Ajahn Chah — Buddha Dhamma Foundation
Ajahn Chah – Thai Forest Tradition
During the early part of the twentieth century Theravada Buddhism underwent a revival in Thailand under the leadership of outstanding teachers whose intentions were to raise the standards of Buddhist practise throughout the country. One of these teachers was the Venerable Ajahn Mun Bhuridatta. Ajahn Chah continued Ajahn Mun’s high standards of practise when he became a teacher.
The monks of this tradition keep very strictly to the original monastic rule laid down by the Buddha known as the vinaya. The early major schisms in the Buddhist sangha were largely due to disagreements over how strictly the training rules should be applied. Some opted for a degree of flexibility (some would argue liberality) whereas others took a conservative view believing that the rules should be kept just as the Buddha had framed them. The Theravada tradition is the heir to the latter view. An example of the strictness of the discipline might be the rule regarding eating: they uphold the rule to only eat between dawn and noon.
In the Thai Forest Tradition monks and nuns go further and observe the ‘one eaters practice’, whereby they only eat one meal during the morning. This special practice is one of the thirteen dhutanga, optional ascetic practices permitted by the Buddha that are used on an occasional or regular basis to deepen meditation practice and promote contentment with little. They might, for example, as well as eating only one meal a day, sleep outside under a tree, or dwell in secluded forests or graveyards.
After years of wandering, Ajahn Chah decided to plant roots in an uninhabited grove near his birthplace. In 1954, Wat Nong Pah Pong monastery was established, where Ajahn Chah could teach his simple, practice-based form of meditation. He attracted a wide variety of disciples, which included in 1966, the first Westerner, Venerable Ajahn Sumedho. Wat Nong Pah Pong includes over 250 branches throughout Thailand, as well as over 15 associated monasteries and ten lay practice centers around the world.
In 1975, Wat Pah Nanachat (International Forest Monastery) was founded with Ajahn Sumedho as the abbot. Wat Pah Nanachat was the first monastery in Thailand specifically geared towards training English-speaking Westerners in the monastic Vinaya, as well as the first run by a Westerner. In 1977, Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho were invited to visit the United Kingdom by the English Sangha Trust who wanted to form a residential sangha. 1979 saw the founding of Cittaviveka (commonly known as Chithurst Buddhist Monastery due to its location in the small hamlet of Chithurst) with Ajahn Sumedho as its head.
Several of Ajahn Chah’s Western students have since established monasteries throughout the world. By the early 1980s, Ajahn Chah’s health was in decline due to diabetes. He was taken to Bangkok for surgery to relieve paralysis caused by the diabetes, but it was to little effect. Ajahn Chah used his ill health as a teaching point, emphasizing that it was “a living example of the impermanence of all things…(and) reminded people to endeavor to find a true refuge within themselves, since he would not be able to teach for very much longer”. Ajahn Chah would remain bedridden and ultimately unable to speak for ten years, until his death on January 16, 1992, at the age of 73.
The teachings of the dhamma and the practice according to the Thai Forest Tradition in English is kept alive by Ajahn Sumedho and his disciples. We are privileged to be able to practice and benefit in a lineage of Theravada Buddhist monasticism and to practice in accordance with the doctrinal emphasis of the notion that the cultivation of the mind is paramount. As Ajahn Sumedho have often reminded us, awakening is here and now.