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The Thai Forest Tradition

Commonly practised in Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka is a branch of the Theravada Buddhist tradition called the Thai Forest tradition. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Thai Forest tradition is its strict adherence to the original teachings and rule of monastic discipline laid down by the Buddha.

The Forest tradition actually predates the Buddha as it was a common practice amongst spiritual seekers in ancient India to practise the act of renunciation by wandering into the wilderness. Though born a prince, the Buddha chose this path to seek the way beyond birth, aging, sickness and death at the age of twenty-nine.

The forest was where the Buddha preached his teachings, gained enlightenment and passed away. It was the perfect setting for peaceful meditation and a place for the Buddha and his disciples to improve their spirituality and overcome their fears by encountering and dealing with the dangers presented by dwelling with wild animals.

The Forest tradition is centred on meditation and the realization that the focus of monastic life is enlightenment or attaining Nirvana. A day in the life of a Forest monk involves constant practise of the Buddha's path of contemplative insight, which includes living a life of discipline, renunciation and meditation.

It is through this process that the Forest monks can understand the inner truth and peace as preached by the Buddha. The extensive 227 rules of conduct, or precepts, must be strictly adhered to. An example of one such precept is that food can only be consumed between dawn and noon.

Laypeople wonder why Forest monks undergo such a strict and disciplined regime that entails living a life of absolute austerity. The Buddha believed that living in this manner allows Forest monks to simplify and refine the mind. Refinement allows them to explore and understand the fundamental causes of suffering within the human psyche and ultimately cultivate a path that leads toward freedom from suffering and supreme happiness.

The lay community plays a big part in the Forest monks' life by providing material support for the monks due to their renunciant life. It is common practise in Thailand for laypeople to offer almsfood at the crack of dawn to Forest monks.

Such acts of kindness are done for nothing in return. Forest monks also participate in a practise known as tudong, whereby they wander on foot in the countryside either on pilgrimage or in retreat as a means of furthering their practise of renunciation.

To encapsulate the Thai Forest tradition in a nutshell, a quote by the Venerable Ajahn Chah:

"The purpose of the practice, then, is to seek inwardly, searching and investigating until you reach the original mind. The original mind is also known as the pure mind. The pure mind is the mind without attachment."

- The Path to Peace, Ajahn Chah

Main source of information: www.forestsangha.org

Read more about:

Ajahn Chah Remembrance Day
An American adapting to monastic life
Thai Forest Monastic Tradition from ajahnchahrd.com

MySinchew 2009.12.30


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