Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah
|Lineage||Thai Forest Tradition|
|Founder||Ajahn Chah Subhatto|
|Headquarters||Wat Pah Pong|
|Leader||Ajahn Liem Thitadhammo|
The Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah is a Mahanikai monastic organization in the Thai Forest Tradition composed of the students of Ajahn Chah Subhatto. Strictly speaking, the Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah denotes the institutions who have a branch affiliation with Wat Pah Pong, the administrative center of the organization.
Ajahn Chah's early training
Ajahn Jayasaro relates that while many Mahanikai monks would reordain in the Dhammayut order as an act of devotion to Ajahn Mun, a handful of other followers of Ajahn Mun would choose to stay Mahanikai monks.
Luang Por Thongrat
Ajahn Jayasaro relates that Ajahn Thongrat was considered "Zen Like", in the sense that he was very "Vigorous and outspoken — and outrageous — in his behaviour. Which of course in Thai monastic idiom, where etiquette and good behavior is so stressed, it quite made him stand out."
Little is known of Ajahn Chah's relationship with Ajahn Thongrat, though Ajahn Chah relates a story about the first time he had met Ajahn Thongrat. Upon hearing of Ajahn Thongrat's whereabouts, Ajahn Chah traveled a long distance to meet Ajahn Thongrat. When Ajahn Chah walked into the monastery where Ajahn Thongrat was staying, Ajahn Thongrat looked at Ajahn Chah for the first time and said "Oh, Chah! You've arrived at last!", which surprised Ajahn Chah, because there should have been no way that Ajahn Thongrat knew who Ajahn Chah was or that he was coming.
Ajahn Chah met Ajahn Kinnari while wandering dhutanga. Ajahn Jayasaro talks about how when dhutanga monks encounter each other, they will sometimes relate information about good spots to meditate, or good monasteries or meditation teachers.
Establishment of Wat Pah Pong
Prior to establishing monasteries, Ajahn Chah wandered dhutanga for 7 years, practicing in wilderness areas, caves and cremation grounds. After that period, he settled in a "fever ridden, haunted forest" known as "Pah Pong", and drew a following from there. A monastery was formed in the area, known today as Wat Pah Pong, in spite of poor living conditions and sparse food.
In 1967, Venerable Sumedho came to stay with Ajahn Chah at Wat Pah Pong. He found out about the monastery from one of Ajahn Chah's existing monks who happened to speak "a little bit of english".
Taking root in the west
Chithurst Buddhist Monastery was the first English monastery. In 1976, Ajahn Sumedho met George Sharp, Chairman of the English Sangha Trust. The Trust had been established in 1956 for the purpose of establishing a suitable residence for the training of Buddhist monks in England. By the 1970s, the Trust possessed a property in Hampstead that was not yet deemed suitable for what was desired. During a brief stay in London in 1978, Ajahn Sumedho, while undertaking the traditional alms round of Theravada monks (on Hampstead Heath), encountered a lone jogger who was struck by the Bhikkhu's outlandish attire. The jogger had, by chance, just acquired a piece of overgrown woodland in West Sussex. After expressing an interest in Buddhism, the gentleman attended a ten-day retreat at the Oaken Holt Buddhist Center near Oxford after which he offered the forest as a gift to the Sangha. In 1979, George Sharp purchased Chithurst House (a property adjacent to the wood) on behalf of The English Sangha Trust. Chithurst House gained legal recognition as a monastery in 1981. The monastery was named Cittaviveka, a Pali word meaning "the mind of non-attachment".
Harnham Buddhist Monastery, Aruna Ratanagiri was founded in June of the same year. Amaravati Buddhist Monastery (now the main headquarters of the U.K. monasteries) was established in 1984 and formally opened in 1985. A fourth location is The Forest Hermitage (Santidhamma & Bhavanadhamma) (founded by Ajahn Khemadhammo).
In the 1980s Ajahn Sumedho started getting requests to teach in California. Visits by either himself or one of his senior monks or nuns resulted in the Sanghapala Foundation being set up in 1988. A plot of 120 acres (0.49 km2) about 13 miles (21 km) north of Ukiah, California was given directly to Ajahn Sumedho by Chan Master Hsuan Hua, founder of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Talmage, California, before he died in 1995, would become Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery. Currently, the monastery rests on 280 acres (1.1 km2) of mountainous forest land.
Other western countries
The Thai Forest Tradition also exists in:
- Canada (Tisarana Buddhist Monastery)
- New Zealand (Bodhinyanarama Monastery and Vimutti Buddhist Monastery)
- Switzerland (Kloster Dhammapala monastery)
- Germany (Muttodaya Waldkloster Forest Monastery, Metta Vihara and Anenja Vihara)
- Italy (Santacittarama monastery)
- Slovenia (Samanadipa Forest Hermitage)
- Portugal (Sumedharama)
The Order of Siladhara
A siladhara is a Theravada Buddhist female monastic established by Ajahn Sumedho at Chithurst Buddhist Monastery, England. In 1983, he obtained permission from the Sangha in Thailand, to give a ten-precept pabbajja to the women, making them officially recognized female renunciants trained in the Ajahn Chah lineage. The reasons for its establishment are due to the historical loss of the bhikkhuni (nun's) ordination in Theravada Buddhism.
The female monastic community began in 1979, when Chithurst Monastery admitted four Western women as anagārikās. From 1979-1983 the women lived in a cottage a short walk from the main house, on the edge of Chithurst forest. In 1983, Ajahn Sumedho ordained the nuns as 10 Precept sīladhārā nuns at Chithurst. In 1984 the order outgrew the cottage, and the nuns community moved to Amaravati. According to the Forest Sangha newsletter: "Some years later a small group of nuns returned to Chithurst Monastery to establish a second sīladhārā community there."
The intention is for Milntuim eventually to be a place where sīladharā and anagārikās can live in community for periods of time following a monastic routine, hopefully, without some of the complexities of the larger double communities. There would also be facilities for individual sīladharā to spend up to several months in solitary retreat. In addition I would hope that it can support the practice of lay friends near and far and – as far as our monastic discipline permits – integrate with the local community.
2009 Ordination at Bodhinyana
On 22 October 2009 Ajahn Brahm facilitated an ordination ceremony for bhikkhunis where four female Buddhists, Venerable Ajahn Vayama, and Venerables Nirodha, Seri and Hasapanna, were ordained into Ajahn Brahm's lineage. The ordination ceremony took place at Ajahn Brahm's Bodhinyana Monastery at Serpentine (near Perth, WA), Australia. For his actions of 22 October 2009, on 1 November 2009, at a meeting of senior members of the Thai monastic sangha, held at Wat Pah Pong, Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand, Brahm was removed from the Ajahn Chah Forest Sangha lineage and is no longer associated with the main monastery in Thailand, Wat Pah Pong, nor with any of the other Western Forest Sangha branch monasteries of the Ajahn Chah tradition.
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