Filed in Theravada

Just Another Thing in the Forest

Ajaan Amaro, the co-abbot of Abhayagiri forest monastery in northern California, on the renunciant life, divesting the heart of baggage, and feeding the mosquitoes

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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.


The Buddha got enlightened in a forest. What is it about being in the forest that helps people?

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