Forest Dhamma Monastery is a monastic community in the lineage of Ajaan Mahā Boowa whose primary focus is on the Buddhist practices of the Thai Forest Tradition. The monastery was founded by Ajaan Dick Sīlaratano in the autumn of 2011 when two hundred and seventeen acres of woodland were purchased in the Allegheny foothills of Rockbridge County, Virginia. The land is thickly forested with extensive tracts of tall oaks and poplars, and intersected by two small streams that traverse its full length. The purchase was funded entirely by donations from members of the public.
Historically, the Buddha’s forest-dwelling tradition has been preserved by those who have forsaken secular life to seek enlightenment as full-time monastics. At this time in the history of that tradition, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Because the forest movement is limited to a handful of monastic communities which often seem unrelated to mainstream Buddhist practice, the task of teaching Dhamma in the United States has fallen primarily to lay practitioners. In addressing this issue, Forest Dhamma strives to implement a time-honored model of monastic training and practice that can safeguard and transmit the Dhamma in line with the forest-dwelling tradition of the Buddha. As such, Forest Dhamma is a form of Buddhist training for the deeply committed practitioner.
Forest Dhamma’s central vision is to provide authentic monastic training in the way of the Thai Forest Tradition, and to preserve that tradition by assisting the development of future teachers. This goal remains the primary function of Forest Dhamma Monastery. The name itself is deeply evocative of the potential for spiritual awakening in the midst of the natural and tranquil environment of wilderness land. With that vision in mind, Forest Dhamma is striving to foster a community of practitioners dedicated to fully integrating the teachings of the Buddha into their practice, while living in the tranquil setting of a forest sanctuary.
Forest Dhamma aims to assist serious practitioners in transforming their hearts and minds to become living examples of the Buddha’s teaching to practice generosity, moral virtue and meditative development for the benefit of all living beings. To accomplish this, we encourage an intensive approach to meditation practice based upon a consistent and long-term formal monastic training and a guided systematic practice integrated into the course of everyday monastic life. At the same time, we endeavor to introduce the public to the lifestyle of Buddhist practice and to the practical application of Buddhist meditation techniques in their daily living, giving them the opportunity to be in contact with the principles of the Buddha’s teachings so that they can learn to cultivate such virtuous qualities in their own lives.
Forest Dhamma Monastery exists as an environment for authentic and engaged Buddhist training and serves as a meeting point for the fostering of Dhamma for future generations. For those practitioners who want to enter fully onto the Buddha’s path to enlightenment, Forest Dhamma Monastery offers an opportunity for men and women to follow a life of commitment, accountability and self-sacrifice while living in a secluded forest environment pursuing a life of meditative reflection. For those who are interested in what the monastery has to offer, the opportunity exists to come and visit for a while, or perhaps to turn monastic living into a way of life.
The Forest Dhamma community consists of monks and nuns, together with a number of full-time lay residents. The community also includes white-robed postulants who observe the Eight Precepts, and who have made a commitment to train within the monastic community for at least a year with the prospect of making a further commitment to ordain as monks when their training is completed.
Whether we are beginners at meditation, seasoned retreatants, or monastics engaged in a lifetime of spiritual practice, development in the Buddha’s Dhamma requires adherence to certain uniform principles. Essentially, this process involves a movement from the external to the internal, from the coarse to the subtle, from an emphasis on the body to an emphasis on the mind, and from a condition of activity to a condition of quiescence. To be successful, the training must be a discipline that encompasses the whole person and all aspects of daily life. It is extremely important to address the question of our daily habits and patterns of behavior when taking up monastic training. Even for those who follow a monastic lifestyle, it is not easy to disentangle ourselves from the acquired customs and habits that have colored our thoughts, speech and actions for as long as we can remember. For that reason, the first thing aspirants must develop is a proper monastic etiquette. Besides promoting harmony and grace within the community, forms of monastic etiquette are also a means of training oneself in mindfulness and circumspection in everyday social interactions.
Dedicated aspirants must be prepared to devote their whole lives to the practice. That is what is meant by following the path to Nibbāna. They have to spend their lives to accomplish it. Not many people are prepared to do that. But the rewards exceed all expectation. True understanding of Dhamma takes a long time, and it takes great determination to attain.
Following the Buddha’s path to the end of all suffering requires a heart that truly believes in the purifying power of spiritual practice, both for oneself and for all living beings. Many people are motivated to learn techniques that help them live their lives in relative happiness. True seekers of the way aim to reach beyond such techniques to the essence of the Teaching, understanding self-realization to be the greatest contribution they can make to their fellow human beings.