The picture painted of Ajahn Mun in Ajahn Lee's biography is a lot different than that of Ven. Maha Boowa's account. I remember thinking there was such a disconnect between the two accounts. Of the two I happen to prefer Ajahn Lee's. Also it pays to remember that Ven. Maha Boowa wrote much of the content not from his own experience, but from that of stories he had heard from other disciples he interviewed for the purpose of writing the book. The picture we get of Ajahn Mun in the biography is not the recollection of one person, but of many.
And on the smoking point I wholeheartedly agree - This was the early half of the 1900's when Doctors prescribed smoking for supposed health benefits, rural Thais thought smoking was a medicine, and treated it as such.
Look these are monks who often had no access to the Suttas, these are monks who relied on Vinaya and meditation for the most part - Spending years at a time in seclusion in the depths of the Thai rainforest. Almost all of them contracted Malaria, time and time again. Their accounts and recollections must be remembered in the context of rural Thai culture of the early 1900s. This was a time before Western culture, medicine & technology had penetrated to that area. In a sense, it wasn't much different then than it had been 300 years earlier.
Whether or not you agree with Ven. Maha Boowas 'forest Dhamma' with it's eternal Buddhas and cittas that can descend from Nibbana and visit people at will, which in my opinion is closer to Mahayana than Theravada, one should not forget the positives these great men brought to Thai Buddhism - The revival of the Vinaya, of Meditation, of the kammathana - Practices that the Buddha would have praised! I personally think the Ajahn Mun of history and the one from the biography are quite different people.
Here are some quotes from Ajahn Lee's biography concerning Ajahn Mun, I think they offer some valuble insights into the mind of this venerable sir:
At about five in the evening I reached the forest monastery at Kut Laad, where I learned
that Ajaan Mun had just returned to Wat Burapha. So the next morning, after breakfast, I
walked back to Ubon. There I paid my respects to Ajaan Mun and told him my purpose in
seeking him out. The advice and assistance he gave me were just what I was looking for. He
taught me a single word—buddho—to meditate on. It so happened that he was ill at the
time, so he sent me to Baan Thaa Wang Hin (StonePalace Landing), a very quiet and
secluded area where Phra Ajaan Singh and Phra MahaPin were staying along with about 40
other monks and novices.
After that, I said goodbye and set out for the city of Ubon. Reaching Wang Tham
(CavePalace) Village, though, I found Ajaan Mun staying in the forest there, so I joined him,
staying under his guidance for quite a few days.
This was when I decided to re-ordain, this time in the Dhammayutika sect (the sect to
which Ajaan Mun belonged), in order to make a clean break with my past wrongdoings.
When I consulted Ajaan Mun, he agreed to the idea, and so had me practice my part in the
ordination ceremony. When I had it down pat, he set out—with me following—wandering
from district to district.
I became extremely devoted to Ajaan Mun, because there were many things about him
that had me amazed. For instance, there were times when I would have been thinking about
something, without ever mentioning it to him, and yet he’d bring up the topic and seem to
know exactly what my thoughts had been. Each time this happened, my respect and
devotion toward him deepened. I practiced meditation constantly, free from many of the
worries that had plagued me in the past.
Another night, toward the end of the rains, I had been lying on my back, reading a book
and meditating at the same time, when I fell asleep. I dreamed that Ajaan Mun came to
scold me. ‘What are you doing in Bangkok?’ he asked. ‘Go out into the forest!’
‘I can’t,’ I answered. ‘My preceptor won’t let me.’
Ajaan Mun answered with a single word: ‘Go!’
So I dedicated a resolution to him: ‘At the end of the rains, may Ajaan Mun come and
take me with him out of this predicament.’
It was just a few days later that Chao Khun Upali* broke his leg, and Ajaan Mun came
down to pay his respects to him. A short while after that, Lady Noi, the mother of Chao
Phraya Mukhamontri, passed away, and the funeral services were to be held at Wat
Debsirin. Because Lady Noi had been one of Ajaan Mun’s supporters when he was staying in
Udon Thani, he made a point of attending her funeral. My preceptor and I were also invited,
and I met Ajaan Mun up on the crematorium. I was overjoyed but had no chance to have
even a word with him. So I asked Chao Khun Phra Amarabhirakkhit where Ajaan Mun was
staying, and he answered, ‘At Wat Boromnivasa.’ On the way home from the funeral I got
permission from my preceptor to stop at Wat Boromnivasa to pay my respects to Ajaan
In the four years since my reordination, this was my first encounter with Ajaan Mun.
