Lessons of the Forest:
Shakyamuni Buddha was born under a tree, became enlightened under a tree, and died under a tree. Thai forest monasticism emulates the Buddha’s lifelong connection to the natural world and is considered the tradition closest in form to the path of the historical Buddha. Now, it has been conveyed to the West.
In this special section, two Western abbots represent this bare-boned monastic lineage in America and introduce the Kammatthana, or Meditation, forest tradition and reflect on its history and practices. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, abbot of Metta Forest Monastery near San Diego, charts the tradition’s history and explains how its founder, Ajaan Mun, revived what he believed to be the Buddha’s own practice. Ajaan Amaro, abbot of Abhayagiri in northern California and a disciple of the Thai forest master Ajaan Cha, walks us through daily encounters of this path.
Naturalist dharma—uniting with wilderness as a means to enlightenment—is presented in the discourse by renowned Thai meditation master Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (1906-1993), who formed his own forest tradition; and Thailand’s foremost woman dharma teacher, Upasika Kee Nanayon (1901-1978), offers the rarely heard voice of a female in her piece, “A Clear Awareness of Nature.”
Today, in California, physical and psychological hurdles of the wilderness continue to energize this ancient Thai path. But whether or not this austere tradition can survive the materialism of the U.S. remains to be seen.
Mary Talbot, contributing editor to Tricycle, was formerly the magazine’s executive editor. She lives in New York City.
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