The Forest Dhamma narrative starts in early 1963 with the arrival of at Baan Taad Forest Monastery of Ajaan Paññāvaddho, who soon began translating some of Ajaan Mahā Boowa’s books on Dhamma practice into English. Because Ajaan Mahā Boowa often referred to his teachings as ‘Dhamma of the forest’, the first book of talks that Ajaan Paññāvaddho translated and published was entitled “Forest Dhamma.” Inspired by this and other translations, many Westerners came to live and practice with Ajaan Mahā Boowa, participating wholeheartedly in the unique spiritual lifestyle of the Thai Forest Tradition.
Forest Dhamma as an organization had its beginnings in 1999. Although merely an informal association at the time, the aim was to print and distribute English translations of Ajaan Mahā Boowa’s books on the teachings and the practices of the Thai Forest Tradition. With the publication of Ajaan Dick Sīlaratano’s translation of “Ācariya Mun Bhūridatta Thera: A Spiritual Biography” in 2002, and the subsequent addition of a website, that project became known as Forest Dhamma Books. To date our Forest Dhamma website has published 14 books for free download.
In an attempt to further that global outreach, in 2010 Ajaan Dick Sīlaratano set up a nonprofit organization in the United States. The intent was to broaden the scope of Forest Dhamma to include a community of practitioners dedicated to integrating the teachings of the Thai Forest tradition into their practice. Forest Dhamma Monastery Organization is the registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports Forest Dhamma’s spiritual purpose. In the autumn of 2011, FDMO purchased 215 acres of woodland in the Allegheny foothills of Rockbridge County, Virginia, where we intend to build a monastic sanctuary in the near future. This purchase was funded entirely by public donations.
The move to the new monastery will open a new era in the evolution of the Forest Dhamma and the propagation of the teachings of the Thai Forest Tradition. Once it is situated in the wooded countryside of Virginia, Forest Dhamma Monastery will open its heart to those practitioners who wish to participate in intensive meditation training, modeled after traditional monastic forms. The move can be seen as a metaphor for the evolution of Theravada Buddhist practice in the West.
Historically, the authentic religious experience of the Thai Forest Tradition has been safeguarded by those who have forsaken secular life to seek enlightenment as monastics or recluses. At this time in the history of our tradition, we find ourselves in a dilemma. Because the monastic movement is almost non-existent in the United States and seems irrelevant to a majority of practitioners, the responsibility for keeping and teaching the Dhamma in the United States rests primarily in the hands of the laity. To remedy this imbalance, Forest Dhamma is striving to implement a time-honored model of monastic practice and training that can safeguard and transmit the Dhamma in the tradition of the Thai Forest masters. As such, Forest Dhamma is a form of Buddhist training for the deeply committed practitioner.
Forest Dhamma’s central vision is to provide authentic Buddhist monastic training in the way of the Thai Forest Tradition, and to safeguard that tradition by producing qualified teachers. This will be the primary function of the 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 woodlands and mountains. With that vision in mind, Forest Dhamma intends to foster a community of meditators dedicated to fully integrating the teachings of the Buddha into their practice, while living in the tranquil setting of a forest sanctuary.