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Buddhadharma : Fall 2006
fall 2006| 90 |buddhadharma as a revival movement intended to return to the strict observance of the Vinaya. At the time, rules were very loosely ob- served and little emphasis was placed on meditation. Ajahn Chah, born in 1918, met and was inspired by Ajahn Mun, one of the leaders of the revival. After years of assiduous practice and study, in 1954 he established Wat Pah Pong, the monastery that remains the seat of Ajahn Chah’s lineage in Thailand, with over 200 branch monasteries throughout the country. In 1967, Ajahn Sumedho, who had completed a rains retreat (vassa) in a monastery in Nong Khai, near Laos, de- cided to travel to Wat Pah Pong to study with Ajahn Chah. The teacher accepted him but insisted that no allowances be made for the Westerner. Life was difficult at Wat Pah Pong. An- other monk who was there in those early days says, “It was rigorous, all right. You got up at 3 a.m., after which there were long hours of chanting and long hours of sitting, followed by a long walk to re- ceive alms, which would amount to one very simple meal in the early morning that would do for the whole day. There was lots of hard work carrying water and sweeping leaves and long periods of solitude.” But there was also Ajahn Chah: “You could go and sit in his kuti and he just exuded a wonderful feeling of profundity, naturalness, and ease. There was no feeling of guru worship at all, though. One minute he would be dealing with representatives from the palace and then he would turn to a villager and chat about his water buffalo and then turn to speak to a young monk. The whole place was influenced by his manner. It com- bined rigor and joy in a very beautiful and livable way.” The number of “internationals” com- ing to Wat Pah Pong grew, and in 1975 Ajahn Sumedho and a few Western bhik- khus spent some time in a nearby forest. The villagers asked them to stay, and the first Thai monastery for internationals, Wat Pah Nanachat, was set up. It is now home to about thirty monastics and is a mecca for Western students of Ajahn Chah’s tradition. Two years later, Ajahn Chah traveled with Ajahn Sumedho to England at the behest of a group of students who hoped to establish a mo- nastic sangha there, and not long after, Chithurst Buddhist Monastery (now known as Cittaviveka) was established, followed later by the larger Amaravati, in Hertfordshire. In 1983, Bodhinaya monastery in Western Australia was ahumble man of small stature living simply in a kuti (meditation hut), in the remote and impoverished northeast of Thailand, grew to be one of the most influential figures in Buddhism in the West. Ajahn Chah was not only an important teacher for the founders of the Insight Meditation Society, a largely secularized group devoted to vipassana meditation, he also left a legacy of rig- orous Theravada monasticism that is carried on in monasteries and their as- sociated lay communities throughout the world. This group of monasteries is led by Ajahn Chah’s senior Western monks. There is no overarching organization that carries on his legacy, but the age of the Internet demands a label, so when the far-flung community decided to cre- ate a web portal in 2001, they gave it the name forestsangha.org. Three of the best known Forest Sangha teachers are Ajahn Sumedho in England; Ajahn Amaro in the United States; and Ajahn Brahm in Australia. They and other senior Western disciples serve a monastic community of about 150 spread amongst five monasteries in Eng- land, three in Australia, two in New Zea- land, and one each in the United States, Switzerland, France, and Italy, along with several smaller “associated monas- proFile: ForeSt Sangha By Barry Boyce teries,” two of which are in Canada. A project is under way to create a substan- tial monastery outside of Ottawa in the next several years. The modern Thai Forest Tradition was born in the late nineteenth century ➤ continued page 93 (Above) Ajahn Sumedho leading senior monks on alms rounds at Wat Pah Nanachat, Thailand, during a recent sangha gathering. (Below) Monks receiving the morning meal at Wat Pah Nanachat. photos:montRisiRithampiti©watpahnanachat,thailand