After I had paid my respects, he delivered a short sermon to me on the text, ‘Khina jati,
vusitam brahmacariyanti,’ which he translated in short as, ‘The noble ones, having freed
themselves from the mental effluents, find happiness. This is the supreme holy life.’ That’s all
I can remember of it, but I felt that sitting and listening to him speak for a few moments
gave my heart more peace than it had felt all the years I had been practicing on my own.
In the end he told me, ‘You’ll have to come with me this time. As for your preceptor, I’ll
inform him myself.’ That was our entire conversation. I bowed down to him and returned to
Wat Sra Pathum.
When I told my preceptor about my meeting with Ajaan Mun, he simply sat very still.
The next day, Ajaan Mun came to Wat Sra Pathum and spoke with my preceptor, saying
that he wanted to have me go with him up north. My preceptor gave his assent.
I began to get my necessary belongings together and to say goodbye to my friends and
the temple boys. I asked one of the boys how much money I had left for my travel expenses,
and he told me, ‘Thirty satang.’ That wasn’t even enough to pay for the ride to
HuaLamphong Station, which by that time had risen to 50 satang. So I went to inform
Ajaan Mun, and he assured me that he would take care of everything.
The day before Lady Noi’s cremation*, Ajaan Mun was invited to deliver a sermon at the
home of Chao Phraya Mukhamontri and afterwards received the following donations: a set
of robes, a container of kerosene, and 80 baht. Later, Ajaan Mun told me that the set of
robes he gave to a monk at Wat Boromnivasa, the kerosene he gave to Phra MahaSombuun,
and the money he gave to people who needed it, leaving just enough for two people’s
traveling expenses: his and mine.
After a while, when Chao Khun Upali finally let Ajaan Mun return north, we took the
train to Uttaradit, where we stayed at Wat Salyaphong, a temple founded by Chao Khun
One day I got into a disagreement with Ajaan Mun and he drove me away. Although I
felt riled, I decided not to let my feelings show, so I stayed on with him, attending to his
needs as I always had.
The next morning—this was in early January, toward the end of the second lunar
month—two monks came looking for Ajaan Mun with the news that one of his followers
was seriously ill in Chieng Mai. The two monks then continued on down to Bangkok, after
which Ajaan Mun and I left Uttaradit for Chieng Mai. When we arrived we went to stay at
Wat Chedi Luang (GreatChedi Temple).
The ill follower turned out to be a layman—Nai Biew of San Kampheng district—who
had become mentally deranged. His older brother and sister-in-law brought him to Wat
Chedi Luang, and Ajaan Mun cured him with meditation.
That year I spent the Rains Retreat at Wat Chedi Luang. When we had first arrived,
there were quite a number of our fellow meditation monks staying at the temple, but as the
rains approached they left one by one to stay in the hills. At first, Ajaan Mun was going to
have me leave for the hills too, but I refused to go. I told him I had my heart set on staying
with him and attending to his needs throughout the rainy season. In the end he gave his
That was 1931, the year Chao Khun Upali died. I spent the rains very close to Ajaan
Mun, attending both to his needs and to my own meditation. He in turn gave me a
thorough breaking-in in every way. Each evening he had me climb up and sit in meditation
on the north side of the Great Chedi. There was a large Buddha image there—it’s still there
today—and Ajaan Mun told me that it was a very auspicious spot, that relics of the Buddha
had been known to come there often. I did as I was told in every way. Some nights I’d sit all
night, without any sleep.
I made a regular practice of going with Ajaan Mun when we went out for alms. As we
would walk along, he’d constantly be giving me lessons in meditation all along the way. If we
happened to pass a pretty girl, he’d say, ‘Look over there. Do you think she’s pretty? Look
closely. Look down into her insides.’ No matter what we passed—houses or roads—he’d
always make it an object lesson.
At the time I was only 26. It was my fifth Rains Retreat and I was still feeling young, so
he was always giving me lessons and warnings. He seemed very concerned for my progress.
But there was one thing that had me puzzled, having to do with robes and other requisites
that people would donate. He seemed reluctant to let me have anything nice to use.
Sometimes he’d ask for whatever nice things I did have and then go give them to someone
else. I had no idea what he meant by all this. Whenever I’d get anything new or nice, he’d
order me to wash and dye it to spoil the original color. Say I’d get a nice new white
handkerchief or towel: He’d order me to dye it brown with dye from the heartwood of a
jackfruit tree. Sometimes he’d have to order me several times, and when I still wouldn’t obey
he’d go ahead and dye the things himself. He liked to find old, worn-out robes, patch them
himself, and then give them to me to wear.
One morning I went together with him on our alms round, down past the Police
Station. We happened to pass a woman carrying goods to the market, but my mind was in
good shape: It didn’t stray away from the path we were following. I was keeping complete
control over myself. Another time when I was walking a little distance behind him—he
walked fast, but I walked slowly—I saw him come to an old, worn-out pair of policeman’s
trousers thrown away by the side of the road. He began to kick the trousers along, back and 23
forth—I was thinking all along that I had to keep my thoughts on the path I was following.
