A highly-respected senior monk from Thailand gifted Forest Dhamma Monastery a large stone Buddha statue. He calls it Phra Buddha Metta. The statue is five feet wide, eight feet tall and weighs nearly five tons. The Buddha arrived at the monastery in its shipping container on June 25, 2015. Because the Sala roof was already in place, we had to forklift the Buddha in through an opening in the back wall. That process took a full two days to complete as we had to line the statue up perfectly with the concrete pedestal centered in the Buddha room. Later we encased the pedestal in finished maple wood and installed an overhead lighting system.
Due to a downward slope of the terrain on two sides of the Sala, we engineered a two-tiered retaining wall system to shape the landscape to better fit our needs. We stacked interlocking blocks to form a setback, which helps the wall support the pressure from the earth that is piled behind it. Before stacking the blocks, our volunteers prepared a leveling pad of well-compacted gravel. We laid a retaining wall base course, leveling each block as we went. That was followed by backfilling and compacting behind and in front of the base course. The remaining blocks were stacked one course at a time to a level of four feet. Cap stones with a slight overhang were placed along the top course of the wall. The area behind the walls was backfilled with soil, which was tamped and graded before being sown with grass seed and clover.
The monastery’s resident craftsman, Luang Por Rob, designed and assembled four raised platforms for the monks to sit on when taking their daily meal. Richly grained Sapele boards were glued seamlessly together to form the platform’s surface, which was attached to a frame base and carefully leveled, planed and sanded, then sealed with a tung oil based varnish. Each matching platform is four feet wide and seven feet long, and is raised six inches above the floor. When strung together end to end, the entire platform can sit up to ten monks comfortably.
Sala: Hardwood Floor
In mid-July 2015 a local flooring crew started installing the hardwood floors. First they sanded the plywood subfloor level and smooth. Then they put down 8” cherry flooring in the main room and 12” maple in the Buddha room. Our crew of volunteers finished the floors by applying several coats of a tung oil based varnish.
Sala: Exterior Siding & Porch
In mid-April 2015 the vertical-groove cedar siding was delivered. We began the project by applying a protective coat of timber oil to each board. The boards were then precisely cut and nailed to horizontal furring strips. In mid-May the Ipe decking boards and railings for the porch were delivered. Three weeks later the porch decking was in place and work on the porch railing began. By mid-July the porch railing and the front steps were completed and timber oil had been applied to all surfaces.
Sala: Interior Walls
In March 2015 we started finishing the interior walls, beginning with fiberglass insulation enclosed in drywall. For finishing the walls, we chose an American Clay plaster finish. American Clay is an all-natural earth plaster from the Southwest that creates a breathable surface which moderates room temperatures, balances the humidity and absorbs sound. Troweling on the initial coat brought some of the sand to the surface, giving it a rougher surface texture. We then used a sponge to compress the surface of the wall, giving the plaster a suede look and bringing out the sparkle of the marble sand.
Our radiant heating system was designed and engineered from start to finish by a member of the Forest Dhamma monastic community. Before the concrete floor was poured in October 2014, pex pipe was looped in sections on the gravel underlayment with all pipes connected to the main hot water distribution center on the wall. A second system was installed under the upstairs subfloor, which was later covered by a layer of hardwood flooring. Our team installed a control system with separate sensors to monitor outdoor temperature and room temperature. This complex system of pipes and electronics evenly maintains the desired room temperature for both concrete and hardwood floors.
The boiler shed was built to house the GARN water boiler that provides hot water for our radiant heat system. This project was our first foray into designing a complete timber frame structure. We sourced the oak timbers, then notched or mortised and tenoned them to custom fit each joint. Our volunteers erected the posts and secured the beams, the joists and the rafters before laying the metal roof, closing in the walls and building and installing the sliding barn door. Our GARN 3000 is a state-of-the-art wood-fired hydronic heating system that uses a large thermal storage tank to store the hot water generated by a fast, clean and efficient wood-burning gasification process. The Sala and the bathhouse pull hot water from the GARN as needed for their radiant floor heat distribution systems.
After the timber frame was standing, we started on the first layer of the roof, which consists of 1 1/2" thick pine paneling directly over the oak rafters. After that came six inches of rigid foam insulation, followed by plywood and underlayment. We had some local framers come and help us with the front and back sections of the roof, which were framed with conventional lumber and involved some tricky angles and corners. Finally, a local roofing company came and put on the metal standing-seam roof.
Sala: Timber Frame
In May 2014, the timber frame went up. After months of preparation, planning and fabrication, flatbed trucks and trailers arrived bearing loads of heavy oak timbers, all cut and joined ahead of time to exacting specifications. Hugh Lofting Timber Framing, Inc. of West Grove, PA designed the frame and fabricated many of the more intricate pieces. Bob Smith of Bear Dance Joinery (right here in Lexington, VA) fabricated the remainder of the posts, rafters and beams, and was on site for the raising with his crew (and our volunteer crew), directing and coordinating the operation. The crane arrived at the beginning of the week, and the frame was fully erected before the end of the week.
