The Best Dhamma Talk I Ever Heard

Ven. Ajahn Brahmavaṁso

Ajahn Brahm, mid-1990s

I only met Venerable Ñāṇavimala once, but the meeting left a lasting impression. Sometime around 1990, I was visiting Sri Lanka and staying at a monastery in Anderson Road, Nedimala. One afternoon, an English monk and I, together with our Australian attendant, decided to walk to Vajirarama to pay our respects to Venerable Piyadassi. We arrived hot and tired only to be told by Ven. Piyadassi to take a seat and he would arrange some tea. Little did I know that the great Mahāthera was to make the tea himself for us! I was stunned by such humility.

After some discussion with the Venerable, he mentioned that Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi was staying at Vajirarama, having just arrived back in Sri Lanka from the U.S. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi was another of my ‘monk heroes’ and I jumped at the opportunity to pay my respects and express my sincere gratitude to him for translating so many suttas (discourses) into readable English.

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi then mentioned that Ven. Kheminda was staying in the next room. Ven. Kheminda had written that excellent booklet on the importance of absorption (jhāna) and had, as a consequence, endured with admirable fortitude the unwarranted criticism from other less knowledgeable monks. I had admired him for many years and relished the occasion of bowing at his feet and expressing my support for his courage in standing up for the Dhamma taught by the Buddha.

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi then advised that we should pay our respects to another monk whom I had never heard of before, an ageing German monk called Ñāṇavimala. It was as if the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi was saving the best treat for the last. I recall Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi saying that Ven. Ñāṇavimala doesn’t speak very much so we should just enter the room, pay our respects and then leave. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi waited outside.

It was over an hour before we left that room. What happened inside remains with me today as the best Dhamma Talk that I have ever had the good karma (accumulated merit) to listen to! It was worth the whole journey from Australia to Colombo to experience. The Venerable Ñāṇavimala wove quotes from the suttas together with explanations from his own experience into such a symphony of Dhamma that I left not with stars in my eyes, but with more like Dhammacakka wheels in my eyes! They would call it ‘Awesome’ today.

I felt so sorry for the kind Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi. When we emerged he asked where we had been. When we replied that we had just heard a rip-roaring Dhamma Talk from Ven. Ñāṇavimala, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi lamented that Ven. Ñāṇavimala rarely if ever gives such talks and he had missed it!

I never had the good fortune to meet Ven. Ñāṇavimala again but that one chance meeting will never be forgotten. A photo of the Ven. Ñāṇavimala hangs in our dānasālā (dining hall) in Perth alongside other great and inspiring monks.