Finally, when he reached the fence around the Police Station, he stooped down, picked up
the trousers, and fastened them under his robes. I was puzzled. What did he want with old
trash like that?
When we got back to the hut, he placed the trousers over the clothes railing. I swept up
and then set out the sitting mats. After we had finished our meal, I went into his room to
arrange his bedding. Some days he’d be cross with me, saying I was messy, that I never put
anything in the right place—but he’d never tell me what the right places were. Even though
I tried my best to please him at all times, he was still severe with me the entire rainy season.
Several days later the old pair of trousers had become a shoulder bag and a belt: I saw
them hanging together on the wall. And a few days afterwards, he gave them to me to use. I
took them and looked at them. They were nothing but stitches and patches. With all the
good things available, why did he give me this sort of stuff to use?
Attending to Ajaan Mun was very good for me, but also very hard. I had to be willing to
learn everything anew. To be able to stay with him for any length of time, you had to be very
observant and very circumspect. You couldn’t make a sound when you walked on the floor,
you couldn’t leave footprints on the floor, you couldn’t make noise when you swallowed
water or opened the windows or doors. There had to be a science to everything you did—
hanging out robes, taking them in, folding them up, setting out sitting mats, arranging
bedding, everything. Otherwise he’d drive you out, even in the middle of the Rains Retreat.
Even then, you’d just have to take it and try to use your powers of observation
Every day, after our meal, I’d go to straighten up his room, putting away his bowl and
robes, setting out his bedding, his sitting cloth, his spittoon, his tea kettle, pillow, etc. I had
to have everything in order before he entered the room. When I had finished, I’d take note
of where I had placed things, hurry out of the room, and go to my own room, which was
separated from his by a wall of banana leaves. I had made a small hole in the wall so that I
could peek through and see both Ajaan Mun and his belongings. When he came into the
room, he’d look up and down, inspecting his things. Some of them he’d pick up and move;
others he’d leave where they were. I had to watch carefully and take note of where things
The next morning I’d do it all over again, trying to place things where I had seen him put
them himself. Finally one morning, when I had finished putting things in order and returned
to my own room to peek through the hole, he entered his room, sat still for a minute,
looked right and left, up and down, all around—and didn’t touch a thing. He didn’t even
turn over his sleeping cloth. He simply said his chants and then took a nap. Seeing this, I felt
really pleased that I had attended to my teacher to his satisfaction.
In other matters—such as sitting and walking meditation—Ajaan Mun trained me in
every way, to my complete satisfaction. But I was able to keep up with him at best only
about 60 percent of the time.
Ajaan Mun had told me that there was an important spirit dwelling in the mountain, but
that it wouldn’t harm or disturb me because it was acquainted with the Dhamma and
Sangha. The first day after reaching the top I didn’t have anything to eat. That night I felt
faint—the whole mountain seemed to be swaying like a boat in the middle of a choppy
sea—but my mind was in good shape and not the least bit afraid.
At about five in the afternoon, a person came to the top of the mountain with a letter for
me from Ajaan Mun. The letter said, ‘Come back right away. I have to leave Wat Chedi
Luang tomorrow morning because tomorrow evening the express train from Bangkok will
arrive.’ I hurried down from the mountain, but night fell as I reached Paa Heo (GlenForest)
Village, so I spent the night in the cemetery there. When I arrived at Wat Chedi Luang the
next day, Ajaan Mun had already left.
I asked around, but no one seemed to know where he had gone—leaving me with no
idea of where or how to find him. I had an inkling that he had headed north for Keng Tung,
which meant I would have to leave for Keng Tung right away, but I couldn’t yet, because
there were two things Ajaan Mun had said to me during the rainy season:
1. ‘I want you to help me in the steps of the practice, because I can’t see anyone else
who can.’ At the time I had no idea of what he meant, and didn’t pay it much attention.
2. ‘The Chieng Mai area has been home to a great number of sages ever since the distant
past. So before you leave the area, I want you to go stay on top of Doi Khaw Maw, in Buab
Thawng Cave, and in Chieng Dao Cave.’
The whole area was dazzling white and very beautiful. The air, though, was close, and
daylight didn’t penetrate. Ajaan Mun had told me that nagas came here to worship: The 26
stalagmite was their chedi. I had wanted to spend the night, but the air was so close I could
hardly breathe, so I didn’t dare stay. I walked back out of the cave.
I really loved Ajahn Lee's autobiography. It's really worth the read if you've got the time