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What Is the Buddhist Forest Tradition?

When I first was interested in Buddhism, I read a couple of dozen books at the bookstore. Then my father-in-law, a Thai Buddhist who had come to the USA for his medical studies taught me about the Forest Tradition he preferred. The forest style is more traditional and I think, simple.

There are a couple of forest style temples here in Thailand that I’ve been to. If you’re interested in seeing them someday, here are the three I like:

The first two are in Ubon Ratchathani province in the northeast. The third is in Chaiya, a subdistrict of Surat Thani in Southern Thailand.

The tradition of Buddhism found in the forests of Thailand is a distinctive manifestation of the religion that prioritizes simplicity, meditation, and a strong connection with nature. Also known as the Kammatthana tradition, this practice has been passed down from forest-dwelling monks for more than 2,500 years and is deeply entrenched in the Buddha’s teachings.

In Thailand, the Forest Tradition is maintained through a lineage of monks who have devoted their lives to the study of Buddhist scriptures and the practice of meditation. These monks lead a life of solitude, inhabiting secluded forest monasteries that are free from the trappings and distractions of modernity.

Mindfulness, the act of being fully present and aware in the current moment, is a central tenet of the Forest Tradition. The practice is achieved through hours of meditation, which is an integral part of the Forest Tradition. Monks in this tradition often spend several hours a day in deep contemplation.

Apart from meditation, the Forest Tradition also emphasizes the importance of ethical precepts. These include refraining from activities such as killing, stealing, lying, and engaging in sexual misconduct. Practicing these ethical precepts is viewed as essential for the attainment of inner peace and wisdom.

Materialism is eschewed in the Forest Tradition, and simplicity is highly valued. Monks living in the tradition lead a life of austerity, possessing few belongings and experiencing minimal comfort. They depend on the generosity of laypeople for their basic needs, such as food and shelter.

Temples adhering to the Forest Tradition don’t sell Buddhist amulets. Only books, bags, calendars, and notebooks.

The Forest Tradition is closely connected to nature. Monks spend a lot of time in the forests, which provides them with a deep appreciation for the natural world. They view nature as a source of inspiration and wisdom, with many of their teachings based on their observations of the natural world.

In conclusion, the Buddhist Forest Tradition in Thailand is a beautiful and unique interpretation of Buddhism. It places emphasis on meditation, simplicity, and a deep connection with nature, providing an effective framework for the attainment of inner peace, wisdom, and compassion.