Thai forest monasticism emulates the Buddha’s life-long connection to the natural world. Forest monks are known to protect and even rehabilitate the forested land gifted to them as forest monasteries.
The Venerable Ajahn Chah Subhaddo (June 17, 1918 – Jan 16, 1992) was an influential teacher and founder of 350 monasteries in the Thai Forest Tradition.
In 1979, beginning with the founding of Cittaviveka (commonly known as Chithurst Buddhist Monastery) in Britain, the Thai forest tradition of Ajahn Chah has spread throughout Europe, the United States and the British Commonwealth.
There are now forest monasteries in England, France, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Italy, Canada, United States, Norway, Portugal, Germany and Brazil.
Besides being a refuge for people to find peace and liberation as taught by the Buddha, these monasteries are also helping to preserve the natural forests which are gradually being destroyed by development.
In Thailand, Ajahn Chah was the founder of two major monasteries in the Thai forest tradition.
Respected and loved as a teacher of great wisdom and compassion, he also set up Theravada Buddhism and the Forest Tradition in the West.
In honour of Ajahn Chah, the Bandar Utama Buddhist Society is organising the Ajahn Chah Remembrance Day 2018, on Dec 15 and 16 at SJK (C) Puay Chai (2), Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya, Selangor. The event is supported by the Theravada Buddhist Council of Malaysia and the Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia.
This day is to commemorate and remember with gratitude the dhamma (Buddhist teachings) of Ajahn Chah. It is also an occasion for reflection and dhamma practice, and for devotees to pay respects and give offerings to some of the most highly respected forest monks. The day also serves as a reminder to devotees to live in harmony with and to protect Nature.
This year, devotees will also be commemorating the 100th anniversary of Ajahn Chah’s birth. Many of his disciples from all over the world will be sharing his teachings over these two days.
Ajahn Chah was born near Ubon Ratchthani in north-east Thailand. He became a novice monk at nine.
After the death of his father, he became a wandering ascetic, walking across Thailand and receiving teachings at various monasteries. Among his teachers was Ajahn Mun, a renowned meditation master credited for reviving the forest tradition.
Over the next seven years, Ajahn Chah became a forest monk, living in forests and caves, and using meditation to discover the true meaning of life. He lived peaceably alongside wild animals, strictly upholding the Buddhist principles of non-aggression towards all forms of life.
When he was 36, Ajahn Chah was invited back to his home village, where he settled close by, in a forest called Pah Pong. Despite malaria, poor shelter and sparse food, disciples gathered around him in increasing numbers. The monastery, Wat Nong Pah Pong, was later set up.
In 1967, Ajahn Chah accepted his first Western disciple – Ven Ajahn Sumedho, an American monk who came to stay at Wat Nong Pah Pong.
Over time, other Westerners also arrived. In 1975, Ajahn Sumedho and a handful of Western bhikkhus (monks) dwelt in a forest not far from Wat Nong Pah Pong, as the local villagers asked them to stay on. With Ajahn Chah’s consent, Wat Pah Nanachat (International Forest Monastery) was set up and Ajahn Sumedho became the abbot of the first monastery in Thailand to be run by, and for, English-speaking monks. In 1977, Ajahn Chah was invited to visit Britain by the English Sangha Trust, a charity whose aim was to establish a local resident Buddhist Sangha. He took Ajahn Sumedho and Ven Ajahn Khemadhammo along, and remained in Britain.
Two years later, they established Chithurst Buddhist Monastery, the first branch monastery of Wat Nong Pah Pong outside Thailand.
In the early 1980s, Ajahn Chah’s health deteriorated due to diabetes. He used his ill health as a teaching point, emphasising that it was “a living example of the impermanence of all things and reminded people to strive to find a true refuge within themselves, since he would not be able to teach for very much longer”. He was bedridden and ultimately unable to speak for 10 years, until his death in 1992, at the age of 73.
Over one million people, including the Thai royal family, attended Ajahn Chah’s funeral in January 1993, held a year after his demise. He left behind a legacy of dhamma talks and monasteries.
At the Ajahn Chah Remembrance Day, the keynote speaker will be Ven Ajahn Liem, the abbot of Wat Nong Pah Pong. Aside from other speakers, there will also be a recorded talk by Ajahn Sumedho, who has been described by some as one of the foremost living Buddhist masters of our times. Some eminent monks will also be speaking and they include Ven Ajahn Passano, Ven Ajahn Tiradhammo, Ven Ajahn Viradhammo, Ven Ajahn Nyanadhammo and Ven Ajahn Jayasaro. Admission to the event is free. Doors open at 7am, and free food and drinks will be provided until 5pm.
Devotees are welcome to make an offering of food to the Sangha members (monastic community) and are advised to bring food offerings between 7am and 7.30am.