple, with the emphasis on development of insight. He discouraged individuals coming to him to talk about mundane trivia or personal issues. He was often not easy to approach and was sometimes criticised for his “uncouth” behaviour by monks and laypeople who did not know him well.
According to Phra Ajaan Maha Boowa, LP Jiak was “very meticulous inside while loud outside.” However, in terms of inner qualities, no one excelled him. No one should ever look down upon his insight and virtue, as it is much brighter than any of us could imagine. In fact Phra Ajaan Maha Boowa praised him as “gold wrapped in a rag” — the “rag” referring to his crude and coarse exterior. “You are like a golden Buddha image covered with cement. I am now breaking it off to show the valuable thing inside. As long as people do not know, they will not realize its value. Once they know, it will be tremendously useful for them.”
LP Jiak did not bother much about the beauty of personal conduct and manners; instead, he was exquisite and beautiful according to the Dhamma. He always said that there was no need to feel embarrassed if one’s actions are not faulty according to the Vinaya, but one should feel embarrassed if they were.
Whenever anyone came close and listened to his teaching or asked him about the trouble they had regarding their insight meditation practice, he would know how to respond and guide them in the right direction straight away. After listening to him, those who had doubts in him or thought he was a fake often changed their opinions. They would often be astonished when listening to his Dhamma teaching.
LP Jiak served as abbot of four monasteries:
Wat Khao Kaew
Wat Saai Ngaam
Wat Paa Bhūridatta Patipataaram.
He was also one of the teachers of Phra Ajaan Keng Khemako, having met him in 1988.
On 3 February 1996 (B.E. 2539), LP Jiak laid the foundation stone for the construction of Bhūridatta Chedi to enshrine a tooth relic of LP Mun. The chedi was designed with an octagonal shape in the Sukhothai style (Song Phum Khao Bin). The octagonal shape stood for the noble eightfold path, the Lord Buddha’s path to Awakening. It is an iron-reinforced concrete structure 22 metres wide and 37 metres high, representing the 37 bodhi-pakkhiya dhammas, the Wings to Awakening: the key teachings that the Buddha reminded his disciples to adhere closely in order to ensure that Buddhism and its practice will endure for a long time. This chedi was LP Jiak’s masterpiece, dedicated to his teacher, LP Mun.
In 2001, LP Jiak suffered a severe stroke and spent several months in hospital. He passed away on 23 August 2004, at the age of 88, after spending a total of 68 years in the Saṅgha.
The Chedi of Wat Paa Bhūridatta Patipataaram, built By LP Jiak to house a tooth relic of LP Mun.