The Thai Buddhist Forest Tradition. Thudong: Forest Monks and Hermits of Thailand. Video Edited and Produced by...
The Thai Buddhist Forest Tradition. Thudong: Forest Monks and Hermits of Thailand. Video Edited and Produced by Facundo Soares Gache.
Since the time of the Buddha there have always been monks and nuns who have retreated into the depths of forests, mountains and caves seeking physical isolation to aid them in the development of meditation and realization of the Dhamma, the truth of the Buddha's teaching. Whether in solitude or in small groups, such renunciates lived a life of simplicity, austerity, and determined effort. They have included some of the greatest meditation masters since the Buddha himself. Far from cities and towns, willing to put up with the rigours and hardships of living in the wild for the opportunity to learn from nature, and uninterested in worldly fame or recognition, these forest monastics often remained unknown, their life stories lost among the jungle thickets and mountaintops.
The contemporary Thai Forest Tradition is a down-to-earth, back to the roots movement that models its meditation practice and lifestyle on that of the Buddha and the early generations of his disciples. The advent of the modern age notwithstanding, forest monasteries still keep alive the ancient traditions through following the Buddhist Monastic Code of Discipline, the training rules laid down by the Buddha, known as the Vinaya.
Until the mid-twentieth century most Buddhist monasteries in Thailand were the principle centres of education. Monks in the towns and villages taught school children and emphasised the scholastic study of the Buddhist scriptures. Performing ceremonies also played a large role in their lives. For the most part these village monasteries placed little emphasis on meditation, used money, and did not closely follow the monks' and nuns' training rules.
The Thai revival of the Forest Tradition in the nineteenth century was an attempt to return to the lifestyle and training that was practised under the Buddha. The two main figures in this movement were Venerable Ajahn Mun Bhuridatta and Venerable Ajahn Sao Kantasilo.
Their intention was to realise in their own hearts and minds the inner peace and wisdom of the Dhamma. The busy village monasteries were abandoned for the peace and quiet of nature. The Vinaya was followed strictly, emphasizing the importance of every detail. Monks lived without money, accepting whatever was offered and patiently enduring when nothing was. Ascetic practices recommended by the Buddha were incorporated into their lifestyle: e.g., eating only one meal a day from one's almsbowl, wearing rag robes and living in the forest or in cemeteries.
The monks would often wander through the countryside seeking places conducive to meditation, carrying their few possessions: an almsbowl, three robes, a glot (an umbrella with a mosquito net, which was hung in the forest and used like a tent), and a few personal requisites.
From Ajahn Mun, Ajahn Sao and their numerous distinguished disciples, has come a legacy of powerfully relevant examples of an uncomplicated and disciplined way of life. Their teachings are directed towards those who wish to purify their minds by living the way of the Buddha. The very heart of the Forest Tradition is the development of meditation. By cultivating deep states of tranquility and systematically investigating the body and mind, insight arises as to the true nature of existence.
When entering a good forest monastery, the spirit of practice is evident everywhere. There is an air of simplicity. The buildings are clean and tidy. The remote setting supports an atmosphere of renunciation. Simple unadorned huts are individually nestled in small forest clearings. Monks or nuns mindfully and quietly do their chores or engage in sitting or walking meditation.
In developing meditation one may encounter many obstacles, and the forest masters were noted for their creativity in overcoming the hindrances and defilements of the mind. They were distinguished by their daring determination to realise enlightenment. The disciples of Ajahn Mun and Ajahn Sao gradually grew in number, and due to the excellent teaching they received and the intensity of their effort, many of them became great masters in their own right. Today the Forest Tradition is well established in Thailand and is beginning to take root in western countries.