Sala: Concrete, Walls (May 2014)
After finishing the foundation work and installing tubing for radiant heating, we had someone come to help us pour the concrete slabs for the shrine room and two side rooms, on the west end of the sala. We also pre-fabricated many of the stud walls and stacked them aside in preparation for the erection of the timber frame.
Sala: West End
In April 2014, we filled in around the basement foundation with gravel and earth, then started on the foundation work for the west end of the building (the shrine room and two side rooms), as well as the concrete piers to support the wrap-around porch.
We started the 2014 season's work on the 1st of March, moving in the floor beams and steel columns for the floor system. The two large steel posts which support nearly half of the roof structure were fabricated for us by a local metal worker. Before the end of the month, we managed to lay all of the floor joists and plywood subflooring, before the final snowfall of the year, at the end of the month.
Sala: Foundation (Jun - Nov 2013)
Concurrent with work on the bath house, we proceeded with the sala foundation. We built forms for the concrete footings (one foot deep and two feet wide), set the steel reinforcing bars, and poured the concrete. Then a local mason came and did the block work, building the basement walls in a couple of weeks. We then had to apply a coat of stucco, waterproofing material, and foam board to insulate the basement walls. In October, we prepared the basement-to-be as best as possible to host the annual Kathina ceremony. It was a chilly day, but the sun warmed everyone up nicely.
A few photos around the monastery, March through July.
Small Kuti (Nov - Dec 2013)
Until the end of October, we had been renting a house nearby to serve as our "home base." Now with the kitchen, bath house, and several dwellings complete (or nearly so) we were ready to fully move over the monastery. We built two additional small huts in the late fall, fully insulated with gas heaters, to accommodate our volunteers who would be staying for the winter.
Second Senior Kuti
This is the third and final kuti (monk's dwelling) that was included as part of the monastery's original site plan. It is located close to the sala, and has its own bathroom, with electricity and hot water, making it ideal for visiting or senior monks. We began construction at the end of May 2013, and its first occupants were the visiting monks who came to participate in the Kathina ceremony at the end of October.
The bath house consists of four full bathrooms and a laundry/utility room for use by monastery residents and visitors. It was built in the Summer/Fall of 2013.
On November 6, 2012 we held our first annual Kathina ceremony at Forest Dhamma Monastery. Three monks from Wat Pa Colorado joined the resident monks for the ceremony, along with a crowd of about fifty guests. The day began with a meal offering to the monks at our rental house, adjacent to the monastery. Then everybody headed over to the monastery, and the ceremony was held in the mostly-completed kitchen building, because it offered the greatest amount of space for such a large gathering. It was still cramped!
Sala (February - June 2013)
The "sala" is the monastery’s main meeting hall. It is here that the community gathers for their one daily meal, does morning and evening chanting, receives guests and joins together for special occasions. The Sala is a place for meditation, and will also house a library of traditional and contemporary Buddhist texts.
This gallery shows the site preparation during the Spring & Summer of 2013.
This gallery shows the site preparation during the Spring & Summer of 2013.
Like all of our buildings, the abbot’s kuti was built by a dedicated team of monks and lay volunteers. Our crew began construction in the snow and sub-freezing temperatures of February 2013, and continued undaunted through subsequent weeks of sleet and rain. Now complete, it serves as the abbot’s residence, as well as being a temporary gathering place for the community's evening chanting and meditation until the sala is complete.
This kuti was the first permanent monk’s residence that we built. Construction began in the Summer of 2012, simultaneous with the kitchen building, and was completed by our hardy lay volunteers over the winter. With its own bathroom & utilities, it is intended to accommodate a monk who is senior, either in age or in rains. A small wood stove provides ample heating in the winter. Like all of our buildings, it was constructed using local timber as much as possible.
The kitchen was the monastery's first major building project. Construction commenced in the Summer of 2013, and was finished during the winter. Besides a kitchen, the building has two bedrooms, and bathroom and a large loft, to serve as living quarters for visitors.
As the rains retreat was approaching in July of 2012, two small kutis were built in a three week period to provide the monks appropriate shelter for the retreat. These rustic dwellings were placed deep in the woods and were constructed mostly of old materials that we had retrieved from other projects. They are still being used by the monks today.
Our second building. The workshop was constructed with logs salvaged from a 100 year old dilapidated log house on the monastery land. The logs were re-cut and laid on a foundation of stones and mortar. Using a portable sawmill on loan from a neighbor, we sawed the joists and rafters from oak logs left by the former owners of the property. The building as yet remains unfinished, and is currently serving as storage for lumber and other building materials.
The woodshed was our first construction project, completed in the Spring of 2012. It is composed of recycled lumber salvaged from some old buildings that we tore down. Our team of monks and volunteer lay supporters used this work to sharpen their building skills for the larger projects ahead. Originally designed as a wood storage shed, it has become a much-needed tool shed for the time being.
Various photographs from the monastery's first year.