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    Pilgrimage Paid Member

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    The Atheist Pilgrim Paid Member

    Stephen Batchelor is a paradoxical pilgrim. He’s an atheist, or self-avowed “nonbeliever,” and yet he keeps traveling to religiously significant Buddhist places. His most recent book, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, is all about pilgrimage, and he often leads tours around Buddhist sites in India. But if you’re taking a secular approach to Buddhism, why embark on geographical journeys to Buddhism’s holy places? Sam Mowe, Tricycle’s associate editor, spoke with Batchelor about things that might seem out of character for the Buddhist skeptic: devotion, imagination, and embodied experience. More »
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    Just Another Thing in the Forest Paid Member

    Venerable Ajaan Amaro has been a monk in the Thai forest tradition for twenty years and is the co-abbot of Abhayagiri, a monastery he helped to found two years ago in northern California. He grew up J. C. Horner in the English countryside and studied physiology and psychology at the University of London, where he realized that "after forty years of studying the mind, my professors were no happier or wiser than I was." As a student, his mind-expansion technology consisted of listening to music, reading mystical literature—"Ramakrishna and the like"—and pursuing Dionysian revelry. But a Rudolf Steiner-school philosopher, Trevor Ravenscroft, pointed him toward Asia. At the age of twenty-one, he landed at Wat Pah Nanachat, a monastery in the forest tradition for the Western disciples of meditation master Ajaan Chah. Ajaan Chah ordained him sometime after his twenty-second birthday, and Amaro Bhikkhu, as he was then known, spent two years training in Thailand before returning to England. Here he joined the man who would be his teacher, Ajaan Sumedho, an American disciple of Ajaan Chah, at the newly founded Chithurst Monastery in the woods seventy miles southwest of London. Abhayagiri sits on 250 mountain acres in Mendocino County that were donated to Ajaan Sumedho and the order by the late Master Hsuan Hua, the Chinese Buddhist teacher and founder of the California temple City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Nestled amidst madrone-covered hills are the meditation hall, a common building with kitchen and offices, and a half-dozen isolated wooden huti, or meditation huts, where nine monastics—seven men and two women—live and practice, each hut adjoining a shaded path for walking meditation. Some of the monastics as well as lay visitors to the community stay in tents and trailers. Abhayagiri, unlike its sister monasteries, whose funding comes largely from Thailand and other Asian communities, is supported by "good old Caucasian middle-class intellectual meditators." Ajaan Amaro is the author of Silent Rain, a collection of journal entries and dharma talks. He spoke with Mary Talbot at Abhayagiri in May 1998. More »
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    A Clear Awareness of Nature Paid Member

    Thai society, like most societies, has done little to support women in dharma practice, but nevertheless, laywomen and ordained nuns have played a crucial role in transmitting the Buddha's teachings. As a result of the forest tradition, in fact, many more Thai women took up meditation than had ever before. Unlike scholastic Buddhism, which was the province of monks and male novices, the forest is open to everyone. The forest master Maha Boowa compared his tradition to a university that "covers a vast area, far longer and wider than any other secular university…and can accept more students, irrespective of nationality, caste, sex, age and prior academic qualities." Dozens of nunneries were established by the disciples of Ajaan Mun. Ajaan Lee, for one, a well-known meditation master and disciple of Ajaan Mun, had twice as many nuns as monks at his monastery. More »
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    Conserving the Inner Ecology Paid Member

    Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (1906-1993), one of the modern Thai sangha's most provocative interpreters of Buddhist thought, formed a wilderness tradition all his own. He was ordained as a monk in 1928, but two years later, fed up with the prevailing monastic system, he founded Wat Suan Mokkhabalarama—the Garden of Empowering Liberation Monastery—in the forest near Chaiya in southern Thailand. For Buddhadasa, the city represented the imposition of artifice on the natural. To conform with nature meant to let go of our defilements—wild nature, he taught, must be conserved in order for beings to attain nirvana. And society, by extension, must be reformed before human beings will have the wisdom to conserve and unite with nature. This approach has made Buddhadasa the inspiration for social and environmental protest worldwide, and the engaged Buddhists of today such as Thailand's Sulak Sivaraksa have modeled their activism on his teachings. While Buddhadasa is known as a "forest monk," and insisted that his monks live in the forest, his view departed from that of the monks in Ajaan Mun's tradition, and his teachings were decidedly less orthodox. The Kammatthana monks view the wilderness as an indispensably good teacher, but essentially dangerous—part of samsara and something to be transcended—whereas Buddhadasa saw nature as dharmic perfection. He promoted the integration of the scholarly and practice aspects of the Buddhist path, and during his twenties retired to the jungle for six years armed with Buddhist scriptures. Moreover, unlike the Kammatthana monks, Buddhadasa believed practitioners had to hone right understanding before any successful attempt at meditation practice could be undertaken. Ajaan Mun, by contrast, insisted on practice over study. Whereas Kammatthana monks entered the forest in search of personal teachers, Buddhadasa sought no teacher: the transcriptions of his hundreds of dharma talks are his legacy, and while several monasteries in Thailand and around the world align themselves with his teachings, he has no formal lineage. In an excerpt from a dharma talk on conservation, Buddhadasa lays out his notion of nature as dharma, the fundamental goodness of the wilderness, and explains how, through right view and conforming ourselves to nature, we can end suffering. More »
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    Teachings of the Forest Masters Paid Member

    Bhikkhu Buddhadasa. Heartwood oj the Bodhi Tree. Boston Wisdom Publications, 1994. Bhikkhu Santikaro, trans. Mindfulness with Breathing: Unveiling the Secrets of Life. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1997. Bhikkhu Santikaro and Roderick Bucknell, trans. Keys to Natural Truth. Bangkok: Dhamma Study Practice Group, 1989. Bucknell, Roderick, trans. Handbokh for Mankind, rev. ed. Bangkok: Dhamma Study Practice Group, 1993. Bucknell, Roderick, trans. Buddha-Dhamma for Students, rev. ed. Bangkok: Dhamma Study Practice Group, 1988. Kornfield, Jack. Living Dharma. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1996 (contains a session of questions and answers with Ajaan Chah and an essay by Ajaan Maha Boowa; the Achaan Dhammadharo included in this book is not the same person as Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo). More »