How does a bhikkhu know the ford? Here a bhikkhu goes from time to time to such bhikkhus who have learned much, who are well versed in the tradition, who maintain the Dhamma, the Discipline, and the Codes, and he enquires and asks questions of them thus: ‘How is this, venerable sir? What is the meaning of this?’ These venerable ones reveal to him what has not been revealed, clarify what is not clear, and remove his doubts about numerous things that give rise to doubt. That is how a bhikkhu knows the ford.
–Mahāgopālaka Sutta (MN 33)
Bhante Ñāṇananda is not the monk I thought he would be. He is much more. As I recall my first meeting with him in his small cave kuti, the first word that crosses my mind is “innocent”. For a senior monk who has been in the order for more than 40 years, he is disarmingly simple, unpretentious and friendly. Childlike even. But you would not get that impression from his classics Concept and Reality in Early Buddhist Thought and The Magic of the Mind.
I was introduced to his writings by my friend Ven. Sumana, an English monk. It was Bhante Ñāṇananda’s Nibbāna – The Mind Stilled collection that I first read. Later I would go through The Magic of the Mind, which I would find both enchanting and baffling at the same time. It would take me even longer to take up Concept and Reality. All of them would leave a lasting impression on me, and define the way I interpret the Dhamma. But not before completely misconceiving what he was saying, engage in a lengthy correspondence with him, and finally meet him only to learn that I was miserably wrong on many things all that time. And it would be a meeting I’ll always remember.