You would discover that many Westerners had come before you. Since 1965 hundreds of Europeans and Americans like you have come to visit and learn in the forest. Some came to study for short periods and then returned home to integrate what they learned into their household life. Some came to train more thoroughly as monks for one, two, or more years and then return home.
A young Western monk had just arrived at one of Achaan Chah's forest monasteries and asked permission to stay and practice.
I hope you're not afraid of suffering" was Achaan Chah's first response.
Somewhat taken aback, the young Westerner explained that he did not come to suffer but to learn meditation and to live peacefully in the forest.
You Westerners are generally in a hurry; therefore, you will have greater extremes of happiness, suffering, and defilement. If you practice correctly, the fact that you have to deal with many problems can be a source of deep wisdom later on.
A Western psychiatrist who had ordained as a monk had to learn this lesson. He asked permission to stay at WatBa Pong for the three-month rains retreat in order to have a master under whom he could really practice meditation. Several days later, when Achaan Chah announced to the assembled monks that chanting of the sutras from 3:30 to 4:40 A.M. and from 5:00 to 6:00 P.M. was a mandatory part of the rains retreat, this newly ordained Western monk raised his hand and began to argue loudly that he had come to meditate, not to waste time chanting. Such a Western style argument with the teacher in public was a shock to many of the other monks. Achaan Chah explained calmly that real meditation had to do with attitude and awareness in any activity, not just with seeking silence in a forest cottage. He made a point of insisting that the psychiatrist would have to be prompt for every chanting session for the entire rains retreat if he wished to stay at WatBa Pong.
A Western monk at WatBa Pong became frustrated by the difficulties of practice and the detailed and seemingly arbitrary rules of conduct the monks had to follow. He began to criticize other monks for sloppy practice and to doubt the wisdom of Achaan Chah's teaching. At one point, he went to Achaan Chah and complained, noting that even Achaan Chah himself was inconsistent and seemed often to contradict him self in an unenlightened way.
Achaan Chah just laughed and pointed out how much the monk was suffering by trying to judge others around him.
A Western visitor, new to the monastery and its traditions, asked Achaan Chah at the close of the recitation why the monks were chanting: "Is there some deep meaning to this ritual?" Achaan Chah smiled, "Yes, of course. It is important indeed for hungry monks to chant like “this before the only meal of the day. The Pali recitation means thank you," he said, "thank you very much."
Some of the new Western monks soon became attached to their robes and bowl and monk's bag. Carefully, they dyed their robes just the right color or contrived ways to become owners of the newer, lightweight, stainless steel begging bowls. Concern and care for and even attachment to only two or three possessions can take a lot of time when one has little else to do but meditate.
Several of the Western monks who had been world travelers before ordination, extravagantly free in their dress and their lifestyle, soon found the surrender and conformity of the monastery oppressive and difficult. Heads are shaved just alike, robes are worn just alike, even the way to stand and to walk is prescribed. Bows to senior monks are performed just this way, the begging bowl is held in just such a manner. Even with the best intentions, a Westerner can find this surrender frustrating.
Achaan Chah has been unusually tolerant of the comings and goings of his Western disciples. Traditionally, a new forest monk will spend at least five rains retreats with his first teacher before beginning his ascetic wanderings. Achaan Chah stresses discipline as a major part of his practice-working precisely and carefully with the monks' rules and learning to surrender to the monastic style and to the way of the community. But somehow Western monks, like favored children, have been allowed more than the traditional space to travel in order to visit other teachers.
Yet the Westerners kept coming and going, all to learn these lessons for themselves. At times, Achaan Chah would bless their travels; often, though, he would tease.
An English monk, vacillating in his search for the perfect life, the perfect teacher, had come and gone, ordained and disrobed, several times. "This monk," Achaan Chah finally chided, "has dog droppings in his monk's bag, and he thinks every place smells bad."
Another English monk who had come and gone from the monastery, to Europe, to a job, to a marriage engagement, to monk hood several times-was seated one day at Achaan Chah's cottage. "What this monk is looking for," Achaan Chah declared to the assembly, "is a turtle with a moustache. How far do you think he will have to travel to find it?"